Party performance in Parliament a year out from 2017

By this time in 2017, New Zealand will either be in the throes of an election campaign or be watching the next Government in whatever form it may come, be taking shape in Wellington. With a year or less to go, how are the parties in Parliament shaping up?

National: Old and tired. This party has enjoyed the limelight for 8 years now and despite its high polling a year out from the 2017 general election a swag of issues including crime, housing, social welfare, education, the environment and health are beginning to combine to drag down support. None of the Ministers have sought to excel, much less actually done so, with communication (or a lack of)dragging them collectively down. Third term blues counting against it winning a fourth term. GRADE: C

Labour: Showing the first real signs of promise in the polls with an 8% climb recently. However it is still a long way behind National, and Andrew Little is struggling to gain popularity in the preferred Prime Minister stake. It has much work still to be done on policy, as well as matching them with the strongest voices in their Parliamentary ranks – the exception being Jacinda Ardern whose consistently strong voice on social welfare. Possible that New Zealanders may vote for Labour just to get rid of a third term Government. GRADE: C+

New Zealand First: Doing well in its traditional areas, and showing promise with Fletcher Tabuteau on economic policy and Tracey Martin on education, both of whom have solid experience in these areas. The media prefer to ignore the party or give them a couple of sentences at the bottom of articles. Denis O’Rourke has been working steadily on Christchurch and railways. Needs to run a well organized election campaign. Could cause the shock of the 2017 election if well organized. GRADE: B

Greens: Holding ground, but do not seem to be scoring any large hits. Whilst having clear support for environmental policies, the party has been less successful on justice, housing, and an array of other issues. It has capable Members of Parliament in Julie Anne Genter, Gareth Hughes and James Shaw. Their ongoing appeal to younger people needs to be tapped into if they are to get more seats in Parliament. Competing with New Zealand First for Labour’s attention. GRADE: B-

United Future: Peter Dunne has always been a mystery to me. On one hand we see eye to eye on a Republic, civics in schools and human rights – he has often been on the apologies list for Amnesty International New Zealand Annual Meetings – but on the other his support for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, for National in office on legislation I thought a centrist would have voted against, I have found disappointing. Can Mr Dunne become more than a one man band? Maybe, but United Future would have to lift its game substantially. GRADE: C

A.C.T.: That other one man band, has – for a party of the far right (I won’t call them libertarian, because their corporate nous is stronger than their small government principles permit) – done well with David Seymour’s die with dignity bill getting praise from corners that would normally want nothing to do with A.C.T. Mr Seymour has also been able to see his charter schools idea get advanced by National. But that is where it stops because National could destroy A.C.T. in 2017 simply by standing a strong candidate in Epsom and not doing a deal with a party New Zealanders rightfully thought was dead and buried. GRADE: D

Maori Party: Regardless of what mana Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox might have with Maoridom, there is no doubt in my mind that this party has been a colossal failure. Oh sure it was formed by Tariana Turia to oppose Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Act, but a one issue part is never going to get far in the New Zealand Parliament. Its failure to advance the social needs of Maori and stem the shocking rates of involvement in crime, poverty and other negative socio-economic assessment areas. It is only because of the Maori seats that the Maori Party exists at all – would it be a loss to New Zealand if it disappeared? GRADE: D

The not very original budget of 2016-17

Prime Minister John Key said the Budget was better to be boring than to be “excitingly terrible”. He is half right. It was a terrible budget. I did not have terribly high hopes for it, but in many respects it seems like a Budget that was very deliberately written to inflict further fiscal grief on sections of Government that are already suffering dreadfully. But there was nothing terribly exciting.

The Opposition did their job today, closing ranks and launching a sustained attack on the 8th Fiscal Budget of the fifth National led Government. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters called it the “Get Stuffed Budget”. Labour leader Andrew Little  called it “pretty mediocre”. Even United Future leader Peter Dunne, who has been better remembered over the last few years for supporting Mr Key’s Government, called it boring.

Some of the priorities were right, but the most critical ones were not addressed and some that should not have even made the starting gun, were included, such as regional roading at a time when public transport and the merchant marine need assistance. The expenditure’s I had in mind were comparatively modest too.

