So bad so soon

June 19, 2018

How did it get so bad so soon?
It’s a mess of ministers
acting like goons.
My goodness how the
mess has grewn.
How did it get so bad so soon?

With apologies to Dr Seuss, how did it get so bad so soon?

Audrey Young writes that Jacinda Ardern will forgive Winston Peters for anything, even the unforgivable.

A National MP joked this week that the Opposition didn’t want things to get so bad under Jacinda Ardern’s maternity leave that the country was desperate for her return – they just wanted a medium level of dysfunction.

That threshold was almost reached this week even before the big event, and things got worse as the week wore on.

Ardern’s faith in Winston Peters being able to manage the inevitable bush fires that will flare when she is away must be seriously undermined given that he and his party have caused many of them.

A series of accidental and deliberate mishaps has raised questions about a series of important issues including basic coalition management, ministerial conventions, the application of the “No Surprises” policy, and when a minister is not a minister. .  .

Stacey Kirk calls it a three ring circus with one ringmaster at the centre .

Consensus government in action, or a bloody awful mess? 

It’s difficult to characterise the past week as anything but the latter and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may be worried about whether she’ll have a Government to come back to when she returns from maternity leave. . .

Patrick Gower wants the old Kelvin Davis back.

Patrick Gower on The AM Show. Credits: Video – The AM Show; Image – Newshub.

Kelvin Davis is a “wounded man walking” who better watch out, says Newshub national correspondent Patrick Gower.

The Corrections Minister on Wednesday announced plans for a new prison, but appeared to be unaware how many of its inmates would be double-bunked.

Corrections boss Ray Smith interjected after Mr Davis froze, confirming Newshub’s suggestion it would be around half.

“I get nervous before interviews,” was Mr Davis’ explanation, when asked about it on The AM Show. . . 

Duncan Garner describes government MPs as misfit kids.

. . .It’s taken them three minutes to look as shabby, arrogant and as broken-down as a third-term government suffering rampant hubris and pleading to be put out of its misery.  . .

Sue Bradford thinks the Greens are in mortal danger.

The Green’s water bottling decision exposes potentially fatal flaws and complacency at the heart of Green Parliamentary operations 

The Green parliamentary wing seem to be clueless about the mortal danger they face following news this week that their own minister, Eugenie Sage, has signed off on the sale and expansion of a water bottling plant at Otakiri Springs. . . 

Hamish Rutherford writes with Winston Peters in charge everything could be up for grabs.

. . . These are extraordinary times. Suddenly, with a Government already battling to keep business confidence up, with a story that the economy keeps on rocking, it seems as if everything is up for grabs.

We are now being handed lessons that have been coming since Peters walked into the Beehive theatrette on October 20 and announced he was forming a Government with the Left.

A Government so broad that the issues on which there is division become so amplified that they could almost appear to outnumber ones where there is consensus.

Where previous coalitions since the creation of MMP managed to keep together because the centre of power was so obvious, the timing of Peters’ action will be further unsettling. . . 

Health Minister David Clark has been accused of trying to gag a health board chair.

A leaked voicemail message appears to show Health Minister David Clark attempting to gag top health officials over the woeful state of Middlemore Hospital buildings. 

Clark has rejected the accusation, which has stemmed from audio of him telling former Counties Manukau District Health Board chair Rabin Rabindran it was “not helping” that the DHB kept commenting publicly.  

Emails suggest he also attempted to shut down the DHB from answering any questions along the lines of who knew what, and when, about the dilapidated state of Middlemore buildings. . . 

Peter Dunne asks is the coalition starting to unravel?

Almost 20 years ago, New Zealand’s first MMP Coalition Government collapsed. It was not a dramatic implosion on a major point of principle, but was provoked by a comparatively minor issue – a proposal to sell the Government’s shares in Wellington Airport – and came after a series of disagreements between the Coalition partners on various aspects of policy.

There has been speculation this week in the wake of New Zealand First’s hanging out to dry of the Justice Minister over the proposed repeal of the “three strikes” law that the same process might be starting all over again. While it is far too soon to draw conclusive parallels, the 1998 experience does set out some road marks to watch out for. . . 

Michael Reddell writes on how the government is consulting on slashing productivity growth.

 . .  I have never before heard of a government consulting on a proposal to cut the size of the (per capita) economy by anything from 10 to 22 per cent.  And, even on their numbers, those estimates could be an understatement. . . .

Quite breathtaking really.   We will give up –  well, actually, take from New Zealanders –  up to a quarter of what would have been their 2050 incomes, and in doing so we will know those losses will be concentrated disproportionately on people at the bottom.   Sure, they talk about compensation measures . . 

