An obvious problem with world-scale economic and political reform proposals

Another proposal of major world reform in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and social and economic upheaval from Pablo at KiwiPolitico:  Thinking of a post-pandemic future

It’s quite long, but in short:

Returning to normal, at least if it is defined as the way things were before the pandemic hit, is a guarantee that the socioeconomic and political contradictions now laid bare will fester, accumulate and eventually explode. That is why the post-pandemic moment must be seen as a window of opportunity for comprehensive change rather than a resumption of what once as.

In order to avoid an explosive break with the past, the key to post-pandemic recovery lies in addressing the dual crises of governance and accumulation as the most important priorities even if short term economic and political remedies are offered (say, by removing Trump from office, turning to regional supply chains and re-committing international agencies to a rules-based international order). I cannot offer any specifics, but it seems to me that a move towards sustainable development based on restrained rates of profit and renewable resource extraction is a beginning. Given the resurgence of wildlife in urban and suburban areas and air and water cleansing during the lockdown, climate change mitigation efforts need to be wrapped into larger projects of environmental restoration in which a return to natural balance is given urgent attention.

These involve political reforms in which those who advocate for a return to the previous economic status quo are blocked from doing so. After all, there are many interests vested in the current global market framework and they will do everything in their power to resist and thwart meaningful change that undermines their positions and diminishes their bottom lines. The key is to find a consensus about reforming, if not an alternative to, the system as given, including the reconfiguration of incentive structures in order to promote broad adherence to the shift in the global model of accumulation.

It is time for economic and political architectural re-design on a world scale.

What Pablo and a bunch of others promoting world reform don’t seem to provide any ideas about is how to achieve this idealistic revolution.

There is nothing close to a world-scale power. There are many countries with governments ranging from various degrees of dictatorship and democracy. How on Earth do the revolutionaries and re-designers propose to get consensus on huge changes that will require huge shifts in wealth and power?  It will be hard enough doing anything like it in individual countries.

And to do it democratically rather than by dictat would require a lot of time and inevitable watering down of reforms – that’s what consensus making does,

Pablo should know that people usually don’t give up wealth and power easily even in individual nations. let alone come anywhere near close to anything resembling world-wide consensus.

“…political reforms in which those who advocate for a return to the previous economic status quo are blocked from doing so” sounds an odd sort of consensus building. It might be possible in North Korea, and possibly China and Russia, but I doubt it with the later two who have huge vested interests in the status quo.  And the United States can’t even work together well dealing with Covid-19 let alone reform their own failing political system.

I see another problem with using the pandemic disruption to launch into ‘world-scale reform – no matter how well meaning reforms may be, that would mean even greater disruption to ‘the status quo’, in other words to how all of us live our lives now.

There are already growing signs here in new Zealand and in other countries to reduce the disruption caused by action s to limit Covid. I don’t see any sign of a popular movement to make even more drastic and permanent changes.

Can party donation scams be prevented?

I don’t think we will ever get a perfect way of dealing with political party donations, but there is scope to do much better. The Electoral Commission and SFO actually taking serious action over alleged breaches is a start.

NZ First donations are under increased scrutiny and are currently being investigated by the SFO. Jami-Lee Ross is being prosecuted, Lianne Dalziel, Phil Goff are under SFO investigation over donations.

National is linked to the Ross and three other prosecutions (the donations were made to the National Party).

Labour has been accused of questionable donation practices

Four out of every five dollars donated to big parties in secret, sparking new push for transparency

Smaller parties like the Greens publicly disclose who provided most of their funding, but the big parties are secretive. 83 per cent ($8.7m over six years) of the money donated to National is from anonymous donors, and 80 per cent ($2.8m) of that donated to Labour.

The worst offender is NZ First: Most years, it allows every single one of its donors to remain secret.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/95945991/new-push-for-transparency-with-four-out-of-every-five-dollars-donated-to-big-parties-given-secretly

Artworks used to funnel secret donors’ contributions to the Labour Party

The Labour Party is hiding tens of thousands of dollars in donations behind over-inflated art auctions – and naming the artists as donors instead of the secret individuals handing over the big bucks.

The artists had no idea the party was naming them as the donors – they never saw a cent of the money. They say their works are auctioned off at well above market value to wealthy benefactors who want to keep their support for the party secret.

Labour says the practice complies with electoral rules.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/95891686/artworks-used-to-funnel-secret-donors-contributions-to-the-labour-party

That was in 2017.

Andrea Vance suggests: Keep politicians in the dark over election donations

Politicians write the rules they so blatantly flout. The parties manage their own accounts and the cash that flows into them.

