a long hard road fighting for the sanctity of private property rights, especially as those your work seeks to protect are often the worst offenders when it comes to Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) behaviour. It is a little odd that those property owners who object to others removing their own trees with council approval or building consented apartment blocks on their own land are called NIMBYs, because they aren’t fighting against impositions upon their own backyard. They’re interfering in other people’s back yards but I guess NIYBY doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Perhaps ‘DUH’ would be more appropriate.

I’ve stuck my nose into the business of people sticking their noses into other people’s business for quite some time and was delighted to come across this opinion piece I had written in 2003. The Church of Christ the Scientist had been having a tough time trying to sell their Symonds Street Heritage B classified building since 1999. Incredibly there hadn’t yet been an application made to designate the four-year-old ‘FOR SALE’ signs with a Heritage classification too.

The Resource Management Act has only got larger since 2003, its most recent ‘reform’ occurring in the third term of the National-led Government. United Future and Act came to a deal which would have given National the numbers to get worthwhile RMA changes passed by Parliament, but Prime Minister John Key was a political politician, not a conviction politician. He chose to use the two votes of the Maori Party to make changes to the RMA that further entrenched the privileged position of Maori tribal elite to make ludicrous objections on spurious grounds. Key had an eye on keeping coalition partners for a fourth term, making it truly sad to watch National candidates campaign on RMA reform in the 2017 election.

The greater scope of the Resource Management Act has not been with exception, however. I was as delighted as the left were dismayed (causing further delight) by an RMA amendment in 2012 which removed the blanket protection for all trees in urban areas of Auckland. Instead of applying for permission to fell each tree as desired, the onus was now on the environmental fascists to schedule individual trees through the Unitary Plan, and the threshold for success is high. 

Since that amendment, a tree needs to be located on a reserve, a designated special ecological area, a riparian barrier or coastal strip. Other criteria for scheduling include heritage, scientific and cultural value. In 2016, there were reportedly 6000 trees scheduled as protected in Auckland; however, despite some tedious searches, I can’t find a more recent figure. Auckland Council says the average urban forest canopy has increased by 60 hectares between 2013 and 2018. The most promising information visible in my search for a list of scheduled trees (essentially a merry-go-round of Council links all promising to answer my query) was the phone number of Auckland Council. I already have an aversion to phone calls in ordinary circumstances. The prospect of talking to a real person working for the Council isn’t going to alter that.

What I did find was inadequate and incomplete, though I suspect there aren’t enough pathetically sad people willing to voluntarily update The New Zealand Tree Register.

It lists 1571 protected trees in New Zealand including 192 in the Auckland region. Having spent ten minutes going through the register, I conclude that finding enough dedicated volunteers to include as many trees as they have is quite an achievement. I kept getting distracted by thinking of and looking for sharp objects.

It ain’t easy being a West Auckland resident. If you’re not dealing with the adversity of crime, poverty and the Portage/Waitakere Licensing Trust monopolies, then you’re faced with middle-aged middle-class white people with sufficient free time to make themselves incredibly annoying (they call it ‘helping’) and sufficient wealth to barely notice the financial impact of their meddling on the wider community. Waitakere Local Board is one of the worst, with imperious political parasites including:

  • Greg Presland: lawyer and failed candidate for nomination to be a Labour party candidate. His 2019 Council campaign with Shane Henderson saw Presland beaten by light-blue flake Linda Cooper and Henderson elected to Council.
  • Saffron Toms: Green Party supporter and one of three local board members photographed proudly trespassing on a Titirangi property to prevent the felling of a Kauri tree
  • Neil Henderson: Local board/Licensing Trust double-dipper whose only notable achievement is cutting weeds with a 110-year-old scythe
  • Sandra Coney: DHB/Local Board/Licensing Trust triple-dipper who fought and lost a campaign to stop a cafe opening in Piha.
  • Mark Allen: Executive Officer of the virtue-signalling Community Waitakere twatterium which receives 64% of its funding from several Local Boards and Council grants. Among achievements he lists are bilingual billboards at Henderson station asking people to work together.
  • Mark Roberts (not the prolific British streaker): By far the most theoretically intelligent one on the board, having previously worked as a commercial pilot and company director. Now he has lots of free time and enough money to insulate himself from the stupidity of the Local Board’s policies.

Presland, Toms and Coney were all enthusiastic participants in the long-term invasion and occupation of a Titirangi property owned by John Lenihan and Jane Greensmith in March 2015. A Kauri tree about to be chopped down, with Council approval, attracted an invasion by dozens of rabid neighbours. Arborist Johno Smith spent thirteen days in the tree to prevent it being felled. The Australian citizen/NZ resident (now NZ citizen) and unrepentant criminal Michael Tavares climbed and sat in the tree for 81 hours. He only ceased his botanical squatting once the owners agreed not to cut down the tree. 

The landowners proposed that those opposed to the development of the properties be given the opportunity to purchase them. The couple requested they be compensated for the market value of the land and left the door open for Treescape, Vector, iwi and Council to own the site on the behalf of the public. Three months later, in June 2015, Auckland Council took the unusual decision to review the granting of resource consent for the Kauri tree to be removed and determined consent was lawfully granted therefore work could continue on the site.

Time is money. In construction time is a lot of money. A development project requires the scheduling of multiple trades and companies to prepare the land and construct buildings on the site. Each delay to commencing development affects multiple employers, contractors and their families, with responsibility resting on the owner’s shoulders. I don’t know how many tens of thousands of dollars a nine month delay costs. Whatever guess I might attempt would likely be far below the real figure.

As of December 2015, Lenihan and Greensmith were still the owners of an undeveloped plot of land with no timetable for development or compensation from the Titirangi Kauri Khakishirts. Therefore the owners, the genuine victims in this drawn out saga, made the decision to resume the legal development that had begun nine months earlier. Unfortunately, neighbour Andrew Maehl works from home, saw the contractors arriving at 10am and had the nerve to ask the contractors what they were doing on someone else’s property. With a mulcher parked on the road, contractors confirmed they were on site to remove the Kauri.

Nasty, nosey-neighbours managed to delay the development of the land for a further three years until the Environment Court ruled in April 2019 the Council had acted lawfully in granting consent to remove the Kauri. The property owners then sought to recuperate the money they spent fighting the case in the Environment Court. They sought $44,514; Judge Jeff Smith determined $30,000 was a reasonable response given the public interest element in the dispute.

Lenihan and Greensmith did nothing wrong. They obtained Council consent to remove the tree and build a home on their own property, but mob action, endorsed by several local elected officials, led to a four year delay in construction. The court only granted two-thirds of their court costs in compensation and the expense of four years of delays, paying rates on unused land, became the re-victimisation of the victims.

The violation of landowners by belligerent Green Party terrorists continues to be an issue in West Auckland. Considering the pittance Lenihan and Greensmith received in compensation from the neighbourhood street gang, considering the non-punishment of Tavares for his occupation and the pitiful $1000 fine of arborist Johno Smith for his actions (the owners’ request for $20,000 in reparations was rejected), why would anything change?

A property on Canal Road in Avondale changed hands early this year when it was sold for the first time in over a century. The property has faced continuous invasion by a well-organised pack of Avondale residents, with Green Party candidate and longtime Greenpeace activist Steve Abel acting as the ring-leader. Felling of the trees began on July 21 2020 and I’m happy to see, in contrast to the ordeal faced by the aforementioned Titirangi couple, police are taking an active role in dealing with the climate-criminals attempting to stop work on the site.

Initially, Steve Abel and five others were arrested and removed on July 21st, following Abel’s brush with death after deliberately placing himself amongst the trees while chainsaws were cutting them down. Reminds me of the disappointment I felt when I bought a lotto ticket which had three rows of three numbers.

Abel is slimy and resourceful; his kamikaze tactics were filmed and sent to Worksafe who ordered an immediate end to work on July 29. That temporary stop work order was lifted on Tuesday 24th of August as contractors put up fencing to prevent protestors entering the work area. While that was enough for Worksafe, the fences were never going to end this battle as protestors scaled the remaining trees again.

School Strike organiser turned Green candidate Luke Wijohn has scaled one of the trees on the property. He said “There is no place in a climate emergency for cutting down these ancient native trees.” I suppose eighty years may appear ancient when you’re a teenager but life expectancy in New Zealand is longer, and I’d love to hear this slogan-spewing pull toy explain why native trees somehow have a different status to any other. Sounds like racism to me.

I was a bit of a shithead at high school, libertarian before I had ever heard of the word, and attempted to sabotage a fundraiser requiring all students to get paid work for the day which would then be donated to the school. I put up signs challenging teachers to work for free, interrupted lessons to poll classmates on their views, made countless journeys to the Dean’s office and was threatened with five days detention if I failed to participate. I did a full shift at my supermarket job but gave the school $20.

