Labour pessimism versus optimism

There’s been contrasting columns at the herald over the past two days.

On Tuesday there was Phil Quin: Labour’s pessimism ploy. (Quin resigned from Labour when the Chinese surname data was promoted).

Despite a considerable souring of economic sentiment, Labour, under Andrew Little, has barely moved in the polls since last year’s historic drubbing. His personal popularity lags behind predecessors David Cunliffe and David Shearer – and Little is more than 20 points adrift of where John Key stood at a comparable juncture in Helen Clark’s third term.

Little is no ideologue; nor does he play one for the cameras like Cunliffe. Instead, his animating worldview is one of pessimism. He is gambling that voters are change-averse, grumpy and fearful of the future.

Quin detailed:

  • The CGT reversal was just the first of numerous maneuvers that reflect this downbeat assessment of the public mood.
  • On the TPPA, Little’s Labour has adopted an unapologetically protectionist stance. It is no small matter for Labour to abandon decades of enthusiastic support for trade liberalisation, long seen by politicians across the spectrum as a key to New Zealand’s current and future prosperity.
  • Labour’s release of leaked Auckland housing data in order to highlight the prevalence of Chinese-sounding surnames is perhaps the singular event of Andrew Little’s tenure to date (full disclosure: I resigned from the party over the issue). It was an audacious and high-risk gambit. Little himself conceded he knew it would attract accusations of racism – but public polls suggest it has fallen well short of being the game-changer Labour had hoped.
  • Perhaps nothing showcases Labour’s defensive crouch better than its decision to oppose the referendum on the New Zealand flag. Labour’s historic mission is to forge a proudly independent national identity for New Zealand. It’s depressing to see Labour cede this turf to John Key for negligible political gain.
  • Labour is mining economic anxiety for the prospect of electoral gain and, in the process, usurping National’s historic role of defending, by any means necessary, what constitutes the status quo.
  • By playing up fears about the perils of globalisation or an impending Chinese invasion, Labour will encounter furious and vocal agreement. This shouldn’t be mistaken for a groundswell. Voters don’t reward parties who merely echo and reinforce feelings of despondency without offering real solutions.

Quin concludes:

Labour, in particular, thrives when it approaches the future with gusto, not trepidation. Merchants of doom and gloom might fill the airwaves, but they rarely win elections.

Yesterday Rob Salmond promoted an alternate view in Rob Salmond: The true state of Labour.  Salmond is stated as a communications and analytics consultant, whose clients include Andrew Little.

Is the Labour Party pessimistic, or optimistic? Does it oppose change or embrace it? Is the movement marching forward or standing still? Answering these questions is important, because it helps us understand the engine room of the next government.

It depends on whether you see things from where Labour is trying to present itself from it’s communications team or how the puiblic generally sees Labour. The Standard has hardly looked optimistic about Labour’s chances for a long time, it doesn’t represent all of Labour’s emotions but it’s a significant view on the thoughts of the activist Labour left.

Take home ownership, the political hot-topic of the year. Labour leader Andrew Little thinks home ownership rates really can go up again in Auckland, and across New Zealand. I’d call that optimism rather than pessimism. To get there, Labour’s proposing big changes, for example a large-scale, government-led programme of house building, or big changes to our investment rules.

Labour have succeeded in highlighting Auckland’s housing issues but this has drawn attention to the problems with escalating values rather than promoting a difference under a future Labour Government.

The plight of regional New Zealand’s another example. Little reckons our heartland towns really can get out of their current funk, and become potent economic forces again. For me, that sounds like more optimism. Labour’s ideas for achieving that include major capital expenditure on rail links and ports. Doing that might also help New Zealand’s economy diversify, becoming less dependent on dairy as new industries grow.

Except that many regions aren’t in a ‘current funk’. Tourism, apples, wine, avocados, meat etc are doing better than ever. There are labour shortages in some areas.

This is where Labour is failing – they have been talking down the regions, talking down the economy, talking down the TPP. Tacking an ‘optimistic hope Labour can do better’ doesn’t negate the negativeness.

Once you look at real examples of Labour’s contribution to the public debate, it’s hard to see where the pessimism argument is coming from.

No it’s not hard to see pessimism.

Quin does, correctly, that Little’s decision not to pursue a Capital Gains Tax was motivated by electoral pragmatism. He also notes, also correctly, that Labour’s position on the TPPA is a skeptical “wait and see” at the moment, not a definitive yes or no.

These are certainly shades-of-grey positions, the signpost of a party cognizant of both its principled starting point and the limits of what the public actually wants. Serious political parties always care about both these things. But those premises don’t lead to Quin’s pessimistic, fearful conclusion.

These premises are meaningless waffle to most people.

Many commentators have noted Labour’s caucus is more united, more disciplined, than it has been since Helen Clark. For the first time in around six years, the leadership murmors have disappeared

“Many commentators”?

Recent Labour related news has featured:

On polls:

Quin says Labour “has barely moved in the polls since last year’s historic drubbing.” Labour got 25 per cent in last year’s election. Less than a year later, four of the five latest polls have Labour above 30 per cent. An increase of more than five points inside a year, with the Greens’ vote steady or slowly increasing as well, isn’t “barely moved.” It’s “solid early progress.”

It’s more like tenuous recovery from an embarrassingly low election result. It was thought that Salmond’s Chinese surname data waw an attempt to get a populist poll boost but it barely had any affect ap;art from annoying a lot of people on the left.

It’s a communication consultant’s job to talk up optimism.

That doesn’t mean the public see optimism or are optimistic about Labour’s next election chances.

Labour are still requiring the support of both the Greens and NZ Fiirst to look like they are able to form a Government.