Now it’s pretty obvious they can’t be trusted, it’s time to take away that power and ban them from accepting donations directly.

The only way to transparency is for an independent body to handle and process the donations, which would not be disclosed publicly or to the party.

That way the donor maintains their anonymity and privacy – and the law-makers cannot be in anyone’s pocket.

The perception of influence and corruption would also be removed.

If donations remain allowed then this is one way of tidying things up a bit, but it wouldn’t prevent what NZ First appear to have done, having donations paid into a separate NZ First Foundation and paying party expenses directly from the Foundation.

Would channelling donations through an independent body (the Electoral Commission has been one suggestion) mean that limiting the size of donations wouldn’t be necessary?

An independent handler would impact on all parties (especially the Greens) using donations drives as a part of  member recruitment and communications.

It wouldn’t stop donors advising parties they had donated certain amounts to the party via the independent handler.

I don’t think there are any simple solutions to this.

The Electoral Commission and the SFO actually investigating and prosecuting will help, electoral rule had appeared to have been broken with impunity in the past.

We can’t trust parties to set their own rules on this, they have proven to be too self-interested.

But I think there should still be some sort of independent review of how donations are handled. Perhaps by an independent panel of experts, but this could be informed by some sort of ‘people’s panel’.

Democracy’s biggest weakness – candidates

Winston Churchill said in 1947 that democracy is the worst form of government except all other forms:

‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

It has also been said that as democracy is the rule of the people that means it is often the rule of the mediocre.

I think that democracy relies on the quality of candidates, and increasingly it seems many of the candidates on offer are mediocre at best. Recent elections around the world feature candidates who are worse than mediocre, but according to voters are not as bad as the alternatives.

But flawed democratic systems help enable flawed candidates and flawed governments. Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton is one example, two quite flawed candidates, and arguably the most flawed, with fewer votes, was able to take power.

This year’s election looks no better. Trump has proven more flawed than pessimists predicted, but Sanders, Trump and the populist juju

The best news for Bernie is that his rivals are so weak

The best news for Bernie is that his rivals are so weak. Joe Biden’s candidacy is a sad spectacle, his mind is gone, yet his zombie campaign drags itself on. Pete Buttigieg is a clear second in the delegate count, yet his pale imitation of Barack Obama’s rhetorical style leaves people cold. Amy Klobuchar is doing enough not to be discounted, yet not well enough to count. Elizabeth Warren has faded dramatically, but she kept her candidacy on life support with a good performance in last week’s TV debate. The person who lost that debate in Nevada was indisputably Mike Bloomberg. He still has enough money to brainwash and cajole large chunks of the electorate.

Team Bloomberg and Team Sanders now loathe each other — possibly more than they despise Trump.

The chances of an ugly election in the US and an ugly outcome look high. All the candidates look quite flawed. US democracy seems to deter decent candidates.

The Economist: Global democracy has another bad year

Democracy is in retreat, according to the latest edition of the Democracy Index from our sister company, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). This annual survey, which rates the state of democracy across 167 countries based on five measures—electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties—finds that democracy has been eroded around the world in the past year. The global score of 5.44 out of ten is the lowest recorded since the index began in 2006. Just 22 countries, home to 430m people, were deemed “full democracies” by the EIU.

File:Democracy Index 2018.png

New Zealand was rated as a “full democracy” at number 4 in the pecking order.

New Zealand decided to try to curb flawed governments by switching from First Past the Post (FPP), that enabled governments with far less than majority support.  The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) we adopted may be more representative, but it may well have resulted in more mediocre governments and more mediocre candidates.

The leaders and parties on Parliament now are disappointing.

Jacinda Ardern has excelled at some things but overall has looked weak, Her Labour are widely perceived to have underperformed.

Winston Peters won’t have disappointed many because expectations were low. he would have to be one of our most flawed politicians, and his party isn’t referred to as Winston First for nothing. His most prominent co-MP, Shane Jones, has significant flaws too.

Green support collapsed before the last election after the flaws of Metiria Turei turned their campaign to custard. As a Minister James Shaw has worked hard with limited power, as a leader he has been missing in action. Co-leader Marama Davidson has narrow appeal and has not had a good term.

Simon Bridges may have improved a bit as leader of National but that was from a less than mediocre starting point. National maintains good levels of poll support but that may reflect more on the weakness of the alternatives rather than anything.

David Seymour had a good year last year and may manage to get one or two ACT MPs to join him, but will remain small fry on the fringe.

Local (Dunedin) MPs are the disappointing Minister of Health David Clark and the failed minister of a few minor things, Clare Curran.

