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.
Yesterday I published Part 2 of my thoughts on election policy . This is Part 3. In the continued absence of Labour announcing substantial policy to kick the election into gear, and National apparently unable – and/or unwilling! – to control their caucus, I believe it is important for New Zealand to get on with discussing the issues and the policies that are going to make this country tick.
Each election I see go past without bold ideas as to how New Zealand might rejuvenate its Economy, is one where I wonder how much impact the toxic neoliberal influence is having on the country. I have already opined about some of those ideas in earlier posts, so this one instead will look labour and crime issues, and why continuing dilly dallying is costing New Zealand.
- Increasing the effectiveness of the regulatory process that the establishment of New Zealand companies must go through
- Increasing penalties for organized crime – including heavier jail sentences, loss of passports and confiscation of ill gotten property
- If they have not already been done so, the rest of John Shewan’s recommendations should be examined with a view to implementing them
- All new companies should be guided by a mentor until they develop and give effect to protocols around staff management; reporting of profits
Our natural Environment is unique, and we are lucky here that heavy attempts to exploit it, the beautiful natural environment that brings tourist dollars into this country and makes it such a special place to live is still in comparatively good condition. But it will not last if we continue to allow unsustainable development of our resources and fail to respect the mana whenua of the tangata whenua of New Zealand. Priorities include fresh water management; waste reduction; carbon emissions and our rapacious appetite for raw minerals. I propose:
- Full implementation of the National Policy Statement on Fresh Water Management, 2020 (took effect at 0000 hours this morning).
- Reducing the average age of our vehicle fleet to 10 years by stopping imports on any that were made 10 or more years ago;
- Substantially increasing investment in railways to get trucks off the road
- A comprehensive mineral recovery scheme from e-waste
- Complete the R.M.A. review
For too many years, I believe New Zealanders have watched their rights slowly get eroded by a combination of Government policy, a deteriorating international situation and a lack of safeguards built into the ad hoc framework of laws that is the New Zealand Constitution. These issues few seem to recognize because they are gradual, rather like the afternoon shadows. Whilst recognizing a constitutional framework is only as good as each Government, I believe there is room for improvement. I propose:
- A referendum on whether to adopt a formal constitution
- An overhaul of the Constitution Act to prevent key acts such as the Human Rights Act, Bill of Rights Act being usurped by radicals
- Introduce civics in schools – although I have heard from former United Future M.P. Peter Dunne that this is indeed happening, he has not given me a timetable
I hope that this article and the two over the two previous days have given you an idea of what I support.
This is Part 2 of my thoughts on election policy for 2020. In Part 1 I listed health, justice and green technology as areas of concern for me. I described briefly what made these policy areas important.
My Education policy has not changed vastly in the last three years. Whilst the 1989 blueprint called Tomorrow’s Schools had a vision then, the 30 years of neoliberal reform that have followed have left an ugly patchwork of holes where students with learning difficulties have been left behind and have fallen through the cracks. Maori and Pasifika students are finding that despite attempts by the system to be more inclusive, the school leavers rate is too high. The curriculum and how we teach it needs to be revisited and Parent Teacher Associations need to get realistic about how much social work we expect teachers to do. Therefore:
- I advocate for the introduction of a new assessment regime simply called “Year __ Certificate” with course assessment regimes being 50/50 internal/external for Year 11-13;
- revisit what we teach at schools and how – in Year 11 everyone sits the compulsory English course and have four choices, to which I would add Civics in Year 12;
- an expanded refurbishment programme for lower decile schools to make them safe/healthy
As we recover from COVID19 and head towards the next election, no closer to knowing what will replace oil and gas than when the Government made the announcement, Energy has not surprisingly become a significant issue for me. Whilst agreeing that oil and gas are sunset industries, it is more like mid afternoon and New Zealand needs to do significant reinforcing of infrastructure, research into the diversification of renewable sources and where new comers like Waste-to-Energy might fit in. I propose:
- Exploring W.t.E. plants for the West Coast and potentially Auckland and Wellington
- Research the viability of pumped storage hydro for Clutha, Waitaki and Waikato rivers
- A nation wide retrofit of all state houses not upgraded in the last few years with pink bats and/or double glazing
- No more asset sales
- Incentives for corporates that look to reduce power bills
As COVID19 bites, one of the unfortunate experiences a lot of New Zealanders will be experiencing is applying for Social Welfare. Since Labour came to office in 2017, I have been hoping for a massive overhaul of the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Families Service as well as Studylink. The Minister in charge, Carmel Sepuloni has however been noting more than hot air and no action, and as a consequence there are now credible fears of another Work and Income style attack where a gunman walked into a branch and shot dead two workers. In order to prevent that, but also to address concerns about the abject lack of humanity sometimes found in the offices of M.S.D.’s umbrella agencies, I propose:
- Overhauling the Social Welfare Act, which governs M.S.D. and its operations;
- Append benefits to inflation, top up benefits for disabled, long term illness;
- Overhaul the working culture of M.S.D. agencies
Over the next three nights I look at policies that I would like to see be given effect by New Zealand politicians. Every three years just before an election campaign kicks off, I go back over my thoughts from previous elections and revisit ideas put forward either by politicians, or ones that I came up with. In the name of keeping my policies current I run a three strand rule of thumb over them:
- Did they have a modicum of realism – i.e. is there any realistic chance of a N.Z. political party giving effect to any them
- How badly does New Zealand need those issues addressed
- Is there any party in New Zealand that has seriously thought about these
In this part I look at justice, housing and the need for a technological economy.
