If Cabinet counts . . .

June 12, 2018

Labour’s attempt to repeal the three-strikes legislation has been struck out by New Zealand First:

. . . Justice Minister Andrew Little was forced to backtrack on the proposed repeal that he was planning to take to Cabinet on Monday after NZ First indicated it wouldn’t support it.

In a press conference on Monday morning Little tried to leave the door open on three strikes being repealed in the future, saying NZ First didn’t support a “piecemeal” approach and wanted to see the total justice reform package. 

However, it’s understood NZ First MPs have been working on this issue for weeks. The caucus has no plans to budge on its long-held view of being tough on law and order after seeking feedback from its voter base. . . 

Little might have thought he could get the legislation past NZ First’s tough law and order stance because the party has managed to support other policies to which it is supposedly opposed but he was very silly not to have had a water-tight commitment of support well before this.

That wasn’t his only mistake.

. . . On Justice Minister Andrew Little’s backtrack today on the Three Strikes law repeal, Ardern said it would have been better to wait until a Cabinet decision had been made. . . 

Yes indeed.

But if Cabinet is supposed to count in this decision why didn’t it count in the decision to ban oil and gas exploration?

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What are the benefits?

June 6, 2018

The decision to ban future offshore petroleum exploration was a political one that didn’t go before Cabinet:

The Cabinet has made no decision on ending oil exploration, documents being released today will show, with April’s announcement made on the basis of a political agreement between the coalition parties.

On April 12, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led a group of ministerial colleagues into the Beehive theatrette to confirm news that the Government had decided it would offer no new offshore permits for oil and gas exploration, with onshore permits offered in Taranaki for as little as three years.

Although the news was delivered by ministers affected by the decision and in a forum usually used to discuss decisions made by the Cabinet, politicians made the decision in their roles as party leaders.

Today the Government will release a series of documents generated in the making of the oil and gas exploration decision, but it has already confirmed to Stuff that no Cabinet paper was created and that the Cabinet has not voted on the matter. . . 

We already knew this major decision with large and detrimental economic, environmental and social impacts was made without consultation with affected parties.

Now we know it was a political decision made without even consulting with Cabinet.

That is no way to run a government or a country.

But wait, there’s more and it’s worse – MBIE produced a paper that warned of the detrimental impacts of the ban  which include but aren’t limited to:

* Increased risk to security of future gas supply to major gas users, most notably Methanex at a time when New Zealand has its lowest reserve to production ratio since the Maui reserve re-determination of 2003. The lead time from exploration success to commercial production takes years, so it is not possible to simply turn on gas supplies once they become tight.

* Increased gas prices to consumers following an tightness in future gas supply.

* Increased uncertainty for major gas users in the industrial sector that rely on gas as an input to their processes.

* A negligible impact in reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions but a likely increase in global gas emissions (from methanol produced from gas in New Zealand being displaced by methanol produced from coal in China). It also removes the opportunity, both domestically and internationally, of any future gas discovery being used to displace coal.

A negligible impact in reducing domestic greenhouse gases and a likely increase in global gas emissions?

This isn’t thinking globally, actIng locally. This isn’t thinking at all.

* Increase perceptions of sovereign risk as this would mark a Marjory policy shift.

* Potentially accelerating decommissioning timeframes, alongside the associated Crown liabilities (measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars) for a portion of these decommissioning costs that represent the amount of taxes and royalties that have effectively been overpaid over the life cycle of the field’s production. . . 

* A detrimental economic impact on the Taranaki region. Methane alone contributed 8 percent of the regional economy of Taranaki in 2017. Methane will be the first company affected by future tightness in gas supply. . . 

To sum up, the ban increases risk around security of supply, costs to consumers and global gas emissions and reduces Crown revenue from future royalties and decreases economic activity in Taranaki.

Added to the detrimental impacts MBIE lists, are decreasing trust in the government and increasing jitters over the Labour, NZ First, Green coalition which now looks more like an Ardern-Peters-Shaw dictatorship.

If it can do this to the energy business and Taranaki without warning or consultation what might it drop on other businesses and other areas?

And the benefits?

I can’t think of any that justify the economic, environmental and social sabotage of the ban and the way it was delivered by decree.