What are the alternatives? Colin Craig, Kim Dotcom and Gareth Morgan all tried to start up new parties but despite big money their flaws and the threshold defeated them.

Current alternatives look like list causes. The Sustainable Party never fired and has since crashed and burned. The New Conservatives don’t have a leader or candidates that will get them far, they will be lucky to get to half the threshold.

Some are promoting an add-on to our democracy, a People’s Assembly. I don’t think our politicians will hand over power, but it’s hard to see it being any more than mediocre.

Voters in a democracy look for strong leadership. That’s lacking in New Zealand’s current democracy.

Why do we get such a weak and flawed bunch of candidates to choose from? Is it money? While being an MP has become a career for some there is much better money in private business – and as a public servant – than being a politician in the public spotlight.

I think the way politicians are exposed by media and increasingly social media must deter many potential candidates. Who would want to risk that crap? Better to anonymously earn more elsewhere.

I don’t have any solutions to offer for the generally poor and diminishing quality of candidates. Does anyone have any ideas on how to turn this around?

Perhaps democracy is simply destined to decline.

Nick Smith suggests electoral reform

Nelson MP Nick Smith covered a range of topics in his 24th annual speech to Nelson West Rotary, including suggested electoral reform. Smith is National’s spokesperson on electoral reform – but his suggestions are not National policy. This was reported on by Stuff:

Entrench the entire Electoral Act so any change would require a 75 per cent majority in Parliament or a referendum.

“It is an abuse of power for parties in Government to amend the electoral law so as to help them win the next election. Our system is particularly vulnerable to the scrum being screwed this way having no second house or constitution and change being possible with a simple majority.”

There were six entrenched provisions out of 315 in the act covering aspects such as the three-year term and the voting age of 18 but hundreds of others were open to amendment by a simple majority, he said. The entrenchment clause itself could be repealed by a simple majority.

It seems to make sense to require more than a bare majority for amending electoral law, to avoid changes of convenience for the government of that day which tends to have not much more than a 50% majority.

Ban all foreign donations to parties and candidates

Seems sensible – but there is a risk that donors and parties would find a way around it.

Defer the re-drawing of electoral boundaries due to the failed census

This probably should happen. Re-drawing boundaries without reliable up to date information seems to be a bad idea.

Extend the Electoral Commission’s role to local elections

Currently each local body manages their own elections. Some consistency might help – but what if people in different parts of the country want different things, like different voting systems?

A referendum on a four-year term.

The problem with our current short term of three years is that governments spend their first year getting a handle on the job, a year doing it and then the third trying to get re-elected. It would be logical to shift local elections to a four-year timetable two years through each Parliamentary cycle to keep a healthy separation of local and national elections.

Is it a problem? Perhaps for parties who get into government and want to do more then the three year cycle allows – but is this a good thing for the public?

Graeme Edgeler on A four-year parliamentary term? (written in 2013 but still relevant):

The strongest argument I have seen is that a longer term would enable governments to do unpopular but (objectively?) good things, in the hope that short-term pain may have subsided in time for the election. There are obvious flaws with this analysis.

This is a democracy, and politicians should seek mandates for their actions. And I simply do not accept that the vast majority of voters are unable to make tough choices if they are fairly presented to us; sometimes, others may not like the choices we make, but they are ours to make. And as unpopular as we are now told Roger Douglas’s reforms starting in 1984 were, the Government he was a part of was re-elected in 1987. I don’t really see that countries with longer terms are doing all that much ‘better’ that we are in this regard. The ability of economies in Europe to take ‘tough choices’ arising from the Eurozone crisis seems entirely unrelated to their electoral calendar.

We are being asked to relinquish a very real measure of our democratic control for the vague promise of a better tomorrow. If someone want to make the case – with actual evidence – please do. Do democracies with longer terms actually have better long-term planning? What reason is there to believe that a four-year term will actually enable us to ‘fix’ anything that might be ‘broken’ with our system?

And just because our three-year term is somewhat of an international outlier does not mean we should leap from the bridge that every other country has. Differences in the New Zealand political system strongly tell in favour of a shorter term.

The push for a four-year term has failed at the ballot box twice. I don’t really remember the vote being held on either occasion, but it seems to me that those pushing change failed to convince enough people it was actually a good idea. It’s time for those who want this to actually convince a good sized-majority of everyone else that they are right.

Like us Australia is supposed to have 3 year terms. I’m not sure that Australians would be keen on giving their governments a longer shot at stuffing things up.

The US has four year terms for president, but seem to be keen on shortening that by impeachment. The rest of their electoral system is complicated.

The UK has a five year term, unless a Prime Minister has a brain fart and calls an early election as happened in 2017, leading to the current Brexit mess.