Can Salmond sound optimistic about that?

Winston Peters looks more optimisitic about his chances of being the next Prime Minister than Andrew Little.

To actually look optimistic (rather than say you are optimisitic) voters need to see a Government in waiting that they think is viable and manageable.

I think Mr Salmond has a bit more work to do yet.

Henare on his support for Whangarei partnership school

Peeni Henare, Labour MP for Tāmaki-Makaurau, broke ranks with his party when, along with Kelvin Davis, he attended a fundraiser for Whangarei partnership (charter) school run by the Puna Marama Trust.

Radio NZ reports Divisions in Labour over charter schools policy.

The Education Review Office’s report on the kura, released in February, found it had made a good start providing education for young Maori, and that senior students were making pleasing progress.

Mr Henare told Radio New Zealand that he knew all the people involved in both the trust and the kura itself, including the students.

“I support that particular charter school, and the reason I do that is that I’ve seen kaupapa grow from the fetal stages all the way to what they have today and I’ve seen the outcomes they’ve achieved and that’s I why I support that particular kaupapa.”

Supporting something that’s working successfuly is sensible politics.

All Labour’s policies had been under review since the last election, but its policy on charter schools was unequivocal: scrap them.

Mr Henare said how the policy played out now remained to be seen.

“We are all mature adults, I’d like to think and if we can get the opportunity to sit down and debate the merits for and of these kinds of kaupapa – and I’d expect the same for all policies and kaupapa that the Labour Party has – that the opportunity be given to sit down, to debate the merits on a fair playing field if you like, and I’m sure that’ll take place in due course.”

This puts the Laboujr party in a difficult position. They  have been committed to backing their education group allies and staunchly opposing partnership schools.

Success is going to be difficult to oppose, especially whe some of their own MPs recognise and applaud the benefits.

Two Labour MPs break ranks on Charter Schools

Labour, along with close allies the teachers’ unions, has always strongly opposed Charter Schools.

SO it’s notable that two Maori Labour MPs have openly supported a charter school.

3 News reported: Kelvin Davis defies Labour policy in charter school support

Labour MP Kelvin Davis has rebelled against his leader, Andrew Little, by giving his support to a charter school – a policy Labour strongly opposes.

Mr Davis was present at a fundraiser for a charter school.

Charter schools use taxpayers’ money, but are privately run – an ACT Party policy adopted by the Government.

The fundraiser was for a school run by the He Puna Marama Trust in Whangarei.

Mr Davis is Labour’s associate education spokesman, so it’s a bad look for him to show support.

Another Labour MP, Peeni Henare, also attended.

Davis is MP for Maori electorate Te Tai Tokerau, Henare is MP for Tāmaki Makaurau. Some Maori see benefits in Charter Schools, and Davisd and Henare have put more priority of the interests of their Maori constituencies rather the political interests of their party.

Labour sources have told 3 News Mr Little did not want them to go.

It does look a bit awkward for Little and Labour.

A spokeswoman for Mr Little said he left the decision to go up to the MPs, and their attendance does not reflect any change in Labour’s policy on charter schools.

But it’s obvious the blanket policy opposing charter schools is not universally accepted within the party.

It suggests a clash of special interests within Labour – their education constituency versus their Maori constituency.

Ardern on State of Care report

Having been the centre of much discussion this week afret being promoted by NZ Herald as apotential Labour leader it’s worth checking Jacinda Ardern in action.

Yesterday she led the Urgent Debate on the Office of the Children’s Commissionaer State of Care Report.

Draft transcript: Office of the Children’s Commissioner— State of Care 2015 report

JACINDA ARDERN (Labour): On behalf of Carmel Sepuloni, I move, That the House take note of a matter of urgent public importance.

The report that we have before us today is an absolute indictment, and it is only right that this House gives its time and consideration to what can only be considered some of the most important issues that we have a responsibility to address as members of this Parliament.

There is no statement in this report that captures the seriousness of the issues more so than the statement that the Children’s Commissioner made that “We don’t know if children are better off as a result of State intervention, but the indications are not good.”

To hear from the representative and advocate of children in this country that we cannot even guarantee that a child who is potentially being abused and neglected, who has an intervention from the State, is necessarily better off as a result of that in an intervention. What an absolute indictment on this country that we are in this situation.

The commissioner lists a range of areas specifically where we are failing our most vulnerable, and they are our most vulnerable.

More than 50 percent of these children are under the age of 10, and 5,000 of them are in the care of responsibility of this State. The State is their parent. The State has become the only stable thing that the Government has determined needs to take over so that they can be assured of safety and security.

Yet what is happening to those children after that intervention?

We have the case of one child who had up to 60 different placements. What message do you send to a child who has experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of their own family or caregivers, to then shuffle them around into up to 60 different placements?

We have got records of constantly changing caseworkers and a lack of stability and care and support for those children—a lack of support when transitioning not only between care but out of care. Let us remember that “out of care” in this country means to be at 17 years of age, one of the youngest ages to exit care in the developed world, and even then we are not supporting those young people.

The horrific number of more than 100 children, who even once they are removed, is experiencing further abuse and neglect. What long-term hope do they have, when only 20 percent of these children are then reaching National Certificate of Educational Achievement level 2 or higher.

All of this paints a damning picture not only for the State but for the children themselves who are experiencing this. It is true to say that in an area such as this, where you have wickedly complex problems, we have had issues arise before.

Labour had to deal with it when we came into office in 1999, and what did we do? Straight away, we recognised the under-funding and under-resourcing. We increased the baseline funding of that department by more than 50 percent. I will say that again—when Labour last took office it increased support for baseline funding of Child, Youth and Family Services by more than 50 percent.

