National scared of Winston Peters

Yesterday, the Minister for Immigration, Michael Woodhouse announced a raft of new measures to tackle record numbers of migrants coming to New Zealand. The measures come amid a stagnating and high house prices.

But what  was this: An act of desperation? An act of cynicism? An act by a party that is scared of a wily old foe? The timing suggests it could be a combination of all three.

For years Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party have been a consistent clarion for more sustainable levels of immigration than the 71,000 migrants who flooded into New Zealand last year. National has hit back each time, accusing New Zealand First of wanting to stifle growth and of being xenophobic all the while ignoring the very socio-economic issues that are being fuelled by the rapid population growth.

I have no problems with immigration and nor does the New Zealand First party which I support. Without regard to race or reason for coming, if people want to come here and contribute constructively to New Zealand whether they are on work visas, as tourists, let them. If they want to live here long term as law abiding New Zealanders, let them. Where the problem lies is being able to continue this without the quality of life that those already in New Zealand and those that have lived here all along, enjoy being eroded.

Determining what constitutes a sustainable immigration flow is a tricky question and the answers no doubt depend on what is intended to be gained from the data, its modelling and subsequent outputs. If we are simply looking for a rate of immigration that can be maintained for say a generation, perhaps statistical census data, coupled with regional data sets pertaining to the environment is an appropriate way to go. Geographic Information Systems software can do this in a temporal and/or spatial manner, and other applications can do statistical manipulation.

So, how does this relate to National being scared of Mr Peters? The data sets already exist and National has had eight years to use the data to attempt some modelling, and draw up appropriate policy based on the outcomes. The party might well argue that this is what it is doing now.

But after three terms, knowing history does not favour – with the exception of Keith Holyoake, four term peace time Governments, one cannot help but notice the cynicism of the timing. Now it is election year and National has had three terms in office and is seeking a historic fourth term. It has enjoyed years of riding high in the polls and watching Labour slump to consecutive defeats. It has built itself up on a centrist mandate that former Prime Minister John Key obtained in 2008, renewed in 2011 and again in 2014. Mr Key created a common man image that worked well for him, but has come unstuck on current Prime Minister Bill English.

Come 24 September if this attitude of National continues, the party could very well be in a state of shock, unable – and perhaps unwilling – to admit that perhaps one Winston Peters was right all along.

The Machiavelli of New Zealand foreign policy departs

He was known as a back room dealer, Machiavellian in nature. His colleagues in the National Party, his electorate and in the Beehive know him to be abrasive and hard headed. But to the world, Murray McCully was the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs. And now as he enters his final weeks in the job, the question hangs over the head of his boss Prime Minister Bill English: who to replace him with.

Murray McCully had a mixed time as Minister of Foreign Affairs for New Zealand. On one hand he was delightfully successful in getting New Zealand one of the rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council, a two year period where as one of the ten non-permanent members we held a prized opportunity to positively influence global affairs. Mr McCully enjoyed a surge of respect from unexpected quarters late in 2016, when just before Christmas and the end of New Zealand’s tenure in the Security Council seat, New Zealand along with Venezuela, Malaysia and Burkina Faso got a resolution through that condemned Israeli occupation of Palestine.

But Mr McCully also had chances that he failed to take, and took decisions that still rankle the international community to this day. His ongoing support for the United States led “War on Terrorism”, even when it is on increasingly questionable grounds, has raised the ire of human rights campaigners, legal experts and left people wondering if the independent foreign policy platform of New Zealand was being deliberately eroded. The switching of New Zealand aid to support the South Pacific was another controversy that Mr McCully had to deal with.

This article should not pass without mentioning his handling of internal reorganization in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the loss of skilled diplomatic staff, researchers and planners. The Machiavelli in Mr McCully alleged came to the fore here. Tracy Watkins writes of him as the Machiavelli because he was, she writes, a wheeler, dealer and a plotter to the extent when some of his colleagues called him the dark prince, they meant it.

Mr English faces a dilemma in replacing Mr McCully though. Less than six months from the election at the of a three term Government, in a country where Governments in peace time are not generally favoured by history to win a fourth, what impact could the replacement Minister have? Would it be better to appoint a care taker Minister of Foreign Affairs until Mr English knows what shape the National Party will be in after the election? And what direction does Mr English want to take – a centre/centre-right approach like Mr McCully took under former Prime Minister John Key, or a swing to the right? And, given history’s preferences, does – aside from a fourth term – Mr English have anything to lose?

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee is one of the leading candidates. Member for Ilam, Minister for Earthquake Recovery and former Minister for Energy and Resources, Mr Brownlee has had substantial Ministerial experience over the last 8 years. But he is abrupt, blunt and some people might say in the wake of the Nicky Hager book, lacking regard for international law.