I’d like to see far more compelling reasons for changing from three to four years here, from people other than politicians wanting power for longer.

David Farrar has posted on Smith’s proposals: Five electoral reform ides from Nick Smith

More important questions for National than ex-lover spat and personal revenge

The turning rogue of Jami-Lee Ross and the text of Sarah Dowie has been a big story for months now, but a part of the issue that has been largely overwhelmed by the social saga side is what this has exposed about the National Party. Some have recently written about this.

Graham Adams (Noted & Stuff) looks at and beyond Parliament’s star-crossed lovers who crossed each other, starting with Jami-Lee Ross’s maiden speech in Parliament 2011.

In his speech, Ross also quoted the school’s aim to produce “good and useful citizens”. Most people will conclude he isn’t good but he has certainly been useful already if you look beyond the narrow interests of the National Party to the wider interests of the nation.

Ross has given us insights into our political life that only an insider could know, including how donations are handled and how much influence some donors expect (or hope) to have over candidate selection in the National Party.

His disclosures about wealthy Chinese donors has also sparked increased interest in Professor Anne-Marie Brady’s research into how United Front activities run by those close to the Chinese Communist Party have infiltrated our political life.

And Ross could prove himself to be even more useful if he told us much, much more about how our politics are entwined with the push by the CCP to influence perceptions of China overseas and policy towards it.

For starters, he might enlighten us on the role of Dr Jian Yang — that mysterious figure in National’s caucus who was part of China’s intelligence community and a member of the Communist Party, and who refuses to speak to journalists (or at least English-speaking ones).

It would be entirely appropriate for Ross to perform this service, not least because in his speech he declared himself to be passionately opposed to socialism.

He should be very happy then to expose the deep links between National — the party purportedly of “individual freedom and choice” (number 4 on its list of values) — and the communist regime in China that is one of the most repressive and repugnant on the planet.

Some will think it’s the very least a man who professed in 2011 to be devoted to “individual freedom” and who in 2018 dedicated himself to exposing the “rot within the National Party” could do.

Fran O’Sullivan (NZ Herald): Bigger issues to deal with than emotive texts

There are more pertinent issues at play.

Despite the public front National has adopted on the donations issue, it has still not satisfactorily dealt with Ross’ claim that he was effectively asked to wash a $100,000 donation from Yikun Zhang by ensuring it was split into smaller amounts.

National Party apparatchiks denied there was a $100,000 donation. National Leader Simon Bridges said at the time a “large sum of money” came into the party from multiple sources through donations from Zhang and supporters through Ross’ electorate account in Botany in the first instance.

The issue here is one of “substance over form”.

Nor has Bridges dealt satisfactorily with the clear implication from the tapes that Ross leaked, of a prior conversation that suggested he favoured effectively trading positions for different ethnicities on National’s list, in return for donations.

These issues — which strike at the heart of democracy and business ethics — have been obscured in the general furore over Ross’ meltdown.

It is obvious that there is sufficient underlying truth to Ross’ claims on this score to have provoked senior National MPs to call for change.

Former Attorney-General and National MP Chris Finlayson was sufficiently exercised to use his valedictory speech in Parliament last year to say he was concerned over funding of political parties by non-nationals.

Finlayson called for both major parties to work together on party funding rules, saying it was his personal view that it should be illegal for non-nationals to donate to political parties.

“Our political system belongs to New Zealanders and I don’t like the idea of foreigners funding it … we need to work together to ensure our democracy remains our democracy.”

The issue has also festered with the long-serving veteran National MP Nick Smith who revealed to the Herald this week he also wants reforms to ensure the integrity of the NZ electoral system.

If Ross is of a decent mind he would chalk up a minor victory on this score as having focused National MPs’ attention on behind-the-scenes dealing in their party.

National is not going to wash its dirty linen in public but the allegations their former party
whip raised are of sufficient merit for police to finalise that particular probe.

I don’t think we can rely on Ross being ‘of a decent mind’, he seems more intent on personal revenge.

And we can’t rely on the Police to do a decent investigation of political funding, they seem to prefer to avoid political investigations.

Unfortunately I think that much of the media is more interested in the personal lives of politicians becoming public fodder.

But a proper examination of funding methods and of possible Chinese influence in the National Party is where journalist attention should be focussed

Keith Locke on SIS apology for labelling him a threat

Keith Locke was a Green MP from 1999 to 2011, having been a long time political activist. One of his aims in Parliament was to be a civil liberties watchdog, so it is ironic that he was the target of SIS attention.

Locke has recently revealed that he received an apology from the SIS for calling him a threat.

