Report card for 52nd Parliament


The 52nd Parliament of New Zealand will be dissolved in a few days time to clear the deck for the 19 September 2020 General Election. It has 3 more sitting days, during which time there will be valedictory speeches by outgoing Members of Parliament. The Government will attempt to tidy up what it can of the remaining legislative agenda. The dissolution is a public event that, weather permitting, happens in front of the Parliament steps.

But whilst we wait for Parliament to wind up, it is time for the triennial Parliamentary Report Card, where I examine the performance of the individual parties in the three years since the 23 September 2017 General election.

A.C.T.

In a turbulent term where there was a mosque attack, a volcanic eruption and which currently has an out of control global pandemic, A.C.T. have been the surprise performer of the Parliamentary parties. This is not to say I want to see A.C.T.’s caucus grow at all since the party is almost completely contrary to everything I stand for, but credit where it is due. Mr Seymour has done good work on bringing legislation before Parliament on euthanasia. His support for decriminalizing abortion would have won him plaudits with female voters, and his libertarian approach to cannabis will give the base members something to cheer about. Mr Seymour cut a lonely figure when Parliament voted 119-1 to pass legislation restricting certain automatic firearms and has been the one Party to consistently resist work on climate change. For that his party looks like being reward in the polls with up to four more members joining him. GRADE: B+

GREENS

The Greens however are polling poorly at this time. Their support has not been the same since Metiria Turei was ousted over her admission of lying to Work and Income about her finances. With current polling of only 5%, the Greens look set to lose a couple of Members of Parliament. Despite being in their first coalition Government and having seats around the Cabinet table a combination of poor tactical decisions, not being able to achieve all that they wanted to (which no party in a coalition government ever can!)and some unfortunate negativity in the media has seen them lacking some of the flair that has been in past versions of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Releasing their manifesto at a time when minimal media attention was being paid, has not helped either. GRADE: B-

LABOUR

Labour took office in 2017 having pulled off one of the most stunning turn arounds in New Zealand political history. From the pre-election doldrums of 2017, staring down the barrel of one of the biggest election thrashings in recent times, and having had four leaders in nine year prior Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it needed a miracle. Since Labour took office it has been a wild roller coaster ride largely driven by events out of Ms Ardern’s control – a terrorist attack killing 51 innocent beings; a volcanic eruption causing New Zealand’s first direct volcanic fatalities since the 1914 lahar on Whakaari and – as of March 2020 a global pandemic. With each even Ms Ardern has not only risen to the challenge but owned it, employing a now respected cocktail of empathy and kindness for the victims, coupled with guidance by the experts and a no-nonsense tack. Both the terrorist attack and the pandemic have generated widespread approving media coverage of the Government. Even the misdemeanours of Clare Curran, David Clark and Meka Whaitiri seem to pale somewhat when considering the magnitude of what the Government has been grappling with. With public support for Labour at an historic M.M.P. era high it is their election to lose. GRADE A

NATIONAL

The largest party at the end of the 2017 election entered Parliament determined to make inroads on a Labour-led Government that among the usual hiccups that happen when a party is still trying to find its feet, many thought had tried to bite off too much. One thought that National might have quickly found its feet following the start of the new Parliament, but attacks were largely uncoordinated and the public were happy to give Labour a bit of time to find its feet. The 15 March 2019 terrorist attack was handled as graciously as National could, including the support offered to the Government. Leader Simon Bridges had  realized it was not his moment, but he had to front with the Prime Minister to show empathy. An eruption followed as did the onset of the pandemic. But frustrations about National’s inability to contain an increasingly popular Prime Minister were growing. In May 2020 they boiled over, with the rolling of Mr Bridges. His successor lasted 53 days during which time National had a dizzying plunge in the polls. Worsening the crisis was the outing of M.P.’s Hamish Walker, Michael Woodhouse and an admission that former Party President Michelle Boag. Another coup followed with Judith Crusher Collins finally getting to lead the party whose Papakura electorate she has been in since 2005. But a lack of definitive policy other than roads and woefully out of touch Ms Collins mean a third coup is probable before the end of the year. Maybe before the election. GRADE: D