Another candidate is Dr Jonathan Coleman, Minister of Health. Dr Coleman took over this after Tony Ryall left. His time has seen him face increasing criticism over cuts to the budget, apathy over medical marijuana and a lack of empathy for people with mental health issues. But would Dr Coleman want the job?

The ranks thin quickly after that. Few others have much experience on the international stage and in a time when as Ms Watkins notes, building relationships is everything in international diplomacy, would the newcomer be up to the task?

Or will history veto a fourth term like it has done so many times before?

The growing delusions of the English Government

As New Zealand moves into 2017 and begins ramping up towards the 23 September 2017 General Election, the problems facing the three term National-led Government are substantial. All three are issues that the Opposition will try to tackle the Government on in these coming months. But with a Prime Minister and Cabinet more or less in denial about the seriousness of any of them, it is time to have a look at the most potent ones.

Primarily I see three major problems on the horizon for Prime Minister Bill English:

  • The increasingly undrinkable, unswimmable and possibly ultimately unusable fresh water resource
  • The housing crisis, which runs the risk of a sharp and potentially quite painful readjustment – no knowing how big any readjustment would be or how abruptly it may happen
  • Crime – in particular drug related crime

The fresh water one is potentially the most dangerous for National since if there is a large scale decline in fresh water quality, it could impact on the economy, the environment and society. It could potentially cost billions in the long term as tourists decide not to come here because the fresh water that made our unique ecosystems possible is no longer there; the gains made by dairy farming get eroded by the increasing environmental cost and the health threat to humans and animals alike from contaminated water may force some sharp revisions to acceptable fresh water standards. If they perceive that the quality one of the two most live giving elements on the face of the planet is in an unacceptable danger, no amount of muddying the waters, fudging the statistics is likely to change public perception.

This has been simmering for sometime, but may now be near the point of no return. National can build all the houses they like, but if the root cause of the housing market being unsustainable – immigration – is not addressed, then it is all a waste of time, money and resources. National’s stubborn refusal to see housing as being in a state of crisis is causing large numbers of people to turn away. National however are not the only ones refusing to take a serious look at the cause of the problem. Labour will have to do a deal with the Green Party of some sort, which will include some sort of sweetener on immigration. Like National, Labour is finding that many people are opting to look at New Zealand First Leader, Winston Peters, as a potential alternative Prime Minister.

Demand for drugs and tobacco is fuelling a surge in violent crime including petrol station ram raids, armed hold ups and acts of fraud. The perpetrators are generally looking for tobacco or the means to buy more cannabis, methamphetamine and cocaine to sustain their lifestyle. Some dealers are making $4000 a week selling their product to buyers. The Government has failed to admit that a combination of police underfunding, socio-economic circumstances and a soft justice system are all contributing to the problem.

New Zealand First in the kingmaker spot

Three weeks after Prime Minister Bill English set the date for the election – 23 September 2017 – the campaign machines are rumbling into life. In the last week four Green candidates and one major Labour candidate have been announced. The incumbent National Party is down in the polls, but its leader has increased his popularity. But how ready are the parties for the New Zealand Election 2017?

I will be honest on two counts now.

  1. I do not want National to win the election, and preferably not in a coalition deal either
  2. Labour have seven months to look like they are capable of winning an election, or they are can probably classified as a terminally ill political party

On the first count history generally does not favour four term peace time Governments. The exception is the Government of Keith Holyoake whom my mother told me the other day was well regarded as a Prime Minister, and had an exceptional command of the English language. But he had a major failing in that he looked down in a contemptuous way on people who were less well off – in much the same way, the left accuse the likes of the current National-led Government today of being.

It also has to be said that there are issues brewing in the background which National have had 8 full years to deal with, and have not done so. These issues are ones that are a consequence of the economic policy of the last two decades, but exacerbated by changes in Government policy in the last 8 years, namely:

  • Deliberate admittance of large numbers of immigrants to New Zealand, not all of whom intend to live and contribute here long term
  • Subsequent heating of the housing market that has made affording a house in many areas simply unaffordable to many New Zealanders
  • Deliberately forcing people into jobs that they cannot hold down; refusing to address a myriad of interconnecting social issues
  • Escalating crime problems related to drugs that the police simply do not have the resources to deal with

National might be the most popular party, but the last poll showed that New Zealand First is steady on 11% (13 Members of Parliament), which probably translates in real terms into being on about 14% (16 Members of Parliament). National itself is probably more likely to be on about 43% than the 46% given in the latest Colmar Brunton Poll.. That would mean National needing all of its support parties plus New Zealand First to pass legislation. Which brings me nicely to the other side of House.

