New Zealand First not as extinct as people think


For two years now, New Zealand First has slunk along at 2-3% in the polls, occasionally rising if one their Members of Parliament manages to get an Act of Parliament through or support significant legislation. It has not been the same since it decided to support Labour’s quest to end the nine year National-led Government.

Yes, Winston Peters is getting old and people are certainly wondering why he does not simply announce his retirement and be done with it. His detractors will be hoping that the current stubbornly low polling translates into electoral oblivion on 19 September 2020. Despite all of the many detractors Mr Peters and the New Zealand First party have, it is important to note that there is no clear cut centrist alternative should New Zealanders decide that New Zealand First is finished in September.

Whilst Prosperity Party exists, it is not ready for Parliament by a significant margin. The party, which was started by Helen Peterson was formed earlier this year to provide an alternative moderate voice in the political spectrum. Even if it did run a good campaign and get warmly received by voters disgruntled with New Zealand First, it is facing several challenges that are not of its making. For and clearly foremost is the 5% Party vote/1 electoral seat hurdle, which is a formidable jump for any out of Parliament party to attempt. Second, running on limited resources and lack of name recognition, it is still building up its basic regional networks and structures. This is not likely to be ready by September.

Whilst New Zealand seems to be experiencing a possible tectonic shift in politics at the moment, it is still too conservative for the Green Party. Mr Peters may have made a mistake attacking it a week ago by calling out their lack of experience. He knows that he can rely on New Zealand’s senior citizens to turn out at the polling both to support a party that despite some progress being made last decade in terms of turning it into a 21st Century organization. He knows that most are just wanting someone who will protect their pensions, ensure that their communities are safe – developing a green economy; housing; education; foreign policy and the environment are someone else’s problem.

I am an ex-New Zealand First voter as I believe that the party is hindering the socio-economic reforms necessary to enable New Zealand to address inequality. The party had a very good policy platform whilst I was a member. However a combination of adversity to a capital gains tax/wealth tax/land tax or other measure that would enable the investment necessary in our social welfare safety net, and it back tracking on the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, has led me to believe that levelling the playing field for those with lesser financial means, and ability.

Despite my loss of confidence in my old party, I do not believe New Zealand First to be an entirely spent force. Anyone who has followed Mr Peters and his uncanny knack of getting the party revived again and again, and believes this must surely be it, need only look at history. This is the party that was evicted from Parliament by voters who chose to that a donations racket involving New Zealand First and Sir Owen Glen was true. The Police found no wrong doing had been done, but it was not enough for the public. This is the party that no one other than party members believed would be back in 2011, but they were – 8 Members in all.

Winston Peters and his party will probably be back. Whether it is on the back of an electorate seat or by getting 5% of the party vote, only the voters in September will know the answer to that. But the voters who remember Labour in the 1980’s and National in the 1990’s taking the country apart with deregulation probably do not yet trust either enough to govern alone.

Opposition plan to rein in debt a stretch at best


In 1991, the then Minister of Finance Ruth Richardson presented probably the most infamous fiscal budget in New Zealand history. It was called the Mother of all Budgets. Controversial among even her colleagues to the point that it led to notable members of her National Party resigning from Parliament; from the National Party, the social service cuts that the budget enacted were some of the most savage in New Zealand history.

30 years later, with COVID19 afflicting the world and New Zealand, having managed to largely freed itself from the pandemic, trying to get its house back in order, National Party Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith wants another Ruthanasia-esque slash and burn.

I find it quite striking that Mr Goldsmith is so keen on this plan. This is particularly so when one considers that the same party has just indicated it is not keen on the idea of a health system overhaul, which would among other things;

  1. Better allocate funding for projects and resources
  2. Improve efficiency of monies distribution throughout the system
  3. Provide greater accountability to the Government and taxpayer

There are other Government ministries and departments that could do with an overhaul of how they work. One is Ministry of Social Development. I have described the issues facing them in various articles here, but it needs to be said that the legal framework under which M.S.D.’s umbrella agencies such as Study Link, Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Farmily Service need to be reviewed as well.

There is more to achieving savings though, than simply cutting expenditure. If the investment in appropriate services by the Government is not adequate, this can create additional unintended issues by locking up monies by throttling those services. Simple as it may sound, the lack of willingness by politicians to understand this is really quite incredible.

But I do not think anyone should be dreadfully surprised that National are trying failed methods for the umpteenth time to lower debt. The Government of Prime Minister John Key promised “a brighter future” for New Zealanders at large. Whilst it is true that this was certainly the case for the rich top 3-5% of New Zealanders, the vast majority of New Zealanders saw little or no meaningful improvement in their financial situations.

