The racers are marshalling: New Zealand readies for Election 2020


2020 is not event two weeks old, and our Parliamentary representatives are either still on holiday or in the office planning the year ahead, but already some political certainties are playing out across the country. The most notable and most obvious one plays out every three years and is commonly known as the General Election.

The date has not been set yet, but possibly the first election debate this year will be over whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will set a date early in the proceedings as her predecessors former Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English did. Both set dates fairly early in the third year of the terms they were Prime Minister in.

The smaller parties are not waiting for a date to be set. In the last year a bracket of new parties have sprung up around former candidates, such as the Sustainable Party, which is led by Vernon Tava. In the case of the Prosperity Party obscure individuals who might have what it takes to be a genuine candidate. They have released policy platforms that are surprisingly in depth, almost like they expect to sail straight into government.

In the last few election cycles I would have been able to tell you months in advance who I would be voting for. But in 2020 I am now coming into my second year of not having a clue who I support any more. Whilst the minor parties look interesting, a number of questions arise including, but not limited to:

  1. How realistic are they about their election prospects
  2. What work have they done on establishing their own functions, party constitution and compliance with the Electoral Finance Act and other relevant legislation
  3. Can they identify their values

I also have questions of the parties in Parliament, which I will mention briefly shortly. Before that I want to run a quick ruler over the five Parliament parties, in terms of challenges facing them:

National: The largest party in Parliament has been doing better in the polls of late. However its leader Simon Bridges has been very quiet on the subject of the bush fires, and it is well known that National wants to amend the zero carbon legislation. National are also not saying much about the change in public mood over harsher criminal sentencing. It has a potentially damaging liability in failing to ascertain the truthfulness of M.P. Jian Yang about his links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Labour: Has done well off Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s image as warm and compassionate. It has not done so well off the delivery of policy, particularly in housing, social welfare and justice. Certain Ministers have become a liability and several others are at risk of joining them. It has the potential to pick up more seats, particularly if National do not lift their game on climate change and the environment.

Greens: After almost single handedly blowing themselves to bits in 2017 with Metiria Turei’s admission of misusing benefits, the Greens have rebuilt themselves remarkably well. The elevation of Marama Davidson to the co-leadership does not seem to have harmed them as much as I thought it would. Their primary challenges will be accepting that climate change is going to have to be balanced with the economy; accepting that a whole new infrastructure genre in terms of public works is going to be necessary and understanding that there will always be a place for a Defence Force in New Zealand.

New Zealand First: Not having been a party member for the last 2 1/2 years, I cannot so easily comment on internal happenings any more. I will just say that if they are the same as they were when I left, then the party still has an existential crisis that is still excessively reliant on leader Winston Peters pulling another trick out of the bag. It’s policy platform is still the best in Parliament by some distance, but its betrayal over the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is a huge stinking dead rat.

A.C.T.: By far and away my least favourite party in Parliament, but also the one that proportionate to its size has probably had the biggest impact this year. David Seymour – love him or hate him – has had a big year. His insistence on freedom of speech when criticizing Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman following the terrorist attacks deservedly drew a lot of criticism from people. That said, it may have done a back handed favour to everyone by shining a light into a not well understood area regarding when free speech becomes hate speech. Substantially more to his credit, he also successfully got through Parliament the controversial End of Life Choices Bill regarding euthanasia.

So, the questions I have for the big parties as you take your places along side the smaller parties in the election race of 2020 are:

  1. Would you be willing to recognize market economics are not working in New Zealand? If not why not?
  2. The constitutional framework of New Zealand has been more overtly challenged in the last few years. What are your thoughts on possibly having to adopt a formal constitution?
  3. What steps are you taking to ensure all donations are properly accounted for under the Electoral Finance Act?

Alternatives to road transport dip out – again – in National transport document


National is proposing to remove fuel taxes if it is elected to office in 2020. And then effectively reinstate them as road user charges. Which to the ordinary New Zealander on the road means one thing only: we still pay for it – just under another name.

National spokesperson for Transport, Chris Bishop announced the new proposal in National’s newly released transport discussion document.

In fairness, Mr Bishop may have a point about fairness of payment methods. A less efficient vehicle might use more fuel per kilometre than a newer vehicle, especially if it is a hybrid, which is designed for low petrol use or an electric car. His solution to introduce road user charges intend to ensure that the kilometres a vehicle drives will determine how much in the way of road user charges a driver has to pay.

