The renaissance of the Crusher

Judith Anne Collins, Member of Parliament for Papakura, former Minister of the Crown and National Party attack dog is on the hunt for the leadership of the National Party once more.

Ms Collins, known as Crusher for her promise to put the confiscated cars of boy racers into a crusher, is staging a renaissance in the National Party. Her revival as one of the key members of the party, pursuing a clear blue agenda has excited the conservative wing of National.

At 6% in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, she is only 1% point behind her boss and Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges. Mr Bridges has been wallowing at 7% in the polls and has been unable to gain any traction against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. At 6% she is even ahead of Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters.

Ms Collins has time on her side. Barring a major scandal or highly improbable failure to pass a budget, it will be 2020 before an election is called. That gives her time to build up her support, have a think about the direction she would like to take the National should she launch a successful bid to roll Mr Bridges. Any Collins leadership is sure to take National to the right and see a harder line on crime and justice; a more aggressive approach in Parliament and a willingness to dish the dirt.

I anticipate that Ms Collins will place less emphasis on the environment, cannabis reform – despite it being linked to a lot of minor (and not so minor)crime – as well as social welfare, health and education. The latter based on her voting record, suggests she would support the revival of charter schools and tax cuts.

But Ms Collins also has baggage. Her co-operation with blogger Cameron Slater’s dishing the most grubby and smelly mud has not endeared her to the political purists or the New Zealand public in many respects. Her involvement in the Oravida scandal for which she was dismissed from her Ministerial portfolio’s for a period of time.

For now though Mr Bridges hangs onto his leadership of the National Party. He would be reluctant to surrender it because those who surrender the leadership of National or Labour, unless they have done it to support a more popular candidate like former Labour Leader Andrew Little did last year, are generally seen as being in the twilight of their Parliamentary careers. Mr Little’s three immediate predecessors Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe were all gone at the end of the Parliamentary term in which they surrendered the leadership.

So, as we settle in to watch this space, perhaps the bigger academic question to ask based on National and Simon Bridges fortunes, when Ms Collins will make her next move?

Toxicology report for National

A report sits on the desk of National Leader Simon Bridges. It is labelled “Toxicology results: National Party, 10/2018”. They contain the results of a batch of tests done on the toxic internal environment of the New Zealand National Party.

The results are clear: National has a toxic internal environment that is proving hugely damaging to the party. The claims of Mr Bridges that there is no “cultural” issue within the party are those of a leader who is in complete denial of the situation.

Labour and the Greens did not get to the high placing they currently have on 1 News Colmar Brunton polls simply by turning up to work. They achieved that placing by being consistently the better performing, by having policy for a change and getting on with implementing it instead of being caught up in divisive damaging machinations. Credit to them for doing so.

When the A.C.T. Party, normally National’s friend is so disgusted with the state of its partner that the Leader of A.C.T., David Seymour is openly critical then there is a significant problem.

National’s toxicology report shows a biological culture in its Molesworth Street offices in Wellington that is not fit for human beings. It is of a place with questionable work place practices, ethics and accountability. It has hanging over it like the stink of rotten fish, the Jamie Lee Ross saga, where despite Mr Ross having been taken to a mental health unit and discharged into the care of a friend, something putrid clearly still remains.

The detritus of past scandals permeate the place as well. Several high ranking National Party M.P.’s who held significant portfolios in the previous Government are covered in muck, of which at least some is of their own making. Arch rival and former Minister of Police and Justice, Judith Collins might be in Opposition, but her reputation is tarnished forever more by the Oravida Scandal involving her husband David Wong Tung. It is further tarnished by investigative journalist Nicky Hager exposing¬† in his book “Dirty Politics” the dirty activities of bloggers such as Cameron Slater and Ms Collins’ links to them.

Deputy Leader of the National Party, Paula Bennett is not free from blame either. Her involvement in this has brought almost as many questions regarding her conduct and future in Parliament as that of her boss on himself. Her combative nature will work against her at this time, because when Ms Bennett, like her boss, should be eating humble pie most probably she will be digging her heels in.

There will be a few National M.P.’s who will be leaving with their heads held high, dignity intact, but not for any reasons to do with the miserable muck raking of the last two weeks. They will be leaving intact because they kept their heads down, got on with their jobs and did not partake in the manufacturing of the mud that was subsequently flung to the farthest parts of the Party. Namely former Attorney General and Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson, as well as former Speaker of the House David Carter. Neither are seeking another term in 2020.

They are two M.P.’s that the rest of National would well do to look at for ideas on the sort of standards New Zealanders expect and which they had better achieve if National want this Government to be a one term wonder. Because should Mr Bridges fail to clean up the mess that his party has dissolved into, the 2020 election will be decided before it is even fought.

Learning from an appalling week in New Zealand politics

To say that the week just gone in New Zealand politics was an appalling sight for both Kiwi’s and non-Kiwi’s alike to be watching and/or participating in, is an understatement. It was a week which in the beginning looked like being colourful, if not a little dirty – I thought that Mr Ross would be reined in by National Party leader Simon Bridges and given a right dressing down. I thought that it would be quickly shut down and the public told “Nothing to see here: Move along”.

How wrong I was. Perhaps as a result of being away for four weeks and paying as little attention as possible to New Zealand domestic affairs in that time, I lost track of what was brewing. Perhaps I held – and I think now that this is the case – a too high an estimate of the National Party’s ability in the post-John Key era to shut down rogue M.P.’s.

Whatever the case, the results have been truly disgusting. From Mr Bridges and Mr Ross slinging poo across the expanse of the internet and via the media at each other, to his admittance of affairs, of potentially very dodgy handling of political donations, to Mr Ross’s admittance into a mental health facility, it was a desperate, dirty and underhand week.

