Political ups and downs

From Stuff’s weekly summary of political ups and downs.

UP

Social Housing Minister Amy Adams: If you can’t beat ’em join ’em. Adams announced the government’s plans to build 34,000 new homes in Auckland over the next 10 years and got big ups even if, as her critics claim, she nicked the policy from Labour and there’s some trickery over the numbers.

It’s not exactly nicked policy. National had to be seen to be doing something to address the severe Auckland housing shortage, and their plans are significantly different to Labour’s.

Labour leader Andrew Little: The Labour congress and Little’s property speculator tax got his agenda back on track and got people talking about Labour policy again rather than splits and divisions.

Prime Minister Bill English: Japan’s commitment to the trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is a huge boost to New Zealand and ensured English’s trip there was a success.

DOWN

Greens co-leader James Shaw. Shaw claimed  Donald Trump was the “worst world leader since Hitler“, SAD. SILLY.

Alfred Ngaro. The junior government minister earned himself a dressing down after crossing the line and threatening financial reprisal to groups that disagreed with the government line.

Shaw’s claim was embarrassing for him but probably won’t be very damaging.

Ngaro’s threat was seriously embarrassing for National and could lurk through the election campaign as an example of the arrogance of third term power.

From: Below the beltway: Amy Adams gets the plaudits for policy some say she nicked and James Shaw ends up with egg on his face

 

ACT on ‘Labour-lite’ housing policy

Yesterday the Government announced plans to build about 25,000 extra houses in Auckland over the next ten years – see National’s Auckland housing policy.

This looked a lot like a partial Labour ‘Kiwibuild’ policy. Despite this Labour MPs slammed it.

Andrew Little belittled the policy:

Breaking news – National admits there’s a housing crisis

National finally admits there’s a housing crisis, but today’s belated announcement is simply not a credible response to the problem it’s been in denial about for so long, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.

“National can’t now credibly claim to be tackling the housing crisis four months out from the election when, for nine years, they’ve ignored the plight of first home buyers and families in need.

“This Government has long rubbished the idea of building houses. Time and again it’s failed to deliver any significant increase in housing supply.

“National cannot be trusted to do anything meaningful for the thousands of first home buyers in Auckland who have been denied their shot at the Kiwi dream.

“Amy Adams has fudged the figures. How many of these houses will actually be affordable? What does ‘affordable’ mean? How will that give hope to first home buyers when speculators can buy these houses too?

“It’s just more smoke and mirrors from a Government that’s failed miserably. It’s a mish-mash of old and new housing programmes. Many of these houses have already been announced.

“Auckland currently has a shortfall of 40,000 houses and growing. This plan won’t address the shortfall, let alone build the extra houses needed to keep up with demand.

“This last minute announcement just won’t do enough. National has had its chance. It’s time for a fresh approach.

“Labour will build 50,000 houses in Auckland people can afford to buy and we’ll increase the supply of state houses; we’ll crack down on speculators; and we’ll invest in warm, dry homes.

“National hasn’t a shred of credibility left. The evidence keeps mounting:

• It promised a big increase in emergency housing beds in the last six months, and hasn’t delivered.
• It’s Special Housing Areas promised an extra 39,000 homes, fewer than 2,000 have been built.
• Housing New Zealand has failed meet its building targets and reduced the number of state houses by 2,500.

“This cynical announcement by National should be seen for what it is – an election year fudge to paper over the cracks of its failure in housing. It’s time for Labour’s plan,” says Andrew Little.

However it was ACT’s David Seymour who went into detail with his criticism.

National need to think bigger than Labour-lite

National needs to do more than just adopt tunnel-vision Labour policies, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“If the goal is to close the housing shortfall, this is a step in the right direction, but it won’t be enough. The proposal will add 25,000 homes when what we need is another 500,000.

“We can only achieve this by fixing the underlying problem: that regulations and infrastructure pressures prevent private developers from building homes.

“The Government will have to loosen up land use rules if it wants to get 34,000 homes built on a few scraps of Crown land. Why not just follow ACT’s plan to replace the Resource Management Act for the whole city, letting private developers do the building for us?

“The Government will also struggle to build houses at an affordable cost under current construction regulations. ACT has a policy for this: we’d replace construction red tape with an insurance requirement, letting developers cut costs in risk-free ways.

