It’s only one poll

October 14, 2019

The slide has started:

The age of Jacindamania is over. Brand Ardern has taken its biggest knock yet – and when Labour’s magic weapon loses its power, the party does too.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll shows just how wounded Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour have been after the string of crises that have beset them.

Labour was the only party to lose support in Newshub’s poll. It’s now on 41.6 percent – smacked down by 9.2 percent.

Most of that went to National, which is on 43.9 percent – up 6.5. This is enough to overtake Labour, and that’s manna from heaven for the Nats and leader Simon Bridges. . .

It’s only one poll,  has a margin of error of 3.1%, and remember the last Newshub-Reid Research Poll, had National much lower and Labour much higher than the TV One poll that came out the same night.

On this result Labour and the Green Party could still form a government and National and Act would be a couple of seats short.

But while Party support ebbs and flows the trend is more significant, and this echoes other polls which show Labour losing support.

And support for the Prime Minister tends to peak and then fall.

Personality matters but it doesn’t pay the bills and while warm words are well received they can’t counter the fact that the year of delivery has been one of disappointments.


More immigration isn’t what they campaigned on

September 18, 2019

The government has announced changes to immigration policy with a streamlined temporary work visa.

It’s been greeted positively by Federated Farmers:

“Our message that workforce and related problems experienced by the big cities are not necessarily those experienced in the provinces has  been taken on board – we congratulate the government,” Feds employment spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

“The changes will help ensure farmers and others can more easily employ migrants when they need them, and when the options for taking on and training suitable New Zealanders are exhausted.”

By ditching the ANZSCO skill level classifications, there is much greater scope for a migrant worker to achieve career progression on our farms.

“The changes incentivise farmers to invest in training and supporting migrant employees because there’s a greater chance of keeping them than currently exists.

It’s such a waste of time and effort to train people only to have them forced to leave the country when their visas run out.

“We also acknowledge the government for its compassionate and pragmatic approach in reinstating the family entitlement for lower skilled visa holders.  The migrant worker’s children can be educated here, and their partner can get an open work visa,” Lewis said.

“It’s a positive for rural communities to have settled and content families, not just single men who may well be sending all their money home to their family.”

It’s far better to have families together here, participating in the community, than to separate them with the worker isolated and sending money home.

The government has indicated the dairy industry is a likely early target group for one of the new sector agreements, containing specific terms and conditions for recruiting foreign workers.

“Federated Farmers looks forward to working with other Team Ag  partners and the government to help get this sector agreement right,” Lewis said.

DairyNZ and the tourism industry are among others who are pleased with the changes and I agree with them.

Unemployment levels are low throughout New Zealand and out of the main centres are down to the unemployable. It is at least difficult, and often impossible, to get locals who are capable of working on farms, orchards, hospitality and tourism in the regions.

But what do all the people who voted for the governing parties, Labour NZ First and the Green Party think?

All three parties criticised immigration levels when they were in opposition and campaigned on cutting it back.

We can be grateful that now the anti-immigration rhetoric has met the reality of worker shortages it’s the voters who believed the talk who are disappointed but businesses will find it easier to get the staff they need.


A question of competence

September 12, 2019

The resignation of Labour Party president Nigel Haworth could have put the lid on the controversy over serious allegations against a staff member in the Prime Minister’s office.

But it won’t when so many questions remain over the handling of the complaints which started the saga and the ongoing claims that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern didn’t know that the allegations were of sexual assault.

The Spinoff gives a timeline of the inquiry and Paula Bennett used yesterday’s general debate to  speak on it: (You can watch and listen to the speech here.)

The Prime Minister says she did not know there were sexual assault allegations against one of her staff members until Monday. I could go through the various media reports since 5 August and my own representation since being contacted by victims to show the inconsistencies in this, but they have already been well traversed in the last 24 hours.

If the allegations were serious enough to hire a QC, were they not serious enough for the PM to need, and want, to be fully informed?