The $80 billion in cuts being proposed by National are – to put it very mildly – deep. Their Treasury spokesperson Paul Goldsmith suggested that within one decade his party would seek to reduce debt to below 30% of Gross Domestic Product.

To achieve that National have two choices:

  • Significant tax increases, or – more likely;
  • Significant cuts to public services across the board

Based on their philosophical stand point and strong aversion to increasing taxes, massive cuts across the board to public services are far more likely. But is it possible that those cuts will be so deep as to cause lasting damage to health, social welfare, education, policing, housing and other areas with a social focus?

Quite.

The last time such cuts were made, they were in the Mother of All Budgets presented by Mrs Richardson in 1991. Ruthanasia as it was crudely named by social activists at the time, was a systematic demolition in a single budget in 1991 of a solidly constructed welfare state. Social benefits were cut across the board; user pays were introduced for many requirements in hospitals and schools; state housing was handed over to companies under Government contract in all but name.

My generation of New Zealanders were in primary and intermediate school when these were announced. Having seen the intergenerational social effects of the framework of the welfare state being so deliberately assaulted, I think the push back would be substantial from both centrist and leftist New Zealand.

But am I sure that National cares?

No.

A week they say is a long time in politics: National’s truly shocking fortnight


“A week is a long time in politics” – Harold Wilson, two time British Labour Prime Minister

If one looks at the National Party’s last fortnight in New Zealand politics, nary a truer word has been spoken. In a 16 day period, National have lost Jian Yang, Todd Muller, Nikki Kaye, Amy Adams and Hamish Walker have all resigned, been fired or announced their retirement. It is not just the loss of so many Members of Parliament in such a short time that should be bothering National, but the manner in which they have announced their departures.

To be fair to National leader Judith Collins not all of these departures are of her making.

The departures of Michael Woodhouse and Hamish Walker were solely of their making. Both were made to pay the price for their respective roles in the leaking of details about COVID19 patients in the hope that planting a problem would make the Government take action. It back fired destructively and the public outrage was swift and massive. The Parliamentary career of Mr Walker ended when he announced his resignation from politics. Coming just a week after a racist click baiting claim that “up to 11,000 people from India, Pakistan and Korea” could be headed for COVID19 isolation in the lower South Island, a second act was unforgivable. As for Mr Woodhouse, he remains, but has been stripped of his spokesperson portfolio’s and will be hoping for a kinder public verdict on 19 September 2020. Mr Woodhouse might be lucky to survive, given that the New Zealand voting public have not yet forgotten that this is the same Member of Parliament who created a false story about a homeless man talking his way into a five star hotel.

Jian Yang announced his resignation a week ago on Friday 10 July. Mr Yang has for some time been linked to the Chinese Communist Party and has raised flags with regards to his honesty about what he really did at Luoyang University. His resignation removes a persistent distraction for the National Party. These concerns have existed for the duration of time he has been in Parliament, and whilst Ms Collins was a colleague of his in the government of former Prime Minister John Key, she was not necessarily in a position to get Mr Yang to come clean.

However, Ms Collins might be partially to blame for the departure of Amy Adams and Nikki Kaye. The former had announced her retirement earlier this year from politics, but had rescinded it when Mr Muller won the National Party leadership election on 22 May 2020. When Ms Collins won the leadership election on Monday night, Mrs Adams concluded that perhaps her original decision to retire was the right one after all. Mrs Adams achieved a high rank under Mr Key and was Minister of Justice and Minister for the Environment at one point or another. Widely seen as one of the leftist National Members of Parliament for her support of climate change measures, support for same sex marriage andHer departure reopens the race for a new National candidate in Selwyn Electorate.

Nikki Kaye spent months dealing with the effects of chemotherapy after discovering a lump in her breast one day. Ms Kaye says that during that time she realized life was too short and precious to be tied up in an all consuming role. Whilst in Parliament she was Minister of Education, Minister of Civil Defence and Accident Compensation Corporation. She was probably the most left leaning of all of the National Party Members of Parliament, and as such supported the Same Sex Marriage Act, the abortion legislation and the euthanasia legislation.

I suspect the departure of both women may at least in part have to do with Ms Collins being on the record as not having time for the Resource Management Act, wanting to rewrite the climate legislation and cracking down on gangs. Both were an asset to the Blue Green movement who I am sure will miss them.

