New Zealand politics: Steady as she goes

New Zealand politics are, for the most part a serious case of “Steady as she goes”. No wild swings across the political spectrum, left to right; libertarian to authoritarian.

How have we managed to keep such a steady ship for so long, one might ask. Over the years I have come to identify three key drivers of this which I describe below.

Part of the answer is that Mixed Member Proportional governance has never promoted this by way of encouraging coalition governments instead of single party ones with an outright majority. Coalition governments require deals to be cut with other parties that mean some bold policies that may have been acceptable have to be cast aside in order to secure the co-operation of a larger party (think Labour and the Greens; Labour and New Zealand First; National and New Zealand First). In 1996 for example when New Zealand First did a deal ending nine weeks of negotiations with National, the latter had to agree to give up the privatization of state assets.

A second aspect has been the li(n)es that are told. Politicians who say that they are working for the greater good of the country are often scared to implement changes that might be recommended by an inquiry or by the Ombudsman. Very often they will take the route that appears to be the shortest and easiest to get out of having to handle hot topic issues. In doing so, the legislative might offer up a half cooked solution that will not do the intended job. The politicians of the day will then say “It is the best solution available”, when they actually mean “it was the best solution that we thought was acceptable”. And being largely uncritical of the Government, most New Zealanders will swallow the story whole without thinking twice.

A third aspect is whether political parties are who they claim to be. In New Zealand we have the centre-left Labour and the centre-right National. New Zealand First claims to sit somewhere between the two, whilst the Greens and A.C.T. define the left and right field limits. At its heart, both Labour and National are not so much parties of the centre as their 21st century iterations are two shades of neoliberal. As is New Zealand First, despite its claims to not support trade agreements in their current format, or giving state owned assets to the private sector. Probably only the Greens and A.C.T. are true to their word. A.C.T. is an unashamedly neoliberal party who think market economics are the answer.

Last but not least, New Zealanders have an attitude in society, almost casual in nature to believe that wrongs will somehow come right in good time. It is a carefree attitude that has led to a toxic combination of lax safety at work, casual attitudes to socio-economic policies announced, which is unnecessarily coming to bite many people when and how they least expect it.

Our mediocre progress on economic, social and political changes as needed can be in large part put down to the above three factors and the dash of “she’ll be right”-ness that too many people believe in.

Answering the critics of getting New Zealand out of poverty

Poverty is one of New Zealand’s biggest social issues and probably the most divisive. It is a subject that generates a wide range of reactions when discussed, from compassion and wanting to help those in it, to contempt that at times almost borders on hate. In this article I look at some of the common arguments put up by those who are critics of the behaviours and living standards of lower income earners.

To me, poverty is an intergenerational thing in many families. Successive generations of the same family have come to be marginalized people, unable to break. There are multiple arguments that critics of addressing poverty like to use to justify their stance. I will address these here:

  • that most are lazy people who simply do not want to help themselves
  • that people who are in poverty waste their benefit money on drugs, alcohol and gambling
  • that all one needs is to work hard and save

A fairly small percentage of people are likely to be lazy – but how did they get to this state of being? Are they from a family where schooling was a low priority; what if their parents were simply absentee in that they were at work or had gone out and simply neglected their children? You cannot blame the children for that.

A correlation between the location of alcohol stores and bars with pokie machines can be made. For example Merivale and Fendalton, two of the more upmarket suburbs in Christchurch have bars, but they are quite upmarket places that do not have run of the mill features such as pool tables, T.A.B. and/or pokies; instead of the standard Speights, Mac’s Gold, Guinness, more expensive beer is found. Higher income areas have greater social mobility and are able to afford access to resources that lower income people cannot. Contrast with neighbouring Bryndwr or Papanui, both of which have bars that have pokie machines, and subsequently middle income people are more likely to be found there, which helps to discourage the lower income earners from presenting.

Occasionally you see articles in Stuff which are click bait in nature, but talk about people who have had supposed rags to riches stories simply by working hard and saving hard. What these articles tend to omit is that these people had parental or other assistance getting into the market. A person earning $75,000 a year currently loses $25,000 in income tax. Assuming they are flatting/renting they might pay another $15,000 in rent. Add food, internet, medical, clothing and vehicular costs and that might be another $1,200 per month.