Even if the allegations weren’t about sexual assault, surely they were serious enough for the PM to be fully informed about them?

Even if she wasn’t going to speak to the complainants, as she should have, surely allegations serious enough to warrant an investigation warranted someone senior talking to them and reporting back to her?

Back in 2016, Jacinda Ardern wrote an op-ed about the scandal surrounding the Chiefs rugby team. She said that a resignation is not enough: “It’s the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away. But that solves nothing. After all, apologies followed by silence changes nothing, and change is what we need.”

The resignation today of Nigel Haworth cannot be, in the Prime Minister’s words, “the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away.” Yes, Mr Haworth needed to go, and it should have happened weeks ago, but what is also known is that the Prime Minister’s own senior staff and a senior Minister have known the seriousness of the allegations but have not acted.

The complainants were members of the Labour Party. They genuinely believed that the party would listen to their complaints and deal with the alleged offender appropriately, but nothing happened. It clearly has taken an incredible sense of frustration, disappointment, and disillusion for these people to come to me, a National Party MP, to try and see their complaints addressed.

These are serious allegations. The Prime Minister cannot keep her head in the sand and pretend like it is happening somewhere far, far away. It is happening in her own office, in her own organisation. She is the leader of the Labour Party. The alleged perpetrator works in her leader’s office—he works for her.

Less than a year ago, the Prime Minister was in New York at the UN, trumpeting “Me too should be we too.” Well, who knew that that meant her own office was following the path well trod by all those companies who drew a curtain over sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.

I have been told by the complainants that Jacinda Ardern’s former chief of staff Mike Munro knew about the allegations, her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, knew about the allegations, and the director of her leader’s office, Rob Salmond, knew about the allegations. I have been told by two victims who work in Parliament that they went to Rob Salmond around Christmas time and made a complaint about the alleged perpetrator.

That’s a lot of people who would normally report to the PM who purportedly didn’t on this very serious matter.

The Prime Minister has constantly said her office did not receive complaints and, in fact, encouraged the victims to speak to their line managers. They did. They have told me they went to Rob Salmond and nothing was done, and we are expected to believe that none of these men in her own office told the Prime Minister about the allegations—all of this in the aftermath of the Labour summer camp scandal, when the Prime Minister made it very clear she expected to have been told. And are we really expected to believe that she didn’t know that her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, embarked on a witch-hunt to try and find out who in the Beehive was talking to the media about the allegations? The complainants certainly felt hunted and scared that he was trying to shut them up and stop them from talking to the media—classic bullying of victims, and hardly a victim-led response.

A victim has told me that the alleged perpetrator has deep alliances to Grant Robertson, that he was involved in his campaign for the Labour Party leadership, and that Grant Robertson has known the seriousness of these allegations. It is unbelievable that he hasn’t discussed this with his close friend and his leader.

This all smacks of a cover-up. This goes straight to the top: to the Prime Minister, to senior Cabinet Ministers, and—

SPEAKER: Order! The member’s time has expired. . . 

Haworth’s time has expired, will anyone else follow?

This debacle does go to the top and at the top we have a woman whose brand is that of compassion, empathy and caring; one who we are expected to believe is a capable leader, who is, like Prime Ministers ought to be, is fully in control.

All of that is at very grave risk as a result of the mishandling of this situation and all the questions that remain over it.

One of those questions is that of competence: if the Prime Minister, her senior colleagues and staff can’t be trusted to run her office properly and safely, how can they be trusted to run the country?


It’s about trust

September 11, 2019

Who do you believe?

Heather du Plessis-Allan says we must question the PM’s honesty:

. . .She told media yesterday: ”I was informed in the very beginning that the allegations made were not sexual.”

She told RNZ this morning that she found out yesterday.

“The first I’ve seen the complaints of that nature was when I read then.” Asked when that was, she said “When I saw them in the Spinoff.”

That is very hard to believe. This has been reported in the media for the last five weeks.

