National – “Robertson concedes defeat on budget rules”

National’s finance spokesperson Amy Adams has responded to Minister of Finance Grant Robertson’s announcement yesterday that the Government core debt target would change to a range (see Grant Robertson: shift from net debt 20% target to 15-25% range).


Robertson concedes defeat on budget rules

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has today thrown in the towel by scrapping his self-imposed debt target, National’s Finance Spokesperson Amy Adams says.

“Grant Robertson has been backed into a corner by allowing the economy to slow, over promising and making poor spending choices. Now, instead of a fixed target Grant Robertson has lifted the debt limit by 5 per cent. That loosens the purse strings by tens of billions of dollars.

“This is a blunt admission the Government can’t manage the books properly, it is not wriggle-room. This makes the fiscal hole look like a puddle.

“You can almost guarantee that means debt at the upper end of the range of 25 per cent. This is an admission of defeat from a Finance Minister who has repeatedly used these rules to give himself the appearance of being fiscally responsible.

“This decision will mean billions of dollars more debt because the Government can’t manage the books properly and wants to spend up on big wasteful promises in election year.

“This will pay for things like Shane Jones’ slush fund, fees-free tertiary and KiwiBuild – in other words, it’s wasteful spending.

“Debt isn’t free. It will have to be paid for by higher taxes in the future.

“The debt target is the latest broken promise by the Government as the ‘year of delivery’ continues to be an embarrassing string of failures.

“It took the last Labour Government two terms to lose its fiscal discipline. This Government has given up in 18 months. This confirms you simply can’t trust Labour with the economy.”

Bridges and MPs deliver attacks on lack of delivery

With his leadership of National under ongoing scrutiny, Simon Bridges went on the attack in Parliament yesterday.

I don’t care for that sort of politics so will leave that speech at that, apart from saying that I don’t think it will save Bridges from being dumped as leader sooner or later (it doesn’t look like he will volunteer to step down).

He did a better job with one of Natikonal’s primary attack lines, the alleged lack of achievement by the Government in what Jacinda Ardern referred to as the year of delivery.

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s actions, policies, and statements?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that under the previous Government, job creation was at 10,000 per month, yet in the last three months, job growth has fallen by 4,000—that is, it’s gone negative?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I notice that the member has very specifically drawn on a quarter-to-quarter comparison because what he doesn’t want to say is that the unemployment rate, as it’s being announced today, is at 4.2 percent, the second-lowest level in 10 years. What he doesn’t want to say is that wages grew 3.4 percent over the year; that the underutilisation rate—again, we want to make sure that people, when they’re in employment, are working as much as they want to be working—fell to 11.3 percent, the lowest underutilisation rate since December 2008; and the NEET rate fell—not as much as we’d like, but it has fallen—and the number of employed people rose 38,200 from a year ago. The member has compared one quarter to the next because that was the only number that he felt comfortable raising in this House.

Hon Simon Bridges: So will she answer the question: does she accept that under the previous Government, job creation was at 10,000 per month, yet in the last three months, job growth has fallen—that is, has gone negative—by 4,000 people?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: For the quarter, yes. However, if we’re looking at the average change in employment, it is, of course, in the positive and over 10,000. Again, I notice that the member, when he was in Government, tended not to use quarter-on-quarter either.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know that the reason Statistics New Zealand gave for the unemployment rate falling in the last quarter was because people were deciding to leave the labour force—that is, to go on a benefit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is actually not correct. If someone goes on a benefit, by default they are termed unemployed and would show up in the unemployment statistics, which have gone [Interruption]—if surveyed, they would indeed be regarded as unemployed, and the unemployment rate has gone down. Secondly, I also acknowledge that when the numbers came out, Statistics New Zealand said they saw a rise in men aged over—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Don’t just make it up.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —this is actually from Statistics New Zealand, Mr Brownlee, if you’d like to tune in—55 leaving the labour force in order to go into leisure time—perhaps a suggestion, Mr Brownlee.

