Has business confidence really slumped?

With her return from maternity Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been getting back down to business at a brisk rate. And with concerns about both the New Zealand economy and the global economy growing, Ms Ardern is out to tackle what media commentators are describing as the elephant in the room: the allegedly slumping business confidence.

I am not altogether sure that business confidence really has slumped as a direct result of the Labour-led policies being announced, or whether it is a result of an overall poor international economy. Yes it would seem that Labour likes to announce working groups and other panels to give the appearance of being busy, but realitistically in under a year with most of those panels still not due to report back, I find it difficult to believe Labour alone can be to blame for the slump in confidence.

On the other hand we have a bunch of slowly worsening crises around the world that are making investors jittery. They range from the increasingly irrational behaviour of United States President Donald Trump to ongoing concerns that another major fiscal crisis is in the offing; from Brexit deadlines looming with neither British Labour or British Conservatives seemingly having a clue what they are supposed to be doing to ever climbing petroleum prices. All of this also says nothing about reviving concerns over Euro-bound economies and concerns about the geopolitics of Russia and China.

That is certainly not to say I think that the New Zealand economy is doing okay. The New Zealand Dollar has dropped substantially. In late 2015 it was arounnd U.S.$0.88c and there were people guessing that it might crack U.S.$0.90c, which is territory that just a decade ago was unthinkable. The announcement about oil and gas being phased out was appallingly handled by Ms Ardern, without even her Minister of Energy and Resources, Dr Megan Woods knowing.

But there are major things happening:

  1. $28 billion was set aside for Auckland transport issues
  2. A major review of education is underway – submission opportunities close on Friday
  3. Substantial announcements made around single use plastics – with promises of stewardship programmes to follow
  4. Tackling major pay issues that the previous Government neglected with teachers and nurses is now happening
  5. A forestry service to manage our forests is being established

I admit that opportunities where the Government could be making substantial announcements exist:

  1. People want action against the epidemic of armed hold ups going on up and down the country – I do too, and not just because the service station that is entrusted with the servicing of my parents vehicles was attacked on Friday
  2. Alternative energy sources, such as biofuel, tidal power and solar panels need
  3. I am not advocating for R.M.A. reform on a large scale, but the enforcement provisions need to be revisited in the wake of the difficulty Environment Canterbury is having with the wayward Chinese bottling company

Let us also remember that Labour have not even been in office one year yet. National had 9 years in office and failed to do a huge number of things I thought that a conservative Government might have done. Whilst there is plenty of time for Labour to fall short of what socialists believe should be the agenda for New Zealand, I believe the party and its coalition partners would have to be performing substantially worse than they are in the polls to be a one term wonder.

Is Claire Curran the Weakest Link?

“You are ‘The Weakest Link – Goodbye!”

Minister for Communications, Claire Curran was stripped by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of her Communications portfolio after successive instances of not keeping an accurate diary of scheduled Ministerial meetings. Mrs Curran was found to have made multiple breaches, which also included failing to inform the Prime Minister, failing to inform her staff and failing to log them in her official diary.

The predicament brought onto Mrs Curran by her actions reminded me of a game show that used to screen some years ago on New Zealand television. It was called “The Weakest Link”, and was a game show version of survival of the fittest – or to be the last person standing. Many people in New Zealand will remember this British game show several years ago run by a stern game master. The aim was to be the last person standing, the one person not to bow to the master and be dismissed with a bark and a glare.

All Governments have a weak link. Some would say in the previous National led Government that the A.C.T. Party might have been the Weakest Link based on list M.P. David Garrett being made to resign from Parliament in disgrace. Mr Garrett was followed out by fellow M.P. Rodney Hide at the 2011 election after he was found to be indulging the same Parliamentary perks he and his predecessor Richard Prebble had spent so much time crusading against.

