N.Z. in lock down: DAY 49

Yesterday was DAY 49 of New Zealand in lock down as we fought the COVID19 pandemic. It was also the end of LEVEL 3 lock down. It ended at 2359 hours last night. The LEVEL 2 transition to the post COVID19 future began at 0000 hours 14 May 2020.

The last couple of days in Parliament have been a massive bun fight over the legality of the new COVID19 legislation ensuring that the Government management of it under LEVEL and LEVEL 1 is legal. Without this legislation it would be nearly impossible for the Government to successfully wind up the war on COVID19.

It is legislation with some critical flaws. Some have been repealed to avoid potential legal challenges or because public compliance was going to become an issue. Some are still there:

  1. Initially the Government wanted a 2 year sunset clause that would see the legislation expire at the end of a two year period – National succeeded in getting this amended to a Parliamentary vote every 90 days or so
  2. An enforcement officer may enter, without a warrant, any land, building, craft, vehicle, place, or thing if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a person is failing to comply with any aspect of a section 11 order (S. 20)
  3. The speed with which this has had to go through Parliament means there is no way it can possibly be solidly constructed legislation – in order for the legal basis of LEVEL 2 and LEVEL 1 to exist, the legislation had to pass by 2359 hours, which meant no public input and no select committee stage
  4. Section 11 orders appear to be a watered down version of the provisions of Section 70(1)(m) of the Health Act 1956
  5. Section 24(4) appears to void any legal appeal

The opposition has come from all parts of the spectrum N.G.O.’s such as Amnesty International talked about the concerns that they have for the . Human rights activists have registered their dismay as well, whilst people like Lizzie Marvelly expressed concern that it would unfairly target Maori.

The right have also expressed criticism. National, despite winning some concessions opposes the bill and will not be voting for it in Parliament. Nor will its traditional ally A.C.T. As I cannot recall any other time when legislation was crafted like this and with such haste – the passage of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Act was not attempted until late March, 2011, some several weeks after the Christchurch earthquake – I have noted the short time frames that have been provided in the advent of Section 11 orders. These can be made with 48 hours written notice; can if the Director General believes a COVID19 outbreak to be in progress be made in shorter time frames. Notably – and alarmingly – any appeal appears to be effectively void by Section 24(4).

As some kind of legal basis needs to exist to enable LEVEL 2 and LEVEL 1 to have any legal basis, this legislation will invariably pass since the Greens and New Zealand First are voting for it in addition to Labour. However that does not mean it is good legislation – it is crap and when you have both sides of the House attacking it and look at why this was not drafted earlier in the COVID19 emergency, it becomes clear that the Government did not do due diligence.

The only thing that we can hope for is that New Zealanders start to wake up to the fact that our constitutional framework is not adequate for keeping Government in check; that we need to strengthen the checks and balances. And soon. We also need to introduce civics in schools quickly because the longer we do not teach students about how the New Zealand legal system, Government and so forth work, the greater the number that do know understand their rights and responsibilities, will be when we need them the most.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 21

Yesterday was DAY 21 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Prior to the COVID19 pandemic Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had come off a wave of support that formed out of public admiration for her leadership around the Christchurch mosques terrorist attack. And indeed a few weeks ago, just before lock down started, TIME featured her on their front page with an in depth look at where the Prime Minister would take New Zealand following the terrorist attack. It talked about her domestic challenges including the gun legislation, the decision to rid New Zealand of fossil fuels by 2050 and the frustrations around Kiwi Build.

As the glow from the 15 March attacks faded, National tried to get some traction with claims that the Government was going to irreversibly harm the economy by getting rid of fossil fuels. It tried to attack the weaker Ministers in the Cabinet and goad them into making mistakes that would diver Ms Ardern’s attention.

National tried unleashing the attack dog Judith “Crusher” Collins on the Government’s justice policy as small businesses continued to be pummelled by a wave of crime, committed by people on drugs or stealing to order so that they could fund their drug habit. But whereas National has had success in the past, people are starting to realize that “lock ’em up” is not working any more and that those prisoners who do get released have no support networks to fall back on, fall back in with the same crowd that got them into jail in the first place.

Some people are saying Labour has won the election without it even being fought. Yes, Labour has certainly improved its chances of forming the next Government, but to say that the election campaign is already over before it has officially started is excessively optimistic. And although Ms Ardern is the clear driving force behind the high support for the Government at the moment, there are several liabilities in her Cabinet who need to be dealt with.

