Small party priorities post election

Small party (and Green) leaders were asked in a The Nation debate what their priority policy would be in post election negotiations.

Summary:

  • United Future: Flexi-Super
  • Maori Party: Whanau Ora
  • Mana Party: the elimination of child poverty within the first five years
  • Act Party: economic growth
  • Conservative Party: binding referenda
  • NZ First: non-committal
  • Green Party: expect to have a very comprehensive coalition agreement that meets a whole range of objectives

    Details:

United Future

Right, I wanna talk about relationships in MMP, and I’m coming to Mr Dunne. I want to know that if you get into a confidence-in-supply agreement with the next government, what would be the one thing you would be pushing for in return?

Dunne: I think probably top of our list would be to make progress on our flexi-super proposal, which would see people being able to take a reduced rate of super from the earlier age of 60 or an enhanced rate if they deferred to 70, and with the standard age remaining 65. I think that would be the one thing we’d wanna push most strongly.

That’s a repeat of last election.Dunne negotiated a discussion paper on Flexi-Super with National after the 2011 election and that which was released last year but National are luke-warm on doing anything on it

UnitedFuture’s plan which would allow people to take a reduced rate of New Zealand superannuation from the age of 60, or an enhanced rate if they deferred uptake until 70. The rationale was to give people more choice over retirement income and to recognise that for some people 60 was the age to leave the paid workforce, but that they were currently unable to do so for financial reasons.

Māori Party

Te Ururoa, you say that you could go with either Labour or National, so what would be your top priority as a policy to get?

Flavell: …the major platform that the Maori party has always been on about is final order. We say that if we’re able to consolidate, not only just social—the MSD-

So you would be pushing that if you were with the next government, you’d be pushing to keep–?

Flavell: It’s an absolute must from our perspective that final order will be at the centre of our platform, our policy. It is right now, and it will be.

‘Final order’ is a mistake in the transcript, it should read ‘Whānau Ora’ which is the Māori Party’s flagship policy.

Whānau-ora: restoring the essence of who we are; putting the vibrant traditions from our people at the heart of our whānau

Whānau Ora begins with you. Whānau is the heart of our people, it is the foundation on which our country thrives. It is about reaffirming a sense of self-belief.

Mana Party

All right. Mr Harawira, Mr Cunliffe says that you’re not gonna be part of his government. But you say he’ll pick up the phone if he needs you. So if he rings and says, ‘Hone, I’m offering you confidence in supply, that’s it, no ministers’, what do you want from him?

Do you think he has the vision to lead this country?

Harawira: What I know is this – if the polls keep trending the way that John Armstrong of the NZ Herald says and hit 5% even before the campaign starts for Internet Mana, I’m guaranteed to get a call on the night of September the 20th. And if he asks us, is there one policy, if there’s one thing that we would want to see changed, it would be this – the elimination of child poverty within the first five years.

The ‘elimination of child poverty’ seems idealistic, especially when it is usually a statistical figure based on families below the median income and on that basis there will always be some ‘in poverty’ – below the arbitrary line.

I can’t find a reference to the five year target on the Mana website but they have a range of policy points addressing “economic justice’, for example:

Work towards implementing a Universal Basic Income where everyone in Aotearoa aged 18 and over would receive a minimum, liveable, tax free income after which progressive tax would kick in. This would eliminate the huge costs involved in administering the current shame and blame WINZ system, and do much to end poverty and address growing inequality.

Act Party

Jamie Whyte, if you had a confidence and supply agreement, what would you be after as your top priority policy?

Whyte: Well, almost all problems, practical problems, are remedied by becoming wealthier. And so economic growth is by far our priority. And so the policies that we’ve been promoting on – cutting taxes and reducing the regulatory burden, which would promote economic growth, those would be our priorities in a negotiation with the National party.

That’s straightforward.

Short to medium term goals should include reducing the level of government expenditure below 28 per cent of GDP and lowering the top tax rate to 24 cents.  ACT’s Regulatory Responsibility Bill should be passed.

Conservative Party

Mr Craig, your policies are almost the same as NZ First. You’re the doppelganger in this room, so why would people vote for you when we’ve got the real thing right here.

What would be your top policy that you’d be after?

Craig: We’ve said publicly that we think governments should not be able to ignore overwhelming vote in referenda. The anti-smacking law, tough on law and order, reducing the MPs, all right quite rightly should have been implemented by government, because there is a point at which people need to know they control this nation. It’s their country.

Craig has already stated a bottom line on binding referenda.

ON OUR WATCH REFERENDUMS WILL BE BINDING

At the heart of the democratic system is the principle of the citizens initiated referendum. It’s when a single issue is thought to be so important, all voters are asked to make their opinion heard.

No specifics are given on exactly what this would entail, Conservative ‘Issues’ or policies are brief and vague.