Labour, in all of their 9 years of Opposition never been stronger. But that is not a difficult thing to say for a political party that has barely moved in that time. In all that time, despite having Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe and now Andrew Little lead the party, Labour have not released any large scale policy changes, seem happy with minor policies and still do not seem to have united behind their leader.

Rather for a political party that wants to be the bedrock of the next Government in seven months time, it is quite a damning thing to say. But even with the 32% (38 Members of Parliament) support that I think Labour probably have, they and their Green Party allies combined are still not enough on their own to form a Government. Like National across the House, Labour and the Greens would need New Zealand First to make up the numbers. Labour desperately need to release some big and bold policy, like maybe a comprehensive change to the legislation governing the Ministry of Social Development or a radical overhaul of the justice system acknowledging that – something that is going to make people stop and take notice.

However Labour have had a few bright spots. They took the Mt Roskill by election, caused by David Shearer’s departure comfortably and will probably take Mt Albert comfortably as well in a few weeks time. And the former police boss Greg O’Connor has just agreed to stand for them in Ohariu, against Peter Dunne.

And then there is the Greens. People have often expressed fears about the social policies that the Greens might introduce and the problems with order and crime that they claim will come with them. Others are concerned that the Greens will stifle economic growth and . But for all the claims against the Greens, I think there are some very good things that they could do around transport, the environment, human rights and energy. I have concerns myself, especially around defence – which is the primary reason I refuse to join, donate or vote for them, but some of the damage being down to the environment that draws in huge numbers of tourists every year is becoming too big to ignore.

Finally there is New Zealand First. If an election were held today, whoever the larger party turned out to be, would have to work with New Zealand First – if assuming we did not have Trump/Brexit type magnitude 9.0 political earthquake that installs New Zealand First on top. Winston Peters has hinted he is not a fan of working with the Greens, but he may have no choice. And much as Mr Peters might not want to admit it, the Greens and New Zealand First see eye to eye on a couple of issues such as killing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement

Small wonder the pundits think this is going to be a big year.

Dirty political deals nothing new in New Zealand

So we are heading into another election. We have a target date: 23 September 2017. The political parties in Parliament are mobilizing for an election campaign that promises to be the muddiest, grubbiest one ever fought in New Zealand. And among the arsenal of dirt and political poo that is being stored for this massive crap fest is a popular weapon called the dirty deal.

The dirty deal has been strategically used in the past. In 2014, when A.C.T. Party was in danger of being obliterated across New Zealand, National cut a deal with its youthful leader David Seymour to not actively back its own candidate Dr Paul Goldsmith, so that A.C.T. could win the seat and still exist in Parliament. The left was revolted by the deal that enabled a party they heartily despise to live to fight another day knowing their support in virtually every other electorate was non-existent.

Now we hear the screams of revulsion again. Except that they are not coming from the left, but from the right – from people like Newshub’s Patrick Gower and Seven Sharp co-host Mike Hosking. Convieniently they seem to have forgotten their right wing heroes did said deal with A.C.T. in 2014. They also seem to forget the infamous cup of tea that Prime Minister John Key and then A.C.T. leader Don Brash had in 2011, where a recording device was left on the table where they sat. In that year, A.C.T. was also in survival mode, having had a cataract of disasters of its own making in the previous two years, which involved perk buster Rodney Hide coming unstuck; M.P. David Garrett being found to have committed passport fraud using the identity of a dead child; revulsion at the brazen attempt to revive “Rogernomics” – the controversial market economics of Sir Roger Douglas.

The cause of the screams is a deal between Labour and the Greens to support the Labour candidate, former Police officer, and Police Association chair Greg O’Connor. Mr O’Connor is a well known, high profile figure who the Greens in another time would have had difficulty supporting as Mr O’Connor supported the arming of Police among other things, which the Greens oppose(d). Their ease of working with him now stems from a change of heart by Mr O’Connor.

So, yes this is a dirty deal and it is not the sort of deal I necessarily want to see any party participating in. Labour and the Greens have shown themselves to be no better than the A.C.T Party and National. But that is where the similarities stop. Labour are standing a strong candidate in the Ohariu electorate, whereas the Greens candidate has no chance based on the past performance of the Greens in Ohariu. By standing a candidate who have easily taken Epsom electorate in 2014, and then saying they will support a candidate whose party is getting thrashed nation wide and who does not have much chance in Epsom, National and A.C.T still have ownership of the dirtier deal.

Fair comment?