Hon Simon Bridges: How does she explain unemployment down but benefits strongly up?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, there’s been a variation of 0.2 percent in the benefit numbers. Again, however, when we look at the percentage of those of the working-age population receiving a main benefit, even where it is now in the March quarter, which is at 9.5 percent, that is lower than it was in every year from March 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, under the last Government. So, yes, of course we want to keep those numbers coming in a different direction, but, again—relative to the last Government—in better shape.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that under the previous Government, 60,000 people came off benefits, yet in the last 12 months, there were 13,000 more people on the benefit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yet, I say again, despite that, we are still at a lower rate than under the last Government. Of course we maintain the aspiration that we want to see people in work. That’s why we have Mana in Mahi, where we are supporting those who are on unemployment benefits to go into work and supporting employers to take them on in apprenticeships. That’s why we’ve got our driver-licensing scheme, where those on youth payments are eligible for free driver-licensing to help them get into work. And it’s why just this week, Ministers announced the work they’re doing with the building and construction sector. We do want people in meaningful work, and we’re taking meaningful action to make it happen.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why are there 13,000 more New Zealanders on the job seeker benefit under her watch?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, I prefer to use the proportion of working-age population, but, again, even then I have said there has been a 0.2 percent increase. We have seen, according to the Ministry of Social Development, some softening in the areas around construction, from memory. So those areas where we have seen problems around our sector is where we’ve seen also job issues, and that’s why we’re doing the work to try and make sure those individuals have the skills to go into those areas of work.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will the Government’s $1.5 billion mental health package be announced pre-Budget or on Budget day?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: All Budget announcements, of course, sit with the Minister of Finance and the Government. We don’t give time lines on what is in and what is out, and nor am I going to confirm the totality of those Budget amounts.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree that it’s a failure that the Ashburton District, with an unemployment rate of 1.8 percent, saw a 20 percent increase in the number of people on the job seeker benefit in the last year?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, my preference would always be to look at some of that individual, regional data myself, because sometimes it does give us patterns around what’s happening for industry areas. Of course, we don’t wish to tolerate growth in any of those areas; that’s why we’re taking very specific initiatives in very specific regions and employment areas in order to try and turn such numbers around. I would again say, though, this is a day where we’ve, again, had the second lowest unemployment rate in a decade, matched only by the lowest in a decade, which we achieved two quarters ago. This is a time for celebration for the country, that we are doing well in the face of some international headwinds which are not positive.

Hon Simon Bridges: If unemployment being down is so good, why are benefits up 13,000 people?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve given multiple answers to this question. Regardless, again, of those rationales, we are taking individual efforts to make sure that in those areas where we have job need we are matching those on a benefit in a way that we just did not see under the last Government. And that is the right approach to get our benefit numbers down.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report, due to be released on Friday, recommend the removal of most or all benefit obligations and sanctions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, I welcome the question from the member, because I’ve noticed some statements being made around sanctions which are just not accurate. There have been no changes to the sanction regime. We have, however, ensured that Work and Income is following the existing policy. So I cannot make any statements around whether or not that kind of rigour was applied to our system before, but it is being applied now. The sanctions themselves, however, have not changed. The second point is that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group—you’ll be able to discuss and debate their recommendations once they’re released.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will her Government not only “remove excessive sanctions in the welfare system” but, as the Speech from the Throne states, also “go further”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have been very open as a Government around some of the discomfort we’ve had with some of the sanctions that exist, for instance, naming of children—the penalty that applies for, particularly, women in those circumstances. That’s something we’ve been very open about. With sanctions, of course, we’ve always been mindful about the impact of them on children in particular. But again, in terms of any announcements, you’ll have to wait until the Government formalises its response.

Hon Simon Bridges: If she and her Government have made no secret of the fact that they’re uncomfortable with the sanctions and obligations, why have no changes been made, and will changes be made when the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report and the Government’s decisions come back?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I was simply flagging a particular sanction that at least Labour and the Greens have been on record on for a number of years. When it comes to announcements, the member will have to wait.

Hon Simon Bridges: So can I confirm that she is uncomfortable with the sanctions and obligations that are in place on benefits today, as she, I think, just said?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. The member completely misinterpreted my statement and he knows it.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the current system and what we’ve got in place right now—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m just going to remind the Prime Minister that she cannot accuse a member of deliberately misleading the House, and I think she just did.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she then saying that the benefit arrangements around obligations and sanctions today are fine as they are?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have not changed them—they have not been changed. We’re just making sure that Work and Income applies them appropriately.

Hon Simon Bridges: Well, what’s the point of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group then?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will see the results in due course.

A problem with this line of attack is that many voters probably don’t care much about what a Goverment doesn’t manage to do.

Bridges launched into an attack on (lack of) delivery in the opening speech in the General Debate.

GENERAL DEBATE

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition): I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business.

You know, when they play the political gold back over the last few years, that last interchange is bound to be there. That was something special.

