Government announces $12b infrastructure spending,

The Government has announced $12 billion in infrastructure spending, but haven’t given a lot of details yet. Specifics won’t be revealed until next year.

$12 billion in extra infrastructure investment

The Government is lifting capital investment to the highest level in more than 20 years as it takes the next step to future-proof New Zealand.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has announced $12 billion of new investment, with $8 billion for specific capital projects and $4 billion to be added to the multi-year capital allowance.

The $8 billion includes:

  • $6.8 billion for new transport projects, with a significant portion for roads and rail.
  • $400 million one-off increase to schools’ capital funding
  • $300 million for regional investment opportunities
  • $300 million for District Health Board asset renewal
  • $200 million for public estate decarbonisation

The specific projects will be announced in early 2020.

The extra $4 billion to be added to the multi-year capital allowance takes it to $8.4 billion, with allocation of that money to be announced over coming Budgets.

“The new investment is forecast to increase the size of the economy by a further $10 billion over five years, with further positive impacts on GDP beyond that period,” Grant Robertson says.

With debt low and borrowing costs at record lows, the conditions are right for the Government to invest to future-proof New Zealand.

So they intend borrowing to spend on infrastructure, but at the same time have announced a surplus of the same amount over the next four years.

Strong economy, careful spending gives $12bn of surpluses

The Government is forecast to run $12 billion worth of surpluses across the four years to 2023/24 as the economy continues to grow.

The surpluses will help fund day-to-day capital requirements each year. These include fixing leaky hospitals, building new classrooms to cover population growth and take pressure off class sizes, and putting aside savings in the Super Fund for future retirement costs.

The new forecasts are in the Treasury’s 2019 Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update. This was released alongside the Government’s $12 billion plan for new infrastructure investment to future-proof the economy, and the 2020 Budget priorities.

Across the four years from 2020/21 to 2023/24, the annual surplus is forecast to rise to 1.5% of GDP. This delivers a total of nearly $12 billion of surpluses.

“The Government has committed to running a sustainable surplus across an economic cycle, and today’s forecasts show we are delivering on that,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

The Government inherited net debt at 22.9% of GDP. The forecasts show net debt of 21.5% of GDP in 2021/22, falling to 19.6% in 2023/24 – within the new 15%-25% range. This includes the impacts of the additional $12 billion infrastructure investment that the Government announced today to future-proof the economy through a package of new transport, education and health infrastructure.

But they are actually going to borrow $19 billion.

I guess the additional $7 billion will be for more election year spending.

But bragging about surpluses while announcing borrowing much more seems like a bit of a PR job.

Faafoi explains and apologises

Statement from Minister Faafoi

Hon Kris Faafoi

6 December 2019 PĀNUI PĀPĀHO

MEDIA STATEMENT

I have apologised to the Prime Minister and understand I have let her down in regards to my dealings with Jason Kerrison over an immigration matter concerning his family.

I know I need to be more upfront in the future about what I can and can’t do if I’m approached for help.

I was contacted by Jason, who is an old family friend, to see if I could help him with his step-father’s immigration case.

Rather than telling Jason straight away I couldn’t do anything to help him, I said I would look into it; as MPs are allowed to do in these cases.

I made contact with the Associate Immigration Minister’s Office to seek advice on the appropriate process. They told me to refer him to his local MP and that I could write a support letter.

Following that conversation I told Mr Kerrison he needed to talk to his local electorate MP and I called Matt King to let him know about the case.

I contacted Jason’s mother to offer to write a supporting letter, as I had been advised I could, and got some more details for the letter. However, I never wrote the letter.

I stupidly created an impression through my messages that I was following up on it when in fact I wasn’t. I was uncomfortable with him messaging me pretty regularly on it and you can see I stopped responding to his texts.

In hindsight I should have just been clear and told him I couldn’t help and just to deal with his local MP. But aside from checking to see what the proper process was for me to follow I took no other actions, and specifically took no actions to advance it, influence it, or advocate for it.

I acknowledge this is messy and you could read other meaning into my messages. But I can hand on heart say I wasn’t doing anything to advance the case, and the messages just reflect me not wanting to let a mate down. In hindsight I should have been clearer with him.

I’ve apologised to the Prime Minister and understand I have let her down. I know I need to be more upfront in the future about what I can and can’t do if I’m approached for help.

The Minister is releasing all communications to do with this issue. Private information (application numbers or contact details) have been removed. (see attached).

https://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1912/Correspondence_Date_and_Details.docx

That seems like plausible explanation and a genuine apology. I think the embarrassment to Faafoi (and Labour and the Government) will ensure a lesson has been learned and Faafoi will take more care in the future.