If you believe that yesterday was the first the Prime Minister heard of this, then you must believe that the Prime Minister of this country does not watch, read or listen to the news reported in this country.

That she for the last five weeks has missed every bulletin, newspaper and programme that mentioned the fact this guy is alleged to have committed a sexual crime. . .

And also believe she doesn’t have staff who monitor the media and make sure she knows what she needs to know.

 . . . You have to also believe that the Prime Minister didn’t ask what allegation was so serious that a staffer in her office stopped coming to work five weeks ago.

You also have to square it with this comment she made yesterday in her press conference”:

“A month ago I visited New Zealand [Labour Party] Council. Very seriously shared my view that they were not the appropriate place to undertake inquiries around concerning behaviour of members of the Labour Party. But particularly they are not the appropriate place to ever undertake an investigation into a sexual assault. And that would be their view too.”  

Why would she say to the Labour Party council that they were not the right people to investigate an alleged sex crime, if she didn’t know the allegations were of a sex crime?

Because she did. She did know.

On the 6th of August, one day after the story broke in the media, Mike Hosking raised it with her right here on this station.

He asked her: “How many people have quit your party as a result of this investigation into this bloke who may or may not have sexual assaulted someone?”

Her response was: “I’m going to be very careful answering that question Mike because this is an inquiry and work is still underway and it is still a party matter.”

Exactly when the Prime Minister knew is important for a bunch of reasons.

Did she fail in her duty of care to staffers and volunteers?  Was this supposed to be covered up? But mostly it’s important because this is now about her integrity

It’s becoming increasingly hard to believe her version of events, and possibly this is the first time that we’ve had reason to question Jacinda Ardern’s honesty.

It’s not just about her integrity, It’s about trust.

It’s about the trust the people making serious allegations, and they are still allegations, put in the Labour Party to deal with them properly, and that their trust was abused.

It’s about the trust we ought to be able to have that when questioned about serious matters the PM would tell the truth.

And because, if she genuinely believes she didn’t know, it’s about trust in her and her office’s competence.

Because if neither she nor her staff keep up with the media reports on serious matters, what else aren’t they doing?

In which case it’s also about the trust that we all should have in our Prime Minister, whether we like her or not, whether we voted for her or not, whether we support her or not, to do her job and to deal with serious issues properly.


In need of govt that knows what it’s doing

August 27, 2019

Kerre McIvor has tuned into a widespread feeling that the government doesn’t know what it’s doing:

She says that the previous National Government felt more like they were in control of the steering wheel.

“This Government, I just get a sense they have no idea what they are doing.” 

She also took aim at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her refusal to answer questions. 

“I don’t get the sense she’s across her job.”

“You would think even she could set the agenda and put it to him and get the people to brief you. Just one solid answer would be fantastic.

“You’re in charge of the country, act like it!” 

McIvor says that Labour probably didn’t expect to be in Government after the last election, but that was 18 months ago and they should be up and running now.

“I get the sense that they are still trying to get their heads around the job, but this is their job. This is what they have been training all their lives to do – be the Government – and they aren’t doing a very good job of it.” 

I happened to tune into Newstalk ZB yesterday morning when this was being discussed. In spite of pleas from McIvor for people to call and counter her view, almost every call and tweet agreed with her.

Labour wasted almost nine years in opposition with in-fighting. It did little to no policy development and the problems with that have been compounded by its coalition partners.

Bill Ralston opines:

. . .It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the lack of planning and joined-up thinking is a result of the fact that the three political parties in charge have wildly disparate views on what should be done, and, in many cases, nothing is done to genuinely address a problem because one or more of them will block the others’ programme.

The only part of Government that seems to be working in high gear is its publicity machine. Press conferences are held, photo opportunities delivered, media releases pumped out and the appearance of action is created. However, when you look closely, too often you see the scheme just announced is largely cosmetic and does not address the core of the problem. Worse, public money is devoted to a cause but there is no advance planning as to how it should be put to best use.

