The Class of 2014-2017


Parliament has dissolved. The class of 2014-2017 have dispersed to start their election campaigns or slip into their first days of post Parliamentary life. The debating chamber shall not see any activity over than public tours until sometime probably in late October. So here is the final report card for the individual parties (the report card for the key M.P.’s will follow in a couple of days):

NATIONAL: C+

National started the term with every reason to be confident. But within weeks Mike Sabin had resigned. Although the party continued to enjoy sky high polling, Ministers have shown signs of being worn out and disinterested in their portfolio’s. Former Prime Minister John Key’s resignation was a bolt from the blue, but National M.P.’s picked themselves, dusted themselves and kept going. Prime Minister Bill English has been solid but unspectacular in his management. Appearing bereft of ideas and controversies such as Todd Barclay rumbling in the background should concern the party.

National might still yet win this election and it would be a truly historic event if they do, but the rise of Jacinda Ardern in the Labour party has many reaching for the panic button. They will need to fight – as Ms Ardern said of Labour – the campaign of their lives.

LABOUR: C

Until a few weeks ago, the signs on the wall for Labour were looking deathly.

Jacinda Ardern is in her early days as leader, but there is no doubt she has shaken up the party – and the New Zealand political landscape – in these last three weeks. Andrew Little came across as a humble guy and liked by many, but he just could not make the necessary hits on National. Slumped in the polls and staring down the gun barrel of electoral oblivion, Labour would have got a D rating.

Labour would get a C+ or potentially a B- except that they have not yet announced any bold policies to get people talking and Ms Ardern was not joking when she said Labour will have to fight the campaign of its life.

A.C.T.: D

David Seymour is A.C.T. and A.C.T. is David Seymour. They rely on each other for survival. A.C.T. has given Mr Seymour a vehicle to get himself into Parliament. That vehicle cannot go anywhere without him.

In fairness to Mr Seymour though, his Bill of Parliament on Euthenasia has been well received in many quarters on both sides of the divide. His support for cannabis reform has also gone down well. That is where it ends though because A.C.T. and everything it stands for is not obviously any more popular than it was in 2014.

Mr Seymour will probably return as National is unlikely to action his demise in Epsom even though it is capable of doing so.

United Future: D

Peter Dunne, the other one man band in Parliament might be on life support in terms of his political career. Sagging in internal polling in Ohariu and faced with a formidable Labour challenge in his electorate one the Governments most stable supporters might not last the election. Mr Dunne started life in the Labour Party and left to start United Future. Over the last nine years he has infuriated people on the left and the right by voting for/against legislation simply because of the confidence and supply deal with National. The one time he probably infuriated the right was shooting down the Resource Management legislation in 2015.

Greens C+

Until Metiria Turei’s admission of deceiving Work and Income New Zealand, the Greens were nicely placed to get a B. They had unveiled a list of candidates that impressed many. Their steady popularity throughout the last three years and the growing environmental and socio-economic problems as well as the increasingly obvious unwillingness of the centre-right to attack the causes of poverty, have made them a constant in the polls. Mrs Turei’s acknowledgement of wrong doing was brave, but her failure to either immediately pay up or quit has caused potentially lasting damage.

The Jacinda explosion has not helped them either, robbing the party of support just when it needed it most.

Maori Party: C

The Maori Party continues to be a source of mystery and frustration to me. For all their talk about helping Maori I am yet to see any progress on any of the rather distressing array of problems confronting Maori in society – whether it is truancy or youth crime, health statistics, educational performance or employment, the preoccupation with Treaty issues has become an issue itself. They will probably pick up another Member of Parliament at the election, but what they are able to do post-election might very well depend on none other than Winston Peters.

New Zealand First: B

I left New Zealand First earlier this year. Disgruntled with the archaic, non communicative ways of the party board, I was one of a number who have either quit the party but will still vote for them, or quit elected positions as electorate committee members.

But despite the internal problems, the party performs well in Parliament and has been a constant source of trouble for National. The fact that the National Party have largely just laughed off or tried to sweep what the New Zealand First caucus have raised in Parliament under the carpet is not so much a reflection on 12 M.P.’s trying their best, as a reflection of the lack of support they got from Labour and the Greens.