But even then, as the years went on, we recognised we needed to do more, particularly with the workforce. We undertook a baseline review. That piece of work was completed by the Hon Ruth Dyson.

And before that, we also made sure that we started registering social workers, and now we say it is time that that becomes mandatory. We improved relationships with the community sector and our 10-month baseline review resulted in $111 million in operational spending going into Child, Youth and Family Services.

Why? They did not have the resources they needed to do the job. When that happens you have got to stand up and have the courage to acknowledge it as a Government, and that is what we are calling on this Government to do.

Because as much as that Minister stands up and says “We can’t just throw money at the problem”, well, Minister, the last time we looked at whether or not this department was sufficiently resourced was 13 years ago—13 years ago was the last time a baseline review was done of Child, Youth and Family. And a lot has changed in between.

Reviewing these issues again is not chucking money at an issue; it is good practice to check that your social workers have the support they need to do the work that they do. What has changed?

We do not have a static picture when it comes to vulnerable children in New Zealand. Let us just look at the numbers. During the year 30 June 2014 Child, Youth and Family received 146,657 notifications of possible abuse or neglect—146,657, that is enormous.

That is 17 percent higher than just 5 years ago—80,000 notifications were made back then. That is just a massive increase in a short space of time. The Minister will claim that not all of that is substantiated, that we might have false reporting, that just more people know about the vulnerability of children. In part, some of that will be true, but not all of it.

In fact, we know that roughly a third of those notifications are coming from the police, who know that those children are witnessing domestic violence, and we know the impact that has on those children.

We also know from the police that a lot of them are in fact substantiated. In fact, the recorded number of cases where children have been abused has gone up to 5,397 offences. That figure is 56 percent higher than in 2009. So in that short space of time the workload on Child, Youth and Family and the increase in harm against children has absolutely been documented.

And what has happened to staff? What have we done to make sure that that are able to cope with those dramatic jumps? In the 5 years how many more social workers would you expect to be dealing with 66,000 more notifications? How many more staff?

Well, in that short space of time there have been 76 new fieldworkers—76 new field workers. Crudely, that is 877 cases per new social worker. That is phenomenal. There is no way anyone in this House could claim that that is sufficient to deal with the extra demand this department is dealing with.

Yes, some issues in Child, Youth and Family have cut across Governments—absolutely, no denying it. But there is no denying that right now, in this period of time that this Minister in this Government has responsibility for, the changes for Child, Youth and Family have been enormous.

The Children’s Commissioner put it like this: “The ability of CYF’s current workforce to improve the outcomes experienced by children in the care system is constrained in various ways: limited resources, high caseload, and the need to invest in training.”

The Minister cannot put her head in the sand—that she must support her department as part of answering these issues. I wonder if the Minister, in fact, could respond even to the body who represents social workers, when they said, and I quote from the New Zealand Public Service Association, “The Government must address these issues of underfunding and capability. Otherwise there will be no improvement for those in need.” I do not want to hear a contribution from the Minister that says: chucking money at this problem is not the answer. No one said to chuck money at anything.

We said: “Invest in the people that you have charge of. Make sure they are equipped to do the job.” It is a hard job and at the moment all of the indications are that the cracks are showing in what they are having to deal with.

No one knows this better than the Children’s Commissioner. Even he has had static funding. So much so that he has closed his Auckland office. He cannot do an annual visit of all of the residences that he is meant to monitor; they have moved to every 18 months. He himself is struggling under the weight of an under-investment in this sector. He will not say it, so we will say it on his behalf.

The one area that the Children’s Commissioner has said that Child, Youth and Family is doing a good job at focusing on is that first intervention—the first moment when it is told that there is a potential issue with the safety of a child. In fact, this is how he states it: “Our analysis is that Child, Youth and Family is very focused on keeping children safe and managing the intake and assessment processes at entry to the system.”

I will say that again—at entry to the system. He said: “They’ve lost sight of what children need while in care and what they need to receive to ensure they thrive once they’ve left.

That concerns me.” That beginning is incredibly important. It is the triage phase. It is the point where we make sure a child is not in immediate danger. Interestingly, it si also where the political risks exists. As the Social Services Providers Association stated in its response to the report: “CYF’s staff are extraordinarily challenged by the dual expectation of managing both political risk and the risk of abuse to children.”

Very few social workers ever speak out of turn. They are very professional. But I will never forget when I had a Child, Youth and Family social worker who retired and came to see me and said that they are required to keep a political risk register”—not a register of harm to children, not a register of risk to family—a political risk register. We all have to take responsibility when a department starts focusing on the politics instead of focusing on children.

That is an absolute indictment, and it is part of the problem. It is part of what must change if we are to focus on outcomes for kids. What have we lost sight of? The Children’s Commissioner put it clearly—transition into placements, support for caregivers, and focus on residential care.

I want to touch on residential care. The Minister knows she has had problems with residential care—Children, Youth and Family residences, including youth justice residences run by the department. How do I know that? I have Official Information Act information to prove it.

I have never used these statistics in the House, or anywhere in fact, but there is a youth justice facility in Christchurch that the Minister has been briefed on almost continually, for a couple of years. And why? Because based on the Official Information Act information I received, between July 2014 and April this year that facility had more than 600 dangerous incidents.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: How many?

JACINDA ARDERN: I will say that again. Between July 2014 and April this year, a Christchurch-run Child, Youth and Family facility had more than 600 recorded serious incidents, including serious assaults, drug use, and self-harm. The police have been called to the centre numerous times, and in the past 2 years, as the Children’s Commissioner pointed out as part of the problem, they have had 16 temporary staff and five different residential managers.

