NZ leadership under scrutiny over Covid-19

How New Zealand is handling the escalating Covid-19 issues is being questioned more. Is our Government doing enough, or are they reacting too slowly?

Bernard Hickey (Newsroom):  Behind the curve and out of touch

In the six weeks since the imposition of a travel ban on China in the wake of the first Covid-19 outbreaks, the Government has announced $11 million in tourism marketing and $4m for extra business advisers in regional areas. Yesterday, it announced $12 million of support for drought-hit Northland and the rest of the North Island.

That’s $27m or less than 0.01 percent of GDP in response to what some are calling the biggest macro-economic shock to the global economy since the second world war and the worst drought some parts of the country have seen in 100 years.

Yet, again yesterday Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pushed back at the idea the Government should offer more urgent, widespread and direct economic support to small businesses and beneficiaries to help them cope with the cashflow shock that is rippling through the economy. Instead, they have chosen to spend more time designing a scheme to micro-target wage subsidy support for small businesses in different industries and different parts of the economy. They have said we should wait until next week for details, and that business leaders had asked for a targeted response.

New Zealand has been very slow to respond with monetary and fiscal stimulus amid signs cashflow is drying up across the tourism, hospitality, forestry and retail sectors, with nothing much expected to be announced until next week from the Government, and the following week from the Reserve Bank.

Business leaders are calling for more urgent action to protect jobs, including the suspension of provisional tax payments, a potential GST rate cut and more urgent wage subsidies.

On monetary policy, New Zealand is also looking way behind the curve. The US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have both announced emergency rate cuts.

Yet both Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr and Finance Minister Grant Robertson have warned against “knee-jerk” reactions and have both said they have time to formulate more considered and targeted responses.

Trying to get the balance between caution and urgency is difficult in situations like this. The spread of the virus in New Zealand seems well contained (at this stage) but the economic and social effects are growing rapidly.

Stuff – Coronavirus: A winter of fiscal stimulus is coming

The Government has been manfully sticking to its plan for dealing with such outbreaks, with little choice but to follow the current path set out by the health experts: regular warnings, hand-washing, self-isolation and selected travel bans.

By the middle of next week the Government will be rolling out its ‘business continuity package’, which Stuff understands will include targeted wage subsidies and could include some tax changes. It is increasingly looking like tourism – New Zealand’s biggest export sector – will be where a lot of these efforts are directed.

Both politics and the corporate world are heavily risk-averse in this day and age. So the fact that the Government has been slow to turn up the rhetorical volume about the whole thing has actually been quite helpful. After being caught on the hop with its communications around new cases last week, the ship has been steadied, the information flow is better and calm has largely remained.

There are some indications from business that the physical dimension of the shortages may be loosening up. Supply chains both in and out of China – with the exception of export forestry, which was already facing potential log glut in China – seem to be loosening up. That could mean that shortages of imported products will correct before too long, and exports will keep flowing.

For the Government the politics of the issue remains a fine balancing act, between doing what works, and what might not work but make the public feel like the Government is doing something.

I’d prefer any major financial decisions were rigorously thought through and done properly rather than rushed. But the Government needs to be seen to be doing enough.

Peter Wilson (RNZ): Managing Covid-19 crisis a tricky business

The government was anxious this week to let the public know it was working hard on a relief package to help businesses affected by Covid-19 but it faced criticism over the pace of its efforts.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson was with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at her post-cabinet press conference on Monday to announce a business continuity package was being developed. On Wednesday Ardern chaired the first meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid-19 Committee and on Thursday Robertson promised “we will get the money out the door as soon as possible”.

It’s likely to be signed off at Monday’s cabinet meeting with details announced shortly after that.

What’s known so far is that it will focus on wage subsidies to protect jobs in affected businesses and a plan to redeploy staff in hard-hit sectors such as forestry. Robertson has several times emphasised that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work and assistance must be carefully targeted.

He isn’t going to follow Australia’s response – a $17.6 billion stimulus package with tax relief for small businesses, support for 117,000 apprentices so they won’t lose their jobs and one-off cash payments to beneficiaries.

Inevitably, the relative speed of the responses was noted: “The Australian government was announcing measures while Ardern’s ministers were still holding committee meetings,” said Politik.

National’s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith described the government as “flat footed” and told RNZ: “What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is lots of announcements about announcements that will be made in the future.”

Goldsmith has been doing a reasonable Opposition job of both criticising the Government and being prepared to work with them.

But National leader Simon Bridges has not had such a good week, looking too much like a whining campaign opportunist.

Matthew Hooton (NZH): Simon Bridges fails the coronavirus political test

When a party’s first response to a global pandemic is to demand looser health regulations, we must ask if it is a serious player.

National’s announcement on Monday of a “bonfire of regulations” was inane. Like the party’s overarching “economic plan” released a month ago, this week’s effort was entirely devoid of substantial content, consisting mainly of social-media slogans.

While the party’s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith continues to make considered contributions, Simon Bridges and his brains trust of Paula Bennett and Todd McClay seem to have decided the election can be won by empty sloganeering and praying the Ardern regime implodes.

Also:

Ardern’s and Labour’s prospects of staying in Government after the September election may be determined by how well they get the handling of the virus and it’s economic effects. There’s time to get the Covid-19 response about right, but significant action is needed fairly soon.

