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.

Opposition response to workplace bill

The Government has announced changes they will make to workplace and employment legislation – see Workplace legislation announced.

Some of the proposed changes undo legislation introduced by the last government in an employer/employee  flip flop ritual between National and Labour.

Opposition spokesperson Amy Adams responds:


Employment changes will reduce job opportunities

The Labour-led Government’s employment law changes announced today can only slow down New Zealand’s high-performing job market, National Party Workplace Relations Spokesperson Amy Adams says.

“These changes will only reduce job opportunities and wage growth, especially for those vulnerable workers on the edges of the labour market. They also mean workers will have less flexibility to get their job done,” Ms Adams says.

“The law as it stands encourages all businesses, small and large, to grow their workforces and take a chance on new workers and long-term unemployed people.

“While Labour have now partially backed down and allowed small businesses to continue with 90 day trials, they’ve still closed those trials off to the bigger businesses that take on many of these vulnerable workers. Those workers will have fewer opportunities.

“If 90 day trials are okay for small businesses, then why shouldn’t they apply to larger businesses as well?”

Ms Adams says that with New Zealand’s world-leading performance in job creation over the last few years, the onus was on the government to justify the need for the reforms.

“Under current employment law New Zealand has added a mammoth 245,000 jobs in the last two years and has the third highest employment rate in the developed world. Nearly 80 per cent of New Zealand workers are in full-time jobs and wages have been growing at twice the rate of inflation.

“These changes will only damage that track record. So why are they actually needed?

“New Zealanders will rightly suspect they are a random union wish list. People will be asking exactly how much influence these unions have in the current Government.

“These reforms will further damage business confidence and take New Zealand backwards. They will only disrupt New Zealand’s settled and successful employment law.

“That’s not good news for jobs or wages for New Zealanders.”

Abortion law reform on the table

In New Zealand it’s fairly easy to get a safe abortion, but to do so it’s necessary to claim harm that may be more fabricated than fact.

During the election campaign Jacinda Ardern said she would shift abortion out of the Crimes Act, something that’s long overdue. She said…

“…there will be a majority of Parliament that think, actually in 2017, women shouldn’t face being criminals for accessing their own rights”.

In contrast then prime Minister Bill English said the current sham was “broadly satisfactory” and didn’t need changing.

Now Minister of Justice Andrew Little  is starting a process to look at how to change the law.

Stuff:  Government takes first steps towards abortion law reform

Abortion is a polarising issue with laws that haven’t changed in 40 years. It became an election issue last year when Jacinda Ardern stated in a fiery leaders’ debate that she would shift abortion out of the Crimes Act, where it has been since 1977.

Justice Minister Andrew Little told Stuff this week that Labour wants to “modernise” the laws and see abortion treated as a health issue – not a criminal one.

That means he will soon write to the Law Commission to get advice on the best process for doing so.

Significantly more people support change than oppose it.

In December, Family First commissioned a poll of 1013 New Zealanders found 52 per cent of people generally support abortion while 29 per cent are opposed.

Interestingly, 53 per cent of those who generally support abortion think the time limit for getting one should be less than the current 20 weeks stated in the Crimes Act.

That may depend on how the time limit question was asked. I think that most people would ideally prefer a shorter time frame, but most would also probably support longer times in special circumstances – such as when the mother’s life was in danger.

When, as seems likely, the law change comes to be voted on in Parliament, it will see politicians from either side of the aisle with contrasting views.

National leader English has previously called the current setup “broadly satisfactory”.

His caucus isn’t united in that view though, for example, Nikki Kaye has called the current law “archaic”.

National’s justice spokeswoman Amy Adams told Stuff reforming abortion laws “hasn’t been a focus of the National Party” and she’d want to see proposed changes before commenting further.

‘Not a focus’ is politician speak for avoiding addressing an issue that should be dealt with. It has also been an excuse used, ironically, by Andrew Little when he was Labour leader and pulled a Member’s Bill on euthanasia (taken over by David Seymour, drawn from the ballot and now before Parliament).

Similarly Ardern has previously said she expected some of her own caucus would oppose a bill proposing changes to the law.

When it comes to a vote in parliament it should be a conscience issue. Some MPs are likely to put their own views ahead of the views of their constituency, but that’s how things have always worked. But if the time is right to fix a fudging of current law then Parliament should have enough votes to sort it out.

 

 

Paid Parental leave differences and confusion

One of the new Government’s priority policies, being advanced under urgency in Parliament, is an increase in the length of time Paid parental leave will be paid for.