 

Serious claims against Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi

It may be coincidence but the Broadcasting Minister could be in serious trouble, again, the time Kris Faafoi, who has been accused of abusing power in trying to do a favour for a friend over an immigration application.

The first Minister of Broadcasting in the current Government, Clare Curran, resigned in September 2018 after she made a mess of her job. That wasn’t a surprising crash and burn as Curran was seen as a weak link.

In contrast Kris Faafoi has generally been as one of Labour’s best junior ministers, until now. But yesterday Newshub reported:

‘I’m on it bro’: Messages show Kris Faafoi offering help to friend Jason Kerrison over immigration case

Text messages obtained by Newshub show Faafoi appears to have breached Cabinet rules by offering to help Kerrison with his family’s declined immigration case.

An offer to “speed things up” was among reassurances made by the former Associate Immigration Minister to Kerrison, who spoke to Newshub in October about his step-father’s partnership visa application being declined.

Messages Faafoi sent to the singer of Kiwi band Opshop ask for details of the case before he says he has a plan and promises to talk to the right people.

In one communication on Facebook, Kerrison sent a direct message to Faafoi drawing his attention to a post with Newshub’s article.

Faafoi replied: “Hey bro – I will make a call on Monday. I know it is genuine as I know you travelled for the wedding a few years back. I will talk to the people that can speed things up.”

Kerrison’s mother, Jude Kerrrison, and Mich Obadiah met online in 2009. She’s visited him in Kenya eight times, and they were married in an intimate ceremony more than two years ago.

But Immigration NZ questioned the legitimacy and credibility of their relationship.

“I understand his personal situation to be genuine and I think he did have a case, which is why I offered to speak to his local MP,” Faafoi told Newshub.

Facebook messages between Faafoi and Kerrison show them discussing the immigration case, but he denies offering to do an immigration favour for a friend.

But Faafoi asked Kerrsison to “Yes – can you please send me surname and immagration nz file number [sic]” – which Kerrison did, before the conversation moved to texts.

Faafoi and Kerrison also discussed the case in a Facebook phone call.

When Kerrison thanks him, Faafoi replies “Whanau whanau brother.”

In November the conversation moves to text. Faafoi assures Kerrison “Im on it bri… o (BRO).”

But Faafoi may have a ‘Shane Jones’ defence – that his impropriety didn’t lead to a successful outcome.

But then things go cold.

Kerrison asks: “Hi bro how’re we doing”… “Where are we at” and repeats back to Faafoi “Whanau whanau mate.”

It’s after that on November 15 that Faafoi assures Kerrison, “Bro, its moving. I can’t put anything in writing”.

Faafoi told Newshub on Thursday: “I think he’s been trying to contact me but I haven’t been responding because it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

But while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seems impotent when it comes to NZ First ministers she may be compelled to take action against a Labour minister.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told Newshub she has “clear expectations of her ministers to uphold the highest standards at all times”.

In practice that only seems to apply to Labour ministers. Ardern may want to be seen as tough at least with her own.

 

More on the Shane Jones/NZ First conflict of interest

RNZ have revealed more information about the forestry company NZ Future Forest Products (closely linked to NZ First) that applied for $15 million of Provincial Growth Fun funds within two weeks of the company being formed.

The office of the Minister in charge of the PGF, Shane Jones, was sent documents about the bid five times over four months – why to his office rather than to the PGF office?

And Jones eventually declared a conflict of interest on 14 October, the same day RNZ asked questions via the Official Information Act. Jones claims the timing was a coincidence.

Jones claims not to have known that two people with close links to NZ First, long time friend of Winston Peters, personal and party lawyer and trustee of the NZ First Foundation Brian Henry, and Peters’ long time partner Jan Trotman, were directors of the company.

And he says that because a loan was not granted by the PGF (after Jones recused himself from decision making) none of this matters anyway. That is nonsense.

If it is to be believed that Jones didn’t know of the potential conflict of interest until the day he was OIA’d about it, which I think is quite a stretch, I think it is incredible that Henry and Trotman wouldn’t have declared their involvement to Jones and to Peters. They certainly should have.

RNZ (Audio): New details revealed on NZ First-linked company and Shane Jones’ office

New information released to RNZ reveals that Shane Jones’ office was sent documents about a forestry company’s bid for $15 million from the Provincial Growth Fund multiple times and many months before he declared a conflict of interest because of links between the company and the New Zealand First Party.

As Guyon Espiner explains, it has now emerged that Mr Jones only declared a conflict of interest over the NZ Future Forest Products bid on the day RNZ lodged an Official Information Act request asking for details of his involvement.