$75,000 – $25,000 – $15,000 – $14,400 = $20,600 per annum after expenses and assuming no money is being set aside in KiwiSaver. It would take 18 years if all of that $22,000 was saved JUST for buying a house to be able to buy something worth $400,000. Someone at a supermarket on minimum wage earning $600 per week after tax, paying rent could easily lose nearly all of that on living costs, never mind saving.

Crime is a significant symptom of poverty and much of it can be removed by addressing the chief causes of poverty. By giving people a proper place to live that is warm and dry will help to reduce the likelihood of them being a drag on the health system; establishing an adult education system for those who were never taught basic things and assign them a tutor/buddy; appending social benefits to inflation will all help. Addressing poverty is a long term investment – a marathon and not a 100 metre sprint.The social/economic/cultural benefits in the long term will far outweigh the fiscal costs of the investment.

N.Z. free of COVID19: Where to from here for Aotearoa?

So there you have it. On 08 June 2020 New Zealand became the first developed nation to successfully rid itself of COVID19. We join just a handful of other nations, notably small Pacific Island nations whose borders were closed as soon as they realized the danger it posed, in being COVID19 free. The rest of the world including the rest of the O.E.C.D. nations are still fighting.

Level 1 will be nine hours old when this publishes.

So, where to from here?

Just because we are free of it does not mean we should automatically let our guard down. Nor does it mean that we will immediately reopen the borders. The very vast majority of nations around the world will probably keep their borders firmly shut until the end of 2020 at least, including – with the possible exception of Australia – all of our most important global partners.

In some respect, not having the border open for a short while is a good thing:

  • New Zealand’s many and great tourist attractions now have a golden opportunity to reconcile with the exiled locals who no longer felt welcome at many of them, or were physically priced out of the market in favour of big spending foreigners. They would be fools not to introduce “local rates” – say 25% discounts and those operators who own multiple attractions could offer year passes. The drop in prices would be offset by a hopeful surge in locals coming.
  • It is an opportunity to tighten up border controls, work out any new measures deemed necessary in the wake of COVID19 and implement them, as well as notifying appropriate authorities – Customs; Police; Immigration and give overseas diplomatic posts a chance to digest and act on them (embassies, consulates, and so forth).
  • Get more New Zealanders into occupations that have a lot of positions taken up by non-Kiwi’s, such as farming, horticulture and so forth

It is also a REALLY good time to think about a long term vision for New Zealand. What kind of country do we want to be in 20, 50, 100 years from now?

  • The same old country we have always been – one that is a bit too carefree and slightly ignorant about the world around it?
  • Do we want one that throws environmental common sense to the wind as some currently in Parliament would have us do?
  • Do we want a country that reassesses where it is going and enacts certain reforms, such as the cannabis laws coming, but nothing comprehensive?
  • Do we want a country that after a period of review, begins comprehensive reform that addresses the systemic and racial inequality; sees infrastructure reform as key to the economy; ends the drug wars and embraces our Pasifika neighbours and countries like Germany, Canada, Taiwan and South Korea?

What country, do you want New Zealand to be and why? With COVID19 gone, I believe we would be fools not to have a look at ourselves and our way of live and see what we can do better.


The case for voting YES in cannabis referendum

At the General Election of 19 September 2020, there will be a referendum on whether New Zealand should legalize cannabis.