There’s one thing we need to remember about this Government in 2019, and that’s that the Prime Minister has said, and she’s made it quite clear, that this is the year of delivery. That’s what it is: it’s the year of delivery. Actually, yesterday, she said—[Interruption]—Grant Robertson—it was the year of striving. That’s where she was—the year of delivery—and so far, we don’t have even a roundabout to Shane Jones’ house that’s been delivered.

So what has the Government delivered?

Hon Members: Nothing.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: And in the economy, as Amy Adams has made quite clear in this House, we’ve gone from 4 percent growth to 2 percent growth, and today, we saw what that means: 4,000 fewer jobs in New Zealand at the moment. In poverty, more beneficiaries, more hardship, and more housing grants in their thousands, and that in the year of so-called delivery is an absolute shame. And the members over there think it’s a joke that the economy is worse, that poverty is worse, and that the cost of living is getting higher and higher.

The clowns on the other side think that somehow it’s a bad thing if, in the National Party, we highlight, in the year of delivery, that they’ve got no plans, no policies, they’ve achieved absolutely nothing.

Amy Adams continued:

Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn): Well, it has not been a great start to the year for the Government, you’d have to say, has it? I mean, here we are, in January, the Prime Minister came out proudly and said, “Well, never mind the first, sort of, 14, 15 months of our term, this is going to be the year we get some stuff done.” Then what did she do the very next day? The first item of business in the year of delivery, she came out and said, “Do you know all those KiwiBuild targets? Yeah, nah, just kidding, we’re not actually having those, because we can’t meet them.” So that was the first item of delivery.

Then on Friday, we’ve got the Welfare Working Group coming out. Again, about another $2.5 million of a long working group with all of the worthies in a room trying to figure out how to fix the working group, and I can tell you now, there will be zero action on the recommendations of that report. I tell you now, it’ll be another report where the only delivery this Government knows how to do is set up a working group, consult, consult, and then do nothing; a do-nothing Government.

This isn’t the year of delivery; this is the year of deterioration.

Then look at today with the revelations from Nicola Willis: waiting times for special education services and early education, this Government told us that 76 days is too long, they would halve them. What’s happened? They’ve almost doubled. That is not improving, that is not delivery, that is not well-being; it is total and utter incompetence and it is letting down the people of New Zealand. It is the very opposite of well-being.

This is not the year of delivery; this is the year of debacles. It is the year of decay. It is the year of actual well-being getting worse and worse under this Government, and I have no doubt that the people of New Zealand see through the spin

…So if this is the year of delivery, then the rest of this country will be saying “Bring on the election.”, because the incompetence, the failure, the debacles, and the arrogance we’re seeing from this Government isn’t helping the well-being of New Zealanders at all.

Michael Woodhouse continued:

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National): There is no better illustration of the non-delivery of this Government in their year of delivery than in the health sector. Last month, I went to the Southern District Health Board’s board meeting, where I found out that on a year-to-date basis, their elective cardiac surgery target was behind by 45 percent. They had only achieved 55 percent of their year-to-date target.

For the first time in 10 years, we are on track to do fewer elective surgeries than in the previous year on both a numbers and a case-weighted basis, and yesterday, in question time, the Minister said that it was going to get worse. Another 2,300 elective surgeries have been cancelled this week alone as a consequence of the junior doctors’ strike. He also said that he was aware that there had been people who had been cancelled not once, not twice, but even more than that.

So it’s not overstating it to say that in this year of delivery, people’s health and even their lives are at risk as a consequence of this Government’s mismanagement of the health sector.

Remember Dr Clark wailing and gnashing his teeth in Opposition at a survey that showed that one in seven New Zealanders were not able to go to a GP because of affordability? And what’s happened—the number of people who can’t afford to go to the GP has gone up, not down. Over this Government’s time, it’s gone from 14.3 percent to 14.9 percent—non-delivery.

Well, I’m going to make a prediction: at the end of this month, in Budget 2019, there’s going to be no money for Dunedin Hospital. This is from a Minister who, in Opposition, petitioned the previous Parliament that the Government should have started the rebuild of Dunedin Hospital in 2017 and, two years later, not a thing—non delivery.

The removal of national health targets that the Minister said created perverse incentives has created even more perverse incentives. People could be dying, because the Minister does not want to set expectations for throughput of our DHBs—non-delivery in surgery; non-delivery in cancer care. We had Blair Vining standing at the Cancer Care at the Crossroads conference where his wife said her husband would be dead if he had kept to the appointment that the Southern District Health Board had given them. This is a Government that is not delivering and it’s not got its priorities right.

