National scared of Winston Peters

Yesterday, the Minister for Immigration, Michael Woodhouse announced a raft of new measures to tackle record numbers of migrants coming to New Zealand. The measures come amid a stagnating and high house prices.

But what  was this: An act of desperation? An act of cynicism? An act by a party that is scared of a wily old foe? The timing suggests it could be a combination of all three.

For years Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party have been a consistent clarion for more sustainable levels of immigration than the 71,000 migrants who flooded into New Zealand last year. National has hit back each time, accusing New Zealand First of wanting to stifle growth and of being xenophobic all the while ignoring the very socio-economic issues that are being fuelled by the rapid population growth.

I have no problems with immigration and nor does the New Zealand First party which I support. Without regard to race or reason for coming, if people want to come here and contribute constructively to New Zealand whether they are on work visas, as tourists, let them. If they want to live here long term as law abiding New Zealanders, let them. Where the problem lies is being able to continue this without the quality of life that those already in New Zealand and those that have lived here all along, enjoy being eroded.

Determining what constitutes a sustainable immigration flow is a tricky question and the answers no doubt depend on what is intended to be gained from the data, its modelling and subsequent outputs. If we are simply looking for a rate of immigration that can be maintained for say a generation, perhaps statistical census data, coupled with regional data sets pertaining to the environment is an appropriate way to go. Geographic Information Systems software can do this in a temporal and/or spatial manner, and other applications can do statistical manipulation.

So, how does this relate to National being scared of Mr Peters? The data sets already exist and National has had eight years to use the data to attempt some modelling, and draw up appropriate policy based on the outcomes. The party might well argue that this is what it is doing now.

But after three terms, knowing history does not favour – with the exception of Keith Holyoake, four term peace time Governments, one cannot help but notice the cynicism of the timing. Now it is election year and National has had three terms in office and is seeking a historic fourth term. It has enjoyed years of riding high in the polls and watching Labour slump to consecutive defeats. It has built itself up on a centrist mandate that former Prime Minister John Key obtained in 2008, renewed in 2011 and again in 2014. Mr Key created a common man image that worked well for him, but has come unstuck on current Prime Minister Bill English.

Come 24 September if this attitude of National continues, the party could very well be in a state of shock, unable – and perhaps unwilling – to admit that perhaps one Winston Peters was right all along.

The growing delusions of the English Government

As New Zealand moves into 2017 and begins ramping up towards the 23 September 2017 General Election, the problems facing the three term National-led Government are substantial. All three are issues that the Opposition will try to tackle the Government on in these coming months. But with a Prime Minister and Cabinet more or less in denial about the seriousness of any of them, it is time to have a look at the most potent ones.

Primarily I see three major problems on the horizon for Prime Minister Bill English:

  • The increasingly undrinkable, unswimmable and possibly ultimately unusable fresh water resource
  • The housing crisis, which runs the risk of a sharp and potentially quite painful readjustment – no knowing how big any readjustment would be or how abruptly it may happen
  • Crime – in particular drug related crime

The fresh water one is potentially the most dangerous for National since if there is a large scale decline in fresh water quality, it could impact on the economy, the environment and society. It could potentially cost billions in the long term as tourists decide not to come here because the fresh water that made our unique ecosystems possible is no longer there; the gains made by dairy farming get eroded by the increasing environmental cost and the health threat to humans and animals alike from contaminated water may force some sharp revisions to acceptable fresh water standards. If they perceive that the quality one of the two most live giving elements on the face of the planet is in an unacceptable danger, no amount of muddying the waters, fudging the statistics is likely to change public perception.

This has been simmering for sometime, but may now be near the point of no return. National can build all the houses they like, but if the root cause of the housing market being unsustainable – immigration – is not addressed, then it is all a waste of time, money and resources. National’s stubborn refusal to see housing as being in a state of crisis is causing large numbers of people to turn away. National however are not the only ones refusing to take a serious look at the cause of the problem. Labour will have to do a deal with the Green Party of some sort, which will include some sort of sweetener on immigration. Like National, Labour is finding that many people are opting to look at New Zealand First Leader, Winston Peters, as a potential alternative Prime Minister.

Demand for drugs and tobacco is fuelling a surge in violent crime including petrol station ram raids, armed hold ups and acts of fraud. The perpetrators are generally looking for tobacco or the means to buy more cannabis, methamphetamine and cocaine to sustain their lifestyle. Some dealers are making $4000 a week selling their product to buyers. The Government has failed to admit that a combination of police underfunding, socio-economic circumstances and a soft justice system are all contributing to the problem.

New Zealand First in the kingmaker spot

Three weeks after Prime Minister Bill English set the date for the election – 23 September 2017 – the campaign machines are rumbling into life. In the last week four Green candidates and one major Labour candidate have been announced. The incumbent National Party is down in the polls, but its leader has increased his popularity. But how ready are the parties for the New Zealand Election 2017?

