ACT Party conference

The ACT Party will have their annual conference tomorrow in Auckland.

Bumper Conference
ACT is on the march and looking forward to our election year conference this Saturday at Orakei Bay. If you have been putting it off, it is not too late to register here. Not only will you be showing your support for ACT’s revival, but the program is filled with excellent speakers, entertainment, and don’t forget food.

ACT need a revival to get their party vote up to get more MPs to join a lobe David Seymour if he wins the Epsom electorate again.

Past results since MMP:

  • 1996 – 10.10% (13 seats)
  • 1999 – 7.04% (9 seats)
  • 2002 – 7.14% (9 seats)
  • 2005 – 1.51% (2 seats)
  • 2008 – 3.65% (5 seats)
  • 2011 – 1.07% (1 seat)
  • 2014 – 0.69% (1 seat)

Jamie Whyte didn’t appeal as leader in 2014, and 2011 was when Don Brash hijacked the party and ousted Rodney Hide, leaving only the odd choice of John Banks to win Epsom.

The Program
See full details here, but speakers include Leonie Freeman of Goodman Properties on the housing market, Former Labour Party President Mike Williams speaking for the Howard League on how to get smart on crime, and the New Zealand Initiative’s Eric Crampton on the truth about inequality. We expect David Seymour’s keynote speech to be his best yet.

The conference is likely to get some but not much media coverage. It is more to rally and encourage the troops.

I think Seymour has a good chance of retaining Epsom, but how the party vote goes will depend on whether ACT can come up with some more appealing candidates.

NZ Herald: David Seymour’s quest to rebuild Act

“We have to get some momentum behind Act and resurrect it as a party vote party, and that means getting to, at minimum, 1.3, 1.4 per cent to get a second MP,” Seymour said.

“I gave a speech a few weeks ago where I said the reason there has been no action on the housing crisis is because the average National MP owns 2.2 houses and doesn’t care. I don’t know if that’s enough, but it’s reasonably bold stuff I would have thought,” he said.

Polling indicates New Zealand First leader Winston Peters could be king-maker later this year. On the prospect of being in Government with Peters, Seymour said he would be prepared to “take one for the team”.

“If you have to choose between having him in Government with us, or him going with Labour and the Greens, then I guess I’d probably take one for the team. But I don’t think that’s a desirable outcome. The best you can say for the guy he is a charismatic crook.”

He spoke to the Herald from Dunedin, before heading to the Captain Cook pub for an O Week meet and greet with students.

“A lot of it is not what most people would regard as work – you spend a lot of time in transit, meeting people or going to functions … but it is still stuff you have to do, and it ends up being easily 80 hours a week. It is certainly pretty full on.

“We are lucky we have a pretty friendly, cooperative democracy. You look at all these people that are rude on Twitter, you wonder where they are in real life. They don’t seem to exist.”

Last year’s conference used precious exposure on an environmental policy to sell Landcorp to fund native wildlife sanctuaries. Has Act gone soft?

“I think it is something old, something new,” Seymour said of recent policies. “Act has always been a liberal party and a party of new ideas. That goes back the founding of the party. It was founded on a manifesto that had been audited by five different accounting firms. It has always been a policy-heavy party.”

I think Seymour has a good chance of retaining Epsom, but how the party vote goes will depend on whether ACT can come up with some additional appealing candidates.

New ACT on crime and punishment

One of the best known ACT Party policies is the three strikes law which aims to lock up the worst offenders for longer. There is some merit to this, and there are risks of unintended consequences. It’s too soon to tell whether it is an overall success or not.

What three strikes doesn’t seem to be reducing is reoffending rates. Our prisons are full and there are plans to expand them.

ACT MP David Seymour has had a look at this and is proposing a different approach to dealing with increasing incarceration (while retaining three strikes).

NZ Herald: Act’s new approach to crime and punishment

The Act Party will “turn over a new leaf” and launch policy to support prisoners after leader David Seymour witnessed work being done by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Seymour told the Herald a new policy would be revealed at the party’s annual conference on Saturday.

“We have done tough on crime and continue to promote those policies – extending three-strikes to burglary … but we are also going to turn over a new leaf and start talking about being smart on crime.”

This sounds similar to Bill English’s data based smart targeting approach to a range of issues.

A keynote speaker at the Act conference in Auckland’s Orakei is former Labour Party president Mike Williams.

Interesting to see Williams speaking at an ACT conference.

Williams is now the chief executive of the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform, which runs literacy programmes that aim to get prisoners to a competent reading level, enabling them to read books to their children, take driver tests and have a better chance of finding work when they are released.

Almost 65 per cent of the men and women in prison fall below NCEA level one literacy and numeracy.

That’s an awful statistic. Poor education is closely linked to crime.

Corrections formalised a partnership with the Howard League in June 2014, signing a three-way agreement with the Ministry of Education, and has allocated about $100,000 to expand the driver licence and literacy programme.

A very good idea with a bugger all budget.

