Electorate accommodation could backfire on both parties

October 18, 2017

Is an electorate accommodation on offer in an effort to woo Winston Peters?

Many commentators think this will be his last term. That has been said    before and while each time it’s said he’s a bit older, there’s no certainty he’ll be any keener on retirement in 2020 than he has been before.

Whether or not he stands again, the party is at risk of slipping below the 5% threshold and out of parliament unless it wins a seat.

But even if Peters wants to contest another election, it’s unlikely he’d risk standing and not winning an electorate. He’s won three but also lost them, he won’t want to lose another.

His repeated criticism of National for allowing electorate accommodations for Act and United Future, would open him to criticism should he ask for one to give him a better chance. But doing what he’s criticised others for doing isn’t usually a problem for him.

However, the people of Northland tired of him in less than a term and voted for Matt King instead. He will spend the next three years doing the hard work a good electorate MP does and winning the loyalty of voters by doing so.

They are unlikely to show enthusiasm for ignoring that and voting Peters back in, even if they’re given a very strong message from National to do so.

Other electorates that have been suggested where National might stand aside are Whangarei and Wairarapa.

Accommodations worked in Ohariu and Epsom. But Peter Dunne already held Ohariu when National’s then leader Jim Bolger gave the wink and nod to voters to give his party the party vote but vote for Dunne as the electorate MP.

Act’s Rodney Hide didn’t need an accommodation to win Epsom the first time. He won the seat from Richard Worth without any help from National.

In successive elections, National’s candidate campaigned only for the party vote making it easier for Hide and then David Seymour to win the electorate vote.

But that is very different from asking voters to drop support for a sitting MP to allow a New Zealand First candidate to win the electorate.

There will be no enthusiasm for that from National members and absolutely no guarantee that enough voters would be prepared to turn their backs on their MP in favour of the NZ First candidate.

It would be a very risky move which could backfire on both parties.



Ask not what the government can do for you

October 17, 2017

In Paraguay last month we visited a remote estancia.

The owners had built a school for the children of their staff and others in the area.

A couple of days later we visited another isolated farm and processing business. The owner is building a secondary school to provide a local option for children when they progress from the primary school her father built nearly 30 years ago.

These people saw a need they knew the government couldn’t meet. Instead of bemoaning that, they acted.

Such philanthropy might be anathema to those who oppose private education but from what we saw it works for the children and their parents.

It made me think about how readily people here look to the government to solve problems and fund the solutions.

That can be a good option but it isn’t always the best one and shouldn’t always be the first one.

Sometimes, instead of asking what the government can do for us, we should be asking what we can do for ourselves, and others.

The answer might surprise us and New Zealand could be a better place for it.


Mañana = not today

October 16, 2017

Mañana translates as tomorrow.

But a Spaniard told me when referring to a time commitment it means not today which effectively means an undefined, and often distant, time in the future.

Winston Peters allegedly posed as an Italian at university. He might not claim Spanish blood too, but his attitude to time has a similarly frustrating elasticity to that of the Spanish mañana.

In July he said:

“I make this guarantee that whatever decision New Zealand First arrives at post-election, it will be made public by the day the writs are returned, which is within three weeks from polling day.”

Writ day came and went last Thursday and negotiations were wrapped up between Peters’ party and both National and Labour but there was no decision.

All parties have to run what was agreed past their boards before anything is made public. That shouldn’t be difficult but of course nothing with NZ First is simple.

Given Peters’ guarantee, about the date, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect that his board would have made travel arrangements earlier and been prepared to meet on Friday or over the weekend.

But they hadn’t and weren’t.

. . . “We are doing the best we can in the way we can best organise it … this country is the same size as Japan. The same size as the UK. We are not a little island nation. It takes people time to organise things, particularly since we are coming up to Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Peters told media this afternoon. . . 

Instead, the board is expected to meet today.

Whether they’re able to come to the serious consensus Peters said would be required, is open to question.

Little in known about the board members and Peters declined to give their names.

Such secrecy from any other party would have Peters advancing conspiracy theories and thundering about the need for transparency. But of course, it’s one rule for him and another for everyone else.