Lawrence Yule:

LAWRENCE YULE (National—Tukituki): General debates about are about bringing things to this House that matter and that are important to your electorate and are important to New Zealand. I’m going to use my short time to highlight a really significant issue in my electorate and in my city of Hastings in this year of supposed delivery from this Government. That is around housing.

In 2016, the Hon Phil Twyford, as a member of the Opposition, said he wanted a state of emergency declared around housing in New Zealand. On 23 May, in an answer to question No. 6 in 2018—almost one year ago—he was critical that the waiting list for State houses in Hastings had gone up by 86 percent.

On 1 May this year—this day; nearly half-way through the Government’s year of non-delivery—we have one hectare of vacant land in Hastings completely serviced and ready to go and no houses on it.

From Stuff in January:  Jacinda Ardern says 2019 year of ‘delivery’ for Government

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told the Labour caucus 2019 will be a year of “delivery” for the Government.

“For us domestically it doesn’t really matter what the international community does or says, it only matters what we deliver”.

Attacks on lack of delivery look likely to continue.

However attacks on Bridges for lack of delivery as National leader also look likely to continue.

 

 

 

 

 

National response to Tax Working group final report

Simon Bridges set the National tone to the Tax Working Group final report prior to it’s release.

NZ Herald:  National Leader Simon Bridges says a capital gains tax would lead to Kiwis leaving NZ for Australia

Speaking to media this morning, Bridges came out swinging and said such a tax would come at the detriment to middle New Zealand.

“[It would be] a recipe for more people buggering off to Australia.”

Interest.co.nz:  Bridges says a capital gains tax would cause people to leave for Australia (where there is a capital gains tax)

That point was hammered on Twitter as well.

Bridges’ initial response to the release of the report yesterday:

That has also been widely ridiculed.

A Labour friendly report that is likely to be watered down substantially by Winston Peters is not exactly an all out assault.

A prior tweet is closer to the mark:

One distinct possibility is Peters demanding a farm exemption. And possibly a small business exemption. And a hobbled CGT quickly becomes a crippled CGT, if it gets NZ First approval at all.

Regardless of this, National have been hammering the report.

Simon Bridges: More costs as tax monster unleashed

The Tax Working Group has gone much further than a Capital Gains Tax with a raft of new taxes targeting hard-working New Zealanders, National Leader Simon Bridges says.

There are eight new taxes including; an agriculture tax, a tax on empty residential land, a water tax, a fertiliser tax, an environmental footprint tax, a natural capital enhancement tax, a waste levy and a Capital Gains Tax.

“This is an attack on the Kiwi way of life. This would hit every New Zealander with a Kiwi Saver, shares, investment property, a small business, a lifestyle block, a bach or even an empty section,” Mr Bridges says.

“For farmers, who are the backbone of our economy, this is a declaration of war on their businesses and way of life. They would pay to water their stock, feed their crops and even when they sell up for retirement.

“Labour claims this is about fairness, but that’s rubbish. The CGT would apply to small business owners like the local plumber, but not to investors with a multi-million dollar art collection or a super yacht who won’t pay a cent more.

“The TWG has recommended one of the highest rates of Capital Gains Tax in the world. The Government would reap $8.3 billion extra in its first five years from ordinary Kiwis – small business owners, farmers, investors, bach and lifestyle block owners. After 10 years it would be taking $6 billion a year from Kiwis.

“It will lead to boom times for tax lawyers and accountants and even Iwi advisers, given recommendations for exclusions that include Māori land in multiple ownership.

“We believe New Zealanders already pay enough tax and the Government should be looking at tax relief, not taking even more out of the pockets of New Zealand families.

“National says no to new taxes. We would repeal a Capital Gains Tax, index tax thresholds to the cost of living and let Kiwis keep more of what they earn.”

Amy Adams: Massive tax grab will hammer NZ economy

New Zealand might have been expecting a capital gains tax to be announced today but the full suite of taxes proposed by the Tax Working Group would threaten the very viability of large swathes of the NZ economy, National’s Finance Spokesperson Amy Adams says.

“The new taxes proposed today will create a compliance mine field, massive distortions in the market and weaken our international competiveness at the very time the Government acknowledges the international economic risks are growing,

The proposal from the Government’s handpicked Tax Working Group doesn’t line us up with other countries as has been claimed, instead it would impose one of the most onerous capital taxation regimes in the world with 100% of the gain taxed at full marginal rates, limited relief for capital losses, no inflation adjustment and limited rollover relief.