The Spinoff: Spy chief’s apology to me reveals scandalous truth about the SIS

The revelation in 2009 that Green MP Keith Locke had been spied on since age 11 caused an uproar and prompted an inquiry into SIS surveillance. Now, he writes, the SIS has been forced to apologise for calling him ‘a threat’ in internal documents.

Last April I received a letter from Rebecca Kitteridge, the director of the Security Intelligence Service, apologising for the way I was referred to in internal SIS documents. She wrote that I had been described as a “threat” in speaking notes for a Joint Induction Programme run by the SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau since 2013.

AN EXTRACT FROM SIS DIRECTOR REBECCA KITTERIDGE’S LETTER TO KEITH LOCKE, DATED 16 APRIL 2018

In the SIS documents I was identified as an “internal” threat because I “wish[ed] to see the NZSIS & GCSB abolished or greatly modified”. The documents labelled this a “syndrome”.

In her apology, Kitteridge said “the talking point suggests wrongly that being a vocal critic of the agencies means you are a ‘threat’ or a ‘syndrome’. In fact, people who criticise the agencies publicly are exercising their right to freedom of expression and protest, which are rights we uphold, and are enshrined in the Intelligence and Security Act 2017.”

I haven’t gone public on this until now, but given the recent news about several other state agencies spying on people, I decided that what happened to me should be in the public domain.

In his December report, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes described the state spying on critics of deep-sea oil drilling, like Greenpeace, “an affront to democracy”. Like Kitteridge in her letter of apology to me, Hughes said that it was “never acceptable for an agency to undertake targeted surveillance of a person just because they are lawfully exercising their democratic rights, including their right to freedom of expression, association and right to protest.”

Most disturbingly, many civil servants in the cases Hughes identified must have known about this illegal, anti-democratic surveillance without blowing a whistle on it.

In my case, many SIS and GCSB officers must have heard me being identified as a “threat” without challenging it. How else could the disparaging reference to me have stayed in the officer training material for ten years. Kitteridge told me the “threat” label was carried over into the Joint Induction Programme speaking note from a “Protective Security Advice presentation (believed to have been developed in about 2008)” and “a historical security aide-memoire (believed to have been developed in 2012).”

To make matters worse, the ten year period when I was deemed to be a “threat” includes the last three years (2008-2011) of my 12 years as an Member of Parliament.

It seemed pretty clear that the SIS had breached to MOU requirements for political neutrality, by treating a sitting MP and his views as a “threat”, so I wrote to the current Speaker, Trevor Mallard, about it. He didn’t think the MOU had “been breached in any way.”

Mallard side-stepped my contention that the SIS had acted in a politically biased manner, but did admit that “certain materials being used by the security agencies contained inappropriate expressions of opinion regarding your conduct, including during a time that you were a member of Parliament.”

He said he met regularly with the SIS Director “and will continue to ensure that she is aware of the need for security agencies to respect the role and independence of Parliament.”

I have to disagree with the Speaker that it was just a matter of the SIS using “inappropriate” language. For a spy agency to describe someone as a “threat” is serious. It identifies them as a target for some form of monitoring or surveillance, and this is what has happened to me over many years.

My file illustrates the main function of the SIS over the years, which hasn’t been to track down criminals (which the Police do quite well) but to spy on political dissenters.

This is a serious issue in what is supposed to be an open democracy.

 

 

Democracy, MMP, STV and TOPPING themselves

There has been quite a bit of talk about our system of democracy recently. There are new calls for reducing our MMP threshold, which has proven to be to high and a democratic impediment to small parties in New Zealand, especially those attempting to get into Parliament for the first time.

Peter Dunne has suggested a switch to STV, while Gareth Morgan wants his own way rather than democracy in The Opportunities Party.

Dunne at Newsroom: Let’s get rid of MMP altogether

When politicians start to talk about making changes to the electoral system, it is time to be wary. They do not do such things unless there is something in it for them.

So when Justice Minister Andrew Little starts musing about a referendum to “tidy up” one or two “quirks” of the MMP system, rest assured that he is not doing so out of genuine concern for its credibility and wellbeing, but rather for the protection of the electoral wellbeing of the Labour Party.

Over the last thirty years since the Royal Commission recommended the move to MMP, both the National and Labour Parties have done their best to subvert it.

The major parties have done hat they can to preserve their size, status and perks, at the cost of better democracy,

An astute politician might infer therefore from that that the best way to guard against that public scorn in the future is to broaden the scope of Parliamentary representation, not restrict it.