RNZ: New details revealed over NZ First-linked company and Shane Jones’ office

Shane Jones’ office received official documents about a forestry company’s bid for public money five times over four months, but the New Zealand First minister only declared a conflict of interest on the day RNZ began asking questions.

NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) – whose directors include Winston Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry and Mr Peters’ partner Jan Trotman – made an unsuccessful bid to borrow $15 million from the Provincial Growth Fund, which Mr Jones is responsible for.

Mr Jones has said he recused himself from the decision-making over the bid because of his long-standing relationship with Mr Henry, who is the judicial officer for NZ First as well as Mr Peters’ lawyer.

Documents provided to RNZ show Mr Jones wrote to the prime minister advising her of his conflict of interests on 14 October – the same day RNZ lodged an Official Information Act request with his office.

Mr Jones has told Parliament that he was only “formally” made aware of the NZFFP bid to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October.

But answers to written questions lodged by National MP Chris Bishop show Mr Jones’ office was sent documents mentioning NZFFP and its applications to the PGF on five occasions between 17 June and 9 October.

In total, documents relating to NZFFP were sent to Mr Jones’ office on six occasions between 17 June and 13 November – when the bid was turned down – but Mr Jones said he “personally” received only three of them.

The documents sent to Mr Jones’ office included advice from the Provincial Growth Fund’s Independent Advisory Panel, on 10 July, on the NZFFP bid.

Henry was a founding director of NZFPP was the company was incorporated on 27 March 2019. Trotman became a director on 27 August.

He said none of the documents went into detail about the bid nor disclosed the involvement of Brian Henry and his son David Henry, who is also a director of the company.

So why were all the documents sent, three of them ‘personally’ to Jones, without going into detail or disclosing potential conflicts of interest and without going into detail?

In an interview with RNZ today, Mr Jones reiterated that 14 October was the first date he was formally briefed about the proposal.

That’s the same day RNZ asked questions. He was also asked about it in Parliament on 22 November, and repeatedly refused to disclose when he first knew about the bid or the conflict of interest. From Shane Jones avoids answering questions properly in Parliament:

Hon SHANE JONES: April 8 was the date that the company’s application was lodged. I became aware that the company had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October.

The company had been sending documents to Jones’ office (and three times to Jones personally) since 17 June, but Jones claims not to have become “aware that the company had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund” until 14 October. That claim appears to be misleading or false.

Hon SHANE JONES: I became aware of this formal application on 14 October. I have asked staff to ascertain in the wodge of papers that, time to time, wash up in my office, was there any reference at all to Mr Brian Henry in any application, and they have told me zero—that there was no reference whatsoever to that application from that individual.

Chris Bishop: Was he aware informally between 8 April and 14 October that Mr Henry and N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd had made an application to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat again, 14 October is a date of great significance. That is the date that I was formally notified of the application…

…So it is most important that the House focuses on the date of 14 October, when I was formally notified that an application was on its way to the Ministers…

Hon SHANE JONES: Until 14 October, I was not formally notified of the existence of an application. I am advised, however, that officials have put in reports the name of the company they were dealing with. Unfortunately, I had no idea who that company was…

Hon SHANE JONES: As I said, I am not aware of the detail—the extent—of any discussions between Mr Brian Henry or a company I had never heard of and did not recognise until such time as a formal duty fell upon me to make a decision. At that point, I recused myself. Then it was turned down, which is how the process works.

Chris Bishop: Why did David Henry email his office on 21 September about the project, and why didn’t he declare a conflict then?

Hon SHANE JONES: There is no conflict between myself and a Mr David Henry, an individual I might have met once or thrice. I have clearly stated that I have a longstanding relationship with Mr Brian Henry…

Jones must have known that David Henry was or may be related to Brian Henry.  RNZ:

In an interview with RNZ today, Mr Jones reiterated that 14 October was the first date he was formally briefed about the proposal.

“I have already said that my office received papers identifying name of the company but I had no idea that that company involved the personalities that apparently are the directors of that company.”

Again at least misleading, he had received an email from one of the directors on 21 September.

Answers to written questions also show that Mr Peters wrote to the prime minister on 14 October, the same day as Mr Jones did, declaring a conflict of interest in relation to the NZFFP bid.

If Trotman didn’t disclose to Peters that she was a director of a company applying for PGF funds she should have.