I have briefings that show that the Government knew about the problems at this residence, and indeed it knows about the problems more broadly within Child, Youth and Family. What have we had from that Government in response to these kinds of issues? We have had a white paper, we have had a green paper, and we have got a Children’s Action Plan.

The Minister places a lot of weight on children’s teams, for instance. Apparently they are going to help 20,000 kids. Where is that resource going to come from? I will tell you where— Family Start.

The Minister is reprioritising resources that are already in the field on early intervention and shifting them to her new action plan. That whole exercise had the goodwill of the community sector behind it, but it did not address core issues.

What we should be looking at is putting children at the heart of all of the decisions that we make around them. We should be focusing on early intervention.

That means Ministers and the Government have to look at deprivation, poverty, and inequality in our communities. That is at the heart of many of these issues that we are dealing.

They need to join back together interventions in the home and continuity of care, because they have been separated. They need to focus on ensuring their department is resourced properly, trained properly, and supported properly. They need to guarantee they will not privatise the bits of the system that they are scared are falling over and causing accountability issues for them.

We have all heard rumours about Serco sniffing around youth justice facilities. We need the Minister to rule out that that will not be her answer and her way of getting this issue off her plate. What we also need to do is ensure that young people who are in care and protection right now, the kids who are in the facilities, the kids who are in care, and the kids who are in foster care are used to come up with the answers.

They should be part of this discussion. Not only did the Minister’s expert advisory panel not even include a social worker, but it did not include the young people who know care and protection better than anyone, and those are the kids who are in it.

Labour will use those voices. Labour will use the voices of social workers. Labour will use the community sector that works in this space. Only collaboratively will we come up with solutions, and that includes Māori and Pasifika as well.

Yes, some of these issues go beyond just the last 7 years, but this report absolutely has to be taken on board by this Government, and responsibility has to be taken by this Government to repair the damage that has been done to children’s lives right now. We should expect no less.

How would Mallard know what people want?

In a column at Stuff Trevor Mallard talks as if he knows “what we want”, but he doesn’t even seem to know what he wants, apart from dissing an opponent.

Trevor Mallard: Flag issue about PM’s ego, not what Kiwis want

When it comes to a brand spanking new flag, I started the parliamentary process with an open mind.

I don’t remember that bit. He must have closed his mind quite quickly.

The time for change will come I thought. But the middle of the commemoration of World War 1 is not the time.

if you don’t want something to happen you can think of many reasons why now isn’t a good time.

John Key has written that seeing the silver fern at the Bledisloe Cup  game confirmed to him that New Zealand needs a new flag. I watched that game, too.

But something else occurred to me looking around the packed stadium of 50,000 people: you would need three stadia that size to hold all the people who are out of work under National.

That’s why so many New Zealanders are angry about Mr Key’s flag project. There are a lot of serious issues facing New Zealand but the Prime Minister is fiddling about with the flag like he has nothing else to do.

This multi stadia vision of Mallard’s must be quite new. When he was in the Labour Cabinet his responsibilities included Minister for Sport and Recreation, Minister for the America’s Cup and later Associate Minister of Finance. Financie and sporting events must have been a different priority then.

There are 148,000 people unemployed in New Zealand right now, up 50,000 under National. There are 305,000 kids in poverty, up 45,000 under National. Net Government debt is at a record level, up by $58 billion under National. Homeownership is at its lowest level in 60 years.

$26m wouldn’t solve those problems, but it could make a start. Instead, Mr Key is flushing it away on a referendum that Kiwis have clearly said they don’t want.

Mr Key wrote “in a sense, the people have already spoken”.

He’s right: Kiwis have spoken. In every forum and in the media, the public opposition to a new flag and the referendum is overwhelming. The fact that fewer than 700 people showed up to the Flag Commission’s multi-million dollar roadshow speaks volumes.

The polls are stark – 70% of us don’t want change. Just 25% do.

That’s just one poll, so it’s very misleading quoting that. There are thirteen polls cited here, with a range of results. The three option polls show minorities against change in all three polls conducted last year.

The vast majority of over ten thousand flag design submissions were serious suggestions, suggesting significant interest from Kiwis.

It’s as plain as day that the second referendum will vote to keep the current flag.

It’s as plain as day that Mallard doesn’t know what he is talking about – or is deliberately promoting false impressions.

It’s impossible for anyone to know what the result of the second referendum will be.

The point of a flag referendum is to ask the people if they want change. The clear answer is that they don’t.  Not only do New Zealanders not want change, they don’t want $26m of taxpayers’ money spent on a vote.

No, the point of the two referendums is to ask if people want change. Grumpy old politicians opposing change under a Prime Minister they don’t want given any credit gives far from a clear answer.

John Key wrote that he believes now is the time for us as New Zealanders to have the national discussion around changing the flag.

I disagree. This is all for a vanity project in John Key’s name. We should all remember the word vanity comes from the Latin root Vanus which meant empty.

I began this process with an open mind. My mind is now made up. Now is not the time to change the flag. It wasn’t at the start of the process. It certainly is not now, no matter how many times the Prime Minister tries to convince us it is.

Mallard’s mind was obviously made up a long time ago. He has been campaiging against the referendums and against flag change for yonks.

Mallard announced that Labour would oppose change in March – see Loony Labour line on flag questions – despite change still published Labour Party policy.

But his and Labour’s opposition to flag change the Key way goes back into last year:

Petition 2014/0006 of Hon Trevor Mallard
During our consideration of this bill we also heard evidence on Petition 2014/0006 of Hon Trevor Mallard, requesting

That the House note that 30,366 people have signed an online petition calling for the Government to include a question in the first flag referendum asking New Zealanders if they want a change of flag or not.