Last year Seymour joined Williams and Bill English at a prizegiving ceremony at Rimutaka Prison, where inmates who had completed the league’s literacy programme and learnt to read spoke about what it meant to them. Tutors who volunteered in the programme also spoke.

“What they [the league] are doing is very Act,” Seymour said. “They have got a private initiative with volunteers … they have had an extraordinary impact on people who have never had a piece of paper with their name and face on it before, have never been able to open a bank account.

“I went there because I was already thinking about the issue … I still think that people that commit three violent crimes should get the maximum sentence. But I think we can do a bit better on the first two strikes.”

Three strikes on it’s own was populist but inadequate.

Williams – praised as “legendary” in an Act press release promoting his conference speech – told the Herald that he felt very positively about Seymour’s interest in reoffending programmes.

“I am on a completely different side of the fence to David Seymour. However, I am impressed with the guy. He is open-minded about the problem of incarceration in New Zealand, and I have found him intelligent and forward-looking.”

Perhaps Williams could talk to some in Labour too then, if they are prepared to listen. It’s good to see him prepared to promote his cause with any party willing to learn and act.

In October, the Government announced plans to cope with a booming prisoner population including a 1500-bed prison on the current Waikeria Prison site in Waikato.

Those changes will hit the Government’s books by an extra $2.5 billion over about five years.

That’s nuts. A decent dollop of that budget should be diverted to rehabilitation and prevention, that would make a much more beneficial difference to the lives and families of individuals and to the country as a whole.

Williams has previously said that although successive Corrections ministers have supported measures to reduce reoffending, the prison population was growing because of harder bail and parole rules, an influx of deportees from Australia and the three-strikes legislation.

So it makes sense that much more effort and money should go towards reducing  reoffending – and addressing the factors that lead to offending in the first place.

ACT will be announcing policy on crime this weekend.

I expect (or at least hope) the Government will act on this soon, like in May’s budget.

ACT on housing, housing and housing

David Seymour gave his first ‘state of the nation’ speech yesterday. It doesn’t seem to have attracted a lot of media attention, with most political focus on the annual party pilgrimage to Ratana.

It is all about housing and associated issues like the Resource Management Act.

Video:

Stuff: ACT leader David Seymour calls for action on housing affordability

ACT Party leader David Seymour has told the Government to “get some guts” and stop tinkering with housing policy.

Giving his “State of the Nation” speech in Auckland on Monday, Seymour said everyone knew housing had become a problem but nothing had been done.

In the past 30 years the number of homes built per capita had halved and created an asset bubble that was a risk to New Zealand’s economy, he said.

NZ Herald: David Seymour: Kiwi politicians need to have ‘guts’ to address housing affordability

New Zealand’s politicians need to get the “guts” to introduce major reform aimed at tackling housing affordability, ACT Party leader David Seymour says.

…he said ACT would boost housing supply by making it easier to build new homes and shortening approval times.

“We can’t just tinker … we need to act,” he said.

“If ACT holds the balance of power after this year’s election, we’ll be ensuring that the government accepts the housing market is dysfunctional and reforms the fundamentals.”

Speech notes: David Seymour: State of the Nation Speech

ACT’s policy summary:


The House Price Problem

ACT believes that the cost of housing is unacceptably high. Auckland has a significant housing shortage. The price of an average house in Auckland is nearly ten times the income of an average household. Internationally, three times the median income is considered ‘affordable’. The high price of houses means mortgage payments and rents are higher. Household budgets feel the pressure.

The high cost of housing is widening the gap between people who own houses, and who don’t. People who own houses have increasing wealth as house and land values increase. People who don’t are paying more in rent and their income is not keeping pace. It is getting harder for renters to save for a deposit on their house. High rents are a cause of deprivation for low-income families.

The housing shortage is placing costs on taxpayers as well. The high cost of private housing means the Government spends more on social housing through the Income Related Rent subsidy, and funds more support in Accommodation Supplements.

The Resource Management Act:

ACT believes that the major cause of the housing shortage in our cities is the RMA. Council plans and policies under the RMA determine whether enough houses will be built.

The Act gives too much power to councils to restrict development. It requires councils to provide for environmental protection and conduct consultations, but doesn’t require them to consider property rights of owners, economic growth or provide for an adequate supply of housing.

The number of new dwellings consented nationwide each year is still well below its peak of 39,000 in 1974. The Government’s Housing Accords and Special Housing areas have been a band-aid on a broken planning system but they do not address the fact that the RMA in its current form is not fit for purpose to deal with a major housing shortage in our main urban centres.

ACT’s Housing Affordability Policy

ACT believes that the shortage of housing can be filled by private developers, when local and central government get out of the way. We would change the planning law that controls development of cities, and we would give councils the funding incentives to approve more consents. We care about the social impacts of high house prices, and believe the shortage of housing is a problem that can be solved by making our planning and building laws fit for purpose.

Take Cities Out of the Resource Management Act.

ACT would rewrite the Resource Management Act, and introduce new supply-focused urban planning legislation for cities of 100,000 people or more. Urban environments, and areas at the edges of our cities should not be regulated and protected in the same ways as undeveloped natural environments.