There were warnings of the risks of cronyism when the PGF was set up with Jones the Minister in charge of dishing out $3 billion.  This application by NZFFP has not helped perceptions of it being some sort of a slush fund

It seems a bit extraordinary Jones and Peters were completely unaware of the involvement of the Henrys and Trotman until the same day RNZ started asking questions, and Jones repeatedly refusing to answer questions about what he knew don’t help perceptions of some sort of impropriety.

I think it’s safe to assume that Jones knew more about this (‘informally’) than he has disclosed, there is  clear implication that’s the case.

And I think it seems negligent of Henry and Trotman not to disclose to Peters or Jones of their involvement in a PGF application. It certainly hasn’t looked good for NZ First.

And it doesn’t help the credibility of the Labour-NZ First coalition Government. The Greens aren’t involved directly, but their silence on this (as far as I’m aware), compared to what one could imagine their reaction would be to anything like this involving National or Act, suggests their standards can be compromised by being in power.

Hon Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that N.Z. Future Forest Product Ltd’s application to the Provincial Growth Fund was declined?

That it was declined is immaterial to what happened during the application. Robertson has put himself in a position of appearing to approve of what happened.

Jacinda Ardern has appeared impotent on the behaviour and actions of one of her Ministers, Jones.

This story has been running alongside the revelation that Brian Henry is trustee of a Foundation that appears to be designed to hide donations to NZ First that would normally need to be declared.

Labour/Government spending on schools

In her Speech to the 2019 Labour Party Conference Jacinda Ardern gave details of plans provide money to all schools for maintenance.

…next year almost every single state school in New Zealand will receive a one-off payment of up to $400,000 to upgrade their classrooms and facilities.

This is the biggest cash injection for school maintenance in at least 25 years.

It will create jobs in every community in the country while helping to make our schools the special places they deserve to be.

Every school will get a payment of $693 per student, capped at a maximum of $400,000, while no school will get less than $50,000 regardless of how small their roll is.

@henrycooke: The funding maxes out at $400k per school but also has a $50k floor. This creates some wild ratios, eg: Auckland Grammar, with 2421 students, will receive the max of $400k – $165 per student. Papanui Junction School, roll of 7, will receive the minimum of $50k – $7k per kid.

Be it classroom upgrades or extensions, ensuring classrooms are warm and dry so our kids can learn, replacing coal boilers with new clean and energy efficient heating, improving play areas with resurfacing and landscaping, replacing roofing and guttering – this money is to ensure that the projects that schools have often had to defer can now get done.

But this isn’t just about schools – it’s about jobs. And especially trades jobs.

We want schools to engage local builders, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, landscapers – this is an opportunity for work at a local level in every town and city in the country.

Now this is just the first part of our infrastructure package, and one element of our work to rebuild New Zealand.

And it will leave a visible mark on every school in the country.

Now I know that what happens to our school buildings is one thing but what happens within them matters even more.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text

She also announced a Ministry of Education offer to pay all school support staff at least ‘the living wage’.

So I want to finish by acknowledging that on Friday, the Ministry of Education made a new offer to settle the school support staff collective agreement, which, if accepted, will see teacher aides and other support staff receive at least the living wage.

Today, I can also announce that we intend for the Ministry to extend the living wage offer to all non-teaching staff in schools including cleaners, caretakers, and grounds people.

A lot of people will like this expenditure, and many will benefit from it. It won’t do any harm for Labour’s election chances next year either.

Government to borrow more, boosting spending on ‘infrastructure’

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson has announced that the Government will take advantage of low interest rates and borrow more so they can increase spending in infrastructure. Details will come later.

RNZ: Government signals big new infrastructure spend, looser purse strings

Finance Minister Grant Robertson flagged extra spending in his speech to the Labour Party’s annual conference in Whanganui.

He said Cabinet had committed to a boost to infrastructure as part of the short to medium term spending plan.

“We are currently finalising the specific projects that the package will fund but I can tell you this – it will be significant.”

The government had heeded the calls from the construction industry for “greater certainty” about the pipeline of transport projects from 18 months’ time, he said.

“We will give that certainty”.

It made sense to take advantage of low government debt and the very low cost of borrowing, said Mr Robertson.

“Right now, we can borrow at an interest rate of 1.3 percent for ten years. Just think about that for a minute – when we came in to office, this was up at 3 percent,” he told delegates.

“We have the lowest borrowing costs in New Zealand’s history, so it is time to invest.”

There will be no details until the next update on the government books – the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update on December 11 – when Mr Robertson will release more details about the areas of spending, and the price tag.

Greens are keen (they have been wanting this for some time):

It should give the economy a good boost for election year. A first term Government overseeing and stimulating a thriving economy will be hard to defeat.