The petition, along with other submissions, supported the inclusion of an initial “yes/no” question immediately before the proposed four alternative flag designs to be ranked in the first referendum. The petitioner argues that this referendum structure would allow participants to consider the alternative flag designs to help them decide whether or not they want to change the flag. If a majority voted against changing the flag, then the current New Zealand flag would be kept. The petitioner argued that this structure could save money as it might negate the need for a second referendum.

If the majority voted to change the flag, under the petition’s proposal the second referendum would be a run-off between the current flag and the highest-ranked alternative.

The majority of us recognise that if this procedure were followed, many of those who voted against changing the flag would probably not proceed to rank alternative flags, and therefore not contribute to selecting the preferred alternative. We note that the 2011 referendum on the voting system used a similar structure, and more than 50 percent of voters who voted to keep MMP in Part A did not go on to vote for a preference in Part B.

The majority of us note that the petitioner’s proposed referendum structure was considered by Ministry of Justice officials in preparing the Regulatory Impact Statement on the bill. The option was not among the top four for achieving the goal of a legitimate and enduring electoral outcome. There are a variety of reasons for this. For example, for a change of flag to occur, a majority of voters would have to vote twice for change, both in the first and second referendum; whereas those opposed to change could prevail at either referendum. The majority of us believe that the petitioner’s proposed structure would bias the referendum in favour of the status quo. A further reason against the proposal is that placing a first-past-the-post vote on whether or not the flag should be changed alongside a preferential vote as to the design of a possible new flag would cause complexity and thus confusion for voters. We note that the petitioner argued against this assumption.

Some submitters argued that adding an initial “yes/no” question into the first referendum would save money. However, the advice from the Electoral Commission is that not proceeding with the second referendum would produce only very limited cost savings. Net savings would be $2.27 million (given sunk costs already incurred and additional costs).

The majority of us therefore recommend no change to the referendum structure.

So Mallard is misrepresenting the cost – the first referendum with or without his amendment would incur most of the cost.

New Zealand Labour Party minority view

We stand strongly opposed to this bill.

While we question whether there is a genuine appetite for a debate around the flag, this has not been the primary reason for our opposition. Rather, it is the structure of the referendum that we object to.

And when they didn’t get the structure changed (which would have been against expert advice) Mallard and Labour switched to total opposition.

The most consistent argument against this proposed referendum structure was that it would be too complex for voters—we consider this argument to be an insult to the intelligence of the New Zealand population.


Labour wanted to make it more complex.

Mallard seems to have forgoten about this “most consistent argument” now a simple alternative choice in the first referendum and a simple new versus old i the second.

Mallard’s changing arguments are an insult to the intelligence of the New Zealand population

How can he know what Kiwis want when he doesn’t seem to know what he wants, except to oppose key’s flag initiative? Petty politics at it’s worst.

An all out light bulb campaign?

Tracey Watkins seems to think that truth doesn’t matter, all that’s important is getting dirt to stick.

National’s health and safety legislation its lightbulb moment

National’s health and safety legislation has turned into a running gag and political liability on the scale of Labour’s fart tax, and lightbulb ban.

And frankly, after the worm farm debacle, people will believe the worst.

Labour was swept out of power in 2008 on the back of a backlash against measures perceived as “nanny state”, some of which were equal parts myth.

There are no signs in the latest polls of National being swept anywhere. But when the rot starts setting in it is often over the small things, like school playgrounds, rather than the big things.

The health and safety legislation was borne out of the best of intentions in the wake of the Pike River mining disaster.

But politics have intervened.

It has become a runnimg gag because media are running the gag for the Opposition.

The Opposition are hardly innocent of playing politics with the issue, of course – but they are just doing what Opposition parties do best, and making hay while the sun shines.

Time will tell whether the latest attempts to damage Key and National have been successful or not.

The gags keep coming.

School playgrounds – some people believe they the next victims of the health and safety legislation.

“Some people believe” meaning Labour MPs and their allies in the education  sector are doing their best to make people believe them.

It no longer matters whether it is true or not that school playgrounds will have to close thanks to the Government’s health and safety laws.

Or whether it is true that school camps will be banned, outdoor games are under threat, or that people will have to wear a harness while using a ladder.

It’s enough that people believe it.

That’s a terrible commentary on how our politics and media works.

As for the legislation banning bullrush or school play grounds as claimed on Wednesday? A Google search suggests this is hardly the first time the Bullrush shroud has been waved.

It seems to have been banned many times over the years in response to various laws or legal precedents.

As for school camps, they were already under scrutiny after the deaths of an instructor and two pupils who drowned off New Plymouth’s Paritutu Rock while taking part in an outdoor education centre programme.

The Outdoor Education Centre was found liable and ordered to pay almost $270,000 in reparations – enough to make any school nervous about their liability in the event of another tragedy.

But National will carry the can regardless. Because the legislation is now seen as so flawed, any claim will stick

The voting and polled public have been proved wrong time and time again during the seven years of the Key Government.

There are no signs in the latest polls of National being swept anywhere. But when the rot starts setting in it is often over the small things, like school playgrounds, rather than the big things.

Labour’s strategy seems to be based on finding and promoting the small thing that breaks National’s hold on power.

Buit there’s a major problem with this. National’s support keeps holding up despite many embarassments and hiccups = because the alternative is seen as a worse option.

Labour have quite a way to go to make national seem worse than Labour. Especially if they keep lowering the standard.

For every Natiomal light bulb moment Labour highlight they keep showing they don’t have any idea how to turn the power on their own.

