Parliament enters its final week with chaos on both sides of the House


Perhaps never in recent times has the New Zealand Parliament arrived in the final week of a term with so much party chaos. A Opposition wracked by internal strife and unable to follow its own rules; a coalition barely hanging together by the thinnest of threads and an election 6 weeks away. But here we are in August 2020 with just such a scene.

Just when one thought National’s disastrous 2020 could not get worse, the Party has admitted breaking its own rules. In the mad scramble to find a replacement for outgoing Auckland Central M.P. Nikki Kaye, the party misused a clause in its candidate selection process. With ten candidates wanting to line up as the replacement, with a minimum of five being allowed to ensure a decent selection, only two candidates were originally permitted. Perhaps more embarrassing for National was the burst of misogyny from its own members that accompanied this latest revelation. Apparently unable or unwilling to get their heads around Nuwanthie Samarakone’s prior history as a ballet dancer an image of her in a leotard has been circulated among party members with derogatory commentary.

Without doubt there must be many in the party who cannot wait for the election to be over and done with. Some might even be wanting the party they love to take a bit of a pasting as a measure of tough love, whilst still more might be uneasily eyeing A.C.T. as the potential beneficiary of their party vote. A.C.T., a one man band in Epsom is looking at its best performance since 2008 when it brought five M.P.’s to Parliament.

Regarding the coalition, Henry Cooke probably could not have put it better: a car near the end of a journey falling to bits with the driver concentrating on the road ahead, whilst the passengers have a noisy fist fight.

New Zealand First need to grow up and focus on the fact that their house is not in apple pie order. As Tracey Martin put it in a recent interview with Andrea Vance the party had clay feet in 2008 when it was turfed from Parliament and the Party had three weeks to clear out of the Parliamentary precinct. Unfortunately she did not note based on the continuing emission of smoke, regarding allegations of improper donations and other financial improprieties which have been burning all year, that the party has equally clay feet in dealing with them.

But there is a bigger problem. Is it just possible that after 36 years, and 11 terms in Parliament, New Zealand has finally had enough of Winston Peters? Is it just possible that the swing towards Labour is in part a nod to the fact that for real social progress to happen, New Zealand needs to overhaul its taxes in ways New ZealandĀ  First is steadfastly opposed to? It is not impossible.

But of the Green Party? Oh fricking dearie me. What have we here? A party that through a dose of ineptitude and a completely disinterested media has completely

And through all this, perhaps because she can see the finish line, or perhaps because Labour are on a nearly unprecedented roll at the moment, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is somehow managing to ignore the disintegrating state of the car and the back seat fist fight. One more week of Parliament, if she can just get the coalition to stay together for one more week….

 

Report card for 52nd Parliament


The 52nd Parliament of New Zealand will be dissolved in a few days time to clear the deck for the 19 September 2020 General Election. It has 3 more sitting days, during which time there will be valedictory speeches by outgoing Members of Parliament. The Government will attempt to tidy up what it can of the remaining legislative agenda. The dissolution is a public event that, weather permitting, happens in front of the Parliament steps.

But whilst we wait for Parliament to wind up, it is time for the triennial Parliamentary Report Card, where I examine the performance of the individual parties in the three years since the 23 September 2017 General election.

A.C.T.

In a turbulent term where there was a mosque attack, a volcanic eruption and which currently has an out of control global pandemic, A.C.T. have been the surprise performer of the Parliamentary parties. This is not to say I want to see A.C.T.’s caucus grow at all since the party is almost completely contrary to everything I stand for, but credit where it is due. Mr Seymour has done good work on bringing legislation before Parliament on euthanasia. His support for decriminalizing abortion would have won him plaudits with female voters, and his libertarian approach to cannabis will give the base members something to cheer about. Mr Seymour cut a lonely figure when Parliament voted 119-1 to pass legislation restricting certain automatic firearms and has been the one Party to consistently resist work on climate change. For that his party looks like being reward in the polls with up to four more members joining him. GRADE: B+

GREENS

The Greens however are polling poorly at this time. Their support has not been the same since Metiria Turei was ousted over her admission of lying to Work and Income about her finances. With current polling of only 5%, the Greens look set to lose a couple of Members of Parliament. Despite being in their first coalition Government and having seats around the Cabinet table a combination of poor tactical decisions, not being able to achieve all that they wanted to (which no party in a coalition government ever can!)and some unfortunate negativity in the media has seen them lacking some of the flair that has been in past versions of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Releasing their manifesto at a time when minimal media attention was being paid, has not helped either. GRADE: B-

