Drip, drip, drip

November 30, 2018

Leader of the Opposition is reputed to be the worst job in politics.

It’s certainly not an easy one, especially early in the term of a new government when few outside the politically tragic are interested in what you do and say.

The media doesn’t help by fixating on poll results and interviewing their own keyboards to write opinion pieces forecasting the end of the leader’s tenure.

They carry on, drip, drip, drip like water on a stone in the expectation they will eventually be proved right.

They did it to Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little and it worked because the Labour caucus was too fixated on itself and its divisions and the party panicked.

They did it to Helen Clark but it didn’t work. Even when all she could muster in the preferred Prime Minister poll was only 5% she stared her would-be coup leaders down.

They didn’t do it to John Key because he polled well from the start and he became leader towards the end of the Labour-led government’s third term when it was looking tired and stale.

They didn’t do it to Jacinda Ardern but she took over the leadership at the very end of the National-led government’s third term and so close to the election she got far more attention than a new opposition leader normally would.

The drip, drip, drip is happening to Simon Bridges but none of the pundits give their gloomy analysis context. He became leader only a few months after the election when it’s almost impossible for an opposition leader to shine.

Jami-Lee Ross’s sabotage  didn’t help but at least for now, it makes Bridges’ leadership stronger. The National caucus has learned from Labour’s bad example that disunity is electoral poison.

It is the caucus who decides who’s leader. None of them will want Ross to claim the leader’s scalp and anyone with the political nous to be leader would know that this early in the government’s term, it would be almost impossible to make headway in the preferred PM polls and no matter who took over, he or she too would be subject to the drip, drip, drip of negative columns.

What the columnists don’t see, or at least don’t write about, is what I saw yesterday – Simon Bridges speaking confidently and showing his intelligence, sincerity and warmth.

This is not the dead man walking about whom they opine.

He has, to borrow a line from former Invercargill MP Eric Roy, had a very bad lambing.

I don’t know how much tough stuff he’d faced before, but yesterday convinced me that like good farmers after bad lambings, Bridges has got up and is getting on, in spite of the drip,drip, drip that’s trying to take him down.


Back to what matters

October 22, 2018

The news that Jami-Less Ross has been taken into mental health care doesn’t answer the question I asked last week – is he mad, bad or both?

Nor does it excuse his behavior, but it does explain it.

Mental ill-health is serious. Continued  media attention won’t help him and could well hinder his recovery.

National can now return its focus to what matters – holding the government to account for the fall-out from bad policy, and developing better policy to offer the electorate.

It should also allow the media to focus on matters that matter such as the impact of high and rising fuel prices, the charade of the truncated select committee process on the ban on oil and gas exploration and the danger of virtue signaling environment policies that do harm rather than good.


Can’t win, nothing to lose

October 20, 2018

Jami-Lee Ross announced at the start of the week he was going to resign and stand in the resulting by-election.

By week’s end he’d changed his tune.

He’s now not going to resign.

He can justify that as much as he likes but you don’t have to be a cynic to think he’s realised that he wouldn’t win the seat as an independent, that he’d lose his MP’s income, and that the prospects of anyone else wanting to employ him are infinitesimal.

If he can’t win he has nothing to lose which leaves the National caucus with another conundrum.

Could it, should it, get Ross kicked out of parliament under the waka jumping legislation against which it argued so vehemently?

Or should it ignore him in the knowledge that if he stays he could carry on scatter-bombing, hurting untold other people and his former party, under the protection of parliamentary privilege?

A man who knows he can’t win and is unemployable has nothing to lose.

 


Mad, bad or both?

October 18, 2018

Is Jami-Lee Ross mentally ill, just behaving really badly, or both?

Amateur diagnosticians are using terms like manic depression, bipolar and narcissism to describe his behaviour.

Former colleague, Mark Mitchell, who is in a better position to know spoke to Mike Hosking yesterday about mental illness and said: “He has to take responsibility for his actions, but he must look after himself first.”

That was before the release of the tape that didn’t appear to be the smoking gun Ross said it would be, but did needlessly insult other people, all of whom responded with dignity.

Maureen Pugh tweeted:

Chris Finlayson said:

“Any suggestion that I am upset about the tape is just wrong,” he said.