“The Capital Gains Tax proposed by Sir Michael Cullen and the Tax Working Group will hit every small business owner, KiwiSaver account, farm, family bach, lifestyle block and investment in New Zealand. It will act as a massive disincentive to save, invest or build a productive business.

“There is nothing fair about saying owners of baches and lifestyle blocks will face a tougher CGT than corporates.

“It would add significant complexity to our relatively simple tax system, likely exempt Iwi assets, require all eligible assets to be re-valued within five years and further drain New Zealand’s already shallow capital markets.

“New Zealand doesn’t need a Capital Gains Tax and the Government has to date failed to confirm this would be a revenue neutral package. The CGT alone would raise an additional $32 billion over ten years and there is no evidence any offset will be of the same magnitude.

“On top of the Capital Gains Tax, other new and increased taxes, include a vacant residential land tax, a water tax, a fertiliser tax, an environmental footprint tax, a natural capital enhancement tax, extending the waste tax.

“It is quite simple, a country can’t tax itself to prosperity.

“New Zealanders already pay enough tax and National believes if you want New Zealanders to succeed on the world stage the tax burden should be reduced, not increased.

“National has promised to repeal the Capital Gains Tax, index tax thresholds to inflation, repeal the Regional Fuel Tax and not introduce any new taxes in our first term. Our full tax package will be released closer to next year’s election.

“The longer the Government dithers over its response to this report, the more our economy will be hurt by the fear and uncertainty these recommendations will rightly cause.”

Labour will likely have predicted and prepared for this sort of over reaction.

And what Labour ends up getting NZ First to agree to is likely to take much of the sting out of these attacks.

Response to KiwiBuild ballot criteria

There were nearly 6,000 registrations of interest for KiwiBuild homes on the first day people could apply.

There were also a number of criticisms of the generous income criteria for those eligible to buy tickets in the government housing lottery. Few houses are likely to be available this year, and not a lot next year either.

RNZ: Ballot will keep Kiwibuild equal, Twyford says

Requiring people to ballot for Kiwibuild homes would help to ensure those on lower incomes still have a good chance, Housing Minister Phil Twyford says.

The income caps are $120,000 for sole purchasers and $180,000 for couples.

To be eligible, buyers must be purchasing their first home, or be “second chancers” – those people who have not yet had an opportunity to own their own home or who no longer own one.

They must be New Zealand citizens, permanent residents or those who ordinarily reside in New Zealand, and intend to own and live in the house for at least three years.

As of early evening there have been nearly 6000 registrations of interest in KiwiBuild since it opened online at 10am, and the numbers are climbing.

The balloting system would help to avoid those on the higher incomes blocking out those earning less, Mr Twyford said.

“Everyone has an equal shot in the ballot so people who are on a low income, or a high income, as long as they fit the criteria … then they can have a crack at doing this.”

He defended the high threshold for the income cap saying there were “not many” houses in Auckland people earning more than $100,000 could afford.

But some people will be more equal than others – those who can afford deposits, and those who get drawn from the ballot.

National’s Amy Adams: KiwiBuild a fail for lower-income families

The Government is admitting that its ‘affordable’ KiwiBuild houses are out of reach for many lower and middle income families by having to lift the eligibility criteria to $180,000, National’s Finance spokesperson Amy Adams says.

“Housing Minister Phil Twyford has set the eligibility criteria for KiwiBuild so wide that 92 per cent of first home buyers are eligible. That’s because he knows he will fail to deliver houses that are affordable to lower and middle income earners.

“Having such a wide criteria and a ballot system to determine the lucky few to get a subsidy is unfair and will mean struggling families could miss out in favour of higher income families and people with significant cash assets.

“There are 24,000 first home buyers a year and the Government is now only planning to deliver 1,000 homes in its first 20 months in office – so they should be targeted to lower and middle income families.

“It is ironic that Labour doesn’t think that someone on the average wage deserves a tax cut, but believes families earning $180,000 deserve a subsidy to help them buy their first home.

Some people on lower incomes will be able to benefit from low rent state houses.

But KiwiBuild is likely to be dominated by people on higher incomes who see an opportunity to make some capital gain from a cheaper Government funded/built house.

Q&A – Robertson and Adams on the budget

Both the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson and the Opposition spokesperson in finance, Amy Adams, will be interviewed on Q&A this morning.

Robertson was competent on the Nation yesterday but could be pushed more by Corin Dann.

National seemed all over the place in their criticisms of a budget that was widely viewed as not much different to what a National budget might have been. It will be interesting to see Adams’ approach now.

Are you ditching neoliberalism? “…looking to transform the basis of our economy”.