Phil Twyford is most probably a nice person, but he is completely out of his depth with the portfolios that he is Minister of the Crown for. His handling of Kiwi Build has shown that he has little idea of what is going on in his ministry and the numbers that he puts up are not matching the reality on the ground. Shane Jones is a divisive, combative and – some might say – a bit dirty in the mouth Minister who seems to believe that he knows better than the Prime Minister. Whilst Mr Jones has announced significant aid for regions all around New Zealand, he has sought to undermine the Government when it comes to fisheries compliance by speaking against cameras on board fishing trawlers. And finally there is David Clark. Mr Clark’s doom as a Minister of the Crown is already pretty much sealed, but if he is seen doing something that violates the lock down laws again, he should be dismissed from office forthwith. His tenure as Minister of Health only continues because Ms Ardern needs a stable crew on board right now.

In saying this, I think National would be very nervous about any polls that come out about now. My picks for percentage of party votes right now look like this:

  • NATIONAL – 38 (46 seats)
  • LABOUR – 47 (56 seats)
  • NZ FIRST – 5 (6 seats)
  • GREENS – 8 (10 seats)
  • A.C.T. – 1 (2 seats)

National are a well funded, well resourced party. But the extent to which the world has changed in the last six weeks and the likely desire by New Zealanders to make sure that some lasting good comes of the lock down, might be sharply at odds with Simon Bridges very unoriginal view of how National would govern should it win. Disaster socialism won Labour the 1935 election because it put people back into work when the economy was copping a thrashing from the Great Depression. Disaster socialism might well be Labour’s saviour in 2020 as the economy cops a thrashing from COVID19.

It is too early to be absolutely sure of this, but unless National come up with an absolute blinder that balances the desires of New Zealanders with a conservative agenda AND gets people back into work, I don’t fancy Mr Bridges chances come election day.

Labour’s big financial stimulus; Simon Bridges’ evisceration

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is well known for her compassion and warmth towards minority groups. Nowhere has that been more on display that in dealing with children and minorities such as the Muslim community after the Christchurch attacks. That warmth has been the subject of derision by the Opposition who have said that it detracts from her job as a Prime Minister, and that in a real crisis she would not be able to show leadership.

But with COVID19 starting to batter New Zealand, the very leadership that the Opposition said she could not show is coming out in spades. The very members of the business community who were losing confidence and wondering what the Government would do about this have been given a very clear answer. This afternoon a massive fiscal stimulus aimed at protecting the economy and our most vulnerable from COVID19 was announced. The stimulus aimed at all of the right targets:

  • $5.1 billion will go towards keeping people in work
  • $2.8 billion will go towards helping businesses counter some of the regulatory costs
  • $500 million will go towards health to support countering COVID19 directly

That is $8.4 billion right there. In the sense of the New Zealand G.D.P. that is about 4%.

But that is not all. In order to assist the vulnerable, beneficiaries and superannuitants will also receive financial assistance. $25/per week or $1,300 per annum more will be made available to beneficiaries via their main benefits. In addition there will be assistance for winter heating, where single people will get a $900 top up and couples will get a $1400 top up.

At the other end of the scale, was Simon Bridges. Unable and/or unwilling to admit he and National have been completely outfoxed by the Government, he looked for a scape goat. As detuned from political reality as ever, Mr Bridges has been absolutely eviscerated for his brutal unprovoked attack on the welfare beneficiaries of New Zealand, in what was meant to be the National Party’s response to the Government’s massive fiscal stimulus.

If I were a National Party member at the moment, I would be scared stiff. Scared because my leader has been thoroughly outsmarted by a Prime Minister who has shown that not only can she do compassion in spades, she can lead as well. Thoroughly outsmarted because a package to help both the vulnerable and the business community has been worked out and almost uniformly applauded by the very people who would normally be backing National.

Ms Ardern and her Labour Party are going to win this election at this rate on her performance on COVID19 alone. I am not saying this as a Labour supporter, but as someone who has seen the Leader of the Opposition time and again showing no understanding of the situation around him, getting an absolute thrashing. In a time when New Zealand needs steely leadership, Ms Ardern is showing it in bucket loads. In a time when we need a confident reassuring leader who has a plan and is not showing signs of panic, Ms Ardern is delivering.

Delivering Mr Bridges’ Prime Ministerial aspirations a potentially lethal blow.

Dear Labour Party: 2020 Election

I understand you are coming to the end of three fairly turbulent years in office. A lot of things have happened in New Zealand and abroad, that have kept you and the other coalition parties on their toes. I see that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to enjoy high popularity in the preferred Prime Minister polls and is well ahead of the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges.

A brief review of October 2017 to the present day shows that you have had to:

  • Lead the country in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, setting an example for how to show leadership and compassion, whilst at the same time making sure people are going to be okay
  • Deal with the Whakaari eruption – one of those rare, but ultimately inevitable moments when a New Zealand volcano puts on a lethal eruption
  • Do damage control as Phil Twyford stumbles from one botch up to the next; Stuart Nash struggles with the fact that many New Zealanders are more conservative on crime than we want to admit; acknowledge that there will be push back on the decision to phase out oil and gas
  • Balance the Green fringe and the conservative parts of New Zealand First without causing the Government to collapse

Across the chamber you have an angry National Party, still smarting over the fact that Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party went with Labour instead of choosing the largest party in Parliament. National are ready to fight. They are absolutely certain, despite Mr Bridges misreading of the voting public on housing, crime and a host of other issues, that this Sixth Labour Government is going to be a one term wonder ending on 19 September 2020. With 56 Members of Parliament and a formidable campaign machine that even its most ardent critics have to admire – however grudgingly – you have an opponent that will make you work for your portion of the House of Representatives.