Wellbeing budget – transformative, or just ‘variation on a them’

Peter Dunne has said that most budgets he has seen (34 while an MP)  are just variations on a theme – and he includes this year’s ‘wellbeing budget’ in that description.

@honpeterdunne:

I saw 34 Budgets in my time – twice as many as Parker.

The biggest changes were Douglas’s reforms in 1984; Richardson’s Fiscal Responsibility Act in 1994, and English’s social investment reforms after 2015.

The rest, including this year’s, are just variations on a theme.

Others (I have heard a number of people promote this theme) have said that the this year’s budget is not transformational on it’s own, but sets a framework for transformation in the future.

Glen Bennett (New Plymouth Labour Committee Spokesperson):  Wellbeing budget transformational framework for New Zealanders

This week the Hon Grant Robertson delivered the Coalition Government’s second Budget. This Wellbeing Budget 2019 is different from any we’ve seen in New Zealand.

In the past budgets have had one measure, Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Simply put, GDP measures the value of economic activity within a country, what we earn and what we spend those earnings on.

In Addition to GDP, Wellbeing Budget 2019 is measured across five other key priorities, aimed at improving the wellbeing of all New Zealanders and broadening the Budget’s focus beyond economic and fiscal policy.

The priorities are; taking mental health seriously, improving child wellbeing, supporting Māori and Pasifika aspirations, building a productive nation and transforming the economy.

In the lead up to the Wellbeing Budget, in his Budget Policy Statement, the Hon Grant Robertson said:

“Faced with complex issues such as child poverty, inequality, and climate change, we cannot hope to make the best choices for current and future generations if we do not look beyond economic growth and consider social, environmental, and economic implications together.

“While economic growth is important for creating opportunities, our recent history shows that focusing on it alone can be counterproductive and associated with poor outcomes such as greater inequality and pollution.”

Recently several people have asked me what I see as being transformational about this Government, questioning if it’s just business as usual with nothing innovative or new.

The introduction of a Wellbeing Budget is something that I see as being transformational for New Zealand over a long period of time.

The Wellbeing Budget has challenged those sitting around the Cabinet table to look differently at the funding  they lobby for, to look across all Ministries in a holistic way, measuring their long term goals and aspirations against the five priorities of the Wellbeing Budget.

This can only be good for New Zealand and our wellbeing. I can’t see a quick fix to inequality, environmental challenges, child poverty or our mental health crisis, but this is a start.

It’s a moment in time when our Government is laying out a framework that will be transformational for all New Zealanders, not only in 2019, but for years to come.

Mental Health Foundation: Wellbeing Budget 2019 a good start towards transformation

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) are pleased the Government are taking mental health seriously by creating a $1.9 billion mental health package, announced in today’s Wellbeing Budget.

“The funding and initiatives set out in today’s budget are a fantastic start, but it’s crucial Government keep up the momentum into the future if we are to create a New Zealand where all people can experience positive mental health.”

But…

Rod Oram: Budget long on rhetoric, short on transformative funding

… the Government chose six priorities for its first Wellbeing Budget, and devised some innovative ways to bring multiple agencies of Government together to work on each.

This approach has brought about the biggest changes in the three priorities focused on people – mental health, child wellbeing and Maori and Pasifika aspirations. The investment will be substantial, particularly on mental health, and applied in some novel ways.

However, the Government has made far less progress in applying the wellbeing methodology to its other three priorities  – the productive economy, the environment and infrastructure investment.

All three are largely business-as-usual with only a few gestures to new and co-ordinated approaches; they don’t get to grips with the massive transformation all three need; and, worse, there are some serious disconnects between them.

…but it has none of the innovation in programmes or serious commitment of money that the other three capitals have. Yet it is this transition to the low carbon economy which will drive our transformation to a highly productive economy, wealth generating and strongly sustainable nation.

So, while this is a good start on the Wellbeing Budget in social areas, the Government has a Herculean task ahead in economic and environmental ones. One simple search of the Budget document illustrates this: The four new capitals used – financial and physical, natural, social and human had just 17 references in the 149 pages of the Budget document.

David Hall (senior researcher in politics at the Auckland University of Technology): Ardern more transitional than transformational:

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saddled herself with the word “transformational”. She used it heavily in the heady days of the 2017 election campaign, although less so in the compromised reality of a coalition government. Still, it is the aspiration she is held to. The 2019 wellbeing Budget is held to it by association.

But how do we know transformation when we see it?

Obviously, transformation must go beyond the status quo. But to be transformative, it must also go beyond mere reform.

