National changes tune on climate change


National leader Simon Bridges has pledged to work with Labour and the Greens on establishing common ground on climate change. The announcement comes as part of a u-turn by National on an issue that until recently it had been quite cool on.

I find this quite interesting given that when Mr Bridges was a Minister of the Crown one of his portfolios was Minister of Energy and Resources. Mr Bridges in that role undertook to pass under urgency legislation that effectively criminalized the right to peaceful assembly on the high seas. Mr Bridges also met with executives from several oil companies, such as Anadarko who lobbied heavily for the Crown Minerals (Crown land and protection)Act 2013.

How will National work constructively with Labour and the Greens? To do that, they would need to get their M.P.’s on board – many, such as Judith Collins do not care much for environmental issues, and some have gone so far as to say so in public. National would then need to get its grass roots members on board, remembering this is a conservative party with a strong rural base and supported by businesses, farmers, industrialists and wealthy donors.

Getting all of them on board would be a challenge. Many would see it as undermining the economy. Industry would be reluctant to support changes to resource management law for example that tighten emissions controls and force them to spend money on installing scrubbers, despite the existing argument that the scrubbers would pay for themselves by enabling more efficient burning.

Part of this is no doubt intended to appeal to National’s Blue Greens, who are the segment of the party with concerns about environmental sustainability. The Blue Greens were delighted in April 2007 when the then Leader of the Opposition John Key said the key areas for the National Party would be economy, education and the environment. But during the 8 years Mr Key was in office the party largely paid lip service to the Blue Greens and I cannot help but wonder if it will wind up doing the same again this time.

It is not that there are no opportunities for innovation and job growth. On the contrary, one of the great opportunities afforded by the need to tackle climate change is unlocking green research, science and technology. This could be boosted by raising the percentage of the G.D.P. that New Zealand spends on research, science and technology which has been hovering around a mediocre 0.9% in contrast with other O.E.C.D. countries.

Will partisan politics wind up getting in the way of a multi-lateral approach involving cross party support from both Opposition and Government parties? One would hope not. New Zealand needs to tackle this issue, because the damage to our environmental reputation if we do not would be simply too much for a country of our size to handle.

So, I welcome National’s commitment to doing something about climate change. There is a lot of water to go under this bridge, but it is a start.

Jacinda Ardern mustering the troops ahead of Winston Peters arrival


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a busy few days ahead of her. With a misfiring Cabinet, an absentee (both in mind and presence)Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and a baby on the way, Ms Ardern knows time is not on her side.

Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis has been largely invisible. Some say he was deliberately made to go into hiding and press the flesh with the Iwi as a way of shoring up the Maori vote that enabled Labour to sweep the Maori Party from office. Some say he has been shielded because his performance in the House of Representatives when answering questions from the Opposition has its own questions to be answered. Whatever the case, Mr Davis does not seem to be handling some of the more basic duties expected of a Deputy Leader all that well.

Add a misfiring Cabinet, rattling off gaffes that no doubt give National leader Simon Bridges cause for hope, the complexity of the problems facing Ms Ardern in the next 7 days just got quite a bit worse. Transport Minister Phil Twyford was stripped of the responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority after being caught using his cellphone on a flight.

Ms Ardern has her own problems too. And that is not a reference to her impending date with maternity ward, so much as it is a nod to the fact that one of her flag ship policies, ending oil exploration has not gone down the way it was intended. Whilst it now takes a bit of a breather as climate change policy is before the public whilst they are granted the opportunity to make a submission on it, no mistake should be made about the fact that National is going to assemble a formidable case against banning oil exploration. Whilst the result would probably have still been the same, it should have at least been put to Cabinet first.

With all of these problems, little wonder Ms Ardern is only intending to be on leave for six weeks. Her partner, Clarke Gayford, First Man in New Zealand and First Dad will have a significant role to play at home, not just looking after their baby, whenever and however it may come. So who will fill the void for six weeks?

Cue Winston Peters, the survivor of a dozen terms in Parliament, with experience as Cabinet Minister in three Governments. Captain of the Nation for six weeks.

