Labour fails to act on welfare report recommendations


In August 2017, hot on the heals of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern becoming Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition, co-leader of the Greens Metiria Turei took a gamble. She admitted in a speech where she laid down the case for complete reform of Work and Income New Zealand that she had committed benefit fraud.

The nation was stunned. The Greens were understandably horrified, especially when she mentioned it had not yet been paid back. A political revolt was brewing. One of the brightest rays of hope in the Greens was flushing her career down the toilet and trying to take the party with it. To any Green member that gurgling sound must have sounded like something from a horror movie that had become too real for their liking.

But maybe it was a political master stroke in disguise whereby she would end her career, the Greens would get a new co-leader – though I honestly thought Mrs Turei was alright – and the Greens would use her credibility to get a promise of reform from Labour. Master stroke or not, that is what looked like happening.

Until Friday. On Friday the report that was meant to recommend widespread reform of the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies was finally delivered 20 months after Labour formed a coalition and 21 months after Mrs Turei’s shock announcement. The hard done ever suffering honest folk who deal with Work and Income on a daily basis and the similarly suffering folk who work there must have been quietly thinking that this would be the day when the Government would announce sweeping reforms to enact the changes recommended.

Quelle horreur!!! Jaws dropped to places where hydraulic assistance will be needed to get them back. Hearts sank to the the deepest recesses. The hopes of thousands dashed by a pathetic flimsy announcement that only three of the recommendations in the report would be adopted by the Government.

The temptation to blast the Greens for having gone along with this is there. However in fairness to them they managed to squeeze out in the 2018-19 Budget a significant amount of money. When added to the promises Labour made to its own members and $3 billion to New Zealand First for regional development, the total amount of money that is locked up is substantial and does not leave much spare change behind. The Greens might have to just bite a potentially painful bullet and accept that this is not going to happen rapidly – and as one who has been messed around by Work and Income, I can understand the frustration of those who might have benefited from a bigger effort to implement the recommendations.

Instead it is Carmel Sepuloni who finds herself in the sights of this blog. After a year of relative inactivity in terms of getting policy passed and implemented, to come out and say that just three of the recommendations are going to be implemented, this is really a massively wimpish response. It could be forgiven if there is an election year promise or something more in either this years or next years Fiscal Budget. Otherwise when Ms Ardern reshuffles her cabinet, I don’t fancy Ms Sepuloni keeping hold of the Social Welfare portfolio.

Labour surges, National drop following terrorist attack


In 1985, when France attacked the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, the French Government calculated that it would divide New Zealanders. They calculated that the New Zealand people would lose faith in the Labour Government and its nuclear free stance. They could not have been more wrong. Labour was returned to office in 1987. More significantly, when National finally did win the 1990 election, despite concerns that we needed to repair our relationship with the U.S., the policy survived and is still in force today.

It is too early to tell whether this Labour led Government will enjoy such a bump in support as a result of the terrorist. However in the immediate weeks that have so far passed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decisive handling of the new firearms legislation, her empathy and warmth shown to the Muslim community have caused Labour to surge in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, which shows the Sixth Labour Government at an as yet all time high.

If an election were held today that would give the following seats to the parties in Parliament:

  • National; 51
  • Labour; 60
  • Greens; 8
  • A.C.T.*; 1

The results are clear. Labour and the Greens could comfortably govern as a left of centre coalition. National and A.C.T. would be resigned to watching legislation pass through the House and hope that enough people are following through the media to be aware of what is happening.

Assuming no seats are won by its M.P.’s, New Zealand First would not be in Parliament, having failed to make the 5% threshhold. A.C.T.* would re-enter Parliament on the assumption that its sole Member of Parliament David Seymour retakes Epsom.

National Leader Simon Bridges remains unchanged on 5%, which is probably okay given he has barely had a look in in the last few weeks as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership basks in the praise heaped on her by national and international media. That said, Judith Collins, well known for her more conservative outlook and popular with the right wing of the National Party is thought to be agitating for a crack at the leadership. More ominously for Mr Bridges, she is in the Preferred Prime Minister stake at 5%, which is the same as him.