Little better on Q & A (Workplace Safety)

Labour leader Andrew Little was interviewed on Q & A yesterday. It focussed on a topic he knows well due to his twenty year union background, and he did a much better job than i his heavily criticised effort on The Nation the previous day (see The Nation: Little and Labour repeating failed strategies).

In particular when host Greg Boyed tried to bring up worm farming…

Try to explain to me, as somebody who’s not in Parliament, how on earth—You know, the media’s got plenty of comedy value out of this with the worm farming and that – how is something like that even allowed to slip through? Surely someone must have seen that in the early stages – ‘Right, we’ll push that aside. We don’t want that mentioned in the same time.’ How did that happen?

…Little dismissed the meduia beatup and turned to a positive approach to improving the Bill instead.

I don’t want to get heavily into that. Something would have happened between the officials and the minister, and Michael Woodhouse has worn enough over the last few days. I would rather work with Michael and whoever else in his government and his support parties…

That looks like a significant and welcome change of approach from Little.

Video: Workplace Safety – Labour (10:24)

This followed an interview with Michael Woodhouse on the same topic – see Woodhouse on the Workplace Health and Safety Bill.

Transcript of the Andrew Little interview:

GREG Welcome back to Q + A. Well, we heard Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse before the break. Let’s bring in Labour Leader Andrew Little. You heard what he had to say – that the overall feeling he wanted to put forth is this is not set in granite – there’s a lot of room for this to change. What are your thoughts and what do you have to say?

ANDREW The truth is, we have one chance to pass the law and to get it right. And that’s going to happen sometime this week. And what’s important for public confidence in the law is that we get it right now. So I don’t accept his view that we can now go through the law change process, have it ridiculed, if only for some parts of it, and then somehow through the consultation process that will follow, that will restore public confidence, because it won’t.

So what the minister needs to do now – and the support parties who are part of propping up this Government – is we actually need to take the next couple of days to see if we can thrash out what a good law is going to look like so we can very quickly restore public confidence in it.

GREG Okay, without burying people in legislation, red tape and a lot of cost, how can it be changed from here so it’s actually going to mean less people are killed in the workplace?

ANDREW Well, what we can’t have, for the sake of public confidence, is this process now where the minister can designate industries ‘high hazard’ or ‘low risk’. Because what we’ve seen with that in the last few days is that’s a very arbitrary line to draw.

And you get the silly absurdities where worm farming, which according to the minister, has caused deaths, is regarded as more high risk than the industry that has killed over 100 people in the last three years, and that’s farming, whether it’s dairy, beef or whatever.

GREG The thing I’m finding frustrating, and I think most people are, is you go, ‘Okay, on one hand, farming is dangerous – a lot of people die. But they’re not going to be under this. They’re not going to feel the weight of this. They’re not going to get any safer. What am I missing? Why is that happening?

ANDREW I think the myth is that the average farm now is kind of Mum, Dad and the kids and the odd bit of farm labour that comes on. That’s actually not the average farm anymore.

The average farm is a properly-run business and there’s labour coming and going all the time. And so they are not the three or four operation. They can be a dozen, they can be up to 20. They might fall under that threshold that the Government’s put in place to try and exclude them, but they still need a culture and an environment in the workplace where the health and safety issues can be talked about.

And I’ve spoken to farm labourers who tell me that if only they knew when they were going to work on the farm that there was a colleague, you know, somebody at their equal – not the farm owner, but a colleague – who could induct them in about the health and safety and what the expectations were, that would make the difference, and that’s what we need. And the legislation needs to reflect that.

GREG Having said that, there are still operations that are Mum, Dad and the kids or two or three people. To have a health and safety officer foisted upon them is absurd, and the cost of it and the legislation of it – that would be absurd, wouldn’t it?

ANDREW So if the legislation is drafted so that was optional – if there were any employed workers there, paid workers there or contractors who say, ‘Yeah, I just want to have somebody who I can go to,’ yeah, let’s do it. The reality is in the small, more intimate businesses, that won’t happen, in the same way that hasn’t happened under previous legislation.

But there will be places, and I think of workplaces of the 10 to 20 level, where, actually, that is real, where you get a group of people – they are working there. Even at that level, people want to know that there is a system that they can contribute to, where their voice is heard and that they can raise issues with impunity, and that’s important too.

In the end, good health and safety comes down to good workplace culture, and even quite small workplaces still need a good workplace culture. The legislation, and certainly now the debate we’re having over it because of the mishandling of the categorisation, is undermining confidence in this new legislation, which is the last thing we need given what’s happened that’s led us to have this legislation in the first place.

GREG Labour was on board with this until July. When, where and why did it go wrong as far as you were concerned?

ANDREW When that legislation first came in, we were pretty happy with it. We thought there were some changes at the margins but it covered everybody. And there was enough in there that for the very small businesses, of course it wouldn’t be onerous for them; they’ll carry on sorting out the way they operated.

Then the Government was determined to get exemptions, and that’s actually what’s driven all of the consensus flying apart.They were desperate to exclude small businesses, and in reality they were desperate to exclude farmers because we know that the farming lobby was very powerful in saying, ‘We don’t want to be constrained by this.’

So they excluded small businesses, then they realised they still had to include high-risk businesses – well, farming and agriculture still is high-risk, so then they had to find a way to exclude that. And it’s kind of exception upon exception upon exemption that’s led to the distortions that’s led to the absurdities that we’re now debating and is now undermining confidence.

GREG I want to talk about the families of Pike River, who we saw at Parliament this week, understandably frustrated with the delay, and at the end of it, frustrated with the outcome. That said, and with the absolute greatest of respect to the families there, apart from something like corporate manslaughter being installed, is any of this ever going to be satisfactory to them? And I think most people would understand the answer would be no.