A truly bold politician might go even one step further and promote the replacement of MMP altogether, and so do away once and for all with the alleged need for tinkering amendments, by moving to STV, the single transferable vote, whereby every MP is directly elected by a constituency and is accountable to that constituency. That would do away with the party list system whereby so many unknown candidates find themselves MPs, even if the electorate had failed to elect them  directly, or had even voted them out on election day. (How fair is the current system when for example, nearly one third of our current Ministers were rejected in individual electorate contests in 2017?)

Now shifting to a system where every Member of Parliament was directly elected would be a reform worth doing. It would certainly shake up the system; provide fairer and better representation; and make every MP directly accountable to a particular electorate, rather than the party bosses. For those reasons alone, there will be no politician bold enough to take it up, when the option of “tweaking” the system to preserve partisan advantage is so much easier.

But there is no chance of a major change to our electoral system in the foreseeable future. and Gareth Morgan has rubbished it.

 

And as TOP conducts a ballot to elect new party leadership Gareth Morgan has been throwing his weight around, trying to influence the ballot with his money. And mouthing off on Twitter some more:

“Appealing only to the privileged, university offspring of urban elites was never going to be enough for TOP. We need to draw as many active members from the tradies and the ZB listener segment. We haven’t, suggesting NZ is too fat, content and comfortable for our policies”

I doubt that Morgan is going to attract many tradies and ZB listeners. Or decent candidates – who would want to be lambasted by him if they didn’t do what he wants.

Bryce Edwards (Newsroom): The death of minor parties under MMP

TOP appears very unlikely to be a real contender in 2020, as the party is currently struggling to reinvent itself as TOP 2.0 and embroiled in a faction fight over its future.

Former deputy leader Geoff Simmons has been operating as the interim leader until now. But it’s not clear he will be elected, especially as Gareth Morgan is campaigning strongly for rival candidate Amy Stevens, an Auckland lawyer currently working for ASB.

Morgan has written a couple of Facebook posts in which he calls for a vote for Stevens, and explains why Simmons is the wrong person for the job. Morgan says Stevens is what TOP needs in order to connect with the centre right of the political spectrum: “what Amy Stevens offers is a business background not one as a public servant” and “she can relate to all those small business owners who are as familiar with the trials and tribulations of running a business”.

And as a bonus, Morgan – who gave $3 million to the party towards the last election – promises more money for TOP if Stevens is elected: “My money will be on Amy to lead the refresh that is TOP 2.0, as I think she’s sufficiently credible to attract the significant funders. I’ll certainly chip in if she’s leading.”

Clearly Morgan believes that TOP has become too liberal or leftwing: “TOP faces a big risk right now that it gets usurped by people who would otherwise vote Left or Centre Left. Our policy programme is for all New Zealanders, we are over-represented by members from the Left, Centre Left”.

Morgan gave TOP and chance in the last election, then ruined that with his antics online. With his dictatorial approach and his rubbishing of current leadership and supporters it looks like he is topping TOP.

Also from Edwards:

Could the next general election result in a two-party Parliament made up of just Labour and National? It seems highly unlikely – especially under proportional representation – and yet the 1News Colmar Brunton poll released on Sunday points to a scenario where we could be close to that.

The possibility that minor parties could be left out of Parliament altogether in 2020 is generally dismissed, often with the assumption that “the minor parties always do better during the election campaign”. This simply isn’t the case. For example, at the last election, support for both the Greens and NZ First plummeted during the campaign.

What’s more, ever since MMP was introduced, every minor party that has gone into government has subsequently received a worse party vote at the following election.

So there is a real risk to both Greens and NZ First. TOP look like self-destructing. The Maori Party, Mana Party and United Future look unlikely to return.

If David Seymour manages to retain the Epsom electorate it could be down to National, Labour and ACT after the 2020 election (but voters may decide they want to prevent this two party dominant scenario).

Meanwhile, the Labour-led Government is pondering bringing in some small fixes for MMP. But the proposal to reduce the 5 percent threshold to 4 percent is mere tinkering in the face of what clearly needs more radical thinking. Abolishing the threshold entirely, makes more sense.

The MMP threshold is proving to be a major barrier to the healthy flourishing of new minor parties. Of course, it’s not the only problem for the small parties. We therefore need a more serious think about the state of minor parties and how to allow them to prosper. If not, New Zealand’s multi-party parliamentary system might soon become a thing of the past, leaving the public with a choice, once again, of just two monolithic traditional parties.

There has been a lot of good discussion on this here at Reddit: Minor parties were supposed to be a big part of politics under MMP, yet they are in serious decline.

 

Right To Vote For All petition

The petition:


Right to Vote for All

Dear Hon. Andrew Little,

We are calling on the Government to enshrine voting rights for all people who are incarcerated.