The Government parties are helped by Bridges’ lack of substance, empathy, common sense and communication skills. A barrage of slogans may score some political points some of the time, but not when there are serious issues needing to be dealt with sensibly and ideally with help from all parties in Parliament.


ODT/NZH/RNZ: Government could impose further travel restrictions today

New travel restrictions due to Covid-19 could be announced today, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern convenes a conference with a special committee of senior ministers.

Ms Ardern has signalled that tougher travel restrictions will be imposed and refused to rule out any countries, even Australia.

She said yesterday that the details of the travel bans would be hashed out over the weekend.

That’s a bit confusing – may announce more restrictions today but hashing out details over the weekend.


After ‘Flatten the Curve’, we must now ‘Stop the Spread’. Here’s what that means

Here’s how we expressed that earlier in the week:

One of the things the latest studies are showing is that some people may be able to shed the Covid-19 virus for up to three days before they have symptoms. This is obviously a worrying development as it does mean that people may be more infectious in the early stages of Covid-19 than we initially thought. But it’s also important to mention that many of the people in these studies were living in the same household. That fits with all the data showing that most people need to be in repeated close contact with someone who has the virus to pick it up.

Right now we need every household to sign up to the FluTracking project which is helping to act as an early warning system for Covid-19. We need everyone to get into the habit of washing their hands properly and regularly, and to avoid touching their mouth, nose, and eyes. It’s really hard, I know! Out, too, are hugs, kisses, and hongi.

We need to stay away from other people if we are sick. That means, if we are at all unwell, no going to church, the gym, the theatre, cinema, or to gigs and festivals.

Most importantly, we need to be calling ahead if we feel ill and want to go to the doctor or hospital. Something that will not #FlattenTheCurve is having a whole bunch of healthcare workers in isolation because they’ve been exposed to Covid-19. In fact, that does the opposite: it reduces our capacity to care for people who are sick.

Greens use coronavirus to promote policy (20% benefit increase)

National have been using the coronavirus as an excuse to promote policies like stopping the minimum wage increase and reducing regulations. The Green Party has joined in the opportunism, calling for a 20% increase in benefits – which just hapens to be something they have been promoting for years..

Stuff:  Greens urge huge benefit increase in response

The party are calling on the Government, of which it is a part, to fully implement the recommendations from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s report.

That would see benefits boosted across the board at a cost of around $5.2b a year. The current welfare system pays out about $24.5b in benefits a year, including $15.5b for superannuation.

Greens have been calling for substantially higher no questions asked benefits for years.

This proposal isn’t aimed at short term mitigation of the effects of Covid-19 but would be a big ongoing increase in Government spending.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson said given the impact the virus’ associated economic shock might cause for casual workers larger benefits were vital.

“The COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on the income of casual workers shows how flawed our social safety net is,” Davidson said.

I don’t know even how the possible impact on casual workers justifies a huge across the board benefit increase.

“It’s clear we need to change our welfare system, to absorb the impact of unexpected viruses and other issues that crop up in life. Whether it is COVID-19 or something else, our social safety net should be able to support us across the board when we’re struggling.”

The Green Party have long called for the full package of reforms suggested by the advisory group to be enacted.

Such a radical change in benefits should be debated and considered carefully, not rushed in because of the current virus.

Greens must know there’s no chance of rapid adoption of their policy. So this is straight out use of the virus for political campaigning.

Government , National both announce hot air on dealing with Covid-19 effects on the economy

Two economic announcements today, one from the Government, one from the National Party, are dripping with political campaigning.

The Government has announced they will be making announcements this week, and are assuring media they have already done some things to help businesses adversely affected by the Covid-19 virus.

Beehive: Next steps of Govt and business COVID-19 response

This week the Government will roll out the next steps of its plans to support businesses and workers as part of New Zealand’s ongoing response to COVID-19.

These initiatives will be on top of the immediate measures already in place, including support for the tourism and fisheries industries, an increase in business support funding, and tax and income assistance through IRD and MSD.

“Ministers are actively considering a range of options in response to the impact of COVID-19, and Cabinet will discuss these tomorrow,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

So Robertson has given assurances the Government is doing something, and says that Cabinet will consider doing more tomorrow.  he follows with general political palaver, and then explains what they have been doing.

Last week, the Ministers of Finance and Revenue met with the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, the Tourism Industry Association and Xero to discuss the situation.

Grant Robertson also met with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Reserve Bank Governor to discuss macro-economic impacts as a result of the coronavirus.

“We’re taking the time now to work with industries to plan for how we kick-start activity again as we exit out the other side of COVID-19. What we do know is that this will pass.”

So more talking, but nothing really to announce yet.

Note to editors: The Government is already taking the following actions:

Trying to get editors and media to say how well they have already been doing things.

  • Continuing to work closely with banks to ensure they are being proactive with their clients
  • Improving cashflow for small businesses by signalling action on prompt payment terms and times
  • Inland Revenue is entering into instalment arrangements and waiving penalties on a case by case basis where individuals and businesses have had their income and cashflow affected
  • An extra $4 million invested in the Regional Business Partner Programme to allow for extra advisors and give them more time on the ground supporting businesses
  • Working with Xero to get real-time information about the impacts on business, particularly SMEs.

Not much there considering the virus impact on business activity. We will have to see what they come out with later this week.

Aimed directly at the Government announcement, National have also made an economic policy announcement today, aimed at concerns over the current virus induced slowdown.

