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 fails to act on welfare report recommendations


In August 2017, hot on the heals of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern becoming Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition, co-leader of the Greens Metiria Turei took a gamble. She admitted in a speech where she laid down the case for complete reform of Work and Income New Zealand that she had committed benefit fraud.

The nation was stunned. The Greens were understandably horrified, especially when she mentioned it had not yet been paid back. A political revolt was brewing. One of the brightest rays of hope in the Greens was flushing her career down the toilet and trying to take the party with it. To any Green member that gurgling sound must have sounded like something from a horror movie that had become too real for their liking.

But maybe it was a political master stroke in disguise whereby she would end her career, the Greens would get a new co-leader – though I honestly thought Mrs Turei was alright – and the Greens would use her credibility to get a promise of reform from Labour. Master stroke or not, that is what looked like happening.

Until Friday. On Friday the report that was meant to recommend widespread reform of the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies was finally delivered 20 months after Labour formed a coalition and 21 months after Mrs Turei’s shock announcement. The hard done ever suffering honest folk who deal with Work and Income on a daily basis and the similarly suffering folk who work there must have been quietly thinking that this would be the day when the Government would announce sweeping reforms to enact the changes recommended.

Quelle horreur!!! Jaws dropped to places where hydraulic assistance will be needed to get them back. Hearts sank to the the deepest recesses. The hopes of thousands dashed by a pathetic flimsy announcement that only three of the recommendations in the report would be adopted by the Government.

The temptation to blast the Greens for having gone along with this is there. However in fairness to them they managed to squeeze out in the 2018-19 Budget a significant amount of money. When added to the promises Labour made to its own members and $3 billion to New Zealand First for regional development, the total amount of money that is locked up is substantial and does not leave much spare change behind. The Greens might have to just bite a potentially painful bullet and accept that this is not going to happen rapidly – and as one who has been messed around by Work and Income, I can understand the frustration of those who might have benefited from a bigger effort to implement the recommendations.

Instead it is Carmel Sepuloni who finds herself in the sights of this blog. After a year of relative inactivity in terms of getting policy passed and implemented, to come out and say that just three of the recommendations are going to be implemented, this is really a massively wimpish response. It could be forgiven if there is an election year promise or something more in either this years or next years Fiscal Budget. Otherwise when Ms Ardern reshuffles her cabinet, I don’t fancy Ms Sepuloni keeping hold of the Social Welfare portfolio.

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.

Change in Census processes needed


It is very obvious that the 2018 Census was a farce. But the fact that the chief statistician Liz MacPherson thought she did not have to come clean on the full extent of the problem until being threatened with Contempt of Parliament, tells me that it is more than just a colossal failure of data gathering systems. It tells me that officials responsible for the Census are operating with contempt of Government, which is a serious allegation for anyone to make.

According to Ms MacPherson when she finally told Parliament about the full scale of the data loss, as many as 1 in 7 New Zealanders failed to complete a census, something that has to be completed for every single person in New Zealand on the assigned night. The scale of the data loss as a result of thousands of New Zealanders not being able to complete or even attempt the census is severe enough, that combined with Ms MacPherson’s failure to be honest with Parliament and ultimately New Zealand it is not unreasonable to ask for her head.

National Party Member of Parliament Nick Smith said that New Zealand should seriously consider having another census as early as 2021. In suggesting that, Dr Smith indicated it would be in line with the original schedule of Census nights. That was knocked out of kilter by the Christchurch earthquakes which forced thousands of people from their homes and the 2011 Census would have been conducted during the earthquake emergency, when as much as 1/5 of Christchurch had left town.

What Dr Smith overlooks is the under investment that his party made in statistics, which is in line with a general dislike for “paper shunters” – bureaucrats and office workers who do what to many are boring, yet essential jobs. The premature transit from the old data system to a new one was so bad that thousands of New Zealanders could not log in to do the census, could not submit census if they managed to complete it.

Green Party M.P. and Statistics Minister James Shaw appears to have his head stuck in the sand bank. The results are as good as useless and will affect planning for a myriad of services, functions, ministries and programmes. The next census is not scheduled until 2023, but can New Zealand really hang tough with such a monstrous failure meaning that the next four years are really just going to be a hodge podge of guess work for the people who need the data? I think not. And so, I tend to favour Dr Smith’s redeeming suggestion that a new one be held before then, which Mr Shaw rejects.

Maybe Mr Shaw might find himself following Ms MacPherson walking the gang plank.

 

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.