The government isn’t going to get bigger. It’s going to get smarter.

Fiscal discipline emphasised by Robertson. Transforming in a deliberate and planned way, in contrast to the rapid reform in the 1980s.

What about dealing with the so called crises? Cites health rebuilding, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Child poverty? Robertson thinks they will make a big difference, citing $75 per week from the families package, due to kick in on 1 July.

Working poor? He only mentions help for families, not workers with no dependant children. No holding to account on this.

Historical homosexual convictions able to be wiped

Last night the Criminal Records (expungement of convictions for historical homosexual offences) Bill passed its third reading with Parliament voting unanimously for a Bill that will allow men convicted of homosexual ‘crimes’ up until the offences were scrapped in 1986 to have their convictions wiped from their records.

This bill was started by the previous National-led Government and continued by the current Labour-NZ First-Green Government.

RNZ: MPs vote for historical homosexual convictions to be wiped

Parliament has voted unanimously to support legislation allowing men convicted of historical homosexual offences to have them wiped from their records.

Consensual sex between men aged 16 and over was decriminalised in 1986, but convictions for offences before that time remained on record and can appear in criminal history checks.

The scheme will allow people to apply to the Secretary of Justice to have their convictions expunged, without formal court hearings or needing to appear in person.

 

It was terrible law that was scrapped in more enlightened times, but sadly failed to address the damage done for a further thirty two years. At least sorting things out belatedly has the full support of all parties and MPs.

Last July Men convicted for homosexual activity receive apology from govt

The Justice Minister has formally apologised to New Zealand men who were convicted in the past for consensual homosexual activity.

Parliament decriminalised consensual sex between men aged 16 and over in 1986, but convictions for offences before that time remained on record and can appear in criminal history checks.

Advocates for the men say the stigma of the convictions has been devastating for many, but the apology is a step in the right direction.

Amy Adams delivered the apology in Parliament this afternoon, during the first reading of a bill that expunges those historic convictions.

“Today we are putting on the record that this house deeply regrets the hurt and stigma suffered by the many hundreds of New Zealand men who were turned into criminals by a law that was profoundly wrong, and for that, we are sorry.”

Ms Adams said it was unimaginable today that New Zealand would criminalise consensual sexual activity between adults.

“Almost four years ago, this Parliament passed [the marriage equality law] to allow same-sex couples to legally marry, and I was proud to vote in favour of it.

“Today is another historic day for the New Zealand gay community and their families, as Parliament formally apologises for the hurt cause by the convictions and takes the first reading of a bill to expunge those convictions.”

During the debate of the bill, Labour’s Grant Robertson told the house that the imprisonments, the arrests and the fear did not just ruin lives, it killed people.

“Hundreds, possibly thousands of lives have been lost because men could not bear the shame, the stigma and the hurt caused by this Parliament and the way that society viewed them as criminals.

“It is for all of that, that we must apologise.”

So now the apology has been followed by legislation that allows men to set their records straight. It won’t undo all the damage done to people’s lives – some of which have been lost – but it will help those who have been burdened by convictions.

Amy Adams to take Finance role

Simon Bridges has appointed Amy Adams as National’s Finance Spokesperson. This isn’t a surprise. Adams has been very accomplished in previous roles as a Minister, which included Associate Minister of Finance.

Bridges appoints Adams Finance Spokesperson

Opposition Leader Simon Bridges has appointed Amy Adams as Opposition Finance Spokesperson, saying she is the best person to ensure the Government builds on the National Party’s world-class economic record and does not squander New Zealand’s hard-won success.

“I am today announcing Amy Adams as our Finance Spokesperson and the third-ranked MP in our Caucus, ahead of the caucus reshuffle to show the economy remains the National Party’s number one priority.

“Having a strong economy allows us to invest in public services and create opportunities for New Zealanders – something the National Party has demonstrated over the past decade.

“And, as a result of our strong economic plan this Government has inherited one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world, one which is seeing 10,000 jobs created a month on average, rising household incomes, budget surpluses, and falling government debt. All this is helping ensure New Zealanders get ahead.

“However, the Labour-NZ First-Green coalition Government seems intent on squandering that through plans to impose more taxes on hard-working New Zealanders and through rolling out negative and backward looking policies which will slow down our growth and see New Zealanders miss out.

“The National Party will fight these changes and Amy is the best person to lead that effort.

“Amy is an incredibly experienced former Minister, serving as Associate Minister of Finance as well as holding a range of important and challenging portfolios, from Social Housing to Justice and Environment, which she handled with real diligence and focus.