National in drag difficult sell

May 30, 2018

Two polls this week show the National Party still ahead of Labour with about 45% support.

That is encouraging for National and worrying for Labour.

But the latter has two support parties, although New Zealand First is registering below the 5% and the Green Party is hovering close enough  to the threshold to make it possible it might not make it back into parliament and we’d return to a two-party system in spite of MMP.

Possible isn’t probable and in spite of being the most popular party, National lacks any allies with sufficient support to enable it to form a government with more than 50% of the vote.

Act could gain another MP or two, but it hasn’t managed to do that in recent elections and would have to do so without taking votes from National to make a positive difference.

The Maori Party might win back a seat or two, but that too is more possible than probable.

Finding another party which could either win a seat or cross the 5% threshold would not be easy.

Some are suggesting a National MP leaves the party to form another one. But National in drag would be a very difficult sell for party members and other voters, and would only help if it got votes from the left and not the centre-right.

Tariana Turia managed to win a seat when she left Labour and formed the Maori Party; Winston Peters did it with NZ First; Peter Dunne held his seat under several manifestations of what eventually became United Future and former Labour MP Richard Prebble won a seat for Act but they are the exceptions. Any other MPs that I can recall who left a party and formed another failed to hold their seats.

The other option is standing back and making an accommodation to let a new party, which would take votes from Labour, NZ First and/or the Greens, take a National-held seat.

But that would be very difficult to do and would be entering very dubious territory.

National voters gave electorate votes to Dunne but he was a sitting MP when he formed his own party. Act voters opted for Rodney Hide of their own volition and not because National made an accommodation. They supported him and subsequently David Seymour but didn’t have to vote against a sitting National electorate MP to do so.

Trying to persuade National voters to swap support from an MP they voted in for someone from a new party would be a very different matter.

National is a victim of its own success and any attempt to help another party is likely to backfire and sabotage its own support.

It’s also a victim of the failure of MMP to give us a party in the middle that stands for something and could go centre-right but what can it do about without endangering its own support?


Join dots from donations to policy

May 10, 2018

The Labour Party received $1,611,073.77 in donations last year.

The largest single donation was $878,724.41  from E Tu Union.

It also received $70,00 from the NZ Dairy Workers Union; $45,000 from the Maritime Union of NZ; $30,000 from the NZ Rail and Maritime Transport Union.

David Farrar at Kiwiblog has a table showing which of the government’s industrial relations policies benefit unions and business.

None will help grow business, 19 will grow unions and 32 will cost business more.

Call me cynical if you will, but it is very easy to join the dots between union donations and government policy.

We can be grateful that the law requires the publication of donors and allows us to join the dots between donations and policy.

But being able to see that doesn’t make it any better.

I also note that New Zealand First received $546,243.77  in donations, none of which was over the limits which require disclosing the donor including $88,628 of which were protected from disclosure.

Make of that what you will.


Not a single supportive submission

May 4, 2018

Quelle surprise – the Justice and electoral Select Committee has not had a single submission in support of the waka jumping Bill:

The Ardern-Peters Government should withdraw its Bill that enables party leaders to dismiss an MP from Parliament following unanimous opposition to it, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.

“All three governing parties appeared shocked by the strength of the 43 submissions in opposition to the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill.

“We have had over 20 constitutional law experts from four universities, the Human Rights Commission, the Law Society, two former Speakers, former Green MPs and even the Clerk of the House of Representatives express strong concerns about it.

“There was not a single submission that supported the Bill’s purpose to allow a party leader to dismiss an elected constituency MP, and only two supporting the provision for list MPs.

“The major objection from submitters is that it increases the power of party leaders at the expense of MPs and voters, that it will have a chilling effect on the free speech of MPs in Parliament, and that it breaches the Bill of Rights.

MPs are selected by their parties but elected by the public.

A party can expel an MP from its party but it does not, and should not, have the right to expel one from parliament. That is the voters’ right.

“Other concerns include the effect of undermining the requirement for governments to retain the confidence of the House, the damage it will do to New Zealand’s reputation on democracy and human rights, and preventing the evolution of new political parties.