National has said they will vote for the bill, but have suggested a change.

The bill allows both parents to share the allowed number of weeks paid parental leave, but not at the same time. National wants to give parents the choice of taking leave at the same time if they want to, so for the first few weeks both can be on paid leave.

There are confused responses from Labour. Newshub – Confusion in Labour as National pushes for shared parental leave:

The National Party will support Labour’s legislation to provide 26-weeks of Paid Parental Leave (PPL), but wants it tweaked so both parents can take leave at the same time.

Labour’s response to the demand has been confused. While Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says the policy could be considered, Acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis appeared to rule it out.

Labour’s policy allows parents to split 26 weeks of PPL between them but not take it at the same time.

Their policy is to increase PPL to 22 weeks next year, and to 26 weeks in 2020.

Amy Adams, National’s spokesperson for workplace relations, says that’s inflexible and “going back to the nanny state of telling families how to arrange their lives”.

Making ‘nanny state’ accusations is unlikely to help get cross-party agreement.

“The proposal we’re talking about would simply allow families to choose whether to take some or all of the leave together,” she said on Tuesday morning.

Ms Adams said the option of taking PPL together would be particularly helpful for parents of twins, premature babies and babies with older siblings. She said it wouldn’t add any additional cost.

National campaigned on the policy to increase PPL to 22 weeks and to allow parents to take some of those 22 weeks off at the same time.

Acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis…

…appeared to cold-shoulder National’s idea, saying Labour is happy with the bill as is.

“We’re really excited by the fact that by 2020, parents will be able to take 26 weeks’ paid parental leave.”

“We’re happy with the bill that we’ve put forward.”

Willow-Jean Prime…

…said she knows how difficult being a new mother can be and would be talking to Minister for Workplace Relations Iain Lees-Galloway about adopting National’s amendment.

“That is one of the most challenging times – as soon as Mum has given birth – and I know in our own situation, that was a time I really appreciated having my husband there. Being a school teacher he only had about a week and that was difficult.”

Mr Lees-Galloway…

…is leaving the option open.

But he said the way it’s being explained by National at the moment goes against the spirit of the bill because it would reduce the overall amount of time parents could spend with babies.

An odd response. Labour’s stance would eliminate the possibility of the second parent from taking paid parental leave at the same time as the other parent, for example immediately after the baby was born.

It looks like Labour is lacking leadership (Jacinda Ardern is away in Asia) and lacking coordination, and Adams is lacking a conciliatory approach. Attack and criticism is not a good way to work together, as they should be on this bill.

Parliament under urgency

The 52nd Parliament of new Zealand kicked off under urgency yesterday.

A party vote was called for on the question, That urgency be accorded.

Ayes 60

New Zealand Labour 45; Green Party 8; New Zealand First 7.

Noes 55

New Zealand National 55.

Motion agreed to.

No vote from ACT.

RNZ: Govt puts Parliament into urgency to start 100-day plan

The new government made a swift start on its 100-day plan, putting the house into urgency within hours of Parliament’s state opening.

Senior National MP Amy Adams told the House she was witnessing an incredible turnaround of principles by the parties now on the government benches.

“From parties who until now have derided, castigated, abused, got outraged over the use of urgency.

“When the National-led government took urgency it was very clear as the the need and the reasons for doing so.”

It is clear why urgency is being used here too – the new Government wants to get a lot through Parliament in their first 100n days, but it is questionable whether rushing things is good for democracy and whether the legislation will be sound or not.

Opposition parties tend to oppose urgency. Jacinda Ardern has done this in the past – this from Hansard in 2013:

I did just want to say that although Labour supports this bill, we have proactively engaged with the Minister to get to this point. We had some initial concerns that this might not have been the outcome and we were seeking this particular outcome for now. This process, I think it is fair to say, would have been smoother, Minister, if perhaps we were not debating this one in urgency.

I know that that may not have been what you were necessarily seeking when you took it to your esteemed colleague the Leader of the House, but given that we now have this in an urgency motion, that will bring with it some complications, just in terms of our continuing to make sure that we debate it in full, as we are entitled to do with this process.

But that does not lessen the degree to which we support the notion of what we are doing within this bill. A bit more time with the bill would have also been helpful and appreciated. Although, as I have said, we support the content, we have not seen the content in writing till just now. I am literally just opening this bill as we speak.

Sounds like a similar situation to last night.