There are numerous reasons why I am voting yes in the 2020 referendum on the legalization of cannabis. In the article following I lay out those reasons and explore some of the side issues around cannabis in New Zealand:

  • Low level cannabis offences take up police time, resources and tax payer money unnecessarily
  • The justice system is unnecessarily clogged with the resultant prosecutions from those offences
  • Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced a probable regime that would be implemented should the referendum return a YES vote, which focuses on reducing harm
  • Recognition of need to address cannabis addiction as medical issue and not a criminal one

The regime that Mr Little has proposed, the regulatory regime would have the following provisions:

  • A minimum age of 20 for purchasing and using cannabis products
  • A ban on all marketing and advertising of cannabis
  • Requires harm minimisation messaging to be on products
  • No public use, but confined to homes and regulated premises
  • Restricts cannabis sales to physical stores
  • Regulations on the potency of cannabis products
  • A person over the age of 20 will be able to grow two cannabis plants on their property
  • Individuals will be able to carry up to 14 grams of dried cannabis in public places

Mr Little says that it will be an education and health based regime for those with addictions, assuming that they are willing to enter a treatment centre.

More critically we need to acknowledge as I have mentioned in the past that the “War on Drugs” has been an abject failure. It has driven the cannabis market underground and in doing so it has enabled growers, synthetic cannabis importers and others wanting commercial gain from growing it to thrive in a market that has no regulation and attracts the worst in society.

One of the more damaging aspects of cannabis in New Zealand and around the world has been the rise of synthetic cannabis or “synnies”. These are much stronger and more debilitating than regular cannabis, and can render users zombie like where they appear to be completely detuned from what is happening around them. Many of the users are some of the most vulnerable elements of society with no family, support networks or means of finding work, their drug use can lead to – in the case of women – being forced into prostitution to earn money.

On the whole I like the regime that Mr Little is proposing to implement if the referendum returns a YES vote. I do have concerns though about cannabis being grown on private properties, due to some of the secondary activities and behaviours that tend to be associated with drug manufacture. Specifically I am thinking of the tendency to have firearms, the construction of structures that will impede lawful surveillance and law enforcement; also the coming and going of people with connections to the criminal underworld, prostitution and gang activity.

So whilst I will be voting YES, I acknowledge that there is more work to be done yet on these reforms and I look forward to seeing what the final plan will look like.


New Zealand is ready for Level 1

When New Zealand went to Level 2 on 14 May 2020 I had no idea how it was going to go. The occasional COVID19 case was still occurring. There were a number of people still in hospital and the death toll had a few more people to claim. I thought I would show a screen shot of an Excel spreadsheet that I set up on the day of the first confirmed case.

A brief explanation of the Excel table below: White = Total cases; Dark Yellow = Confirmed new cases; Light Yellow = Probable new cases; Green = Cases recovered; Orange = Cases hospitalized; Red = Deaths

The row selected is 14 May 2020, the third of three days with no new cases before three consecutive days with 1 new case. This is part of a larger spreadsheet going back to the start of February and which will be concluded when there are no active cases (and hopefully one more in the Recovered column).

COVID data based on Ministry of Health figures (daily media releases).

COVID19 incubation takes 11-14 days to occur. New Zealand has now gone 12 consecutive days without a new case. There is only one active case nation wide and that case is not in hospital. Official advice was that 28 days of no new cases is needed before New Zealand can go to Level 1.

When we reach Level 1, pretty much all restrictions other than international travel will be lifted. Sporting fixtures, concerts, weddings, funerals, large functions will all be able to resume without social distancing, attendance limits

If Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern makes the decision to go to Level 1 on Monday, I understand it could take effect as early as Wednesday, 10 June 2020.

Then it is just a matter of making sure that the final victim recovers fully; that we have an inquiry into the COVID19 response with the Government implementing the recommendations from it and waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.

I think this would be a sensible compromise. Whilst 28 day caution is admirable, it is excessive in this case given that it is in a country separated in to two main islands, plus Stewart Island and the Chathams. That one of the two main islands has been completely COVID19 free for a week now just further undermines the case for continuing.

With Level 1, I hope though that some sensible permanent measures, which I have already mentioned before are enacted:

  1. Medical certificates become compulsory for everyone who has been sick entering/leaving New Zealand
  2. Sanitization of hands upon entry to any bar, cafe, restaurant; medical facility becomes compulsory and permanent – having sanitizer and signage becomes part of the prerequisites for compliance
  3. The number of paid sick days permitted each year rises to say 7 or 10 – noting the cost to employers, but recognizing that bringing additional staff down sick might be costlier still