NEW ZEALAND FIRST

It is not that New Zealand First have been useless in this Government. When you look at the work that Mr Peters has done on foreign affairs, including suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong; the work of Minister of Defence Ron Mark which has seen two critical equipment purchases that National had delayed, get made; and the work of Tracey Martin on children’s affairs, the party has actually made a substantial contribution. However its conservative side has shown in several instances that may serve to harm the Government further down the road – Shane Jones’ unwillingness to control his mouth is a liability. The retirement of Clayton Mitchell removes an M.P. tarnished by out of Parliament goings on. But how much longer can the aura Winston Peters last? Can the Brexit boys really revive the party, or will they kill it? And there is also the lingering plume of smoky donations from an unannounced fire somewhere in the party. GRADE: C+

Big changes looming for Resource Management Act


Yesterday the biggest amendment to the Resource Management Act – its possible complete overhaul, or replacement – was announced by the Minister for the Environment, David Parker. The announcement was of the release of a report by Tony Randerson, recommending the replacement of the Act.

Since it was formed, A.C.T. has been a proponent of scrapping the R.M.A. altogether. However when I have asked them what they would replace it with, usually the answer has been a stony silence or the subject has been changed.

Most National Party members I have talked to seem to be in a similar boat. They say that it would be replaced with sensible legislation, but no one has elaborated on what “sensible legislation” might look like.

New Zealand First and the Greens have not announced an R.M.A. related policy at the time of writing this. Labour has said that it will campaign on the recommendation of the report released yesterday.

But is it entirely the R.M.A.’s fault that it got to the state that we find it in today? Not necessarily. New Zealand was very slow to realize that the statutory plans each council is required to prepare varied wildly in terms of content, presentation and usability. It was not until 2017 that National Planning Standards were introduced.

The R.M.A., like any other Act of Parliament is only as good as its implementation. As the implementation of the Act falls to the various local councils, ministries and governments, it is they who must bear responsibility for this. As councils budgets are restricted by the size of their rate payer base, sometimes they have not got sufficient staff to adequately cover their statutory responsibilities. This can lead to half baked planning outcomes that were not properly thought through.

When the R.M.A. was first introduced it was about 400 pages long. Today it is about 800 pages long.

It will be interesting to read the Randerson report into one of New Zealand’s most controversial pieces of legislation, and see what the justifications are given.

Latest poll a warning written in red for National


The Newshub poll released yesterday would be enough to make any genuine conservative weep. For them this is a measure of the public’s absolute disgust with National’s performance on just about everything in the last several months. From the Governments response to COVID19, to leadership ructions to M.P.’s breaching COVID19 patients privacy National has seen an unprecedented run of bad news. So. Just how bad is this poll for National? Devastating. Here are the seats in the House if the election had been yesterday:

  • LAB: 77
  • NAT: 32
  • ACT: 04
  • GRE: 07

Whilst I still struggle to see Labour having an absolute majority on 19 September 2020, I see absolutely no way other than every other party in Parliament putting their ideologies aside if they are to challenge Labour. Thus I imagine Parliament would look like this:

  • LAB: 60
  • NAT: 36
  • ACT: 04
  • GRE: 11
  • NZF: 7
  • MAO: 2

Basically there is only one way to interpret this poll and that is that it is point blank warning written in vivid red ink for National. New Zealanders do not trust you to govern yourselves, so why should they entrust you with the governance of Aotearoa?

For New Zealand First, the Newshub poll will make for terrifying reading. After nearly 36 years of national level politics, it would suggest that the public have finally unequivocally had enough of Winston Peters and New Zealand First. The party loyalists of course will say otherwise, but in the same way that former Prime Minister John Howard was swept from office in 2007, it might be that New Zealanders have concluded the only way to address the socio-economic ills is to give Labour a freer hand in Government.