A reform agenda recognises that trouble is brewing, that social, economic and environmental trends are on the wrong track. It accepts that major changes to policy and lifestyle may be required. As sustainable development research shows, it does “not locate the root of the problem in the nature of present society, but in imbalances and a lack of knowledge and information”.

It tends to reach for existing policy levers, and to hang its hopes on technical solutions. It reacts to the toughest choices by devising new frameworks for analysing them.

The wellbeing Budget easily goes this far. Finance minister Grant Robertson is entitled to say, as he did in his Budget speech, that this is a government “not satisfied with the status quo”.

A transformative agenda goes further. It sees problems as rooted in the present structure of society. It isn’t only about managing the flaws and oversights of the dominant system, but overturning the system itself. This involves an order of ambition that the wellbeing Budget lacks.

There is another word for change that the Prime Minister sides with: not “transformation” but just transition. This is the idea that socioeconomic change should be guided by principles of justice, such as equity and inclusivity, to minimise the disruption change can bring. The aim of a just transition is to achieve revolution without revolt.

Ardern obviously sees the idea of a just transition as more broadly relevant, contrasting it with the “rapid, uncaring change” of structural reforms in 1980s New Zealand. To my mind, this better captures the temper of this Government – not transformational, but potentially transitional.

But transformation and transition are just simple labels.

Labour ministers and MPs have kept saying that they can’t change ‘9 years of neglect’ (I think an unfair label) with a single budget, but this was their second budget.

Transformation or revolutionary change takes longer than a three year term in an MMP Parliament.

The Government’s third budget will be trying to balance a carefully nurtured image of financial prudence with further signs of transformational intent – as long as they are re-elected.

Much my depend on whether voters chose to keep the transformation-resistant NZ First party in the mix to moderate changes, or dump them and take a risk with a Labour-Green Government. (Returning National to power looks a long shot at this stage but is an option for those preferring more incremental change than Labour/NZ First).

NZ troops to be withdrawn from Iraq

Beehive:  New Zealand to withdraw from Iraq in June 2020:


New Zealand will conclude its non-combat Building Partner Capacity (BPC) mission at Taji Military Complex in Iraq in June 2020, when full responsibility for basic training will be handed over to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and Minister of Defence Ron Mark announced today.

New Zealand currently deploys up to 95 personnel to the BPC at Taji. Following recent Cabinet decisions this will reduce to a maximum of 75 from July 2019 and 45 from January 2020, before the mission’s completion by June 2020.

New Zealand and Australia have been jointly delivering training to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) at Taji since 2015, when New Zealand first deployed to Iraq as part of the multinational Defeat-ISIS Coalition. Over 44,000 ISF personnel have been trained at Taji since 2015.

“Four years ago New Zealand made a commitment to the Iraqi Government and to the Coalition to train the ISF at Taji and lift their capability to defeat and prevent the resurgence of ISIS. Over the next 12 months, New Zealand will be able to wind down and conclude that commitment,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“The New Zealand and Australian troops at Taji have worked hard, not only to provide training, but also to ensure that the ISF are well placed to take over this commitment at Taji in the near future. The goal of any training mission is to ensure that it becomes a sustainable programme.”

“Significant progress has been made in this area, which will allow the mission to reduce in numbers and conclude within the next year, having successfully achieved what we went in to do. This is an encouraging evolution and a success not only for us but also for the ISF personnel who have trained hard to gain the skills to become a modern military force,” said Ron Mark.

Alongside the deployment to Taji, the New Zealand Defence Force will continue in a reduced number of support roles within the Defeat-ISIS Coalition in the region. Cabinet will consider these positions again by next June.

New Zealand will however increase its stabilisation funding contribution to Iraq to approximately NZ$3 million per annum for the next three years (from NZ$2.4m in 2018-19) to help affected communities recover and rebuild following the conflict with ISIS.

Stabilisation funding will come from within MFAT’s overseas aid and development fund, and will contribute to what has been estimated to be a US$87 billion rebuild of Iraq.

“Despite its territorial defeat in Iraq in December 2017 and Syria in March 2019, it is clear that ISIS remains a threat and Iraq requires ongoing international support as it moves towards recovery and stabilisation,” said Winston Peters.

“As large numbers of Iraqi people return home and begin to rebuild their lives and communities, New Zealand’s targeted funding support can make a meaningful contribution towards this.”


National have sort of supported this – with a catch.

RNZ: National supports troop withdrawal – if partners do same

The National Party is on board with the government pulling Kiwi troops out of Iraq next year – on the condition Australia and the United States also withdraw.

National Party defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell said the decision to leave was the right one, providing everyone went at the same time.