ACT’s urban development legislation would prioritise supplying land and infrastructure, in response to demand. We would set price thresholds above which land would be automatically released for development. It would include obligations to set out future infrastructure corridors.

We would make zoning less restrictive, with fewer levels and types of zoning. We would strengthen property rights for existing owners by limiting objection rights to people who are directly affected, rather than allowing third parties to have a say.

Share GST Revenue to Build Infrastructure.

ACT would share a portion of GST revenue collected from the construction of new housing with the local council to incentivise them to approve planning of new homes.

The shared revenue would help cover the cost of infrastructure like roads, water and sewerage which councils must build to support new development. The cost of this infrastructure currently disincentivises approval of new houses and subdivisions.

We also allow councils to use more flexible funding mechanisms for infrastructure. This could include permitting special targeted rates on new developments, to pay for the new infrastructure. Councils need both more flexibility and stronger incentives to plan for more housing.

Compulsory Insurance for New Buildings.

ACT would reduce the cost of compliance for builders, and reduce the financial risk on councils, by removing council building certification, in favour of a compulsory bond or insurance over new buildings. Requiring insurance for the replacement of the building would ensure standards are upheld while reducing the time spent on council inspections and red tape.

Replacing council building certification with compulsory insurance would incentivise insurers to find the most reliable builders and best building supplies to insure. The builders’ incentive would be to get the best premiums and service, by proving they are building high-quality homes. Insurers could sign-off on building materials that are certified overseas, where councils are reluctant to today.

This is an agenda to fundamentally reform the housing market. Our great country deserves nothing less from its politicians.

David Seymour – ACT Leader

Considering a minority government

A minority government hasn’t been tried under MMP, but perhaps it is time to seriously consider the option.

If the other parties call Winston Peters bluff, take him at his words on his bottom lines, it is unlikely either National or Labour+Greens will be able to form a majority coalition Government.

MMP was designed to provide a more representative Parliament, which it has. But this could be taken further and give us a more representative governing arrangement. This could be done with a minority government.

Here is a feasible outcome of seats from this year’s election:

  • National 56
  • Labour 28
  • Greens 16
  • NZ First 16
  • Maori Party 2
  • ACT 1
  • UF 1

This puts Labour+Greens+NZ First > National, and Greens+NZ First > Labour, and NZ First=Greens so there is no clear majority in any situation. If the result is approximately along these lines similar uncertainties will exist.

National with twice the MPs of Labour could form the Government, perhaps with the small parties in formal confidence and supply arrangements, but they would still have to rely on either of Labour, Greens or NZ First to pass any legislation. This means successful bills would have a clear majority rather than a bare majority as happens often now.

For Government to be truly representative ministerial positions could be given to opposition party MPs. The best of each party could then participate in running the country.

Some suggestions for portfolios:

  • Andrew Little: Minister of Labour – he has a good background for this and it would allow him to focus on his party’s roots.
  • Grant Robertson: Minister of Foreign Affairs -David Farrar has recommended him for this role, perhaps he has done polls on it.
  • David Parker: Minister of Economic Development, Associate Minister of Finance
  • Jacinda Ardern: Minister of Women’s Affairs, Minister of Communications – she has an affinity with women’s magazines and I couldn’t think of what else she could do.
  • Metiria Turei:  Minister of Social Welfare – giving her experience with the reality of fixing all of our social problems within a budget.
  • James Shaw: Minister of the Environment – something most people expect the Greens to be experts in.
  • Winston Peters – Minister of Workplace Safety, Minister of Mines.
  • Ron Mark: Minister of Defence – it would be good for him to work on the opposite of attack).
  • Te Ururoa Flavell: Minister of Māori Development, Minister of Whanau Ora – makes since for the Māori Party.
  • David Seymour: Minister of Education – time he stepped up to a real challenge beyond his Partnership Schools agenda.
  • Peter Dunne: Associate Minister of Health, Associate Minister of Justice, Associate Minister of Corrections -it would be interesting to see what changes he could make in drug law reform without being hobbled by National.

Being the largest by far National would be the dominant party but would have to work with the whole of Parliament to get things done.

On confidence and supply, with all parties contributing to Government they should be responsible for ensuring it doesn’t fall over.

Those on the right and the left who want radical reforms may complain about a representative arrangement like this, but if they want ideological lurches they need to build sufficient support in Parliament to achieve this.

They won’t do this by sitting on the sidelines complaining, they need to do what everyone else does, build a big enough party with enough MPs to achieve what they want.

A minority government as suggested is unlikely to be a radical reform government, but that’s not out of the ordinary under two decades of MMP anyway.

Incremental change with clear majority support in Parliament is the most sensible way of operating a government – and I believe it is what most voters prefer and want.

Minority government may seem in itself a bit radical but I think it is something well worth trying. It’s really just a step further than what we have now, and a logical step under MMP.

NZ political parties in 2016

Brief reviews of the mid term political year for New Zealand parties.