For you to win the 2020 election campaign – which you can, and possibly quite convincingly – Phil Twyford needs to go. I am sure he is a nice guy and a good local Member of Parliament, but as a Minister of the Crown, he simply is not up to the job. I have also lost confidence in Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage, who seems determined to end any prospect of a Waste to Energy plant on the West Coast. Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni needs to either get on with reforming the M.S.D. or resign. Your Ministers of Corrections, Health, Economic Development also need a rev up. None of them have been very visible in the last 2 1/3 years and the public would be right to wonder where they are, and what they are doing.

But it is not all bad Labour. You have a bunch of competent Ministers, who include Kris Faafoi, Megan Woods, Ron Mark, Winston Peters, Chris Hipkins and Tracey Martin who I believe are making an honest go of their portfolio’s and have delivered some solid outcomes. All are still works in progress in terms of getting their agenda’s delivered, but they are there and they are trying.

Mr Hipkins has bitten off a huge chunk of work, which might go into a third term, and therefore he needs to be realistic about what he can deliver. Ms Martin is trying to make the best of Oranga Tamariki, and is doing work with children that has cross party potential. I hope to see Dr Woods announce some sort of investment in hydrogen fuel cells as an energy source, which would help secure the economic future of Southland. Mr Faafoi’s stumble might be overshadowed by the fight over Concert F.M., whose well being is essential to how Radio New Zealand deliver concert material as many of the sound engineers are involved with the recording and delivery of concerts. But if he and his colleagues are careful, they can deliver the goods Ms Ardern will need to deliver to the electorate before the 52nd Parliament of New Zealand is dissolved.

Because once it is dissolved, the scrap that by then would have been rumbling for weeks will be all on.

Dear National Party

I understand that you are coming to the end of your first term on the Opposition benches. And that as the largest party in the House you have 56 Members, of which three have just announced their intentions to retire at the end of the 52nd New Zealand Parliament. I understand that your campaign machine is itching to get going and make this Government a one term wonder. I understand it has been a long term on the opposition benches, ruing the way M.M.P. works.

But I have honest doubts about how ready you are to win the election. Winning the election means that in three years you have somehow managed to:

  1. See that neoliberalism is a failure and the neoliberal model either needs a fundamental overhaul or to be rejected entirely
  2. Accept that compassion is a good human quality to have and that not everyone is lucky to have the necessities of life
  3. Understand that climate change or not, the rate of resource consumption around the world is destroying tracts of ecosystem at a rate that will crash humanity in the next 100 years if left unchecked
  4. Accept that certain conservative sacred cows such as harsher penalties and an unfair tax system do not work for many people any more

Except that you have not. At least not honestly. A sea change in politics, especially New Zealand politics, where some commentators think we are 15-20 years behind Europe in our thinking about society, the environment, economy and how they interact, cannot happen in three years.

Seeing you as a father, a Leader of the Opposition, on Facebook and being sure that like the very vast majority of Parliamentarians you genuinely want the best for New Zealand – albeit in a blue tinted way – you will achieve my second point. But for you and National to achieve the other three, your whole outlook is going to need to change. And after two years watching you on the Opposition benches I do not see that change, or any credible evidence it is going to happen.

It is true that Labour are fluffing around on several things, such as housing, justice and economic growth, but that is where it ends. In their time in office, they have made initial moves to address issues that I thought might have waited until the second term. Minister of Defence Ron Mark had big expenditure decisions to make for the Defence Force, and with the exception of the replacement transport aircraft for our old C-130H Hercules, he has pulled them off superbly. The move on oil and gas was always going to come, but I thought it might have waited until their second term, and it is clear that the younger generation of New Zealanders some of whom will vote for the first time this year, want action now.

I can understand that Simon will be disappointed that he is probably not going to get to be Prime Minister. It is the highest honour in New Zealand politics, and an office respected by friends, allies and nations we normally do not have much to do with, alike. But it is true that there is nothing worse than being a first term Leader of the Opposition, because, with two exceptions – ironically both involving Labour Governments – New Zealanders tend to give a first term Government the benefit of the doubt.

So, I am sorry Simon. The coveted office of Prime Minister is most likely not going to be yours when the sun rises on 20 September 2020. Labour will have done enough by the end of this term to justify a second one in office, because after all, the old saying goes

“Opposition’s do not win elections; Government’s lose them”.