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.

Simon Bridges drops in popularity; Crusher enters preferred P.M. stakes

National leader Simon Bridges is not the most popular politician in New Zealand at the moment. Whilst he might have the support of his National Party, and not really having been tested in the short time that he has been in office, his popularity is right where Andrew Little’s was this time last year before Jacinda-mania took hold.

Mr Bridges is experiencing the same very low levels of popularity that assailed successive Labour leaders during the three terms that party was out of office. For the time being this is not cause for alarm as Mr Bridges still has at least two years to wait before the next election, meaning there is plenty of time for Labour to make a significant mistake that National can capitalize on.

However if Mr Bridges still finds himself in this position cometh the 2020 Fiscal Budget he might find himself being challenged for the job. For that to happen though, there would need to be a significant change in polling fortunes. Right now A.C.T. and National can muster 59 seats in a Parliament of 122.

Perhaps the party that should be the most concerned is New Zealand First. Since their announcement that they will support the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, the support for the party has plunged with many people who until then had been staunch supporters walking away from the party of Winston Peters. Prior to that announcement, the Party had been widely viewed by the voting public as the only party other than the Greens that was stridently opposed to the C.P.T.P.P. and its predecessor the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (T.P.P.A.). If an election were had today and the poll result was accurate, there would be no New Zealand First in the new Parliament.

The Green Party are still struggling with the post-Metiria Turei era. Mrs Turei’s departure from Parliament as a result of being made to resign following admissions that she misled Department of Work and Income over her income whilst she was a solo mother, was bad enough. But that was damage that could have been (probably would have been)fixed had she announced at the same time that she had paid it all back, leaving the Opposition with minimal ammunition and probably not causing the revolt in the ranks of the Green Party. Although they have now elected Marama Davidson to the co-leadership position, Mrs Davidson has yet to be distinctly heard, which is something that the Greens will be hoping changes in the near future. Because of that, the Greens slipped slightly in the poll.

A.C.T. continues to languish in the poll, supported only by leader David Seymour’s hold on the Epsom electorate. Granted Mr Seymour has been showing off his dance moves on Dancing With The Stars, and his End of Life Choice Bill has cross party support in dealing with euthanasia, there is little else maintaining peoples interest in him or his party.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sails positively on. A few weeks away from going on maternity leave and handing Mr Peters temporary control of the country, Ms Ardern sits on 40.2% support in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. Since much Labour policy is still to come and her handling of the problems that have so far come her way, has been largely competent, like Mr Bridges, although for quite contrasting reasons, she has little cause for alarm.

Nationals hypocrisy in Parliament

When New Zealand went to bed on 20 September 2017 no one was quite sure who had won the election. National had the largest number of seats, but no allies. Labour did not have enough seats either, but DID have allies. Many thought that National would be returned to power for a historic fourth term, something not seen since the days of Keith Holyoake.

So imagine the disgust of the centre right, the howls of rage and pain that echoed through conservative New Zealand when the New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters, whose party held the balance of power decided to support Labour. The dismay of the centre right media from bloggers such as Cameron Slater and David Farrar, to commentators such as those on Stuff and Newstalk Z.B. was palpable

As a result of National’s loss, news media that are normally centre-right in character are expending considerable effort trying to undermine a Labour Government  that New Zealanders understand has not yet had time to prove itself. Most New Zealanders would be quite prepared to wait at least until the end of the first term in office and then make a judgement.

However National has some issues that will only go away with time – and acknowledgement of them. They include undermining the mental health system, failing to overhaul the Ministry of Social Development when it had the opportunity and dealing with the drug scourge. Its rush to undermine Labour is premature, since the latter has not even completed its first year yet.

Several examples can be given of how National is behaving hypocritically in Parliament as the major opposition party:

  1. National Party members who are meant to be sitting on the Business Select Committee were purposefully absent the other day – the reason being they wanted to send the Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard a message about what they thought of the Speakers performance
  2. National have claimed that the Labour Party are not being transparent in Parliament regarding legislation
  3. It is rather rich when one considers that in the first two years of National being in office they passed more laws under urgency than the Labour Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark did in its nine years. National, like Labour before it, tried to pass legislation that posed a clear breach of New Zealand human rights law (Labour – Electoral Finance Act, 2006; National Crown Minerals Crown Land and Protection)Amendment Act 2013)

There are actions that can be taken to improve the transparency of the overall process and make the political parties in Parliament respect the need for public transparency better than they currently do. One is requiring the Governor General to refuse to permit the use of urgency should it be found that political parties use it to pass contentious legislation that will run into significant public opposition. It has been noted that the Speaker of the House took away supplementary questions because of concerns about how those questions were being misused.

Right since Day One of this Government, Stuff and Newstalk Z.B. have led the charge against it. Constantly Stuff has posted articles even when the Government was still being formed about its fragility. The authors seemed to forget that National had to watch its United Future ally Peter Dunne complete his gradual decline from a 9 member Party in 2004 to being a completely disbanded party in 2018. National also had to watch A.C.T. tarnish itself with corrupt Members of Parliament as well as toxic former M.P.’s like Roger Douglas.