LABOUR

Labour took office in 2017 having pulled off one of the most stunning turn arounds in New Zealand political history. From the pre-election doldrums of 2017, staring down the barrel of one of the biggest election thrashings in recent times, and having had four leaders in nine year prior Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it needed a miracle. Since Labour took office it has been a wild roller coaster ride largely driven by events out of Ms Ardern’s control – a terrorist attack killing 51 innocent beings; a volcanic eruption causing New Zealand’s first direct volcanic fatalities since the 1914 lahar on Whakaari and – as of March 2020 a global pandemic. With each even Ms Ardern has not only risen to the challenge but owned it, employing a now respected cocktail of empathy and kindness for the victims, coupled with guidance by the experts and a no-nonsense tack. Both the terrorist attack and the pandemic have generated widespread approving media coverage of the Government. Even the misdemeanours of Clare Curran, David Clark and Meka Whaitiri seem to pale somewhat when considering the magnitude of what the Government has been grappling with. With public support for Labour at an historic M.M.P. era high it is their election to lose. GRADE A

NATIONAL

The largest party at the end of the 2017 election entered Parliament determined to make inroads on a Labour-led Government that among the usual hiccups that happen when a party is still trying to find its feet, many thought had tried to bite off too much. One thought that National might have quickly found its feet following the start of the new Parliament, but attacks were largely uncoordinated and the public were happy to give Labour a bit of time to find its feet. The 15 March 2019 terrorist attack was handled as graciously as National could, including the support offered to the Government. Leader Simon Bridges hadĀ  realized it was not his moment, but he had to front with the Prime Minister to show empathy. An eruption followed as did the onset of the pandemic. But frustrations about National’s inability to contain an increasingly popular Prime Minister were growing. In May 2020 they boiled over, with the rolling of Mr Bridges. His successor lasted 53 days during which time National had a dizzying plunge in the polls. Worsening the crisis was the outing of M.P.’s Hamish Walker, Michael Woodhouse and an admission that former Party President Michelle Boag. Another coup followed with Judith Crusher Collins finally getting to lead the party whose Papakura electorate she has been in since 2005. But a lack of definitive policy other than roads and woefully out of touch Ms Collins mean a third coup is probable before the end of the year. Maybe before the election. GRADE: D

NEW ZEALAND FIRST

It is not that New Zealand First have been useless in this Government. When you look at the work that Mr Peters has done on foreign affairs, including suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong; the work of Minister of Defence Ron Mark which has seen two critical equipment purchases that National had delayed, get made; and the work of Tracey Martin on children’s affairs, the party has actually made a substantial contribution. However its conservative side has shown in several instances that may serve to harm the Government further down the road – Shane Jones’ unwillingness to control his mouth is a liability. The retirement of Clayton Mitchell removes an M.P. tarnished by out of Parliament goings on. But how much longer can the aura Winston Peters last? Can the Brexit boys really revive the party, or will they kill it? And there is also the lingering plume of smoky donations from an unannounced fire somewhere in the party. GRADE: C+

Big changes looming for Resource Management Act


Yesterday the biggest amendment to the Resource Management Act – its possible complete overhaul, or replacement – was announced by the Minister for the Environment, David Parker. The announcement was of the release of a report by Tony Randerson, recommending the replacement of the Act.

Since it was formed, A.C.T. has been a proponent of scrapping the R.M.A. altogether. However when I have asked them what they would replace it with, usually the answer has been a stony silence or the subject has been changed.

Most National Party members I have talked to seem to be in a similar boat. They say that it would be replaced with sensible legislation, but no one has elaborated on what “sensible legislation” might look like.

New Zealand First and the Greens have not announced an R.M.A. related policy at the time of writing this. Labour has said that it will campaign on the recommendation of the report released yesterday.

But is it entirely the R.M.A.’s fault that it got to the state that we find it in today? Not necessarily. New Zealand was very slow to realize that the statutory plans each council is required to prepare varied wildly in terms of content, presentation and usability. It was not until 2017 that National Planning Standards were introduced.

The R.M.A., like any other Act of Parliament is only as good as its implementation. As the implementation of the Act falls to the various local councils, ministries and governments, it is they who must bear responsibility for this. As councils budgets are restricted by the size of their rate payer base, sometimes they have not got sufficient staff to adequately cover their statutory responsibilities. This can lead to half baked planning outcomes that were not properly thought through.

When the R.M.A. was first introduced it was about 400 pages long. Today it is about 800 pages long.

It will be interesting to read the Randerson report into one of New Zealand’s most controversial pieces of legislation, and see what the justifications are given.

New Zealand First not as extinct as people think


For two years now, New Zealand First has slunk along at 2-3% in the polls, occasionally rising if one their Members of Parliament manages to get an Act of Parliament through or support significant legislation. It has not been the same since it decided to support Labour’s quest to end the nine year National-led Government.

Yes, Winston Peters is getting old and people are certainly wondering why he does not simply announce his retirement and be done with it. His detractors will be hoping that the current stubbornly low polling translates into electoral oblivion on 19 September 2020. Despite all of the many detractors Mr Peters and the New Zealand First party have, it is important to note that there is no clear cut centrist alternative should New Zealanders decide that New Zealand First is finished in September.