New Zealand First

Mr Peters, your bottom lines or things that you really don’t wanna budge on are no foreign land sales, no race-based parties, buy-back assets and keep the super age at 65. You’re gonna be on the cross-benches, aren’t you, with that list?

Peters talked about a range of policies but was typically evasive and vague.

Peters: Your assumption is that at six weeks out from the election, we’re gonna make decisions now and tell the public, ‘Forget about you, doesn’t matter what happens in six weeks’. Behind close room deals. Now, I’m gonna leave it to the public to decide who’s gonna be standing there at the election, and it won’t include some parties standing here right now.

Many alluded to but no bottom lines revealed before the election.

Green Party

All right, let’s go to Metiria Turei there. (asked about working with NZ First)

Turei: The Green party in government will be a very large part of that government, and we will have significant influence. We will expect to have a very comprehensive coalition agreement that meets a whole range of objectives – a cleaner environment, a fairer society and a smarter economy. And we will have—we won’t settle like other parties might for a single achievement. We want to see our whole plan, our whole agenda being rolled out.

Turei wasn’t asked specifically about a priority but her answer was more befitting of a medium sized party with potentially a significant influence in a coalition.

Greens are excluded from major party debates despite the chances of them getting half the votes of Labour, and they could be a quarter to a third of a left wing coalition so could reasonably expect to include a number of their key policies in negotiations.

Source: TV3 The Nation – Debate: Multi-party election campaign debate

NZ First MP claims Psychoactive Substances Act has failed

Asenati Lole-Taylor (NZ First list MP) has called on ministers to resign because they are “responsible for the weak and ineffective Psychoactive Substances Act”.

Pacific Guardians report STEP DOWN: National & United Future MPs for failed ‘Legal High’ law

Heads should roll as a result of the National government’s irresponsible handling of legal high drugs according to NZ First MP Le’au Asenati Lole-Taylor.

“The two ministers, Todd McClay and Peter Dunne, responsible for the weak and ineffective Psychoactive Substances Act should do the right thing and resign from parliament,” she told Pacific Guardians in an exclusive interview. “They are one of the reasons why New Zealanders from Whangarei to Invercargill are marching today [Saturday, 5 April] because those two had the chance to ban these drugs in 2013 but they didn’t.”

She made the comment while walking amongst hundreds of people last Saturday calling for a blanket ban on legal highs.

“The law that was passed in 2013 has failed New Zealand miserably. Proof of that are these marches showcasing the grave concerns of the New Zealand public that the law and parliamentarians are failing them and it must be addressed urgently.”

Failure of the law, she points out lies squarely on the shoulders of the National government and the two ministers responsible.

Lole-Taylor and all her NZ First colleagues voted for the bill last year, which passed 119 votes to 1.

“They failed because they had the opportunity since 2011 to make a law that will control or ban the drugs – but because of they subscribe to the cavalier, hand-off-the-wheel attitude this government takes to governing New Zealand, they have failed the people of this country once again.”

Lole-Taylor and all her NZ First colleagues voted for the bill last year, which passed 119 votes to 1.

She repeated her call for Mr McClay and Mr Dunne to step down.

“The two men must be held accountable for their lack of action in this case. Families have lost loved ones, a growing number of young people’s lives are wrecked by addiction, their jobs as well as businesses are suffering, all those things could have been avoided if Peter Dunne and Todd McClay as law makers did their job.”

She said their performances “are well below par of what’s expected from members of this country’s executive. They should stand down and remove themselves from running in the September election.”

But before that time, “they should pay a visit to every individual family that has suffered a tragedy from legal highs, and then make a national apology to all New Zealanders for having let them down miserably,” she said.

“Their performance in this debacle whether it is through lack of courage to push through what is right against opposition from their caucus; or perhaps, I suspect, they just don’t have what it takes.”

Lole-Taylor and all her NZ First colleagues voted for the bill last year, which passed 119 votes to 1.

In the meantime Peter Dunne blogged about the Act yesterday in Dunne Speaks:

A year ago the country was up in arms about the sale of synthetic cannabis in corner stores, dairies, groceries and convenience stores around the country. There were no restrictions on who could purchase these substances, and there was a cumbersome procedure in place which allowed me as Associate Minister of Health to temporarily ban products shown to be harmful. Since 2011, I had banned just over 50 different products under that regime.

But it was clearly not enough. Every time a product was banned, the chemical combinations were manipulated and a new product emerged, often within days of the first ban being applied. It was a never ending game of catch-up which no-one found satisfactory. It was time to turn the situation on its head to ensure that only those products proven to be low risk through a testing process equivalent to that for registering new medicines, could be sold, and even then in restricted circumstances. And so, the Psychoactive Substances Act was conceived.

Since its passage in July last year its impact has been dramatic. The number of outlets selling these drugs has been reduced from around 4,000 to just over 150; the number of products being sold has fallen from about 300 to 41 and is likely to continue falling; and, sales have been restricted to persons aged 18 and over, with no advertising or promotion permitted. The Police and hospital emergency rooms confirm the availability of these products and the number of cases of people presenting with problems associated with their use have fallen sharply. Yet still there are people up in arms.