My focus on the health system was intended to address two major problems:

  1.  The very long waiting list of people needing major surgery, such as knee, hip and organ replacements
  2. The mental health crisis that has exploded, and which may in part be responsible for some of the more violent crimes involving people who have committed offences that can be linked back to their state of mental well being

To fund that I was thinking $500 million to get as many people off the waiting lists as possible – $96 million is positive, but still leaves a large number of people behind. Due to the Christchurch earthquakes causing long term stress issues, putting $200 million over 3 years to initiatives dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would not have been out of place.

Setting aside $1 billion over a couple of years for improving and increasing Housing New Zealand’s stock should have been a priority. However the Government continues to believe no crisis exists, despite $200 million being allocated for social housing.

Perhaps though one good thing that came of the Budget was a further increase in the amount that smokers would have to pay for their tobacco products. However, for the sake of making sure it does not encourage an underground industry that promotes more powerful substances, involves the black market and is connected with criminal activity, smoking should not become illegal. And to that end, further increases to the price beyond what are proposed, should not occur.

All in all it was a not very original Budget. National is clearly saving for a 2017 spend up or a round of tax cuts.


Opposition to T.P.P.A. grows as signing date nears

The date has been set: the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will be signed in New Zealand on 04 February 2016.

For the governments of twelve nations, this will be a major litmus test to see how well their people respond to a new Free Trade Agreement – one of the largest ever conceived. It will also be a moment of huge pride for them, being able to say that they have fulfilled a promise to take down barriers to free trade with other nations. For Prime Minister John Key and recently resigned Tim Groser, who has now left Parliament to take up an Ambassadorship to none other than the United States, this is the defining moment of their entire trade agenda. This is what they want to be remembered by.

And remember it New Zealand shall – as one of the dodgiest international agreements of any sort that we have entered into, roundly despised by human rights activists, environmentalists, civil libertarians, lawyers as well as many businesses who are concerned that it will crush small Ma and Pa stores. It is an agreement that says not a word about how it should tackle the ever encroaching issue of climate change. It is an agreement with apparently only five chapters out of 29 devoted to actual trade.

It is an agreement that has politicians ringing the alarm bells in the centre and left wing parts of the New Zealand political spectrum. From Winston Peters, leader of New Zealand First to the Greens, and most recently Labour the chorus of defiance is growing. Even the Maori Party is coming out in opposition, having finally realized that it will undermine the effect of their Treaty of Waitangi settlements, and thus be hugely damaging not only to them, but to Aotearoa at large. Aside from National, whose Members of Parliament have had their hands tied by the Prime Minister, only the one man bands of Peter Dunne and David Seymour support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

And how will it be implemented? The next two years are loaded with political events of both national and international significance. Before the year 2016 ends the U.S. will elect a new President, which will effectively tie up the United States – i.e. distract them – from about now until 2017. This is also election year in Australia, where the government of Malcolm Turnbull, who succeeded Tony Abbott after a caucus revolt will be up for election. Although Mr Turnbull has managed to undo some of the damage Mr Abbotts Government did, he faces a significant fight with a Labor Party that smells blood. That will tie up Australia somewhat as well.

And then there is New Zealand. The current Parliamentary term ends in 2017 and politicians will be on the campaign trail from probably not later than August 2017. As National is in its third term of holding office, the historic odds do not favour a fourth term in Government. The polls still favour National, but the winds of change are starting to blow.

So, anyway, whilst we wait for 04 February 2016 to roll around, here is a reading assignment.


The one man bands propping up John Key

Prime Minister John Key has two allies in Parliament he owes the continuing success of his Government to, at a time when the rest of New Zealand is beginning to finally tire of Brand Key. These are two one man band parties who have stubbornly – often against their philosophy, and certainly against the pollsters views – supported National’s tenure in office, even when nearly every electorate in New Zealand has outright rejected them.

Much as Peter Dunne has completely sold out on his supposedly centrist platform, Ohariu Belmont seem to be keen to keep him in office. United Future began life under Mixed Member Proportional just before the 2002 election, as a result of the Future New Zealand party and a more liberal United New Zealand party merging. Mr Dunne’s strong performance in a televised debate during the election campaign that year drew away supporters from several other parties, and United Future increased its size to nine Members of Parliament. It almost immediately lost a Member of Parliament when Kelly Chal was made to resign after being found not to be a New Zealand citizen. In 2005 it was cut down to three Members of Parliament as a result of a resurgent National Party. Mr Dunne chose to support Labour in confidence and supply, enabling the Helen Clark led Government to last a third term. United Future was cut down to one Member of Parliament in 2008.