Paul Goldsmith: Relief package needed as NZ nears recession

With four banks now forecasting negative growth it’s past time for the Government to announce a relief package to help people stay in their jobs, National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“When Cabinet meets tomorrow, this should be at the top of its agenda. This needs to be a detailed package to support businesses and workers directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Political palaver edited out.

“It now seems quite likely New Zealand will go into a recession this year.

It’s not good for a major party to be talking up an economic recession.

“Businesses need clear and urgent action from the Government to help them through this period of uncertainty, not just tinkering around the edges and ad-hoc announcements that lack detail.”

So this announcement doesn’t say anything of importance.

Simon Bridges was just on RNZ saying National were announcing part one (of five) of their economic policy, but it was mostly about a promise to cut red tape, cutting two bits of red tape for every bit they introduce, or something. Bridges mentioned a few things that annoy businesses, but this really sounded like opportunist tinkering around the edges.

RNZ: National wants ‘common-sense test’ on health and safety regulations

National says it would introduce a “health and safety common-sense test” if elected, as part of its plan to slash red-tape burdening small businesses.

The Government is at risk of being seen to as slow to react to the developing economic problems, on to of their reputation for talking more than doing. They have to come up with substantial and urgent plans this week to address things.

It will unveil the “first plank” in its five-point economic growth plan this morning, outlining how it will reduce regulation.

Leader Simon Bridges said the programme was about giving small businesses confidence and creating an economy “where it’s not just burden and cost”.

If elected, National said it would commit to a “bonfire on regulations”, doing away with two regulations for every new one introduced.

It would also scrap 100 regulations within the first six months.

So this doesn’t address the Covid-19 effects at all. Ironically the virus requires increased regulations or restrictions.

National are risking putting more negative pressure on the economy, not a good look for a party that claims to be better at managing the economy. At times when the country (and the world) faces potentially major economic difficulties a responsible party would put the good of the nation ahead of their own election campaign. There will be plenty of time for them to bicker and propose their own ideas that can’t be implemented until later in the year at the earliest.

Both Labour and National have started the week doing little but grandstanding. Struggling businesses deserve better than that.


UPDATE: Jacinda Ardern has just been interviewed on RNZ and was asked if the Government would include National in their talks. Ardern said that National were being kept informed and any suggestions from National on what could be done better would be welcome as it was a global and national problem. Sounds good, but whether there’s any substance to cross-party cooperation on this it is yet to be seen.

I’ll post a link when it becomes available

Jami-Lee Ross claims National received foreign donations

In Parliament yesterday Independent MPs Jami-Lee Ross claimed that he had information showing that up to $150,000 dollars in donations paid to the National party had come via conduits from China. He said that he wasn’t aware of this when he was a National MP (and senior whip), and the party probably wasn’t aware of the source of the donations either. He called on National to pay the donations back.

Ross appears to have got the information from the Serious Fraud Office, so it is probable he has his own legal defence in mind in how he has worded his claims.

Before making the claims in a speech in Parliament Ross appeared to collude with Winston Peters in Question Time, in questions directed at Peters as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Question No. 4—Foreign Affairs

4. JAMI-LEE ROSS (MP—Botany) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Has he received any reports of foreign interference activities in New Zealand from foreign State actors of the type described by Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady in her paper “Magic Weapons” as united front work carried out by the Chinese Communist Party; if so, what efforts is the Government making to protect New Zealand’s interests?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): Foreign interference is not a new threat and New Zealand isn’t immune to such attempts. Yes, I have seen reports to that effect, but I can’t discuss specific countries, operational details, targets or methods, or systems of surveillance. But I can assure the member that this Government takes the threat very seriously and has robust measures in place to protect our democratic values, institutions, and our economy.

Jami-Lee Ross: Does he share the concerns of Professor Brady that foreign State actors make efforts to “control diaspora communities, to utilise them as agents of foreign policy, suppress any hints of dissidents as well.”, and if so, what resilience strategy will New Zealand implement to protect against this foreign interference?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I tell that member we do share a series of concerns. If that member or, indeed, any member of the public has information that relates to foreign interference from any country, they should report it to the relevant authorities. This is a serious issue that this Government is dedicated to addressing, and appropriate processes should be followed. But let me say this: this is the first time in New Zealand’s history that a political party has announced its candidate list in China, and you have to ask yourself why.

Jami-Lee Ross: Does he share the view of SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge that one vector of foreign interference in elections is “Building covert influence and leverage, including through electoral financing;”, and if so, what advice does he have for New Zealanders concerned about this foreign interference?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The member will, I’m sure, appreciate the fact that we cannot single out any one specific country. The important thing is that we have flexible and adequate mechanisms, we believe, in place to protect our democratic values, institutions, and the economy. The witness and evidence that he has recited in his question is some testimony to that, but the reality is we have open channels to raise issues with countries if and when we ever need to do so. But it behoves political parties not to be undermining this Government’s serious purpose to protect our democratic institutions.

Both Ross and Peters have demonstrated having obvious grudges against National leader Simon Bridges and the National Party, so that context could be important.

Ross, Peters and NZ First have had links to and have been promoted by the Whale Oil and The BFD blogs and Cameron Slater et al.