How can this be? After all, the market has shrunk; the number of products is down over two-thirds and retail outlets numbers have fallen over 95%. The present situation is far more tightly controlled than ever before, even at the time we were banning psychoactive substances. And I have already foreshadowed more regulations are coming in the next couple of months.

So he claims that the Act is working as intended, to an extent. He  highlights what he thinks is holding the Act back.

Sadly, one of the major reasons has been the inexplicable tardiness of local authorities in implementing their local plans to regulate the sale of psychoactive substances. And some Mayors have shown an ignorance of the issues that borders on breathtaking stupidity.

The facts are these: as the Act was being developed various local authorities and Mayors pleaded with the government to give them local powers, similar to those they already have to regulate the sale of alcohol in their areas, to control the sale of psychoactive substances. Parliament listened to their pleas, and by a vote of 119 to 1 gave them the powers they were seeking.

But – and here is the rub – despite the grandstanding and tub-thumping of the Mayors (just before last year’s local elections significantly) nine months later only 5 of 71 Councils have implemented the local plans the Mayors said they needed so desperately. That delay is unacceptable. It is time for them to stop bleating, and start using the tools they implored Parliament to give them.

Drug use and abuse is a major problem but there are no simple solutions. Blanket bans don’t work, as ongoing problems with other drugs proves. Per capita New Zealand is one of the highest users of cannabis in the world.

Attacking ministers who are trying to take practical steps to address legal high issues is not going to achieve anything except perhaps pander to uninformed voters.

Key offers United Future an opportunity…

John Key has given United Future as much help and encouragement he could at this stage of election year. It is up to the party to take advantage of this.

It was surprising to see Peter Dunne reinstated by John Key as minister yesterday – it wasn’t surprising that he was given ministerial back duties, that was expected, but it was much sooner than most had thought.

Key also gave a clear indication that United Future were a preferred party for National to work with.

PM sets out parties National could work with

Prime Minister John Key today set out his decision on which parties National will consider working with following this year’s General Election.

Since November 2008, we have shown that we can lead a stable Government with other political parties involved, even when those parties have different outlooks and policies.Mr Key says that given the right electoral circumstances, his preference would be to continue working with the current three partners to the Government, which are ACT, the Māori Party and United Future.

“While National has of course had differences with ACT, the Māori Party and United Future, together our four parties have formed a stable and successful Government since late 2008,” Mr Key says.

That plus reinstating Dunne as a minister has given a clear signal that Dunne is a trusted and reliable partner for National.

Dunne has a reasonable chance of holding his Ohariu electorate, especially if National don’t contest it (as in previous elections). So there is a good chance of United Future being a one MP party into the next term, and a reasonable chance of that being an intergral part of Government.

This early signalling should give Dunne’s party all the incentive it needs to put forward a part option that goes beyond Dunne. A stable centrist party with a good chance of playing a part in Government should be able to attract voter support.

But there’s a big question mark about whether UnitedFuture is up to it. There is no public sign (and no sign to me) that the party has anything compelling to offer. Actually there’s no sign they are offering anything.

There’s two key things that need to be seen in United Future.

One is a succession plan in Ohariu. Dunne has chosen to contest another election but there must be a visible sign of replacing him. Not by another long in the tooth old school but a sign of renewal looking at the future.

That just deals with holding the vital electorate seat.

Two is the party vote. To make any mark on polls and subsequently in the election party vote UF needs to be seen as more than Dunne and Ohariu.

Ideally that means having at least one prominent candidate that gives voters an incentive to vote for the party. And ideally this candidate (or candidates) needs to look capable of taking over leadership of the party.

Add to that something that will not be seen by the wider public – the party needs to get it’s act together communicating with it’s members. From an adverse situation last year there was a significant boost in membership which enabled the party to re-register. This hasn’t been followed up on.

I’m still a member of United Future, I joined for three years when I stood for the party last election. That membership runs out in a few months.

I have seen nothing to encourage me to renew that membership. That’s very disappointing.

United Future could be, should be a small by significant player in Parliament and potentially in Government. Key has given them a vote of confidence.

But the party will have to start earning votes from the public (and members). Soon. again.

The opportunity is there. Is the party there? Is the determination? Or is United Future just an electorate committee for Ohariu?

Dunne confirms “unlikely” support of GCSB bill

Peter Dunne has been reported as “unlikely” to support the GCSB Bill. He has confirmed that this is correct.

However on Firstline this morning John Key said he id “extremely confident” Dunne will vote for it. H will lobby Dunne, and will be “amazed” if Dunne doesn’t vote for the bill.

I asked Dunne to clarify his current position, asking:

It’s being reported that you are “unlikely” to support the GCSB legislation. Is this an accurate description of your current position?

