The year in which the Government must deliver


There is such a vast broad platform of policy on which this Labour-led Government is promising to deliver, that it is a bit difficult to know where to start. There are some Ministers holding substantial portfolio’s such as Social Welfare and smaller yet critical ones like Local Government who have yet to pop their heads above the parapet. Maybe they have significant work in progress that is simply not ready to face the harsh glare of the voting public, but it would be good to know that they are not “Missing In Action”.

This is a year in which Labour and its New Zealand First and Green Party cabinet colleagues will need start delivering significant policy. Reviews can only go for so long before they start to imply that the incumbent government is frozen on policy making.Such a freeze tends to send a clear signal to the voting public that the Government does not know what it is doing, which 18 months into its first term would be a really dangerous sign.

It has so far been a year where the major call has been to scrap a capital gains tax which will give attempts at equality reform the wobbles. This move will pile on the pressure in terms of expecting the minimum wage increases the state of a living wage to perform. It potentially locks away billions of dollars in tax that could be used to help fund projects that might now struggle to be seen or heard. And it is a move I am disappointed to see happen.

There are things that I am expecting the Government to deliver or start work on in this term:

  1. A comprehensive waste recycling programme that covers wood, paper, glass, plastics and aluminium – we have the know how, but do we have the will?
  2. Announcing how it will reform New Zealand’s schools 30 years after Tomorrow’s Schools, which was seen as a visionary programme in 1989, but is not so now
  3. Reform of Ministry of Social Development – I have mentioned in the past, the failings of this Ministry, which is straight jacketed by a legislative framework
  4. Reform of the justice system, which has lost the confidence of victims of crime and seems to be failing to address the reoffending of youth
  5. Sustainability – we might be phasing out oil and gas, but is electricity able to sustain New Zealand’s energy needs on its own; the reduction of carbon emissions affects the marine ecosystem; fresh water quality and usage is not sustainable
  6. Transport – a much larger investment in railways is needed; New Zealand also needs to look at a long term plan for the sea going merchant ships

Of course the terrorist attacks have overtaken all of this and we need to revisit how we gather and use state intelligence. We will need to revisit our constitutional arrangements sometime in the next decade or whenever the Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II passes on. And if that is not enough the West Coast flood event of 25-27 March 2019 raised some alarming questions about the readiness of the West Coast for a bigger disaster.

Much going on, but how is the Government going at delivering? Find out this year (and next).

The annual chocolate shortage (Easter)


Every Easter on the Sunday there is a temporary spike in the collective weight of the humans living in New Zealand. It stems from the massive annual splurge on chcolate treats that comes with Him having risen from the Cross 2000+ years ago. Except that I am quite sure 2000+ years ago when Jesus was nailed to the Cross, no one could have had the foggiest clue that it would be acknowledged as much by the dollar as by the Christians around the world.

So, enjoy your chocolate overdose tomorrow. I am sure it will be fun and that many of you will go to bed wondering whether that was such a grand idea after all, yet already thinking about how you can make 2020 even better. I will not be one of these many people – unfortunately I do not see Whittakers making easter eggs or other Easter related chocolate treats, and I have sworn off Cadbury and anyone else who uses palm oil. And at  the end of the day to me, Easter has become one vast commercial con where the dollars speak louder than the meaning of it.

Can we still address poverty in New Zealand?


New Zealand has just ruled out one of the best measures for helping to address poverty. Is it still possible to do so?

Good question and one that irrespective of governing coalition, New Zealand must try to. The country that likes to think it is egalitarian and that the spirit of giving people a fair go is alive, has no choice if it wishes to reasonably continue thinking this.

It is a question that will rankle the supporters of the Labour-led Government of Jacinda Ardern. It will rankle many of them because the C.G.T. to many was a fundamental part of any policy platform for dealing with poverty. It would appear New Zealand wants to address poverty, but is absolutely loathe to introduce any sort of measure that check the unsustainable wealth accumulation by the top 5-10% of income earners. So, to cut to the chase, what are the options?

Is New Zealand even agreed on a definition of poverty?

To me poverty is the inability to afford and access the essentials for a life of dignity. What is life if it cannot be lived in a state of dignity where a human being is not degraded? To me, nothing. It is when one is unable to afford basic medical care, shelter, food, transport and education.

In one respect New Zealand is making progress, in that we are enacting a progressive increase in the minimum wage. It rose last year from $15.25/hr to $16.50/hr; from 1 April this year to $17.70/hr; from 1 April next year to $18.90/hr; from 1 April 2021 to $20/hr.

One thing New Zealand can do is ensure that the benefits administered by the Ministry of Social Development are fixed to a Consumer Price Index or other appropriate measure, and adjusted annually on 1 April each year. The rules for administering the schedule of benefits should be reviewed at the same time.

New Zealand can also try to implement the nearly 100 other recommendations that were made by the tax working group.

I still believe though that New Zealand should broaden its income tax regime. Currently the brackets sit at:

  • 10.5% for income up to $14,000
  • 17.5% for income between $14,000-$48,000
  • 30.0% for income between $48,000-$70,000
  • 33.0% for income above $70,000

A top tax rate of say 37.5% could take effect on incomes over $250,000 per annum, whilst the others are more evenly spread instead of a tight range covering just $56,000 between the end of the lowest bracket and the start of the highest.