From the Debate on Prime Minister’s Statement following Question Time:

JAMI-LEE ROSS (Botany):

…In the Prime Minister’s statement, that we are debating, the Prime Minister lists as one of her Government’s achievements the banning of foreign political donations. It’s true that the new $50 threshold for overseas donations is an improvement. But, as I’ve said previously in the House, I doubt it will do very little to deter those determined to find other ways around the ban, including—

SPEAKER: Order! Mr Jackson leave the House.

JAMI-LEE ROSS: —using the wide open gap we still have where foreign State actors can funnel funds through New Zealand registered companies.

The foreign donation ban is one of the few recommendations that has spun out of the Justice Committee’s inquiry into foreign interference activities in New Zealand elections. That has been picked up. Probably the most important submissions that we received through that inquiry were those from Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University and what we heard from the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) director, Rebecca Kitteridge. It was all eye-watering and eye-opening stuff and sobering for us to hear and read their evidence. We have not, and I think we still do not, take seriously enough the risk of foreign interference activities that we’ve been subjected to as a country. Ms Kitteridge rightly pointed out in her evidence that the challenge of foreign interference to our democracy is not just about what occurs around the election itself. Motivated State actors will work assiduously over many years, including in New Zealand, to covertly garner influence, access, and leverage.

She also specifically pointed out the risks we face from foreign State actors through the exertion of pressure or control of diaspora communities and the building of covert influence and leverage, including through electoral financing. After Pansy Wong resigned from Parliament, I was selected as the National Party candidate for the 5 March by-election nine years ago. It was made very clear to me at the time that I had to put a big emphasis on getting to know the Chinese community. It was also pointed out to me very early on that I must make good connections with the Chinese consul-general. Madam Liao at the time was very influential with Chinese New Zealanders, and important to my own success as well. In hindsight, it was naive of me to not think carefully about the pull that a foreign diplomat had on a large section of the population in my electorate.

The consul-general in Auckland is treated like a God, more so than any New Zealand politician, except probably the Prime Minister of the day. Each successive consul-general seemed to be better and more effective at holding New Zealand residents and citizens of Chinese descent in their grasp. Consul-generals Niu Qingbao and Xu Erwen were also treating us, as MPs—not just myself, others—as long-lost friends. All this effort, if you read Professor Brady’s paper called Magic Weapons, is a core plank of the Chinese Communist Party’s deliberate and targeted efforts to expand political influence activities worldwide. It’s also the very risk that Rebecca Kitteridge warned the Justice Committee about. Professor Brady’s paper is a 50-page academic work. I can’t do it justice here, but I recommend all MPs read it.

The activities of the Chinese Communist Party here domestically, where Chinese New Zealanders have been targeted, should be concerning enough for all of us. But the efforts that Chinese Communist Party – connected individuals have been making over the years to target us as politicians, and New Zealand political parties, also needs to be taken seriously. Every time we as MPs are showered with praise or dinners or hospitality by Chinese diplomats, we’re being subjected to what Professor Brady calls “united front work”. Every time we see our constituents bow and scrape to foreign diplomats, it’s a result of their long-running efforts to exert influence and control over our fellow Kiwis.

Both Professor Brady and director Kitteridge have warned about the risk of foreign interference activity where funding of political parties is used as a tool. This isn’t necessarily unlawful provided the donations meet the requirements of the Electoral Act. In 2018, I very publicly made some allegations relating to donations. I have said publicly already that the donations I called out were offered directly to the leader of the National Party at an event I was not in attendance at. I did not know at the time that those donations were made that they were in any way unlawful. I never had any control over those donations and I have never been a signatory of any National Party bank account in the time that I’ve been an MP. I never benefited personally from those donations. I was never a part of any conspiracy to defeat the Electoral Act. And the point at which I blew the whistle on these donations—first internally, then very publicly—that point came after I learned new information that led me to question the legality of the donations.

While making the accusations Ross has been careful to try to distance himself from what he claims has happened.

After raising these issues publicly, they were duly investigated first by the police and then the Serious Fraud Office. The result of those allegations is already public and I can’t traverse much detail here, but I will say that I refuse to be silenced and I will keep speaking out about what I know, and have seen, goes on inside political parties. I refuse to be quiet about the corroding influence of money in New Zealand politics.

Last year, I learnt, off the back of concerns I myself took to the proper authorities, that the National Party had been the beneficiary of large amounts of foreign donations. These donations are linked back to China and linked to the Chinese Communist Party, and with ease entered New Zealand. I didn’t go searching for this information. I was asked if I knew anything of the origins of the donations. I didn’t know. It was all new information to me, and I was surprised by what I learnt.

What I learnt was that large sums of money adding up to around $150,000 coming directly out of China in Chinese yuan over successive years ended up as political party donations. Two individuals, _________, were used as conduits for the donations.

These funds eventually made their way to the New Zealand National Party. The New Zealand National Party still holds those funds. The National Party is still holding at least $150,000 of foreign donations received in two successive years. I call on the National Party to return those foreign donations that it holds or transfer the money to the Electoral Commission. I doubt the National Party knew at the time that the money was foreign—I certainly didn’t either—but now that they will have that information to hand, they need to show leadership and do the right thing.

How does Ross know that the national party still holds the donations?

To avoid doubt, this $150,000 dollars’ worth of foreign donations is not the same as the $150,000 from the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry company that they raised last year.