He has responded:

Yes, that reporting is correct. I will be making a full statement of my position in the next few days, but what has been reported so far on Radio NZ in particular is an accurate statement of my position.

From Radio New Zealand yesterday:

Dunne hasn’t made up mind about GCSB bill

United Future leader Peter Dunne says he hasn’t decided whether he’ll support a bill that would allow the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to spy on New Zealanders.

Mr Dunne – whose vote could be crucial if the Maori Party votes against the bill – told TV3 he had concerns about the spy agency.

“I suspect for a lot of New Zealanders, the question they will ask themselves in this whole debate is just how certain they can be of their freedom, how certain they can be that they aren’t inadvertently caught up in something much wider.

“And I think the challenge is to give the greatest level of confidence you can to people that their circumstances are being protected and their rights and freedoms are not being abused.”

Peter Dunne said he would decide how he would vote when the bill comes back from the select committee.

And this morning:

PM dependent on United Future and NZ First on spy law

The Prime Minister has admitted he is dependent on either New Zealand First or United Future to support legislation extending the powers of the Government Communications Security Bureau.

But neither party is keen to support the bill as it is and John Key says he does not expect the Maori Party to vote for it.

United Future leader Peter Dunne says he has real worries about the Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Bill.

John Key says the Government has work to do to win the support of Mr Dunne and New Zealand First.

And Stuff report Dunne pressured over controversial spy bill

Dunne has expressed deep reservations about the bill, saying he wants a ”very clear boundary” between the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), which focuses on domestic surveillance, and the GCSB, which focuses on foreign threats.

The GCSB should not spy on New Zealanders ”under any circumstances”, Dunne said.

In summary Dunne has “real worries” and is “unlikely” to vote for the bill but will decide how he would vote when the bill comes back from the select committee.

Silver lining in United Future clouds

United Future has had major membership problems. First it had a dwindling membership, and when it admitted the numbers had dropped below 500 the Electoral Commission de-registered the party.

There is no legal allowance for re-registration of a party so United Future has to register as a new party using old fashioned paper records. That sounds absurd but it’s the rules as stipulated by legislation and the Electoral Commission.

So this is a major administrative task for the party. It also puts party funding in jeopardy. A ruling from Parliament’s Speaker on this is yet to be made.

So this all looks very messy, and it is. It’s also embarrassing for the party.

But there has already been a significant silver lining.

All small parties struggle to maintain interest and members. Government support parties tend to fade in importance in the eyes of voters.

But all the publicity since the shock de-registration has precipitated a surge in new membership.And as Peter Dunne has said:

“Events surrounding my resignation, funnily enough, also helped.”

Reports indicate the numbers have close to trebled, which means somewhere around 1500 members. This is huge compared to the past few years.

The party has a lot to do to manage the new membership. If they want to retain interest they need to include the members in party affairs, keep them informed, listen to them and encourage active participation.

The dark clouds that have engulfed United Future have also provided an injection of new interest in the party. This was badly needed. It has to be used wisely.

There is now an opportunity to revitalise the party and make it relevant in next year’s election. There’s a lot to do but at least the party has had the boot up the bum it needed.

United Future versus Electoral Commission

United Future are not getting any joy from the Electoral Commission in their attempts to register their party. They are stuck with having to comply with archaic bureaucratic requirements where signed membership forms have to be supplied. Many people have registered as members online but electronic proof is deemed inadequate.

The law doesn’t cover re-registration. If a party is de-registered, as United Future has been, then it’s only path back to registration is as a new party.

Parties that are registered only have to submit an annual statutory declaration that they have 500 members. No proof is required and nothing is checked. When United Future said they could not provide a declaration this year the party was de-registered.

New parties have to provide proof of membership, and this is checked by the commission.

The law stipulates that proof of membership has to be as determined by the Commission.

What evidence is needed of 500 eligible members?

For each member a personally signed and dated declaration (usually the membership form)

United Future asked the Commission to reconsider their requirement and to allow electronic proof. Yesterday the Commission confirmed that they would not change their rules.

Electoral Commission Decision on United Future Request

The Electoral Commission today considered a submission by United Future New Zealand in relation to its application for registration of a political party.

The party requested that the Commission amend its Policy and Procedure for the Registration of Political Parties to accept evidence of membership based on an electronic spreadsheet of membership data rather than membership evidence signed by each member which the policy currently requires.

The Commission’s decision has now been reached, and the party notified. The full decision is attached, and no further comment will be made.

united_future_decision_19_06_13.pdf (PDF 781.58 KB)

Details:

EC membership 1

It seems a bit pedantic and out of date in a modern online world but they make the rules.

EC membership 2The party has requested that members post signed forms. Getting members to print and sign forms then scan them and email them for submission could get complicated, and the quality of scans could be an issue.