“The other problem the Government will face is pressure on infrastructure. Fortunately, ACT has a plan for this too. ACT will allow Councils to use half of the GST from construction projects to fund local infrastructure.

“The Government is right to say we need more homes. But if we want to see these homes built on anywhere near the scale required, we’ll need a stronger ACT to make the government enact substantial reform, instead of Labour-lite tinkering.”

National has failed in it’s attempt to substantially reform the RMA this term and even if they get the chance and try again next term that would talk some time, they would probably need the support of NZ First or Labour, and in the meantime Auckland’s (and New Zealand’s) housing shortage will get worse unless a lot more houses and flats are built.

For and against Labour’s housing policies

Andrew Little announced a range of policies trying to address housing issues at Labour’s Congress yesterday.

NZ Herald: Labour to end tax breaks for landlords and property investors

He said Labour will:

  • Ring-fence losses on rental properties so they can no longer be used for tax breaks on other income. It will mean losses can only be applied to income from housing.
  • Use the estimated $150 million in increased taxes for $2000 grants toward insulation and heating.
  • Negative gearing will be phased out over five years.

The tax breaks benefited property speculators and those on high incomes and were heavily used by foreign buyers.

“This will create a level playing field for home buyers and help families get a fair shot at buying a place of their own.”

He said both the International Monetary Fund and the Reserve Bank had recommended removing the tax breaks.

Last year, the IMF said ringfencing tax losses on housing investments would weaken a significant price driver in real estate.

Little said the so-called “mum-and-dad” investors who had a rental property as a retirement investment were not the target of his policy, but admitted some could be affected.

“The vast majority of them don’t use this loophole. Those that do will have time to adjust.

This policy is about the big speculators who purchase property after property. It’s about those big-time speculators who are taking tens of thousands of dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies as they hoover up house after house.”

He said it was indefensible to hand out tax breaks that were effectively subsidies to property speculators when many couples were struggling to buy their first home.

But not surprisingly there are some critics.

NZ Herald: Labour Party’s focus on tax breaks ‘cynical’

Steven Joyce…

…said removing the tax breaks for property investors would not have the effect Labour claimed – and would hit mum and dad investors more than Little believed.

He said Little’s claim few small-time investors used it was “pulled out of the proverbial”, saying negative gearing was used for all loss-making investments – not just residential property.

He said tax working groups under Labour and National had concluded getting rid of negative gearing was unlikely to result in more housing supply and the most likely impact was higher rents. “You’ll end up with fewer houses being built and higher rents.”

He said countries which had ring-fenced housing losses still suffered fluctuations in house prices.

Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church…

…said it was a cynical move designed to set one section of New Zealand society against another and a “direct attack” on those who bought an investment property as a nest egg for retirement.

He said it could also result in fewer rental properties – and higher rents as landlords tried to claw back the losses.

“Your typical property investors are average mums and dads – not wealthy cigar-smoking fat cats.

“This move would certainly stop them investing, but in the process it would quickly lead to a shortage in rental housing which would fall back on the Government – so it would end up costing the taxpayer a lot more in the long run.”

Church also disputed Little’s claim it would even things up for first-home buyers, saying families were being closed out of the housing market by high loan-to-value ratios, not investors.

Andrew King, executive officer of the NZ Property Investors’ Federation…

…said the advantage the tax breaks gave to investors was over-exaggerated. He estimated that removing the ability to claim losses for rental property providers would increase the cost of providing the average home from $6184 a year to $10,293 – an increase of $79 per week.

That sounds significant to me, especially if part or all of that $79 cost per week as added to rentals.

The biggest potential problems seem to be:

  • If property investment costs are increased then rents will increase
  • If property investment is less attractive less houses will be built to rent so less will be available, which will put pressure on the cost of renting
  • If property prices remain at their current very high levels then poorer people will still be unable to but their own home.

Little speech: on Maori

In his ‘state of the nation’ speech in January Andrew Little didn’t mention Maori at all – see Maori 0f Little importance? – but since then Labour’s Maori MPs, candidates and votes have been talked about a lot.

In his Congress speech yesterday Little had to mention Maori, and he did.

And, get this, after the election, at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori.

We are going to have the largest representation of Māori MPs of any party, ever, in New Zealand politics.