“This Bill has become an early test to as whether the Coaliton Government takes the parliamentary and select committee process seriously.

“It would be breathtakingly arrogant for the Government to pass legislation – particularly on constitutional and electoral matters against this unanimous chorus of submissions opposing it.

“The fundamental problem with this Bill is that it has never been about improving our Parliament democracy but about propping up this fragile government.

“We must not undo centuries-old democratic principles for the vain ambition of Mr Peters to have absolute power over his New Zealand First MPs. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Dr Smith says.

The Labour Party was forced to swallow this particular rat last time it needed Winston Peters’ support to stay in government, having done it once it might not find it quite so hard to swallow it again.

But this must be a very difficult rat for the Green Party to digest when it argued against it so strongly the first time and its MPs will know how strongly its members, including former co-leader  Jeanette Fitzsimons  argued so strongly against it:

It breaches the Bill of Rights. It denies freedom of speech and association. It is contrary to international and NZ precedent. It is opposed by an impressive array of senior legal, constitutional and political experts. The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill – or “waka-jumping bill” as it is better known – is unnecessary to address any real problem.

Integrity cannot be legislated for. It is a matter of conscience and judgement. In some cases leaving one’s party is an act of integrity – as when the party has departed from the policies it took to the election, or has abused proper process. In other cases, it may be just self-serving political expediency. Normally the law has the sense not to intervene here. Personal judgements will differ on whether an action is carried out with integrity and only the voters can be the judge of that. In our system of three-year terms, they don’t have to wait long for the opportunity and in the past they have exercised it, generally returning members who changed their allegiance on well founded principle, and getting rid of the opportunists.

Dissent is a valuable part of the political process. Without it, MPs are just clones of their leader. Having dealt with it as co-leader of the Green Party caucus at times, between 1999 and 2009, I know uncomfortable it can be but the remedy is inclusiveness and listening and wide discussion, not shutting down the political process. . . 

David Farrar was among those who also made a well reasoned submission strongly opposing the Bill:

 . . . Outside the two major parties, every new party in Parliament under MMP (bar ACT) has got here through current MPs defecting. This bill will protect incumbent parties and prevent that natural evolution of new parties.

The history of New Zealand is you can’t just lump every MP who leaves a party in together. For every Alamein Kopu you have a John A Lee. For every NZ Independent Coalition party you have the New Labour Party.

Parties have splits. MPs fall out. There are disagreements on policies. This is part of politics. And the NZ public have proven very able at sorting it all out at general elections. Our democracy will not be well served by a law that gives party leaders and their caucuses a power previously reserved for voters, to remove an MP from Parliament.

The Green Party has always prided itself on its integrity. This is a big test for that claim and one which it looks like, contrary to its principles and the strong feelings of its members, it is about to fail.

This is not, as the Bill’s name would have us believe about integrity.

It is the very opposite.

It is about nothing more than Winston Peters’ fear at least one of his caucus will tire of asking how high? every time he says jump.


Who do you believe?

March 27, 2018

National MP Mark Mitchell says New Zealand First has been trying to buy National MPs’ silence.

Labour’s coalition partner NZ First has threatened to withhold regional development funding for an important economic development project in Rodney unless local National MP Mark Mitchell ends his advocacy for it and stops criticising NZ First ministers.

In an extraordinary request over the weekend, NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft – who said she was under instruction from a Minister – also requested that National pledge to not ask Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones questions about the project, should it go ahead.

“Ms Marcroft said she had been sent to tell me that the Mahurangi River Restoration Project would be considered for funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, but for that to happen I would have to end my involvement with it as a local MP.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the Government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.

“She also said if I ended my involvement and the money was granted, that they did not want National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith asking Shane Jones questions about it in Parliament.

“Finally, she implied my work as an Opposition MP would be a factor in funding any projects in my electorate I was involved in.

“I immediately told Ms Marcroft this behaviour was unacceptable, and that she had been put in a very compromised position by her colleague. She refused to name them so I said she had two hours to have the Minister call me before I took the matter further.

“She sent a text message an hour later asking me to forget the conversation.

“But this is rotten politics. It goes to the core of our democratic processes and the National Party will not let such behaviour stand.