The warnings sounded from academics and spy agencies are not without reason. These two examples I give are very real examples of foreign money that has entered New Zealand politics. Professor Brady, with reference to the list of overseas members of the overseas Chinese federation, which is part of the Communist Party’s infrastructure, listed three top united front representatives in New Zealand:

_____, _____, and Zhang Yikun. All three are well known to political parties.

In a recent press statement from a PR agency, representatives of Zhang Yikun highlighted the philanthropic approach that he takes in New Zealand. The press statement on 19 February specifically said that he has been “donating to many political parties and campaigns.”, except his name has never appeared in any political party return. When asked by the media if political parties had any record of donations from this individual, all said no. But a quick search online will find dozens and dozens of photos of Zhang Yikun dining with mayors and MPs over the time, inviting them to his home, and his recent 20th convention of Teochew International Federation had a who’s who list of politicians turning up, including a former Prime Minister.

The foreign donations I mentioned earlier all have connections to the Chao Shan General Association. The founder and chairman of Chao Shan General Association is Zhang Yikun. To summarise these two bits of information, the largest party in this Parliament has been the beneficiary of large sums of foreign money. That money is linked to an individual who was listed as one of the top three Chinese Communist Party united front representatives in New Zealand. That individual’s PR agents say he has donated to many political parties and campaigns, yet he’s never showing up in any donation returns in the past.

One of Professor Brady’s concluding remarks in her submission to the Justice Committee was that foreign interference activities can only thrive if public opinion in the affected nation tolerates or condones it. We must not tolerate or condone any foreign interference activities. We must also not stay silent when we see problems right under our nose. It’s time for the political parties in this Parliament to address seriously the political party donation regime that we have.

I realise that both the two main parties in this Parliament often have to agree, but perhaps it’s time to put that out to an independent body. It’s too important for us to ignore, and it’s not right that we should allow these things to go on under our nose.

I seek leave to table two charts that show a flow of money from China into New Zealand and to the New Zealand National Party.

SPEAKER: I seek an assurance from the member that these charts are not integral to any matter currently before the courts.

JAMI-LEE ROSS: These charts have been prepared by the Serious Fraud Office and I cannot give you that assurance.

SPEAKER: You cannot give me that assurance. Well, I’m not going to put the question.

MPs involved in court processes usually refuse to discuss or answer questions about the case, claiming the sub judice rule requires this, so Ross using information he has obtained as a part of being prosecuted may raise some legal eyebrows. Also political eyebrows.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The sub judice rule is not as to the fact; it’s as to the argument of the merit of the case, and I think a far too rigid rule is being applied here. If a flow chart, without any other comment, is to be ruled out from being tabled because you say it is sub judice; it is not arguing anything but the fact. It is not arguing for the merits, it’s not taking sides, it’s not trying to be persuasive, and I think it should be allowed in.

It seems quite ironic that Peters is arguing against the sub judice rule. He has claimed his right to silence on an issue because of the rule multiple times in the past.

SPEAKER: Well, I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his comments. This is clearly a matter on which I’ve thought long and hard. I think in the last Standing Orders review or possibly the one before that, the sub judice rules were significantly tightened. I think it’s fair to say that those changes were not unanimous. There was one member who stood out against the tightening of those rules, and it was me. But having said that, as Speaker, I am obliged to apply the rules as they exist, and the member has not been able to give me an assurance that the information contained in the chart is not central to a case currently before the court.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The problem with that is you’ve got a serious legal concept that’s been handed down through the decades, indeed the centuries, now being interpreted by parliamentarians as though they are a court of law in this context. The sub judice rule applies to any court of law—any document associated with a court of law—across our legal jurisdiction. But no parliamentarian should be given—sorry, I’m not making an attack on the parliamentarians, but I think it’s improper for parliamentarians to say, “Well, we’ve got a better interpretation of that, and this is what it is.”

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think, for me, the question is how Mr Ross came to hold the documents: whether in fact he is holding the documents because of his involvement in a case that may be before a judicial body, or whether he came to hold them through some other means.

SPEAKER: Well, I think I’m able to deal with that question on the matter of the briefings that I have received. Jami-Lee Ross has made it clear to me that the chart to which he refers or the information to which he refers is something which has come into his possession as a matter leading up to this and containing information relevant to this case.

Hon Aupito William Sio: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Noting the seriousness and the magnitude of the issues that have been raised with Mr Jami-Lee Ross, and noting also that his time is up, is it appropriate for me to seek leave that he be given extended time to complete his statements?

SPEAKER: The answer to that is that it’s not appropriate for that member to seek leave for another member in that way.

This could add to National’s embarrassment over donations.

But it also shows that Ross seems to be working with Peters in trying to damage National, and Ross will have his defence (of the SFO prosecution) in mind with what he says here – but using court information to do this may cause him some problems.

It will be interesting to see what The BFD runs on this today.


Sources:

https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/document/HansS_20200305_051450000/4-question-no-4-foreign-affairs

https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/document/HansS_20200305_054225000/ross-jami-lee

National proposal could allow unconvicted ‘extremists’ to own guns

This seems like a contradiction on the National Party stance on firearms – they are talking tough on gangs with guns, but want to make it easier for people with “violent and extremist tendencies” to own guns?

Newsroom: Extremists able to own guns under National’s proposals

The National Party wants to water down a proposal to restrict extremists from obtaining a firearms license.