“She has chaired Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, has a background in commercial law and is a talented and hard-working member of the National Party caucus.

“Amy follows in the footsteps of the National Party’s hugely successful finance ministers, Bill English and Steven Joyce, and I have no doubt she’ll do a great job on behalf of all New Zealanders. I look forward having her on my team.”

That makes National’s #2 (Paula Bennett) and #3 female (Adams), which strengthens an appearance of diversity. The full shadow line-up may not be known for another week, but Judith Collins is also likely to be prominent.

Adams to take fight to the Government

New National Party Finance Spokesperson Amy Adams has signalled a strong focus on ensuring the continued success of the New Zealand economy and says she will fight hard against Government policies that will slow New Zealand down.

“New Zealand currently has one of the strongest economies in the western world. That’s not an accident. That’s a result of the hard work of New Zealanders backed by the strong economic plan of the previous National-led Government,” Ms Adams says.

“New Zealand succeeds best when we are open and connected with the world. I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting with and listening to successful exporters and employers in the weeks ahead.

“National will be advancing new economic and social policies ahead of the next election, but first we have to stop the threat posed by Labour’s economic mismanagement.

“Many of the Labour-led Government’s planned policy changes will sacrifice our economic success and make it harder for New Zealand businesses to compete and succeed.

“These changes are bad for all of us. Slower business growth means less investment, fewer job opportunities, and lower wages generally than would otherwise be the case.

“Already businesses are less confident now than they were six months ago, despite the world economy steadily strengthening over this time.

Ms Adams singled out Labour’s overseas investment changes, employment law changes, and proposed new taxes as things that would ankle-tap the country’s medium-term economic performance.

“In Select Committee National MPs are constantly hearing how the Overseas Investment Bill will chill foreign investment. That’s bad for housing construction, bad for the regions, and bad for our economy overall.

“And now the Government’s Tax Working Group is clearly looking to design a more redistributive tax system that removes any incentives for New Zealanders to work hard and get ahead.

“The Government needs to focus on the quality and quantity of their new spending. They are continuously ramping up expectations. I’ll be keeping a close eye on their approach to spending taxpayers’ money.

“This Government needs to heed the lessons of success and stop trying to introduce policies that will only take us backwards and damage the economic security of all New Zealanders.”

Adams may be limited in what she can do until the Government’s and Grant Robertson’s first budget in May.

National leadership – safe option or risk?

National support stayed remarkably high throughout their three terms in government, barely changing when John Key stood down and Bill English took over. This was partly due to the performance of National – voters tend to prefer steady, sound and predictable governance – and partly due to the weakness of the Opposition, especially Labour’s failure to find a leader who appealed, until Jacinda Ardern took over.

Labour chose steady but uninspiring Phil Goff after Helen Clark lost in 2008 and resigned, and made no real progress for three years. They then flirted with more radical options, David Shearer then David Cunliffe, but the former failed to rise to the occasion and the latter was too flawed (and disliked). They went back to steady but uninspiring with Andrew Little and were tanking leading into last year’s election, until Ardern took over and turned things around dramatically.

Now National is in Opposition ‘steady as she goes’ may not be such a good option.

They may feel that ‘same old’ will maintain their support and get them back into government in 2020, but Ardern has changed to whole political vibe. Unless Ardern and Labour stuff up badly National with ‘same old’ may find it very difficult to appeal sufficiently.

Running a ‘same old’ style leader and party against a first term government is high risk for National. The last time a government only lasted one term was 1972-75, when Labour failed to survive after Norm Kirk died in office.

Steven Joyce hasn’t put his hat in the leadership ring yet, but as he worked closely alongside Key and English, he would be seen as ‘same old’. He is reasonable competent but is unlikely to inspire, so I think he would be a high risk option.

There are a couple of ‘change a bit’ options standing, Amy Adams and Simon Bridges. Both promise to be a change, Bridges claiming to be a generational change to try to compete head to head with Ardern. Both would probably be safe-ish choices for National, but safe is going to struggle to compete. Neither looks likely to wow the voters, and that would be a problem for a first term Opposition struggling for attention.

As big a risk as Joyce, but for a very different reason, is Judith Collins. She would be likely to change the look of National significantly, and she would get much more media attention, both positive and negative. She has already got much more media attention than Bridges and Adams, and on top of that seemed to be prepared and is running with a social media campaign as well.

