Challenges facing the minor parties in 2019


The new year has begun and in a few weeks Parliament will be returning to our television screens. Members of Parliament will be coming back after the Christmas break refreshed and ready for another busy year. In this article I look at the achievements of 2018 among the minor parties and what to expect in 2019.

Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (A.C.T.):

The one man band of David Seymour can do only so much. A rebranding of A.C.T. is not likely to result in any significant internal change. Unless A.C.T. can get more than 1.0% in of the party vote at the next election and Mr Seymour holds his Epsom seat, A.C.T. will not grow. A complete dissolution of the party and starting over from scratch is not likely to help either because it risks losing the Epsom seat and destroying whatever replaces A.C.T. Mr Seymour, unlike the larger parties does have the advantage of being able to pick the battles that A.C.T. wishes to engage in, such as economics, charter schools, deregulation, justice and Mr Seymour’s pet “End of Life Choices Bill”.

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand:

To be a Green Party member right now must be one of the more exciting things happening on the left of the political spectrum. It is a chance for the social justice crusaders to make good on their promises of so many years, a chance to enact some Green policies. Priorities in 2019 will include pushing for a euthanasia bill to be passed in Parliament, which might find them in the rare and unusual position of supporting A.C.T. – politics can create strange bedfellows at times – in getting David Seymour’s End of Life Choices Bill through. It will also see more progress being made on the landmark announcement in April last year that New Zealand will be rid of oil and gas by 2020, which is something I am watching closely, not least because I do not believe that this is realistic given the economics of alternative energy sources.

Internally the Greens have a few challenges. Marama Davidson’s crusade to reclaim “the c word”, deserved the derision it got from all corners of the internet. I am sure Green party strategists must have shielded their faces from the sight of her making that speech. Attacking the Defence Force as it undergoes necessary equipment upgrades not only to pursue the many non military activities it assists in such as disaster relief, fisheries enforcement and search and rescue will appeal to the far left peaceniks, but not their Labour or New Zealand First colleagues.

New Zealand First

My old party will be proud of what it has achieved in 2018. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters had a stellar year with an injection of funding for South Pacific affairs, and being able to meet numerous foreign counterparts. Minister of Defence and former soldier Ron Mark will be pleased that he was able to get one major Defence Force acquisition signed off. Minister for Children and Minister in charge of Oranga Tamariki, Tracey Martin also enjoyed a good 2018, being able to enact changesĀ  that were stalled by the previous National-led Government.

It will also be a year of major challenges. New Zealand First exists in Parliament because of a core of extremely dedicated party members and volunteers. However its internal organization is lethargic and at election time almost freezes, like it does not know what to do. It’s lack of emphasis on South Island members and electorates has seen many committees be abandoned and left to wither on the vine. Only one Member of Parliament is from the South Island. Addressing these issues will have significant benefits for the 2020 election campaign.

So, with 2019 now underway and New Zealand just waiting for Parliament to resume next month, commentators are waiting to see whether the proverbial dogs (National, Labour) wag the tail or the tails (A.C.T., Greens, New Zealand First)wag their masters.

What will a carbon neutral economy look like?


As 2019 nears the starting line, one of the issues that I have spent time wrestling with, and I am sure others have to is how will New Zealand make the transition from oil and gas to a carbon neutral state by 2050. Can we even do it?

This article examines the commentary of an opinion column by Neil Holdom on Stuff on how, or indeed whether, New Zealand can make the transition.

My responses to individual parts of the article are below:

“Unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country,” she said.

Okay, so your government might have made the decision to ban oil and gas by 2050. But there was not a plan in place – if you had said at the start of your Government, that a major decision on oil and gas might be a few years away, but that it would be backed by a substantial plan, I would have applauded you; National would have been left scrambling and your planning credentials as well as your green ones would have had a major boost.

But since then little has been written about what a net carbon zero 2050 Aotearoa will actually look like.

Correct.

What is really surprising is the lack of attention being paid to some very obvious first steps, such as introducing a nation wide recycling scheme for all aluminium. This is a pretty simple, relatively easy thing to do and it would potentially have a near immediate impact if successful.

Another one would be acknowledging and assisting the growth of hybrid vehicles. Yes they might be users of petroleum, but this is a 30+ year project and filling the gap between the old gas guzzling fleet and a bunch of electric cars that among other things still have perception issues around plugging in.

New Zealand produces around 80 million tonnes of carbon annually and our forestry sector absorbs around 20 million tonnes, leaving a balance of 60 millions tonnes to be dealt with.