For the last 7 years United Future has been a one man band. Sitting on the cross benches, Mr Dunne has used his position to enable legislation that would have otherwise been defeated pass through the House of Representatives. It will be interesting to see how long Mr Dunne can hold out in Ohariu before another party rolls him there.

A.C.T. is a party with nine lives. It has survived oblivion in more Parliamentary terms than many of the current M.P.’s have held their current jobs. It was born just before 1996 election and picked up eight seats, which became useful for National when its coalition with New Zealand First unravelled over asset sales in 1998. From 1999 to 2005 it held nine seats in Parliament before internal ructions and the departure of Richard A range of scandals over the years from 2008-2014 slowly undid A.C.T. to the point where it was widely thought to be a party dead in the water  – fraudulent use of a dead baby’s identity, failure to declare election donations (the charges for which have since been overturned), to name a few. Battered, bloodied and reviled by the majority though, A.C.T. continued to fight, first with Rodney Hide managing to hold on to Epsom until he resigned in 2011 in time for John Banks to take over before the election. Mr Banks resigned in 2014 because of allegations of failing to declare donations from Kim Dotcom and was charged before a court. Before Mr Banks resigned, Mr Seymour was selected as A.C.T.’s Epsom candidate for the 2014 election. He entered Parliament initially to fill the vacancy left by Mr Banks’ resignation, and then after the election as Member of Parliament for Epsom.

David Seymour, the solitary A.C.T. Member of Parliament has John Key to be thankful for in many ways. Mr Key could have – and if he had, many on the left would have been hugely grateful – told his supporters in Epsom to vote for Paul Goldsmith, but instead told them to vote for Mr Seymour. A.C.T. would have been out of Parliament had Dr Goldsmith won this seat.

Although I personally still hope to see the destruction of A.C.T., a party that I believe can only ever regain its values by starting over completely, I have come to accept that as long as Epsom wants an A.C.T. Member of Parliament when the rest of New Zealand does not, it shall survive. Although I think United Future has sold out on its supposedly centrist values by failing to check key pieces of legislation passed by National, it appears Peter Dunne has the support of Ohariu Belmont and a purpose as a cross bench Government supporter.

Defence of Trans Pacific Partnership a joke

For years now the Government of Prime Minister John Key has been trying to defend the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. The massive so called Free Trade Agreement that he and his colleagues argue will bring major benefits to the New Zealand economy and consumers, is a 12 nation deal that when complete will encompass the worlds two biggest economies and a host of other G-20 nations.

The longer that the Government tries to defend the Trans Pacific Pàrtnership, the sillier it looks. It is quite plain that the public are losing confidence in the Governments assurances that the T.P.P. is in New Zealand’s interests. Leaked information suggests that none of the gains often parroted by Government ministers are actually going to occur and that costs for medication will increase. There is also substantial concern about the Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses that are allegedly in the text.

The Minister of Trade, who has been privy to the details all along insists that the preferred method of negotiation is to  keep the details secret until the draft has been agreed upon by the nations involved. Then, Mr Groser says, it would be open for discussion. But recently it has become clear that none of this is true. It has become clear that New Zealanders and Parliament will only be able to see the text, not after it has been agreed to, but after it has been signed off.

Thus it is all the more incredible that Mr Groser believes New Zealanders are misinformed. Mr Groser and his National Party colleagues however refuse to attend the public meetings that are being organized to air concerns. I understand that in Christchurch on 10 August 2015 a public meeting with all political parties in Parliament invited to attend was organized to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Every Opposition party turned up. Not one Minister of the Crown or National caucus Member of Parliament showed up. Nor did A.C.T. or United Future, both of whom believe it is somehow a good deal for New Zealand. Quite how we are supposed to be informed when those in the know do not want to tell us is beyond me.

And it was dear old John Key who famously said that if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear. So, Mr Prime Minister, may I ask what you and Mr Groser are hiding?