The main issues have been:

  • Continued shortages of new house building and an escalation of housing prices, especially in Auckland, and an increased focus on homelessness
  • Growing attention given to ‘poverty’ as it is in New Zealand, and the income gap  despite the first increase in benefits in forty years.
  • The Trans Pacific Partnership got a lot of attention early in the year but that fizzled as it became evident that the US was unlikely to ratify it.

National

The National Party would probably have thought they had survived the year quite well, chugging away without doing anything radical, and staying  extraordinarily high in the polls most of the time for  a third term government.

An improving economy along with improving dairy prices have helped.

But Key resigned in December. National selected the Key anointed Bill English to take over, but how a new look National will be seen by the public won’t be known until next year.

Labour

Andrew Little consolidated his leadership, kept the Labour caucus under control and appears he is safe until next year’s election, but he failed to lift his appeal to the public, and Labour must be worried to be stuck in the twenties in the polls.

Labour entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Green Party and they tried to rebrand as a two-party alternative government but that didn’t change the polls much and may have created as many problems as it solved.

Labour finished the year buoyant after successful local body and Mt Roskill by-election campaigns, and noticeably raised in confidence when John Key resigned, but they have failed to impress as a potential lead party in government.

They survived the year and hope to benefit from a Key-less National but haven’t done enough to make a positive impression.

Greens

New co-leader James Shaw settled in without standing out, but Greens have lost one of their most respected MPS, Kevin Hague.

Their big play was the Memorandum of Understanding with Labour but that doesn’t seem to have  been the game changer they hoped for.

Metiria Turei seems to be dominant, and that probably limits the Greens’ electability, but they have at least stayed in a 10-15% support band in the polls so have a base to work from next year.

NZ First

Following Winston Peters’ big win in Northland NZ First have benefited from unusually good poll support for most of the year (it tailed off towards the end).

But it looks like Winston is catching his breath before election year. The party has done little of note apart from Peters occasionally trying to appear as the anti-politician, even though he’s one of the longest serving members of Parliament. He tried to capitalise on the Trump success in the US but that doesn’t seem to have done much.

Maori Party

The Maori Party has been working towards more complementary campaigning with the Mana Party in an attempt to create a stronger Maori bloc in Parliament. They are targeting the Maori seats held by Labour.

Maori tend to do politics quite differently to the rest. The Maori party has been the best of the rest in the polls but will want to pick that up more next year as well as pick up some electorates.

ACT Party

David Seymour has done fairly well at getting attention for a one person party and has had some small successes but his party has struggled to get anywhere. It has been Seymour rather than ACT.

United Future

Peter Dunne has had a quiet year apart from bearing the brunt of medical cannabis and recreational drug criticism, even though he is severely limited by National who don’t want to change anything on drug laws. Dunne’s party remains pretty much anonymous.

Conservative Party

An awful year for Colin Craig in the courts and an awful year for his party. Neither are credible and neither look likely to make a comeback.

Mana Party

Hone Harawira and the Mana movement are trying to make a comeback by working together with the Maori Party, so have established some possibilities this year without proving they can get back into Parliament.

Internet Party

Kim Dotcom seems to see his political influence in other ways than expensive and ineffective parties, and ex leader Laila Harre has joined Labour and wants to stand for them, so the Internet party looks a short blip in political history.

Cannabis Party

The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party has simplified it’s name and has tried to benefit from increasing changes on cannabis laws overseas but haven’t found the formula required to become a significant political force yet.

The Opportunities Party

Gareth Morgan launched his own party this year and gets media attention – money speaks – and has announced a couple of policies but so far it looks like him and no one else.

NZ Peoples Party

The Peoples’ Party launched as a representative of immigrants and stood a candidate in the Mt Roskill by-election but will have been disappointed by their result, despite a weak National campaign.

3 days versus 93

In the first leadership change in ten years, since John Key took over from Don Brash on 27 November 2006, the National Party took 3 days to choose their new leader, Bill English.

On Twitter Peter Dunne as described it “as quick and slick a contest as I can recall”.

In contrast Labour have had four leadership contests that have taken a total of

Helen Clark stood down on 8 November 2008, immediately after losing the general election. Phil Goff took over unchallenged 3 days later, on 11 November.

Goff announced he would stand down as Labour leader on 29 November 2011, 3 days after losing the general election. David Shearer won leadership contest against David Cunliffe and took over on 13 December, 14 days later.

During Shearer’s time as leader the Labour party changed their rules on leadership contests, stipulating a voting arrangement involving a mix of caucus (40%), party members (40%) and unions (20%). This has extended the time taken to choose leaders.

Shearer resigned as leader on 22 August 2013. After  contesting the leadership against Grant Robertson and Shane Jones, Cunliffe became leader on 15 September, 24 days later.

After Labour lost the next election Cunliffe resigned as leader on 27 September 2014.  After a contest against Grant Robertson, David Parker and Nanaia Mahuta, Andrew Little took over on 18 November, 52 days later.

That’s a total of 93 days of leadership contesting in a decade, but the time taken has become increasingly long

Going effectively leaderless for a month or two stalls progress while in opposition but they can get away with it. If Labour get back into Government and have a contested leadership under their current rules the time taken to change Prime Ministers could be more of a problem.