It’s common for opposition parties to talk in positives in their speeches, like ‘the next Prime Minister’ and from his speech “to all of our dedicated activists and organisers who are going to sweep Labour to government on September 23rd“, and likewise, claiming “at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori” presumes all Labour’s electorate MPs will retain their seats and they will improve their share of the party vote. Neither are guaranteed.

Through all these policies and in every decision, Māori will be at the table.

If they have Maori party members and Maori MPs then yes, they will be at Labour’s policy table, but it doesn’t mean they will be influential. 1 in 4 is 25%, from from a majority vote.

Māori aspiration sits at the core of Labour’s vision for New Zealand.

That’s vague and means little in reality.

And that’s all on Maori in the speech. Nothing specific, no policies addressing Maori issues beyond “the Kiwi dream” generalities.

Two contentious Maori issues flared up last week, partnership schools and prisons. On schools:

Thank you for the policy you launched yesterday of health teams in all our schools, which is just one of the ways we’ll bring a fresh approach to our neglected mental health services.

On prisons – nothing.

On the Treaty of Waitangi – nothing.

If Little wants Maori voters to step up and tick Labour in September’s election then Labour may need to step up with some actual policies that will give them some incentive, and promises of policy rewards.

Andrew Little’s speech to Labour’s Congress

Andrew Little’s speech to Labour’s 2017 election  year Congress (in non-election years they have conferences).

Andrew Little speech to 2017 Congress

Delegates, we have four and a half months ahead of us, and a great opportunity to give this country a fresh approach:

  • to make sure everyone has a decent place to live;
  • for hospitals that can treat everyone who turns up for care;
  • to give hope to young people looking for work;
  • to make our rivers clean again and take real action on climate change and the environment.

Delegates, the next four and a half months are a fight for a better New Zealand, and for everyone in this magnificent country of ours.

Delegates, we can do this.  We must do this.

Thank you for devoting this weekend to the cause of Labour and contributing so much to this year’s election.

I acknowledge our President Nigel Haworth and our General Secretary and campaign manager Andrew Kirton. Thank you for the tremendous work you both do.

And, of course, I acknowledge my Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern.

Jacinda, thank you for the support you give me. Thank you for your speech yesterday and the passion with which you advocate for our children and young people. Thank you for the policy you launched yesterday of health teams in all our schools, which is just one of the ways we’ll bring a fresh approach to our neglected mental health services.

To all our MPs and candidates for Parliament – thank you; thank you for putting yourselves forward, either again or for the first time.

And – most important of all – to all of our dedicated activists and organisers who are going to sweep Labour to government on September 23rd. Thank you.

I also want to take a moment to thank the Labour MPs who are retiring from Parliament. All have served our party and our country with distinction.

To Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe, Clayton Cosgrove, and Sue Moroney, thank you for your service to Labour and to New Zealand. We owe each of you an enormous debt.

I especially want to pay tribute to Annette King.

Thank you Annette, for everything you’ve done for everyone in this room, and for the people of New Zealand.

Annette has been our rock. She helped me lay the foundation for rebuilding the Party after the last election.

Thank you, Annette, for your lifetime of service to Labour. You are a titan of this great Labour movement.

Of course as current MPs retire, Labour has an impressive crop of new candidates ready to come to Parliament after the election. They’ll be fantastic MPs.

I’m especially proud of two things:

We’re going to bring at least nine new, amazingly talented women to Parliament as Labour MPs.

And, get this, after the election, at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori.

We are going to have the largest representation of Māori MPs of any party, ever, in New Zealand politics.

You know, it was such a nice feeling to be introduced by Leigh before. She has sustained and supported me in challenging roles over many years, and I am hugely grateful.

I couldn’t do this job without her.

Leigh and I have been together for nineteen wonderful years. She’s my soulmate, and we have a son who is our pride and joy.

We’ve lived the typical Kiwi story in many ways.

Leigh and I met just after I started working. We settled down, bought a house, started a family, and got married – which is a very 21st century order in which to do things.

Many of you will have a similar kind of story to tell.

That first house we bought in 2000 cost us $315,000. That wasn’t a small amount of money for us, but it was manageable.

It got us a nice, three-bedroom starter home, built on a hillside in Wellington.

And, like any good Wellington house, it was up about a thousand steps!

For Leigh and me, being able to buy that first house gave us a measure of financial security and certainty. More importantly, Ii It gave us a sense of our own place.

