National Party reshuffle leaves its climate policy in neutral


Over the weekend, the weekend just gone, the National Party had their annual conference in Christchurch. It was – among other things – a chance for the rural and urban wings of the party to meet as one and see how they are (not)reconciling their differences over climate change.

Until now National Party M.P. Todd Muller (M.P. for Bay of Plenty) had been held the climate change portfolio. Mr Muller, who until today had been No. 31 on the party list, has had a promotion following the resignation of Nathan Guy (M.P. for Otaki), who is standing down at the 2020 election. As a result, but also partially out of dissatisfaction with the efforts to negotiate a deal with the Government on agricultural emissions, Mr Muller has lost the Climate Change portfolio.

The rural wing of the party, it would appear does not believe in climate change and does not want anything done on the issue. This will no doubt concern National Party leader Simon Bridges, who despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s tumble in the polls, is still a long way behind her. The need to keep the blue-green wing of the party on board at a time when the Government is trying to make significant inroads into the issue is critical in order to avoid National conceding seats at the 2020 election.

Scott Simpson (M.P. for Coromandel), takes his place as Climate Change spokesperson. Mr Simpson is not known to have the contacts Mr Muller did in the rural community. In 2017 he was appointed National’s spokesperson for the environment. In that capacity he has been critical of Minister for Environment Eugenie Sage, following revelations that 55 micron L.D.P.E. bags would only work 20 times or so instead of the recommended 55 times to pass the multi-use test.

Mr Simpson will need to move quickly on Climate Change whether he wants to or not. The Zero Carbon Bill, which addresses how the Government should try to reach our 2050 goal of being carbon neutral, closed for submissions on 16 July. National will need to achieve some sort of reconciliation soon between its rural and urban wings over climate change, lest New Zealand First whose membership has a significant rural component undermine their vote.

He will be further motivated by the fact that the Government, whilst on one hand is definitely forging ahead with climate policy, on the other is very definitely lacking ideas or a willingness to try anything radical. There are a number of steps that they could be taking fairly rapidly such as compulsorily recycling all aluminium, which is very energy intensive to manufacture at a smelter. There are also a number of longer term initiatives such as developing biofuel from the waste stream to power vehicles, using waste to energy plants to generate electricity and provide hot water to communities.

Can Mr Simpson be the successful bridge between the blue-greens and the rural wing of the National Party, or will he let the work started by Mr Muller slide in favour of other priorities?

 

Assessment of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill


As a response to the growing concern about the impact of climate change on New Zealand, and in order to give effect to our commitments under the Paris agreement of 2015, the Government has drafted the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill. This article attempts to assess the C.C.R. Bill.

The Bill of Parliament is broken into the following parts:

  • Part 1A focuses on the establishment of the Climate Change Commission, its powers/functions/duties, composition and so forth
  • Part 1B focuses on the establishment of the emission reduction targets, the emission budgets and the processes for establishing these budgets, as well as the role of the Commission and the monitoring of the targets
  • Part 1C focuses on adaptation to climate change
  • Part 2 examines consequential amendments

There are good parts in this Bill of Parliament. They include provision for:

  • A Climate Change Commission that will include a range of figures from scientists to people in the business community, as well as those familiar with local government and planning processes
  • Reducing emissions that are not biogenic methane to net zero by 2050; reduce biogenic methane by 24-47% by 2050 and by 10% or more by 2030
  • A sequence of emissions budgets that act as stepping stones towards the above targets
  • Require the Government to develop policies for adaptation and mitigation

There is however significant room for improvement. There does not appear to be any mention of providing for more immediate as well as intermediate steps that do not need substantial policy development and which are already known to work. The lack of urgency around these has been a cause of concern among environmentalists and the Green Party, but are also potentially likely to have useful social outcomes such as improved energy budgets. I have covered all of these concerns in previous articles.

This will need a comprehensive roll out so that all agencies are aware of their obligations, but also the tools and resources at their disposal. One of the biggest problems across policy making in New Zealand and probably true of the world is the number of agencies that do not communicate and whose awareness of where they fit into the larger framework of policy is not new. For policy to be effectively given effect to, this must improve.

I expect that this Bill of Parliament will run into significant resistance when it returns following the closure of submissions. A.C.T. will oppose it point blank. National will want business concessions and be concerned about the impact on the economy and tax payers, some of which might be granted, but not all. New Zealand First as a coalition partner will likely support it, but have significant concerns about the impact on rural communities. Labour and the Greens will support, but will differ over the extent to which they should move, which might cause tensions inside the coalition.