Winston Peters, like the Greens has taken a hit in the polls from the rise of Jacinda Ardern. But better than anyone in Parliament he knows there is only one poll that actually counts and that is on 23 September 2017.

Election race tightens: Nothing can be taken for granted


For National this election has two major problems that one might say are almost indigenous to third term Governments seeking a fourth term in office:

  1. History rarely favours four term peace time Governments (the National led Government of Keith Holyoake is the exception)
  2. The third term malaise or third term blues

Only one Government has lasted longer than Holyoake since 1900 and that was the Labour Government of 1934-1949. It lasted that long because the period 1939-1945 was during World War 2 and it was seen as important that there be stability in a time of uncertainty. The third term malaise is a combination of early weariness among Ministers and Caucus members caused by the demands of the job, their crisis management skills – or lack thereof – starting to show and generally an opposition that by this point has usually revived.

So far National appears unaffected by the explosion of Labours new leader Jacinda Ardern into the media. Left, right and centre there was no getting away from her in the media last week. She has appeared to be everything Prime Minister Bill English is not – young and vibrant, deft with social media and sure footed in the face of challenges. But the election is in its early days yet and this could easily change.

For Labour this election just a few weeks ago looked like having the truly historic distinction of being just the second in peacetime to hand down a fourth term to the Opposition. The polls were grim. Andrew Little was trying his best, but whatever he did he simply could not connect with voters and it was starting to show in the most alarming ways. People liked him as a person, a human being, but as a politician seeking to be the next Prime Minister he was just not there.

Fast forward to the present day and a second poll has confirmed what the first one said. There has been a massive earthquake in the New Zealand political scene. The powerful aftershocks coming through show that few parts of the political spectrum have gotten away unaffected by the rise of Ms Ardern.

For New Zealand First the results will be disappointing. After two years of a consistent upwards creep in the polls, the prospect of setting the terms of the next Government may have slipped from their grasp. The party will still get around 10 Members of Parliament if it maintains its current 8% support, but both polls suggest that the 16-18 Members of Parliament it seemed assured of at the start of the month are no longer a certainty. Had N.Z.F. maintained that support, it would have meant a drop in support for National or a very large – possibly fatal – drop in support for the Greens.

Despite this, New Zealand First probably still hold the balance of power – the way it tips will now totally depend on how National and Labour play out their election campaigns. Whereas a few weeks ago, the options looked like a National-N.Z. First coalition or a National minority Government controlled by N.Z. First, the prospects of a Labour-N.Z. First coalition are not so far fetched that they should be dismissed.

But the real loss is to the Greens. Despite many people now rallying in defence of Metiria Turei, the W.I.N.Z. revelations and her handling of them have rocked the party like a torpedo hitting a ship. The damage is significant and their campaign is definitely – after looking like potentially their strongest ever – limping along. For the first time in three election campaigns they are playing a distinct second fiddle to Labour and possibly even New Zealand First.

Their campaign has other problems as well. On one hand they looked like they introduced their most powerful candidates with the intention of running some serious electorate races. On the other hand it looks like they also shot themselves in the foot by only announcing 29 candidates to contest 71 electorates, meaning even if their candidates all got in and the other parties on the left were obliterated, they would not be able to form a Government on the simple grounds of not having enough candidates.

As for A.C.T., United Future and the Maori Party, none of these parties seem likely to pick up new Members of Parliament unless they have a revolution in their game. None of them have support in the polls to suggest that between them any more than maybe 1-2 more Members of Parliament will be picked up. These would most likely come in the Maori electorates.

But six weeks out from the election, one thing is loud and clear. Labour is out of first gear for the first time since 2008.

The Hone question


To make peace with Hone or not to make peace with Hone?

That is the question confronting the Maori party that Hone Harawira, a firebrand former Member of Parliament helped to form in 2004. The former M.P. was made to leave the Maori Party in 2009 after e-mails surfaced about his attitude to private spending out of the public purse, and following electoral defeat, left Parliament completely. Three years later has Mr Harawira learnt from his experiences being defeated and made to leave a party he helped to found?