“This billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund is taxpayer money and should be used to benefit New Zealanders, not buy an easy ride for the Government nor to try and convince local MPs to stop supporting local projects, because they have annoyed the Government.

“The Prime Minister needs to find out which of her Ministers is attempting to use public money for political gain and she needs to quickly explain what she intends to do about it.”

That’s one side of the story.

Here’s the other:

New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft was instructed to apologise to the National Party, after being accused of threatening to use taxpayer cash for political gain.

NZ First leader Winston Peters said National MP Mark Mitchell had misunderstood Ms Marcroft in a conversation which “got out of hand” over the weekend.

And Mr Peters rejected claims Ms Marcroft was following the instructions of any NZ First ministers.

“New Zealand First does not seek to constrain opposition MPs from criticism of the government,” he said.

This from the man who has so little trust in his own MPs that he sought to constrain them by making the waka-jumping bill part of the coalition agreement.

But Mr Mitchell told RNZ he did not believe that “for one minute” and denied ever receiving an apology.

“I have not received any apology from Jenny or from anyone from New Zealand First at all. All I’ve received is a text message saying please disregard our conservation.”

Who do you believe?

It’s a local MP’s job to advocate for his constituents and projects that would benefit them.

It sounds like Mitchell has been doing his job too well for the comfort of the government.

 

 


Teal deal for Question Time

March 19, 2018

Green Party leader James Shaw has announced he’s gifting most of the party’s questions to the National Party.

James Shaw told Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q+A programme this morning his party would gift its so-called ‘patsy’ questions to opposition parties as a way of holding the government to account. . .

CORIN Sure. Okay. Let’s get on to this issue. So I’m of the understanding that the Green Party is going to announce that you will give your what are called patsy questions in Parliament – so you get, what, one per session, is that right? Primary question – you’re going to give those questions to the Opposition for the rest of the term. Is that correct?

JAMES That’s right. So it’s about 42 questions this year and about 50 next year, based on what we currently know about the calendar. And that is because – and you know this from your time in the gallery, right – that patsy questions are basically a waste of everybody’s time.

CORIN They make the government look good.

JAMES Yeah, that’s right, but I think question time should be about holding the government to account. This is what we said when we were in Opposition. Now that we are in government, we felt that it was important for us to act consistently with what we said in Opposition.

CORIN But if you’re in government, why are you giving the Opposition an extra chance to bash you?

JAMES I know it sounds crazy, but we are crazy about democracy. So I know it seems like a weird move, but I honestly think that the democracy will be better served if question time does what it is supposed to do, which is to hold the government to account, and we are members of the government. I expect us to be held to account, not to use scripted questions to kind of tell some bright, shiny story. . .

It’s no surprise that National has welcomed the gift.

National Party Leader Simon Bridges has welcomed the Green Party’s decision to give the Opposition its allocated Oral Questions in Parliament to allow it to better hold the weak Ardern-Peters Government to account.

“I said when I became Leader that National would remain firmly focused on being an effective Opposition and in the past weeks we have continued to do that.

“That includes during Parliamentary Question Time when Opposition MPs get Ministers on their feet asking questions of importance to New Zealanders, and those efforts will now be bolstered by the Green Party’s decision.

“National will use the Green Party’s Questions as well its own to continue to focus on the issues that matter to New Zealanders – the economy, law and order, housing, public services and the environment.

“The Green Party’s willingness for this weak Government to be held to account is commendable and we will honour the spirit of this move by doing so strongly.” . . 

Labour and its leader Jacinda Ardern will be less than enthusiastic about this move from their support partner.

They may be thinking their week from hell could get worse: the Young Labour camp sexual assault mess; Defense Minister Ron Mark Ron Mark using Air Force helicopters like taxis; Ethnic Affairs Minister Salesa spending an eye-watering $30,186 on travel and now their support partner is suddenly a lot less supportive.

The Greens are sticking to principles on making a teal deal on patsy questions.

Jacinda Labour might not mind if they follow suit by withdrawing support for the wake-jumping Bill but New Zealand First leader Winston Peters will.

This move also raises another question – if the Greens can do a teal deal on questions, are they opening the door for a teal deal on a future coalition?

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