Green “teething” issues in transition to Government

Yesterday the Green Party left its allocated oral question in Parliament blank. The oral question is one of the few opportunities that the Green Party has to put questions to the Government. It was immediately noticeable in Parliament when their allocated question slot came up and no one rose to take the opportunity.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson acknowledged the error, but said that it was just a bit of disorganization.

A bit of disorganization? Just wondering how the party has come to have five vacancies in its Parliamentary office. Given the potential research and policy development work that could have been going on, whilst appointing new staff cannot be done over night, one should ask how long have those positions been vacant?

The Green Party has not been the same since Metiria Turei resigned in disgrace from the co-leadership and ultimately Parliament in 2017, following the announcement that she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her being on a benefit when she was a single mother. Whilst this is not the first problem, it is potentially one of the more embarrassing as it is happening to a party of a Government struggling in the polls, but also struggling with the transparency expected by New Zealanders that goes with holding high office.

Mrs Davidson has kept a rather low profile for a Member of Parliament who is co-leading a party in Government. This makes me wonder if she is shy of the attention, something that Mrs Turei was not. Whereas Mrs Turei was widely popular across the party, suggestions during the nomination campaign to replace her that Mrs Davidson might cause a split in the party may have some credibility.

Recently Green Party M.P. and Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage made a potentially damaging mistake in her handling of an application to Nongfu Spring to purchase land so that they could expand their Bay of Plenty processing site. The decision caused much angst in the Green Party who have staunchly opposed land sales to foreign entities and was claimed to have undermined their stance on fresh water. Ms Sage made the decision along with two other Ministers acting on advice from the Overseas Investment Office.

Whilst no Minister is perfect and plenty of other Ministers perceived to be a safe pair of hands have made significant mistakes, in most cases these did not contravene the policy platform of the party they represent. That makes Ms Sage’s decision all the more damaging.

It is not that the Green Party does not have other pairs of safe hands. Julie Anne Genter, Minister of Transport is well liked for her solid work in Opposition on dealing with transport. Since she came to office Ms Genter has not made any mistakes and has actually picked up extra work after Labour M.P. and Minister Phil Twyford was stripped of the responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority following the use of his cellphone whilst an aircraft he was on, was airborne.

Another safe pair of hands, though not a Minister, is Gareth Hughes. Mr Hughes made a significant contribution as Green spokesman for the Energy portfolio whilst in Opposition.

National changes tune on climate change

National leader Simon Bridges has pledged to work with Labour and the Greens on establishing common ground on climate change. The announcement comes as part of a u-turn by National on an issue that until recently it had been quite cool on.

I find this quite interesting given that when Mr Bridges was a Minister of the Crown one of his portfolios was Minister of Energy and Resources. Mr Bridges in that role undertook to pass under urgency legislation that effectively criminalized the right to peaceful assembly on the high seas. Mr Bridges also met with executives from several oil companies, such as Anadarko who lobbied heavily for the Crown Minerals (Crown land and protection)Act 2013.

How will National work constructively with Labour and the Greens? To do that, they would need to get their M.P.’s on board – many, such as Judith Collins do not care much for environmental issues, and some have gone so far as to say so in public. National would then need to get its grass roots members on board, remembering this is a conservative party with a strong rural base and supported by businesses, farmers, industrialists and wealthy donors.

Getting all of them on board would be a challenge. Many would see it as undermining the economy. Industry would be reluctant to support changes to resource management law for example that tighten emissions controls and force them to spend money on installing scrubbers, despite the existing argument that the scrubbers would pay for themselves by enabling more efficient burning.

Part of this is no doubt intended to appeal to National’s Blue Greens, who are the segment of the party with concerns about environmental sustainability. The Blue Greens were delighted in April 2007 when the then Leader of the Opposition John Key said the key areas for the National Party would be economy, education and the environment. But during the 8 years Mr Key was in office the party largely paid lip service to the Blue Greens and I cannot help but wonder if it will wind up doing the same again this time.

