ACT: The leopard thinking it can change its spots


Yesterday it was announced that A.C.T. was changing its party branding. A.C.T. Leader David Seymour announced that his party has changed its branding in an attempt to change public perceptions of a party that has struggled since 2011. From a party with 5 Members of Parliament in 2008 including the man behind Rogernomics, Sir Roger Douglas, to a one man band that has consistently polled at 1-2% and only exists at all because of Mr Seymour’s hold on the Epsom seat, why has A.C.T. consistently struggled?

In recent years Mr Seymour, as the public face of A.C.T., has tried to soften the party’s image. A quite successful stint on Dancing With The Stars, which many people had thought was an April Fools joke – aside from some twerking – showed him as an under dog, given he was expected to exit early and perhaps ungracefully like his predecessor Rodney Hide did (after dropping his partner on stage). And New Zealanders do admittedly like an under dog – one who does better than expected.

Unfortunately for all of A.C.T.’s rebranding, the leopard is not going to change its spots. Deep down A.C.T. will still be A.C.T. – a party being kept alive out of convenience to the National Party. It can change its spots dozen times. It can make them pink the rest of it markings white. It could paint itself orange or some other bright colour, but deep down nothing has changed all is still the same.

It is still the party trying to undermine our checks on speech so that it is not responsible for its undisguised bigotry. Golriz Ghahraman will still be Golly to Mr Seymour, and still a Iranian refugee M.P. who is apparently trying to boss New Zealand around. It will still be the party that Louis Crimp, an avowed disliker of the Treaty of Waitangi who thinks Maori are savages and wanted to scrap funding for Te Reo Maori, supported.

A.C.T. will still be the party that refuses to recognize the necessity of tightening up controls on semi-automatic weapons. These include the availability of accessories and modifications such as the one that has enabled mass murders including the Christchurch mosque attacks. It did not want to know about the fact that there would be further opportunity to comment when the second tranche of law comes before Parliament towards the end of this year. Concerns that become all the more stark when one considers that the primary lobby organization for gun ownership in the U.S. – a country A.C.T. and to a lesser extent National think can do no wrong – the National Rifle Association is struggling in the face of several recent mass shootings, and students saying that they have had enough.

A.C.T. will still be the party that thinks climate change is a hoax and that the best approach is the business as usual approach. It will ignore the massive loss of biodiversity around the world, the rapidly worsening number of carbon particles per million. In the name of lesser regulation it will stonewall attempts to create a collaborative approach that brings business on board. Instead of relying on “market forces” that neither know nor care for environmental or social well being, which A.C.T. espouses, knowledge of the environment, technology and society would be put left right and centre and driven by the urgency of knowing time will be needed to adapt and therefore major steps have to be taken now.

Mr Seymour would be well advised to wind up the A.C.T. Party and start over. A.C.T. is a leopard. A leopard cannot change it spots and no amount of painting over its colours will change that. When their initial leaders resigned or left under a cloud caused by acts of stupidity that they brought upon themselves, A.C.T. should have taken the opportunity to under go a rebranding then to either be something other than a failed corporate party that pretended to be about responsibility and liberty.

 

2019 New Zealand Fiscal Budget run down


Yesterday Treasurer Grant Robertson announced the 2019 Fiscal Budget, which is delivered in late May. It sets down the spending priorities for New Zealand.The Government made a promise that the 2019 Budget would be a budget about “well being”. Many people on the centre-right thought that the whole idea was all just fluffy feel good spending with little practical value.

At a first glance there appears to be little unexpected expenditure. Defence, education and a number of portfolio’s that have had recent major announcements knew not to seriously expect much more than what had already been allocated. As noted in other articles, the Defence Force is getting P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft that can watch our waters, but also perform search and rescue. At some point in the next couple of years a solid decision will be taken on what shall replace the C130 Hercules as our major transport plane.

Not surprisingly the major beneficiaries of Budget 2019 have been those who need social welfare assistance from the Government. One of the several measures introduced is to index benefits to wages, which stands to affect about 339,000 individuals and families.

Schools were a surprise winner. Despite the teachers being on strike and Minister for Education Chris Hipkins being adamant there is no more available, $1.2 billion has been set aside for maintenance and upgrading of school property. This will help fund new class rooms for expanding schools, new/replacement buildings.