New Zealand politics might be in a piece of uncharted water here. With just a couple of weeks to go before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives birth to her first child, the New Zealand First-Labour-Green Coalition is readying itself for a six week period with an acting-Prime Minister.

Winston Peters however is not new to this situation. He has been Acting Prime Minister in the past, when New Zealand First supported the National led Government of formers Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley. As the longest serving member of Parliament – having spent most of the last 40 years in and around the Beehive and Parliament Buildings – Mr Peters knows the Standing Orders better than anyone including probably the Speaker of the House.

Mr Peters also has significant ministerial experience as well. He was Treasurer in the National-led Government of Mr Bolger/Mrs Shipley for 20 months before being fired by Mrs Shipley in August 1998. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs under former Prime Minister Helen Clark in the 2005-2008 Government. During that time he met a number of high ranking politicians from overseas including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Mr Peters has a knack for reading the minds of the voters. It is not possible to get as far as Mr Peters has without being able to read the electorate. Combine this with his witty, charismatic nature, ability to dish out one liners or complex answers as they are needed and you have the makings of a leader. But to get as far as Mr Peters has, one needs to have a genuine passion for the role, a hunger to succeed and

Simon Bridges drops in popularity; Crusher enters preferred P.M. stakes


National leader Simon Bridges is not the most popular politician in New Zealand at the moment. Whilst he might have the support of his National Party, and not really having been tested in the short time that he has been in office, his popularity is right where Andrew Little’s was this time last year before Jacinda-mania took hold.

Mr Bridges is experiencing the same very low levels of popularity that assailed successive Labour leaders during the three terms that party was out of office. For the time being this is not cause for alarm as Mr Bridges still has at least two years to wait before the next election, meaning there is plenty of time for Labour to make a significant mistake that National can capitalize on.

However if Mr Bridges still finds himself in this position cometh the 2020 Fiscal Budget he might find himself being challenged for the job. For that to happen though, there would need to be a significant change in polling fortunes. Right now A.C.T. and National can muster 59 seats in a Parliament of 122.

Perhaps the party that should be the most concerned is New Zealand First. Since their announcement that they will support the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, the support for the party has plunged with many people who until then had been staunch supporters walking away from the party of Winston Peters. Prior to that announcement, the Party had been widely viewed by the voting public as the only party other than the Greens that was stridently opposed to the C.P.T.P.P. and its predecessor the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (T.P.P.A.). If an election were had today and the poll result was accurate, there would be no New Zealand First in the new Parliament.

The Green Party are still struggling with the post-Metiria Turei era. Mrs Turei’s departure from Parliament as a result of being made to resign following admissions that she misled Department of Work and Income over her income whilst she was a solo mother, was bad enough. But that was damage that could have been (probably would have been)fixed had she announced at the same time that she had paid it all back, leaving the Opposition with minimal ammunition and probably not causing the revolt in the ranks of the Green Party. Although they have now elected Marama Davidson to the co-leadership position, Mrs Davidson has yet to be distinctly heard, which is something that the Greens will be hoping changes in the near future. Because of that, the Greens slipped slightly in the poll.

A.C.T. continues to languish in the poll, supported only by leader David Seymour’s hold on the Epsom electorate. Granted Mr Seymour has been showing off his dance moves on Dancing With The Stars, and his End of Life Choice Bill has cross party support in dealing with euthanasia, there is little else maintaining peoples interest in him or his party.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sails positively on. A few weeks away from going on maternity leave and handing Mr Peters temporary control of the country, Ms Ardern sits on 40.2% support in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. Since much Labour policy is still to come and her handling of the problems that have so far come her way, has been largely competent, like Mr Bridges, although for quite contrasting reasons, she has little cause for alarm.

Budgeting expectations: New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2018


Today is the day that New Zealand and the world see the first budget of the Labour-New Zealand First-Greens coalition Government. It will be the first delivered by Labour Treasurer Grant Robertson. In anticipation of the budget, here is a recap of what has been announced and what can be expected.

The broad shape of some large expenditures have already been announced. The details that are still to follow on these will come later as those expenditures are put into effect. So, what are they?

