New Zealand First hangs in the balance: Is rural development its saviour?


For six years, New Zealand First was one of the biggest foes that the Trans Pacific Partnership had. It, along with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, represented a bloc in Parliament who wanted New Zealand to have nothing to do with what some called a corporate take over. It marched on the streets alongside the Greens and Labour M.P.’s. It assisted with petitions and introduced legislation to Parliament in an attempt to derail the T.P.P.A.

But in January this year, the Government, with New Zealand First standing proudly alongside, announced that they would support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The response was swift and it could also be lethal. New Zealand First plunged in support from getting 9 Members of Parliament post election to being so low in the polls that it would not be back in Parliament if an election were held today.

There are a number of potential causes for the decline of the centrist/populist party that had in its ranks a growing number of younger people including myself.

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement u-turn that New Zealand First has done might be the final straw for a lot of people who see it as the ultimate betrayal of everything the party stands for. Up to the election it had campaigned steadfastly against the agreement in any form and got my vote for that reason. And whilst Fletcher Tabuteau’s Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill might still be potentially revived, is Mr Tabuteau still interested?

Internal strife in the party, whose Board seems to be sluggish and averse to communication, has not helped. In 2015, having managed to gain 3 new Members of Parliament New Zealand First was optimistic about its future. Members of the Party and Members of Parliament were saying they could double the number of M.P.’s at the 2017 election. None seemed to have made any allowance for a Labour resurgence. Nor did anyone reckon with “Jacindamania”, the phenomenon that swept New Zealand in the weeks following Jacinda Ardern being appointed Leader of the Labour Party/Leader of the Opposition and then, following the election and New Zealand First’s decision to support Labour, Prime Minister.

A third problem could be Shane Jones. The former Labour Member of Parliament left in 2014 after questions were raised about him approving the application of a Chinese businessman for New Zealand citizenship. In June 2017 he was confirmed at no. 8 on the New Zealand First Party list for the election, over and above a number of hard working loyal party members and candidates deserving of promotion.

But…

Could the party be saved from itself by the rural development fund? New Zealand First has long been a proponent of supporting the regions, which have been ignored in large part by the National and Labour parties, and are traditionally conservative. Part of New Zealand First policy at the election was a rural development fund that would support the rural communities that have faced long term decline from the closure of meat works, the centralisation of services such as the post office, banking, hospital and medical centres as well as schools and police stations.

Mr Jones is Regional Development Minister, and on 23 February 2018 he and Ms Ardern unveiled the N.Z.$3 billion rural development fund. This will fund a range of regional developments and the initial funding allows for investment in railways and totara forestry in Northland.

Given its struggles internally and externally, New Zealand First will be hoping that this enables the party to claw back some of the respect lost. This happened it announced it would support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement’s successor, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (C.P.T.P.P.).

Funding the Government’s spending priorities


When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister, she entered office with a long list if promises. They looked fantastic and still do today. But one question exists:

HOW IS NEW ZEALAND PAYING FOR THIS?

I am concerned that despite Ms Ardern being to say that the Labour party was able to prove it had it’s plans costed, Labour have under estimated the money they will need to spend. I think that the party pushed itself into an unnecessary tight spot by not raising taxes.

There are ways around some of the associated issues through user pay charges for example when it comes to National Parks – Department of Conservation for example could require a $10 fee for anyone over 16 but under 65 entering a National Park. It would be used to fund maintenance, repairs and upgrades on top of base funding from the Government. Another source could come from requiring tourists to have medical insurance whilst in New Zealand. Too often tourists receive medical care in New Zealand and walk out the door without making arrangements to pay the outstanding bill, which means that the unfortunate taxpayer coughs up the money.

Some income sources could be controversial, but need to be explored nonetheless. One of these would be legalising cannabis. The effect of this, aside from saving potentially millions from being wasted on trying to criminalize a problem that will probably exist until civilisation is finished, would also enable cannabis based businesses to flourish, and thereby a taxable stram of business. The American states where it is legal to sell cannabis have reported significant increases in their tax take as a result of being able sell cannabis products.