Once the Commission has this information they will verify that the memberships are valid anyway. It’s hard to know how they can do this better with bits of paper, but that’s how they insist it is done.

 

 

Dunne on Māori, water, wind and race relations

Peter Dunne in a recent address to Petone Rotary:

Māori, water and the wind

Another issue that has been exercising our minds recently and that may well be before the courts soon is that of the Māori claims on water.

While Māori do have rights with respect to water interests, they are not and never can ever be exclusive rights.

Were they to be so, the logical conclusion must be that all New Zealand’s natural resources are owned by Māori – a claim long since rejected.

As with the foreshore and seabed, natural resources like air and water belong to all New Zealanders, and it is the Crown’s responsibility to exercise that ownership equally and fairly on behalf of us all.

Where customary usage can be established we should negotiate particular settlements in each specific instance, again in a manner similar to the provisions of the foreshore and seabed legislation.

UnitedFuture long promoted the public domain solution for the foreshore and seabed, which was finally enshrined in the 2010 legislation.

The same principle ought to be followed in respect of the current water rights debate.

Threat to Race Relations

I think at this point we also need to step back a little because there is something going on here that needs to be challenged.

Since its signing in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi, our nation’s founding document, has been both honoured and dishonoured in various ways at various times.

But I would like to think we have got a little better – perhaps a lot better – in recent times at facing up to these issues.

On the occasions that the Treaty has been breached in word, deed or spirit, it has often been the Pākehā at fault, as evidenced by the much needed and very important Treaty settlements process of recent years.

In recent months, however, I believe we are seeing greed and opportunism and an attempt to cash-in, coming from some sections of Māori leadership, and none of it does credit to them.

In an age when we are righting wrongs of the past; in an age where Pākehā New Zealanders, I think, generally acknowledge the transgressions of their predecessors and with goodwill, want to see them put right, aspects of recent developments are very concerning.

Greed, it would seem, is not just a white man’s sin.

Māori leadership would do well to consider the implications of some of their particularly unreasonable demands around water – and now it would appear, coming further in from the fringes, the wind.

There is a well of goodwill in New Zealand among non-Māori and Māori alike.

Most New Zealanders genuinely want to understand, and then engage in and resolve issues around the Treaty of Waitangi.

But it is not a bottomless well of goodwill on either side.

Greed and opportunistic resource grabs are neither ethical nor smart, and will come at considerable cost to social harmony in this country that we all have to share today.

Sadly, it is once more a case of the extremists at either end of the argument who risk destroying the capacity of the rest of us to reach balanced, fair and enduring solutions, that the vast majority of us can live with.

Peter Dunne explains alcohol law reforms

From a speech by Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne to Lion Partners setting out his views on the alcohol reforms and the reasons for them.

Introduction

The Alcohol Reform Bill is the Government’s formal response to the Law Commission’s report, and replaces the current Sale of Liquor Act 1989 in what promises to be the most major shake-up of our liquor laws in a generation.

Partnership and responsibility are essentially what the Alcohol Reform Bill is about.

And beyond legislation; beyond regulation, it will be partnership and responsibility that need to be present to really make things work.

There must be goodwill and an honest and real intent to make a difference and to meet the challenges we face as a society with alcohol.
The alcohol and hospitality sectors can in no sense stand apart from that.

The Alcohol Reform Bill, then, represents a balanced approach that aims to support the safe and responsible sale, supply and consumption of alcohol.

We must never forget that for many, many New Zealanders alcohol is a pleasant social lubricant that is enjoyed in many settings without any hint of problems or misuse, but there are those for whom alcohol is anything but a positive experience.

Summary

While the current Bill represents the most comprehensive legislative attempt since the passing of the Sale of Liquor Act in 1989 to curb alcohol-related harm, it is indeed only legislation and will not alone be enough to change the problems associated with New Zealand’s drinking culture.

It is how we all respond to the new legislation that is most important.

Real change will come with everyone playing a part: from Parliament, local government, Police, the alcohol and hospitality industries, communities, parents and individuals.

And a culture change can be achieved in relation to alcohol-associated activity.

We only need to look at the change over the last 10 to 15 years in public attitudes to drink driving – to a point now when it is considered to be entirely unacceptable.

So I hope that we all see this is a unique opportunity to tackle problem drinking and that if enough people act responsibly and appreciate what we are all trying to achieve that long term change will follow.

Full speech:

‘The Alcohol Law Reforms – the changes and the reasons behind them’

I am delighted to be able to speak to you today about the pending alcohol law changes contained in the Alcohol Reform Bill, currently wending its way through Parliament.

It is worth recalling that these changes arise out of a comprehensive review of alcohol and its place in New Zealand society conducted by the New Zealand Law Commission, which reported to the Government back in 2006.

The Alcohol Reform Bill is the Government’s formal response to the Law Commission’s report, and replaces the current Sale of Liquor Act 1989 in what promises to be the most major shake-up of our liquor laws in a generation.