In 2010 National MP Paul Quinn introduced a Member’s Bill to Parliament that saw the complete removal of voting rights for prisoners, regardless of how long the sentence. Since then, the Supreme Court has upheld the High Court’s ruling that limiting the right to vote for prisoners is a breach of the Bill of Rights, section 12(a).

Voting must belong to all of us for the health of our democracy, and removing basic rights should never be used as a means to punish people We are proud of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history – where people have successfully campaigned for the right to vote for all Māori and women. That legacy should not be thrown away lightly.

That’s why we are calling on the Government to amend the Electoral Act of 1993 and ensure that all New Zealanders are able to determine who represents them, and who makes the laws that govern them.

Why is this important?

We believe that in a fair and democratic society all members should have the right to vote, and people living in prisons are part of our society. They are valued members of communities and families. To take away their right to vote is an unfair disenfranchisement

We all expect that people in prison have the opportunity to heal and learn so they can contribute to a thriving society when they return to their communities. By not allowing people to vote while in prison, we are removing their ability to invest in and contribute to society and our democratic process. It’s cruel and counter-productive.

When Parliament changed the law in 2010 they used voting rights as a form of punishment, and this breaches the Bill of Rights. As New Zealanders we seek fairness and community. If we reinstate voting rights for people serving time in prison, it means that come next election time, thousands more people would be able to participate in our democracy, and put their ballot in the box as an investment in their – and our – futures.

We believe a thriving society requires the voices of all it’s people in order to make decisions that elevate everyone. By including everyone’s voices we can have a truly representative democracy.

Nonsense over written questions

National have been criticised for the number of written questions they have been submitting to Ministers. But National claim that Ministers are refusing to answer questions and avoiding answering questions, forcing National MPs to write multiple versions of very similar questions.

I think it’s sad to see such petty use and abuse of democratic processes. I think the responsibility is largely on Ministers to live up to their transparency hype.

RNZ: National’s written questions blitz at a new level – professor

A barrage of written questions from the National Party is heaping pressure on ministerial offices, prompting one to restructure and a government agency to hire a new staff member.

In the year since forming the government, ministers have received 42,221 written parliamentary questions from National MPs. That’s around 800 a week, or 115 a day, weekends included.

Several ministers have been caught tripping up over the process – which the National Party calls incompetence.

But Auckland University Emeritus Professor Barry Gustafson said the exercise appeared to be more of a fishing expedition than anything to do with policy.

That’s an odd comment from a professor. There’s more to effective Opposition than querying policy. Aren’t written questions basically there to enable fishing expeditions?

“They cast a hundred or thousand hooks into the sea and hope that they’ll pull up one fish.”

The opposition was searching for inconsistencies in ministers’ answers or something they could develop to embarrass the government.

“It’s getting well away, when you do that, from the original intention of written questions – which was to hold the government accountable on major policy matters and actions.”

“…and actions” is an important addition there.

The actions of two Ministers have already resulted in them stepping down or being sacked.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said his office had requested additional staffing to deal with the high volume of written questions and official information requests.

“This was unavailable so the office restructured to employ a staff member to coordinate responses,” he said in a statement.

There have been important questions to ask about the deferral of an extradition.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the KiwiBuild unit in the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had to hire someone with the primary job of answering opposition questions.

Mr Twyford said he was committed to answering questions properly as they were an important part of the parliamentary process.

But he said “there’s no doubt that the volume and the trivial nature of some of the questions is a deliberate tactic by the opposition to tie up government staff resources.”

I think there’s quite a bit of doubt about Twyford’s claim.

National housing spokesperson Judith Collins stood by every one of her questions.

Opposition MPs had to ask very specific questions when a minister refused to answer broader questions properly, Ms Collins said.

“You end up having to send maybe five or six questions, when one decent answer was all you actually wanted.”

I’ve seen examples of this.

I thought the Greens were supposed to be into transparent Government.

Other ministers’ offices had pulled people off their usual posts in various ministries, which Prof Gustafson said was a waste of taxpayer money.

“You’re going to clog the system up with a lot of quite trivial and unnecessary [questions].

So who should decide which questions are too trivial? It certainly shouldn’t be left to the Ministers.

Prof Gustafson said both sides were guilty.

In 2010 the Labour MP Trevor Mallard, now Parliament’s Speaker, wrote and sent 20,570 questions to National ministers.

While Mr Mallard would not comment on whether he thought that was appropriate, he said he had noticed that “ministers who proactively release material are subject to fewer questions”.

In other words, Ministers who are transparent don’t get hassled with so many questions. Ministers who try to play avoidance games get more questions. There’s a simple answer there.