Wijohn evidently was also a shithead at high school. I’m unsure which school he attended or the response of the faculty there; however, many other schools not only endorsed truancy in the School Strike for Climate Change marches but actually facilitated and participated! I’m not on the cover of Forbes magazine but I’m also not a extremist trying to ruin people’s lives, risking arrest and death in the hope enough losers show up to legalise marijuana and elect 21 Green MPs.
The latest development in the Canal Road Street Gang saga involves another bloody arborist occupying another bloody tree but I can’t help but be a little impressed at the innovative tactics of Zane Wedding. Wedding is a competitive tree climber as well as an arborist, leading me to believe he had the intellectual capabilities of a four year old child. However he has managed to build a platform suspended from one of the remaining trees that is also tied to surrounding vegetation, enabling him to occupy multiple trees simultaneously.

There have been constant arrests of trespassers by police throughout the 49 day vigilante invasion, unlike the virtual non-response of the 2015 Titirangi case, so I commend the police for their efforts. Invading, occupying and imposing financial hardship on people for going about lawful activities you don’t like is genuinely serious offending and it is critical for the protection of all homeowners that police are seen to be treating these acts of hooliganism seriously.

The owners of the Titirangi Kauri got absolutely screwed by mobs of vigilante neighbours, of whom just two were required to reimburse the couple for a fraction of their costs. Once the arborists have completed their job on the Canal Rd property, the owners of this land should be able to take each invader to court and expect reparation for all cost incurred. Should they fail to receive justice, socialist hordes will inflict greater injustice.  

It is tempting to write off the polls when you are losing but then you have to ignore them when you’re winning. Few are that consistent. The right is currently on the losing side of polling in New Zealand. Commentators or politicians from the right will point to the ‘inaccuracy’ of polling in Australia’s parliamentary election last year or Trump’s presidential victory in 2016 as evidence of the decreasing relevance of opinion polling but I think they’d be wrong to do so.

Apples and Oranges

New Zealand has a highly proportional electoral system in which the number of seats a party wins in Parliament is generally the same as the proportion of party votes they received. Of course there are exceptions:

  • Parties getting up to 4.99% of the party vote will still have 0% of the seats due to the 5% threshold required.
  • Parties that win an electorate seat but achieve 4.99% of the party vote will have 6 seats in Parliament (dependent on the proportion of wasted vote).
  • Parties that win more electorate seats than their party vote alone would have won, have a higher number of MPs than proportionality alone would have delivered. Otherwise known as an overhang; the 2008 election demonstrated this scenario best
    • 6.51% of all party votes were ‘wasted’ (cast for parties that failed to enter Parliament)
    • 120 seats were apportioned from 93.49% of the vote
    • Each seat therefore was worth about 0.78% of the vote
    • The Maori Party won 2.39% of the party vote but also won electorate seats so they remained in Parliament
    • 2.39% of the party vote is worth 3 seats but the Maori Party won 5 electorate seats resulting in a 122 seat Parliament.

Australia’s Preferential Voting system requires voters to rank candidates in single member seats from 1 to however many candidates are available (though it is not compulsory to rank all).

The commentary narrative following the Coalition’s election victory is that the pollsters consistently got it wrong and polling just isn’t as relevant as it once was. If you were to isolate the ‘Two Party Preferred’ poll alone you’d be right. The TPP asks a pollee to choose either the Coalition or Labor as their preferred party and Labor (the party isn’t named using the Queen’s English) led the TPP in every poll since August 2017. However the TPP isn’t the only poll question and it isn’t actually that useful as there are more than two parties to choose from.

On the primary vote polling measure, the Coalition Government led or matched Labor’s support in the 28 polls from February 2019 to the election. Taking a poll of the previous five polls, compared to the final election result, primary vote polling wasn’t as useless as you may have been led to believe (POP vs result):

Liberal/National Party: 38.6% vs 41.4% (77 seats/51%) 

Australian Labor Party: 35.7% vs 33.3% (68 seats/45%)

Green: 10% vs 10.4% (1 seat/0.7%)

One Nation Party: 4.1% vs 3.1% (0 seats/0%)\

You’ll also note that the proportion of seats in Parliament has little relation to the proportion of primary votes cast nationwide as the contest consists of battles in individual electorates only; like New Zealand’s previous First Past the Post system.

Opinion polling in the US 2016 Presidential election is a very similar story. Hillary Clinton led most four-way polls throughout the election campaign, yet lost the election to Donald Trump. Again, if you compare the four-way opinion polls with the final popular vote the polls were fairly accurate. The final polling period of up to November 6 was covered by nine different polling companies, the average result being (POP vs result):

Clinton: 45.4% vs 48.2%

Trump: 42.3% vs 46.1%

Johnson: 4.3% vs 3.3%

Stein: 1.9% v 1.1%

However, the United States Presidential Elections are not won on a nationwide popular vote; rather by winning states with varying numbers of Electoral College votes. To become President, one must win 270 out of 539 electoral college votes. The polls measuring nationwide popular support can present that support properly without predicting the winner because, like New Zealand’s previous FPP system, the presidential election is won in 50 battles in individual states.

Polling in New Zealand

The Mr. Berry Mr. Berry Poll of Polls, like Curia and Radio New Zealand, take the average of the previous five polls to identify trends and smooth out any data spikes. However, that doesn’t mean we are all using the same five polls, as Curia have their own data that Radio New Zealand and myself are not privy to.

Currently the Mr. Berry Mr. Berry Poll of Polls (2 Roy Morgan, 2 Colmar Brunton, 1 Reid Research) shows:

Labour: 54.98% (69 seats)

National: 29.72% (38 seats)

Greens: 6.54% (8 seats)

Act: 3.94% (5 seats)

New Zealand First: 1.96% 

Maori: 0.96% 

New Conservative: 0.93% 

TOP: 0.7%

Were the same methodology to be applied to the 2017 general election (2 Colmar Brunton, 2 Reid Research, 1 Roy Morgan), the results would be (POP v result):

National: 43.8% vs 44.4% (-0.6%)

Labour: 39.1% vs 36.9% (+2.2%)

Greens: 7.2% vs 6.3% (+0.9%)

New Zealand First: 6% vs 7.2% (-1.2%)

TOP: 1.7% vs 2.4% (-0.7%)

Maori: 1% vs 1.2% (-0.2%)

Act: 0.5% vs 0.5%

Rogue Poll?

As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, National leader Judith Collins has criticised the most recent Reid Research poll as being “rogue” though she no doubt had much more confidence in the Preferred Prime Minister polling which showed her far behind Jacinda Ardern but receiving a sizeable boost since becoming Leader of the National Party.

The Reid Research Poll published on July 27 showed Labour on 60.9% and National on 25.1%. A Colmar Brunton poll published on July 30 showed Labour on 53% and National on 32%. The first covered the period in which Todd Muller resigned as Leader of National; the latter covered Judith Collins being elected Leader.

The three most recent Reid Research polls (July, May, February 2020) gave Labour 60.9%, 56.5% and 42.5% support vs National 25.1%, 30.6% 43.3%. The three most recent Colmar Brunton polls (July, June, May) gave Labour 53%, 50%, 59% vs National 32%, 38% and 29%.

Roy Morgan has only polled twice this year (July, June) giving Labour 54.5% and 56.5% vs National 27% vs 26.5%.

If there are any polls that one could accuse of being rogue, it would be either Colmar Brunton or Reid Research’s poll in May which painted two notoriously different pictures, sending howls of impotence around the beltway about the failure of polling in the modern age.

Predictions for 2020?

Until my retirement from being a politician in early July, I resisted making any predictions about election results simply because my objectivity was compromised by my job description; promoting the Act party excludes making any public predictions of its demise. However, it is often said that some parties traditionally under-poll or over-poll so I want to see if it is possible to identify a consistent margin for those parties before making a prediction about the results of this year’s election.

New Zealand First under polls on election night results according to the commentators. Take a Poll of Polls vs. results for the previous five elections gives:

2017: (-1.2%) 2014: (-1.0%) 2011: (-2.0%) 2008: (-0.7%) 2005: (+0.4%)

The Greens are said to over poll on election night results, though they also tend to gain seats from special votes. No doubt because their voters are too lazy to cast a vote and those that do weren’t enrolled until they voted.

2017: (+0.9%) 2014: (+1.9%) 2011: (+2.2%) 2008: (+1.7%) 2005: (+0.4%) 

Act polls closely to their election night results, however their polling trends in this election are quite different from any I can remember, continuing to increase slowly since mid 2019, influenced by the free speech and firearms law issues.