When Liz invited to me to speak here today she noted Lion strongly advocates “that compliance with sale and supply laws and best practice in the responsible service of alcohol are intrinsic to operating an efficient and effective hospitality business”.

Then she asked me to outline Government’s perspective on minimising alcohol harm in the context of encouraging a vibrant and economically sustainable hospitality sector.

Both of those statements represent a position of a responsible partnership between those in the alcohol hospitality sector and the public – between reducing harm from alcohol while maintaining viable businesses and jobs.

As someone who has had a long association, now dating back nearly 35 years, with your industry and with the alcohol and drug field generally, I applaud both that statement and the recognition of reasonable partnership that it implies.

Partnership and responsibility are essentially what the Alcohol Reform Bill is about.

And beyond legislation; beyond regulation, it will be partnership and responsibility that need to be present to really make things work.

There must be goodwill and an honest and real intent to make a difference and to meet the challenges we face as a society with alcohol.
The alcohol and hospitality sectors can in no sense stand apart from that.

The Alcohol Reform Bill, then, represents a balanced approach that aims to support the safe and responsible sale, supply and consumption of alcohol.

We must never forget that for many, many New Zealanders alcohol is a pleasant social lubricant that is enjoyed in many settings without any hint of problems or misuse, but there are those for whom alcohol is anything but a positive experience.

I have to say that is my starting position when approaching the place of alcohol in our society, and I make no apologies for that.

It is too easy to fall in with extremists on either side of any argument but experience has taught me that keeping company with extremists of any description is as unwise as their solutions are unpalatable.

Let me repeat – most New Zealanders enjoy alcohol responsibly and appropriately as a social lubricant and do not have and will never have a problem with it.

It is therefore – as far as I am concerned – totally unreasonable that they should be punished, prohibited or unreasonably restricted in their access to and use of alcohol to address the very real problems of a very real minority.

Yes, we need to address these issues in our society, but we need to do so in a balanced way that does not impinge unreasonably upon the vast majority of New Zealanders who quietly and healthily enjoy a drink or two.

Alcohol policy therefore has to be a careful balance between respecting the rights of the overwhelming majority for whom alcohol will never be an issue, and addressing the circumstances which led to alcohol misuse by a minority.

Many New Zealanders are concerned by the misuse of alcohol in our society and the damage they see it causing.

That is not to say that they respond at all positively to the neo-prohibitionism now being demonstrated by some professional zealots, but rather that they are looking for genuine solutions that will work, ahead of the feel-good, ideological sloganeering they have been subject to for too long.

It goes without saying that the Government is seriously concerned by the major contribution of problem drinking to crime, public disorder and health problems in our communities, and accepts its responsibilities in this regard.

We see this Bill as the most serious and comprehensive attempt in more than 20 years to make fundamental changes to how, when and where New Zealanders drink.

But it will take individuals, industry and communities working together, not the pious hectoring of wowser intellectuals to make a real difference to the issue of problem drinking in our country.

Most of you will have a pretty good idea about what is proposed in the Bill.

However, it is a large piece of legislation and has undergone a number of changes since its introduction to Parliament – some of them as recently as late last month.

So let me outline the Bill’s main proposals.

New restrictions are proposed on the availability of alcohol.

For a start, dairies and convenience stores will no longer be able to sell alcohol.

Grocery stores will still be eligible for liquor licences, but the term ‘grocery store’ will be limited to premises that sell a wide range of food products and other household items, where the principal business is the sale of food products other than convenience foods.

Supermarkets and grocery stores will be restricted to displaying alcohol in a single area – and not at the check-out or at the entrance to the store.

The argument here is that a single area restriction will reduce exposure to alcohol, which has been associated with increased consumption and related harm among young people.

The Bill sets default maximum trading hours of 8am to 4am for on-licences and club licences and 7am to 11pm for off licences.

Overall, the Government believes the proposed trading hours reflect a balance between reducing alcohol-related harm and the impacts on licensees and responsible drinkers.

All these changes are designed to remove the opportunities many young people have had to obtain alcohol cheaply and constantly and almost right around the clock.

The Bill also aims to empower local communities to determine where and how alcohol is sold – and it introduces a risk-based licence fee regime.

Local authorities will be able to establish local alcohol policies and expand licensing criteria.

These may include restricting or extending maximum trading hours, specifying the location of outlets and imposing one-way doors.

If communities choose not to establish a Local Alcohol Policy, then the national framework will apply.

The risk-based licence fee regime is intended to reflect risk factors such as the type and capacity of the venue, trading hours and previous conduct of the licensee.

Its objectives are to recover the costs of regulating the licensing industry as far as possible and to incentivise licensees to adjust their practices to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related harm.

Personal and parental responsibility

The Bill proposes new requirements for alcohol to be supplied responsibly to young people.