In Justice I have noticed that the spectrum is a double edged sword. On the right of the sword, you have the proponents of a heaver sentencing regime. These are typically conservative, pro-Police, pro-judge – although they talk about restorative justice many of these typically just want a heavy sentence to be handed down without real about what they want from it. I therefore propose:
- Introducing alternative sentencing for non serious crimes that do not involve danger to ones life; introduce 1wk jail sentences for those who flee the Police at stops;
- Legalize cannabis to decrease the rate of minor drug offending; increase sentencing regime available for Class A drugs like methamphetamine
- Heavier sentences for employers who exploit staff, particularly those not from New Zealand
- Introduce extra training for Police to improve trust between them and Maori and Pasifika communities
Science and technology is always something I have thought to be rather underfunded. New Zealand has long had one of the lower rates of investment into research science and technology. I believe that this would go some distance towards discouraging scientists to remain in the country, and why those that do like Dr Siouxsie Wiles who stick around and take a leading role become more high profile, both in terms of recognition, but unfortunately also troll attacks. These jobs and additional ones providing technical support have the potential to be well paying jobs in the respective regards.
I also believe that science and technology can go some distance towards reducing our environmental footprint on Planet Earth. However it is going to require a rethink about how we live as a society. Coming at a time when we are fighting COVID19 and dealing with increasingly urgent signals about the dangers of our worsening environment, I propose the following:
- A systemic reinvestment in science at high school and at University, with an increase in the R.S.T. funding pool to 2% of G.D.P. – this will partially assist in luring top notch researchers bake home
- Spread 80-90% of the funding across three or four broad areas instead of diluting it down across many areas – renewables; medicine; nano-technology; environment are my preferences
- Research pros and cons of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel source
Health is the third area I want tackle tonight. It has been highly prominent as a result of COVID19 this year. With Canterbury D.H.B. in a state of disarray and many other D.H.B.’s struggling to rein in their spending, it is important to revisit how well D.H.B.’s work and whether New Zealand should go towards a more centralized model. Continuing issues with how Pharmac purchases medications and the lack of availability of cancer drugs used overseas is another.
But it will be without doubt the strain that COVID19. On one hand the health system has done extraordinarily well in its biggest crisis in decades. It did not collapse; the medics, doctors and nurses as well as specialists performed heroics. Yet I find several things that need to be done:
- Improve the communications system used by staff – too many unnecessary and potentially costly errors being made, with potentially massive consequences
- Review the D.H.B.’s and see whether a clean out or complete restructuring is needed
- Prepare for a potentially worse COVID19 outbreak than the current surge in New Zealand
Just when you thought the 52nd Parliament had risen from its national stage, the 120 members of the cast that have been providing our national level politics for the last three years are back with an encore. Settle back into your seats for one last – brief – encore where everyone can look forward to seeing/hearing more about how National is simply not fit to govern; why Labour whilst appearing assured of a second term should not be resting on their laurels; the impact of the little parties like New Conservative, A.C.T., the Greens and New Zealand First could have on the election.
One might have seen this coming. After Auckland went into lock down to try to flush out the current COVID19, the suitability of having an election when different parts of the country would have got differing levels of electioneering simply did not fit the needs of New Zealanders or the desire of political parties. The only thing to do was to move the date of the election back, which the Government did on Monday. An extra month also ensures that the 5,000 or New Zealanders who would have been too young to vote in the first one, but who turn 18 shortly after would be able to vote in this important event.
So, how did it go yesterday? Did the children of the House behave or did people get kicked out? Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Judith Collins clashed over some of the newer allegations. Then there was New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters asking for heads to roll over the failure of the Government to institute mandatory testing of quarantine and isolation staff. Mr Peters was vague when pressed on who should resign and appeared to suggest that the Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Minister of Health Chris Hipkins might be preferences without actually saying so.
So let us see how the encore goes. It is a very rare event in New Zealand to have the election postponed. It remains to be seen what will be on the Parliamentary agenda given that it rises in proper in a months time and that the Government tried to finish what it could of its legislative agenda prior to initially rising.