2017: (even) 2014: (-0.3%) 2011: (+0.2%) 2008: (-0.7%) 2005: (+0.1%)

There is only one factor left to determine what Parliament may look like on election night and that is the Maori seats. There is zero polling data on any individual seat since 2017. We are unlikely to see any until 17 August at the earliest when ‘Marae’ commences election campaign coverage. However, given the trend to an increase in support for Labour over 2017, I’m quite confidently predicting the Maori party won’t gain any seats. Tamaki Makaurau, in which John Tamihere is standing, has a 19% margin for Labour and the candidacy of Marama Davidson is likely to split any anti-Labour sentiment this time just as she did in 2017.

Labour: 46% (59 seats) 

National: 37% (47 seats)

Act: 6% (8 seats)

Greens: 5% (6 seats)

New Zealand First: 2.9%

Maori: 1%

New Conservative: 1.2%

TOP: 0.4%

Peters vs. Seymour

 

The strong rivalry between ACT’s David Seymour and NZ First’s Winston Peters has evolved into a boxing challenge from Peters after Seymour pointed out that one day Peters would need immigrant nurses to help him walk and get dressed. Peters responded by saying he was in excellent physical health and that he would win a boxing match against Seymour adding “There will be three hits: You hitting me, me hitting you and the ambulance hitting 100.”

I don’t doubt Peters probably would win the fight but there is something unseemly about the thought of a 37 year  old man fighting a 74 year old man. If Seymour won the fight, wouldn’t it just look ghastly anyway?

 

Aside from that very sad thought, Peters using immigration yet again in an attempt to shore up his vote is just pathetic. NZ First had the opportunity to reduce net migration in this term and did nothing about it until Covid19 made the choice for the government. The next government’s immigration policy also won’t be set by the government as much as set by the circumstances imposed upon it by the virus. 

 

That is self-evidently obvious; just as Peters’ desperation with 2% in the polls, 9 weeks out from the election.

 

13th National MP resigns.

 

Rangitata National MP Andrew Faloon has become the 13 National MP to resign this term, announcing he would not stand for re-election following an unspecified incident on Friday. In a  statement he cited mental health issues as his reason for standing down. Including Jami Lee Ross, National has shedded 25% of its caucus since the 2017 election.

 

I’ve said it before, and Ardern is proving it: a national crisis is political gold for governments. The Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch Earthquakes were outside John Key’s control but the perception of his abilities as leader were entirely within his influence.

John Key had a background in the financial sector prior to becoming an MP, so not only was he familiar with operating in an environment of crisis, voters didn’t need a demonstration of his abilities to be perceived that way.

Ardern hasn’t had that advantage prior to the Covid19 pandemic. More disadvantaged than simply unknown, Ardern operates an administration that includes several individuals and factions that had either publicly imploded, failed to deliver, or failed to counter accusations of unethical behaviour.

Helen Clark exuded toughness, in appearance and manner, with the body bags to prove it when required. Key was likeable, had an aura of calm competence and when less talented members of his government cleared out their desks, Key didn’t need to point it out. We knew he and the party machine were too well-oiled for weak links to go unchallenged. Ardern has had multiple opportunities to be tough, seen to be tough, and be respected for it. Ardern decided to cultivate an alternative image.

Despite leading a regime of few successes, most of which were abolishing rather than creating, Labour’s election prospects mid-Lockdown look very different to pre-Lockdown. Ardern’s performance has changed expectations that her Government will be on the backfoot in a close electoral contest. What’s more, those expectations have changed without Ardern herself changing. The kindness and compassion that once looked like amatuer weakness, now look like unflappable competence detached from any concern about hostile reporting.

Simon Bridges has a very different problem, made worse by lacking an immediately apparent solution. To top it off, Bridges is not equipped with the likeability Ardern possesses without having to work for it. Being likable shouldn’t matter, but, unfortunately for Bridges, it is essential – and his profile is sufficiently strong to prove he hasn’t got it.

The long-lived positivity of National’s polling is even harder to explain when National’s leader was elected with single-figure approval ratings that stubbornly remain in the single figures. Despite that, National’s support is finally starting to wane, and there are many more factors to consider than David Seymour and his outperformance of Bridges.

One of my personal frustrations with politics, that appears to be a feature of most western democracies, is not just the similarity of the two major parties, but that few voters can see that similarity. Their large and enthusiastic volunteer organisations don’t see it either, and every election is fought by volunteers who genuinely believe our problems are just one election victory away from solving.

The hand dealt to parliamentary parties in the 2017 election may finally go some way to changing this perception. The sheer volume of legislation churned out from the current Parliament is greater than previous terms; while the volume of legislation being supported by the so-called opposition is unprecedented. 119-1 was initially just the figure by which legislation has passed a parliamentary vote, but it has become the rallying point for disillusioned National voters. Seymour hasn’t allowed the name of government bills such as the Child Poverty Reduction Act to dissuade him from voting on principle, and, unlike broad-church National, has actually used the poor quality of law making as a reason to oppose passing it. 

Firearm legislation, child poverty legislation which actually measures inequity, zero carbon legislation and more have been passed 119-1 even when National MPs consistently attack the bills during their Third Reading! It has taken two years and a global pandemic for Bridges to finally criticise aspects of Government policy, and now that is damaging his support even further!

Labour’s $11 billion package put forward prior to the Lockdown is the predictable Keynesian orthodoxy I’d expect, and which National would have proposed were they still in Government. Simon Bridges only criticised some minor aspects, but the public response wasn’t just swift in its expression, but vicious in its condemnation for Bridges daring to play politics due a global crisis. Poor Paul Goldsmith had to publicly plead with Labour to accept National’s offer of help to spend billions of dollars on riding out the coming crisis.

While Parliament remains adjourned, Ardern has thrown Bridges a bone to counter accusations of her Government becoming a dictatorship using the powers available to her in the Health and Civil Defence Emergency Management Acts. While most politicians are publicly invisible, Ardern alone is on television daily, the significance of that coverage virtually unheard of in modern day politics outside of dictatorships. For decades, the art of the soundbite was the art of winning television politics. During the lockdown, answering questions in detail and in full is the prerequisite for success, and nobody but Ardern has that platform.

The 11 member Epidemic Response Committee is the only other opportunity available for public exposure, and being streamed on Zoom with a dozen other faces is a poor second best. However, David Seymour has adapted quickly to the technology despite the poor image quality and competition for visibility. In contrast, Bridges has turned this opportunity into a regular exercise in self-flagellation; looking confused, churlish and untalented in contrast to the Prime Minister’s widely watched press events. Worse for Bridges, a viral pandemic is not the time for him to deviate from his record of voting with the Government since 2018. 

What has cost National support from its pre-lockdown voter base prevents them gaining new votes now. During an emergency, the default prevailing view is that New Zealanders need to work together to get through the crisis. Working together is not a strategy that will get Bridges in the news; criticising the government only gets a barrage of criticism of Simon in the news. National desperately needs the Lockdown to end as quickly as possible to avoid losing seats in September. Unfortunately, any attempt to publicly hasten the end is like getting caught peeing in the pool.

Every week from now that New Zealand remains in Alert Level 3 or 4 is a week National cannot campaign or criticise the Government without repelling voters toward Labour. Conversely, every week National fails to distance itself from the Prime Minister creates more disappointed centre-right voters looking for an alternative. Bridges will lead National up until the election; the only chalice more poisonous than becoming leader post-election defeat is to become leader pre-election defeat. However, Covid19 has turned the coming election campaign from too close to call to warfare in the trenches on a downward slope.

 

 

Originally published on Insight: Politics 17.04.20

There is little I agree with Jacinda Ardern on. Despite this, I somewhat sympathise with Jacinda for the situation she finds herself having to govern in; especially some of the personalities that don’t make the job any easier. Winston Peters can only be an absolute nightmare to work with in government.

The other personality that insists upon making herself frequently awkward ever since returning from working in the United Nations is Helen Clark.

Casting an eye over the former New Zealand Prime Ministers since 1984, they’ve been a mixed bag in terms of what they achieved before being voted out and the dignity they maintained afterwards. Robert Muldoon, in power and afterwards, is an excellent example of doing everything that could have been done wrong. He ruled as a virtual dictator, wielding the power of the executive in his two hands and personally regulated every aspect of everyone else’s lives convinced that he alone knew what was best for the country.