  1. Transport – A total of $28 billion has been announced for fixing transport in Auckland, a sum that caught many by surprise, and which will be spread out over a 10 year period
  2. Housing – KiwiBuild was given a N.Z.$2 billion capital advance in December to get underway the construction of 100,000 new homes in New Zealand, and $100 million was allocated in the first pre-Budget announcement of which $37.1 million comes from existing budgetary measures
  3. Christchurch – The Government made significant election promises to Christchurch, which include supporting commuter rail, assistance for those struggling with insurance claims
  4. Foreign Affairs – you can see my earlier article acknowledging the $1 billion allocated to the Pacific and other aspects of New Zealand foreign affairs, but it is worth noting the reopening of the embassy in Sweden which closed under the National government

With so many big announcements already made, one might be wondering if Labour has any more tricks left in the bag. Mr Robertson will no doubt be acutely aware of other areas of funding for which announcements will need to be made at some point. They include the courts, prison and Police so that we may get on with dealing to the methamphetamine epidemic taking hold as well as trying to address why going to prison does not seem to be working as a sentencing tool.

At some point Mr Robertson will also have to address the potential of a nurses strike for better pay and conditions, which if answered will cost several hundred million dollars. In this case though, I wonder if it not so much an inadequate budget as inept District Health Board planning – shortly after Labour was elected in 2000 I heard that scrapping the District Health Boards in favour of a central funding model would save $750 million per annum, and whilst I am not necessarily suggesting such a move, a review of them is tempting.

Other areas that will need an increase in funding are Research, Science and Technology – New Zealand has lagged behind other O.E.C.D. countries for years in terms of investment into science. Some scientists have observed what appears to them to be a war on science by politicians with agenda’s that do not necessarily conform to the known facts, particularly around environmental issues.

I personally doubt Labour will make any radical new announcements today. Most of what happens I suspect will be building on existing announcements. Still, this is a big day for Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens. Voters, despite National’s attempts to show the contrary will probably go easy on them until a sense of direction (or lack of)becomes obvious.

Mr Robertson will deliver the Fiscal Budget at 1400 hours.

 

Government faces challenges on finances


When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced during last years election campaign that Labour would form a Tax Working Group if elected, many thought that this was a cop out mechanism for avoiding the heat on tax. Whilst not being one of these people, I did wonder how comprehensive Labour’s planning on tax had been. As we approach  the Fiscal Budget of 2018 next month, those concerns remain, but some definitively positive signals are also emerging.

The challenges are significant. Not all of them though, involve raising/lowering taxes, introducing new financial tools that affect taxpayers to prop up the books.

Some of them are about making corporate tax evasion more difficult to achieve by working with other nations to ensure corporates like – but not limited to – Apple and Facebook pay what tax they owe. Others are about making sure that tourists who come to New Zealand have some sort of medical insurance to keep the cost to the taxpayer in check.

Not all of these challenges will be or should be addressed in the coming Fiscal Budget. Some will require amendments to tax law and greater oversight.

At the last election Labour said that its plans, which did not signal income or business tax changes, had been costed and found to tally up. Opposition Members of Parliament claim Labour cannot possibly afford their plans for New Zealand without substantial tax increases. Some go so far as to suggest that by cancelling planned tax cuts, the Government has in effect announced a tax increase, something Labour denies.

My own concerns are that Labour, in ruling out business and income tax changes, has left itself open to a budgetary blow out. This would lend credibility to the likes of former Treasurer Steven Joyce’s claim of a budgetary black hole, and Labour being amateurish in budget setting.

However there have been a number of pleasing announcements that suggest to me that a degree of control has been exerted. One of those announcements is that there will be a royalty on the use of water for commercial and irrigation purposes. Another is the introduction of a tourism infrastructure fund. It will take the shape of a N.Z$25 levy placed on non citizens and residents visiting New Zealand. In past articles I have called for a levy to be placed on such visitors, as it is a useful user pays scheme that reduces the pressure on Regional, District and City Councils, whose rates are already subject to considerable pressure.

Of course, all of this said, Labour have yet to actually introduce a Fiscal Budget simply because it is not time. The Fiscal Budget for as far back as I can remember has always happened in May. I accept therefore that it is a work in progress and one not to be judged until the Treasurer Grant Robertson presents his first Budget on 17 May 2018.