Government will regret abandoning C.G.T

This afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a stunning announcement.

It was stunning for all of the wrong reasons, but perhaps first and foremost how it seems to have caved into the lobby group with the loudest megaphone, namely the Tax Payers Union, which is a right leaning group. It was a stunning announcement, because it was a complete u-turn to the image that the Government has been cultivating as one that wants to address poverty, the huge wealth imbalance in the country and the social disparities that it is causing. The Government will regret its move to abandon the C.G.T.

I saw this article from Craig Elliffe and Chye-Ching Huang after the failure to do anything about enacting such a tax in 2009-10. I cannot help but wonder what they would say now.

Not surprisingly the Green Party is disgusted. A C.G.T. was to be the corner stone of any plan to address poverty, which is high their agenda.

I am disgusted myself. New Zealand is the only country in the O.E.C.D. not to have a C.G.T. and possibly for as long as the next 18 years – with the exception of the Keith Holoyoake-led National Government of 1960-1972, and the war time Savage/Fraser-led Labour Government, no government has lasted more than 3 consecutive Parliamentary terms. And no National-led Government is going to introduce such a tax. Before then they would prefer to cut income tax or raise goods and services tax (G.S.T.).

How much did New Zealanders honestly know about a C.G.T.?

My guess is probably not a lot. I wonder how many of them have learnt to critically evaluate something, instead of just reading about the pros and cons. I never took accounting or economics at school and only did a first year economics paper at University that immediately screamed “give it up, Rob – you’re not an economist!”. Which I heeded – I haven’t touched an economics paper since.

So, what do I believe the consequences of this are?

In a purely political sense, provided they do not do anything dumb between now and the 2020 General Election, the Greens stand a good chance of enjoying a bit of a surge in support. It will come from those on the left flank of Labour who are not quite in the Green Party camp, but do not really feel as though they belong with Labour.

In a financial sense, Labour has squandered perhaps its best chance to enact something that addresses a long standing and well known problem – our treatment of capital gains is inconsistent, unfair and inefficient. The Government has indicated that most of the other 100+ recommendations made by the Tax Working Group in their report will be implemented or examined further. The question, though is whether the sum of these apparently lesser measure will be noticed. Nor is C.G.T. a new idea, having been examined by Governments in 1967, 1978, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989, 2001 and 2009-10.

In a social sense, the potential support for those trying to get on the property ladder for the first time has been taken away by failing to address those who buy multiple properties to use as a money making scheme. It also sends an improper message to those who do indulge in this behaviour that the Government does not care much for making sure you pay due tax.

The need for urgency on environmental sustainability

New Zealand politicians dilly dallying at a time when there is clear evidence that the world has entered a critical phase for humanity, and for environmental sustainability is undoing our reputation as an environmentally responsible nation.

Although by default I tend to support centre-left ideology, I am finding the tendency for endless reviews, working groups, and the creation of agencies instead of reform or stream lining the existing ones frustrating. In the context of the environmental emergency, the Green Party announced a review of how we handle waste as a matter of priority, but 18 months after the Government took office there is no clear signal about what was the outcome.

This has me thinking whether we really needed a review and whether it is just hiding the possible fact that they have no immediate policy announcements to make on it.

Just last week, it was announced that West Coast had aborted a planned waste-to-energy plant that when operational would make the province self sufficient in electricity. The plant, which was the brain child of a Chinese company, was first mooted in 2016, but had stalled due to a lack of council support. The plant would have taken in waste from across West Coast and burned it at a site in Buller District.

Another area where the urgency of the rhetoric being spouted is not matching the actions being (or not being)taken, is on climate change. Despite the announced ending of oil and gas, there has been little done to identify, research and if possible, develop alternative sources of energy. Nor has there been much done to adapt existing technology to alternative sources.