Upon losing the 1984 election, Muldoon stayed in Parliament seemingly to demonstrate why former Prime Ministers should recognise when it is time to go; once they have lost an election. It took action by National MPs immediately after the election to depose Muldoon as Leader of the National party, replacing him with Deputy Leader Jim McLay. Asked later whether he intended to be a thorn in the side of McLay, Muldoon stated “More like a little prick.” He refused to join McLay’s front bench as offered and openly criticised McLay’s leadership. Upon Muldoon’s openly criticising the entire leadership of the National party, McLay demoted him to the lowest rank of the National caucus. That step didn’t stop Muldoon from being openly critical of Jim McLay up until he, in turn, was deposed by Deputy Leader Jim Bolger and returned to the National front bench as Foreign Affairs spokesman. Muldoon remained the MP for Tamaki until resigning in 1991 due to poor health and dying the following year.

Prime Minister David Lange, having defeated Muldoon in 1984 would have seen all of this sad state himself and learned nothing from it. Lange’s government was reactive from the very start of its term, being completely unaware of the mess it was inheriting until the beginning and being forced onto the backfoot dealing with a foreign exchange crisis of Muldoon’s own making. The Labour party did not campaign on a platform of radical free-market reform but found itself unable to react in any other way, so dire was the state of the economy at the time. Despite surprising its support base with the scale and direction of reform over the next three years, Labour managed to be elected to a second term. Lange became increasingly uncomfortable with the actions of his own government and his own inability to control his cabinet, pulling the plug on Finance Minister Douglas’s flat tax program in 1988 in order to resume social reforms more familiar to the membership of a Labour party. However, Douglas was re-elected to Cabinet by the Labour caucus in 1989 and Lange resigned as Prime Minister five days later.

By his own admission, Lange’s time as Prime Minister was one of being overwhelmed by forces outside of his own control and an inability to exert his own leadership. It is surprising that he remained in politics following the catastrophe of the 1990 election in which National won 67 seats compared to Labour’s 29. He remained in Parliament until 1996, giving anyone who wanted to examine Lange’s failures as a leader the opportunity to do so. Indeed Lange himself spent the next six years doing just that until being forced by poor health to resign just before the 1996 election. In his valedictory speech he openly admitted those over 60 hated him because they had the right to expect an ‘endless treadmill of prosperity and assurance and we did them.’

Lange was succeeded as Prime Minister by Geoffrey Palmer for under 12 months in 1989. Palmer was closely associated with the Roger Douglas reforms by the Labour membership and seen as too academically aloof to appeal to voters. He was replaced by Mike Moore two months before the 1990 election and resigned from Parliament. Palmer was a stellar example of recognising when it is the right time to go. He returned to academia after leaving Parliament, becoming a Professor of Law at Victoria University before moving on to the University of Iowa and resuming a legal career.

It would be unfair to rate Mike Moore’s career as a former Prime Minister having held the post for only two months before an unavoidable defeat in the 1990 election. He remained Labour leader through the 1993 election, which National narrowly managed to keep a majority with fifty out of ninety-nine seats, but was then toppled by Helen Clark in December that year. He remained in Parliament until 1999 becoming Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

The next former Prime Minister was National’s Jim Bolger in 1997. Bolger had won the 1990 election by the largest landslide in New Zealand history, a feat unlikely to be repeated since the change in the voting system in 1996. Bolger had been opposed to the Rogernomics reforms of the previous Labour government and had been elected to Government on a platform of creating a “Decent Society.” Bolger’s experience as Prime Minister would be very familiar to David Lange, being caught off-guard by the need to bail out the Bank of New Zealand three days after winning the 1990 election at a cost of $380 million. The subsequent 1991 Budget required borrowing a sum of double that amount and a programme unkindly dubbed Ruthanasia, after Minister of Finance Ruth Richardson. This budget cut enormous amounts of spending in health, welfare and education. It introduced user-charges in education and failed to remove the superannuation surcharge promised by Bolger. The 1991 Employment Contracts Act also eliminated industry mandated awards negotiation and destroyed the membership of trade unions, with individuals now being free to negotiate their own employment agreements.

Bolger remained Prime Minister until 1997, having managed to narrowly win the 1993 election and hold on to a one-seat majority in coalition with New Zealand First following the first MMP election in 1996. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters had been largely expected to enter into a coalition with Labour but managed to extort a high price for his support from Bolger, becoming Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister and getting several cabinet positions awarded to inexperienced New Zealand First MPs. This situation didn’t take long to become intolerable to many in the National party and Bolger found himself facing a leadership coup while overseas in 1997. Jenny Shipley won the coup and Bolger resigned from Parliament in 1998.

Following his exit from Parliament, Bolger became New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United States until 2001. His initial career direction as a former Prime Minister, in my opinion, was ideal in terms of personal dignity and avoided him becoming a problem for the next PM through retaining public profile of bitterness and resentment. When he returned to New Zealand, possibly to the horror of figures in the National opposition and the delight of Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark, he was appointed Chairman of NZ Post and Kiwibank. In 2010 he became chairman of Kiwirail, the formerly privatised rail company repurchased by Helen Clark’s Labour government. In 2018, he led the government working group designing a regime of Fair Pay Employment Agreement’s similar to that which his Government had destroyed in 1991.

While Bolger initially did well in finding a new career path in 1998, his return to New Zealand in 2001 commenced a career including positions that would have been an anathema to the Government he led in the 1990s. To spend 2018 designing the replacement of the employment relations regime his government created in 1991 raised more eyebrows than his Chairmanship of Kiwibank or Kiwirail. In that year Bolger became a public personality very different from that of the fourth National Government; expressing public regret for some of the actions he undertook as Prime Minister.

Jenny Shipley never won a general election as Prime Minister, taking the position unopposed in 1997 following Jim Bolger’s resignation in 1997 while in coalition government with New Zealand First. The governing arrangement became increasingly unstable from that time leading up until the sacking of Winston Peters from cabinet in 1998, the exit and obliteration of New Zealand First in 1998 and the limping of the National-led Government to the next election with a one seat majority, maintained by the support of Mauri Pacific, United, Act, Mana Wahine and several independent MPs. Shipley lost the 1999 election and was deposed as National leader by Bill English in 2001.

Shipley did well to reinvent herself following her retirement from politics in 2002, taking on several business and charitable positions since then. The only black mark on her post-politics career was her resignation from the Board of Directors of Mainzeal in 2012 which went into receivership and then liquidation owing $110 million in 2013. Last year the New Zealand High Court ruled Mainzeal had failed in their duty to avoid reckless trading and that Shipley was herself liable for $6 million in damages. While very damaging for Shipley personally, she had long been in a position disassociated with politics and this had little impact on the National party.

This brings me to Helen Clark and the unfortunate hangover she has transformed herself into for current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Shortly following defeat in the 2008 election, Clark resigned as MP for Mt. Albert, a position she had held for 27 years. She didn’t leave politics altogether, though, and was appointed to the position of Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme before being elected unanimously by the General Assembly as the Chair of the UN Development Group, the third most powerful position in the UN. Clark served two four-year terms as the administrator of the UNDP before stepping down to unsuccessfully pursue election to General Secretary of the United Nations.

Returning to New Zealand, Clark has maintained a high public profile partially through her avid use of social media. That has ensured she remains, as the former Prime Minister of the previous Labour government, a figure of comparison to the current Prime Minister of today’s Labour government. Ardern is not blameless in this arrangement, having become the MP for Clark’s old electorate in Mt. Albert ,and she has allowed Clark to present herself as somewhat of a mentor and therefore a much bigger ‘prick’ than Muldoon could ever have been.

As a resident of the neighbourhood of Mt. Eden, Clark has been an extraordinarily damaging NIMBY, sticking her jackboots into the activities of the Eden Park stadium. The objections of this neighbourhood to any activities at the stadium, including chartiable concerts, have ensured the stadium continues to be a financial disaster reliant on multi-million dollar ratepayer handouts from Auckland Council.

Clark continues to be quite prominent through the activities of her think-tank foundation, which I imagine isn’t always appreciated by Ardern. Following the recommendation of the Taxation Working Group for a Capital Gains Tax to reduce the value of housing, Ardern did a classic John Key step of exchanging principle for politics and sacrificing a policy she probably privately considered to be essential, in pledging there would never be a Capital Gains Tax implemented for as long as she is Prime Minister. I suspect Winston Peters may have been pulling the strings behind the scenes on this issue, as Ardern has significantly raised the stakes by linking it to her own Prime Ministership. Just two months ago a report from the Helen Clark foundation recommended the implementation of a Capital Gains Tax to drive down price inflation in the property market. The foundation structure could be designed as a means for Helen Clark to advocate her own political views while remaining technically disassociated but naming it after herself eliminates any effort at that public perception.