Finlayson noted he had said plenty of nasty things about people himself over his career that thankfully had not been taped.

“I can wound with my tongue at 100 paces,” Finlayson said. . .

David Carter was equally untroubled:

Mr Carter also said he was not in the slightest bit bothered by comments made about him by Mr Bridges.

Mr Carter said Mr Bridges was clearly set up by Mr Ross in the phone call.

“Looking at renewal that’s inevitably needed by all political parties, I take no offence at all about what was said by Simon Bridges.”

Mr Carter has confirmed he will not be seeking re-election as a list MP.

“He’s made two contacts with me, one before he was leader and one after, on both occasions he actively encouraged me to stay – he said I was very valuable contributor to caucus discussions and particularly in a mentoring role to many or our new MPs.

“I have told him I will stay and complete this term but have no intention of standing beyond the election of 2020.” . . 

These are just three of many needlessly dragged into the mess Ross has made. David Farrar writes of the terrible personal cost:

. . . This self-inflicted scandal is taking a terrible human toll. I’ll focus on the politics in another post, but I find it really sad the damage that has been done.

  • Jami-Lee’s career is destroyed and he may not even be employable in NZ. He’s gone from being a newly promoted front bencher to a pariah
  • His wife has the humiliation of what should be private matters between them laid out in public
  • His children will grow up with articles on the Internet about their father’s relationships with other women. As a father this upsets me greatly. No kid should have to endure that.
  • The four women in the article have obviously been through a horrible experience. I’m not the most sensitive soul out there but I found it hard to read the article. It impacted me emotionally. Forget politics. Those women have had a terrible time.
  • In at least one case, a marriage has split up and you’ll have a husband and children hurting
  • Simon Bridges has had someone who was one of his closest mates in caucus secretly tape record him. That is a huge betrayal of trust. Forget the politics. How would you feel if one if your mates did that to you?
  • Maureen Pugh has been humiliated by the release of the tape with a harsh description of her. She is incredibly upset, as is her family. And those who have campaigned for her and supported her are also upset. Maureen’s public response has been magnanimous and classy. But’s let’s not pretend how terrible she must feel.
  • 40,000 National Party members and supporters are upset. The vast majority of these people don’t want to be MPs. They don’t expect to gain anything in return for their hard work door knocking, donating, delivering etc. They just think that New Zealand does better when National is in Government. They feel betrayed and disappointed that this fiasco undermines their hard work

So there is a terrible personal cost to all this. It is very sad and I hope it stops. . . 

Mental illness might explain the behaviour but it doesn’t excuse it nor justify the hurt inflicted.

As a party member I am appalled that any other member, let alone an MP, could behave in this way and inflict so much damage.

If memory serves me correctly, my electorate donated money to help Ross win the seat in the by-election through which he entered parliament.

The party is strong enough to withstand it and winning the by-election will prove that.

Ironically Ross’s actions have also strengthened Simon Bridges’ position. Even if there was some disquiet about the leadership – and I have no knowledge of any –  everyone in caucus knows they must show 100% discipline and unity so as not to reward Ross.

He may well try to release more of what he sees as ‘proof’ but the media needs to ask itself, if it would be in the public interest and safe for his mental health, to carry on publishing it.

Much of what we has become public was not.

Modern media is in a very difficult position, knowing that if they don’t publish something, it can still become public through social media but that doesn’t justify hurting those who will become collateral damage and there is even more need to tread carefully if someone’s mental health is at risk.


Paying for poor policies

August 31, 2018

Business confidence has dropped to the lowest point for 10 years:

In the August ANZ Business Outlook Survey headline business confidence dropped a further 5 points to a net 50% of respondents reporting they expect general business conditions to deteriorate in the year ahead.

However, firms’ perceptions of their own prospects are a much better gauge of actual economic outcomes. This series stabilised at a net 4% expecting an improvement, well below the long-term average of +27%. By industry, manufacturers’ expectations dropped 11 points to become the least positive about their own activity (-4%), while retail and services improved somewhat.

Turning to the survey detail:

* A net 5% of firms are expecting to reduce investment, down 6 points. It is rare for this series to be negative.

* Employment intentions fell 8 points to -6%. No sectors are positive.

These two points are most concerning. Businesses reducing investment and with negative employment intentions will have a direct and negative impact on the economy.