National MP Chris Bishop (@cjsbishop):

Here are some things written questions are used for:

  1. To find out who Ministers are meeting. Because that matters.
  2. To find out what papers they’re getting. Because that matters (I usually then OIA ones I’m interested in).
  3. To see what they’re taking to Cabinet
  4. To get stats. Eg how many new police have been hired by new government. Because they made promises around that.
  5. To track how the govt is going on fulfilling its commitments in the coalition document. Eg thanks to written questions we know that Stats Minister James Shaw as done absolutely nothing about starting a review of the official measures of unemployment, even though it’s in the coalition document.
  6. To dive further into detail behind Ministerial answers in the House, where supps are severely limited.
  7. To get the government to provide evidence for statements they make. What Ministers say matters. And the proof for statements (or lack of it) matters.

In short, written questions are bloody important. We’ve asked a lot, cos we’re working hard. Written questions brought down Claire Curran and have provided material for innumerable press releases and oral questions.

Good government matters. Good opposition makes governments perform better. Written questions are a vital tool of Parliamentary accountability.

I thought the Greens had committed to something like that, but James Shaw or his staff don’t appear to be practicing what they have preached.

All parties play games and play the system in ways they think will help them achieve what they want.

National were bad in how they played Official Information requests. But this Government is looking like they could be worse, despite ‘promising’ to be better.

What I think the main problem here is – we have a Government that claimed they would improve transparency, that they would be the most transparent government ever, but their actions suggest the opposite.

A handful of US tech companies have radicalised the world

There is no doubt that the Internet has dramatically changed how media and politics operate. Over the last few years a few US companies have dominated radically changed how democracy is done, including allowing nefarious interference in election campaigns.

And at the same time there have been a number of political swings to more controversial and extreme leaders and parties.

Broderick (via twitter):

In the last 4 years, I’ve been to 22 countries, 6 continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. Three things are now very clear to:

1) A handful of American companies, Facebook and Google more than any other, have altered the fundamental nature of almost every major democracy on Earth. In most of these elections, far-right populism has made huge strides.

2) The misinformation, abuse, and radicalization created by these companies seems to affect poorer people and countries more heavily.

These companies replace local community networks, local media, local political networks and create easily exploitable, unmoderated news ones.

3) It is going to get worse and more connected. It is getting more mobile. It is having more physical real-world effects. Apps like WhatsApp and Instagram are even harder to track than Facebook.

It’s been a decade since I first felt like something was changing about the way we interact with the internet. In 2010, as a young news intern for a now-defunct website called the Awl, one of the first pieces I ever pitched was an explainer about why 4chan trolls were trying to take the also now-defunct website Gawker off the internet via a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. It was a world I knew. I was a 19-year-old who spent most of my time doing what we now recognize as “shitposting.” It was the beginning of an era where our old ideas about information, privacy, politics, and culture were beginning to warp.

I’ve followed that dark evolution of internet culture ever since. I’ve had the privilege — or deeply strange curse — to chase the growth of global political warfare around the world. In the last four years, I’ve been to 22 countries, six continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. I was in London for UK’s nervous breakdown over Brexit, in Barcelona for Catalonia’s failed attempts at a secession from Spain, in Sweden as neo-Nazis tried to march on the country’s largest book fair. And now, I’m in Brazil. But this era of being surprised at what the internet can and will do to us is ending. The damage is done. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably spend the rest of my career covering the consequences.

There are certainly signs of major consequences internationally.

In New Zealand we have had political change, but after a nine year National government it wasn’t a big deal, especially as Labour (and NZ First) are not dramatically different to National in most significant policies. It was more of a tweak than upheaval here, probably.

But we can’t help but be affected by what happens in the rest of the increasingly radicalised world.

To be sure, populism, nationalism, and information warfare existed long before the internet. The arc of history doesn’t always bend toward what I think of as progress. Societies regress. The difference now is that all of this is being hosted almost entirely by a handful of corporations.

Why is an American company like Facebook placing ads in newspapers in countries like IndiaItalyMexico, and Brazil, explaining to local internet users how to look out for abuse and misinformation? Because our lives, societies, and governments have been tied to invisible feedback loops, online and off. And there’s no clear way to untangle ourselves.

The worst part of all of this is that, in retrospect, there’s no real big secret about how we got here.

The social media Fordlândias happening all over the world right now probably won’t last. The damage they cause probably will. The democracies they destabilize, the people they radicalize, and the violence they inspire will most likely have a long tail. Hopefully, though, it won’t take us a hundred years to try to actually rebuild functioning societies after the corporations have moved on.

Perhaps. It is very difficult to know where social media, democracy and the world will go to from here.