Due to her previous internationalist work at the UN, it is unsurprising that Clark continues to be a media feature for her opinion on the manner in which New Zealand’s Government and the World Health Organisation deal with the spread of the virus. On Wednesday she labelled the Trump Administration’s decision to stop funding the WHO foolish and expressed her personal disappointment at the lack of a global response to deal with the elimination of Covid19.

The political career of Helen Clark is long finished, and she would be best to recognise this and go into a dignified retirement. Her continued advocacy of internationalism is of little benefit to the public exchange of ideas, and the effect is out of proportion to their value. They’re especially inconvenient to governance by the new generation of Labour politicians, and needlessly so.

The ban on misleadingly labelled ‘single-use plastic bags’ is a public relations success for the Government despite being a public policy disaster and a negative for the environment. That is probably why the just released ‘Rethinking Plastics in New Zealand’ report from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor looks like political low-hanging fruit. If banning single-use plastic bags was so easy, then banning plastic kitchenware, cotton buds and fruit stickers is a good news story waiting to be written.

 

The Government’s plastic bag ban was cheap and opportunistic. The big players in the retail sector had long decided to stop providing free plastic bags and were in the process of eliminating them by the time the Government announced the ban. One supermarket chain had gone further, eliminating plastic straws and replacing with paper or bamboo versions. The hard work had already been done by big business. The Government piggybacked on their efforts to take some of the credit by banning plastic bags when it was obvious they were not going to be available in any case. The victory is somewhat hollow, as we’ve seen with innovations from tobacco giants (cigarettes with a small cap in the filter that can be crushed to change the flavour from regular to menthol), genuine entrepreneurs will always outsmart politicians and bureaucrats. My local roast shop provides takeaway customers with a legal handle-free ‘single-use’ plastic bag. 

 

The ban on plastic bags is feeble smoke signalling. Virtue signalling without any virtue, due to overwhelming evidence the reusable replacements are much worse for the environment. As for the next plastics being eyed up for criminalisation, the Government openly admits it doesn’t even know what environmental impact the products have in New Zealand due to significant data gaps throughout the production, consumption and disposal process. That literally means they don’t know if there is a problem, but rather than wait to obtain the evidence, they’re going to ‘fix’ the problem at the same time. While you let that bizarre conundrum sink in, let’s briefly reflect on the impact of the ‘single-use’ plastic bag ban,

 

It is hard to know whether reusable bags are better than single use bags for more reasons than you’d think, and I’ve uncovered more than I thought researching this article. The three main reasons for this are 

 

  • Type of bag: there are many different types of disposable paper and plastic bags. There are an even greater number of different types of reusable bag including recycled plastic, paper, cotton and tote.
  • Focus: what environmental issues are you trying to solve? Energy or natural resource use? Pollution? Emissions or carbon footprint? You need to measure all environmental impacts, not one aspect.
  • Variables: What method was used to produce the bag and how far did it travel to be used.

 

A simplified formula could be written as :

Total Environmental Impact = Cost of Production + Cost of Use + Cost of disposal 

 

The results of studies on global warming impact and environmental impact are as varied as the range of reusable bags themselves, so I’ve settled on one of the most commonly-cited. So the watermelons don’t accuse me of cherry-picking corporate propaganda, I’ll go with a 2018 study from Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food. The study found if factors such as manufacturing impact on climate change, ozone depletion, water use, air pollution and human toxicity are taken into account, then single use plastic bags (low-density polyethylene) have the least impact compared to every other option.

 

This table below, using data from the Danish government study, compares the environmental performance of LDPE bags to other bags – assuming the LDPE bags are reused once as a trash bin liner before being incinerated (the best form of disposal, according to the report).

 

Bag Type Reuses to have same climate change impact Reuses to have the same cumulative environmental impact (water use, energy use etc)
Recycled Plastic 1 2
Non woven polypropylene 6 52
Woven polypropylene 5 45
Recycled PET 8 84
Unbleached paper   43
Bleached paper 1 43
Polyester 2 35
Conventional cotton 52 7100
Organic cotton 149 20000

 

The woven/non-woven polypropylene are the standard reusable bags you’d buy in your supermarket for $1; each of which need to be used 45-52 times each before their environmental impact is the same as the humble single-use plastic bag. If you go shopping once a week; it would have to be used for a year. Assuming you actually can achieve that, what about your fellow shoppers who always forget to bring them and have a collection in the cupboard under the stairs. For every reusable bag they use once, you’d have to get double the shopping trips out of yours (90-104) to break even.

 

Textile recycling infrastructure is quite rare, so this report presumes they cannot be recycled, hence cotton bags needing to be re-used 7100 times to achieve the same environmental impact as a ‘single-use’ plastic bag (make that 14200 if one lazy shopper uses theirs just once). That’s 136 years if you use it while shopping once a week. The organic cotton bags are worst of all (20000 uses, i.e. 384 years of weekly supermarket shops), due to organic yields being 30% lower than conventional cotton on average – and that’s taking the absence of pesticides into account.

 

This is what we know thus far about the plastic bag ban that has already been implemented in New Zealand: The study by the Chief Science Advisor states that 36% of plastic produced is for single-use packaging, which gets environmentalists finger-wagging at supermarkets for excess plastic use, especially in the fruit and vegetable department. Where voters’ fingers wag, politicians sniff for more votes.

 

Bags provided for putting loose produce in are the first cause for complaints. However, these are difficult to replace. They have to be extremely lightweight to avoid being weighed by the scale at the checkout and therefore added to the price of purchase. Paper bags for mushrooms are similarly lightweight but lack the strength to carry heavier products. There are seriously expensive legal ramifications from the Commerce Commission for getting this wrong.

 

Wrapping plastic on single cucumbers, silverbeet, etc. seems wasteful, but it actually considerably extends the life of the produce, reducing food waste and the cost of food production to compensate for that which is wasted, all of which have their own environmental impact. Removing this plastic wrap is worse for the environment than keeping it. Cucumbers, in particular, have thin skin that damages and degrades very quickly without plastic. The humble parsnip and swede also last just a few days when sold loose, but over a week in plastic.

 

Another factor in plastic packaging for produce is organic produce which can be 100-400% higher in price than conventional produce. For an organics seller to be certified by Biogro NZ, they must pass regular audits to convince the certifier that there is no cross-contamination of organic product by conventional product; much more difficult to achieve without plastic protection for the organic product. The higher price makes self-serve checkout fraud very tempting; it is very easy to charge your organic tomato as a regular tomato without being caught, which is why retailers will usually plastic wrap the organic product and place a barcode on it.

 

Forget the nonsense peddled by the woke greens; organic food is actually more environmentally damaging as it requires extra plastic packaging to sell, has a lower yield than conventional food, requires greater land area to produce, less efficient inputs in its growth, and a greater proportion of product is wasted. The smoke-signalling marketing around organics is as bullshit as what it grows in.

 

The evidence of the greater harm being inflicted on New Zealand’s environment by new plastic regulations is overwhelming. When you consider 95% of plastic in the oceans comes from ten rivers in Asia and Africa, yet Greens Minister Eugenie Sage doesn’t even know how much plastic finds its way into New Zealand rivers, the entire exercise is blowing a giant smoke signal.

 

The state of California banned ‘single-use’ plastic bags in 2016, resulting in an 18 million kilo reduction in plastic. However, research conducted into the effects of the ban three years later confirmed my suspicions about the elimination of a product so commonly used as a rubbish bag; an increase in purchased rubbish bags weighing in at 5.4 million kilos.

 

Straws haven’t been mentioned in the our media following the Chief Scientist’s report, but plenty of overseas jurisdictions have taken that step. While useful at McDonald’s they’re a nuisance to me in places like bars. I’m a recovered alcoholic so usually will drink Coke Zero while at a bar and usually find a straw in it. I guess they figure if I’m going to drink a kid’s drink they may as well treat me like a kid. Sure I could tell them not to give me a straw but why should I make the extra effort each time? They’re the ones who suck.

 

The growing number of jurisdictions banning plastic straws gives me plenty of evidence of the impact, or lack of it, this step makes. This anti-straw movement took off after a 2015 video of a sea turtle with a straw in its nose went viral. The impact on the Columbian cocaine trade is unknown. Some rather dubious data has been the impetus of this campaign, such as the claim Americans use 500 million straws a day – that was derived from a survey conducted by a nine year old. Some equally dodgy numbers from two Australian scientists formed the claim there are up to (the phrase ‘up to’ is always cause for scepticism – we’re all guilty of covering our doubts with it) 8.3 billion plastic straws  scattered on global coastlines. Even if that were the case, it would account for just 0.025% of the plastic entering oceans each year.