For their part Mike Hosking on Newstalk Z.B. has consistently attacked Labour, both as an Opposition Party and in Government. His bias was severe enough to prompt a significant petition against Television New Zealand letting him moderate the election debate for the major parties in the 2017 General Election. With the Government still in its early days and still another 18 days away from delivering the 2018 Fiscal Budget, which will be its first, are Newstalk Z.B. and Stuff not prematurely jumping the gun?

National announce environmental reset

At the weekend, the Leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges made an announcement. National is going to hit the reset button on environmental policy. Whilst this will please the party’s left-leaning Members of Parliament and their supporters, are the grass roots on board?

For a while National has had the Bluegreens. This is a wing of the party that has had an environmental focus in an attempt to shore up the party’s credentials with the Green movement.

For much of the time Prime Minister John Key and his successor former Prime Minister Bill English were in office, the Bluegreens were at best, paid lip service. Little was mentioned about them in the media, and little – unless the media ignored it, which is possible – appears to have been said by the Bluegreens. For the vast majority of National voters the environment was only something to be paid attention to if it meant depriving the Greens, Labour and New Zealand First of votes. That is probably still the case today. It therefore remains to be seen just how on board the party grass roots will get.

National, like Labour has philosophical supporters. Just as Labours are traditionally unions, lower income workers, and those with concerns about social justice, National is typically supported by industry, farming and people who are philosophically conservative. This is where much of National’s funding for its day to day core operations as a party come from alongside member donations and fundraising efforts.

It will be interesting to see what sort of environmental reset National leader Simon Bridges was thinking of when he made the announcement. Will it be a comprehensive one across all environmental concerns – waste, freshwater, marine environment, air pollution, climate change, soil quality?. Or will it be concentrated into a few areas with significant policy announcements intended to be made in these areas?

If National stick to a few key environmental issues that they are prepared to invest in, then climate change, waste and fresh water issues are the most obvious top three. In addressing waste and fresh water, National would be indirectly tackling climate change.

The waste New Zealanders generate is substantial. The potential for burning waste in order to drive a power station generator unit would allow a clean source of electricity whilst reducing the risk of toxics leaching into the groundwater supply – the technology and know how is there. This provides the opportunity for scientific research and significant job creation, whilst at the same time providing New Zealand with electricity.

Just because climate change involves cutting back on carbon emissions does not mean it is an economy killer. It is important for National to recognize this because a significant part of New Zealand’s environmental reputation, which is essential for keeping tourists coming here rides on reducing climate change. Other nations are starting to take significant steps to address this with policy announcements. New Zealand can become a hotbed of research into carbon neutral technology if it wants to, which like waste to energy plants, could lead to job creation.

Finally I have mentioned in prior articles the important contribution of fresh water based recreation. But also there are many obvious medical benefits to be had from clean drinking water and a secure supply. These benefits are too many and too diverse to adequately capture in an article of this length, but New Zealand will be a healthier, wealthier nation for it.

So, I look forward to seeing what Mr Bridges has to say in terms of policy. It is a chance for National to claw back some of the ground it lost at the last election. But if he is genuine, the grass roots will need to be on board. Right now, I do not think they are.


Government faces challenges on finances

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced during last years election campaign that Labour would form a Tax Working Group if elected, many thought that this was a cop out mechanism for avoiding the heat on tax. Whilst not being one of these people, I did wonder how comprehensive Labour’s planning on tax had been. As we approach  the Fiscal Budget of 2018 next month, those concerns remain, but some definitively positive signals are also emerging.

The challenges are significant. Not all of them though, involve raising/lowering taxes, introducing new financial tools that affect taxpayers to prop up the books.

Some of them are about making corporate tax evasion more difficult to achieve by working with other nations to ensure corporates like – but not limited to – Apple and Facebook pay what tax they owe. Others are about making sure that tourists who come to New Zealand have some sort of medical insurance to keep the cost to the taxpayer in check.

Not all of these challenges will be or should be addressed in the coming Fiscal Budget. Some will require amendments to tax law and greater oversight.

At the last election Labour said that its plans, which did not signal income or business tax changes, had been costed and found to tally up. Opposition Members of Parliament claim Labour cannot possibly afford their plans for New Zealand without substantial tax increases. Some go so far as to suggest that by cancelling planned tax cuts, the Government has in effect announced a tax increase, something Labour denies.

My own concerns are that Labour, in ruling out business and income tax changes, has left itself open to a budgetary blow out. This would lend credibility to the likes of former Treasurer Steven Joyce’s claim of a budgetary black hole, and Labour being amateurish in budget setting.

However there have been a number of pleasing announcements that suggest to me that a degree of control has been exerted. One of those announcements is that there will be a royalty on the use of water for commercial and irrigation purposes. Another is the introduction of a tourism infrastructure fund. It will take the shape of a N.Z$25 levy placed on non citizens and residents visiting New Zealand. In past articles I have called for a levy to be placed on such visitors, as it is a useful user pays scheme that reduces the pressure on Regional, District and City Councils, whose rates are already subject to considerable pressure.

Of course, all of this said, Labour have yet to actually introduce a Fiscal Budget simply because it is not time. The Fiscal Budget for as far back as I can remember has always happened in May. I accept therefore that it is a work in progress and one not to be judged until the Treasurer Grant Robertson presents his first Budget on 17 May 2018.