Not so popular

December 3, 2019

There is little doubt that Jacinda Ardern’s leadership enabled Labour to gain enough votes in the 2017 election to cobble together a coalition government.

Her fans among the commentariat would have us believe her popularity is unquestioned.

But over at Kiwiblog David Farrar has the numbers that tell a different story:

    • Governing Party – Clark Labour 45%, Key National 55%, Ardern Labour 39%
    • Opposition Party – English National 39%, Goff Labour 33%, Bridges National 46%
    • NZ First – 2001 2.7%, 2010 3.1%, 2019 4.0%
    • Greens – 2001 6%, 2010 4.5%, 2019 7.0%

And how is the PM as Preferred PM

    • Clark 2001 41%, Key 2010 56%, Ardern 2019 36%

Popular yes, but not as popular as her predecessors.


Stardust dulls in sunlight

August 7, 2019

A Prime Minister who is well regarded overseas is good for a small country.

But being well regarded overseas isn’t good enough. A Prime Minister has to earn, and keep, approval at home and the stardust that settled on Jacinda Ardern early in her leadership is dulling under the sunlight of scrutiny.

There is no doubt she is a good communicator, compassionate and likable. As Matthew Hooton told Sky New Australia, she would be a good princess or president without power, but she is a hopeless Prime Minister.

But, but, but what about the way she handled the aftermath of the mosque shootings?

There is no question she did that well but that’s the New Zealand way. Other recent Prime Ministers, Bill English, John Key (who did at least as well after the Canterbury earthquakes) and Helen Clark would have reacted with similar compassion.

But those Prime Ministers also delivered, and this one is failing to. Matthew Hooton, again, on the year of delivery:

. . . For those still committed to reality-based politics, Ardern’s “year of delivery” is as credible as her earlier promise to be “transformational”.

KiwiBuild, the Billion Trees programme and the Provincial Growth Fund handing out only 3 per cent of the money Shane Jones has paraded are the most risible. . .

He goes on to list more failures and there are plenty of them.

He isn’t alone in his criticisms and that’s not surprising for people on the right of the political spectrum but even the very left blog The Standard is saying it’s time to ditch the default Jacindamania:

Despite the babies and the engagements, maybe it’s time to ditch the default Jacindamania.

Let’s not bother with the criminal waste of tax on hundreds of working groups, existing to successfully suppressing oppositional opinion through co-option.

Oranga Tamariki has got three investigations underway for removing children, and is being kicked all over the park by the media. Cue another year of paralysis by analysis. . . 

. . .  it’s a very partial leadership. It’s not ‘transformational’, it’s not the year of delivery. What is this government?

This is the weakest leadership on policy of any government since the last term of Holyoake, 60 years ago. That’s on Ardern.

It’s time, since we are now getting emails to volunteer and donate money on their behalf for the next election, to expect more from Jacinda Ardern.

Coming from the left that’s damning.

But wait there’s more. Her interview this morning with Mike Hosking was a train wreck which Steve Braunias dissects:

O the joys and woes of being Prime Minister! One minute you’re swaying your hips for the cameras in the lovely warmth of Tokelau while the world gazes with adoration at your picture on the cover of Vogue, as chosen and commissioned by Her Royal Highness Meghan Markle the Princess of Trans-Atlantica; the next minute you’re back in New Zealand, there’s a serious sex scandal rocking the Labour Party, the cops have gone feral at Ihumātao, the weather’s gone all to hell – and worst of all, you’re stuck on the phone for your regular Tuesday morning convo with Mike Hosking.

It’s paramount that the Prime Minister keeps her cool and shows every sign of being at ease and in control when she makes media appearances. There is but one emoji to maintain: the one with a smiley face, round and yellow and all good, expressing the optimum vibe of inane happiness. . . 

But good cheer and happiness was entirely absent during Ardern’s 10-minute interview with The Hosker on Newstalk ZB this morning. Her appearance was an emoji trainwreck, and it crashed every time that the Prime Minister called the ZB talkback host by his first name.

She said it 11 times. . .

He goes on to give an emojiological analysis of those 11 times.