 

Evidently, the impact of plastic straws on the environment is infinitesimal, and, once again, the alternatives may be worse. Starbucks has replaced straws with a sipper lid, the manufacture of which uses more plastic than the straw. McDonalds’ first attempt at the paper straw was a failure as it fell apart in drinks, especially thickshakes. The company replaced it with a thicker paper straw which couldn’t be recycled so had to be disposed of in general waste, though the company claims that waste is burned to create energy. Using paper in itself isn’t good for the environment; it is the third largest cause of air, water and land pollution in the United States, releasing over 100 million kilograms of toxins per annum. Whatever you think of the global warming debate, nobody disputes that trees being used to produce paper are crucial for absorbing carbon dioxide.

 

Plastic cotton ear buds are also in this government’s sights, following bans in Scotland and England. Curiously, their most common use (removing wax from your ear) is not recommended by otolaryngologists. While they will get some wax out of your ear, often more wax will be pushed deeper down into your ear, potentially creating an earwax blockage or even injury to the ear canal. The inventive among you may have used a syringe of water to do the job. “No, no, no,” say the otolaryngologists because it isn’t possible to control the water pressure going into your ear, making it also potentially harmful. What is the safe alternative? Unsurprisingly they say that visiting an ear, nose and throat specialist for an electronic clean is the best, though costliest, option. For the majority of you who won’t listen, bamboo earbuds will probably be the eco-friendly replacement on our supermarket shelves.

 

As for disposable eating utensils, putting this on the ban-wagon is a fairly recent idea, so there is little international evidence of the impact to review. The earliest bans will take effect from 2020 in France and South Australia, while an EU ban waits until 2021. There are already plenty of alternatives, which share a higher price tag too; corn-starch eco-plastics and bamboo utensil. Ironically reusable plastic chopsticks are much better for the environment than disposable wooden ones though you’d think regulators will pick that up. You’d think.

 

Given that the law of unintended consequences almost always brings with it more negative impacts than the initial problem a new law was passed to fix, I have little doubt that in a few years time, I’ll be re-publishing tables from studies showing the ban on plastic eating utensils has caused more harm than the utensils themselves (aside from an increase in aircraft hijacking). However, it’s easy to be a negative nancy and criticise policy. Proposing better policy is a bit more difficult.

 

In the case of ‘single-use’ plastic bags, proposing an alternative is easy – relegalise them. However, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there is a France-sized body of plastic waste that is difficult to ignore, even though there is no evidence of New Zealand’s contribution to it.

 

The casually named Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been studied for content and there is one product that makes up 46% of of its content: fishing nets. Bjorn Lomberg, President of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre claims that of all the plastics floating in the oceans today, 70% of the various waste comes from fishing activity.

 

So why the hell are New Zealanders tolerating Labour and the Greens smoke-signalling when the steps they are taking address products that have less impact on global plastic waste than our contribution to global greenhouse gases? Scientists actually know quite a lot about the sources of plastic in the ocean and what they are. Nothing being banned by our government will have any impact whatsoever.

An unusual and exceptional result in the 2020 election, that being the one-term government, looks increasingly likely. The only ban that has appeared to be successful is the one on ‘single-use’ bags which they barely did themselves, while other bans such as the haphazard firearms buy-back is crippled by incompetence. If this is the swansong Labour ends the year on, their Year of Delivery pathetically will conclude as the Year of Distraction.

 

 

(originally published on Insight Politics March) 

I’m generally quite cynical and dismissive of the media narrative by default. An unavoidable side-effect of being so absorbed in politics for the last decade. Especially reading articles about myself which get things I’ve explicitly talked about or written in press releases that mind-bogglingly appear different in print. Unsurprisingly I’ve not taken much interest in the Coronavirus until the last couple of weeks.

 

‘Reading between the lines’ I could see a virus with a much lower mortality rate than the flu, and those dying being virtually all elderly or suffering from other health conditions prior to infection. I wasn’t one of the panic shoppers hitting supermarkets the day after the news of the first confirmed infection in New Zealand, though I did field a few phone calls from work asking what they should do. Ring the staff who aren’t working to ask if they would like to work, I advised.

 

Over the nearly 22 years I’ve worked in the supermarket sector, I’ve heard it said many times, ‘you’ll always have a paycheck in that industry.’ Indeed, the altered purchasing patterns of the last few weeks have been good for business. 

 

However, for someone who keenly follows every detail of political news closely, normal political stories have been crowded out by coverage of Covid19 and there is little else to read in the mainstream media. I’m not a home-schooled microbiologist, haven’t paid a lot of attention to the news coverage and hoped I’d just be able to do whatever it is I like to do while awaiting its inevitable end.

 

Last week, famous people and politicians started getting exposed to the virus, in some cases infected with it and I finally started paying attention. Then the Prime Minister let off some smoke signals last week (unvirtuous virtue-signalling – feel free to make the term viral), announcing the border would be closed to virtually the entire world excluding some Pacific Islands, with the expectation that those entering the country will immediately self-isolate for 14 days.

 

That struck me as a lame effort. Appearing tough (there is a voting base that likes that sort of thing), while washing their hands of actually being tough. Did she genuinely think the tens of thousands of visitors processed by our International Airports, all confined in the space of an aircraft before squeezing passed one another to get through customs and baggage (think of all the infection opportunities), would then find somewhere to stay for 14 days and do absolutely nothing? Two people have been arrested for not self-isolating and face immediate deportation but whether the police are really good at catching self-exposers, or the processes are simply incapable of enforcing the edict is unclear.

 

In the same week, Justin Treaudeu’s wife was infected with Coronavirus and he joined her in self-isolation. That news was closely followed by the announcement from President Trump would close the USA’s border to travellers from Europe excluding the UK. I checked my Kiwisaver and moved it from Growth fund to Conservative. Inspired by the creators of pronoun shirt badges, I made one saying “HANDSHAKES X SALUTES ✔” I doubt I’ll ever join the supermarket panic shoppers, but it does appear I have been dragged reluctantly into the collective concern.

 

Quite possibly the biggest shock of all was reading the Taxpayer’s Union release on Monday, containing their recommendations to the Government on the tools that should be used to minimise the economic impact of CoronaVirus. It contained a much more serious disease in copious amounts: socialist economic ideas!!!

 

  • Taxpayer-funded, 30 days sick leave for all workers for next twelve months.
  • Use tax dollars to buy-out a proportion of struggling businesses as opposed to bailouts.
  • Scrap the 2020 increase in minimum wage OR use taxpayer money to subsidise the increased minimum wage for eighteen months.
  • Fund unlimited childcare for health, police and emergency workers for eighteen months.
  • Partner with major supermarkets and uber to make food delivery free.
  • Cut the bottom tax rate from 10.5% to 5% retrospectively and provided all taxpayers the difference retrospectively.
  • Expand Winter Payments to commence immediately for 12 months.
  • Suspend interest and penalties until 2020 for late tax payments by employers.

 

My view on why the Great Depression following the 1929 stock-market crash lasted a decade for some countries is the result of governments responding to the economic crisis by building a massive welfare state in conjunction with hands-on, interventionist economic policy. Few people know about the 1920-21 Depression which followed the conclusion of World War 1. With soldiers returning from the battlegrounds to find fewer jobs available, the economic crisis was largely driven by serious deflation in the value of currency. The addition of interference by the newly formed Federal Reserve, which deemed to respond to the deflation by increasing interest rates (the opposite advocated by Keysian theory now) led to a reduction of GNP by up to 7%.. Fortunately US President Harding continued with a laissez-faire economic policy, and the last economic depression to avoid political interference was sharp yet short; lasting just 18 months.

 

Every government program, action or package is funded using taxation. The taxation is largely collected from the most productive, highest wealth-creating sectors of the economy. It is spent in sectors which have crashed, are declining or otherwise unable to sustain themselves. It is incredible to me that most mainstream economic thought relies on taking resources out of the strongest economic sectors to invest in areas that the market has deemed unsustainable as the solution to economic recession. Any business that ran in such a manner would quickly go bankrupt.

 

What is our Government’s response to the economic havoc of Coronavirus? A $12.1 billion package (in small print: over the next four years).

 

Extra $500m for Health Sector

Eh? Only 4% of your spending package to deal with a global pandemic is going into health? That’s a little bit surprising. I’ve barely remembered to mention the lack of details.

 

$5.1b Wage Subsidies for affected businesses in all sectors

This is a concept I can’t recall having seen previously, so it will be interesting to see how the Law of Unintended Consequences behaves. It is similar to the aforementioned concept of using wealth-creating sectors to invest in unsustainable sectors but doing so in response to a virus is a different scenario to most economic crises.