During his time in politics Mr Harawira has earned a reputation pushing a separatist platform, blaming non-Maori for the social ills of Maori. He was combative in Parliament and in public. Although he earned a bit of respect for being willing to criticize the Maori Party for blindly behaving like a National-Party puppet, his focus, like their’s has tended to be on settling Treaty of Waitangi grievances. Neither have addressed the socio-economic ills that make Maori feature disproportionately highly in crime, poverty, truancy and unemployment rates.

I believe that Mr Harawira is finished in New Zealand politics. His divisiveness, inability to control his dislike for non-Maori and advocating for a separatist agenda that would have been hugely damaging for New Zealand was one of the primary reasons for Internet-Mana being defeated in the 2014 election. The behaviour of his mother at Waitangi Day commemorations and extended family, especially his nephews, who often skirmished with police helped to damage the Harawira brand as a political force. The ill fated and ill conceived alliance with a fledgling party whose line up of washed up politicians and candidates with no name recognition divided the left leaning vote at a time when unity was essential.

However, whilst I have no desire to see Internet Party, Mana Party or Internet-Mana if that is what they still are, back in Parliament, I acknowledge that I am but one voter. Thousands on the left were taken by their promises to be friendly to internet users at a time when there was considerable concern about corporate deals being fleshed out that would have severely impacted on copyright.

It also has to be acknowledged that Mr Harawira was one of only a few Members of Parliament who would happily come to join a picket line advocating better conditions; one of the few to recognize the catastrophe that is the recently passed Maori land use Bill in Parliament. He had a bill drawn from the Ballot in Parliament that was going provide for free lunches to children in schools. The Bill as yet has not been read in Parliament, but it had up to 70% support.

But will the colourful former Member of Parliament from Te Tai Tokerau comply with any deal struck with the Maori Party? And more specifically do New Zealand voters want him back?

On 23 September 2017, we shall find out.

Party performance in Parliament a year out from 2017


By this time in 2017, New Zealand will either be in the throes of an election campaign or be watching the next Government in whatever form it may come, be taking shape in Wellington. With a year or less to go, how are the parties in Parliament shaping up?

National: Old and tired. This party has enjoyed the limelight for 8 years now and despite its high polling a year out from the 2017 general election a swag of issues including crime, housing, social welfare, education, the environment and health are beginning to combine to drag down support. None of the Ministers have sought to excel, much less actually done so, with communication (or a lack of)dragging them collectively down. Third term blues counting against it winning a fourth term. GRADE: C

Labour: Showing the first real signs of promise in the polls with an 8% climb recently. However it is still a long way behind National, and Andrew Little is struggling to gain popularity in the preferred Prime Minister stake. It has much work still to be done on policy, as well as matching them with the strongest voices in their Parliamentary ranks – the exception being Jacinda Ardern whose consistently strong voice on social welfare. Possible that New Zealanders may vote for Labour just to get rid of a third term Government. GRADE: C+

New Zealand First: Doing well in its traditional areas, and showing promise with Fletcher Tabuteau on economic policy and Tracey Martin on education, both of whom have solid experience in these areas. The media prefer to ignore the party or give them a couple of sentences at the bottom of articles. Denis O’Rourke has been working steadily on Christchurch and railways. Needs to run a well organized election campaign. Could cause the shock of the 2017 election if well organized. GRADE: B

Greens: Holding ground, but do not seem to be scoring any large hits. Whilst having clear support for environmental policies, the party has been less successful on justice, housing, and an array of other issues. It has capable Members of Parliament in Julie Anne Genter, Gareth Hughes and James Shaw. Their ongoing appeal to younger people needs to be tapped into if they are to get more seats in Parliament. Competing with New Zealand First for Labour’s attention. GRADE: B-

United Future: Peter Dunne has always been a mystery to me. On one hand we see eye to eye on a Republic, civics in schools and human rights – he has often been on the apologies list for Amnesty International New Zealand Annual Meetings – but on the other his support for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, for National in office on legislation I thought a centrist would have voted against, I have found disappointing. Can Mr Dunne become more than a one man band? Maybe, but United Future would have to lift its game substantially. GRADE: C

