The Class of 2014-2017


Parliament has dissolved. The class of 2014-2017 have dispersed to start their election campaigns or slip into their first days of post Parliamentary life. The debating chamber shall not see any activity over than public tours until sometime probably in late October. So here is the final report card for the individual parties (the report card for the key M.P.’s will follow in a couple of days):

NATIONAL: C+

National started the term with every reason to be confident. But within weeks Mike Sabin had resigned. Although the party continued to enjoy sky high polling, Ministers have shown signs of being worn out and disinterested in their portfolio’s. Former Prime Minister John Key’s resignation was a bolt from the blue, but National M.P.’s picked themselves, dusted themselves and kept going. Prime Minister Bill English has been solid but unspectacular in his management. Appearing bereft of ideas and controversies such as Todd Barclay rumbling in the background should concern the party.

National might still yet win this election and it would be a truly historic event if they do, but the rise of Jacinda Ardern in the Labour party has many reaching for the panic button. They will need to fight – as Ms Ardern said of Labour – the campaign of their lives.

LABOUR: C

Until a few weeks ago, the signs on the wall for Labour were looking deathly.

Jacinda Ardern is in her early days as leader, but there is no doubt she has shaken up the party – and the New Zealand political landscape – in these last three weeks. Andrew Little came across as a humble guy and liked by many, but he just could not make the necessary hits on National. Slumped in the polls and staring down the gun barrel of electoral oblivion, Labour would have got a D rating.

Labour would get a C+ or potentially a B- except that they have not yet announced any bold policies to get people talking and Ms Ardern was not joking when she said Labour will have to fight the campaign of its life.

A.C.T.: D

David Seymour is A.C.T. and A.C.T. is David Seymour. They rely on each other for survival. A.C.T. has given Mr Seymour a vehicle to get himself into Parliament. That vehicle cannot go anywhere without him.

In fairness to Mr Seymour though, his Bill of Parliament on Euthenasia has been well received in many quarters on both sides of the divide. His support for cannabis reform has also gone down well. That is where it ends though because A.C.T. and everything it stands for is not obviously any more popular than it was in 2014.

Mr Seymour will probably return as National is unlikely to action his demise in Epsom even though it is capable of doing so.

United Future: D

Peter Dunne, the other one man band in Parliament might be on life support in terms of his political career. Sagging in internal polling in Ohariu and faced with a formidable Labour challenge in his electorate one the Governments most stable supporters might not last the election. Mr Dunne started life in the Labour Party and left to start United Future. Over the last nine years he has infuriated people on the left and the right by voting for/against legislation simply because of the confidence and supply deal with National. The one time he probably infuriated the right was shooting down the Resource Management legislation in 2015.

Greens C+

Until Metiria Turei’s admission of deceiving Work and Income New Zealand, the Greens were nicely placed to get a B. They had unveiled a list of candidates that impressed many. Their steady popularity throughout the last three years and the growing environmental and socio-economic problems as well as the increasingly obvious unwillingness of the centre-right to attack the causes of poverty, have made them a constant in the polls. Mrs Turei’s acknowledgement of wrong doing was brave, but her failure to either immediately pay up or quit has caused potentially lasting damage.

The Jacinda explosion has not helped them either, robbing the party of support just when it needed it most.

Maori Party: C

The Maori Party continues to be a source of mystery and frustration to me. For all their talk about helping Maori I am yet to see any progress on any of the rather distressing array of problems confronting Maori in society – whether it is truancy or youth crime, health statistics, educational performance or employment, the preoccupation with Treaty issues has become an issue itself. They will probably pick up another Member of Parliament at the election, but what they are able to do post-election might very well depend on none other than Winston Peters.

New Zealand First: B

I left New Zealand First earlier this year. Disgruntled with the archaic, non communicative ways of the party board, I was one of a number who have either quit the party but will still vote for them, or quit elected positions as electorate committee members.

But despite the internal problems, the party performs well in Parliament and has been a constant source of trouble for National. The fact that the National Party have largely just laughed off or tried to sweep what the New Zealand First caucus have raised in Parliament under the carpet is not so much a reflection on 12 M.P.’s trying their best, as a reflection of the lack of support they got from Labour and the Greens.

Winston Peters, like the Greens has taken a hit in the polls from the rise of Jacinda Ardern. But better than anyone in Parliament he knows there is only one poll that actually counts and that is on 23 September 2017.

Election race tightens: Nothing can be taken for granted


For National this election has two major problems that one might say are almost indigenous to third term Governments seeking a fourth term in office:

  1. History rarely favours four term peace time Governments (the National led Government of Keith Holyoake is the exception)
  2. The third term malaise or third term blues

Only one Government has lasted longer than Holyoake since 1900 and that was the Labour Government of 1934-1949. It lasted that long because the period 1939-1945 was during World War 2 and it was seen as important that there be stability in a time of uncertainty. The third term malaise is a combination of early weariness among Ministers and Caucus members caused by the demands of the job, their crisis management skills – or lack thereof – starting to show and generally an opposition that by this point has usually revived.