Many parents have for too long felt a degree of impotence when it comes to moderating the way in which their young ones deal with alcohol outside the family home.

Parental consent will now be required before alcohol can be supplied to young people and their drinking will require adult supervision.

This will mean the good parenting of responsible adults cannot be so easily undone by the irresponsible actions of some other parents.

Police will also have a greater ability to intervene in unsupervised or poorly supervised parties, such as after-ball functions.

The Government recently proposed new amendments to the Bill to improve its workability and effectiveness – and to address issues that were raised in the consultation process.

For example, changes have been made to address concerns around the increase in the last few years of the alcohol content in ready-to-drink beverages – RTDs.

The Bill now includes a new regulation-making power that enables a maximum alcohol content and number of standard drinks per container for RTDs sold from licensed premises, which can be used if the Government considers it necessary.

I should acknowledge here that the industry has responded recently to these proposals by announcing it is developing a code to voluntarily reduce alcohol levels in RTDs.

The Government is still awaiting details of the proposals, but I welcome the industry response as a positive development.

Cynics are already saying it is the Government letting the industry off the hook with this move.

Make no mistake – you need to prove them wrong.

We are putting a degree of trust in you to address issues properly and, to be blunt, we would not welcome the criticism that would come our way should that trust prove misplaced.

I have no doubt that you as an industry are aware of that.

In the first instance, it is up to you, the industry, to give your critics pause for thought with integrity rather than opportunism in the self-regulatory codes that you will put in place around RTDs.

I have said that the bill before Parliament now is a generational change in our treatment of alcohol as a society.

What society is rightfully demanding of the alcohol and hospitality industry is that it rises above opportunism and the pursuit of the next fast buck.

Some of the criticism that you have received in the past is not entirely unmerited.

The game must be lifted.

The Bill as a whole is expected to be passed by the end of this year, with some provisions coming into effect after six months and the majority after 12 months.

This is to provide enough time to set up new licensing and enforcement systems, and to give industry time to adapt to the changes.

The Ministry of Justice is leading a plan to ensure the changes are implemented efficiently and communicated to key stakeholders.

There are a number of other measures the Government is investigating to see if they will reduce harm:

Minimum pricing

Last month the Opposition proposed an amendment to the Bill to provide the Government with powers to set a minimum price for a standard measure of alcohol.

I stated at the time that I was opposed to the amendment on the basis that I consider it to be elitist, as it will disproportionately affect those who cannot afford more expensive products and not affect others at all.

I am also yet to see any convincing evidence that it will work by curbing New Zealand’s so-called binge drinking culture.

What is required is a careful consideration on whether a pricing scheme is workable.

That is why the Government has asked the Ministry of Justice to investigate the impact and effectiveness of a minimum price regime.

Expert review of advertising

Another issue that requires careful consideration is the impact of advertising on people’s drinking.

The Government has agreed to establish an expert forum to consider the effectiveness of further restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship to reduce alcohol-related harm.

This is a joint project between the Ministries of Justice and Health.

The Ministry of Health is in the process of identifying forum members and drafting a terms of reference.

The expert forum will be set up after the Alcohol Reform Bill is passed.

It will invite submissions from experts and from other interested parties and will report back to the Government within one year.

If accepted by the Government, there will be a further process of consultation undertaken by a parliamentary select committee as part of the legislative process.

Other initiatives

There are also other initiatives the Government is progressing directly, or supporting, to prevent alcohol-related harm.

For example, the Government has recently committed $10 million each year, taken from alcohol excise revenue, towards assessment and interventions for alcohol and other drugs.

These include screening for alcohol problems and brief interventions; nationally consistent youth treatment services; community based treatment for offenders with alcohol or drug problems; and a pilot drug court for adult offenders in Auckland.

I would like to acknowledge the role of ALAC here too, which is now part of the new Health Promotion Agency.

Since 1976, ALAC has been providing guidance and direction to the hospitality sector on safer drinking environments and improved host responsibility.

ALAC is also working to assist and educate industry and local authorities on what the new legislation will mean – and how it will work – in practice.

National Drug Policy review

The Ministry of Health has begun a review of the National Drug Policy 2007 – 2012.

As the title suggests, the policy expires this year and I see it as an excellent opportunity to review its effectiveness.

The National Drug Policy provides the basis for coordinated policy development and action to address drug issues in New Zealand.

The key principle of the policy is harm minimisation and co-ordinated approaches to control supply, reduce demand and provide treatment to those with drug-related problems.

I should point out here that ‘drugs’ in the National Drug Policy is used in the wider sense of the term and includes alcohol, tobacco, illegal and emerging drugs, and other substances with legitimate uses which are sometimes diverted for illicit purposes.

The Ministry of Health will be working in conjunction with a number of other government agencies on the review.

The objective is to ensure the new policy is fit for purpose, based on good evidence, cost effective, and allocates resources where they will achieve the best results.

