The challenge facing a Todd Muller led National


On Monday 18 May 2020 a poll was released which sounded the death knell of Simon Bridges time at the helm of the National Party. It had National on an abysmal 30.6%, which would have given it only 37 seats in a House of 120 Members of Parliament. The same poll had Labour on a whopping 59%, which would have given it a majority not seen in Parliament since Mixed Member Proportional voting was established in New Zealand.

By the end of the week, Mr Bridges was gone. No one knows how comfortably the previously almost completely unknown Todd Michael Muller rolled Mr Bridges in the leadership vote, but the latter was gracious in defeat. Mr Muller was equally magnanimous in victory.

When he had his post-coup press conference, Mr Muller presented the most senior members of his new line up. Gone was Paula Bennett, who had been Deputy Leader. Shadow Treasurer Paul Goldsmith had kept hold of the Treasury, whilst the machiavellian Judith Collins is likely to hold a significant post such as Justice. Gerry Brownlee, Member for Ilam had

Mr Muller faces several challenges, and he has just under four months to address them.

Probably the most important is New Zealanders want their economy moving again, without a doubt, but they also want to know that National will pay due attention to environmental, housing, social welfare and crime. They want to know that the old “get rid of the R.M.A.” will not be core environmental policy; that housing will become affordable again for the average Jim and Jane; that the crime and the poverty often behind it will be addressed. The COVID19 pandemic might have been a black time for the New Zealand economy and there is no doubt that a lot of people have been hurt by it, but New Zealand has an unprecedented chance to shape the post-COVID economy in a way that will be beneficial for generations to come.

The second one is his team. There are Members of Parliament in National that have been around a long time, like David Carter, Gerry Brownlee, Nick Smith, in addition to a bunch of M.P.’s who were Ministers under former Prime Minister John Key and Bill English. They are showing their age now. Former National Party President Michelle Boag once suggested a term that has become synonomous with M.P.’s who are past their best, but not wanting to leave Parliament: dead wood and in this category, one could include Anne Tolley, Paula Bennett. With a team of 55 other Members of Parliament to work with, Mr Muller has significant options, such as Chris Bishop

The third is New Zealand. With an immensely popular Prime Minister in charge and – despite the likes of David Clark and Phil Twyford putting their incompetence on display – several competent Ministers such as Andrew Little (Education), Ron Mark (Defence), Grant Robertson (Treasurer), and James Shaw (Climate Change), only a monumental mistake is likely to prevent Jacinda Ardern from being a two-term Prime leader of New Zealand.

It is the early days of Mr Muller’s leadership of the National Party and no doubt he has ideas of his own about what New Zealand should look like. But before then he needs to establish himself as leader, make peace with or send to the back bench those that are not on board. That is a lot to do in four months.

 

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 42


Yesterday was DAY 42 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

This is a short article. For several days now A.C.T. Leader David Seymour has been pressuring the Government to release its legal advice on the legality of the lock down. Chair of the Epidemic Response Committee Simon Bridges has summonsed the Inspector General to appear before the Committee, something that has never been done by a N.Z. Parliament before.

Whilst the Government for reasons of transparency SHOULD release the legal advice unless advised not to, I do not think Mr Seymour is going to get the answer he was looking for. I now explain why.

The Government issued an Epidemic Notice on 25 March 2020 under Section 5(1) of the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006. This cleared the way for a State of Emergency to be declared on the grounds of an epidemic. On the same day at 1221 hours a State of Emergency was put into force across New Zealand. The description of emergency in Section 4 of the C.D.E.M. Act 2002 includes epidemic.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield was exercising powers that were accorded under Section 70(1)(m) of the Health Act 1956, which was triggered by the declaration of the State of Emergency at 1221 hours 25 March 2020. I have seen notices published per 70(1)(m) in my local newspaper regarding the Civil Defence emergency. Others said they heard about it through radio and/or saw it on television.

The measures permitted under the above, include shutting down premises/locations/regions as required.

In other words I do not see anything in the legislation that Dr Bloomfield or anyone else may have exceeded.

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 26


Yesterday was DAY 26 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Yesterday at 1600 hours Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an announcement of what the next few weeks hold for New Zealand.

New Zealand will stay at LEVEL 4 until 2359 on Monday 27 April 2020. With the start of the new day it will go to LEVEL 3 with restrictions.

The other key points about what can/cannot be done at LEVEL 3 are below:

  • Takeaways will be permitted
  • Tradies can return to work, but tools will need to be washed twice daily
  • Activities within your region are permitted, but the closer to home the better
  • Schools can reopen up to Year 10 (children under 14 must be supervised)
  • Social distancing is maintained

The Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges finds himself in an unenviable position for any Opposition Leader. He is facing a Government being led by a Prime Minister whose leadership is earning international accolades, which much of the country across the political spectrum is willingly following. With strong leadership, combined with a down to earth empathy often lacking in politicians Ms Ardern has attracted accolades from the U.S. newspaper The Washington Post; noted internet media website The Hill among others. Her communications with the New Zealand public have a clarity yet certainty about them that is completely missing in those of other notable countries – my thoughts on the press conferences of U.S. President Donald Trump are not printable; the United Kingdom and Australian Government pressers seem disorganized, and apparently Indian President Narendra Modi does not bother with them at all.

But as the Leader of the Opposition ultimately Mr Bridges has to say something, and in this case he has decided to call LEVEL 3 “LEVEL 3.9”, and said that the Government has not laid down the framework for moving the economy out of LEVEL 4. Mr Bridges also said that we should be following Australia’s lead, where restrictions are considerably less. Mr Bridges knows full well that Australia, whilst doing comparatively well compared to the United States, United Kingdom and other countries has had a lack of definitive direction from the Federal Government in Canberra. So too, does Dr Paul Goldsmith, National’s Treasurer spokesperson, who said that the Government is being too tight on the economy and needs to significantly ease restrictions now. He would do well to listen to the words of noted New Zealand economist Shamubeel Eaqub who said that at this time saving lives is more important than getting the economy moving again.

Clutching at straws might be a better description of A.C.T. Leader David Seymour. Mr Seymour’s response to the announcement seemed to be completely oblivious to why New Zealand is taking a cautious approach. Like Dr Goldsmith, Mr Seymour would be well advised to listen to Mr Eaqub.

At the end of the day, there was never going to be an entirely fool proof announcement today. What it has done is however the next best thing: an acknowledgement that we need another few days after the four week lock down period is up, then the start of a gradual transition into a hopeful post-COVID19 environment – to say “a return to normal” is not realistic. What was normal pre-COVID19 is simply obsolete now. Whether it is by societal impact of COVID19 or by a public decision to seize the opportunity we have now to radically overhaul New Zealand society, New Zealand has undergone a significant change from which there is no going back.

Am I happy with it? For the most part yes. The government has tried to listen to all sides. The first priority was defeat COVID19. Now that that looks somewhat attainable, we can start looking at getting the economy going again once LEVEL 3 restrictions are eased. It has spent billions propping up workers so that the economy does not disintegrate. Tens of billions of dollars more has been freed up to stimulate growth once New Zealanders start going back to work in large numbers.

 

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.