The article acknowledges the forestry sector and the announcement by Minister for Regional Development, Shane Jones (N.Z. First)that 1 billion trees will be planted and that steps are underway to make this happen.

Whales are also good carbon traps. A sperm whale can account for a similar level of carbon as 690 acres of forest. Protecting and encouraging whales to visit our shores could have a positive contribution to reducing carbon emissions as well as prop up the whale watch industry.

But as yet no one has talked about how to tackle the dairy sector which produces much of New Zealand’s carbon emissions. Through the biological processes of their two stomachs, cows belching put out about. In 2009 a litre of milk manufactured by Fonterra created about 940 grams of carbon dioxide, which would have made the then carbon cost of the then 15 billion litres per annum of milk, about 15 million tonnes.

Ten years later having had an explosion of dairying and becoming a $13.4 billion industry by 2017, with 21.0 billion litres of milk manufacturing 1.8 billion kilogrammes of milk solids, the growth in carbon emissions would be significant.

I find it interesting that little evidence of a co-ordinated approach exists to climate change. I do not see an effort to get the various economic sectors, Ministries of the Crown engaged. There are substantial opportunities to get a healthy green technology sector established here, but I do not see anyone having a clue of how to get started.

So, as the first full year of this Labour-Green-New Zealand First coalition comes to an end, it would appear that New Zealand First is the only party that has seriously given any thought to an increasingly urgent problem.

Government doing okay considering differences


Yesterday I blasted the state of politics in New Zealand and how I find myself along with others feeling abandoned by the party we supported over the Trans Pacific Partnership. Whilst all true and I stand by it, this is just one dimension to a multi-dimensioned state of New Zealand politics, which this article will discuss.

New Zealand, despite its nearly 25 years of experience with coalition Governments, nonetheless has a somewhat chequered history with them in a Mixed Member Proportional environment. M.M.P had its first election in 1996, which resulted in a hung Parliament – neither the incumbent National Party or the Oppposition Labour Party were large enough as a result of that election to form a Government on their own and needed New Zealand First, which had gathered 17 seats and held the balance of power.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters chose National. That lasted 20 months and about a year after it formed, the then Prime Minister Jim Bolger was ousted by his deputy Jenny Shipley. After a tumultuous eight month in which Mrs Shipley floated the sale of Wellington Airport, privatizing the energy sector and pushing through reforms that led to significant increases in university fees (and equally significant student revolts in campuses across the country in 1999), the coalition Government collapsed in acrimonious circumstances.

Contrast that with the coalition Government of today, and contrary to the assertions of National Party Leader Simon Bridges that it is in disarray, the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is doing alright. Do they agree on everything? Absolutely not and there are plenty of good opportunities coming up for the two to have major disagreements. Mr Peters, whilst claiming to reject the neoliberal stance of both National and Labour, undermined that when his party chose to support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, something myself and others had staunchly hoped he would reject.

They are co-operating on other matters. Mr Peters got a N.Z.$1 billion injection of spending into foreign aid shortly after he became Minister for Foreign Affairs (for a second time). New Zealand First is able to announce significant projects for rural development, something that National lagged behind on during its time in office.

New Zealand First is likely to clash significantly with the Greens. On issues such as defence, justice, criminal law and so forth, New Zealand First will always be more conservative than the Greens. It is not to say that the stance is necessarily correct as there is a great need to legalize medical marijuana as a matter of urgency and review how we treat drug addiction, which is distorting crime statistics significantly with arrests and punishments for relatively minor offences.

Whilst the Greens have made some progressive since Metiria Turei’s departure, it is still struggling with the fallout from Mrs Turei’s admission of having lied to Work and Income New Zealand. This gives New Zealand First a chance to make inroads in pushing the great body of policy that makes up the party manifesto. Whether N.Z.F. realizes this and seizes the opportunity is another story altogether.

The party will also probably clash with Labour at some point. Labour, despite its swing to the left in the last election is still tarred – and might be forever – by its experiment in the 1980’s with market economics. It’s failure to buy back the electricity grid in full has disappointed many. It’s reluctance to announce significant increases in investment in science, diversifying the economy

I am expecting to see significant further announcements across the remainder of this Parliamentary term in a range of areas – from the Defence Force announcing what will replace the C-130 Hercules transports, to the $300 million promised for Christchurch transport to the education review and how the concerns over oil and gas bans will be tackled.

But that does not change the fact that if an election were held in the very new future your guess would be as good as mine about how I would vote. Right now, I honestly don’t know.

