Government doing okay considering differences


Yesterday I blasted the state of politics in New Zealand and how I find myself along with others feeling abandoned by the party we supported over the Trans Pacific Partnership. Whilst all true and I stand by it, this is just one dimension to a multi-dimensioned state of New Zealand politics, which this article will discuss.

New Zealand, despite its nearly 25 years of experience with coalition Governments, nonetheless has a somewhat chequered history with them in a Mixed Member Proportional environment. M.M.P had its first election in 1996, which resulted in a hung Parliament – neither the incumbent National Party or the Oppposition Labour Party were large enough as a result of that election to form a Government on their own and needed New Zealand First, which had gathered 17 seats and held the balance of power.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters chose National. That lasted 20 months and about a year after it formed, the then Prime Minister Jim Bolger was ousted by his deputy Jenny Shipley. After a tumultuous eight month in which Mrs Shipley floated the sale of Wellington Airport, privatizing the energy sector and pushing through reforms that led to significant increases in university fees (and equally significant student revolts in campuses across the country in 1999), the coalition Government collapsed in acrimonious circumstances.

Contrast that with the coalition Government of today, and contrary to the assertions of National Party Leader Simon Bridges that it is in disarray, the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is doing alright. Do they agree on everything? Absolutely not and there are plenty of good opportunities coming up for the two to have major disagreements. Mr Peters, whilst claiming to reject the neoliberal stance of both National and Labour, undermined that when his party chose to support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, something myself and others had staunchly hoped he would reject.

They are co-operating on other matters. Mr Peters got a N.Z.$1 billion injection of spending into foreign aid shortly after he became Minister for Foreign Affairs (for a second time). New Zealand First is able to announce significant projects for rural development, something that National lagged behind on during its time in office.

New Zealand First is likely to clash significantly with the Greens. On issues such as defence, justice, criminal law and so forth, New Zealand First will always be more conservative than the Greens. It is not to say that the stance is necessarily correct as there is a great need to legalize medical marijuana as a matter of urgency and review how we treat drug addiction, which is distorting crime statistics significantly with arrests and punishments for relatively minor offences.

Whilst the Greens have made some progressive since Metiria Turei’s departure, it is still struggling with the fallout from Mrs Turei’s admission of having lied to Work and Income New Zealand. This gives New Zealand First a chance to make inroads in pushing the great body of policy that makes up the party manifesto. Whether N.Z.F. realizes this and seizes the opportunity is another story altogether.

The party will also probably clash with Labour at some point. Labour, despite its swing to the left in the last election is still tarred – and might be forever – by its experiment in the 1980’s with market economics. It’s failure to buy back the electricity grid in full has disappointed many. It’s reluctance to announce significant increases in investment in science, diversifying the economy

I am expecting to see significant further announcements across the remainder of this Parliamentary term in a range of areas – from the Defence Force announcing what will replace the C-130 Hercules transports, to the $300 million promised for Christchurch transport to the education review and how the concerns over oil and gas bans will be tackled.

But that does not change the fact that if an election were held in the very new future your guess would be as good as mine about how I would vote. Right now, I honestly don’t know.

Low tide in politics


I feel as if it is low tide. It is not moving in any particular direction – I do not feel an attraction to a particular political party at the moment. So much so that were an election held today, as to who I would vote for, your guess would be as good as mine – I honestly could not tell you.

To have members such as Fletcher Tabuteau consistently attack the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement inside and outside of Parliament and drum up support for ending it, only to then see them vote enthusiastically for it, infuriates many.

New Zealand First made a promise that it would see out the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. It has consistently attacked using its Members of Parliament and the Leader Winston Peters. Its Members of Parliament all told me at one point or another that they did not want a bar of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The problem is who do I vote for?

I am too conservative to be a Green – I do not agree with them on most things including foreign policy, defence and justice, but also the feasibility of ending coal and gas in New Zealand. Their opposition to having a dysfunctional defence force, along with a general distrust of the military establishment raises questions about what they would do were a war where the U.N. requests N.Z assistance breaks out.