It’s behind the paywall and it’s worth paying for, here’s a taste:

The interview which prompted this is here.

There was no stardust dazzling and personality sparkling there and even had there been it is no longer enough.

Stardust is no use without substance and personality doesn’t pay the bills.


Labour pains National delivers

July 31, 2019

Is this how the National Party and its supporters are seen from the outside?

This is not the kind of stuff to you would expect to get the National Party faithful standing and applauding. It’s not a law and order policy or tax cut or a primary sector subsidy – it’s new health spending. This is the kind of thing Labour does.

Is it any wonder National is perceived as having a good head but too often not credited for having a heart if this is how a political commentator thinks?

Compassionate and effective social policy is what any good government does and it’s what motivates most members of any political party – making the country better for people.

National usually gets credit for economic management but, as the above comment show the reason that matters and what it is able to do and does do with the money it carefully manages, is lost.

A growing economy, and the policies that contribute to that are important not as an end but as the means to pay for the social policies and infrastructure that makes life better for people.

This government would have us believe it’s the first government to care about wellbeing.

Every New Zealand government in my memory has cared about wellbeing and done its best to improve it, albeit with varying success.

Making life better for people was the aim of Bill English’s social investment initiatives. They aimed to not only make life better for the people who were helped into independence, but better for us all by reducing the long term financial and social costs of benefit dependence.

Under this policy the number of people on benefits, and the long term cost of that, were dropping. Under this government both are increasing.

The big difference between this government and the last one, is that National understands the difference between the quality of spending and quantity and that sustainable wellbeing depends on a foundation of a strong and growing economy.

By contrast, the current government thinks more spending is better spending regardless of the results and the cost to those who pay.

National governs with head and heart, the Labour-led one puts feeling ahead of thinking.

That’s why National is able to deliver but in the long term Labour only pains.

National Finance Spokesman Paul Goldsmith explained the link between the economy and services in his speech to the party’s annual conference.

You will have noticed a strong economic theme to the start of the conference.

It’s true, we in the National Party do bang on a lot about the economy.

It makes me think of my old Nana, who always said, ‘money isn’t everything’.

Of course it isn’t.

As one of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffett, put it, ‘it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, if you’re not loved by the people you want to love you, life is a disaster’.

It’s similar with countries. Good government is just as much about preserving and enhancing what is special about this country.

That, to me, is the quality of our environment, our social cohesion, our relatively high trust and low corruption traditions, our commitment to the rule of law, freedom and tolerance of different views, our sense of security.

All these things are incredibly important and should never be taken for granted.

So the economy is not everything, but it is important.

Not because we revere the great machine for itself – it’s simply a means to an end.

The economy is about people. It’s about you, me, our families and our neighbourhoods.

To me, the point of a strong economy is to enable New Zealanders to do the most basic things in life well.

A strong economy improves our chances of finding satisfying and well-paying work so that we can look after ourselves and our families – the most fundamental task each of us have.

A society based on the assumption that its average citizen can’t or shouldn’t be expected to look after themselves and their families is doomed.   

That’s not what we believe.

Work itself, in its countless varieties, brings the opportunity to make a contribution to our world and the people in it, whether we’re providing someone with a new hip, a new app, or a cup of coffee with a smile.

And third, if we do well, we can afford to have some fun in our leisure time, and maybe if we have some energy left do something in the neighbourhood; on the barbecue for the school committee, or whatever.

That, to me, is the good life to which we aspire. 

As well as generating work and opportunities, good economic management and a strong economy enables the country to have better public services that improve our lives – a quality education, access to world-class healthcare when we need it, decent transport infrastructure so we can get home on time, the reassurance of superannuation when we’re old.

There are times in everyone’s life when we need help. At certain times of their lives some people can’t look after themselves and their families; the stronger our economy is, the more we can help.

Now, good economic management is not just about spending money, it’s about generating it. . . 

What’s the goal? To deliver a strong economy and world-class public services that enable Kiwis to look after themselves and their families, to find satisfying work, and to lead full lives.


It’s only words

May 31, 2019

Has any government not put money into policies which aim to improve wellbeing?