“It looks okay with us, it would be dependent on whether it’s in line with what our partners are doing – especially the Americans and the Australians,” he said.

Australia is yet to make a formal announcement but Mr Mark told media yesterday the New Zealand decision was part of a carefully planned exit strategy alongside partners.

“We took a role of about a third/two-thirds contribution in partnership with Australia. This reduces down to a quarter/three-quarters and we will be downsizing alongside them and working with them, not just walking away from the mission,” Mr Mark said.

In a statement Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Australia and New Zealand “consult closely on their respective deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

“Australia is proud to support the Iraqi Security Forces, alongside its New Zealand counterparts. We will continue to work closely with New Zealand as it gradually draws down its footprint in Iraq,” she said.

“Australia regularly reviews its overseas operations, taking into account the needs of the Iraqi Government and the operational context on the ground.”

Whether National backs the withdrawal probably won’t make any difference, as the drawdown will have largely happened by next year’s election.

I doubt there is much public support for staying in Iraq, and there will be much stronger support for a withdrawal.

 

Head of Safe and Effective Justice calls for cross-party consensus

While Chester Borrows was an ex-National MP he is also an ex police officer and lawyer, so was a good appointment as head of the Safe and Effective Justice advisory group set up by the Labour led government.

The group has just released it’s report after extensive consultation – see Te Uepū report – Transforming our Criminal Justice System

Borrows is now calling for cross-party consensus on reforming the justice system.

RNZ: Time for cross-party consensus to transform justice system – Borrows

The head of a group that found racism embedded in every area of the criminal justice system says it’s now time for a cross-party consensus to tackle to the issue.

Māori were over-represented as both victims and offenders of crime, with Māori making up 51 percent of the prison.

Chairperson of the government’s Safe and Effective Justice advisory group, Chester Borrows, told Morning Report the report highlighted the need for “transformational change” and said any political party would be foolish to disregard the report’s contents.

He said the legacy of colonialism had meant Māori entered prison after being socially and economically disenfranchised.

“People tend to think that this is something that is really historic,” he said. “In fact, if you take away the economic base of a community and them under-educate them in a foreign language it’s not surprising that a few generations down the track they are corralled into the lowest decile suburbs failing in every area of the social sector.

“What we have in New Zealand is people don’t really touch the justice system until they’ve been failed by all those other areas such as health. education, welfare, the economy and employment… We’ve allowed that to happen. It’s a pattern and we’ve done nothing about, in respect to prisons, in 30 years.”

The former National minister said it was now time both political parties and government departments came together to untangle the legacy, so that policy and its implementation reflected one purpose. He said a transformational change in the way government and political opposition looked at justice was key to success.

“Any party would be foolish to disregard this report, which is so comprehensive, I think this is where people in the middle of the political spectrum are. The changes that need to be made are fundamental.

“We have no single driver of the justice sector and yet we’ve got five different departments who are in it, all measuring themselves against their own KRA, but not with one single goal in mind and that’s a ridiculous place to be… If they are not all facing the same thing and heading towards a common goal then they are stuck but they start.”

He acknowledged this would be difficult, due to the criminalisation of Māori and a punishment-based focus on the criminal justice system being made political positions at election time. But said the public was now sick of that approach. “It is too important for it to remain political all the time,” he said.

It will be difficult reaching political consensus on major reforms of the justice system, but it shouldn’t be difficult for all parties to work together on this.

Simon Bridges is a lawyer and has been a Crown prosecutor. He could use that experience, and show real leadership by ensuring that National engages positively on seeking reform.

Mark Mitchell is National’s spokesperson for justice. I haven’t seen either him or Bridges respond to the Safe and Effective Justice report. I hope that means they are seriously considering contributing to finding solutions.

Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill appears to be still stalled

National MP Nick Smith introduced the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill to Parliament in March 2016.

The sanctuary was a part of both governing agreements between Labour and NZ First and the Green Party, but after the bill was transferred to incoming Labour Minister of the Environment David Parker the bill seems to have stalled. In nearly three years it hasn’t progressed from it’s Second Reading.

Smith recently stated:

“It is embarrassing for the Coalition Government that it has made no progress on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary after 18 months in Government.  The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill, originally in my name but transferred to David Parker with the change in Government in 2017, has sat on the bottom of Parliament’s Order Paper for 18 months.