I will be honest on two counts now.

  1. I do not want National to win the election, and preferably not in a coalition deal either
  2. Labour have seven months to look like they are capable of winning an election, or they are can probably classified as a terminally ill political party

On the first count history generally does not favour four term peace time Governments. The exception is the Government of Keith Holyoake whom my mother told me the other day was well regarded as a Prime Minister, and had an exceptional command of the English language. But he had a major failing in that he looked down in a contemptuous way on people who were less well off – in much the same way, the left accuse the likes of the current National-led Government today of being.

It also has to be said that there are issues brewing in the background which National have had 8 full years to deal with, and have not done so. These issues are ones that are a consequence of the economic policy of the last two decades, but exacerbated by changes in Government policy in the last 8 years, namely:

  • Deliberate admittance of large numbers of immigrants to New Zealand, not all of whom intend to live and contribute here long term
  • Subsequent heating of the housing market that has made affording a house in many areas simply unaffordable to many New Zealanders
  • Deliberately forcing people into jobs that they cannot hold down; refusing to address a myriad of interconnecting social issues
  • Escalating crime problems related to drugs that the police simply do not have the resources to deal with

National might be the most popular party, but the last poll showed that New Zealand First is steady on 11% (13 Members of Parliament), which probably translates in real terms into being on about 14% (16 Members of Parliament). National itself is probably more likely to be on about 43% than the 46% given in the latest Colmar Brunton Poll.. That would mean National needing all of its support parties plus New Zealand First to pass legislation. Which brings me nicely to the other side of House.

Labour, in all of their 9 years of Opposition never been stronger. But that is not a difficult thing to say for a political party that has barely moved in that time. In all that time, despite having Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe and now Andrew Little lead the party, Labour have not released any large scale policy changes, seem happy with minor policies and still do not seem to have united behind their leader.

Rather for a political party that wants to be the bedrock of the next Government in seven months time, it is quite a damning thing to say. But even with the 32% (38 Members of Parliament) support that I think Labour probably have, they and their Green Party allies combined are still not enough on their own to form a Government. Like National across the House, Labour and the Greens would need New Zealand First to make up the numbers. Labour desperately need to release some big and bold policy, like maybe a comprehensive change to the legislation governing the Ministry of Social Development or a radical overhaul of the justice system acknowledging that – something that is going to make people stop and take notice.

However Labour have had a few bright spots. They took the Mt Roskill by election, caused by David Shearer’s departure comfortably and will probably take Mt Albert comfortably as well in a few weeks time. And the former police boss Greg O’Connor has just agreed to stand for them in Ohariu, against Peter Dunne.

And then there is the Greens. People have often expressed fears about the social policies that the Greens might introduce and the problems with order and crime that they claim will come with them. Others are concerned that the Greens will stifle economic growth and . But for all the claims against the Greens, I think there are some very good things that they could do around transport, the environment, human rights and energy. I have concerns myself, especially around defence – which is the primary reason I refuse to join, donate or vote for them, but some of the damage being down to the environment that draws in huge numbers of tourists every year is becoming too big to ignore.

Finally there is New Zealand First. If an election were held today, whoever the larger party turned out to be, would have to work with New Zealand First – if assuming we did not have Trump/Brexit type magnitude 9.0 political earthquake that installs New Zealand First on top. Winston Peters has hinted he is not a fan of working with the Greens, but he may have no choice. And much as Mr Peters might not want to admit it, the Greens and New Zealand First see eye to eye on a couple of issues such as killing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement

Small wonder the pundits think this is going to be a big year.

A New Zealand First controlled Government in 2017?

After eight years of this National-led Government in office, it, like the Labour Government that preceded it has demonstrated it never had a vision for New Zealand. It never had a long term plan to address the socio-economic inequality that blights our development as a nation. It never had a plan to tackle worsening environmental indicators, and has largely taken the steps it had after putting down Opposition attempts to address them. It never intended to address the underlying causes of our crime such as the methamphetamine epidemic, the illegal guns coming into the country and the defunding of the Police force.

Why should a New Zealander looking at the last 18 years honestly want to vote for National or Labour? Why would they honestly think that another term with either of these parties at the helm is going to make New Zealand a better place for New Zealanders?
Why indeed? After all the old saying goes that doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different things each time is a form of insanity.

So perhaps it is time to look at another party, a third party that is not beholden to the right or the left. Perhaps it is time to look at another party that is not consumed by lovely slogans such as “A brighter future”, or Labour’s “Knowledge economy”, and then when they get into office, they have not a clue on how implement their promises, no idea about what policy changes are going to be needed. That third party is already in Parliament in New Zealand. That third party has 12 seats.