It is perhaps New Zealand First who should be the most worried. Despite their record of comebacks in elections, M.P. and Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones is widely viewed among the voting public as a bit of a loose cannon. This combined with a party that failed to ignite support among South Island voters at the last election, will would have proved a serious hindrance if not a fatal blow in a hypothetical election.

But this is all hypothetical. What it does not show is the significant number of issues that this Government faces, the problems it is having with its Ministers and the middling economy. Soon they will make themselves known.

Strike 4 Climate student protest not a joke


When Swedish school girl activist Greta Thunberg faced down politicians of all stripes at Davos, Switzerland at their annual economic forum, many politicians thought she was just a lone student gone rogue. They thought that high school students were disinterested in the world around them, disinterested in politics. A lesson is coming for them.

Now we are seeing the birth pangs of the next generation of activists. And what birth pangs they are. On 15 March 2019, a world first will happen. School students all around the world will go on strike by refusing to attend school, arguing what the point is when catastrophic climate change threatens to leave them without a future in which they could use their education. Two decades ago organizing a world wide student protest would have been impossible and principals would have shut it down before any cohesion could be gained. A decade ago when the Fifth Labour Government was in office and teachers went on strike, the strikes lasted long enough that students were able to co-ordinate a limited counter strike to protest the continuing disruption to their education.

But this is quite different, and an order of magnitude more impressive, as well as concerning – and encouraging. In terms of being different, this about students lives after they leave high schools and the future of the planet we all live on. This is a global emergency they claim and politicians are not doing enough to respond.

And there is a ground swell of support across the education sector, ranging from researchers, to teachers, principals, lecturers and more who have all signed a petition to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Not all are in support of this action. National and A.C.T. Members of Parliament think they should wait until the teachers strike on 03 April – which I think is their way of wanting the coverage likely to be generated to be buried by a bigger news item. Many of the same Members of Parliament claim it is a serious issue, yet none have offered alternative ideas about how to deal with this and it kind of puts a question mark on their sense of urgency.

Labour and Green Party Members of Parliament like the idea behind the protest, but are reluctant to be seen endorsing massive student strike action that involves disruption to learning. But as youth are beginning to realise that it is this Government or the next which must try to make serious policy in roads into tackling climate change, it is important to note that they cannot afford to be seen as too distant either.

I am not sure where New Zealand First sit on this. It is an issue that the party did not seem to know which direction it wanted to go in, whilst I was a member. Many members are from rural backgrounds or are socially conservative and would frown upon this action. However in order to maintain a connection that it has been trying to build up for years with youth, I cannot imagine it condemning it in the way National and A.C.T. are.

And how many schools will participate? Some schools might be quite happy in controlled circumstances to permit a strike to go ahead and use it as an educational opportunity. There will be some schools that are there in spirit, but which insist on students attending classes in return for assisting with actions on school grounds such as letter writing, or petitions or perhaps showing The Day After Tomorrow. And then there will be a few schools that do not want a bar of it, and will make their students have a normal Friday of classes.

Capital Gains Tax mooted; National, A.C.T. cry foul


Yesterday morning the Tax Working Group formed to assess the state of the tax regime and recommend appropriate changes, finally delivered its findings. The findings, whose recommendations included a Capital Gains Tax, and a plan to redistribute much of the tax take gained from the C.G.T. in a tax cut, have fulfilled a promise for comprehensive tax reform that was made at the 2017 election.

An announcement that was surely to upset National and A.C.T. did not disappoint in that respect. A.C.T. immediately announced its plan to ditch the C.G.T., labelling it Labours Envy Tax. National was equally unimpressed – somewhat hypocritically for a party that just had nine years to address the issue. That said, they did announce the tightening of rules around the taxation of profit from property sales in 2015.

National and A.C.T. however need to understand that there is more that a C.G.T. covers than just property. It covers the sale of stock, bonds and precious metals as well. The last one has potentially significant value as the value of minerals used in electronics, that are ditched without recovering the metals – especially rare earth elements – is slowly realised.

But is the C.G.T. really that bad? Is it really a tax in an attempt to curb the accumulation of wealth through honest means? Or is it to check the acquisition of property for wealth that one does not honestly have any real use for, but accumulated anyway? I think it is the latter, as no one, except maybe the Greens are suggesting that the family home, the fortress of every New Zealand family able to afford such a place should be taxed and nor should the estate inherited from deceased people.

