National slumps; Greens-Labour could govern alone


The headline says it all – almost. A new poll out today shows National having fallen behind Labour for the first time since Labour lost office in 2008.

The latest Newshub/Reid Poll shows that Labour are up to 47%, which would make them the largest party in Parliament at 56 seats. That is the number that National currently hold. Combined with the Greens who are steady on 5% and entitled to 6 seats Labour could govern without its other coalition ally, New Zealand First.

All parties except A.C.T. shed seats to Labour in this rare instance. The Greens lose two, to become a 6 piece caucus. New Zealand First disappear completely and National are down to 50.

This must be sobering news for New Zealand First. It has been consistently under the 5% threshhold to have a presence in Parliament without an electorate seat. At 2.9% it would suffer an even worse defeat than that which was inflicted on it in 2008. Whilst the party has seen bad luck before, much of that was not of its making but the work of dirty politicking by other politicians. That does not apply in February 2019.

New Zealand First shed supporters, including myself after it supported the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. But other people left, expressing concerns about the internal state of the party, which has had to deal with dwarf throwing, the collapse of its South Island support and also the activities of Shane Jones. On one hand Mr Jones who is Minister for Regional Development is proving popular because of his work with the regional development fund, but on the other his refusal to allow cameras on board fishing vessels has sparked the ire of labour rights advocates.

It must also be sobering news for National. For the first time since 2008 it is less popular than its arch rival. At 41% it would get 50 seats in the House. Combined with the solitary seat of its natural ally A.C.T., it would have 51 seats and be well below the threshhold of being able to govern.

National find themselves in a difficult spot. Environmental issues have clearly become more important than many National Party Members of Parliament and their constituents want to admit. The worsening effects of having so much carbon in the atmosphere and in the sea is leading to an increasing pressure for comprehensive reform, except that neither party really knows how – and the Green proposals are seen as too radical and out of touch.

But it is National leader Simon Bridges who must find this most sobering. Mr Bridges has been over taken by Judith Crusher Collins in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. This will excite her fans on the solid blue right wing of the party. Ms Collins, despite her dismissal as a Minister of the Crown for corruption and links to the Oravida scandal, remains a darling of the right wing of New Zealand politics who are itching for a deeper shade of blue than what was offered by Messrs John Key and Bill English.

For Labour and the Greens though, this must be a welcome breath of fresh air. It comes after concerns about the slowing economy, the failure of Kiwi Build and the ongoing concerns about justice, health, among other things. Labour will be wanting to build on this as it looks towards the 2020 election.

Time to regulate freedom campers


Bex Hill is a tour operator in Dunedin. The other day she saw a people mover turned freedom camper vehicle with a self containment sticker on it. The problem is, it was not self contained.

If there is an issue that divides New Zealand during the summer tourism season, it must surely be what to do about “Freedom Campers”, campers whose transport – often an old Toyota Previa or similar – doubles as their home, and who refuse to camp in regular camping grounds. For many such campers the vehicle is also where they claim to have a toilet, so that they are able to access camping grounds without sanitary facilities.

The majority of them are no problem and will comply with requests. However it needs to be said that there will always be a small percentage for whom no amount reasoning will work – they think that by some higher entitlement they can be in a particular place and do as they wish. New Zealand, contrary to popular belief – does have minimum standards for self containment in vehicles – they just are not that well known or enforced. They are set out in full below (see New Zealand Motor Caravan Association):

A SUMMARY OF THE MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS FOR CERTIFIED SELF-CONTAINMENT

The Standard requires sanitary, safe installations:

  1. Fresh water tanks: 4 L per person per day (12 L per person minimum); eg. 24 litres is required for 2 people for 3 days & 48 litres is required for 4 people for 3 days;

  2. A sink: (via a smell trap/water trap connected to a water tight sealed waste water tank;

  3. Grey/black waste water tank: 4 L per person per day (12 L per person minimum, vented and monitored if capacity is less than the fresh water tank);

  4. Evacuation hose: (3 m for fitted tanks) or long enough to connect to a sealed portable tank;

  5. Sealable refuse container (rubbish bin with a lid).

  6. Toilet (portable or fixed): Minimum capacity 1 L per person per day (3 L net holding tank capacity per person minimum);

A portable toilet must be adequately restrained or secured when travelling. The portable toilet shall be usable within the motor caravan or caravan, including sufficient head and elbow room whenever required, even with the bed made up.  Where permanent toilets are installed, this shall be in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and comply with the sanitary requirements in section 3 of the Standard (plumbing requirements).

When these conditions are met, a portable toilet may be used externally e.g. within a toilet tent or awning, where it is appropriate and convenient to do so.

I had time for them, but now my patience – and I think that of many many New Zealanders – is running out. It is time to regulate their vehicles as being supposedly fit for over nighting in places where camping is generally forbidden is often not what one thinks it is. Far too often we now hear of campers becoming aggressive when challenged about the suitability of their vehicle to be parked in a non camping area. Far too often we find freedom campers parked in parts of towns and rural areas where they should not be.