That third party is New Zealand First.

But rather than harp on about a party that I support, I am instead going to chart in the remaining space of this State of the Nation. I am going to look at the problems facing New Zealand and how I think it’s policy platform – which is what made me first join – is the best suited to sorting out this country’s problems. There are several reasons for liking the policy platform, but the policies themselves speak enough that, without further ado here are the best bits:

  • A pro rata superrannuation scheme. This scheme is not only quite sensible, it is also very fair. A person who works their entire career in New Zealand would be eligible for 100% of New Zealand superannuation; a person who has done say half their career as a working person, would get around 50% of New Zealand super and fund the rest from their earnings outside of New Zealand
  • The party has the best defence policy, balanced and recognizing the needs of all three services instead of focussing on one service or another as National and Labour have shown – and admitted – their preferences for
  • Sending major policy that has not been tied down in the Party Manifesto to a binding referendum helps acknowledge the need for democratic practices, something National and Labour have often paid lip service to, but for the most part ignored
  • It recognizes that environmental sustainability and economic development is a balancing act; that for the most part the Resource Management Act works if we would just leave the damn thing alone

And the two I like the most:

  • Exports – we need to diversify our export base and get into tech fields as well as developing niches
  • Science driven – the party considers Research and Development an investment and not an expenditure item

I want to see New Zealand First do well at this election. Other the options are not that great unless Labour revives in the next few months. I am done with same old, same old expecting different outcomes.

Are you?

Has Christmas come early for Andrew Little?

One week ago, just before the Mt Roskill by election, Labour was a party staring down the prospect of a fourth term on the Opposition benches (which might yet still happen, but that is another story). It needed a boost to counter National whose constant support in the polls in the mid-high 40% range is as historic as its wallowing in the late part of a third term, still stuck in the high 20% range.

For 8 long years Labour had to sit and watch National glide through 2 2/3 Parliamentary terms. It suffered two devastating defeats. After the first one Phil Goff, who had been Leader of the Opposition after Helen Clark left, resigned and David Shearer took over. Mr Goff’s leadership had actually not been that bad and he had managed to land a couple blows on Prime Minister John Key, but the problem was that he was just never meant to win the 2011 election. Nor did it help that he was facing a Prime Minister who is probably the most popular in two generations.

Right from the start David Shearer was in trouble. Nothing he did, nothing he said, nowhere he went could change the fact that he was not cut to be Opposition Leader. His leadership in the House was nonexistent. No decent policy announcements were made. It was almost as if Labour were too scared to perform. It was no surprise that he was made to quit by an increasingly nervous Labour caucus. His successor David Cunliffe had a very short honeymoon as Labour struggled to get out of first gear going into 2014. In the end, Mr Cunliffe led Labour in part by its own ineptitude and in part because of his own bumbling to a second devastating defeat that had political commentators questioning whether its time as a political party was finished.

It said nothing for Mr Shearer or Mr Cunliffe that right from his arrival  back in Parliament, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was immediately as popular as either of them in them in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. The prospect that Labour might be overtaken by a party that had just spent three years in the political wilderness outside of Parliament might have galvanized other parties into action, but it seemed to have little or no effect on Labour.

So as David Cunliffe resigned  in the aftermath of the 2014 election, Mr Little rose to the challenge. Unlike Mr Cunliffe who did not have much of a honeymoon, mid way between elections and leading a party in dire shape, Mr Little at least has the benefit of a whole Parliamentary term to get Labour ready. And slowly the fractured caucus began to congeal behind him, willing at least for the time being to bury the hatchet of internal politics.

But the going has not been easy. Aside from brief flashes of good social policy, and the odd success calling out Prime Minister John Key and the National Party in Parliament, Mr Little seemed to be making little impact until the housing crisis blew up. The announcement of free undergraduate tertiary education provided a bump, but was cancelled out a few months later by the ill-fated “marriage” with the Greens. The media perception was that Andy was angry and it was starting to affect his performance. It was beginning to look as though Labour needed a miracle.

And on Monday 05 December, they got it when the Prime Minister, the single biggest asset in the whole National Party quit. But it was more than just the imminent departure of a very popular Prime Minister, but also the centrist politics that drew many people away from Labour and New Zealand First that would exit Parliament with him, that made this announcement all the more incredible. The impending swing to the right might be the boost that is needed for Mr Little to spark life back into a party bereft of ideas and in dire need of a major morale booster.

With a dour Catholic Prime Minister taking over on Monday and a highly controversial Minister who is seen by many as a bully, National is gambling the political capital of Mr Key. And with his departure, the probable swing to the right back to core National Party voters and ideology Andrew Little will finally be able to say National is a conservative party after all.