Greens also have a membership vote in their leadership contests but they have co-leaders so don’t go rudderless, and they are not likely to have a Prime Minister.

Which may be just as well – Russel Norman announced he would stand down as co-leader on January 2015, and James Shaw eventually won against Kevin Hague on 30 May, over 4 months later.

NZ First and United Future have never had their leaderships contested.

Rodney Hide resigned as leader of the ACT Party on 28 April 2011, and Don Brash was appointed leader by the party board 2 days later.

When ACT did poorly in the 26 November 2011 election Brash resigned on election night.  As their only MP John Banks was de facto leader until being appointed officially by the board on 16 February 2012.

Leader’s responses

Andrew Little was quick to respond to John Key’s resignation announcement via Twitter:

That’s a gracious and respectable off the cuff reaction. And on Facebook:

Although we have our differences on policy, John Key has served this country generously and with dedication. I called him this afternoon to wish him and his family the best.

Metiria Turei put more politics and herself into her response.

A more considered response from Greens co-leader James Shaw:

Green Party statement on resignation of the Prime Minister

The Green Party wishes to extend its best wishes to the Prime Minister, following his resignation today.

“On behalf of Metiria, the Green Party MPs and the Party, I would like to thank John Key for his eight years of service as Prime Minister,” said Green Party Co-leader James Shaw.

“No matter your political allegiance, you have to respect someone who chooses to make the personal sacrifices required to be our country’s Prime Minister.

“I would like to pass along our best wishes to him for whatever his future holds, and to his wife, Bronagh, and children Stephie and Max as well, who I’m sure have made many sacrifices of their own.

“Being the leader of a major political party, and indeed the country, is not an easy job; Mr Key should be applauded for his commitment to public service and to New Zealand,” said Mr Shaw.

Māori Party acknowledges John Key

Marama Fox and Te Ururoa Flavell
Māori Party Co-Leaders

The Māori Party will always be grateful to John Key for making a space at the table of his Government for a kaupapa Māori Party.

“It has been under the leadership of John Key that the Māori Party has been able to secure gains for Maori and advance kaupapa Māori over the past eight years,” said Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

“We may not have agreed on everything but we’ve always maintained a respectful relationship with the Prime Minister and he with us,” said Mr Flavell.

“We’ve had some tough talks on many issues but at the end of the day, respect for each other prevailed and that’s why he has always seen us as a party that governments can work with,” said Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox.

“We’re all about whānau in the Māori Party, so we understand and support Mr Key’s call to return to his family and be with them more.”

Both co-leaders were confident that the new Prime Minister would continue the mana-enhancing relationship between the National Party and the Māori Party.

“It’s up to the National Party to decide who will lead them now. The Māori Party will work with anyone to advance kaupapa Māori.”

The Act Party:

And a press release:

ACT congratulates John Key

“The ACT Party congratulates John Key on eight years as Prime Minister, and the noble way he has bowed out,” says ACT Leader David Seymour

“Under John’s leadership, the Government has steadfastly maintained New Zealand’s policy settings.  As a result, we remain at the top of almost every international league table for good policy settings. In the long term, all Prime Ministers are judged for the policies they leave behind, and John will be judged well.

“It is a reality of MMP that ACT has played a vital role helping John to become and remain Prime Minister. He thanked me for that this morning. I’d like to thank him on behalf of ACT and its previous leaders for the constructive way we’ve worked together over the past eight years.

“We also extend our warmest regards to Bronagh as the Keys get their lives back after a decade of service to the country.”

Peter Dunne (United Future):

“I’m gonna miss him”.

“I got a call from the Prime Minister about 12.20 this afternoon to inform me and he gave his reasons, as I understand it family, time to move on, time to give a new leader a good chance with the run-in to the election next year etc.

“I admire him for having the courage to make that call, it would have been very easy if his mind was somewhere to have simply carried on for the sake of the party. It’s a huge decision and it’s one I think that no one in their wildest dreams would have imagined happening.

“The test will be just who the new leader is, how that beds down, and what the reaction of New Zealand is. I think most New Zealanders will take a day or two to absorb this, and then they will make a judgement based on what they see the likely new line-up looking like.”

Ex Prime Minister Helen Clark:

 “John Key has worked tirelessly to promote New Zealand and its interests over eight years as Prime Minister. I am personally highly appreciative of the support he has given me as a New Zealander in the international system. I respect his decision to stand down now and spend more time with Bronagh and his children, and I wish him all the best for whatever the future holds.”

Bill English:

John Key’s intelligence, optimism and integrity as Leader of the National Party and Prime Minister of New Zealand means he will be judged by history as one of New Zealand’s greatest leaders, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says.

“On behalf of the National Party, the Government and New Zealand I thank John for his years of dedicated and outstanding service to our country.

“Through good times and bad, his strong leadership has been steadfast and this is a more confident, successful and self-assured country because of his contribution. He has truly made a difference.