National are not the only ones though. The Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark saw several ministers leave in disgrace, and at times giving the appearance of being “The Weakest Link”. Lianne Dalziel, former Member of Parliament for Christchurch East, Minister of Immigration, lost her portfolio’s after lying to Ms Clark about a Sri Lankan refugee whose case she was asked to intervene in. Early in the first term Minister for Maori Affairs Dover Samuels left with a cloud hanging over his head after sexual abuse allegations were made against him.

But back to Mrs Curran, who seems to be a rather slow learner, it would seem that her boss Ms Ardern decided to exercise restraint in punishing her wayward Minister. Perhaps this is because, not even a year into the first term of what I hope will be a multi-term Labour led Government, there is time for Mrs Curran to redeem herself – and for others in such high offices to learn of the absolute importance of keeping an official record of their Parliamentary and Ministerial activities.

The one year (so far)whirlwind of Jacinda-mania

It was a phenomena that took the left of New Zealand politics by storm in 2017. It started at the end of July 2017 with Labour staring down the gun barrel of electoral oblivion. After nine years, four leaders and some of the biggest defeats in M.M.P. era so far, the future hardly looked rosy for Labour and its then leader Andrew Little. National were riding high and many people had already written the yet-to-be-fought election campaign off as a foregone conclusion.

His deputy Jacinda Ardern was Leader of the Opposition for seven weeks. In those seven weeks she took Labour from being fighting for its life to being on the cusp of an electoral victory none would have dared to dream when Mr Little was in the office of Leader of the Opposition.

And then there is bubs. Specially Neve Aroha Ardern Gayford, the six week old bundle of joy that has kept Ms Ardern out of her job since mid June. Whilst allowing her Deputy Winston Peters six weeks to stamp his probably final mark on the Prime Minister’s job, it would have given her a critical breathing space in which to collect her thoughts on her role and how her Government is going.

Ms Ardern’s baby, aside from giving New Zealand Womens Weekly and Woman’s Day plenty to crow about, was a bit of a coup with working mothers. It gave them something in common with someone from a profession often viewed in a disdainful way as elitist. Her down to earth nature and rapport with the younger generation have given them hope in a world that seems increasingly dystopian – a world where guns, dollars and class superiority again seem to be coming to the fore in many countries. But not int the world of Ms Ardern.

But if we are honest with ourselves about how a year of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party-turned Leader of the Opposition-turned Prime Minister has affected New Zealanders, I think many might be surprised with themselves. I personally had voted New Zealand First and wanted something other than National/A.C.T., Labour/Greens.

Ms Ardern seemed to understand from the start that she is Prime Minister because Winston Peters decided that New Zealand First would not gain from being in coalition with National. Former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley’s failure to respect the no asset sales clause in the coalition agreement in deciding to try to sell Wellington Airport, told me she has little regard for the . Prime Minister Bill English and his Government’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership told me that he would be no better than Mrs Shipley was in 1998.

Is Ms Ardern perfect? Absolutely not. She has made mistakes and there may be more in the offering, particularly on contentious targets. She has work to do getting Ministers like Phil Twyford to create realistic performance targets and stick by them. Here again-not again Minister for Corrections, Kelvin Davis has been one of those whose ministerial portfolio’s need clearing up. Of her other ministers so far, with the exception of Ms Ardern’s deputy Winston Peters, it is a real mixed bag. They will grow and develop their Ministerial portfolio’s as Parliament progresses or they will be made to fall on their swords. Some like Megan Woods, Minister of Energy and Resources has the potential to be a good Minister for the Crown. She will need to clean up the remaining Cantebury/Christchurch quake claims quickly though. Some like Nanaia Mahuta seem to be treading water with no major policy announcements and for whom the clock is ticking – how long before Ms Ardern gives them a rev up to remind them Labour needs policy, not drowsy Ministers.

National will continue trying to attack Ms Ardern. It will not be easy with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters ensuring that a centre-left mandate can be had. And with National leader Simon Bridges enjoying no better polling support than Andrew Little was this time last year, how long will National hang on to him?



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