It is not that there are no opportunities for innovation and job growth. On the contrary, one of the great opportunities afforded by the need to tackle climate change is unlocking green research, science and technology. This could be boosted by raising the percentage of the G.D.P. that New Zealand spends on research, science and technology which has been hovering around a mediocre 0.9% in contrast with other O.E.C.D. countries.

Will partisan politics wind up getting in the way of a multi-lateral approach involving cross party support from both Opposition and Government parties? One would hope not. New Zealand needs to tackle this issue, because the damage to our environmental reputation if we do not would be simply too much for a country of our size to handle.

So, I welcome National’s commitment to doing something about climate change. There is a lot of water to go under this bridge, but it is a start.

Simon Bridges drops in popularity; Crusher enters preferred P.M. stakes

National leader Simon Bridges is not the most popular politician in New Zealand at the moment. Whilst he might have the support of his National Party, and not really having been tested in the short time that he has been in office, his popularity is right where Andrew Little’s was this time last year before Jacinda-mania took hold.

Mr Bridges is experiencing the same very low levels of popularity that assailed successive Labour leaders during the three terms that party was out of office. For the time being this is not cause for alarm as Mr Bridges still has at least two years to wait before the next election, meaning there is plenty of time for Labour to make a significant mistake that National can capitalize on.

However if Mr Bridges still finds himself in this position cometh the 2020 Fiscal Budget he might find himself being challenged for the job. For that to happen though, there would need to be a significant change in polling fortunes. Right now A.C.T. and National can muster 59 seats in a Parliament of 122.

Perhaps the party that should be the most concerned is New Zealand First. Since their announcement that they will support the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, the support for the party has plunged with many people who until then had been staunch supporters walking away from the party of Winston Peters. Prior to that announcement, the Party had been widely viewed by the voting public as the only party other than the Greens that was stridently opposed to the C.P.T.P.P. and its predecessor the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (T.P.P.A.). If an election were had today and the poll result was accurate, there would be no New Zealand First in the new Parliament.

The Green Party are still struggling with the post-Metiria Turei era. Mrs Turei’s departure from Parliament as a result of being made to resign following admissions that she misled Department of Work and Income over her income whilst she was a solo mother, was bad enough. But that was damage that could have been (probably would have been)fixed had she announced at the same time that she had paid it all back, leaving the Opposition with minimal ammunition and probably not causing the revolt in the ranks of the Green Party. Although they have now elected Marama Davidson to the co-leadership position, Mrs Davidson has yet to be distinctly heard, which is something that the Greens will be hoping changes in the near future. Because of that, the Greens slipped slightly in the poll.

A.C.T. continues to languish in the poll, supported only by leader David Seymour’s hold on the Epsom electorate. Granted Mr Seymour has been showing off his dance moves on Dancing With The Stars, and his End of Life Choice Bill has cross party support in dealing with euthanasia, there is little else maintaining peoples interest in him or his party.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sails positively on. A few weeks away from going on maternity leave and handing Mr Peters temporary control of the country, Ms Ardern sits on 40.2% support in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. Since much Labour policy is still to come and her handling of the problems that have so far come her way, has been largely competent, like Mr Bridges, although for quite contrasting reasons, she has little cause for alarm.

Budgeting expectations: New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2018

Today is the day that New Zealand and the world see the first budget of the Labour-New Zealand First-Greens coalition Government. It will be the first delivered by Labour Treasurer Grant Robertson. In anticipation of the budget, here is a recap of what has been announced and what can be expected.

The broad shape of some large expenditures have already been announced. The details that are still to follow on these will come later as those expenditures are put into effect. So, what are they?