A suggestion that people stop flying just about made me laugh out loud. Aside from the sheer impracticalities for the developed society, there are a host of other reasons why this is at least at this time, totally and utterly unrealistic:

  1. Many nations, such as New Zealand are simply not geographically structured for driving everywhere. It would take at 8 hours steady driving each day 3 days for someone to drive from Invercargill to Auckland.
  2. Road traffic would have to exponentially increase, and I thought we were supposed to be the number of cars on the road
  3. No evidence of any major aircraft manufacturer developing electric planes – one major problem is that the thrust in the engines needs to be strong enough for it to get airborne
  4. Flying is one of the safest modes of transport – millions of people around the world are airborne every day and how many of them die in a plane crash?

Far more realistic if we are even going to consider changing peoples flying habits would be to put a tax on corporate jets. And maybe support Air New Zealand’s one time investigation into whether planes could fly on biofuel.

It is not that I do not want a change in how we do things to a more sustainable manner. I desperately do, but some of the suggestions that are coming up lack any sense of realism. And politicians seem to think that action is having another review or an inquiry.


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?


Fear or prudence? You be the judge

Over the last few days I have become aware of people expressing concern that the Police are spreading alarmism over the Terror Alert level. As something that will be new to many New Zealanders, there is good reason for the Police exercising the prudence that they do.

New Zealand is lucky. Elevated states of alert have persisted in numerous other countries well beyond what could be considered a reasonable time frame. In France a State of Emergency was declared following the Paris attack on 13 November 2015, and lasted until 1 November 2017. It was extended several times with varying reasons ranging from protecting political rallies – France was due to have Presidential elections; Islamic State was expanding in Syria and Iraq, countries where French colonial influences have had a less than positive impact.

Other countries such as the United States have maintained consistently high alert levels for years, whilst insisting that there remained a clear and credible danger of an attack. In the case of larger countries, such as the United States, Britain or France with a more global influence and thus the ability to negatively impact across a wider area than New Zealand – intentionally or otherwise – the elevated state of alert that has existed for the last 17 years since the War on Terrorism began is probably not surprising

Sometimes no actual State of Emergency is declared, but one might just as well have been based on the rhetoric of officials responsible. Such was the case with Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Security, Peter Dutton whose pronouncements in the media, in the Australian Federal Parliament and elsewhere have bordered on the vitriolic.

New Zealand has not declared a State of Emergency. That can only be done by the Minister of Civil Defence, or a local Mayor. It can however raise its Terrorism Alert as necessary and has done so. The six levels of threat are graded at Negligible; Very Low; Low; Medium; High; Extreme. Currently the Terrorism Alert is graded HIGH, meaning there is a high likelihood of terrorism, violent criminal activity or violent protests.

The longer a country goes without an attack, but stays in an elevated level of warning, the potentially less trusting the people become of the authorities. If for example the authorities said that the warnings will be reviewed on a regular basis, and are then forgotten about,  the assumption will be that a permanently elevated state of alert is the new new. The authorities will start to run the risk of being perceived as “the boy who cried wolf”, and run the real danger of being ignored when something serious happens.

To have an elevated state of fear there must be a threat to order, to a country, to its people that is considered credible. To maintain that elevated state of fear the authorities need to appear in a public setting looking like they are anticipating trouble – which is what we currently see in Christchurch: Police officers with semi-automatic weapons; higher visibility with patrol cars on patrol more.

Whilst unheard of in New Zealand, it is not by any means unprecedented around the world, something a lot of New Zealanders are just starting to realize now. In other countries there are more intrusive measures being taken such as searches of peoples belongings, occasionally of their body. Search warrants are more likely to be executed against properties. High risk individuals might be arrested and the Police may seek to detain them until either required to release them or they charge the suspects.

Time will tell when the terrorism alert level is lowered in New Zealand. Whilst there is a risk above normal levels that another act of violence might be perpetrated, New Zealand Police are aware that it cannot stay elevated forever. And indeed, as was intoned just before the Christchurch attack, following an Armed Offenders Squad incident in Linwood, the Police said that they want to be able to go back to not needing to carry firearms on their staff. For these reasons, I have no concerns about the Terrorism Alert staying elevated for a bit longer yet.




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.