So far National appears unaffected by the explosion of Labours new leader Jacinda Ardern into the media. Left, right and centre there was no getting away from her in the media last week. She has appeared to be everything Prime Minister Bill English is not – young and vibrant, deft with social media and sure footed in the face of challenges. But the election is in its early days yet and this could easily change.

For Labour this election just a few weeks ago looked like having the truly historic distinction of being just the second in peacetime to hand down a fourth term to the Opposition. The polls were grim. Andrew Little was trying his best, but whatever he did he simply could not connect with voters and it was starting to show in the most alarming ways. People liked him as a person, a human being, but as a politician seeking to be the next Prime Minister he was just not there.

Fast forward to the present day and a second poll has confirmed what the first one said. There has been a massive earthquake in the New Zealand political scene. The powerful aftershocks coming through show that few parts of the political spectrum have gotten away unaffected by the rise of Ms Ardern.

For New Zealand First the results will be disappointing. After two years of a consistent upwards creep in the polls, the prospect of setting the terms of the next Government may have slipped from their grasp. The party will still get around 10 Members of Parliament if it maintains its current 8% support, but both polls suggest that the 16-18 Members of Parliament it seemed assured of at the start of the month are no longer a certainty. Had N.Z.F. maintained that support, it would have meant a drop in support for National or a very large – possibly fatal – drop in support for the Greens.

Despite this, New Zealand First probably still hold the balance of power – the way it tips will now totally depend on how National and Labour play out their election campaigns. Whereas a few weeks ago, the options looked like a National-N.Z. First coalition or a National minority Government controlled by N.Z. First, the prospects of a Labour-N.Z. First coalition are not so far fetched that they should be dismissed.

But the real loss is to the Greens. Despite many people now rallying in defence of Metiria Turei, the W.I.N.Z. revelations and her handling of them have rocked the party like a torpedo hitting a ship. The damage is significant and their campaign is definitely – after looking like potentially their strongest ever – limping along. For the first time in three election campaigns they are playing a distinct second fiddle to Labour and possibly even New Zealand First.

Their campaign has other problems as well. On one hand they looked like they introduced their most powerful candidates with the intention of running some serious electorate races. On the other hand it looks like they also shot themselves in the foot by only announcing 29 candidates to contest 71 electorates, meaning even if their candidates all got in and the other parties on the left were obliterated, they would not be able to form a Government on the simple grounds of not having enough candidates.

As for A.C.T., United Future and the Maori Party, none of these parties seem likely to pick up new Members of Parliament unless they have a revolution in their game. None of them have support in the polls to suggest that between them any more than maybe 1-2 more Members of Parliament will be picked up. These would most likely come in the Maori electorates.

But six weeks out from the election, one thing is loud and clear. Labour is out of first gear for the first time since 2008.

T.P.P.: Dead or Alive (just)?


It seems incredible after all this time and against at times overwhelming odds to finally hear from the Prime Minister, John Key, that the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is effectively dead. Mr Key is an ardent proponent of the hugely controversial trade deal, which critics claim will erode sovereignty from the nations that sign it, enable corporations to sue Governments that pass laws they do not like and undermine environmental and human rights protections among other things.

But is it? Not if you believe Mr Key’s former Minister of Trade Todd Barclay who even after Donald Trump was announced the winner of the U.S. Presidential Election, suggested that there was still hope for it. Mr Trump stated repeatedly on the campaign trail that he would revoke the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement along with the North American Free Trade Agreement (N.A.F.T.A.).

It also seems that Parliament, or at least the National, A.C.T. and United Future parties have not gotten the Prime Ministers acknowledgement that there is little hope for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Parliament will debate the T.P.P.A. legislation despite all in the House of Representatives knowing that Mr Trump has stated his opposition to it – a move that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters rightfully says smacks of desperation.

And Mr Trump himself is already back tracking on some of the promises he made on the campaign trail. For example, the Obamacare legislation, which many Republican candidates in their primaries said they would kill off as soon as they became President, is now likely to at least partially survive if Mr Trump’s most recent comments are anything to go by. Several people who opposed his Presidential bid, as diverse as Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan and Republican Majority Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell are strongly in favour of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Because the Government seems hell bent on passing the legislation for an agreement that at first glance seems to be toast, it is perhaps premature to say that the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is as dead as we would like. Because Mr Trump has taken only 48 hours to start backpeddling on some of his promises, there is always the risk that the promise to kill the T.P.P. and N.A.F.T.A. might be ditched as well.

So, perhaps, although the anti-T.P.P. movement can rest more easily it should remain on partial guard. And hope that the lame duck session of President Obama’s tenure focuses on better things than a corporate love fest.

Party performance in Parliament a year out from 2017


By this time in 2017, New Zealand will either be in the throes of an election campaign or be watching the next Government in whatever form it may come, be taking shape in Wellington. With a year or less to go, how are the parties in Parliament shaping up?