  1. Transport – A total of $28 billion has been announced for fixing transport in Auckland, a sum that caught many by surprise, and which will be spread out over a 10 year period
  2. Housing – KiwiBuild was given a N.Z.$2 billion capital advance in December to get underway the construction of 100,000 new homes in New Zealand, and $100 million was allocated in the first pre-Budget announcement of which $37.1 million comes from existing budgetary measures
  3. Christchurch – The Government made significant election promises to Christchurch, which include supporting commuter rail, assistance for those struggling with insurance claims
  4. Foreign Affairs – you can see my earlier article acknowledging the $1 billion allocated to the Pacific and other aspects of New Zealand foreign affairs, but it is worth noting the reopening of the embassy in Sweden which closed under the National government

With so many big announcements already made, one might be wondering if Labour has any more tricks left in the bag. Mr Robertson will no doubt be acutely aware of other areas of funding for which announcements will need to be made at some point. They include the courts, prison and Police so that we may get on with dealing to the methamphetamine epidemic taking hold as well as trying to address why going to prison does not seem to be working as a sentencing tool.

At some point Mr Robertson will also have to address the potential of a nurses strike for better pay and conditions, which if answered will cost several hundred million dollars. In this case though, I wonder if it not so much an inadequate budget as inept District Health Board planning – shortly after Labour was elected in 2000 I heard that scrapping the District Health Boards in favour of a central funding model would save $750 million per annum, and whilst I am not necessarily suggesting such a move, a review of them is tempting.

Other areas that will need an increase in funding are Research, Science and Technology – New Zealand has lagged behind other O.E.C.D. countries for years in terms of investment into science. Some scientists have observed what appears to them to be a war on science by politicians with agenda’s that do not necessarily conform to the known facts, particularly around environmental issues.

I personally doubt Labour will make any radical new announcements today. Most of what happens I suspect will be building on existing announcements. Still, this is a big day for Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens. Voters, despite National’s attempts to show the contrary will probably go easy on them until a sense of direction (or lack of)becomes obvious.

Mr Robertson will deliver the Fiscal Budget at 1400 hours.


A division in the Greens?

There was a cartoon by cartoonist Al Nisbet in The Press the other day that got me thinking. Whilst not normally a fan of Nisbet, some of whom’s ideas seem rather dated, his cartoon on of the Greens co-leader election did seem oddly appropriate.


It was of the Greens as a stalk, which had splintered in two threads, each with a head. One was Julie Anne Genter who was challenging Marama Davidson for the co-leadership of the party. And the other was Mrs Davidson.

Each represents a different part of the Green philosophy. One usually thinks of the Greens as being pro social justice/environment/peace. The flip side for the Greens is militarism/market economics/conservative justice.

Mrs Davidson tends towards the social part of the party platform, which is about looking out for the little guy. She tends to social justice issues such as animal rights, human rights whilst dealing with major portfolio’s such as health, education and social welfare. Prior to entering Parliament Mrs Davidson worked for the Human Rights Commission, part time for the Breastfeeding New Zealand and helped to found Te Wharepora Hou Maori Women’s Collective. Working in Mrs Davidson’s favour is her strong Maori heritage, descending from three Iwi which will give her influence across Maoridom.

Ms Genter, who holds a Masters of Planning Practice from University of Auckland leans strongly towards the environmental wing. She focuses on reducing the impact of transport on the environment . Working in her favour are her strong environmental credentials and solid knowledge of policy processes. Perhaps working against Ms Genter is that she is not a New Zealander by birth. This gives her a disadvantage in dealing with Maori and on constitutional issues.

Whilst I hope there are no divisions in the Green Party, I do have concerns that Mrs Davidson will not apply due focus on the environmental wing of the party. I have seen nothing in her record to suggest that she has a major focus on it.  Ms Genter and her colleague Gareth Hughes, who has been working on energy issues are going to have to confront the beast of climate change and the considerable technological and planning challenges that it throws up.

Time – as it is prone to doing so – will tell whether the Greens have made a leadership call as good as their past. Metiria Turei, who preceded Marama Davidson was a solid and popular leader who lasted from Jeanette Fitzsimons’ retirement until she admitted having deceived Work and Income New Zealand last year – her failure to have the issue bottled by paying back the monies owed before she went public was her downfall. Can Mrs Davidson do as well?