Aside from being disgusting and unsightly in the extreme to see other peoples faeces, it is a particularly poor look on the part of a country that prides itself on being clean and green. Yes everyone needs to answer a call of nature at some point and that there will most certainly be cases where it cannot be done in a proper toilet.

Is it inappropriate to remind them that they are in New Zealand and are therefore expected to comply with New Zealand law (which admittedly needs to be clarified and tightened up, but that is beyond the scope of this article)? I think not. When other campers cannot get access to a particular site because it is blocked and the campers are aggressive, whose fault is that?

I do not believe I am being unnecessarily harsh when I say that the only vehicles that should be permitted for this purpose should have an enforceable certificate of self containment. But before we do that, there has to be a regime with appropriate agencies involved and a way of making the enforcement stick. This will require the co-operation of rental car and other rental vehicle agencies, the N.Z.T.A. and local councils.

Then, may be people like Bex Hill will not have to see such sights again.

N.Z and Australia: Elephant in the room is immigration


New Zealand and Australia enjoy a unique relationship that few other countries can come close to matching. Whether it is in history or economic relations, foreign affairs or culture, the similarities are impressive. So how then did other nationalities come to have a direct path to Australian citizenship, but not us?

558,000 New Zealanders live in Australia, up from 345,000 in 2001. Due to the very close relationship between the two countries, New Zealanders only need to arrive in Australia on a valid passport and can live and work in Australia indefinitely.

There is one significant catch though. New Zealanders do not have access as a general rule to Australian citizenship, in that there is not a specific pathway to becoming an Australian in the same way that there is for other nationalities. And this is a significant sticking point in Australia-New Zealand diplomatic relations. Successive Australian Governments whilst referring to New Zealanders and New Zealand as family have made a deliberate case of maintaining a distance using immigration policy.

Contrast that with New Zealand which accepts Australians and offers them a path to New Zealand citizenship. 65,000 Australians live in New Zealand. The restrictions as we shall see on Australians receiving assistance from New Zealand health, education and social welfare are less than those for New Zealanders in Australia.

With 558,000 New Zealand nationals living in Australia, inevitably a few feature in the crime and other unsavoury statistics. Minor offending is not generally something that attracts the attention of Australian officials. However more serious offending such as assault, robbery, and serious ones such as murder are known to attract the attention of the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Protection Agency among others.

This is where things get dicey. New Zealanders entering Australia long term need to apply for a Special Category Visa. Following law changes in 2001 New Zealanders living long term in Australia wanting access to social, and other services can only receive restricted access after applying and being granted permanent residence through the migrants programme.

A few New Zealanders who moved to Australia when they were very young and have no connection to New Zealand whatsoever have found themselves being deported from Australia for criminal offending to a country where they know no one, have no knowledge of customs, laws or otherwise. They have no official record such as an Inland Revenue Department number, will not have an photo ID available or official statements such as bank statements or utility bills to provide evidence of living. And yet here they find themselves in a completely foreign land, where the only thing in common is that both countries speak English and drive on the left.

Perhaps it is time to re-examine the pathway to nowhere for New Zealanders – we enter Australia, we find our accommodation and get a job. We can set up a bank account and so forth without any problems and can come and go as we please. But the closest we can get to permanent residence or citizenship is the Special Category Visa. After all this time and the generosity we show to Australians living here is it not time for New Zealand to try to draw level?

Perhaps that is something for Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters to take up with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne.

Is Nelson fire a sign of future


In the last several years there have been a number of increasingly damaging fires around New Zealand. Prolonged dry conditions, combined with excess vegetation growth that has not been checked, that is often quite flammable in nature can prove the perfect recipe for fires. The are a range of potential triggers ranging from sparks from trains going down railway tracks, farm machinery contacting stones whilst ploughing paddocks, burn offs gone wrong, not to mention human error or arson.

The Port Hills fire event of 2017 is the most destructive thus far in terms of property and lives lost with one person killed and 11 houses lost.

Following that event there was an inquiry into the fires and what could be learnt so as to prevent a repeat. Two years later with a much larger fire now threatening Wakefield, with a population of 2,500 near Nelson, three days after it started on a paddock in Pigeon Valley, how much have New Zealanders learnt and what has been done?

I asked this question a year ago in an earlier article. It found some basic problems with who was in charge when the fires started as they traversed numerous political boundaries. Depending on whose boundary it is in the nature of the likely response will change as different authorities will have different processes. There were also concerns with basic information flow between authorities and civilians, which meant some testy exchanges between the two parties.

Could a changing climate also have something to do with the potential danger posed by such fires? Whilst last year was very hot during summer, it was tempered by big and quite sudden swings to stormy weather with considerable rain in tow that kept the risk of drought and the subsequent risk of fire in check. In 2013 and 2017 when there were fire outbreaks that caused property loss, the damaging fires were caused by prolonged, intense dry warm weather with high sunshine hours. Coming out of a very wet 2018, few in November would have imagined that by the end of January parts of New Zealand would be a tinderbox, but that is what happened.