Collins promises to shake up Ardern and the Government, and she would probably succeed to an extent. However she would also shake up the National caucus and party, something they may be reluctant to allow. It is reported that Collins isn’t in favour with senior National MPs, still. It has also been reported that she has been working the back benches, but may not have swung many of them yet. There are also a big unknown, the allegiances of their new MPs.

Collins is in the category of high risk and possible high reward or crash and burn. I’d be tempted to give her a crack to break to first term opposition hoodoo, but the National caucus that chooses a new leader may be too cautious and too timid.

Labour took risks with each of their five leaders in Opposition, and finally hit the jackpot with Ardern in a high risk leadership switch just before the election (albeit aided in a significant way by Winston Peters and NZ First).

Any new choice of leader is a risk. As always the actual leadership qualities of each of the candidates is unknown until one of them takes over.

It is also unknown in advance how united or factionalised the caucus will be under a new leader. Successful leaders minimise factional friction by looking decisive, by being successful in scoring hits against the Government, and scoring good poll results.

National MPs have to make a choice on the level of risk they are prepared to take. Being too conservative is probably as big a risk as being too radical, if not more, because conservative Oppositions tend to be ignored by voters in first term.

National leadership speculation in full swing

There hasn’t been much change to the list of National leadership contenders – Jonathan Coleman has confirmed he won’t stand, Steven Joyce and mark Mitchell are reported to be interested but haven’t yet confirmed either way, so Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Judith Collins remain the current confirmed contenders.

There’s a lot of pundit positing for various candidates, which is unlikely to influence the MPs in National’s caucus who will make the decision, so is more like attempts to be seen as able to guess who the winner will be before it is announced.

Bryce Edwards tweeted:

A notable omission from the endorsement list is himself, given his clearly stated preference:

I’m not going to endorse or pick any of them, I’m still quite ambivalent about who I’d like to see lead National, I don’t care very much who gets the job. But here’s some musings.

Amy Adams – seems to have been a very capable Minister who managed a large workload in the last Government. I’m not sure she has the media appeal that, unfortunately, seems to be demanded by media.

Simon Bridges – he is rated by some, and his relative youth may help against Ardern, but I haven’t seen he has what it needs yet. Perhaps he could rise to the position, but that is a risk.

Judith Collins – I really think she looks the best prepared and most capable of the bunch, and could be a very good contrast to Ardern, but she will need to get the support of the caucus, something she has failed to do in the past, and one of her biggest impediments is the rash of dirt mongering against her opponents and promotion of her at Whale Oil – the risk of her being connected to that, justified or not, may be causing some MPs some concern.

Should they stand:

Steven Joyce – in some ways he has been a very capable lieutenant to Key and English, has made misjudgements in the last two campaigns (Northland and general election). If National want to rejuvenate and set a new course into the political future Joyce is not the one, that will count against him unless National MPs think more of same old is what they want.

Mark Mitchell – seen as a dark horse candidate that few of the public will know. He has seemed ok to me in the little I have seen of him, but too little to judge. He would certainly be a breath of fresh leadership, and would contrast with Ardern, but will be hammered for his military contracting past, just like Key was hammered (to little effect) on his money market past.

Whoever takes over will have two years to build their profile and support before heading into the 2020 campaign – presuming the current lasts that long (the odds must be it will).

It’s worth keeping an eye on Kiwiblog. So far David Farrar has done individual posts on Collins and Mitchell. They could make a good looking leadership team, and Labour have shown that two geographically imbalanced (Auckland or north) leaders doesn’t seem to matter any more.

Three National leadership contenders so far

So far Judith Collins, Amy Adams and Simon Bridges have put themselves forward for leadership of the National Party (and therefore Leader of the Opposition).

As well as that, Mark Mitchell, Jonathan Coleman and Steven Joyce have indicated they are considering standing.

They will all no doubt be canvassing for support – National leaders are chosen by their caucus, so the National MPS, some of whom have just become MPs, will decide on their leader (and deputy leader).

It’s good to see a number of people offering their services.

A number of others have ruled out standing.

Personally I don’t care who takes over the leadership. I have an open mind about it, and it’s up to the party to take a punt on it’s future.

From my experience it’s very difficult to judge how someone will measure up as a leader until they have been a leader for some months. This was apparent in the procession of leaders that Labour had. Bill English also showed that someone who failed as a leader can learn from that and have another go and do a very creditable job.

All I hope is that whoever National chooses to lead them does a good job, revitalises National and provide a good Opposition to the Government without getting bogged down by petty partisan bickering. Picking fights wisely is important.

It may be next week before we know the full line up of hopefuls. May the best person come forward and win.