 

$126m in sick leave and self-isolation support

I appreciate having an employer that has already decided to pay staff who are required to self-isolate. I imagine most employers don’t have that ability.

 

$2.8b in changes to business taxation

Not as good as a tax cut. Only temporary, but not the worst thing this Government has done (or, as is usually the case, not done).

 

$600m initial aviation support package

It isn’t as if the aviation sector hasn’t already had enough lollies thrown at it. Air NZ was nationalised to prevent it going bankrupt. Most airports have some local government ownership. Airlines have been incentivised and pressured into continuing unprofitable activities by politicians; especially in the servicing of small domestic destinations.

 

$100m support package to help employees train to work in other sectors

Considering how tight the labour market is and how the virus has just made it even harder to use overseas labour, I doubt the government really needs to be paying for this.

 

$2.8 billion thrown at their own support base

The Winter Energy payment for beneficiaries and superannuitants, with zero-means testing, has been doubled this year. On top of a new beneficiary payment increase measure (tied to the median wage instead of CPI), weekly payments for those on a benefit increase an extra $25 permanently.

 

What a cheap and transparent way to exploit a health crisis. The fabled missing million, relied upon by earlier Labour election losers to cast a vote, just might be motivated to do so by the cannabis referendum. Therefore, let’s ensure they also vote Labour with some free money permanently. There is no rational economic argument for paying those who don’t work, in an economy with less than 5% unemployment, more money to not work. Considering the minimum wage is also going up $1.10 an hour in two weeks; making it less likely those currently unemployed will find employment when the minimum hourly rate reaches $18.80, why the hell would you make it even more comfortable for those currently lying on the couch to make a living?

 

Only weeks ago, Labour released its $12 billion infrastructure spending package. This week they released a $12.1b coronavirus response package. They’ve hinted at further spending packages, not including the Budget which comes in May.

 

This could be the most popular economic depression in history.

(originally published on Insight Politics March 13 2020)

 

Elected with 56 MP’s (since reduced to 55 with the expulsion of Jami-Lee Ross) in 2017, National is the largest opposition party in New Zealand’s political history. Labour, a long-shot prospect of winning the previous election are a collection of 46 starry-eyed incompetents whose eventual appointment to the Government benches is the equivalent of winning Lotto Powerball twice. They’re supported by the nine MPs of New Zealand First: Winston Peters being the definition of a politician for all the wrong reasons backed by eight sycophantic, econophobic and xenophobic opportunists embroiled in multiple corruption scandals. This minority coalition government survives on the goodwill of the most desperate, longest serving parliamentary opposition party; The Greens. Co-led by an in-offensive middle-aged straight white man and an ideologically torpedoed tugboat, ignorant of her three year, 360 degree roundtrip due to her single-minded focus on horn tooting.

 

This most recent triannual electoral cycle should have been Nationals to lose. Indeed I think National have lost it because their lacklustre, feeble and ineffective tactics betray an obvious disrespect held for the abilities of the Government and a subsequent lack of effort to land an early KO punch. Terrible for New Zealand but great for Act; a single MP party for a third consecutive term. Act has struggled to attract voter support as the David Seymour to the National Goliath during the latters’ three term Government, despite the obvious disparity in intellect-to-MP ratio between the two.

 

I’ve quoted former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating who referred to then Opposition Leader John Howard as “a shiver looking for a spine to run up” as a fitting description for the current National party. National has been more effective at hurting National than any of the three governing parties since 2017. Leader Simon Bridges has been unsuccessful in personally winning the hearts and minds of New Zealanders; not helped by the popular support for Judith Collins over much of that time. Only recently has his preferred Prime Minister numbers managed to break into double figures whereas previously it took his and Collins’ combined popular support to break the ten point level. Combined with the double whammy of public navel-gazing when anonymous text messages alleging corruption from a self-described mentally unwell source, Bridges chose to drag out National’s war against itself with a very public inquiry. In the long term, Bridges will have been proven to have made the right decision, but for several months in which Jami-Lee Ross was exposed and cast out, National was fighting itself, not the easy target of Labour/NZ First.

 

Despite having 55 MPs, there is no greater evidence that National is a “shiver looking for a spine to crawl up” than the National party itself. It isn’t even necessary to compare National with the 1 MP dynamo that is the Act party (though I’m going to do it anyway), to drive this message to voters again and again. From 2014-2017, the number of partnership schools reached 12, despite the National Party ball-and-chain deadweight assistance. David Seymour proved how inadequate the Ministry of Education model is by finding sponsors to open an alternative educational model. National proved how inadequate the status quo is by running the status quo until the 2017 election campaign, when partnership schools became the greatest idea they’d never had.

 

The analysis of National’s voting record during the current term, in which the largest ‘opposition’ party has voted with the Government more often than it has voted against, is not as widely known as it should be. The most obvious examples are:

 

  • The first round of gun reforms passed 119-1 in March 2019, following their collaboration with Labour to allow a change in the normal parliamentary procedures, leading to the sole opponent of the law changes to be outside of Parliament at the time he intended to object to rushing these changes through.
  • The Poverty Reduction Bill, which uses nine different measures to determine child poverty levels, including several which are equity, not poverty, measures passing 119-1.
  • The Zero Carbon Bill passed 119-1 despite National heavily criticising the content and promising significant changes to it should it be in the next Government.

 

In recent times, the Act spine has been shamelessly impersonated by the National shiver as Coronavirus, fiscal irresponsibility and economic storm clouds have shaped political news stories. National has impersonated Act’s call for replacing the Resource Management Act with a call to reform it, despite ignoring Act and United Future’s assistance to do that in the previous Parliament. National recently impersonated Act’s policy to improve the quality of regulatory legislation starting with a “bonfire” of 100 regulations in the first six months of government. Act has had a policy to do so since 2006, which National has largely disagreed to support for 14 years. Act released a proposal for a regulatory constitution in 2019, giving New Zealanders the ability to strike down poor legislation in court, which National is yet to support.

 

Recently Simon Bridges has opted for visibly opportunist rhetoric on changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, recently promising to reverse restrictions on landlords giving 90 days notice to end tenancies without giving a reason, comply with expensive minimum heating standards and cancel a newly proposed right for tenants to add new minor fittings to a house, though they won’t abolish the right for landlords to set rules on pets. This is a watered-down version of Act party proposals.

 

The minimum wage is scheduled to increase from $17.70 to $18.80 on April first, while the New Zealand economy faces a slowdown led in part by the impact of Coronavirus upon the tourism and export education industries. Act has called upon Labour to cancel this heavy burden upon small business. National has only echoed that call following Act.

 

Act’s criticisms of recently implemented employment legislation have also been replicated by Simon Bridges. Included in a list of 29 regulations released by Finance Spokesman Paul Goldsmith were:

  • Scrapping the requirement that new employees be automatically covered by the provisions of a collective agreement for 30 days
  • Employers can deduct wages of staff participating in partial strike action.
  • Allow all employers to use 90 day trials when hiring new staff (something Act implemented over a decade ago).
  • Restore “flexible” rest and meal breaks currently stipulated in Employment regulation.

 

For voters wanting to elect a genuinely centre-right government this year, a party vote for Act is the only tool they have to ensure a change from the status quo is more than cosmetic. Even when National copies or imitates Act, they rarely follow through on that imitation as their expansion of Working for Families (described as “communism by stealth” by John Key in opposition), failure to cancel interest-free student loans and superior management of Helen Clark’s legacy demonstrated.

 

David Seymour has done an incredible job in demonstrating just how much better value for vote Act MPs are than our friends in the National Party. David Seymour’s revolutionary reforms in the primary and secondary school sector were the biggest success since Tomorrow’s Schools and have only been reversed because National ensured they were too small to survive the predictable teacher union onslaught that accompanies a Labour government. In turning down a $50,000 pay rise and promotion to Cabinet, Seymour ensured his End of Life Choice bill stayed in the Members’ ballot and could be guided to an eventual referendum this year, which polls have repeatedly shown will pass by an overwhelming majority this year.

 

Seymour continues to be the solitary sensible voice in Parliament opposing new regulation on vaping products; the single biggest free-market solution to reducing smoking levels we have ever seen. Despite lifting the price for some packs of 20 cigarettes to over $35, annual taxation increases have long stopped making an impact on the number of daily smokers. Alternatively, vaping levels were 2.6% of the population in the most recent New Zealand Health Survey of 2017/18 and are widely expected to have grown when the 2018/19 survey is released. While Labour proposes bans on advertising this silver bullet solution to smoking and reducing access to flavours enjoyed by over 94% of vapers, National attacks the reforms as “taking too long.”