RNZ found a list of probable board members and Newshub got some brief information on most of them.

But whoever they are, only Peters’ biggest fans would believe that they wouldn’t agree to whatever he says.

So it is possible there will be consensus and maybe we’ll know the makeup of the next government soon, though that might be not be today, or even tomorrow, which could mean the Spanish not today rather than the day after today.

But whenever he makes his decision and announcement, Peters’ propensity to mean anything but what he says, leaves me thinking that no government is preferable to one with him in it.

That isn’t a long term option which leads to the question I think people on both the blue and red side of the political spectrum are wondering about:  is being out of government preferable to being in one with NZ First?

Winners losers, losers winners?

October 12, 2017

Karl du Fresne is right – this is all arse-about-face:

. . . In any half-rational political system, it would be the parties which between them won more than 81 percent of the vote, not Peters with his measly share, that determined the course of negotiations. A minor player such as New Zealand First, if it had genuine respect for democracy, would accept that its negotiating strength should be proportionate with its level of popular support. But again, this is Peters we’re talking about. And sadly he’s encouraged in his delusions by both the media, which can’t resist stroking his ego (for example, by calling him the kingmaker), and by the major parties, whose attempts to appease Peters come perilously close to grovelling.

Pardon the expression, but this is all arse-about-face. It’s demeaning to democracy. We’ve heard a lot over the years about the tail-wagging-the-dog scenario under MMP. Well, here it is writ large, and unfolding before our very eyes.

It’s a situation rich in irony. We voted for the introduction of MMP primarily to punish our politicians and bring them to heal. We were fed up with their broken promises. We wanted to make them more accountable.

Only now are New Zealanders realising that we achieved the exact reverse. Voters have no control whatsoever over whatever’s going on right now behind closed doors at Parliament. In effect, we have placed still more power in the hands of the political elites. This is the antithesis of what the promoters of MMP promised (and perhaps naively believed themselves). . . 

The situation is made even worse because whatever decision Peters and his negotiating team make has to be approved by serious consensus from the party board – the members of which have not been made public.

Frustrating as the protracted negotiations  and the secrecy over the board membership are, my fear is that the government that eventuates might be even worse.

It is possible Winston Peters and New Zealand First have learned from previous failures and will be determined to ensure strong and stable government in the best long term interests of  New Zealand.

But it is at least as likely that they haven’t and that both they and any coalition partners will be damaged by whatever permutation of government is foisted on us.

I dearly want Bill English to continue as Prime Minister but not at any price.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association warns that the country will come to a grinding halt if there are drastic changes to immigration; NZ First’s anti-trade and foreign investment rhetoric contradicts its assertion it wants what’s best for the regions and mining the misery of the Pike River families is simply despicable.

Like David Farrar, I think it will be better for the country to have National leading the government, but it might be better for the party to be a formidable opposition – what Emma Espiner calls the opposition from hell – instead.

I have a lot of confidence in the ability of Bill English and his team. Nine years leading the country through financial and natural disasters has proved they are more than capable. But they will need all their skill and experience, and more than a little luck to govern in coalition with, or the support of, Peters and his party.

Even then, there is a risk that whoever wins in the short  term might become the losers and the losers might turn out to be the winners in the medium to longer term.

P.S. Apropos of foreign investment – Eric Crampton gives some context:

 New Zealand is the most restrictive country in the entire OECD. It is the seventh most restrictive country of the 62 countries they surveyed.

Put away begging bowl Auckland

October 11, 2017

Waitaki mayor Gary Kircher tells Aucklanndd mayor Phil Goff the city must put away the begging bowl:

Auckland, Put Away The Begging Bowl and Deal With Your Problems.