It seems to me that the Government is making it up as it goes along, occasionally content to be seen to be doing something about problems but not really addressing the causes, because the coalition parties cannot agree on policies. . . 

How long before this starts to show in the polls?

 

While the government is floundering, National is working hard to develop policies and yesterday announced its economic discussion document.

Simon Bridges started by explaining something the current government doesn’t understand: why their economy matters:

A strong economy means New Zealanders have more in their back pockets to afford the things that matter to them.

Whether that is putting more food in the table or being able to afford nice things for your kids.

A strong economy also means we can invest in the things that matter to New Zealanders.

But a strong economy, first and foremost, needs confident thriving businesses that are willing to invest in new technologies, create more jobs and pay higher wages.

National recognises that Government does not drive the economy.

The economy is driven by all of the people who have good ideas, get up early, work hard, invest their time and money, take risks and try and build opportunities for themselves and others. It’s driven by the people in this room.

New Zealanders need a Government that backs them to compete on the world stage and provides the foundations they need to get on with doing business.

New Zealanders also need a government that knows what it is doing, where it wants to go and has a plan for getting there, none of which this government does or has.

Some of the commitments in the discussion document include:

  • Requiring all government departments and government agencies to pay their contractors on time and within 30 days;
  • Establishing a ‘Small Business Payments Guarantee’;
  • Repealing 100 regulations in our first six months of office;
  • Eliminating two old regulations for every new regulation introduced in our first term;
  • Requiring quality cost-benefit analysis for any major new regulation;
  • Māori land reform; and
  • Ensuring the Treasury has a greater focus on providing sound advice on the effectiveness of Government spending, identifying wasteful spending and driving higher productivity in the public sector;

We’re also proposing or asking for New Zealanders feedback on:

  • Considering new innovative approaches to infrastructure funding;
  • Pricing mechanisms to manage the flow of traffic that are revenue neutral;
  • Allowing savers to deduct the inflation component from their interest income;
  • Accelerated depreciation of business assets;
  • Removing the ability for Governments to give preferential pay agreements to union members during public sector wage negotiations;
  • Bank account number portability; and
  • Removing all remaining tariffs.

And we’re re-confirming a number of previous commitments, including:

  • Indexing tax thresholds to inflation;
  • Repealing the Regional Fuel Tax;
  • Overhauling the Resource Management Act;
  • Reintroducing targets in health, education and law and order;
  • Encouraging direct investment in productive assets by overturning the Government’s foreign investment changes;
  • Repealing the ban on oil and gas exploration; and
  • Repealing recent Government changes made to the Employment Relations Act, such as removing 90-day trial periods.

Some of this continues work National did in government, some of it is new.

All of it shows a party far more prepared for government and running the country than the ones that are supposed to be doing it now.


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.


H word and F word

July 3, 2019

In opposition the three parties now in government were opposed to foreign ownership of farmland.

In government they have made it so much harder for foreigners to buy farms to farm it’s almost impossible for them to do so. But the hoops the overseas buyers have to go through to buy farms to convert to forestry are much lower.

That means would-be foreign buyers are very, very unlikely to get Overseas Investment Office approval to buy distressed dairy or sheep and beef farms, even with plans, and both the ability and funds, to  improve them.

But the same buyers would be Almost certain to get OIO approval to buy those same farms if they intended to turn them into forests.

Overseas interests already own 70% of New Zealand forestry.

Making it much easier to buy farms to plant trees than to raise stock, for arable farming or horticulture,  will mean even more forestry is foreign owned.

Forestry is becoming an F word among farmers and rural communities concerned about the environmental, economic and social impacts of the rapid afforestation of productive farmland.

They can rightly apply the  H word – hypocrisy – to Labour, New Zealand First and Green Parties for their policy of making it easier for overseas purchasers to do this.

But wait there’s more.

These overseas entities will be able to offset their carbon emissions in their homelands, or from investments in other countries, with the trees they plant here.

It’s very tempting to use another F word to express my feelings about this.


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