“I thank Bronagh, Stephie and Max for the sacrifice they’ve made to enable John to be an extremely successful and effective leader.  We are deeply appreciative.

“While the gap he leaves is huge we understand and respect his decision to step down from a job from which there is no respite.  We wish John and his family every success with their life out of the public eye.

“Under John Key’s leadership the Government has worked alongside New Zealanders to ensure our country is one of the most desirable places to live, work and raise a family in the world.”

The National Caucus will consider the implications of the Prime Minister’s decision and how to ensure New Zealand stays on course to continue building a strong economy, increasing opportunities for our families and businesses, rewarding enterprise and effort, while protecting the most vulnerable.

“It is a tribute to the Prime Minister’s outstanding leadership that he will leave behind a united team with plenty of talent to take New Zealand forward and build on his legacy,” Mr English says.

The worst for last – Winston Peters:

Prime Minister John Key’s announcement today that he is to stand down cannot be credible , or for any reasons he has given, says New Zealand First Leader and Northland MP Rt Hon Winston Peters.

“The fact is that the economy is not in the healthy state that the Prime Minister has for so long claimed, and there are other issues which have caused this decision as well.

“The New Zealand public should have been informed of this a long time ago.

“Clearly the Prime Minister does not believe the superficial polls any longer.

“Contrary to certain perceptions the Prime Minister and his Finance Minister are unable to muddy the waters anymore.”

Is he just a bitter old twit, or does he really think that will attract support for NZ First?

3 strikes ‘an ugly piece of law’

Jacinda Ardern, in her weekly co-column with David Seymour, desrobes 3 strikesd as “an ugly piece of law”.

Stuff: Jacinda v David: Three-strikes law is no home run

You may remember this law. It was fairly controversial at the time, and was one of the ACT Party’s babies. David Garrett was the champion of the bill, and having now exited Parliament it was David Seymour who has been left to defend what I can only describe as an ugly piece of law.

I don’t use those words lightly, but when you have a combination of bad law, coupled with populism, I just don’t know what else you can call it. And that’s exactly what three strikes is.

It did seem to pander to a populist demographic – the ‘throw  away the key’ mob. But this didn’t translate into voter support for Act, who dropped from 5 MPs to 1 after the law was passed.

Let’s be absolutely clear though. No one is for a moment implying that if you commit multiple offences that it shouldn’t be taken into account. But judges already have to consider previous convictions as an aggravating factor when they hand down a sentence. All that the three strikes legislation did was remove the discretion they had over how they factored that in. And examples like this recent case highlight how clumsy the law now is as a result.

The ugly part, of course, is that a law like ‘three strikes’ sounds good – like we’re sending a hard message and that we will all be safer as a result. But what do you do when the evidence shows that that’s not what this law does? Do you fly in the face of facts and evidence just because of the perception? I’d like to believe Parliament is better than that, perhaps it’s time to show it.

Seymour responds:

Three strikes for violent crime is a good law. It doesn’t just deter recidivism – it removes the worst criminals from our streets, ensuring they can’t terrorise peaceful New Zealanders.

But 3 strikes offences are not just for violence – the infamous first 3rd strike sentence was for grabbing a female prison officer’s bum.

Parliament passed this law to reflect the public’s view that the judiciary has been lax on reoffending. The legal profession may have their nose out of joint over it but in a democracy the public has the ultimate say.

‘The public’s view’ is a bit of a stretch. The way democracy worked here is a party with 5 MPs did a coalition deal with National that allowed the 3 strikes legislation to be passed through Parliament. ‘The public’ didn’t have their views measured democratically.

As for the ‘bottom pinching’ case – Jacinda ignores how the judge invoked three strikes’ in-built safety valve (the ‘manifestly unjust’ clause), meaning the offender will likely be released on parole after a third of his seven-year sentence.

The ‘manifestly unjust’ clause has been used three times under this law – that could suggest the law is inherently unjust.

It’s true that early evidence is limited, but the figures point in the right direction – compared to before the law was passed, new violent offenders are reoffending significantly less often.

But the connection there is debatable.

Last year lawyer Graeme Edgeler posted on this –The Greg King Memorial Blogpost: Three Strikes, Five Years On (now retracted) – in which he said:

So strike crime is down around 20% since three strikes came into effect.

Claiming cause and effect over something like that is the type of intractable debate that you get into over the effect of longer prison sentences. But what we are looking at is not the general deterrent effect of three strikes (fear of punishment in the public at large), but specific deterrence: fear of punishment by those who have a conviction for strike offending who have been personally warned by a judge that further strike offending is treated very seriously.

Had the three strikes law been in place on 1 June 2005, the following five years would have seen 256 offenders receive second strikes.

Now, strike crime is down in general, but the ~20% fall in strike offending is dwarfed by the ~62% fall in strike recidivism.

But Edgeler has just retracted this Retraction: Three Strikes Five Years On.

On September 30 2015, I published a post: The Greg King Memorial Blogpost: Three Strikes Five Years On.

I retract that post. I am grateful to Dominion Post journalist Nikki Macdonald for her story published today looking at three strikes that determined that my piece was unsupportable.