A.C.T.: That other one man band, has – for a party of the far right (I won’t call them libertarian, because their corporate nous is stronger than their small government principles permit) – done well with David Seymour’s die with dignity bill getting praise from corners that would normally want nothing to do with A.C.T. Mr Seymour has also been able to see his charter schools idea get advanced by National. But that is where it stops because National could destroy A.C.T. in 2017 simply by standing a strong candidate in Epsom and not doing a deal with a party New Zealanders rightfully thought was dead and buried. GRADE: D

Maori Party: Regardless of what mana Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox might have with Maoridom, there is no doubt in my mind that this party has been a colossal failure. Oh sure it was formed by Tariana Turia to oppose Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Act, but a one issue part is never going to get far in the New Zealand Parliament. Its failure to advance the social needs of Maori and stem the shocking rates of involvement in crime, poverty and other negative socio-economic assessment areas. It is only because of the Maori seats that the Maori Party exists at all – would it be a loss to New Zealand if it disappeared? GRADE: D

Maori becoming disenfranchised with “the Establishment”


I have been sitting on the fence – somewhat uncomfortably – watching the race relations debate around Maori and non-Maori. And I have decided that both sides have points, but there are weaknesses in the arguments held by both. One might ask so what is the point of this post then? In re-examining old thoughts on this issue I have found that there are also issues both sides either cannot or will not acknowledge.

The disenfranchising of Maori  is not new. It has been happening for some time under both Governments. Whilst Maori participate in all aspects of life – as politicians, teachers, nurses and so forth, the socio-economic problems that have caused Maori to be misrepresented in crime and poverty statistics are as glaring as ever and the surface unity is slowly coming unstuck from underneath by disenfranchisement with a system that fails them as much as it fails everybody else.

The discourse with Maori about voting has always been a controversial one. New Zealand has Maori Electorates, which for the most part all parties except New Zealand First – whose default position is not to have race-based seats – contest in the general election. Indeed, Mixed Member Proportional enables the Maori party to exist, just as it does the other smaller parties in Parliament. And whilst those electorates do indeed enable Maori greater representation in Parliament, they are either unaware of or ignore a bigger problem.

The discourse about favouritism towards Maori is equally controversial. For me this is perhaps more clear cut in that the reasoning behind it stems from. Notably this topic has been aired by politicians such as Don Brash whose conservative principles were demonstrated in a 2004 speech. Revising legislation such as the Resource Management Act to remove references to the Treaty of Waitangi, despite Dr Brash’s assertions to the contrary do go some way towards undermining the very Treaty settlements he said in his speech that National had – and has – a record of getting settled. This gives the radical factions in Maoridom the very voice he is trying to silence.

So, what is that problem? This is a problem across the whole political spectrum about disenfranchised voters who are giving up on the established system because it is rigged/faulty/influenced-by-money. After 30 years of market economics, and the policies both of the major parties with whom Maori politicians have worked, with failing to bring meaningful socio-economic gain to people’s lives it is very easy to say “what’s the point? They don’t work for me or anyone I know and they all act like idiots”. And when the Maori Party, which put a proverbial stake in the ground by claiming to work for Maoridom and Maori, and then does not, it is easy to see why Maori feel disenfranchised.

And then there is a second problem. The problem is about how students receive  I loved social studies at intermediate and high school and learnt a lot of fascinating stuff about overseas cultures. However I have no particularly strong memories despite it apparently being in the curriculum of learning about Maori, the Treaty of Waitangi, race relations in New Zealand. How many people would know of the treaty of the independent tribes signed in October 1835? Not very many. If people learned Te Reo at school compulsorily, aside from helping to save what I think is a linguistically beautiful language, it helps connect Maori and non-Maori in a way that balances both worlds.

So in conclusion, when I look at the allegations of favouritism by people like Don Brash, and the controversies surrounding aspects of attempts to reconcile Maori with non-Maori, I deliberately do so against the backdrop of this background knowledge. And I find because of that, there is more to the disenfranchisement than politicians and non-politicians are willing to admit. The way forward is ensure that all New Zealanders are taught from the get go what really happened with the Treaty and is happening with the Treaty. And at the same time, engaging the disenfranchised by teaching civics in school will hopefully address participation in elections.

But is anyone game to make the changes necessary?