I can’t think of a single one that hasn’t put considerable amounts into   health, education, welfare, infrastructure . . . any and all of the areas that impact on and contribute to wellbeing.

Just two years ago, then Finance Minister Steven Joyce said:

. . .This budget is about delivering more of the public services, the infrastructure, the resilience, and the incomes that New Zealanders need to get ahead and to provide for their families.

This budget is about the opportunity we have to build on the platform we have all created and deliver greater prosperity for New Zealanders. . .

This Government is focused on helping our most vulnerable people lead more successful lives. . . 

Initiatives included helping people move from benefits to work, improving safety of victims of family violence, investment in social housing, funding for caregiver support and social initiatives aimed at tackling long-term issues for the most vulnerable.

It included measures to help children get a better start in live and there was a significant increase in mental health funding..

Social investment is about tackling our most challenging social issues. The combination of these new initiatives and the Government’s decisions about family incomes will allow us to make serious headway with some of the longer-term challenges faced by the most vulnerable New Zealanders. . . 

He concluded:

This budget is all about “Delivering for New Zealanders”.

It takes four significant steps to bring the benefits of a stronger economy to all New Zealanders. It makes a big investment in public services, it makes a record investment in new infrastructure, it improves the resilience of our country to future shocks, and it strengthens families by lifting their incomes.

It’s important that we remember that the only reason we get to have this conversation is because we have a strong and growing economy built on a strong economic plan.

We must maintain our focus on growing the economy and sticking to the plan.

It is only by doing that, that we can provide for the prosperity of all New Zealanders.

What a contrast between the former government’s careful management and understanding that economic growth is essential to support social initiatives and the current one which is very good at soft words that seek to disguise a slowing economy.

The debate continued and then-PM BIll English spoke:

. . .We are unashamedly addressing the hard core of New Zealand’s longest-run social problems, and in this Budget there are 14 initiatives that do that. I want to pay tribute to public servants who, I know, find it difficult to fit the model. It creates a lot of tension and sometimes a bit of frustration, but we are making some progress because what is the point of having a Government if it cannot deal with the most complex, the most vulnerable, . . 

The previous government called it social investment. Its words were backed up by policies that were working to improve lives and sustainably funded by a growing economy. .

This government calls it wellbeing and so far it’s only words. If it’s going to be more than words and to make a significant and positive difference it will have to do a lot better on delivering, not just on its promises but on economic growth too, than it has to date.

The projected surplus next year is only $1.4 billion. That’s a big number but not in the context of government spending.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges points out:

. . . The Prime Minister boasts in her press release that growth is forecast to average 2.6 per cent over the next four years, under the National Government growth was 4 per cent. This Government simply can’t be trusted with the economy. 

“NZ First has once again shown that it holds the purse strings with today’s announcements of a billion on rail that nobody wants and even more for forestry. That’s on top of Shane Jones’ billion dollar slush fund and the billion dollars already promised for trees. The cost of this coalition is not worth it for New Zealanders with what they’re getting in return, and it certainly isn’t improving anyone’s wellbeing.

“It’s no wonder Grant Robertson has had to drop his self-imposed debt target and increase the spending limit by $17 billion so he can fund the Government’s bad spending decisions. Surpluses are forecast to be billions of dollars lower than they were just a few months ago. . . 

Changing the language doesn’t change the fact that wellbeing can only be built on a strong and growing economic foundation.

 


Personal or political?

May 1, 2019

Is the media’s determination to claim the scalp of National leader Simon Bridges personal or political?

Two months ago John Armstrong said the media script required Bridges to end up as dog tucker:

The media have proclaimed Simon Bridges to be dog tucker. Having issued that decree, the media will do its darnedest to make sure he does become exactly that – dog tucker.

That is the ugly truth now confronting Bridges in his continuing struggle to keep his leadership of the National Party intact and alive.

It might seem unfair. It will likely be regarded in National quarters as irrefutable evidence of media bias.

It is unfair. Some pundits had made up their minds that Bridges was the wrong person to lead National within weeks of him securing the job. Those verdicts were quickly followed by bold predictions that it would not be long before he was rolled by his fellow MPs. . . 

