Have the Greens peaked?


It is sad to say so, as getting a few more seats would certainly be advantageous for the left-wing of New Zealand politics, but the Greens seem unable to advance beyond their current 14 seats.

There is no doubt that the Greens much coveted position is to be a respected coalition partner for Labour. With no other credible party on the left to assist Labour, it is imperative that the Greens establish themselves as *that* partner. The far left wing of their party might feel alienated and concerned about dealing with a party that is pro-trade and seems happy to occasionally deploy the New Zealand military overseas. However politics is about the art of the deal and compromise is an essential skill, which is something the Green Party should know by now.

Whereas Labour back benchers apparently have good relations with the New Zealand First caucus,.how much has been done to reach some sort of working arrangement with the Greens?

Could the Greens also make some sort of peace with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters? In fairness to them, Mr Peters is a social conservative and has never quite shown the respect that has been due the third largest party in New Zealand. The idea of “Black Green 2014” being a motivating catch cry unfortunately came unstuck for a lack of willingness despite similarities in several policies between the two parties to work together.

It is not like their party is lacking talent. It has Gareth Hughes as its energy spokesperson and Julie Anne Genter as its transport spokeswoman. Both are young, well liked and well educated and know their portfolio’s inside out. Their candidates standing at this election are also among the most diverse ever fielded and include Golriz Ghahraman, a human rights lawyer from Iran. None of this guarantees seats around the Cabinet table

For all their strengths, it is unfortunate to note that the Greens have an annoying habit of occasionally shooting their mouths off. Random comments about one issue or another on a particular day have misjudged the public sentiments or come across as kowtowing to one party or another, and in doing so have lodged in their memories, to have consequences for the Greens on polling day.

The Greens are an essential part of the New Zealand political landscape. Although I am too conservative for them when it comes to foreign policy, defence, justice and the economy, I can see several other policy areas of the Greens working out very well for New Zealand. To lose the Greens or see them unable to grow any further puts a lot of pressure on the left-wing of New Zealand politics that is simply not needed.

Labour is going to have to hope that it can resolve its own problems and make inroads into National in the next four months. If it can half of the challenge of forming a Government has been achieved. The other half one of the other parties will be there to make up the numbers when New Zealand First decides what form the next Government will take. And that might well mean the Greens needing more seats.

 

Labour has four months


127 days. In just 127 days New Zealand will head for the polls. At the end of Election Day, Labour will find out whether or not it is doomed to spend a fourth, possibly permanently crippling, term on the Opposition benches.

That night New Zealand will make a historic choice:

Does it want a Labour Party still stuck in first gear nearly full terms after it was defeated in the 2008 election, leaving it with no clear successor to former Prime Minister Helen Clark? This is a party that has been led by Phil Goff, now mayor of Auckland; David Shearer who gave up his United Nations job in Africa to come back to New Zealand, and has since decided to return to Africa; David Cunliffe, who after succeeding Mr Shearer, and leading Labour to a catastrophic defeat has retired from politics.

Or does it want a National Party that somehow seems to still have the teflon touch of former leader and Prime Minister John Key, where no matter what got flung at it, nothing stuck? This is a party that has navigated through three terms with no clear vision other than economic growth, keeping its backers happy all the while letting housing, violent crime, mental health, environmental issues and dodgy military forays at the request of the United States.

I predict that if Labour gets rolled in the election there will be a general purge. Few will be spared. Mr Little will be just one of a wave of M.P.’s heading for the door. The knives are still sharp from the 2014 election and there will be a fair few in the party braying for blood. The need for fresh ideas, faces, and a change in direction plus a willingness to be brave and stand up for Labour principles is loud and clear enough now, but few seem to be paying attention.

But let us suppose the miracle that Labour needs, actually happens. Let us suppose that just for whatever reason, Labour lead the centre-left to victory and are in a position where they plus the Greens are able to comfortably form a coalition with New Zealand First help. Winston Peters might despise the Greens, but the party has good relations with Labour, and there are many many people in the New Zealand First party who have no desire to see a fourth term National-led Government. Some will be wanting to see Mr Peters get revenge for being outed in 2008 by denying National a fourth term Government.

But let us be honest.

On current performance, the only way Labour will see the ninth floor of the Beehive is either with significant New Zealand First and Green Party help, or a miracle of major portions.

127 days Labour.

That’s all you have.

The case for whistle blower protection legislation


The recent case of Joanne Harrison, a lady who has been convicted of taking $725,000 from the Ministry of Transport and has gone to jail for significant fraudulent activity, had another revelation the other day. It was revealed that a few days after she was told she was under investigation and her access to the building where she worked would be revoked, Ms Harrison tried to enter the building to interfere with documents. Upon failing to get in she asked a contractor to access the building for her.