Perhaps the biggest loser was health. Few significant announcements appear to have been made. I was wondering if there might be money for upgrading hospitals and a modest top up of the District Health Boards following issues in recent years around funding calculations.

There was a very welcome investment of N.Z.$1 billion for railways, as an acknowledgement of the significant but under appreciated role that they play in our economy. Hopefully it will lead to Kiwi Rail better utilizing the South Island track network, which could easily allow more freight to go on rails instead of via road.

National and A.C.T. invariably cried foul on the apparent lack of regard paid by the budget to the economy. This demonstrates to me that they clearly have not latched in any way onto the fact that from Day 1 this Government has said that it will have a stronger focus on the well being of people. It is an attempt to provide redress for the socio-economic consequences of National’s market drivenĀ  philosophy. From those with family in mental health institutions, to those struggling to get their children through school and retirees concerned about being left behind in the digital era, this Budget appears to try to address their needs.

On a cautionary note though, the budget, whilst nice for those in income poverty and having issues with mental health, does raise – again – questions about the wisdom of removing the Capital Gains Tax from the table. Going into election year with National and A.C.T. nipping on Labour’s heals, the money taken from a C.G.T. would have gone some distance ensuring New Zealand’s debt does not get too big.

 

Labour surges, National drop following terrorist attack


In 1985, when France attacked the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, the French Government calculated that it would divide New Zealanders. They calculated that the New Zealand people would lose faith in the Labour Government and its nuclear free stance. They could not have been more wrong. Labour was returned to office in 1987. More significantly, when National finally did win the 1990 election, despite concerns that we needed to repair our relationship with the U.S., the policy survived and is still in force today.

It is too early to tell whether this Labour led Government will enjoy such a bump in support as a result of the terrorist. However in the immediate weeks that have so far passed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decisive handling of the new firearms legislation, her empathy and warmth shown to the Muslim community have caused Labour to surge in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, which shows the Sixth Labour Government at an as yet all time high.

If an election were held today that would give the following seats to the parties in Parliament:

  • National; 51
  • Labour; 60
  • Greens; 8
  • A.C.T.*; 1

The results are clear. Labour and the Greens could comfortably govern as a left of centre coalition. National and A.C.T. would be resigned to watching legislation pass through the House and hope that enough people are following through the media to be aware of what is happening.

Assuming no seats are won by its M.P.’s, New Zealand First would not be in Parliament, having failed to make the 5% threshhold. A.C.T.* would re-enter Parliament on the assumption that its sole Member of Parliament David Seymour retakes Epsom.

National Leader Simon Bridges remains unchanged on 5%, which is probably okay given he has barely had a look in in the last few weeks as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership basks in the praise heaped on her by national and international media. That said, Judith Collins, well known for her more conservative outlook and popular with the right wing of the National Party is thought to be agitating for a crack at the leadership. More ominously for Mr Bridges, she is in the Preferred Prime Minister stake at 5%, which is the same as him.

It is perhaps New Zealand First who should be the most worried. Despite their record of comebacks in elections, M.P. and Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones is widely viewed among the voting public as a bit of a loose cannon. This combined with a party that failed to ignite support among South Island voters at the last election, will would have proved a serious hindrance if not a fatal blow in a hypothetical election.

But this is all hypothetical. What it does not show is the significant number of issues that this Government faces, the problems it is having with its Ministers and the middling economy. Soon they will make themselves known.

Strike 4 Climate student protest not a joke


When Swedish school girl activist Greta Thunberg faced down politicians of all stripes at Davos, Switzerland at their annual economic forum, many politicians thought she was just a lone student gone rogue. They thought that high school students were disinterested in the world around them, disinterested in politics. A lesson is coming for them.

Now we are seeing the birth pangs of the next generation of activists. And what birth pangs they are. On 15 March 2019, a world first will happen. School students all around the world will go on strike by refusing to attend school, arguing what the point is when catastrophic climate change threatens to leave them without a future in which they could use their education. Two decades ago organizing a world wide student protest would have been impossible and principals would have shut it down before any cohesion could be gained. A decade ago when the Fifth Labour Government was in office and teachers went on strike, the strikes lasted long enough that students were able to co-ordinate a limited counter strike to protest the continuing disruption to their education.