In some respects I might also be on the conservative wing of Labour were I to vote for them. Labour was my first vote – a misguided one at that – in 1999, when New Zealand voted to be rid of a three term National-led Government that had had nine yeas to change from being the neoliberal party that enabled massive market reforms, but at great cost to New Zealanders.

So, you say I should vote for New Zealand First?

No. New Zealand First and I have had a fractuous relationship. I enjoy getting to know people when I joined and the culture was quite nice. I have always been inspired by the Party’s : 15 Fundamental Principles, which supported pretty much most if not all of the basic themes that the party wants to take home: equality for all; retirement at 65%., a sustainable environment, better protection of our assets and resolving the Treaty of Waitangi claims.

Others might ask whether I would be interested in Social Credit. I honestly have no idea. Social Credit would – I suspect find themselves constantly standing on the toes just to draw level with the eyes of New Zealand First and the Greens would not look that natural and one could ask “how long, really?”. It is not that I am trying to put them down, and some of their policies – I have not read anywhere near all of them, and am not sure when I would get around to it – do look fine on paper.

Those are my feelings about this 1 year after Labour took office. On the whole Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is probably quite happy with how things have gone and will be more than pleased to see that National, like Labour before them, are capable of having bad days.

Learning from an appalling week in New Zealand politics


To say that the week just gone in New Zealand politics was an appalling sight for both Kiwi’s and non-Kiwi’s alike to be watching and/or participating in, is an understatement. It was a week which in the beginning looked like being colourful, if not a little dirty – I thought that Mr Ross would be reined in by National Party leader Simon Bridges and given a right dressing down. I thought that it would be quickly shut down and the public told “Nothing to see here: Move along”.

How wrong I was. Perhaps as a result of being away for four weeks and paying as little attention as possible to New Zealand domestic affairs in that time, I lost track of what was brewing. Perhaps I held – and I think now that this is the case – a too high an estimate of the National Party’s ability in the post-John Key era to shut down rogue M.P.’s.

Whatever the case, the results have been truly disgusting. From Mr Bridges and Mr Ross slinging poo across the expanse of the internet and via the media at each other, to his admittance of affairs, of potentially very dodgy handling of political donations, to Mr Ross’s admittance into a mental health facility, it was a desperate, dirty and underhand week.

So, what are the lessons that we can learn from this? There are a few:

I think one of the bigger ones is the age old lesson about not throwing stones in glass houses. In this case some rather large stones got thrown and they seem to have broken a lot of glass. National, Mr Bridges, Mr Ross have all come away with damaged glass houses.

The discussion around the state of Mr Ross’s mental health has varied hugely. From those trying to show a degree of understanding and rightfully calling for decorum to those throwing more fuel on the fire, such as Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, we have seen a voting public fascinated and repelled at the same time. Perhaps the lesson out of this is to learn to show a degree of dignity and class when discussing mental health – if you cannot say anything constructive, don’t say anything at all.

The third one, which at this moment probably applies most to Mr Bridges, is damage control. His was not the best and it might in part explain his dismal poll rating in the latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll. It showed that an election today would give Labour and the Greens a comfortable majority and with New Zealand First 68 seats in Parliament or 56% of the seats. National would have 51 seats and the A.C.T. Party the remaining one seat. On preferred Prime Minister, Mr Bridges is well down, having slumped to 7% whilst Labour leader Jacinda Ardern rises to an all time high of 42%.

As the second week of this saga progresses, with more announcements surely to come about any other leaks – damaging or not – the National Party will be in full on damage control. A.C.T. will be watching on disgruntled and hopefully disgusted with what they have seen in their ally, whilst the governing benches will be getting on with the task of running New Zealand.

The Green Party recovery


This weekend the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is holding its Annual Conference in Palmerston North. It is their first since Metiria Turei’s resignation in the wake of her admitting she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her time as a solo mother. It is also their first as a governing party in the Labour-led coalition. One year on, how are they getting on?

Perhaps it is best summed up by co-leader James Shaw, who in his opening address to the party faithful, reminded them that it was not just he who made the decision to enter the coalition. It was made by the party membership. Mr Shaw also reminded them that in coalition, compromises are necessary and that sometimes this involves swallowing a proverbial dead rat or two. In the case of the Green Party this includes the Waka Bill, that will make Members of Parliament expelled from their caucus quit Parliament as well.