 

Freedom of Speech moved from being a non-issue to one which will define the 2020 election and it started with Act’s unflinching defense of free speech for all when “nuttier than squirrel-poo” provocateurs Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneaux visited New Zealand in 2018. National was happy to voice support for free speech when Don Brash faced dubious de-platforming, but unlike Act, spoke in favour of blocking those with unpopular views when Chelsea Manning and Clementine “All Men Must Die” Ford also visited New Zealand.

 

On Tuesday, the one-MP Act band scored another victory for free speech as numerous Supplementary Order Papers were proposed and voted upon during the final Committee of the Whole House process that precedes the Third Reading of the Abortion Legislation Bill. David Seymour has faced criticism for his support of the bill which removes abortion from the Crimes Act, partially due to a clause which establishes 150 metre “safe zones” in which the Ministry of Health can apply to exclude protestors from opposing abortion. Seymour has opposed the safe-zones saying “People that want to start banning speech in a particular area for, I agree a noble purpose, should think very carefully about the precedent that it sets.”

 

A vote on his amendment to remove the establishment of safe-zones was narrowly beaten 59-56, however a second part of his amendment on the process establishing and making them function passed the voice vote, in which MPs vote by saying “aye” or “no”, after no MP voice a call for conscience votes to be subsequently voted. While this dangerous threat to free speech survives in the abortion bill, the ability to implent and govern them has been deleted in the biggest victory for free speech in recent memory.

 

New Zealand First is unlikely to survive the 2020 election; though they have survived predictions of demise in every MMP election except 2008, so it would be naive to be complacent. Should they fail to survive 2020, then it is very likely that the next Parliament will feature just National, Labour, Act and the Greens should the Maori party strategy to win a racial electorate fail. A party vote for National in 2017 elected lightweight List MPs Maureen “f***ing useless” Pugh and Nuk Korako but could have been used to elect Act’s 2nd and 3rd ranked Beth Houlbrooke and Brooke van Velden. That would have been an undeniable improvement to the parliamentary opposition.

 

Even when National says what Act says, they cannot be relied upon to do what Act does. To make a change in government worthwhile this year, the most powerful party vote to cast will be a party vote for Act.

 

Smoke Signal: The attempt to signal virtue i) by those who have none or ii) when signalling act is either unvirtuous or more damaging than the default.

 

For those who have better things to do than think about politics (I quietly envy you), Wednesday was the beginning of 2020. To those of us who don’t know how many days pass until it is acceptable to declare it so, Wednesday heralded election year. I’ve waited two years, three months and seven days for that moment. Having long subsided to Grinchiness, I’ve forgotten what Christmas day feels like but I suspect it was similar to now. That may sound pathetic or sad however unlike the thrill of Christmas, the thrill of election year lasts much much longer than a day.

 

I don’t know if New Zealand’s longest working politician, Winston Peters, is excited by election year. I suppose for many of those currently elected, my excitement can be mirrored in equal measure as an anxious chestful of doom. I suppose for Peters, who has failed to be elected to Parliament just once since 1984, election year is a routine exercise; his behaviour a little different from the other two thirds of the political cycle. However, turning 75 this year and still going, there must be an element of personal satisfaction from it because there is obviously no ideological reason for him to keep going. His party isn’t jokingly referred to as ‘Winston First’ for nothing.

 

It is dangerous to make predictions about the death of Winston’s political career. Those predictions were made, with very good reason, in 1999 following the cataclysmic self-destruction of the party from 17 MPs in 1996 to nine NZ First, five Mauri Pacific, 1 Te Tawharau and 2 Independent MPs. Peters’ 63 vote majority in Tauranga ensured five NZ First MP’s sat in Parliament and proved those predictions wrong.

 

In 2005, Peters finally lost the seat of Tauranga but the party received 5.7% of the party vote and, with seven MP’s, remained in Parliament. In 2008, it looked like the end of his career had finally come. Tauranga confirmed it was finished once and for all with New Zealand First and the country as a whole appeared to feel the same. Just 4% of the party vote wasn’t enough to clear the 5% threshold and, for the first time in 24 years the New Zealand Parliament did not feature Winston Peters as an MP.

 

By 2011, Winston was back as his party received 6.6% of the party vote. Winston was outside of Government as National governed with the support of the Maori Party, ACT and United Future. Opposition is where Winston is in his element. It is much easier to attack than it is to take responsibility or produce results, hence support for New Zealand First grew to 8.7% and 11 MPs in the 2014 election. While his party lost support in 2017 as a result of the first two party election campaign since 1993, every party except for Labour suffered the same fate. No matter, as Winston held the balance of power again and entered a coalition government with Labour, supported by the Green Party.

 

One of the groups of voters that gave their party vote to New Zealand First in 2017 were National Party supporters disappointed by National’s slow coast to the centre-left. They believed NZ First would go into government with National and give them a firm kick up the behind. There is a significant misconception that New Zealand First is a right wing party as the result of their anti-immigrant rhetoric. New Zealand First’s economic policies are firmly of the interventionist left, however that is merely coincidental rather than ideological. The Taxpayer’s Union has attempted to cost each party’s promises since the 2014 election and New Zealand First’s promises don’t just exceed every other party (at an eye-watering $27.5 billion in 2017) but are reportedly the most difficult to measure due to the ad hoc method at which they are determined. 

 

Gun owners were also big supporters of New Zealand First in 2017. Single-issue lobby groups in New Zealand are rare and their membership small, however gun owners seem to be the exception to this. Following the mosque shootings of March 15, every party in parliament with the exception of ACT, supported the rushed implementation of new restrictions on firearms. It isn’t possible to be absolutely sure of where all of those gun owner’s votes will go but with 250,000 voters holding a firearms license, they are guaranteed to be visible this election. It is easy to predict where they will vacate and that is New Zealand First.

 

Tobacco smokers have never really formed into a lobby group, nor have I ever been able to determine how many smokers cast their vote on tobacco policy alone. Given the beatings inflicted on smokers by every political party with the exception of ACT, who received just 0.5% of the vote in 2017, I’d say virtually no cigarette smokers vote with that policy alone in mind. Given that they obviously didn’t vote ACT in 2017 you’d think the next most likely place to park their  votes would be New Zealand First. If that were the case, Winston has just betrayed another support group with his pathetic “agree to disagree” smoke-signalling over tobacco tax increases in the past week.

 

On January 1, as has happened for the previous ten years, excise tax on tobacco has gone up by another 10%. This year the end cost to the consumere will exceed $2 per cigarette . In 2018 and 2019 this occurred without a hint of a whimper by Peters however he must be getting nervous about the number of voters he has crapped on this term. His “agree to disagree” statement, in which he publicly declares New Zealand First does not support this particular policy is meaningless. It doesn’t stop the tax increase taking effect, nor does it send the increase to a vote in Parliament as it had already been voted on in the last budget that passed it.

 

Less than two months before the 2017 election, Winston Peters stated ‘The first thing we’re gonna do is make sure cigarettes are not massively overtaxed like that and bring them back to reasonable value.’ That is recorded on this website’s YouTube channel. Just like everything else that comes out of Winston’s mouth, it was a lie. The latest increase will bring the level of excise tax taken from smokers to approximately $2.2 billion, more than double the amount the Treasury believes smokers cost the health system.

 

The best feature of this Government is its sheer incompetence. That is the single attribute that has stopped Labour sinking this country because its people are too disorganised to do it. That is why they are yet to ruin the free-market’s most effective tool for quitting smoking we have ever seen. It is on their agenda. Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa has already announced plans to ban advertising of vaping and all flavours with the exception of tobacco, mint and menthol. A US survey of 69233 adults found that just 5.8% of vapers used one of those flavours most often. Winston Peters has been silent.

 

There are plenty of other promises made by New Zealand First in the 2017 election that have vanished into the ether since they formed the Government. These include

 

  • Forgiving all existing student debt
  • Ending the use of 1080
  • Buying back all the assets sold by National in 2013
  • Removing GST from food
  • Increasing Veteran’s Pension by 10%
  • Net migration reduced to 10,000 people per year

 

In fairness, every party that signs up to a coalition government has to compromise their election manifesto. However it is hard to see which parts New Zealand First has managed to implement and which voters Peters hasn’t ignored in order to grip on to power. The backroom signing of the UN Compact on Migration in 2018, which Peters publicly announced after Parliament had closed for summer, contradicted any prior rhetoric on immigration also.

 

Predicting the certain demise of Winston Peters and New Zealand First in the 2020 election is difficult. He’s far too wiley a character and has survived being written off too many times. However Peters is at least privately concerned at the prospect and this smoke-signalling over tobacco excise tax reveals it.