 

 

 

National criticise urgency but support Paid Parental Leave bill

The first bill to be considered by the new Parliament was debated under urgency, a move criticised as hypocritical, but National also voted for the bill, saying they shared policy to increase paid parental leave.

RNZ: Govt puts Parliament into urgency to start 100-day plan

The new government made a swift start on its 100-day plan, putting the house into urgency within hours of Parliament’s state opening.

The first bill to be debated under the new government enacts the extension to paid parental leave announced by the Prime Minister on Monday.

Minister for Workplace Relations Iain Lees-Galloway told Parliament the bill was a straight-forward one.

“It provides for a an increase in the duration of paid parental leave from the current 18 weeks to 26 weeks.

“This is achieved in two stages, first an increase to 22 weeks in 1 July 2018, with a further increase to 26 weeks on 1 July 2020.”

Despite National’s objections to the bill, it voted in support – saying it was in fact its policy as well to extend paid parental leave.

ACT voted against it.

The bill has to pass further readings before becoming law.

The bill is being pushed through under urgency, meaning it will skip the committee (and public submission) stage.

That led to accusations of hypocrisy from the Opposition, arguing Labour had castigated the National-led goverment for using urgency.

The legislation was being pushed through without being sent to a select committee, as the government argued it had already been through that process twice under the previous National government.

The first time it was voted down at third reading and the second time it got there it was vetoed by National.

It was vetoed on fiscal grounds, with the National led government saying they had no funds available.

Senior National MP Amy Adams told the House she was witnessing an incredible turnaround of principles by the parties now on the government benches.

“From parties who until now have derided, castigated, abused, got outraged over the use of urgency.

“When the National-led government took urgency it was very clear as the the need and the reasons for doing so.”

Ms Adams said the rushed, hurried, seat-of-the-pants process by the Labour-led coalition meant the bill was very light on detail.

New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin, the Minister for Children, said the bill had twice been through select committee with more than 6000 submissions, 99 percent of which were in support.

She said the bill was going through under urgency, because it was urgent.

“Because our families need it, our babies need it, our mothers and fathers need it – they need the security to know that as soon as possible they can plan for this.

I think this bill was probably chosen to push through under urgency because it had been debated last term in Parliament as a Member’s Bill, and it was a safe one to start with, uncontroversial and assured of passing.

But it is highly debatable whether it can be called ‘urgent’.

And the planned implementation doesn’t seem urgent – an increase in four weeks next July, and an increase of another four weeks in 2020.

The first bill to be considered by the new Government may signal the approach by National – a mix of apposition, criticism and cooperation.

 

 

 

Q+A – Adams v Twford on housing

 

Housing is a major issue for this election. Q+A has another debate between Amy Adams and Phil Twyford.

 

This rehashed the same old housing issues and I doubt whether it changed much in the debate.

Adams tried to emphasise things that are being done by the Government to alleviate a serious housing issue, and tried to divert from the problems that National were too slow to react to.

Twyford repeated his usual one lines, a number of which are blatantly misleading, and lacked in details about how Labour would deal with it. He said the problem was ‘simple’, which is nonsense.

Apology for historical homosexual convictions

Justice Minister Amy Adams gave a formal apology in Parliament today for historical convictions of consensual homosexual acts.

Historic moment for NZ gay community

A Bill introducing a scheme to wipe convictions for historical homosexual offences passed its first reading in Parliament today with unanimous support, says Justice Minister Amy Adams.

The passing of the first reading of the Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill followed a formal apology by Parliament to the men who were convicted for homosexual offences.

“Today we put it on the record that Parliament deeply regrets the hurt and stigma suffered by the hundreds of men who were affected and that we recognise the continued effects the convictions have had on their lives,” says Ms Adams.

“The Bill is the next step in righting this wrong. It will allow men convicted of specific homosexual offences decriminalised by the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 to apply to the Secretary for Justice to have their convictions wiped.”

The scheme will be open to applications from people with historical offences relating to sexual conduct between consenting men, or by a family member of partner if the person is deceased. The process will be free and applicants need not appear in person.

“There may be instances where the conduct a person was convicted of is still unlawful today, which is why the scheme requires a case-by-case approach,” says Ms Adams.

“If a person’s conviction is expunged, the conviction will not appear on a criminal history check for any purpose and they will be entitled to declare they had no such conviction when required to under New Zealand law.”

The Bill will now be considered by the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.

The Bill: Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill

An overdue apology for what today seems like appalling laws that were applied during many of our lifetimes.