Low tide in politics


I feel as if it is low tide. It is not moving in any particular direction – I do not feel an attraction to a particular political party at the moment. So much so that were an election held today, as to who I would vote for, your guess would be as good as mine – I honestly could not tell you.

To have members such as Fletcher Tabuteau consistently attack the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement inside and outside of Parliament and drum up support for ending it, only to then see them vote enthusiastically for it, infuriates many.

New Zealand First made a promise that it would see out the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. It has consistently attacked using its Members of Parliament and the Leader Winston Peters. Its Members of Parliament all told me at one point or another that they did not want a bar of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The problem is who do I vote for?

I am too conservative to be a Green – I do not agree with them on most things including foreign policy, defence and justice, but also the feasibility of ending coal and gas in New Zealand. Their opposition to having a dysfunctional defence force, along with a general distrust of the military establishment raises questions about what they would do were a war where the U.N. requests N.Z assistance breaks out.

In some respects I might also be on the conservative wing of Labour were I to vote for them. Labour was my first vote – a misguided one at that – in 1999, when New Zealand voted to be rid of a three term National-led Government that had had nine yeas to change from being the neoliberal party that enabled massive market reforms, but at great cost to New Zealanders.

So, you say I should vote for New Zealand First?

No. New Zealand First and I have had a fractuous relationship. I enjoy getting to know people when I joined and the culture was quite nice. I have always been inspired by the Party’s : 15 Fundamental Principles, which supported pretty much most if not all of the basic themes that the party wants to take home: equality for all; retirement at 65%., a sustainable environment, better protection of our assets and resolving the Treaty of Waitangi claims.

Others might ask whether I would be interested in Social Credit. I honestly have no idea. Social Credit would – I suspect find themselves constantly standing on the toes just to draw level with the eyes of New Zealand First and the Greens would not look that natural and one could ask “how long, really?”. It is not that I am trying to put them down, and some of their policies – I have not read anywhere near all of them, and am not sure when I would get around to it – do look fine on paper.

Those are my feelings about this 1 year after Labour took office. On the whole Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is probably quite happy with how things have gone and will be more than pleased to see that National, like Labour before them, are capable of having bad days.

Learning from an appalling week in New Zealand politics


To say that the week just gone in New Zealand politics was an appalling sight for both Kiwi’s and non-Kiwi’s alike to be watching and/or participating in, is an understatement. It was a week which in the beginning looked like being colourful, if not a little dirty – I thought that Mr Ross would be reined in by National Party leader Simon Bridges and given a right dressing down. I thought that it would be quickly shut down and the public told “Nothing to see here: Move along”.

How wrong I was. Perhaps as a result of being away for four weeks and paying as little attention as possible to New Zealand domestic affairs in that time, I lost track of what was brewing. Perhaps I held – and I think now that this is the case – a too high an estimate of the National Party’s ability in the post-John Key era to shut down rogue M.P.’s.

Whatever the case, the results have been truly disgusting. From Mr Bridges and Mr Ross slinging poo across the expanse of the internet and via the media at each other, to his admittance of affairs, of potentially very dodgy handling of political donations, to Mr Ross’s admittance into a mental health facility, it was a desperate, dirty and underhand week.

So, what are the lessons that we can learn from this? There are a few:

I think one of the bigger ones is the age old lesson about not throwing stones in glass houses. In this case some rather large stones got thrown and they seem to have broken a lot of glass. National, Mr Bridges, Mr Ross have all come away with damaged glass houses.

The discussion around the state of Mr Ross’s mental health has varied hugely. From those trying to show a degree of understanding and rightfully calling for decorum to those throwing more fuel on the fire, such as Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, we have seen a voting public fascinated and repelled at the same time. Perhaps the lesson out of this is to learn to show a degree of dignity and class when discussing mental health – if you cannot say anything constructive, don’t say anything at all.

The third one, which at this moment probably applies most to Mr Bridges, is damage control. His was not the best and it might in part explain his dismal poll rating in the latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll. It showed that an election today would give Labour and the Greens a comfortable majority and with New Zealand First 68 seats in Parliament or 56% of the seats. National would have 51 seats and the A.C.T. Party the remaining one seat. On preferred Prime Minister, Mr Bridges is well down, having slumped to 7% whilst Labour leader Jacinda Ardern rises to an all time high of 42%.

As the second week of this saga progresses, with more announcements surely to come about any other leaks – damaging or not – the National Party will be in full on damage control. A.C.T. will be watching on disgruntled and hopefully disgusted with what they have seen in their ally, whilst the governing benches will be getting on with the task of running New Zealand.