National slumps; Greens-Labour could govern alone

The headline says it all – almost. A new poll out today shows National having fallen behind Labour for the first time since Labour lost office in 2008.

The latest Newshub/Reid Poll shows that Labour are up to 47%, which would make them the largest party in Parliament at 56 seats. That is the number that National currently hold. Combined with the Greens who are steady on 5% and entitled to 6 seats Labour could govern without its other coalition ally, New Zealand First.

All parties except A.C.T. shed seats to Labour in this rare instance. The Greens lose two, to become a 6 piece caucus. New Zealand First disappear completely and National are down to 50.

This must be sobering news for New Zealand First. It has been consistently under the 5% threshhold to have a presence in Parliament without an electorate seat. At 2.9% it would suffer an even worse defeat than that which was inflicted on it in 2008. Whilst the party has seen bad luck before, much of that was not of its making but the work of dirty politicking by other politicians. That does not apply in February 2019.

New Zealand First shed supporters, including myself after it supported the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. But other people left, expressing concerns about the internal state of the party, which has had to deal with dwarf throwing, the collapse of its South Island support and also the activities of Shane Jones. On one hand Mr Jones who is Minister for Regional Development is proving popular because of his work with the regional development fund, but on the other his refusal to allow cameras on board fishing vessels has sparked the ire of labour rights advocates.

It must also be sobering news for National. For the first time since 2008 it is less popular than its arch rival. At 41% it would get 50 seats in the House. Combined with the solitary seat of its natural ally A.C.T., it would have 51 seats and be well below the threshhold of being able to govern.

National find themselves in a difficult spot. Environmental issues have clearly become more important than many National Party Members of Parliament and their constituents want to admit. The worsening effects of having so much carbon in the atmosphere and in the sea is leading to an increasing pressure for comprehensive reform, except that neither party really knows how – and the Green proposals are seen as too radical and out of touch.

But it is National leader Simon Bridges who must find this most sobering. Mr Bridges has been over taken by Judith Crusher Collins in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. This will excite her fans on the solid blue right wing of the party. Ms Collins, despite her dismissal as a Minister of the Crown for corruption and links to the Oravida scandal, remains a darling of the right wing of New Zealand politics who are itching for a deeper shade of blue than what was offered by Messrs John Key and Bill English.

For Labour and the Greens though, this must be a welcome breath of fresh air. It comes after concerns about the slowing economy, the failure of Kiwi Build and the ongoing concerns about justice, health, among other things. Labour will be wanting to build on this as it looks towards the 2020 election.

Opposition Leader gives State of the Nation address

Opposition Leader Simon Bridges gave his State of the Nation address yesterday in Christchurch. After a year of chasing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the polls and watching Judith “Crusher” Collins creeping up in his rear vision mirror as a potential threat to his leadership, it was a chance to try to reset the agenda. But how realistic is it?

Not surprisingly Mr Bridges came out guns blazing against the tax policies of the Labour Party. He claimed that New Zealanders are going to pay another $10,000 more over the next four years than they would have under a National led Government. Mr Bridges also said that the New Zealander on the average wage would be in the top tax bracket by the year 2022 should wage and tax conditions remain unchanged. These criticisms, part of a larger announcement that a National led Government would introduce a three yearly tax cuts regime whereby after each election the Government would be advised how much the brackets need to change by.

However Mr Bridges ignores the significant underfunding of a range of social, health and education services that the National-led Governments of Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English determined were not necessary. In doing so Mr Bridges fails to acknowledge the consequences of the underfunding, which included Middlemore Hospital needing an emergency injection of funding just to do essential building maintenance to address rotting walls and floors.

Mr Bridges crusade against tax also potentially restricts the options available to National without reeking of hypocrisy in an emergency, or period of significant economic downturn. The promises of a three year recalibration ignore the fact that tax policy is a key election announcement in any campaign.

In other areas Mr Bridges promised that National would make the environment a priority. Mr Key said the same thing in a well known speech about the economy, education and environment, which he called the “three E’s” agenda in 2007. Mr Key’s promises on the environment led to an attack on fresh water quality with a substantial decline in both the availability of drinking water per catchment but also a marked decline in its quality. Mr Bridges would be wise to note the high level of concern in a recent poll commissioned by Fish and Game, that suggested an overwhelming portion of New Zealanders now have significant concerns about their fresh water resource.

If Mr Bridges is to be taken seriously about the environment though National will have to adopt a significantly stronger approach than the muddling through method currently in use for dealing with climate change. It will need to develop a comprehensive green business plan if it wants to be seen as a credible alternative to the Greens and Labour campaigning against oil and gas.

Similarly pressing urgency is needed on waste. With China’s refusal to accept paper, glass and plastic waste from 01 January 2018, National would need to develop policy on waste – something it had nothing on in the previous Government, and which successive Governments have muddled their way through on.

The third area of note was law and order, which reminded me that fairly early on in the previous National-led Government accessibility to legal aid was clipped. The excuse at the time that was given was cost cutting. The reality was somewhat different and might help explain the apparent ignorance of some offenders being brought before New Zealand courts. It also reminded me of another cut which was to the Public Trust’s wills service. Whilst both of these were short sighted actions to take, admittedly it probably will not prevent or discourage any offences.