The employees who blew the whistle on Ms Harrison and her deceit were allegedly not treated well by their employers according to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Mr Peters. Labour M.P. Sue Moroney also questioned the treatment of two people who were thought to have raised red flags, and then found themselves jobless just a couple of months later in a review Ms Harrison had a hand in.

It is true that whistle blower protection legislation already exists in New Zealand. However it is undermined by a grossly inadequate set of protections for anyone who feels the need to report serious wrong doing. It is totally unenforced to the point that very few people – if anyone at all – have actually felt safe enough to come forward under the legislation and report serious wrong doing in their place of employment. And it is also under resourced in terms of help that can be offered those considering reporting serious wrong doing.

Insider activity can devastate companies. Of that there should be no doubt. But what happens when the people who see the most damaging activity are too intimidated to report it? What happens when a culture of fear and/or corruption that makes it too dangerous to report such activity, or the activity is reported by people to their superiors, who then sweep it under the rug?

Despite corporates having practices in place with the intention of making the process safe and easy for such complaints to be reported, there is still the risk that someone in a position of authority, perhaps with undeclared interests to hide, will clamp down on a whistle blower. They will attempt to shut them down through bribes, intimidation and harassment – it can be called bullying, but if the attempts at shutting a complainant succeed it is also an attempt to pervert the natural course of justice.

A whistle blower might continue working at the place where the activity is happening. Why should they leave or be made to fear coming to work each day, fear doing their job, because someone in a position of authority is corrupted?

New Zealand does not necessarily need a General Auditing Office like the United States, but it does need an agency where qualified people with impeccable ethics, acting in a neutral manner are able to receive a complaint, disseminate it and determine whether the company, person or people in question have a case to answer. It needs to be networked with other agencies, such as the Serious Fraud Office, the Police, and others who can investigate and if necessary, bring about a criminal prosecution.

Because whistle blowers are not going to be potentially at risk when they blow the whistle, there needs to be protections in place. In the same way the police protect witnesses to violent crimes or gang violence from intimidation and harassment, there needs to be appropriate protection for whistle blowers from the moment they report the offences through to them either being dismissed or the perpetrators found guilty and sentenced. Even then they might not be safe if in the course of prosecuting, associates of the accused or others scared that their own misconduct might be exposed, decide to track down the whistle blower.

Winston rising, National indifferent and Labour idling


Just under five months out from the election, the winds of change are definitely blowing, but the weather system driving the winds is still some distance away.

The party that has the most to smile about is New Zealand First, whose Annual Convention is in Auckland on 15-16 July 2017. Slowly but steadily the trajectory of New Zealand First in the polls has been upwards – the latest Roy Morgan poll had New Zealand First on 10.5% which would just about get the party a 13th seat in Parliament.

Its Members of Parliament have been working steadily all term. Palmerston North List M.P. Darroch Ball has been scoring hits on the social welfare policies of National. Tracey Martin has made a good go of holding Education Minister Hekia Parata to account. Fletcher Tabuteau can take credit for his work trying to get the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement grounded for good. It will have to work hard this election because the party does not have major financial backers like the Greens, Labour and National do. And yet its trajectory is the single most likely thing to derail a fourth term for National.

After 8 years of Prime Minister John Key’s leadership wooing centrist New Zealanders, Maori voters with his easy going “aw shucks” persona, current Prime Minister Bill English is starting to gain a reputation as “Boring Bill”. His devout Catholicism and preference for the more traditional National ideology of farmers and business first, tougher on criminal offending will have pleased the right wing of National, but it is doing nothing to woo the centrist voters that will be necessary to ensure National win the hugely coveted fourth term.

National have much work ahead of them. Concerns about crime, housing, health and education are all slowly bleeding support. Environmental issues, the escalating international tensions and a wish to restart trade deals that New Zealanders oppose give the impression of a Government that is disinterested in the concerns of a growing number of voters. In any election year it is not a good idea ignore them. In an election year where the reward is a nearly unprecedented fourth term this could be a fatal miscalculation.

After eight years of sitting on the Opposition benches, one would think that Labour would be battle ready and the most dangerous party in the House. Some say Labour are “crusin’ for a bruisin'”, suggesting another electoral disaster is on the way. It has not yet made any substantive policy announcements. It’s caucus renewal does not seem to be happening very fast compared to their Green Party allies, who have announced an interesting array of candidates.

But there are some promising signs showing. Granted they were pretty easy to take, and failure to do would have been hugely damaging to Leader Andrew Little’s control of the party, Labour’s victory in the New Lynn and Mt Albert by elections would have been confidence boosters. And its appointment of Jacinda Ardern who took the Mt Albert by election as Deputy Leader acknowledges the need for a strong leadership team. However they must now press on, announce some substantive and bold policies, and get some potent candidates announced. The clock is ticking.

The overall appearance of the New Zealand political scene going into the election is of weather on a day where the air is definitely unstable, but nothing yet overtly happening. How much longer that will last, time will tell.

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.