For A.C.T. both my poll and the Newshub polls will be a hollow victory. Four Members of Parliament will be great news for David Seymour, who will finally have a caucus to maintain. It will be great for A.C.T.’s right wing libertarian base who are smarting at the success of a Prime Minister many name “Taxinda/Cindy”. However it will be largely meaningless because without National anywhere near a position to provide them with coalition options, A.C.T. will at best be able to only put up limited resistance to law changes that they do not like in Parliament.

It is also a blinding hit on the right wing parties that among other things think Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a Communist; that COVID19 is a scam and the United Nations is a vehicle for a New World Order agenda. It is effectively saying New Zealanders think you are too bat crazy to be entrusted with a respectable portion of the out of Parliament vote, never mind a seat in the House of Representatives.

For the Greens, my poll is an acknowledgement of their efforts at writing solid policy, which is something that seems to be eluding other parties and to some extent the media that follow them. It acknowledges the fact that they have had some policy wins whilst dealing with New Zealand First, whose leader Winston Peters elected to attack in his keynote address last week at the New Zealand First Convention.

For Labour, if you take the Newshub poll and made the date 19 September 2020, this could be construed as a massive mandate by the public of New Zealand to enact comprehensive reform across the board. It would be a once in a generation election It would be a nod to the fact that there really is nothing wrong with “kindness” or “compassion”. I would expect to see a quite comprehensive social plan rolled out. Anything less would be to squander what would be Labours greatest day since before National’s last drubbing in 2002.

O’Brien attack article lowers New Zealand journalistic standards


Yesterday afternoon following revelations a now resigned National Party Member of Parliament had sent indecent images to multiple young women, a Newshub journalist wrote an attack article criticizing the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition for “letting down” National Party Member of Parliament Andrew Falloon (Rangitata).

There are several quite wrong aspects to Ms O’Brien’s article, which I set out below. Before I do, I want to set down the sequence of events that happened which led to this.

Mr Falloon, came to the Police attention after a lady came forward to say that he had sent her indecent images. The lady, now 19, was apparently still a high school student when she received them. The Police investigated and concluded that that on its own was not enough to charge Mr Falloon and dropped the investigation. Last week Ms Ardern’s office was notified of an e-mail from the complainant and after obtaining permission from the complainant passed on the e-mail to Ms Collins’ office. Her office contacted Mr Falloon who did not say anything more about the alleged incident. With nothing to go on, her office waited until Monday morning.

During the weekend, based on Mr Falloon’s original explanation it was understood that he had some kind of mental break down. People were sympathetic because at that time the sending of the images was not known about.

On Monday morning Ms Collins rang Mr Falloon for an explanation. He admitted what happened. Within couple of hours a second complainant came forth and then a third. The public sympathy evaporated and so did Ms Collins’ patience. Mr Falloon was told to leave. Following the explanation she went public and told the media that Mr Falloon was expected to resign from Parliament immediately. He surrendered his candidacy for Rangitata that afternoon and his Parliamentary resignation followed shortly afterwards.

So what are the issues raised?

First, Ms O’Brien ignores the bigger issue at play here. She argues that Ms Collins and Ms Ardern are responsible for letting down Mr Falloon, when in actual fact the only person who let down Mr Falloon was himself. Mr Falloon is the sole culprit in sending those images to the young ladies who have come forward to complain.

Second, the Prime Minister and Ms Collins’ both handled the complaint well. Ms Ardern’s office made a demonstrable attempt to get permission to forward the e-mail, which was granted. Her office then tried to get hold of Ms Collins’ Chief of Staff to explain what was going on all on the same day.

For her part Ms Collins’ cannot be blamed for Mr Falloon not telling her straight up until prompted. She had reason at that point to believe he was being honest and had had some kind of break down. When she was finally told she was quick and decisive.