ANDREW It’s not just the Pike River families. We had families from the forestry industry there whose family members had been killed in the forestry industry, and we had a couple of others there as well, even representatives from the timber industry and timber processes from 20 years ago, where poisoning actually ended up killing people.

So it was a cross section, and I think they are people who, because they have experienced the grief of the loss of somebody who has gone to work and not come home, they are a champion for saying we’ve got to get workplace health and safety right.

This is our chance after the tragedy of Pike River, to get it right, and I would just say to the minister, if you’re serious about getting a law that he can be proud of – and he should do, because I don’t think he’s the one at fault here – let’s take the next couple of days with him, and I’m more than happy to meet with him and use the benefit of my 20 years’ experience in this area doing health and safety in the workplace, representing families at coroners’ inquests, to get this law right so that we can get it through Parliament.

I don’t think it’s going to be good for this minister and his government for us to have another day, two days, three days, who knows how long this will take to debate through Parliament, and continue what is undermining confidence in what should be a good piece of legislation.

GREG The aims they’ve got – 25% less deaths in five years, by 2021 – is that enough? That seems not terribly ambitious to me.

ANDREW If you get the culture right—It’s interesting the minister talked about the forestry industry. What happened in the forestry industry is that they finally had a wake-up call and they finally found some leaders within that industry that said, ‘This can’t go on,’ and they worked with worker representatives, the CTU and others, they did an inquiry, they got some good recommendations, and the forestry companies and even down at the contractor level committed to improving workplace health and safety in that industry.

And that’s making the difference. But they had the impetus to do it. Well, we need a piece of legislation – this law, the Health and Safety Reform Bill – that is the impetus to every employer and every worker, saying, ‘Yep, we get it now. We’ve got the message. We’re all committed to lifting our performance and we’ll make the difference.’

GREG Are fines the way to go? Are penalties for people who don’t play it safe and do things right – is that something we should be looking at increasing?

ANDREW You want WorkSafe New Zealand, as the, kind of, police officer of all of this, to have some discretion about how they approach it. And what happens with a small business isn’t going to be identical with what happens with a large corporate in a high-risk industry. So you want some scope for discretion about warnings and education, but you do need a backstop, which is the more punitive measures that you take.

But, you know, I trust WorkSafe New Zealand to get it right, when it’s about working with businesses as well as the workforce, to lift our health and safety performance.

GREG So you sit down with the minister, which is unlikely, but you said you would. If you sat down with him, in a pithy sentence or two, what would you say needs to change between now and a few days to actually make this effective so people are going to stop dying on the job?

ANDREW Let’s make sure that the way the law is drafted gives the same message to everybody, and let’s trust people to get it right when it comes to implementation and trust WorkSafe to get it right when it comes to enforcing the rules.

GREG To an extent, are we being naïve to think we can do much more to the death toll than we’ve already done? You’ve got people, you’ve got heavy machinery, you’ve got dangerous situations in farms, you’ve got hills, you’ve got equipment that fails. You can’t legislate that risk away completely, can you?

ANDREW The question is why our farming sector has a bigger fatality record and more serious accidents than the agricultural industries in other countries. And bearing in mind too that in our agriculture industry, we have underreporting of incidents. And WorkSafe New Zealand did a survey and found that roughly a quarter of serious-harm accidents that actually happen are being reported.

There’s a whole heap not being reported, so the picture is probably worse than is being made out. We can do better. In the OECD, we rank fifth from the bottom in terms of workplace health and safety performance.

We can do better, we have to do better, we must do better. People are entitled to know when they go to work, they’ve got best chance than ever of returning home safe again at the end of it. That’s what it comes to.

GREG Try to explain to me, as somebody who’s not in Parliament, how on earth—You know, the media’s got plenty of comedy value out of this with the worm farming and that – how is something like that even allowed to slip through? Surely someone must have seen that in the early stages – ‘Right, we’ll push that aside. We don’t want that mentioned in the same time.’ How did that happen?

ANDREW I don’t want to get heavily into that. Something would have happened between the officials and the minister, and Michael Woodhouse has worn enough over the last few days. I would rather work with Michael and whoever else in his government and his support parties, left a message with Peter Dunne’s office on Friday.

We’ve had some back-channel talks with the Maori Party. I would rather be working with the Government and their support parties to get this right.

We arrive at Parliament on Tuesday, and we get something that we can all get behind and we can say to New Zealand, ‘Whatever happened, we’ve got this right now. We are all confident and pleased with it, and this will make a difference to New Zealand.’

The difficulty with the Left’s leadership

I thionk there’s two key things that many voters look for in political parties and in potential coalitions – a perception of competence, and capable and strong leadership.

The Left have problems in particular on leadership.

So far Andrew Little has failed to inspire as a leader. This is a significant problem for what should be the lead party in a potential coalition.

Winston Peters seems to be setting his sights high. It’s been reported as high as being Prime Minister for at least part of the next term. Peters seems to despise inexperienced wannabees leapfrogging his seniority. He seems to see himself as the de facto Leader of the Opposition.

New Zealand First is currently the smallest of the three Opposition parties. The Greens would presumably and understandably not be happy if Peters took a greater leadership role than them in a three way coalition.

But the Greens have a problem too – their dual leadeership might suit them in at a party level, but at a coalition level it dilutes their leadership.

Peters would not be happy sharing deputy leadership with two Green leaders who were at primary school when he first entered Parliament in 1978 (Shaw was five, Turei was 8).

It’s quite likely that the next election will be contested by John Key, undisputed leader of National, versus Little, Peters, Turei and Shaw, all competing for ascendancy.