Questions around planning laws around what kind of vegetation should be permitted to grow were also raised. Around the Nelson and Tasman areas there is a range of temperate trees such as pinus radiata and eucalyptus, both of which have high natural oil content. At the time I mentioned that research into the suitability of different vegetation types had been conducted. For such vegetation to have a positive effect it needs to be planted on a large scale and not limited to a few homes. It might also be worthwhile having vegetation breaks where there are either no trees or vegetation or the vegetation is a belt of fire resistant species that are low in volatility when lit.

But the biggest concern was – and probably still is – how much planning pre-event has been done by regional, district or city councils to understand how this phenomena starts. Understanding it is but one aspect of the 4 R’s: Reduction, Readiness, Response, Recovery.

Putting that understanding to good effect by taking steps to mitigate the potential hazard is REDUCTION. Making sure emergency services and the authorities can be ready to move at short notice and encourage the public to have emergency survival plans and the necessary resources – food, water, medicine, clothes, transistor radio, torch with batteries and so forth – is READINESS. The execution of the plans and being able to adapt to circumstances on the day will determine the RESPONSE. Putting lives and communities back together and creating something approach as normal as possible is RECOVERY.

Answering questions about becoming a Republic


As I watched coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s car crash I was reminded that this is a man who is in his late 90’s. I was also reminded that his wife, and New Zealand’s head of state Queen Elizabeth II is also over 90. With their great and advancing age, one must assume that they will be starting to wind down their official engagements.

And as they contemplate whether to, or how to wind down their engagements, New Zealand needs to be stepping up its national conversation about our constitutional arrangements once they depart.

I have never seen the need for a foreigner as New Zealand’s head of state. As a grown up nation that has a degree of civility lacking in many others, I believe New Zealand is more than capable of having its own head of state. However I know many people who do not believe New Zealand is ready to become a Republic, or that it is not needed or welcome.

I have mentioned my reasoning for a Republic, the process I believe would be necessary to achieve it and what it might look like in past articles. This article is more about addressing public concerns about how a Republic might look and function. This is part of the debate that is necessary to have in order to inform public opinion prior to any attempt at changing how New Zealand determines its Head of State.

What will happen to the Treaty of Waitangi and the settlements reached under a Republic?

Under a Republic, New Zealand will transfer responsibility for the Treaty of Waitangi from the Crown to the Head of State. The Treaty itself and the settlements reached with Iwi will not be affected in any way by this change. This is commonly acknowledged by the Monarchist League as well as the Republican Movement.

Will New Zealand be made to leave the Commonwealth should it become a Republic?

No. Most nations in the British Commonwealth are already Republics – India, Pakistan, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Nauru, to name just a few. There are 52 nations in the Commonwealth and 36 of them are Republics.

New Zealand’s heritage is British

This is a fortunately dying tunnel vision argument that ignores the fact that New Zealand is now a multicultural nation with large Pacific Island and Asian communities. Nothing about becoming a Republic will change our culture – we will still play cricket and aspire to one day win the Cricket World Cup; Queen’s English will still be the dominant language and New Zealanders will still be as welcome as they have ever been in the United Kingdom.

Should New Zealand become a Republic, what are the types of Republic?

There are several types of Republic. The one that New Zealand is physically closest to in terms of governance is the Parliamentary Republic. This type means that the President would largely be a figure head with mainly ceremonial but also constitutional powers – greeting Heads of Government and Heads of State, appointing and dismissing Cabinet members and – heaven forbid this happen – enact any necessary declaration of war on a foreign power.

A Presidential Republic is more like the United States, where the President has a large role in the day to day running of the Government and may make key foreign policy decisions. This is in addition to the ceremonial and constitutional roles as mentioned above.

There are other types of Republic including Semi-Presidential Republic, where the Head of State takes responsibility for foreign policy whilst the Head of Government looks after domestic policy. Examples include France and Taiwan.

Other types exist as well, but these are the three types New Zealand would be most likely to vote for a number of simple reasons. New Zealand is not Islamic so therefore we cannot have an Islamic Republic. The best known such example is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Peoples Republic and Democratic Peoples Republic are typically aligned with Marxist-Leninist politics and with the exception of the Peoples Republic of China and Laos Peoples Democratic Republic, all have failed.

Republics are unstable, so why have one?

So are Monarch’s. Tonga, one of the worlds last Absolute Monarchy’s was plunged into devastating riots in 2006 as a result of widespread anger at the lack of democratic progress in the Government.

Swaziland (now Eswatini) is another. King Mswati III is well known for leading a luxurious lifestyle that is increasingly the cause of internal unrest, as well as international criticism. He holds all the powers of the state, as well as holding control over the legislature and the courts.