This bill could be quite contentious. As a strong believer of democratic process myself, I am not that enthusiastic about it, and can see why the caucus was originally dead set against it. The key problem is that the Waka Bill denies the Member the right to go back to the electorate and find out whether they still want a particular party representing them.

But there have been wins and these have to be acknowledged. When one is in Government it is a case of making the most of the opportunities to effect credible change because one never knows how the next election will turn out, who will be in Government and whether key policies will have to be sacrificed or not. In the case of this Government, whilst the Greens have been made to sacrifice a couple of policies, they have also had some big policy wins – a phasing out of oil and gas; a nation wide phasing out of single use plastic bags.

It is also a rebuilding time. The Greens came dangerously close to electoral oblivion with Mrs Turei’s resignation in disgrace from Parliament last year. Her popularity in the Green Party until that fatal admission was considerable and had she not made it, I do not think anyone would have been any the wiser. It would have probably given them all back all of their 14 list seats, and ensured more portfolios around the Cabinet table are held by Green Party M.P.’s. But she did, and whilst her admission of guilt was commendable, she should have immediately followed it up with a statement saying that the monies owed had already been paid back. The public probably would have left it at that.

Thus far her successor Marama Davidson has not enjoyed the same high profile as Mrs Turei. Nor has she enjoyed the same popularity. As a supporter of the more social wing of the party, Mrs Davidson has not had the opportunities that Minister of Transport and fellow Green M.P. Julie Anne Genter has had. Ms Genter was lucky enough to be able to make a substantial transport policy announcement a few months after becoming Minister. And having a capable rival Ms Genter in the race for the Green Party leadership meant Mrs Davidson had to work for her right to be co-leader.

Ms Genter, who is just about to go on maternity leave for her first child has been a consistently heavy hitter when it comes to policy. Her ability to outflank National Ministers of Transport without them really realizing – much less admitting – that there is a Green Minister who can hold their ground, constantly led to testy exchanges in Parliament.

Mrs Davidson, whilst appealing to the social minded supporters of the Green Party, I have yet to see have such exchanges. It is not to say that such events should be a measure of how one performs, but it is in Parliament as well as in terms of policy and being active in public, that she will be judged. So far Mrs Davidson has been relatively invisible.

It will be interesting to see how the Green Conference goes, and how the rest of this term turns out for them. Can they overcome the hurdles inadvertently laid down by Mrs Turei’s departure and will the membership realize that coalitions are about compromise, however much it might stink some days? That remains to be seen.

Domestic Violence Bill passes; National misses point


Yesterday the support available for people suffering from domestic violence took a giant leap forward. Green Member of Parliament Jan Logie’s Bill of Parliament to allow people suffering domestic violence to take up to 10 days off work with pay, means that people in the throes of an abusive relationship are able to take time off work to get their lives back in order.

I congratulate Ms Logie on her Bill of Parliament, the Domestic Violence: Victims Protection Bill, which passed through on its third reading with a vote of 63 (Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens supported it ) – 57 (National and A.C.T. opposed it). It improves and/or introduces a number of protections for people suffering the effects of domestic violence. They include:

  • Making it illegal to discriminate against victims of domestic violence
  • Employers must allow up to 10 days of paid leave that is separate from annual leave or sick leave

National Member of Parliament Mark Mitchell said National had withdrawn its support for the Bill of Parliament. He cited the additional costs put on employers and said that it would do nothing to stop domestic violence. Whilst opposing the Bill National M.P.’s insisted that they agree with the spirit in which the Bill was written.

Mr Mitchell misses the point and his claims are probably not quite true. There will be people – maybe not a huge number – who will be able to use it as a circuit breaker. For them those 10 days might critical time in which they can end a relationship, get into a safe house and make contact with the Police.

But it will go one step further. Employees coming from a stable domestic life are more likely to be effective and productive workers. So while employers will pay up to 10 days leave for someone suffering domestic violence, if it leads to them having more secure and stable domestic circumstances then in the longer term it will hopefully lead to improved workplace performance.

So, let us welcome what will now become an Act of Parliament that makes the tortuous path that victims of domestic violence must follow hopefully a bit less treacherous.