How will the road user charges be administered. My father owns a 1995 Toyota Surf that runs on diesel. He has to pay new charges every 10,000 kilometres. Is that an appropriate frequency in terms of kilometres travelled to pay new charges? How would this be administered to petroleum driven cars and after how many thousands of kilometres would new charges have to be paid for?

But the basic fundamental National Party paranoia about “tax”, “taxes” and “taxation” and the desperation to redress need to find replacement funding to cover what would be lost from scrapping the “tax” is at the heart of the subject – if you believe Stuff. What Stuff ignore though is perhaps not so much the fact that National is playing games with the type of funding mechanism that they use to fund roading, as it is that railways, the merchant marine and public transport once again seem to dip out in the discussion document. Perhaps – which would be legitimate for a discussion document, they are credibly asking what the funding priorities should be in these areas, in which case credit to them. But if after an election they win National choose to let these areas slip and slide away, it will be to New Zealand’s detriment.

National also appear to be playing a game of two islands. The North Island comes up in terms of funding announcements, but the South Island often dips out. Neither Christchurch, nor Dunedin seem to rate mentions in terms of funding or what National thinks it might do – or not do. There are several things that could be done, not least:

  • Making Otira tunnel safe for all trains to transit through again without the risk of coal dust causing an explosion and/or fire.
  • Using the South Island Main Trunk Line more for freight, especially through the Kaikoura area where some trucks are simply not made for those roads
  • Introduce a Lyttelton to Wellington/Lyttleton to Port Chalmers ferry service that could take freight and passengers if railways are not efficient enough

This is not to say National’s discussion document is a waste of time. I welcome it and I hope that constructive discussion is generated by it – even if I don’t want a National Party victory.

Labour and coalition partners climb in poll; National drops


A YouGov poll just out shows a gain in the number of seats every party in Parliament except for National, were an election held today.

After a slump over the last few months following the outpouring of respect for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership in dealing with the Christchurch Mosque attacks, Labour can afford to smile again. Its 41% support in the YouGov poll would leave it with 51 seats in Parliament, five more than its current 46.

National Party leader Simon Bridges would be disappointed with the results, but a determination to rehash old ideas is not helping the centre-right party. Thanks to Mr Bridges outdated views on justice and his sudden insistence on the importance of being tough on crime when National failed to make any substantive changes in sentencing, it has slumped to 40 percent. That would see it surrender 9 seats to the other parties to leave it on 47.

New Zealand First and the Greens both do alright in the poll, and would have 10 seats a piece. That would give New Zealand First another M.P. and the Greens two more M.P.’s. Notably though, this was taken before the donations saga became known to the media – I do not imagine the public would have been so kind if they had known this beforehand.

Even A.C.T. for the first time since 2011 would have more M.P.’s, as its 2% plus assuming leader David Seymour is returned in Epsom would bring in an extra M.P. That would be the only bright spot for A.C.T. though as with National on 40% in this scenario, the right wing of New Zealand politics would be comfortably stuck on the Opposition benches.

However if the New Zealand public had known about the allegations embroiling New Zealand First before the YouGov poll was conducted, it is unlikely they would have been so kind to New Zealand First. The allegations, which point to serious fiscal mismanagement inside the party stem from disgust over years of opaque governance by the New Zealand First board of directors with regards to the party’s financial position.

If we held the YouGov poll today, with the fallout from the New Zealand First donations problem accounted for, this is how I expect the results would look (% / # of Seats):

  • LABOUR 42 / 54
  • NATIONAL 40 / 47
  • GREENS 9 / 11
  • N.Z. FIRST 5 / 6
  • A.C.T. 1 / 2

This would be devastating for New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters. It would leave his South Island membership with no representation in the House of Representatives as Mark Patterson, a list M.P. in Clutha-Southland would be forced to leave Parliament. Labour, A.C.T. and the Greens have all had legislative victories of late orĀ  – in the case of the Greens – M.P.’s comments going viral and starting a discussion. These would have raised their profiles somewhat and proven that they were keeping their promises, and combined with National’s surprisingly poor performance, would help to prop them up.

With the 2019 Parliament year soon to end and the 2020 campaign year just over 5 weeks away from starting, Ms Ardern might be cautiously smiling at the moment. But if the donation saga drags on and causes the conservative N.Z. First voters to leave it might be Mr Bridges with the biggest grin this time next year.

Sustainable New Zealand: A green party to challenge… the Greens?