Timeline:

8 March 2016 – Bill introduced to Parliament

15 March 2016 – First Reading

22 July 2016 – Select Committee

15 September 2016Govt remains committed to Kermadec sanctuary

The Government is disappointed it has been unable to reach agreement with Maori fisheries trust Te Ohu Kaimoana (TOKM) on the Kermadec/Rangitahua Ocean Sanctuary, despite lengthy negotiations, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“We have tried very hard to find a resolution with TOKM, with 10 meetings involving ministers during the past 10 months. TOKM wanted to be able to maintain the right to fish and the right to exercise that at some time in the future. We wanted to protect the integrity of the sanctuary as a no-take area.

“The Government has amended the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill to provide a dual name, the Kermadec/Rangitahua Ocean Sanctuary Bill, to include Maori in the new Kermadec/Rangitahua Conservation Board, and to provide for their inclusion in the 25-year review. We remain committed to the changes to the proposal despite not being able to secure an agreement with TOKM.”

24 October 2017: Governing Agreements

Labour NZ First Coalition Agreement:

    • Work with Māori and other quota holders to resolve outstanding issues in the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill in a way that is satisfactory to both Labour and New Zealand First.

Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement (24 October 2017):

8. Safeguard the healthy functioning of marine ecosystems and promote abundant fisheries. Use best endeavours and work alongside Māori to establish the Kermadec/ Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary and look to establish a Taranaki blue whale sanctuary.

11 May 2018Winston Peters says the Greens can have a Kermadec Sanctuary – with a catch

Hope for a Kermadec Sanctuary is back on the table and NZ First leader Winston Peters is confident he can do a deal with the Green Party by the end of the year.

The deal would involve a compromise from the Greens though – accepting that the sanctuary won’t be a 100 per cent no-fishing zone.

While the previous government’s bill to establish it passed its first reading unopposed in 2016, iwi bodies and fishing companies subsequently filed legal action against it. NZ First, which has close ties to the fishing industry, raised serious concerns about the legislation.

To keep the fishing industry happy and to ensure iwi with fishing rights under the Treaty of Waitangi are on board, Peters is proposing a mixed model that allows for roughly 95 per cent marine reserve and 5 per cent fishing.

Peters says it’s entirely possible to preserve species while allowing a small percentage of fishing to keep interested parties on side.

He said the Greens would need to decide whether it was more important to have the best part of a sanctuary, or no sanctuary at all.

23 June 2018 – David Parker address to the Forest & Bird Annual Conference

I am also trying to progress the Kermadec Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary, which I have Ministerial responsibility for. I am working to see if I can find a way through that.

24 July 2018Winston Peters confident of Kermadec Marine Sanctuary deal by end of year

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters is confident the deadlock over the Kermadec Marine Sanctuary can be broken by the end of the year.

Environment Minister David Parker and Mr Peters have been working on a compromise for the best part of this year.

Mr Peters insisted an end-of-year deadline was realistic.

“If we keep working on this issue with the level of commitment that has been exhibited thus far then it’s very likely we can have it resolved by the end of 2018.”

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said there was more than one way to uphold Treaty rights and keep the Kermadec Islands a sanctuary.

“We’re committed to a sanctuary, it’s with our confidence and supply agreement with Labour and that’s what we’re committed to keep working towards. I haven’t actually seen details of exactly what Mr Peters and Mr Parker might be working on.”

Greens seem to have been sidelined.

12 February 2019Prime Minister’s Statement at the Opening of Parliament

Cabinet will also consider options to resolve outstanding issues around marine protection for Rangitahua/the Kermadecs.

While the sanctuary Bill seems to have stalled since 2016, despite the coalition and C&S agreements, it seems to remain stalled.

Nick Smith: Kermadec sanctuary lost at sea

World Oceans Day today highlights the Government’s failure to make any progress on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary in the past 18 months, Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith says.

There seems to have been little progress since mid-2016, nearly three years ago.

“New Zealand has responsibility for one of the largest areas of ocean in the world, yet less than one per cent is fully protected. The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary would protect an area twice the size of New Zealand’s land mass, 15 per cent of our ocean area and it would benefit hundreds of unique species, including whales, dolphins, turtles, seabirds, fish and corals.

“Nothing has been done by the Government to progress the Sanctuary, despite commitments in the Coalition Agreement with NZ First and the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Greens to establish the sanctuary.

“National will continue to push for the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. There is strong public support and between National and the Greens, there is a clear majority of Parliament in favour of its establishment.

“We support progression of the Government Bill now at second reading stage. I also have a Member’s Bill in the Ballot to make progress if necessary. The Government needs to make progress on this Sanctuary a priority.”

So why has this bill stalled?

Is David Parker not doing enough to push it?

Are negotiations with Maori interests still getting nowhere?

Are NZ First holding out for their deal or no deal?