Those predictions are heating up again, but why?

Is it personal dislike of him?

Probably not.

There were similar campaigns against Bill English and Don Brash when they were opposition leader.

So is it partisan?

The media were just as quick to criticise and slow to praise Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little so no, it’s not necessarily partisan.

But is it political?

The media tends to be liberal on social issues and Bridges is more conservative.

Could the sustained campaign against Bridges be because he has said he will vote against the Bill to legalise euthanasia and is likely to oppose any liberalising of abortion law?


Poverty stats government’s shame

April 3, 2019

The nine child poverty statistics that will be used as the baseline for improvement show released yesterday by Stats NZ show all but one have got worse under the current government:

David Farrar compares the stats under National and Labour:

  1. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% of median, before housing costs. 156,000 in June 2008 and 156,000 in June 2017 so no increase under National (rate dropped 0.3%). In June 2018 increased by 27,000 and rate increased 2.3% for Labour’s first year.
  2. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% of median, after housing costs. 329,000 in June 2009 (no data for 2008) and 247,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 82,000 under National (rate dropped 8.1%). In June 2018 increased by 7,000 and rate increased 0.4% for Labour’s first year.
  3. Percentage of children in households in material hardship. 196,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 140,000 in June 2017 so dropped 56,000 under National (rate dropped 5.4%). In June 2018 increased by 8,000 and rate increased 0.6% for Labour’s first year.
  4. Percentage of children in households with income under 60% of median, before housing costs. 252,000 in June 2008 and 243,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 9,000 under National (rate dropped 1.3%). In June 2018 increased by 38,000 and rate increased 3.2% for Labour’s first year.
  5. Percentage of children in households with income under 60% of median, after housing costs. 355,000 in June 2008 and 314,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 41,000 under National (rate dropped 4.6%). In June 2018 increased by 27,000 and rate increased 2.2% for Labour’s first year.
  6. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% housing costs for the base financial year. 258,000 in June 2008 and 236,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 22,000 under National (rate dropped 2.5%). In June 2018 increased by 18,000 and rate increased 1.4% for Labour’s first year.
  7. Percentage of children in households with income under 40% housing costs for the base financial year. 156,000 in June 2008 and 178,000 in June 2017 so an increase of 22,000 under National (rate increased 1.6%). In June 2018 dropped by 4,000 and rate dropped 0.4% for Labour’s first year.
  8. Percentage of children in households in severe material hardship. 84,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 74,000 in June 2017 so dropped 10,000 under National (rate dropped 1.0%). In June 2018 dropped by 9,000 and rate dropped 0.9% for Labour’s first year.
  9. Percentage of children in households in material hardship and under 60% median income after housing costs. 96,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 86,000 in June 2017 so dropped 10,000 under National (rate dropped 1.1%). In June 2018 increased by 12,000 and rate increased 1.0% for Labour’s first year. . .

Who would have thought it? Seven of the child poverty measures dropped under National, one was static and one went up.

And under the Labour/NZ First/Green government that purports to be compassionate and set reducing child poverty as a priority?

Seven of the child poverty measures worsened and only two improved.

What’s behind the difference?

Former Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English was determined to search out the risk factors which lead to poverty and the disastrous social outcomes that usually accompany it.

Having found them he used the social investment approach – spending more upfront on helping those most at risk. The higher short-term cost was justified by the expected reduction in the long-term human, social and financial costs should those at risk not be helped.

The compassionate and intelligent response of the Labour/NZ First/Green government would have been to continue and build on what was working.

The failure to do so is this government’s shame.

Instead it sabotaged business confidence, wasted money on policies including fee-free tertiary education and winter heating subsidies for people who don’t need them, and got soft on policies that used both carrot and stick for those who could be working but don’t.

Early days is no excuse, this government is almost half way through it’s first term.

It can’t blame National for what’s going wrong when under it, seven of the measures were improving, one was static and just one was going the wrong way.

The government has only itself and its ideological blindness to blame which will be no comfort at all to the families whose situation has worsened.