Simon Bridges suggestion of a new Green Party laughable

It has emerged that a man named Vernon Tava believes that there is a component of the Greens who are sick of their party’s social policies, and who would consider a merger with the left wing of the National Party. In reviving an old gimmicky vehicle to gain a few political points – or in this case 5% of the party vote – a former Green turned National Party hopeful named Vernon Tava, along with National Party leader Simon Bridges are hoping to undermine the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

To suggest that there are people who are sick of the social aspect of Green Party policies, shows how little Simon Bridges understands of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Mr Bridges does not seem to realize that they are as integral to being a Green as the environmental policies and associated politics that give the party its name in the first place. It shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what is to even be a supporter of the Green movement, never mind a party member. It is a bit like suggesting National supporters want their incomes, but are not interested in the economic methods that are used to supply those incomes.

These comments are none other than desperate suggestions from a Member of Parliament and Leader of The Opposition who is seriously out of his depth.

And who is Vernon Tava? Here is a guy who to the best of my knowledge has no political profile whatsoever, and now he wants to establish a political party that will somehow reach the lofty 5% threshhold of the party vote. 5% is something Colin Craig and his Conservative Party could not reach. It is something that Gareth Morgan and his The Opportunities Party could not reach in 2017 and something that even New Zealand First failed to reach in 2008. Good luck to him trying, but his profile in New Zealand politics needs some solid work done on it.

The Greens to myself and plenty of others now are as much the party of drug reform, no more wars, more lenience on prisoners as they were the day they entered Parliament. Surely Mr Bridges must have noted the arrival of the Greens in Parliament at the end of 1999 and wondered what a Rastafarian (Nandor Tanczos), a son of Elsie Locke, a beneficiary among others all had in common. Surely he must have understood that there is a section of New Zealand society who do not believe that capitalism is the answer, and that they were as much entitled to exercise their legal rights and views as himself and his well to do mates? Apparently not if you read meaning into these totally baseless comments.

Mr Bridges on one hand appears interested in reviving an old joke wing of the National Party that were never more than a half hearted gimmick. The blue-greens were meant to be a hybrid of the Greens and National with the Greens environmental agenda, coupled with National’s social and economic agenda. That might in itself raise some commentary, but commentary would be about the limit of the reaction – no serious attempt at reconciling either the green wing of politics or the conservative wing with the other’s agenda has ever been seriously attempted. It also ignores some facts that the Greens and the larger left part of the spectrum would consider fundamental:

To have economic growth, people must be in a mental, physical and social state where they can reasonably contribute in the processes. That means having employment policies and protections to stop exploitation and unsafe occupational practices.

Something not everyone in National believe are necessary or even proper.

Jami-Lee Ross saga not over: M.P. claims he was told to die

Highly explosive new allegations have surfaced from former National Party Member of Parliament and Member for Botany, Jami-Lee Ross. Mr Ross, who hit the headlines in October 2018 as he burnt his Parliamentary bridges, mentioned that a fellow National M.P. whom he admitted having an affair with had suggested to him that he should kill himself.

These are potentially career ending allegations for the female National Party Member of Parliament who is alleged to have told Mr Ross that he should die. If true, the suggestion that a fellow human being should kill himself is a criminal offence under Section 43 of the Crimes Act, 1961.

Nearly 4 months after Mr Ross went on leave from Parliament amid a fit of damaging allegations of misconduct by National Party Leader Simon Bridges, Mr Ross has spoken of the time between the first explosive revelations and his admission to a mental health facility. The new allegation follows a barrage in October 2018 in which Mr Bridges was alleged to have asked Mr Ross to break up a donation from a Chinese donor that was too large to be legally kept secret.; that in doing so names had been falsified to hide the real donor; that Mr Bridges had accused Mr Ross of harassing four women; that National M.P.’s were highly critical of Mr Bridges’ decision making.

The National Party reaction to that was explosive. Mr Ross was expelled first from the Caucus and then from the National Party entirely. Over the next several days credible fears set in for Mr Ross’ health, culminating on Saturday 20 October with Mr Ross being compulsorily admitted to mental health institution following alarming calls to his wife that he was on the railway tracks, which forced trains to be stopped whilst Police frantically searched for him.

Mr Ross told of the harm it did to his wife Lucy who thought that her husband was going to commit suicide and that it had been suggested to him that he not see their children. He described the mental health unit room that he was locked up in and realized that he had significant mental health issues, regretting not having sought help earlier.

Mr Ross is eyeing an improbable return to Parliament. It is improbable because there is no way that the National Party would allow him back. The Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard would need to be convinced that he would not be readmitting an unstable Member who might sow further discord on arrival back in the House. And other questions such as what will happen to the by-election that was triggered by his removal from the National Party. If he did win a by-election who would he seek to represent is yet another question.

I see no future in Parliament for Mr Ross. He is too badly damaged by these allegations and his mental health should take priority. Mr Ross should retire from Parliament and perhaps work in the private sector. New Zealand taxpayers will want to know that they are not funding a damaged Member.

If his allegations prove true there may yet be more trouble to come for National. Mr Bridges is barely ahead of fellow National Party member Judith Collins who many think might try to roll him. And if the suicide allegations prove true, the M.P. who suggested Mr Ross kill himself might be made to resign from Parliament – certainly her credibility, like that of Mr Ross, would be shot.


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.