The principal comparison I made in that post, between the number of second-strikes there had been during the first five years after three strikes, and the number there would have been in the five years before three strikes, had three strikes been in place five years earlier, is invalid. The pre-three-strikes data and the post-three-strikes data on which the post was based are not comparable.

The conclusions I reached in my post, as tentative as they were, are not supported by the evidence. I do not know what the correct figures are, but I have substantially overstated the number of second strikes there would have been.

The data he had used to base his original post on was inadequate.

So debate will continue on how ugly the law is that attempts to address an ugly part of our society, violence.

As for the ‘bottom pinching’ case – Jacinda ignores how the judge invoked three strikes’ in-built safety valve (the ‘manifestly unjust’ clause), meaning the offender will likely be released on parole after a third of his seven-year sentence.

So the law works, even in difficult scenarios.

It’s too soon to tell, except that ‘difficult scenarios’ have been the rule rather than exceptions so far.

But Seymour wants to expand 3 strikes to also cover burglaries.

In fact, ACT would introduce a three-strikes law for burglary, meaning third-strike burglars would be jailed for three years. Burglary mightn’t be violent, but it can be extremely traumatising for its victims.

Does it make sense to load our prisons up even more?

And burglaries will be harder to deal with. I don’t know how a prescribed law can take into account likely anomalies.

It’s common for burglary prosecutions to involve multiple offences. How would a straightjacket law deal with one prosecution and conviction for say ten burglaries once a recidivist was caught, and three separate prosecutions for three burglaries.

3 strikes was in part sold on the basis of protecting society from the ‘worst of the worst’ but is already much wider than that, and Act want to widen it even further.

What’s next – 3 strikes for speeding?

It’s odd that 3 strikes has become the one issue that Act have become identified with.  From their website:

Our vision

  • A free society: free trade, free speech, and personal and religious freedom
  • A nation that values personal responsibility, tolerance, civility and compassion
  • Small government, low taxes, secure property rights, and the law applied equally to all citizens

While 3 strikes laws try to enforce personal responsibility they don’t seem to be compatible with tolerance, civility and compassion.

Applying the law equally to all citizens is a difficult ideal to achieve, but 3 strikes laws  is hardly going to help.

Seymour slams Super policies

Act MP David Seymour has slammed ‘baby boomers’ (I’m one of those) that he says will “turn our country into a debt-ridden basket case”.

The Spinoff: NZ baby boomers are building a banana republic, and no one gives a shit

The Treasury has made it clear that current superannuation policies will turn our country into a debt-ridden basket case, and yet media remain largely silent and politicians in denial. Young people need to get voting in a hurry, writes David Seymour.

You could be forgiven for missing that the Treasury published its four-yearly Long-term Fiscal Outlook this week (please, please stay with me, I promise this is worth it). The gist of the report is the same as the previous two editions:

If no policy changes are made, by 2060, when current students reach retirement age, government debt will be 206 per cent of GDP.

No matter how well you prepare for retirement, you’ll be living in a banana republic.

No, it’s unlikely to be a republic, New Zealand politicians are as reluctant to deal with ditch the monarchy as they are dealing with escalating superannuation costs.

The reason? Ageing baby boomers who will be more numerous and longer-lived in retirement than any generation before them. Right now there are four working-aged taxpayers supporting every retiree, but by the time current university students retire there will be only two.

Probably – unless eating ourselves to earlier deaths reverses the improving life expectancy trends of recent decades.

The cost of pensions and healthcare as a share of the economy will double, the government will run large deficits, and the international financial community will demand higher interest rates on New Zealand government debt, leading to larger deficits.

John Key and Bill English claim the country can afford the huge increases in costs, or they don’t care about leaving the problem for future governments.

The first way of absorbing the change is to raise taxes by about a quarter, so GST becomes nearly 20 per cent and the top tax rate goes over 40 per cent, along with every other rate being increased by the same proportion. People embarking on their careers now would pay a 25 per cent extra “boomer tax” for being born at the wrong time.

There tends to be a bit of resistance to increasing tax rates, especially by this sort of amount.

Another alternative is extreme productivity growth, the private economy grows faster than ever for longer than ever, and public services become more efficient than ever. We basically trade our way out of this situation and become so rich we can afford all-you-can-eat pensions and healthcare for retiring boomers.

This is the Key/English gamble.

The problem is that pensions are tied to income so getting wealthier just increases the amount paid out.

The final option is to adjust pension entitlements. Follow Australia, the US, UK, Germany, Canada, to name a few, who have increased the retirement age so there are more workers and fewer pension recipients.

Seymour laments the lack of media coverage of the report and the predicted problems – but people have been shouting  about Super unaffordability for a long time, but politician’s ears are deaf to it.

John Key has torpedoed the debate by saying he’d rather resign than raise the pension age, effectively saying to his supporters: choose fiscal sustainability, or me. Labour and the Greens have followed suit, abandoning the policy after the last election. New Zealand First would rather serve yum cha at their party conference than debate the issue.