In a Supplementary Order Paper submitted on the Government’s Arms Legislation Bill, National’s Police spokesperson Brett Hudson proposes that a test for violent and extremist tendencies should only be applied to people who have been “convicted of an offence under the Human Rights Act 1993 or the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 relating to violent, hateful, or extremist speech or behaviour”.

However, Gun Control NZ’s Nik Green says this would allow many extremists to obtain a firearms license, pointing to the fact that no one in New Zealand has been convicted of such an offense under the Human Rights Act.

Police Minister Stuart Nash said Hudson’s SOP was “very concerning. I do not know why the Nats are not supporting this because it takes guns off gangs and it’s much tougher penalties for gun crime.”

Actually in practice (in my experience two years ago) a test for “violent and extremist tendencies” was already being used in firearm license renewal interviews.

So this SOP would looks like it could weaken that.

Simon Bridges whistles Australian deporting but laws already allow it

Another policy announcement by Simon Bridges, deporting Australian criminals that may not do much more than raise the level dog whistling. National to look at reciprocal deportation law

Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says a National Government will look at amending the law to allow Australians convicted of serious crimes in New Zealand to be deported.

If elected, National will explore a policy based on amendments to Australia’s Migration Act in 2014 which allows for people to have their visas cancelled on character grounds.

“It’s the legal right of the Australian Government to deport Kiwi criminals, however we have the same rights and it’s my view that New Zealand needs to explore how a reciprocal policy could work here.”

And especially as under current law Aussie criminals can already be deported.

Newshub: Jacinda Ardern knocks ‘naïve’ Simon Bridges for mulling reciprocal deportations for Australians

The Opposition leader said if National’s elected he will explore a policy based on amendments to Australia’s Migration Act in 2014, which allows for people to have their visas cancelled on character grounds.

Bridges told Magic Talk: “I simply say fair is fair; why wouldn’t we do the same to them? Our laws are much more lenient than the Australian laws… When the Aussies are over here, we should reciprocate in New Zealanders’ interests.”

The Opposition leader said if it’s right for Australia then it’s “worth exploring whether it’s also the right position for New Zealand and our interests”.

The Prime Minister…

…has rejected Bridges’ stance, telling reporters on Monday: “Personally, I think Mr Bridges’ position is naïve.”

Ardern has repeatedly labelled Australia’s policy “corrosive” to the trans-Tasman relationship in the past, raising the issue with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in early 2019, but she later ruled out retaliation after meeting with him again in July.

The Prime Minister pointed out that New Zealand already deports criminals back to countries from which they hold citizenship, but that with Australia it’s a “matter of principle and a matter of proportion”.

“My view is, if we think this policy is wrong, why would we then repeat it?

“My position is that we must do and continue to do everything we can to make the point that what Australia is doing is wrong and the best way I can continue to make that is not by replicating something that I don’t agree with.

In terms of proportion – Ardern said there are roughly 62,000 Australians living in New Zealand compared to around 650,000 New Zealanders living in Australia.

Lawyer Graeme Edgeler responds: “The law already allows convicted Australians to be deported.”

The current version of the law is here: legislation.govt.nz/act/public/200

The 1987 version of the law is here: legislation.govt.nz/act/public/198

The test could be lower. We could grant fewer reprieves. But the idea of deporting permanent resident criminals is not new.

I doubt that appearing to get tough on Aussie criminals will attract many more votes for National.

The best known (notorious) Australian criminal in New Zealand is Brenton Tarrant, but he is being kept here to face multiple (51) murder charges plus attempted murder charges, as he should be. Bridges would more likely loose supported if he suggested Tarrant should be deported at this stage at least. And I’m sure New Zealanders convicted of crimes in Australia are charged and imprisoned there.

James Shaw speaks on NZF/BFD use of photos against journalists

After growing pressure to make some sort of statement Green co-leader James Shaw has commented carefully on NZ First handing photos to an attack blog who then threatened the journalists.

NZ Herald: NZ First Foundation saga: Greens break silence on ‘chilling’ photos of journalists

The Greens have broken their silence and expressed alarm at published photos of an ex-NZ First president with journalists who have been reporting on donations to the party.

The photos were published on website The BFD, which has been linked to Whale Oil, the blog at the centre of the 2014 book Dirty Politics.

The BFD has increasingly been used to promote NZ First and to attack the Greens, Jacinda Ardern, Simon Bridges, National and the media.

Shaw told the Herald that the details of what had happened were unclear.

“But regardless of who took the photographs and why, the fact they were passed to a blog that is designed to undermine trust in our political system is a concern.”

Shaw also took a step further in relation to questions about the NZF Foundation and whether it has properly declared donations to the NZF party.

“The allegations are concerning and due process must be followed while they are investigated,” Shaw said.

“We know New Zealanders will be looking at this issue and worrying about what it means for their democracy, which is why we are focused on making the system more transparent and fair.”

This is something, but seems a lot more measured than Green condemnation of John Key and National when Hager’s Dirty Politics in 2014 revealed the use of Whale Oil for political attacks.

Shaw has previously answered questions about the foundation by saying that the country’s electoral system needed to be strengthened.

He is now calling for an independent citizens’ assembly to “clean up” political donations, which have been clouded by questions over the NZF Foundation, as well as the SFO charges laid in relation to a $100,000 donation to the National Party.