* Profit expectations were flat at -17%. Retail and manufacturing are the weakest sectors at -27% (up 1%pt) and -28% (down 12%pts) respectively.

* Firms’ pricing intentions fell 2 points to +27%. They are strongest for construction but also lifted for retail. Inflation expectations were flat at 2.2%.

 * Residential construction intentions eased 3 points to +13%, while encouragingly, commercial construction intentions bounced 13 points to -4%. . . 

The economy is delicately placed. But it seems increasingly inevitable that wariness amongst firms will have real impacts, in the near term at least, as investment and employment decisions are deferred. . .

The outlook isn’t all bad.

But firms have real concerns about industrial relations policy, minimum wage hikes and costs more generally – and particularly about their ability to pass on higher costs and maintain profitability. Troubles in the construction sector appear to be starting to cause stresses in related firms. And exporting firms will be keeping a nervous eye on signs that global growth has peaked. . .

The Taxpayers’ Union says the drop in confidence shows the urgent need for tax reform:

. . .Taxpayers’ Union Economist Joe Ascroft says, “Businesses need more than a working group. They need real changes in policy direction, including tax reform. Business breakfasts with CEOs and Cabinet Ministers simply won’t cut it for the average small business.”

“Company tax rate cuts – accompanied by full capital expensing – would put a rocket under business investment and put an end to the doldrums. If focused at measures to boost productivity, the evidence shows that tax relief would flow through to workers in the form of higher wages.” . .

Tax reform would help and not just for businesses.

The lower dollar helps export returns but increases the cost of imports, including fuel, the price of which is also being boosted by extra taxes:

The Government’s obsession with fuel taxes shows it doesn’t care about the cost of living for ordinary Kiwis, National’s Transport spokesperson Jami-Lee Ross says.

“Now is the time for solutions to the cost of living, not new taxes. National is taking the initiative with a bill lodged today to repeal regional fuel taxes within three months.

“Fuel prices are sitting at record levels across the country and are set to rise further because the Government is proposing three additional rounds of national fuel tax increases totalling an extra 12 cents a litre of fuel in new taxes.

“In addition, there is an 11.5 cents a litre regional fuel tax in place in Auckland that will be rolled to other regions in a few short years. It adds to this Government’s sorry record of driving up costs for households and businesses and choking economic growth. . .

 

But tax is only part of the problem. The Government has several other poor policies that we’re all paying for:

The message from economists is loud and clear: the Government’s bad economic policies mean New Zealanders will be thousands of dollars a year worse off, says National Party Leader Simon Bridges.

“In the last three months alone NZIER has revised down their GDP growth forecasts which means every man, woman and child will be $1600 a year worse off on average by 2022. That is $6400 for a family of four.

“NZIER are clear that the decline in the economic outlook isn’t just sentiment. Profitability has deteriorated and businesses’ own activity, a measure closely correlated with GDP growth, has weakened. There are real implications for businesses, workers and New Zealanders trying to get ahead.

“The reason GDP growth is now faltering is because this Government has imposed a wide range of policies that are bad for growth. They have imposed more taxes, shut off foreign investment, significantly increased labour and compliance costs, banned oil and gas exploration and wasted billions on low-quality spending.

“And what was the Prime Minister’s solution this morning: another working group. The Government needs to understand that lower growth has real consequences for New Zealand families. Working groups do not drive economic growth, good policies and hardworking New Zealanders do.

“So the goal is simple. We must grow the economy if we want New Zealanders to be better off. A growing economy means more jobs, higher incomes and more revenue to pay for the things we need.

“We need to be pro-growth as that is the only way we can improve our standard of living. National wants New Zealanders to keep more of what they earn. Higher taxes, more regulation, compliance costs and a rising cost of living do nothing to help families get ahead.

 

Added costs and uncertainty are a poisoning business confidence and this week’s announcement of a business council is no antidote.


Let’s (not) tax this

April 10, 2018

The National Party has updated its election tax advertisement as it works to counter the government’s fuel tax grab.

The National Party is highlighting Labour’s double whammy of national and regional fuel tax increases by launching an advertisement to illustrate the costs faced by consumers and a petition to encourage people to voice their opposition, National’s Transport Spokesman Jami-Lee Ross says.