Perhaps though, the most disturbing aspect of the opinion piece by Ms O’Brien is that it basically amounted to disinformation. I have described disinformation in the past and it can be effectively likened to lying. A journalist, like any other human being who lies quickly loses respect. The extent to which that will apply in this instance is yet to be seen, but the very negative reaction so far suggests it could be substantial.

At the end of the day Ms O’Brien had an opinion piece to write. But it does not change the fact that it is a shockingly thought out one that exposes a clear and demonstrable bias. It also – unfortunately for both the reporter in question and New Zealand journalists at large – leaves a rather messy smear on the fourth estate’s reputation in New Zealand.

Perhaps the one who should be doing the apologizing is – as has been suggested – Tova O’Brien.

 

New poll still shows Labour in the lead


A new Colmar-Brunton poll that came out yesterday still showed Labour maintaining a lead strong enough to form a Government on its own.

No one should be too surprised that the polls have narrowed. I expect that they will narrow further in the coming weeks, before being determined by how well the individual parties perform on the campaign trail; how good their policies are and whether any high profile Members of Parliament make a damaging gaffe.

Yesterday’s Colmar Brunton poll had the following results:

  • Labour = 50% or 62 seats
  • National = 38% or 45 seats
  • Greens = 6% or 7 seats
  • N.Z. First = 2% 2 seats if an electorate seat won; out of Parliament if no electorate seat won
  • A.C.T. = 1% / 1 seat if David Seymour holds Epsom
  • Maori = 1% / 1 seat if it wins Maori electorate
  • New Conservative = 1% / Out of Parliament

National has made some inroads because that peak of 59% for Labour was never going to hold up, much as the left would have absolutely loved it to. But National are still a long way behind Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party. Adding seven Green seats would give them enough to push through some of the more controversial measures that would help improve the gaping social inequality in this country. I imagine though that polling will tighten further in the next two months assuming National do not make any really big mistakes.

For National to make inroads into Labour, Michael Woodhouse needs to be put in his place quickly, because he is shooting off claims that have no substance and smack of desperation. Nikki Kaye needs to be reassigned to another role – perhaps as Senior Whip and perhaps given Education or something significant to keep her occupied. Todd Muller needs to come up with an original policy platform that does not involve the same tired old tricks, that would have worked long ago if they were going to work at all. Failing that, Labour will be the closest it has ever been to forming a stand alone Government.

For the Greens, whilst they would still be in Parliament, this might be another reminder of how far they have fallen since Metiria Turei admitted to benefit fraud. The party that I thought might – prior to the admission – pick up 16 or 17 seats in 2017 – has not really been the same since. The admission was one thing, but failing to be able to say it had already been addressed with Work and Income New Zealand cost the Greens thousands of voters who they might not get back.

For New Zealand First, a party I used to have a lot of time for, all the current poll is doing is continuing to show that its toxic combination of internal politics and divisive Members of Parliament, are undermining the good work done by the grass roots. Winston Peters might be the person no one should write off, but what if people decided that New Zealand First is really Winston First, as a National party member I once had a debate with, suggested?

As for David Seymour, A.C.T.’s vote have pretty much terminally collapsed outside of Epsom. He is pretty much a one man band trying to do everything. As such he has to get the party to help him chose which battles to fight and which ones to steer clear of. If in the unlikely case he does pick up extra votes, you can think his work around euthanasia and a decision to support the abortion legislation for that.

With this in mind, here is how I envisage an election today would have gone:

  • Labour 47% = 57 seats
  • National 38% = 46 seats
  • Greens 7% = 8 seats
  • N.Z. First 5% = 6 seats
  • A.C.T. = 1% = 1 seat
  • Maori = 2% = 2 seats – I do not think Labour will hold all of the Maori seats

New Conservative will most probably suck up the conservatives who have lost faith in National, but the 5% threshold or a seat in Parliament will be too much for them. Any disgruntled Green members may look at Social Credit, which has been placing expensive colour adverts in the Sunday Star Times.