National: Old and tired. This party has enjoyed the limelight for 8 years now and despite its high polling a year out from the 2017 general election a swag of issues including crime, housing, social welfare, education, the environment and health are beginning to combine to drag down support. None of the Ministers have sought to excel, much less actually done so, with communication (or a lack of)dragging them collectively down. Third term blues counting against it winning a fourth term. GRADE: C

Labour: Showing the first real signs of promise in the polls with an 8% climb recently. However it is still a long way behind National, and Andrew Little is struggling to gain popularity in the preferred Prime Minister stake. It has much work still to be done on policy, as well as matching them with the strongest voices in their Parliamentary ranks – the exception being Jacinda Ardern whose consistently strong voice on social welfare. Possible that New Zealanders may vote for Labour just to get rid of a third term Government. GRADE: C+

New Zealand First: Doing well in its traditional areas, and showing promise with Fletcher Tabuteau on economic policy and Tracey Martin on education, both of whom have solid experience in these areas. The media prefer to ignore the party or give them a couple of sentences at the bottom of articles. Denis O’Rourke has been working steadily on Christchurch and railways. Needs to run a well organized election campaign. Could cause the shock of the 2017 election if well organized. GRADE: B

Greens: Holding ground, but do not seem to be scoring any large hits. Whilst having clear support for environmental policies, the party has been less successful on justice, housing, and an array of other issues. It has capable Members of Parliament in Julie Anne Genter, Gareth Hughes and James Shaw. Their ongoing appeal to younger people needs to be tapped into if they are to get more seats in Parliament. Competing with New Zealand First for Labour’s attention. GRADE: B-

United Future: Peter Dunne has always been a mystery to me. On one hand we see eye to eye on a Republic, civics in schools and human rights – he has often been on the apologies list for Amnesty International New Zealand Annual Meetings – but on the other his support for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, for National in office on legislation I thought a centrist would have voted against, I have found disappointing. Can Mr Dunne become more than a one man band? Maybe, but United Future would have to lift its game substantially. GRADE: C

A.C.T.: That other one man band, has – for a party of the far right (I won’t call them libertarian, because their corporate nous is stronger than their small government principles permit) – done well with David Seymour’s die with dignity bill getting praise from corners that would normally want nothing to do with A.C.T. Mr Seymour has also been able to see his charter schools idea get advanced by National. But that is where it stops because National could destroy A.C.T. in 2017 simply by standing a strong candidate in Epsom and not doing a deal with a party New Zealanders rightfully thought was dead and buried. GRADE: D

Maori Party: Regardless of what mana Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox might have with Maoridom, there is no doubt in my mind that this party has been a colossal failure. Oh sure it was formed by Tariana Turia to oppose Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Act, but a one issue part is never going to get far in the New Zealand Parliament. Its failure to advance the social needs of Maori and stem the shocking rates of involvement in crime, poverty and other negative socio-economic assessment areas. It is only because of the Maori seats that the Maori Party exists at all – would it be a loss to New Zealand if it disappeared? GRADE: D

The not very original budget of 2016-17


Prime Minister John Key said the Budget was better to be boring than to be “excitingly terrible”. He is half right. It was a terrible budget. I did not have terribly high hopes for it, but in many respects it seems like a Budget that was very deliberately written to inflict further fiscal grief on sections of Government that are already suffering dreadfully. But there was nothing terribly exciting.

The Opposition did their job today, closing ranks and launching a sustained attack on the 8th Fiscal Budget of the fifth National led Government. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters called it the “Get Stuffed Budget”. Labour leader Andrew Little  called it “pretty mediocre”. Even United Future leader Peter Dunne, who has been better remembered over the last few years for supporting Mr Key’s Government, called it boring.

Some of the priorities were right, but the most critical ones were not addressed and some that should not have even made the starting gun, were included, such as regional roading at a time when public transport and the merchant marine need assistance. The expenditure’s I had in mind were comparatively modest too.

My focus on the health system was intended to address two major problems:

  1.  The very long waiting list of people needing major surgery, such as knee, hip and organ replacements
  2. The mental health crisis that has exploded, and which may in part be responsible for some of the more violent crimes involving people who have committed offences that can be linked back to their state of mental well being

To fund that I was thinking $500 million to get as many people off the waiting lists as possible – $96 million is positive, but still leaves a large number of people behind. Due to the Christchurch earthquakes causing long term stress issues, putting $200 million over 3 years to initiatives dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would not have been out of place.

Setting aside $1 billion over a couple of years for improving and increasing Housing New Zealand’s stock should have been a priority. However the Government continues to believe no crisis exists, despite $200 million being allocated for social housing.

Perhaps though one good thing that came of the Budget was a further increase in the amount that smokers would have to pay for their tobacco products. However, for the sake of making sure it does not encourage an underground industry that promotes more powerful substances, involves the black market and is connected with criminal activity, smoking should not become illegal. And to that end, further increases to the price beyond what are proposed, should not occur.

All in all it was a not very original Budget. National is clearly saving for a 2017 spend up or a round of tax cuts.