On Sunday 10 November 2019 a new party launched in New Zealand. The Sustainable New Zealand Party, headed by former National candidate Vernon Tava, is a centrist green party that has been established to take on the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

As Mr Tava is a former National Party candidate, one might suspect that, although nothing has been said so far, National Leader Simon Bridges is looking for a way to claw back credibility with the environmental wing of politics. Were this to be the case, then its more business friendly approach might see it trying to lure away the blue component of the “Blue Greens” who were meant to be the environmentally friendly wing of the National Party.

The National Party claims that the Greens, like the Labour Party they support are anti-economy. To them the Green Party does not want people earning decent incomes, a skilled work force developing economic sectors to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century is wrong, if you believe the National Party estimate of the Greens.

It is true that the Green Party is suspicious of research, science and technological development. The party has already via Minister for Conservation, Eugenie Sage, stated its dislike of waste to energy plants that generate electricity from burning waste, Whilst the blurb on the Sustainable New Zealand website talks about the Green hostility to biotechnology, it makes no mention of S.N.Z. support for research into biofuel or hydrogen as an alternative to petrol and diesel.

I assume that Sustainable New Zealand wants to eventually get into Parliament. If that is the case then even though it appears to be positioning itself as a full time environmental party to take on the Greens, some sort of social policy platform is going to be needed. And this is where the “centrist” in “centrist green” could well come in. One can only guess at this time though what sort of policies Mr Tava would consider for his platform.

So, watch this space. In the coming days and weeks S.N.Z. will no doubt have more to say about their vision for New Zealand and what kind of social policy platform they will adopt. Likewise the Green Party will make moves to give them a more distinct edge over S.N.Z..

Mr Tava has a big hill to climb though. It is a lofty goal for any party outside of Parliament to find a way past the 5% threshhold or to win an electoral seat. Only New Zealand First has exited Parliament and made it back in. No party has started from birth outside of Parliament in the Mixed Member Proportional environment and made it in yet. How well Mr Tava manages this climb will be contingent in terms of who runs the party and how.

National recycling old ideas, expecting different results


We are less than a year away from either Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern starting second term in office or Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges becoming Prime Minister. As one has a disappointingly average term in the halls of the Beehive, the other is reviving policy in order to look tough for the elections that look decidedly unoriginal, old and boring.

The old ideas thus far include:

  1. A crack down on gangs in New Zealand, including denying members social welfare benefits if they cannot prove they hold no illegal income or assets
  2. A crack down on welfare including a time limit on the dole for under 25’s

And they have added some new ones, which follow the trend set by the old benefit bashing routine National is well known for. They include fines for parents of school drop outs and truants.

Many of the truants and drop outs come from families where schooling was never a high priority in the first place. They might well be students with parents who work all day until dinner time or later, who are not around to help with homework, cook dinner or organize supervision for under 14’s. The punitive fines that National are proposing fail to recognize a simple fact: the parents or caregivers might not have the money, or if they do it might well have already been sucked up by other expenditures.

Unless National recognize this, which I have no reason to believe Mr Bridges will, there will be only quite limited positive impact on truant and drop out numbers.

As indicated in earlier articles, one of the best ways to reduce the gang issue is to first understand the how and why of their existence in the first place – gang’s do not simply exist because someone got out of bed one day and say “I’ll start a gang today”; the disenfranchised people who join them generally do so because there is no love, no guidance in their lives. When this gets tackled we can start to take National seriously on dealing with gangs.

If National continue this trend of old social policies getting recycled in the hope of different outcomes, there are others we can expect to see Mr Bridges and company reconsidering.

  1. The punitive 3 Strikes regime will get tougher to act as a deterrent, whilst running the risk of becoming like Washington State in the United States where a person on third strike went to jail for 25 years for stealing a car. Yes, it was a dumb thing to do and yes one might reasonably expect a person to have learnt from their previous strikes, but it does not change the fact that 25 years for stealing a car is manifestly unjust.
  2. The badly needed and long overdue changes to the Social Welfare Act and other legislation that the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies operate under will remain rigidly archaic, which will increase the risk posed to W.I.N.Z., Housing New Zealand and other social agency staff
  3. Employment contracts legislation will try to reverse gains made under Labour

I hold little hope for National whilst they maintain this archaic outlook on policy making. Are they really so bereft of new ideas as to not be able to come up with anything that has not already recycled three or four times? It is almost like they do not want to be in the 21st Century where ideas that were fine in the 1960s-1990s are now well and truly out of date.