Lindsay Mitchell blogs on the causes of poverty:

The Canadian think-tank, the Fraser Institute has just released a paper which suggests an elegantly simple framework in finding three causes of poverty: bad luck, bad choices and enablement. The first two need no explanation. The third is described thus:

We can say that poverty is “enabled” when systems and structures are in place to discourage the kinds of efforts that people would normally make to avoid poverty, i.e., find employment, find a partner (especially if children are present), improve one’s education and skill set, have a positive outlook, and take personal responsibility for your own actions. Ironically, it is government programs (welfare, in particular) that are intended to help the poor but end up actually enabling poverty.

In NZ, many of our current influencers (MPs and media) pooh,pooh the idea that bad choices are responsible for poverty despite this being self-evident. They base their disdain for the idea on a belief that greater systems, for example institutional racism, drive bad choices. Of course when they do this they excuse bad choices and even compensate the person making them. Undoubtedly, most of those sitting on the Welfare Expert Advisory Group would hold views of his nature. . . 

The soft bigotry of low expectations is not a cliche, it’s a fact.

This government’s low expectations are enabling poverty and turning around the improvements that National’s policy of social investment were making.


Politics changed, facts haven’t

March 28, 2019

Sir Michael Cullen is being paid $1000 to sell the capital gains tax.

It’s a task made more difficult by records of his views on a CGT  which the parliamentary library holds from his time as an MP:

Stuff reported that although the chairman of the Tax Working Group once called a capital gains tax “extreme, socially unacceptable and economically unnecessary”, he has since changed his mind.

New documents compiled by the Parliamentary Library for the ACT party reveal just how far he shifted since leaving Government in 2008.

The 84 pages of research included every reference Cullen ever made in the House in reference to a CGT between 1987 and 2008. . . 

They include:

. . . “I think it is extremely hard to make that connection between a capital gains tax and the affordability of housing, insofar as there has never been a theoretical argument put forward about a capital gains tax on housing. It is more in the direction of a level playing field around investment; it is not around the notion that it will make houses cheaper. Indeed, it is very hard to see how it would necessarily make houses cheaper,” Cullen said at the time.

On June 20, 2007, when Bill English asked Cullen about explicitly ruling out a capital gains tax, he responded saying: “One of the problems with a capital gains tax – apart from the fact that if it were done, it should apply to all asset classes—is that countries overseas that have capital gains taxes have significant inflation in house prices on occasion”.

Then on June 21, 2007, he was asked about the possibility of combining ring-fencing with a capital gains tax on all investments except the family home, and more Government investment in low-cost rental housing.

He responded saying: “I think it is fair to say that, if one was looking at a capital gains tax, which I am certainly not, it would apply to all asset classes. I think the arguments in favour of such a tax, which probably 20 years ago were quite strong, become much, much less strong in the intervening period of time, for a whole host of reasons. So I think that that is actually not a very worthwhile avenue to explore, not least because it comes, in effect, at the end of a process, rather than trying to address the over-investment at the start of the process”. . . 

He says he was Finance Minister at the time and following the government line.

When asked why he changed his mind, he quoted John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind”.

What facts have changed? It wasn’t a good idea then and it still isn’t, for the same reasons.

As Robin Oliver, former deputy head of Inland Revenue, former Treasury advisor, an expert on the tax system, and one of three dissenters on the Tax Working Group said:

There’s a strong argument for taxing capital gains, as you put it, in theory, the problem is the practicality and of making it work. . .

Kathryn Ryan asked him if, all things being equal and as a tax expert would it be good to do it and her replied:

In the actuality of what you have to do to get such a tax in place, no.

Most of the arguments in favour of a CGT are theoretical ones based on a notion of fairness, whatever that is.

Most of the arguments against it are practical based on facts including that it has done nothing to rein in house prices elsewhere and has led to overinvestment in housing, underinvestment in business, and acts as a handbrake on succession.

The politics have changed but the facts haven’t.

A CGT with exceptions as recommended by the TWG would be expensive to administer, contain loopholes which would only provide work for lawyers and accountants, promote over-investment in housing, stifle investment in productive assets, and result in lower tax revenue in tough times when capital gains fall.


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