Perhaps an alternative to fixing the laws would be a good idea, rather than politicians dominated by the large parties who receive large donations doing what suits their own interests.

Shaw’s response tends towards too mild and too late.

Jacinda Ardern has remained fairly silent on the NZF/BFD issue, and has been widely criticised for this.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said there remained many unanswered questions about the “chilling” photos.

“It beggars belief to think that somehow by chance these journalists were photographed with Lester Gray and the photos somehow found their way onto a blog.”

if the National Party had been involved in such a thing, Labour and the Greens would be shouting from the rooftops.

“The Prime Minister appears to be hiding. Her silence is damning. Has she asked who took the photos, did they pay for it, and how did they end up on the blog?”

National were involved in this sort of thing up until 2014, but then distanced themselves from Whale Oil. Cameron Slater then turned his attacks on Key, National, Bill English, Paula Bennett and Bridges. This has continued at The BFD, although Slater now seems to have a more peripheral role.

While the change of position from National is stark it does turn pressure towards Ardern.

Asked about Bridges’ comments, a spokesperson for Ardern said the Prime Minister was focused on the issues New Zealanders care about.

“New Zealand First Party matters are for them to respond to,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

That is a very lame response. Ardern will no doubt be questioned about this in her weekly media conference – and will no doubt have some sort of response prepared. It will have to be much better than her spokesperson.

Will political foxes reform electoral and transparency laws?

Two SFO investigations into party donations, and multiple failures to fulfil openness and transparency pledges, suggests that our political parties and MPs need better laws to make them comply with more honesty and openness. The problem is, the political foxes make the laws to limit themselves – and then find ways to circumvent and ignore.

How political donations are disclosed, plus the Official Information Act are two things that need revised. There is no chance of that happening before the election, but will something be done by the next Government (and hopefully with the support of the whole parliament)?

ODT editorial: Keeping their noses clean

On Monday, the SFO, already with its hands full dealing with complaints about National Party funding arrangements which have resulted in four people facing charges (but not the party itself), had the Electoral Commission file on the New Zealand First Foundation passed on to it by the police for further investigation.

While it is difficult to paint a rosy picture of a situation where two of the country’s major political parties have found themselves under investigation, there is something heartening about this.

Politicians like to quote Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which regularly places New Zealand high in its rankings of the least corrupt countries in the world.

It is because investigations such as the ones the SFO have undertaken are permitted, because public scrutiny of political donations is expected and the highest amounts are disclosed publicly, because political parties are obliged to disclose their expenses, that New Zealand can maintain this reputation.

And because party officials with consciences are prepared to whistleblow on questionable practices?

But that does not mean that all is well.

It obviously isn’t.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested a full independent look at political donation laws, which would be a beginning but only a beginning.

Every general election is subject to a subsequent select committee inquiry, but the assessment of the 2017 election was rendered somewhat farcical by constant delays and wholesale politicisation of the process.

Unfortunately politicisation and delays are ways that politicians avoid anything being done to curb their excesses.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, who assigns projects to what is an independent crown entity, might consider electoral law as something the commission, or another equally as high-powered independent legal committee, could profitably examine.

This election is already tainted with allegations of wrongdoing before the campaign officially begins, no matter how many Facebook transparency agreements political parties sign up to.

To better serve the voters they seek to represent, politicians need to rise above their partisan divide and work towards a suite of electoral laws for 2023.

But will the foxes do anything to guard the political henhouse? Or will they continue to flout the intent of the current laws, and what the electorate expects of them?

A start would be to get each party to commit to doing something in the next term – but that will only work if the follow up and actually do what they promise.

 

Will National’s support solid through leadership changes endure?

Support for National has remained fairly substantial and solid, despite the stepping down of the popular leader John key, and also the retirement of his replacement Bill English.

The current leader Simon Bridges has been far less popular, and party support has dropped a bit over the last couple of years that is to be expected for a party relegated to Opposition. National Party support seems to not be affected very much by leadership changes.

Here is how the polls have tracked since the last election.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_2020_New_Zealand_general_election

Bridges’ leadership doesn’t seem to have impacted much on that.

It’s still half a year until the election and anything could happen in that time, but especially with the diminishing of small party support National looks likely to get a reasonable share of the vote again this year (but may struggle to get enough to get back into government).

Josh Van Veen considers  Simon’s Dream: The enduring appeal of National in the Twenty-Twenties 

National supporters might look back wistfully on the early 2010s. But they long ago dispelled the notion that the party’s fate rested with one individual. In that regard, the National Party of 2020 is ‘Tolstoyan’… Despite losing the 2017 election, National remained the largest party by a wide margin. With 44.5 percent of the party vote to Labour’s 36.9 percent, English could boast of having led his party to an impressive result.

For a third term in government party that was a good result, not a lot down on the 47.04% that National got in 2014.

While Bridges’ personal support languishes behind that of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, National continues to poll higher than Labour. It is clear that a significant number of New Zealanders would vote for party over leader. Almost three years to the day of Key’s resignation, a 1 News/Colmar Brunton poll forecast a National victory. If an election had been held in December 2019, according to this poll, Simon Bridges would be the country’s 41st Prime Minister. The poll can’t be dismissed as an outlier. It was the second consecutive poll to indicate the same result. Not only that, but numerous other polls have suggested a tight race. At best we can say the odds are even.

I think that the outcome is certainly too hard to call at this stage.