When it comes to a leadership contest four versus one could be difficult to sell.

The Nation: Little and Labour repeating failed strategies

On The Nation yesterday (replayed today Sunday on TV3 at 10 am) Labour leader Andrew Little was interviewed by Lisa Owen.It was followed by a panel discussion.

Lisa Owen wraps up the political week with former Green candidate Marama Davidson, Victoria University political scientist Jon Johansson & rightb wing commentator and PR consultant Matthew Hooton.


Here are comments on the interview from the discussion.

Owen: We heard from Andrew little there, and is he looking like a Prime Minister in waiting?

Hooton: I think he’s really struggling on the transition from being a union leader to being a Parliamentary leader and a potential Prime Minister. On every issue he addressed he ended up waffling, on every single topic that came up except possibly on the Health and Safety issue where he probably was a bit stronger because it’s his background.

But whether it was the TPP, mining, or even whether Winston Peters might be Prime Minister in a Labour led Government, he waffled.

Johansson: Well I mean one, he’s experiencing what is being experienced on both sides of politics now, which is the real problem post MMP from a leadership perspective is being the Opposition leader.

And where I was very interested in his comments today was they have not moved on from this sitting back passive sitting back role in terms of promoting relationships with other parties.

Now given the numbers Labour simply cannot form a Government without coalition partners, and we all understand that, and I think the lesson I most learnt from the last three years up to 2014 is it takes three years, a full three years of effort, to get a message through to the New Zealand electorate that I am a credible alternative and this is what it’s going to look like, this is who I’m going to share power with, and these are some broad strokes of what we’re going to do.

None of that today. They’re not interested in that. And so for me if they replayed that ad, National’s successful ad with the rowing boat, what has changed?  Absolutely nothing.


Except that Winston Peters now sees himself sitting on in the middle of the boat with a megaphone too.

Owen: Well the thing is if you look at that speech he gave recently you could have thought that on Green policy, you would have thought if you didn’t know it was him you could have thought it was Metiria Turei delivering that speech. So in some ways are they moving towards the Greens, and then in other ways policy wise moving towards Winston Peters?

Davidson: There is policy compatibility with the Greens and Labour and one of the substance things, he had a hard interview for sure Andrew Little, but one of the substance points I picked out is that he is maintaining working hard with good relationships across the Opposition party, Labour and Greens continue to work well together

And in terms of coalition partners just as Jon was highlighting most New Zealanders actually choose Greens ahead of other parties to be as their most preferred coalition partner.

Davidson usually seems more intent on promoting the Greens rather than analysing the issue under discussion. And the Greens virtually rule out considering a coalition with National.

Owen: If that’s the case though what Jon’s saying though is he’s not being up front and saying it out loud is he.

Johansson: All I think is why would any voter who is tired of John Key and his Goverment, what is the alternative which they are turning to? It is not being presented to them. They don’t know actually what the next would look like if they want to move away from a National led Government.

Hooton: It was a terrible interview by Andrew Little and i don’t think it was an unreasonable interview, he was asked about the major policy issues of the day and he had no answers on any of them. So, you know, he’s just simply not there yet. Your three year rule (to Johansson) has got two years to go.

Owen: Is it too soon though to be lining yourself up with…

Johansson: No. Because they should have demonstrated to themselves the failed strategy of the last three years shouldn’t be projected onto the next three years. They’re replicating a failed strategy.

That’s fairly damning from Johansson, but Little or someone within Labour needs to take urgent and serious note. Johansson is not Mike Hosking or Paul Henry or Matthew Hooton.

It looks like Labour are repeating past failed strategies. It looks like Little is repeating the mistakes of past leaders.

It looks like Labour are trying to row their boat sideways into a strong current and are ignoring advice to turn things around a bit.

I’m not anti Labour. I’d like to think that at some stage in the future I might seriously consider voting for Labour again (the last time I voted for them was in 2005).

But I’m anti incompetence.

Link to video: Interview: Labour Leader Andrew Little

Andrew Little on the Trans Pacific Partnership

On The Nation yesterday (replayed today Sunday on TV3 at 10 am) Labour leader Andrew Little was questioned by Lisa Owen about Labour’s positio on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

You’re lining up with the critics on the TPP. So let me ask you, if the deal doesn’t meet Labour’s five bottom lines, there is an out-clause, we’ve checked this: you just have to give six months’ notice. So if you are in government, would you consider getting rid of it, getting out?

If that agreement doesn’t meet our bottom lines, it undermines our sovereignty, it fails to protect Pharmac, it fails to protect the Crown’s obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, and there’s no material benefit to us in it, we won’t be sticking around in it.

So you will exercise that clause?

Well, if there’s a right to get out of it, we’re not going to stick with an agreement that takes all the rights of citizens away from citizens in terms of a sovereign government and gives no material benefit.

What do you think that would do to our international reputation, though, if you pulled a plug on a deal that had already been signed and sealed?

If we are doing a deal with countries representing 40 percent of the world’s GDP, and the price of that is that New Zealanders lose the right to have their sovereign government, to legislate in their best interests, for example, restrict land sales to protect the rights of New Zealanders or to undermine the obligations of the Crown under the Treaty, or to undermine Pharmac and its ability to purchase medicinal drugs for New Zealanders, and there’s no trade benefit in it for us, we get no agricultural access to the biggest markets — the US, Canada and Japan — there’s nothing in this for us. Why would we be in it?

Little seems to have left a lot of wiggle room there.

Would Labour under Little’s leadership withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership should an agreement be reached under the current Government?

I have no idea.

Source: Transcript: Labour Party leader Andrew Little

Link to video: Interview: Labour Leader Andrew Little


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