Whilst Prosperity Party exists, it is not ready for Parliament by a significant margin. The party, which was started by Helen Peterson was formed earlier this year to provide an alternative moderate voice in the political spectrum. Even if it did run a good campaign and get warmly received by voters disgruntled with New Zealand First, it is facing several challenges that are not of its making. For and clearly foremost is the 5% Party vote/1 electoral seat hurdle, which is a formidable jump for any out of Parliament party to attempt. Second, running on limited resources and lack of name recognition, it is still building up its basic regional networks and structures. This is not likely to be ready by September.

Whilst New Zealand seems to be experiencing a possible tectonic shift in politics at the moment, it is still too conservative for the Green Party. Mr Peters may have made a mistake attacking it a week ago by calling out their lack of experience. He knows that he can rely on New Zealand’s senior citizens to turn out at the polling both to support a party that despite some progress being made last decade in terms of turning it into a 21st Century organization. He knows that most are just wanting someone who will protect their pensions, ensure that their communities are safe – developing a green economy; housing; education; foreign policy and the environment are someone else’s problem.

I am an ex-New Zealand First voter as I believe that the party is hindering the socio-economic reforms necessary to enable New Zealand to address inequality. The party had a very good policy platform whilst I was a member. However a combination of adversity to a capital gains tax/wealth tax/land tax or other measure that would enable the investment necessary in our social welfare safety net, and it back tracking on the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, has led me to believe that levelling the playing field for those with lesser financial means, and ability.

Despite my loss of confidence in my old party, I do not believe New Zealand First to be an entirely spent force. Anyone who has followed Mr Peters and his uncanny knack of getting the party revived again and again, and believes this must surely be it, need only look at history. This is the party that was evicted from Parliament by voters who chose to that a donations racket involving New Zealand First and Sir Owen Glen was true. The Police found no wrong doing had been done, but it was not enough for the public. This is the party that no one other than party members believed would be back in 2011, but they were – 8 Members in all.

Winston Peters and his party will probably be back. Whether it is on the back of an electorate seat or by getting 5% of the party vote, only the voters in September will know the answer to that. But the voters who remember Labour in the 1980’s and National in the 1990’s taking the country apart with deregulation probably do not yet trust either enough to govern alone.

Latest poll a warning written in red for National


The Newshub poll released yesterday would be enough to make any genuine conservative weep. For them this is a measure of the public’s absolute disgust with National’s performance on just about everything in the last several months. From the Governments response to COVID19, to leadership ructions to M.P.’s breaching COVID19 patients privacy National has seen an unprecedented run of bad news. So. Just how bad is this poll for National? Devastating. Here are the seats in the House if the election had been yesterday:

  • LAB: 77
  • NAT: 32
  • ACT: 04
  • GRE: 07

Whilst I still struggle to see Labour having an absolute majority on 19 September 2020, I see absolutely no way other than every other party in Parliament putting their ideologies aside if they are to challenge Labour. Thus I imagine Parliament would look like this:

  • LAB: 60
  • NAT: 36
  • ACT: 04
  • GRE: 11
  • NZF: 7
  • MAO: 2

Basically there is only one way to interpret this poll and that is that it is point blank warning written in vivid red ink for National. New Zealanders do not trust you to govern yourselves, so why should they entrust you with the governance of Aotearoa?

For New Zealand First, the Newshub poll will make for terrifying reading. After nearly 36 years of national level politics, it would suggest that the public have finally unequivocally had enough of Winston Peters and New Zealand First. The party loyalists of course will say otherwise, but in the same way that former Prime Minister John Howard was swept from office in 2007, it might be that New Zealanders have concluded the only way to address the socio-economic ills is to give Labour a freer hand in Government.

For A.C.T. both my poll and the Newshub polls will be a hollow victory. Four Members of Parliament will be great news for David Seymour, who will finally have a caucus to maintain. It will be great for A.C.T.’s right wing libertarian base who are smarting at the success of a Prime Minister many name “Taxinda/Cindy”. However it will be largely meaningless because without National anywhere near a position to provide them with coalition options, A.C.T. will at best be able to only put up limited resistance to law changes that they do not like in Parliament.

It is also a blinding hit on the right wing parties that among other things think Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a Communist; that COVID19 is a scam and the United Nations is a vehicle for a New World Order agenda. It is effectively saying New Zealanders think you are too bat crazy to be entrusted with a respectable portion of the out of Parliament vote, never mind a seat in the House of Representatives.

For the Greens, my poll is an acknowledgement of their efforts at writing solid policy, which is something that seems to be eluding other parties and to some extent the media that follow them. It acknowledges the fact that they have had some policy wins whilst dealing with New Zealand First, whose leader Winston Peters elected to attack in his keynote address last week at the New Zealand First Convention.

For Labour, if you take the Newshub poll and made the date 19 September 2020, this could be construed as a massive mandate by the public of New Zealand to enact comprehensive reform across the board. It would be a once in a generation election It would be a nod to the fact that there really is nothing wrong with “kindness” or “compassion”. I would expect to see a quite comprehensive social plan rolled out. Anything less would be to squander what would be Labours greatest day since before National’s last drubbing in 2002.