But this is quite different, and an order of magnitude more impressive, as well as concerning – and encouraging. In terms of being different, this about students lives after they leave high schools and the future of the planet we all live on. This is a global emergency they claim and politicians are not doing enough to respond.

And there is a ground swell of support across the education sector, ranging from researchers, to teachers, principals, lecturers and more who have all signed a petition to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Not all are in support of this action. National and A.C.T. Members of Parliament think they should wait until the teachers strike on 03 April – which I think is their way of wanting the coverage likely to be generated to be buried by a bigger news item. Many of the same Members of Parliament claim it is a serious issue, yet none have offered alternative ideas about how to deal with this and it kind of puts a question mark on their sense of urgency.

Labour and Green Party Members of Parliament like the idea behind the protest, but are reluctant to be seen endorsing massive student strike action that involves disruption to learning. But as youth are beginning to realise that it is this Government or the next which must try to make serious policy in roads into tackling climate change, it is important to note that they cannot afford to be seen as too distant either.

I am not sure where New Zealand First sit on this. It is an issue that the party did not seem to know which direction it wanted to go in, whilst I was a member. Many members are from rural backgrounds or are socially conservative and would frown upon this action. However in order to maintain a connection that it has been trying to build up for years with youth, I cannot imagine it condemning it in the way National and A.C.T. are.

And how many schools will participate? Some schools might be quite happy in controlled circumstances to permit a strike to go ahead and use it as an educational opportunity. There will be some schools that are there in spirit, but which insist on students attending classes in return for assisting with actions on school grounds such as letter writing, or petitions or perhaps showing The Day After Tomorrow. And then there will be a few schools that do not want a bar of it, and will make their students have a normal Friday of classes.

Capital Gains Tax mooted; National, A.C.T. cry foul


Yesterday morning the Tax Working Group formed to assess the state of the tax regime and recommend appropriate changes, finally delivered its findings. The findings, whose recommendations included a Capital Gains Tax, and a plan to redistribute much of the tax take gained from the C.G.T. in a tax cut, have fulfilled a promise for comprehensive tax reform that was made at the 2017 election.

An announcement that was surely to upset National and A.C.T. did not disappoint in that respect. A.C.T. immediately announced its plan to ditch the C.G.T., labelling it Labours Envy Tax. National was equally unimpressed – somewhat hypocritically for a party that just had nine years to address the issue. That said, they did announce the tightening of rules around the taxation of profit from property sales in 2015.

National and A.C.T. however need to understand that there is more that a C.G.T. covers than just property. It covers the sale of stock, bonds and precious metals as well. The last one has potentially significant value as the value of minerals used in electronics, that are ditched without recovering the metals – especially rare earth elements – is slowly realised.

But is the C.G.T. really that bad? Is it really a tax in an attempt to curb the accumulation of wealth through honest means? Or is it to check the acquisition of property for wealth that one does not honestly have any real use for, but accumulated anyway? I think it is the latter, as no one, except maybe the Greens are suggesting that the family home, the fortress of every New Zealand family able to afford such a place should be taxed and nor should the estate inherited from deceased people.

I have not a problem with millionaires. A millionaire might have been something big in the 1970’s, but now a multi-millionaire or billionaire is more like the new millionaire or multi-millionaire. And if the wealth is the result of starting a business and turning it into a major revenue gathering machine, all I can say is well done. So, this idea that people hate wealth is not true. A better perception is that the left dislike the accumulation of wealth so obscene that it makes up half the total wealth in the world – we are talking about wealth accumulated by only a few dozen people.

And I am not saying a C.G.T. is fool proof either. It is not and – if it get it gets implemented – a range of opportunities will arise for National and A.C.T. to more credibly attack Labour as the C.G.T. is implemented. Whether it is just who is subject to it; how much they pay and so forth are good starting points and there will be others.

But right now when we do not even know if Labour will implement it or any other changes recommended, National and A.C.T. can go suck a lemon and contemplate whilst tasting its bitterness, how a bunch of people more familiar with the N.Z. tax code came to these conclusions.