Businesses will have concerns, and some of them will be quite valid. Others will be more about protecting sectors that are considered to be sunset industries, because in a world adapting to climate change they will probably be phased out. As adaptation is the name of the game, technological and procedural innovation are likely to feature strongly in any attempt at staying relevant.

 

Promotions and a demotion: Government’s mid term spring clean


Following on the heels of the National Party shadow cabinet reshuffle a few days ago, the Government has announced its own reshuffle. It comes amid concerns that Kiwi Build has failed, climate change emissions are continuing to increase and steady head winds caused by a slowing economy and problems with education, health and crime.

Perhaps the least surprising was the demotion of Phil Twyford, who lost the Housing portfolio to Cabinet heavy hitter, Megan Woods. It was not a complete loss however as Mr Twyford keeps his grip on Urban Development, picks up Economic Development and maintains his place in the Executive Council.

Ms Woods, who is already responsible for the Christchurch Earthquake as well as the Energy and Resources portfolio is one of the big movers in the Government Cabinet ranks. As the Minister also responsible for dealing with the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks, she is one of the more trusted Ministers inside the Cabinet of the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She now has three weeks whilst Parliament is in recess for school holidays to study the ins and outs of the Housing portfolio and figure out whether Kiwi Build can be saved or not.

There were other winners as well. Minister of Civil Defence, Kris Faafoi, who is widely known as the Minister of Everything, or as Ms Arderns trouble shooter for his ability to fix problems, has picked up Government Digital Services and Associate Minister of Housing. Another winner is Poto Williams. She has picked up Minister of Community and Voluntary Sector, Associate Ministership for Social Development, Immigration and Greater Christchurch Regeneration.

Some new comers who have not yet held significant positions were handed Private Secretary roles for Ethnic Affairs (Priyanka Radhakrishnan) and Local Government (Willow-Jean Prime). Deborah Russell  who was Ms Prime’s predecessor moves to chair the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.

The moves appear to have affected the Labour caucus M.P.s who are Ministers. The New Zealand First and Green M.P.’s who hold Ministerial portfolio’s (Winston Peters, Tracey Martin, Shane Jones and Fletcher Tabuteau from New Zealand First, plus James Shaw and Eugenie Sage from the Greens), do not appear to have been affected.

Despite that, I expect that they will have noted the changes in the Cabinet colleagues. With major challenges facing Mr Peters in the escalating U.S.-Iran feud, the growing urgency around climate change piling pressure on Mr Shaw and the Oranga Tamariki debacle leaving Mrs Martin in a tight spot, none should take their Ministerships for granted. All will be under pressure to deliver some significant results before Parliament is dissolved later next year for the 2020 General Election. If New Zealand is going to make inroads, these matters need results sooner rather than later.

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 driven  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.

 

Budget leaks or National Party hot air?


The National Party has claimed that the Government has been misleading about the nature of the Fiscal Budget it is due to release on Thursday afternoon. The claims, which come from leader Simon Bridges who says that he has received 22 pages which which show that Defence and Forestry are in line for big expenditure, instead of social welfare, health and education initiatives central to Labour’s promise of “well being”.

To some extent it is a bit of both. Treasurer Grant Robertson has admitted that some of the figures being bandied about are true, but not all of them. Some of the claims are also potentially misleading, such as National claiming that it is not about the well being budget that Labour has promoted. Mr Robertson also pointed out that many of the figures alluded to a four year spending plan that was already known about and therefore the figures were a) not new and b) possible not accurate any longer.

Inevitably there was going to be money set aside this year or next year anyway in the defence budget due to the announcement of the P8 Poseidon patrol aircraft being purchased. On top of that there are other equipment upgrades and replacements being announced in the near future or which are being undertaken right now.

Another alleged leak that was mentioned today regards the budget  is an alleged increase in the budget for forestry initiatives. Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones was not saying much today about the claims other than it not being his job at this point in time to point fingers as to where the leak came from.

As I am not sure how much money is in the coffers, I cannot judge and nor can anyone else just how much of the claims are fakery. Where Mr Robertson should be concerned is about finding out how any figures at all came to be leaked. Was the leak intentional and if so, where did it come from? The annual Fiscal Budget is something that is usually embargoed until 1400 hours on Budget day, which is in this case Thursday 30 May 2019. Normally only Treasury, Cabinet, the printing firm and the Parliamentary services would have access to it prior to the release.

Still, this will not be a great look for the Government on the eve of its second budget, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Mr Robertson will no doubt be at pains to make sure this does not happen again.