The picture I used was about Queen St beggars, but I figured it was apt given that Auckland City Council has become the biggest beggar on Queen St… I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of hearing that every problem that Auckland has, can only be fixed with money from all of us! Housing crisis, transport crisis, waste water crisis, port crisis, fuel line crisis, teacher crisis… The list appears almost endless! And the solution? They go to the government and tell them they need money from the rest of New Zealand. The latest call by Mayor Phil Goff is to have the GST that is paid on Auckland rates to be given to them. That is as much their money as it is yours or mine. We all pay GST, we all contribute, but it is only Auckland which is so consistently putting out their hand to central government. Our Waitaki District Council has long been criticised for having high rates. Residential rates across Waitaki were recently measured by the Taxpayers Union as being about 29th highest out of 66. It has been higher but we are driving efficiency hard. Perhaps too hard in some areas. However, we are paying our way.

Waitaki has dealt with almost all of its water and waste water issues, it maintains an extensive roading network and needs to improve that, it has a reasonable number of very good facilities and amenities, and it is successfully delivering economic development. There’s not a lot of bells and whistles, but we do ok for a district our size. Importantly, we have no external debt, and instead have been able to invest in our future through loans to irrigation and the community-owned Observatory Retirement Village.

Contrast that with Auckland… Indebted up to its maximum limit, paying staff outrageously high salaries which are exceeding the private sector, suffering from a massive infrastructural deficit, and spending money like it’s going out of fashion so that they can become one of the world’s most liveable cities. The Auckland Council has 11,893 staff. Over 20% of them earn more than $100,000, and 194 staff earn more than $200,000. The city spills diluted sewage into its own harbour every time it rains, and that will cost $1,800,000,000 to fix it! NZTA is spending up large to deal with their road problems, and the bill for light rail grows higher and higher by the day. This infrastructural deficit is huge, and is a result of slack governance over a long time. A lot of central government money is going into Auckland now, but still they want more. Waitaki is compared to Auckland frequently when it comes to our rates, but if they’d paid what our ratepayers have had to over the years, they wouldn’t be as (literally) in the crap as they are now.

Usually Mayors are reticent to comment about the activities in other districts and cities, but when Auckland so often has its begging bowl out to central government asking for money that belongs to all of us, then I say enough is enough!

Phil Goff – put away the begging bowl for a while please. Put Auckland rates up to pay for the things yourself, in the same way that most of the country has been paying for itself for years. Sort out your staff salaries so they stop putting pressure on the private sector and the rest of local government across NZ; and take ownership of Auckland’s problems. I know you’re worried that borrowing more to deal with the issues will affect Auckland’s credit rating and possibly that of other Councils, but I can assure you that when you have put money aside responsibly as Waitaki has, you won’t have to worry about credit ratings. Bite the bullet, and get it sorted.

Auckland is proof that when it comes to councils, bigger isn’t necessarily better.

Some of its problems are an indictment on successive governments – local and central.

But the current council must accept responsibility for current problems and be prepared to make hard decisions about how to pay for solving them.

It could start by following the example of a smaller council like Waitaki which pretty much sticks to its knitting and looks after its core business rather than empire building.

It must look at ways it can fund solutions itself, including cutting costs and at least the partial sale of some of its assets, before it asks for yet more help from the taxpayer.

Who’s the good guy?

October 10, 2017

There’s several things I don’t understand about the USA:

That they’ve had decimal currency since forever but still use imperial measurements.

That their notes and coins are very difficult to distinguish from each other.

And their attachment to weapons:

Compromise more likely than consensus

October 9, 2017

One of the supposed virtues of MMP is that it could lead to government by consensus.

In practice it’s much more likely to require compromise.

The Green Party doesn’t  understand this.

If it did, it would be negotiating from a position of strength with both National and Labour.

Instead, its been sidelined, leaving policy gains for New Zealand First with the possibility of some crumbs only if Winston Peters opts for a Labour-led government.

It might look like a principled position to its left-wing supporters.

It looks more like impotence to those for whom the environment isn’t partisan.

Whatever permutation we end up with in government, there will be a strong focus on the environment in general and water quality in particular.

If the Greens moved into the real world and accepted the need for compromise, recognising that some gains are better than none, they could play a leading role in policy development.

Instead, they’ll remain marooned on the far left of the political spectrum, a powerless outpost of Labour, having to accept New Zealand First policies which could well be even less palatable to Green supporters than many of National’s.


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