No mention in the T.W.G. report appears to have been made of a luxury goods tax. Some might call it a jealousy tax. I disagree as it would be on assets that probably out of the reasonable reach of 95-99% of the worlds population. How would it be implemented and at what financial value does something become a luxury good? To be clear to me a luxury good is something that is surplus to the reasonable maintenance of life, and purchased simply because the buyer wants it for reasons of prestige and can afford it. As for what passes as a luxury asset, it would be any car, property, jewellery, aircraft, helicopter, rare items such as art works, other collectables. One can discuss valuations at which such assets can be defined as luxury goods upon inspection, however I think the following could be a good start (and exclude family homes, immediate business assets):

  • vehicles worth $250,000+;
  • yachts worth $1 million+
  • property other than the family home worth $1 million+
  • any helicopters, private jets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand changing post Mosque attack


It is probably fair to say that New Zealand will not be quite the same again. In the same way that the Canterbury/Christchurch/Kaikoura earthquakes have made New Zealand acutely more aware of its dynamic geological environs, the attack on the Mosques of 15 March have been a violent jolt to our society and how it handles extremism.

The aftershocks will continue to reverberate through the country for a while. Law changes that are currently in progress are just the start, with changes signalled for hate speech law and a Royal Commission of Inquiry has been established to examine issues related to what the intelligence community knew about the gunman.

Just as I saw many positives coming out during the earthquakes, such as how the community rallied to help each other, contribute to the Civil Defence operation, donate to Red Cross and so forth, there has been a great outpouring of support for the Muslim community. Within a few days several million dollars had been raised to assist with material and financial needs, since many of the people in the Mosque who were shot dead or injured are the main source of income in their family. We saw how quickly the Mosque reopened – as fast as the Police could conduct the scene examination, get the interiors cleaned up and the various trades people repair the damage from bullets and things falling over.

The fear after the Christchurch earthquakes was palpable. Fear of a further big one. Fear of not being able to make ends meet, of loved ones and friends finding themselves in a tight spot that they cannot get out of. It unleashed a wave of stress and psychological issues among those who were there – depression, anxiety, among others. The fear after the Mosque attacks is there too – despite the authorities being relatively confident there is nobody else involved. Fear that this might become the new norm. Fear of how to explain to youngsters when they get older what happened and why.

Just as followed the earthquakes, where hard conversations were had – and continue to be had – about the direction the recovery should take, conversations about healing and moving forward will be had with the individual religious communities.

Some of the lessons of the earthquakes have been learnt. Many councils around New Zealand are now moving to address issues with infrastructure, building codes and the readiness of the authorities. It is too early to tell what the lessons of the Mosque attacks were, much less whether or not they will be heeded. Months or years from now when the initial good will has worn off and those other than the immediately affected are trying to move their lives forward, will we remember that not all can do so as easily?

Nobody knew where or how New Zealand would go in the immediate wake of the Canterbury/Christchurch quakes. Even when the Kaikoura quake hit there were questions about Kaikoura’s future. Those questions will be getting asked around New Zealand about where and how we proceed after the Mosque attacks as well. Are we ready?

 

Gun law passes third reading; to become law before end of week


The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill passed its third reading in Parliament yesterday. It will become law before the end of this week.

Now that this has cleared Parliament, we have a basic law that is at best only a temporary fix for a long term problem. Parliament will now need to start work on a much more comprehensive piece of legislation that will provide the long term solution needed to the lack of strength in New Zealand firearms law.

The law passed through the House of Representatives on Wednesday night 119-1. A.C.T. Leader and Member of Parliament for Epsom, David Seymour was the sole vote against the legislation.

Now the tough work begins.

A buy back scheme for those firearms that are banned under Section 5/2A now needs to be set up. When the firearm is handed back so must the ammunition, magazine and any parts that make it possible for the firearm to fired automatically or almost automatically. It does include silencers, telescopic sights, butts, carry bags, and so forth.

How will the Government be sure that all weapons have been handed back, since no register was kept of the arms in question in New Zealand? This will be difficult as people will not have necessarily kept the documentation acknowledging the purchase of the firearm. Whilst the vast majority of New Zealanders will probably acknowledge the need to ban such weapons and return any such guns that they own, there will be a small number other than the gangs who refuse steadfastly to return theirs.

How will the Government address the legitimate question of guns that are needed for shooting competitions, or will New Zealand be like the United Kingdom after the Dunblane massacre and no longer participate? National Member of Parliament Chris Bishop attempted to get provisions inserted yesterday to enable this, but also dealing with Firearm Prohibition Orders. He was out voted.

It would be a shame to no longer be able to participate in sports shooting competitions because the firearms used are no longer permitted. I do believe though that the threats made by some competitive shooters to leave the country were just sour grapes at the thought that firearms legislation might be tightening up.

I do confess that in hindsight the Government was right to introduce emergency legislation and push it through Parliament at speed. That said, much of the opposition might have been shut down if Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Police Stuart Nash and National Party Leader Simon Bridges had made a joint announcement that a significantly longer and more open period for public submissions would follow. This joint appearance in a show of unity would have done much to ease concerns about how the process is being run, though I doubt it would have gotten A.C.T. Leader David Seymour on board.

Ms Ardern and her Caucus can bask in the light of their success tonight, but the real work is just beginning. Just as security and intelligence services are going to be grilled about what they knew and what they did or did not do, the Government should now expect a grilling on the more technical material that they left out of the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts)Amendment Act 2019.