I have not a problem with millionaires. A millionaire might have been something big in the 1970’s, but now a multi-millionaire or billionaire is more like the new millionaire or multi-millionaire. And if the wealth is the result of starting a business and turning it into a major revenue gathering machine, all I can say is well done. So, this idea that people hate wealth is not true. A better perception is that the left dislike the accumulation of wealth so obscene that it makes up half the total wealth in the world – we are talking about wealth accumulated by only a few dozen people.

And I am not saying a C.G.T. is fool proof either. It is not and – if it get it gets implemented – a range of opportunities will arise for National and A.C.T. to more credibly attack Labour as the C.G.T. is implemented. Whether it is just who is subject to it; how much they pay and so forth are good starting points and there will be others.

But right now when we do not even know if Labour will implement it or any other changes recommended, National and A.C.T. can go suck a lemon and contemplate whilst tasting its bitterness, how a bunch of people more familiar with the N.Z. tax code came to these conclusions.

In Mixed Member Proportional era we are still very much First Past the Post


In 1993 New Zealand voted for the Mixed Member Proportional (M.M.P.) system of representation to replace First Past the Post (F.P.P.). The historic vote changed how New Zealanders vote at the polls. It was an attempt to broaden the spectrum of political parties so that more fringe leaning parties such as the modern day Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand and Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (A.C.T.) could be represented.The new system as it stood in 1993 was also intended to hold in check by requiring coalition arrangements with other parties, some of the more extreme policy.

But 22 years and 7 election cycles later, are we really an M.M.P. country?

If one looks at the range of parties that have existed in the M.M.P. era, one could argue that on the first count, yes M.M.P. has succeeded in doing what it was meant to. Since 1996, in one form or another a host of minor parties have existed and been part of coalition arrangements, or formed out of disgruntlement with bigger parties. They include the Alliance, Greens, New Zealand First, Maori Party and Mana, A.C.T. have all had time in Parliament. New Zealand First and the Greens as well as A.C.T. are the only minor parties currently in Parliament.

Outside of Parliament two notable attempts at creating brand new parties centred around well known figure or a businessman with a high profile have occurred. One is Conservative Party of New Zealand, which was led by Colin Craig and has contested the 2011, 2014 elections before Mr Craig brought himself into disrepute with alleged advances on his female secretary. The other is The Opportunities Party, which is run by Gareth Morgan, a prominent businessman who is perhaps better known for his crusade against domestic cats because of their predation of bird life. T.O.P. might have done better in the 2017 election had Mr Morgan resisted calling now Prime Minister Jacinda a “pig with lipstick on”.

Neither of these two external parties have made the 5% of the party vote threshhold or won an electorate seat to claim a space in Parliament.

And then there is New Zealand First. Originally the party that made National and Labour look nervously over their shoulders, the party that had the best policy platform of any in Parliament along with a charismatic leader in Winston Peters, New Zealand First are still in Parliament supporting Labour in this particular instance. However the brave policy making, the determination to stand on principle and the slow natural, but relentless aging of Mr Peters who probably has no more than one more term left in him if even that, is gone.

However, the state of the political parties these days is not entirely their fault. All have spent much time and effort trying to mobilise the youth vote where the 150,000 people between ages 18-24 stayed home in 2017 would have done much to swing results had they made the effort. And if one looks at the reasons, perhaps a lack of civics being taught in schools compulsorily, a loss of confidence in politicians or the system.

Of National and Labour though, even after 22 years, there is no doubt that these are still very much the right and left of New Zealand politics respectively. Never mind that there is a centrist party in New Zealand First, a Green Party and an advocate party for consumers and taxpayers. Even after all of this time – and some spectacular political fails along the way – none of them can do anything without the co-operation of National or Labour. Just like in 1990 when Ms Ardern and A.C.T. leader David Seymour were still at Primary School, Mr Bridges in High School, when Mr Peters was a National Party Member of Parliament.

Whilst the number of parties in Parliament has fluctuated considerably in that time, the thinking and the acting in an M.M.P. environment and rapidly changing world is still that of an F.P.P. Parliament.