Labour is most likely going to have raise taxes. Currently those brackets that existed since 2010 and are not tight enough are still intact. They are:

  • $1-14,000 = 10.5%
  • $14,000-$48,000 = 17.5%
  • $48,000-$70,000 = 21.0%
  • $70,000+  = 33%

My assumption is an income tax rise is on the cards. Big or small. Long-term or short-term, it is coming.

Text of T.P.P.A. replacement to be released


A few weeks ago, New Zealand First betrayed its membership by deciding to support Labour’s attempt to advance the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Many said that they would quit the party over it and the party has slumped in the most recent Colmar Brunton Poll to just 3%.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that she will unveil the text of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement’s replacement, the so called Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (or C.P.T.P.P.)on Wednesday. Ms Ardern insists that the C.P.T.P.P. is a significant step forward for New Zealand trade development. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters, who believes that his party can now support the agreement, says that the clauses that made the party oppose it have now been removed and he can tolerate it.

WRONG. The clauses have not been removed. They have only been suspended in an attempt to get United States President Donald Trump to back track on his withdrawal of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement a few days after he took office. No changes of substance have been made and the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is still the trojan horse it was before Mr Trump decided to withdraw the United States from it.

Nothing has changed in other words.

I support New Zealand developing strong trade relations with other nations. But there are checks and balances that should be in place before we have these agreements. The purpose of these checks and balances is to make sure that due process is followed and that the Agreement in whatever form it turns out to be, really will help New Zealand. For this to happen New Zealand First’s “Fight Foreign Corporate Control Bill should have been advanced instead of being shot down by National and A.C.T. on the grounds of being “anti-trade”.

There is a clearly defined difference between having a trade deal and undermining New Zealand so that it is more susceptible to corporate takeover. Having a trade deal means New Zealand can conduct trade with the nations that it negotiated the deal/s in question with. New Zealand respects them as nations and they respect us. Businesses are invited to submit concerns and suggestions at the select committee stage and the committee draft recommendations that are then agreed to or dropped. A corporate deal that favours multinationals and undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty does no such thing.

So I wait with baited breath to see what happens to this dastardly agreement in its latest phase. But this particular deal is not one New Zealand should be proud of or a part of.

Challenging dystopia


Over the last several days I have been thinking about the meaning of utopia and how it is applied as a term that describes an ideal world. I have been thinking about utopia in three broad areas:

  • Conflict
  • Waste
  • Corruption

To me utopia is an idealism. It is a vision of a world at some point in the future where conflict does not exist, where waste is minimal and corruption is kept to a minimum. It is polar opposite of a dystopian world where corruption is an acceptable by product of society, conflict is an accepted course of remediation and waste happens because if if does not then “progress” is not happening.

I accept that contrary to what many believe, there will always be conflict. The injustices of some past conflicts run too deep for resolution in anyone’s lifetime. In trying to make peace, one needs to be realistic about the prospects. It is not to say that many conflicts cannot be solved, because they can be – if Colombia can make peace with itself after a brutal and bloody civil war lasting nearly 50 years, perhaps the participants in other conflicts will eventually have second thoughts about war.

Too often proxy wars start between relatively small states fuelled by support from rival powers. This was seen in Afghanistan during the U.S.S.R. incursion in the 1980’s, in the Iran-Iraq war of the same period and is obvious in the more recent Syrian Civil War where the Assad regime has been propped up by Russia, whilst the West support rebels who want nothing less than regime change. No one wins in these wars except the armaments industry.

Much of the conflict that is happening at the moment exists out of fear, an emotion fuelled by media hyping up the dangers of the unknown and politicians using division tactics to get elected to pursue an agenda. Corporate media, such as Fox, but also others such as The Independent and The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom have long been guilty of such fear mongering. One only needs to look at the reaction every time there is a terrorist attack. All too often the Muslim community is made to look like it is complicit by its “silence”, when if any of these outlets actually bothered to do their job, they would see that the Muslim community abhors such behaviour as much as anyone else. When people stop buying into this fear mongering, there will be progress for the divisive agenda of the right will have failed.