Almost every political leader is holding their hands up to their ears and chanting, “la la la la la.”

Peter Dunne tried to force a re-evaluation of Super in the last term of the current Government, proposing ‘flexi-super’, but English and Key looked like having no intention of  acting on the ‘discussion document’ that was done as part of their confidence and supply agreement with United Future.

If NZ First holds the balance of power after next year’s election there is now way Winston will allow any cutting back of Super payments for his primary constituency.

National under Key’s leadership is committed to kicking the Super can down the road.

Unless ACT gets a few more seats and is in a balance of power situation and forces National to do something?

That may be what Seymour is angling at.

To have any hope of success I think that Act and Seymour will have to promote Super change (not ‘discussion’) as a core election policy, and they will have to win enough seats to be able to force Key’s hand.

If Act succeeds in the election then the choice may be National+Act with Super reform, or National+NZ First with a booming Super budget with a risk of our economy blowing up (after Winston has retired or died so he won’t care).

I think Seymour has the gumption to have a go at this. Would he get enough support? Will younger people start to vote for Act to try to sort out their not so Super prospects?

Seymour versus PPTA president

David Seymour has criticised comments made by PPTA president Angela Roberts regarding serious offending against children. Roberts has attacked back, accusing Seymour of misconstruing her comments, “probably done so deliberately”.

This started with a Newshub report: 54 teachers in 3 years struck off for violations

Official figures obtained by Newshub reveal 75 teachers have been censured and 54 have lost their registration in the past three years for violations including sexual misconduct, assault and sex abuse.

It comes as 10 teachers in September went before the Education Disciplinary Tribunal for violations ranging from inappropriate relationships with students to fraud.

PPTA president Angela Roberts says it’s important for the Education Council to monitor the statistics to pick up any trends.

“They may find that there is an increased trend of teachers who are suffering from significant stress, and some really poor decisions get made,” she told Newshub, “and if that’s something they see a trend is coming through on, then actually how do they respond to that?”

She says it’s important the Education Council has good processes in place to protect teachers and students, as issues can rapidly get thorny.

“It can get really complicated very quickly – do the police need to be involved, is it just an employment issue or is it a registration issue? So there are three bits to it.”

Seymour responded: PPTA president’s comments disgrace her profession

ACT Leader David Seymour says teachers should call for Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) President Angela Roberts’ resignation after her casual dismissal of inappropriate conduct towards students being due to ‘stress.’

“When it suits them, the PPTA claim to be the altruistic guardians of children’s education,“ says Mr Seymour.  “When it is revealed that 10 teachers are being investigated, six for inappropriate conduct, in the past month, the PPTA President had the following to say: ‘They may find that there is an increased trend of teachers who are suffering from significant stress, and some really poor decisions get made.’

“Inappropriate conduct can severely damage a child for life. Over the past three years 75 teachers have been investigated and 54 struck off, but the PPTA show no remorse, simply citing ’stress’ and ’bad decisions.’  It’s a joke.  The thousands of good teachers up and down New Zealand should be outraged and making it clear that these comments are not in their name.

“What she could have said is that the PPTA strongly opposes child abuse by teachers, there is no excuse, and the PPTA will be taking steps to protect children.  Instead, she explains it away as being someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility.

“The PPTA frequently claim that lobbying and strikes are not out of self-interest but concern for children’s education.  These comments, unintentionally perhaps but true all the same, show a union out of control and living in a parallel universe.  The comments are a disgrace for the whole profession and Roberts should either apologise or resign.”

Calling for a resignation seems an extreme response and is usually something that opposition MPs resort to far too often.

However Roberts does sound like she was downplaying abuse by teachers as being mitigated “due to suffering from significant stress, and that “some really poor decisions get made”.

And far more important than monitoring trends is the detection of abuse and appropriate action against teachers found to be abusing children. And even more important that measures are taken to try and prevent abuse happening in the first place.

Many people suffer from stress in workplaces and in homes. Actually we all do to varying degrees. That is no excuse for abusing children.

Fair enough to question Roberts on what she said, but it seems somewhat provocative to call for her resignation.

At NZ Herald in Act leader David Seymour slams comments by PPTA president  Roberts responded:

Roberts told the Herald that Seymour had misconstrued those comments, perhaps deliberately.

They were made as part of a longer interview, and were about the wider issue of dealing with both disciplinary and competency matters, Roberts said.

“If what I had said was, teachers are under stress and they make poor decisions – if I had been referring to cases of serious misconduct, then, yes, that would be dismissive and inappropriate.

“But that wasn’t what I was referring to. I was talking about all cases of deregistration – there is a huge range. There is conduct, but there’s also competence. And I was talking about all cases referred to the council.

“We do need to look at trends…the ones that are about bad people, absolutely those should be dealt with.”

Fair enough to clarify what she meant and the context the comments were made in.

But accusing Seymour of deliberately misconstruing her comments doesn’t help her argument.

And while Roberts has defended her comments she doesn’t appear to have done anything to address her or PPTA views on teacher abuse of children.