“These taxes will hurt consumers in the pocket. As well as the direct impact on what you pay at the pump, they have an effect on most other products you buy, and that really adds up,” Mr Ross says.

“The Government’s plan is to hit consumers twice, firstly in Auckland but also around the country.

“The net result is motorists paying up to a massive 25 cents a litre in more tax – that’s $15 every time you fill up the car.

“And the regional fuel tax legislation makes it clear that other regions are expected to be paying for regional fuel taxes even though Labour said they wouldn’t be able to.

“People will end up paying more and getting less. This is particularly so in regional New Zealand where the nationwide petrol tax increase is paired with a big decline in state highway investment.

“Regional New Zealanders are being made to shell out for new trams down Auckland’s Dominion Road.

“People are angry on this one. The Government needs to rethink its approach and ease up on the cost increases on Kiwis.

“They claim they are worried about people’s incomes and then they hit them with this.”

The three parties in government claim to be determined to help the poor.

Any increase in fuel tax will hit the poorest hardest and more than counter any gains they might have made through increases to the minimum wage or government payments.

You can sign a petition against the tax here.


Fuel tax and $pend fuel$ inflation

April 4, 2018

National MPs have been warning that the government’s proposed Auckland fuel tax wouldn’t apply just in Auckland – and they have been proved right.

The Government has today confirmed that it plans to gut regional roading projects to pay for trams in Auckland, and to charge regional motorists more to do so, National’s Transport spokesperson Jami-Lee Ross says.

“Today’s announcement will be met with anger and disappointment right around New Zealand, with the Government confirming it will cut around $5 billion out of the state highway construction programme over the next 10 years.

“That means roads which would have improved safety, created jobs, boosted regional economic growth and better connected our regional farmers and producers to our major centres will be axed.

“This is an extraordinary blow for regional New Zealand, from a Government which has claimed to stand behind it. Instead, the Government is saying their needs are secondary and ensuring tourists can get from the Auckland CBD to the airport is more pressing.

The government has put a $3 billion slush fund in the hands of Shane Jones for regional development. It would be far better to use some of that money for upgrading regional roads, but instead of tax increases not as well as them.

“Motorists right around New Zealand will also be shocked at the extraordinary new taxes the Government plans to impose on them.

“Aucklanders could actually find themselves paying as much as 25 cents a litre extra for their fuel within three years – once the proposed annual fuel excise and proposed regional fuel tax are taken into account.

“That means they will pay an extra $10 to $15 every time they fill up – and in less than three years the rest of New Zealand could be paying that fuel tax too, under legislation the Government introduced last week.

“That this Government will continue the previous Government’s commitment to road safety is to be applauded, but it is undermining that by axing the construction of New Zealand’s safest and busiest roads – the Roads of National Significance.”

The government has been crowing that the families package and increase in the minimum wage will help low income households. But there’s no point putting more money in one pocket if it’s taking more from the other.

An increase in fuel tax will increase the price of transport for people and goods.

The price of every trip will be higher for individuals, charities, businesses and entities like schools and health providers.

That will be inflationary and the people who will be hardest hit by the resulting price increases will be the poor the government is purporting to help.

The new tax also breaks an election promise:

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union says the Government’s proposal to increase fuel levies breaks Jacinda Ardern’s promise of ‘no new taxes’ and the widening of the Regional Transport Fund (paid for by petrol taxes) to include funding for cycleways and trams is a dumb idea.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “The plan to increase fuel taxes by 10-12 cents per litre means the Prime Minister is breaking her very clear pre-election promise of ‘no new taxes’.”

“Fuel tax is particularly harmful because of its regressive nature – the people it hurts most are poorer families living in fringe suburbs. This will ultimately mean less food on the table.”

“Aucklanders will be whacked twice over, with today’s fuel tax announcement applying on top of the proposed regional fuel tax.”

“And as if fuel tax hikes didn’t sting enough, the Government is going to be using the revenue to fund cycleways and trams, at the same time they’re slashing funding for highways. In other words, drivers are paying more to receive less.”

When I first became active in the National Party I sat through conference after conference where remits urged the then-government to ensure that fuel taxes went to roads  and not into the consolidated fund.

That eventually happened but now motorists will be taxed more and roading projects will receive less and Labour adds more fuel to the tax and spend fire.

 


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