So, what are the lessons that we can learn from this? There are a few:

I think one of the bigger ones is the age old lesson about not throwing stones in glass houses. In this case some rather large stones got thrown and they seem to have broken a lot of glass. National, Mr Bridges, Mr Ross have all come away with damaged glass houses.

The discussion around the state of Mr Ross’s mental health has varied hugely. From those trying to show a degree of understanding and rightfully calling for decorum to those throwing more fuel on the fire, such as Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, we have seen a voting public fascinated and repelled at the same time. Perhaps the lesson out of this is to learn to show a degree of dignity and class when discussing mental health – if you cannot say anything constructive, don’t say anything at all.

The third one, which at this moment probably applies most to Mr Bridges, is damage control. His was not the best and it might in part explain his dismal poll rating in the latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll. It showed that an election today would give Labour and the Greens a comfortable majority and with New Zealand First 68 seats in Parliament or 56% of the seats. National would have 51 seats and the A.C.T. Party the remaining one seat. On preferred Prime Minister, Mr Bridges is well down, having slumped to 7% whilst Labour leader Jacinda Ardern rises to an all time high of 42%.

As the second week of this saga progresses, with more announcements surely to come about any other leaks – damaging or not – the National Party will be in full on damage control. A.C.T. will be watching on disgruntled and hopefully disgusted with what they have seen in their ally, whilst the governing benches will be getting on with the task of running New Zealand.

Banning plastic bags tackles small part of a big problem

Yesterday the Government announced that New Zealand would phase out plastic bags within 12 months. The announcement, which was made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage comes amid a growing backlash against single use plastics.

The announcement, whilst welcome is in some respects more of a feel good measure. Whilst single use plastic bags are a very visible part of the plastics problem in New Zealand, in terms of the larger waste issue, plastic bags are a relative minor issue. Paper, glass, wood, materials such as polystyrene and so forth will continue to get dumped in landfills or recycled at negligible rates. Electronic waste will continue to go into landfills at between 72,000 and 85,000 tons per annum with only 1% of that being recycled.

The announcement did not escape criticism. David Seymour, Leader of the A.C.T. Party said it would punish consumers who find the bags easy and convenient. He also attacked the lack of science qualifications held by Green Party Members of Parliament. Nor did it escape criticism from the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges who likened it to low hanging fruit and that no real gains would be made. Mr Bridges claimed that the Government had bigger problems on its hands and needed to address what he called “plummeting business confidence”.

Both of these criticisms come from desperate politicians wanting to undermine something that they know will be well received by the public of New Zealand. Much has been made of the growing number of seabirds, fish and other marine life being found to have died from consuming plastics that their bodies are not able to digest. One also cannot ignore the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the central part of the northern Pacific that has an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in it. That is about 680 pieces of plastic for every single human being on the planet.

I doubt that, despite the incoming ban, plastic bags will actually be fully phased out. Several questions need to be asked – and answered about this:

  1. How will the Government deal with imported products that come in plastic bags – last time I got an electrical device there were about three small plastic bags each with a component relevant to the device. They were single use bags in that once opened there was no further use for the plastic.
  2. Will there remain drop off bins after the ban takes effect for those who have stockpiles of plastic bags? I suspect that there will always be a small number of plastic bags retained by New Zealanders and there will be people all over the country with a cupboard holding a few, just as my parents have.
  3. Businesses seem to be enthusiastic about the ban, but there will always be a few that are non-compliant. Will the Government enforce the ban somehow?

All in all, a nice feel good ban. Greenpeace and the other environmental N.G.O.’s might be happy, but the war on waste has a long way to go before it reaches anything approaching a successful conclusion.

Tit-for-Tat politics do no favours

It is something all politicians are probably guilty of at some point in their career. In their attempt to either score political points or establish their name as a productive elected official, one might propose an amendment to legislation before the House of Representatives. The amendment is rejected possibly simply because it came from the Opposition, possibly because it came out after due process had been followed.

The proponent of the amendment is bitter, grumpy and perhaps feeling short changed. In retaliation for their attempt at a constructive amendment being shot down, they change their vote in an attempt to kill the legislation entirely. In doing so, they shoot down an opportunity to show that they are a good sport and try to understand why it was rejected and do better the next time such an opportunity arises.

The sad fact of the matter is that tit-for-tat politics are really just petulant stupidity. No one wins from politicians throwing hissy fits in Parliament – whether it is in a speech, at a Select Committee or in terms of how they vote.

Thus, National’s decision to yank its support for the Green Party’s medicinal cannabis bill, only to then come up with a near identical version is particularly galling. It essentially says that there was nothing wrong with the Green Party version other than to say that it was the GREEN PARTY that came up with it in the first place. Furthering the petulance, National have rejected the warnings from the Ministry of Health that their Bill will not significantly improve the availability of medicinal cannabis products.

Another example can be found in the National Party attacks on the Government for their fiscal policy. Afraid that their own fiscal management, which saw significant debt accrued – admittedly through testing times including the back end of the Global Financial Crisis, and two hugely costly earthquakes – was under attack, National have seized every opportunity to try to present the Labour-Green fiscal rules agreement as a failure and a joke, despite the spending falling within the limits agreed to and monetary inflow continuing to exceed spending. As Stuff reporter Tracy Watkins notes there is a fine line before highlighting failing policies and deliberately talking down the economy.

It is not just the Opposition parties that do it. Sometimes the Government parties can be equally dismissive. But right now that is not happening. It is the Opposition, struggling as it is to get used to the fact that petulant behaviour instead of quietly dropping an unwinnable argument does not get one very far.