So why is National still popular? Ask a journalist or commentator and they will most likely tell you that it is because the new government hasn’t delivered. Labour’s promise to fix the housing crisis and end child poverty turned out to be empty. Not to mention the incompetence of certain ministers, bad communication and disunity between the governing parties. They say “Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.” This explanation would be more convincing if Labour had won a numerical victory in 2017. There would be ground to lose to National. In fact, the numbers suggest that nothing much has changed since election night.

A more plausible explanation is that National’s appeal runs deep in the New Zealand psyche. To understand this, we have to forget about policy details, sensational headlines and the day-to-day vagaries of social media. In practice, there isn’t much difference between the way Labour and National behave in office. One is slightly more generous when it comes to the redistribution of wealth, the other has a reputation (deserved or not) for being meticulously scrupulous with public finances. Where ideology is concerned, Labour and National have both converged on the liberal centre. That is to say, the two major parties share a moderately liberal outlook on issues of public importance. Both have embraced globalisation, diversity, environmentalism, the redress of Treaty breaches, and poverty alleviation.

Beyond political rhetoric the actual policy paths of both National and Labour are much more similar than different. The current Government has tweaked more than lurched.

So perhaps it should be unsurprising if the party of John Key, Bill English and Simon Bridges can be identified with a vaguely utopian belief that New Zealand is still a land of plenty where rugged individuals can prosper – with just a bit of help from the government. According to this cherished belief, there isn’t much wrong with New Zealand.

To National supporters, few things are more repugnant than denying the archetypal New Zealander the fruits of his or her labour. But even more insulting is the imposition that those who ‘got ahead’ by hard work and enterprise should feel guilty about others left behind. To suggest that homelessness is a societal problem is to implicate everyone who has in some way profited from the housing market. To say that child poverty exists because we don’t pay enough tax is to accuse people of being selfish.

Yet there are no reasonable grounds for assuming that a National voter cares any less about impoverished children than a Labour voter. According to the 2017 New Zealand Election Study, 86% of National voters agreed with the proposition that “the government should provide decent living standards for children”. A majority (67%) also believed that the government had a responsibility to provide decent housing to those who could not afford it.

Perhaps that is why it has become fashionable in right-wing circles to dismiss talk of kindness as mere ‘virtue signalling’. Ardern might have spoken with more empathy than English but they both professed a moral conviction that it was their duty to help the poor. Most voters agreed. The crucial difference is that English did it without offending the sensibilities of New Zealanders who believe that wealth is acquired only through hard work and sacrifice.

The enduring appeal of National can’t be explained by Labour’s failure to deliver or brilliance on the part of Simon Bridges. Rather, it is due to the million or so voters who find some emotional coherence in what the party represents on an individual level. It would be a mistake to dismiss these voters as reactionary bigots or selfish boomers. While such people undoubtedly exist, few lack a moral compass and concern for others. Just about everyone is offended by the sight of human suffering.

But the simple truth is that most New Zealanders are comfortable and few understand material hardship. They have difficulty accepting that strangers doing it tough can’t just go to Work and Income for help. Homelessness and child poverty, while troubling, only exist in the news media. For them, New Zealand is still a land of plenty. Any statement to the contrary is a personal attack.

I think there may well be many who see not much wrong with Aotearoa as it is – for those prepared to work.

When leftists say “tax the rich to feed the kids” and demand justice for beneficiaries, it is as if they are speaking a different language to everyone else. Ardern’s decision to permanently rule out a capital gains tax confirmed that National, not Labour, is closer to the mythic New Zealand ideal. Whatever his shortcomings as a leader, Bridges’ sense of history is clear. He knows that National can win in spite of any one individual.

Labour must now make a difficult choice: whether to rely on NZ First and the Greens or go head to head with National in a contest for the political centre. This choice will define New Zealand politics for the next decade. To get it wrong would be Simon’s dream.

Labour is moving more towards being reliant on the Greens at least – the Labour-Green ticket. And they will also need to grapple with how much to associate themselves with NZ First as an  essential part of their continued coalition chances.

National may not manage to lift their support to get into power later this year, but they are still seen as a large single party with solid support.

 

Three more National MPs announce retirements

Three more National MPs have announced they won’t seek re-election this year. Two were expected, but one was a reversal of a previous commitment.

It is normal for a bit of turnover of MPs from a party that has switched to opposition, but this brings the National MP exodus to about 13 this term.

RNZ: National Party to lose three more MPs before elections

Sarah Dowie, Nicky Wagner and David Carter announced in quick succession they will not be running in the September election.

The three politicians are the latest in a string of National MPs stepping down at this election.

Amy AdamsNathan GuyMaggie Barry and Alastair Scott all announced last year they would not be running.

Bill English and Steven Joyce have already retired since the 2017 election. Not sure who else.

Carter and Wagner retiring are no surprise.

Dowie is a surprise, as she has already been selected by National to stand again for the Invercargill electorate she holds. She cites family reasons:

Dowie is currently the MP for Invercargill, but she said she had opted not to seek re-election for family reasons.

“I went to Parliament when Christabel was four and Hunter was two.

“What has become clear is that my children are at a pivotal age and I wish to be 100 percent present to share in their successes,” she said.

She was involved in adverse publicity last year involving Jami-Lee Ross, partly brought upon herself, but I think it is understandable that she has reassessed her life priorities and has chosen children over politics.