Revitalizing the National Party


This article was being written when my father came in and announced Judith Collins, Member for Papakura, had won the National Party leadership contest caused by the sudden departure of former leader Todd Muller on Monday night. When writing it, I was not expecting a decision to be made before I scheduled it for publication.

Before I write about the challenge Ms Collins has ahead of her, I want to acknowledge the rough eight weeks that Mr Muller has had as Leader of the Opposition. In many ways I feel quite sorry for Mr Muller and his family, in terms of the how he has been treated. Politics, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters both noted can be a brutal arena. You are permanently on notice to perform. You have to be able to front the cameras even when you don’t want to. The hours can be horrendous, and yet life has to go on. Some are continuing to jump on him despite the revelations that he has had a mental health crisis. To me that is poor form, jumping on someone whose mental health has suffered. So I wish Mr Muller and his family well as he contemplates his future in politics.

But his departure leaves the National Party facing the same questions that they faced a mere 54 days ago. It leaves them with little time to put together a new plan. It has left them frantically taking signage that had probably only been erected that same weekend. It leaves them facing a massive task ahead if they are to summit Mt Jacinda.

But attempt it they must. And that is where I think they have an opportunity to be bold, daring and go a few places that they have never been before. Certain National Members of Parliament right now strike me as being the people of the hour, whilst others have never looked more past their use by dates than now.

If I were Ms Collins, I would be announcing some policies that would lay down the challenge to the Government and hopefully buy some time to sort out the internal obstacles. They might include scrapping district health boards in favour of the old Health Funding Authority model; replacing N.C.E.A. in schools; rewriting the Social Welfare Act. To galvanize the economy, National could announce a plan to install insulation in all social/state housing within five years; explore the possibility of hydrogen as a fuel from the waste stream; increase research and development expenditure to 2% of G.D.P.

In terms of National’s internal issues there are a few immediate steps that need to be taken immediately:

  • Whether by contract, by memorandum or by other means, National needs to get its M.P.’s on the same page about privacy, human rights and common decency and it needs to do so quickly – what has happened around the e-mailing of details to M.P.’s is not acceptable and those concerned should be very glad that the Police have not – YET – decided to press charges
  • The spokesperson portfolio’s need to be divided up again – there are a few obvious candidates. Shane Reti should be given Maori Affairs; Simon Bridges could be offered Justice; Mark Mitchell could have Corrections and Police; Nikki Kaye could be given the Environment portfolio
  • Come up with a new slogan

Strap in everyone. Just before I hit publish, I found out that Gerry Brownlee, Member for Ilam and a proponent of mining in national parks – at least he was in 2010 – is Deputy Leader. This is going to be a wild ten weeks in the run up to the 2020 General Election.

Is New Zealand First about to be subject of Serious Fraud Office announcement?


Minister for Fisheries Stuart Nash has apologized to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and New Zealand First Member of Parliament Shane Jones for comments made in a telephone call, which aired on television two nights ago. But as this apology goes to air, New Zealand First are facing the prospect of a potential Serious Fraud Office announcement, following revelations that Talleys Fisheries organized two New Zealand First fundraisers.

Perhaps this is related to another suspected fire onboard the good ship New Zealand First. For months there have been concerns about a New Zealand First Foundation, which Talleys has made donations totalling at least $27,000 to. The donations themselves, I should be clear now are not the problem. The problem is how they were handled – or not handled. If the N.Z.F.F. is not part of the party then the likely offences are corrupt or otherwise illegal practices. If the N.Z.F.F. IS a part of the Party then the Party Secretary could be accused of offences around the maintenance of records or failing to declare donations.

In March of this year, a former New Zealand First Member of Parliament and advisor Ross Meurant lifted the lid on his time in the party following an investigation into the N.Z.F.F. by Stuff in 2019.

Potentially serious stuff.

Irrespective of whether Mr Jones wanted to stop camera’s from being placed on fishing trawlers, there is a good case for them being there. Those of you who have followed this blog for awhile will know that I have been following the activities of trawlers around New Zealand, particularly after some serious incidents at the start of the 2010’s. New Zealand marine fisheries are viewed by some as a sort of wild west in terms of (un)lawful conduct, by other nations.

New Zealand’s human rights record, which I take more seriously, is also at risk if we do not make sure that fishing vessels are compliant with New Zealand law and be prepared to prosecute their owners then they are not. The Oyang case, the scampi and hoki allegations show that the actual corruption in the industry is as great as the potential corruption. That it involves Ministers of the Crown is something everyone should be paying attention to.