But the operative word there is could.  The track record of governments –  of any stripe –  compensating losers from any structural reforms is pretty weak, and it becomes even less likely when the policy being proposed involves the whole economy being a lot smaller than otherwise, so that there is less for everyone to go around.  The political economy of potential large scale redistribution just does not look particularly attractive or plausible (and higher taxes to do such redistribution would have their own productivity and competitiveness costs). . . 

And the Dominion Post lists mis-steps and mistakes and concludes:

. . .Some of this has been simply amateurish.

Such things are often a sign of a government that has outlived its mandate and begun to implode around the core of its own perceived importance. In its tiredness it can trip over the most obvious hurdles.

This Government is barely nine months old. It needs to find its feet, and quickly.

Has there ever been a government that has attracted this sort of criticism just a few months after gaining power?

How did this government get so bad so soon?

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Timing deliberate

June 12, 2018

Soon to-be acting Prime Minister Winston Peters is suing the Government.

Peters is suing the Ministry of Social Development, plus it its chief executive, Brendan Boyle, and State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes for $450,000 for breach of privacy – relating to his belief over how details of his pension overpayment were leaked to journalists.

He is also suing former ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley but that is no surprise. They have always been targets.

The really stunning aspect of the new action is its timing so close to the date he is due to become Acting Prime Minister for six weeks.

Even if he had a water-tight case – and there is no evidence that he has – wouldn’t he delay it for the sake of a peaceful transition? . . 

Quite what Peters expects to achieve by wasting taxpayers’ money on this at all let alone on the eve of his taking over as acting PM is hard to fathom.

But the timing must be deliberate and it comes with his waiting until the last minute to pull support for repealing the three-strikes legislation.

Anyone willing to bet that all will be calm and stable while Peters is acting PM?

 


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?


Electoral law isn’t working

May 23, 2018

The Electoral Commission is investigating an advertisement exhorting people to vote for New Zealand First.

It’s not hard to join the dots between tax breaks for fast horses and racing interests who back New Zealand First.

. . . Winston Peters has repaid the electoral support of the racing industry with changes to the bloodstock tax rules and plans for an all-weather track. 

Peters announced $4.8m for tax deductions towards the cost of breeding high quality horses, in Thursday’s budget. The change would encourage new investment in the breeding industry, he said, enhancing the country’s racing stock and making it a more financially attractive industry.  . . 

NZ First has not disclosed its party donors in the annual declarations to the Electoral Commission, this month, but Peters did have outspoken support at last year’s election from the Waikato thoroughbred and bloodstock industry.  . . 

Industry leaders were vocal in their support of NZ First, with thoroughbred breeders Sir Patrick and Lady Hogan taking out a full-page advertisement in industry newspaper The Informant to encourage racing participants to party vote NZ First in September last year.  . . .

It is permissible for people or groups to advertise in support of a party but Andrew Geddis raises some questions about this advertisement:

The advertisement definitely encouraged people to vote for New Zealand First. It was here on Sunday but if you click that link now you’ll get access denied. However it is in the link to the story at Stuff above and says:

There is only one horse to back, it’s New Zealand First. It has the race record.  It’s now imperative that you all take this opportunity to have what we want by  making our PARTY VOTE IN FAVOUR OF NEW ZEALAND FIRST.. . 

And under the signatures it says:

PLACE YOUR PARTY VOTE FOR NEW ZEALAND FRIST

It’s possible the Hogans and the industry magazine didn’t know the electoral law about third party promotion but ignorance isn’t a defence.

Although, like far too many instances when questions are raised about possible breaches of electoral law, the investigation is far too late, this horse has well and truly bolted.

Months after the election is far too late so whether or not there has been a breach of electoral law, this yet again raises questions about the effectiveness of the law.

However, it’s not too late to address any conflict the issue of Peters as Racing Minister.

David Farrar points out:

Jacinda Ardern said NZ First Ministers can’t be Minister of Fisheries due to their donations from the fishing industry. Yet she makes Winston Minister of Racing despite figures in the racing industry running advertisements campaigning for NZ First. . . 

If NZ First MPs can’t be Ministers of Fisheries because of donations from the fishing industry, this advertisement should disqualify Peters from being Racing Minister.


Reassuring or warning?

May 16, 2018

Jacinda Ardern made public a letter she wrote to her deputy explaining what will happen when he’s acting Prime Minister while she’s on maternity leave.

She said she did this because of the public interest in the matter.

It looks like it was supposed to reassure us all she’ll still be in control.

It could also be taken to be a warning to her deputy.

His body language in the video at Newshub suggests he’s not particularly happy about that.

The text of the letter is here


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.


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