There are steps that can be taken to counter this. Constantly reminding these agencies on their social media pages of the facts as opposed to “their facts” will annoy them, but persistence can pay off. Putting up links to stories with alternative views will remind their own audience that the story has at least two sides. Just meekly accepting facts uncritically is apathy.

There will always be resource consumption. There will always be waste generation. The idea that both can somehow be made to disappear is simply that, and one that is not likely to be advanced or developed much further. Waste minimisation becomes critical because the rate of resource consumption is simply not something that the planet can sustain without permanently and substantially degrading the natural environment. If one looks at the waste being produced in New Zealand per person, and compares it to other countries, a New Zealander has an ecological footprint almost as big as an American.

However there are things that can be done to reduce New Zealand’s waste production. The Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage has called for a review of New Zealand’s waste minimisation framework. Whilst good news, she has the means to go much further and enact comprehensive waste management reform. Technological advances mean that waste can now be burnt in high powered incinerators, that heat water to drive steam turbines and generate power. Although no such facility yet exists here, there has been talk among developers about the pros and cons of such a project.

There are steps that can be taken at local level such as setting up recycling programmes among businesses. Offices can be encouraged to have recycling bins for waste paper to go into, to invest in . Small N.G.O.’s and charities that cannot afford brand new equipment could make use of old cellphones, lap tops, televisions, printers, scanners, as well as chairs, desks, filing cabinets and so forth. Think global, act local, an activist once told me.

 

How did Fletcher Building get to this?


For decades Fletcher Building was the face of New Zealand construction. Employing 20,000 people globally including hundreds of New Zealanders, Fletcher Building had a N.Z.$9 billion revenue in 2016. It was involved in the largest building construction projects in New Zealand. So how did Fletcher Building get things so dreadfully wrong.

As a warning of how serious the situation is trading was halted on Fletcher shares on Thursday 8 February 2017 and then extended it on Monday 12 February. When trading halted the price per share was N.Z.$7.70, down from N.Z.$10.00 in February 2017.

The causes of Fletcher Building’s woes are numerous and no one single cause is entirely to blame. Across several different parts of the business – acquisitions, the Christchurch earthquake recovery, requiring contractors to accept full liability – things have gone wrong, which have added up to the current mess. But to understand the mess we need to look at these causes briefly:

  • Fletcher Building had a number of acquisitions, such as the Christchurch Justice Precinct and Auckland’s new International Convention Centre
  • Fletcher had some huge cost blow outs that have severely hampered a number of significant projects which have not gone entirely to plan

So, how rare it is to have the Chair of such a high profile company admit – though certainly very welcome in terms of transparency and honesty – that some frankly incompetent decisions had been made. But that was Ralph Norris, who in his prior life was Chief Executive of AIr New Zealand and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Managing Director of A.S.B.

The causes of Fletcher Building’s massive slump can be attributed to a number of causes. However it was admitted that some of their acquisitions have turned into liabilities.  Their programme of work has been totally cut back and when the existing programme stops, will dry up completely. Quite where that will leave hundreds of workers I have no idea, as a large number of people  will be in need of work.

I have concerns about who will fill the void with the with the withdrawal of Fletcher’s Building and Interior unit. Foreign companies might be willing to do the work, but are not so likely to linger when they have finished. Nor are they so likely to have the same values and empathy for their New Zealand clients and the New Zealand building sector at large.

Fletcher Building’s woes extend to the Kiwi Saver schemes that invested in it and thereby thousands of New Zealanders. The extent to which it’s losses will impact on these schemes is not known as there might yet be further losses to come. It will come as a shock to the people who invested in the schemes to ensure that they have funds to dip into in retirement.

The next several days and weeks are going to be critical. The financial year ends on 31 March, at which point I believe that the true nature of the crisis at Fletcher Building will become clear.