The Ministry of Health plans to consult on a draft policy by March 2013 and for a new National Drug Policy to be in place later in the year.

Conclusion

Finally, I would like to return to the issue of partnership.

While the current Bill represents the most comprehensive legislative attempt since the passing of the Sale of Liquor Act in 1989 to curb alcohol-related harm, it is indeed only legislation and will not alone be enough to change the problems associated with New Zealand’s drinking culture.

It is how we all respond to the new legislation that is most important.

Real change will come with everyone playing a part: from Parliament, local government, Police, the alcohol and hospitality industries, communities, parents and individuals.

And a culture change can be achieved in relation to alcohol-associated activity.

We only need to look at the change over the last 10 to 15 years in public attitudes to drink driving – to a point now when it is considered to be entirely unacceptable.

So I hope that we all see this is a unique opportunity to tackle problem drinking and that if enough people act responsibly and appreciate what we are all trying to achieve that long term change will follow.

Hard road ahead for United Future?

United Future had a meeting/conference sort of thing in Auckland on Saturday. Not many people attended (I was one of ‘less than twenty’). Not much media bothered to turn up. Subsequent coverage has given fair emphasis:

United Future says big challenges ahead

At the United Future party annual conference at the weekend, president Robin Gunston told our political reporter Clare Pasley that Peter Dunne’s party is rebranding to a liberal democratic identity.

United Future looking for big backers ahead of 2014

The United Future President, Robin Gunston, says the party will need financial backing if it is to be successful in 2014, especially if the MMP thresholds are changed and it can no longer bring in MPs on the back of the leader, Peter Dunne.

Dunne concedes hard road ahead for United Future

The newly liberal democratic United Future party’s leader talks about the hard road ahead to the next elections after last weekend’s party conference.

Three reports from Radio NZ suggest that United Future is sort of like a Lotto dream party, hoping to win something to change it’s fortunes.

NZ Herald didn’t attend but have belatedly added a small report:

United puts message on rebrand to AGM of 20

MP Peter Dunne was expecting a small annual meeting for his United Future party at the weekend – but not quite as small as 20 people.

That was about the size of the crowd that turned up at the Martin Hautus Institute in Onehunga to hear the leader’s address.

He told the Herald last night he hadn’t been mortified by the turnout, but would have preferred more. “It was an AGM. It wasn’t really a conference. That’s why the numbers were light.”

It’s easy to see in this reporting that the party is struggling to survive. It is struggling to survive. Which is a shame, it has potentially a lot to offer a lot of people, but not many people have any inclination to do anything about it.

The party is rebranding as Liberal Democrat, which is a reasonable exercise internally and to promote to the media and political watchers.

Last night he expanded on the bid to present the tiny party as a Liberal Democrat party. “What we’re talking about is support of a free, open, competitive, economic environment but accepting the state has very clear responsibilities in education, health and welfare.”

But it’s a label that will have little resonance to the wider public. I don’t see or hear a clamouring for a New Zealand Liberal Democrat party.

A third strand was supporting community-based solutions to problems. The values weren’t new to the party but he had been thinking a lot about how to get his message across.

The third strand is the key if United Future is to do more than have a solid policy platform (which it has) and one MP flying the party flag (which it has) amidst flagging support (which it has).

United Future has not been a populist party. It doesn’t look likely it will win a Lotto of support, because it doesn’t offer glitzy illusions of prizes.

But it is a party with a very sound framework.

It is a framework that could easily support a community-based solutions approach to problems.

People want to be listened to. Communities want to be listened to. They want to play a part in finding, prioritising and implementing solutions that are appropriate for their own communities.

All United Future needs to do is provide the framework for communities to achieve this.

It needs to rebrand as more than a political label. It needs to be a party for people. Not just for MPs. Not just for members. A party that provides a framework for everyone in New Zealand’s communities to be heard, and to enable them to work on their own solutions.

A party as a road, allowing people to do more of their own walking.

United Future conference welcome…

United Future is having it’s party conference in Auckland tomorrow.

Saturday, 25th August 2012 at 10am – 3pm

Keynote address: the Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown.

If you are curious about having a look you will be welcome. If interested get in touch with me, I’m happy to meet beforehand (I’m meeting with others at 9am) to introduce and chat to help make you welcome.

  • Email: petedgeorge@gmail.com
  • Phone: 027 327 3468

UnitedFuture Annual Conference

This year marks a key time for the party as it repositions to be the Liberal Democratic political representation in New Zealand. We need all of those of you who wish to see a vibrant alternative expression within our political spectrum to attend and make your views known.

United Future has had an increased profile this term with Peter Dunne’s crucual vote in parliament. This generates plenty of interest, and it also provides a unique chance to fast track into an influential party position.

United Future has the structure and the policies that make it the best positioned opportunity to establish a centre-ish alternative to the big parties in Government. The country needs more and better alternatives.

Politics and parties are what we make of them.

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