It was the house we brought our baby boy home to.

I remember that time vividly. Preparing the baby room. And putting this precious bundle of humanity in his cot for the first time. This tiny little thing, in this ocean of sheets.

Of course, Cam’s nearly 6 foot tall now. He doesn’t fit in the cot anymore!

The story of our first home is a story told by thousands of Kiwi families every day.

A place to call home.

A place to raise your children.

The Kiwi dream.

It’s the story Labour wants for every Kiwi family.

But let me tell you something. We bought that house in 2000 for $315,000. Now, it would cost around $830,000. It’s gone up by half a million dollars in 17 years.

Its value has nearly tripled.

But here’s the thing: Families’ incomes haven’t tripled since 2000. Nowhere near.

That’s why housing is getting further and further out of reach.

New Zealand’s housing crisis – yes, crisis – is not just about out of control prices. It’s about the insurmountable barrier that many first home buyers now face. It’s about the rapid increase in rent that tenants are seeing now.

It’s about the disruption it is causing to the education of thousands of children.

It’s about the fact that what is happening with housing is now the main cause of growing inequality and growing poverty in New Zealand today.

You know, I was out door knocking in Mt Roskill last year with Michael Wood. It was a typical Kiwi street, modest family homes – sports gear in the front lawns and washing lines out the back.

I knocked on one door, a typical house, and I realised very quickly there were three families living there. Not one family – three! It wasn’t a big home; it was a modest home. I was gobsmacked by that.

Then, the next door I knocked on, on the same street, had the same thing. Multiple families crammed into a house designed for only one.

And it wasn’t just one or two houses on the street, it was house after house, all with families packed in.

Delegates, that’s not the New Zealand we want.

We can do better.

As Jacinda and I travel the country doing public meetings, housing is the number one issue people raise with us, every single place we go.

You know, last Friday, I was in Hamilton with Nanaia Mahuta, Jamie Strange and Brooke Loader. I met a woman there called Shirley, and her daughter.

She lives on Jebson Place, an area that was once a thriving state house community. But, she told me, the current government has gradually emptied out all the other houses.

Her community is gone. She showed me what is left – a bunch of broken down buildings, a haven for crime.

Shirley couldn’t understand it. Why have they left those houses empty and rotting in the middle of the housing crisis? She told me she just wants her community back. She had tears in her eyes.

So, I told her why I was there that day. I was announcing that Labour will tear down all those abandoned old buildings. And in their place we are going to build a community of 100 affordable KiwiBuild and state houses – a place for families, once again.

Well, you should have seen Shirley’s face. She was beaming from ear to ear.

Security, community, hope. That’s the difference we will make up and down this country by building those homes.

You know, that’s why I do what I do. That’s why I come to work every day. I do it because when I meet people like Shirley, or the people crammed into houses down that street in Mt Roskill, or even look at my own son, Cam and his mates, and wonder what the future holds for them, I know we can and must do better.

And I’m damned well determined to do something about it.

New Zealand urgently needs some fresh thinking on housing.

Every Kiwi family should have a place that they can call home.

And everyone should have a shot at owning their own place.

So here’s what we’re going to do.

The first thing is we will build homes that families can afford to buy.

We will lead the largest house building programme since Michael Joseph Savage carried that dining table into 12 Fife Lane.

We’ll use the money we get from selling the first bunch of houses at cost to build more homes and sell them. And we will keep on doing that – build, sell, build, sell – helping more and more and more families buy a place of their own.

But… building houses is just part of the answer. The other part is dealing with those things that jack up prices and put homes out of reach for so many.

If we want to make sure all Kiwi families get a fair shot – that when it comes to buying a home they have a level playing field – we’ve got to get the speculators out of the way.

We can’t let our homes be gambling chips anymore.

So there are three things we’re going to do to level the playing field:

First, we’ll ban overseas speculators from buying existing houses. Simple as that. We’ll do that in our first hundred days.

Second, we’ll make speculators who flip houses within five years pay tax on their profits.

Third, today I’m announcing Labour will close the tax loophole that allows speculators to claim taxpayer subsidies for their property portfolio.

Right now, speculators can take losses from their rentals and offset that against their personal income. It allows them to avoid paying tax.

This loophole is effectively a hand-out from taxpayers to speculators. It gives them an unfair advantage over Kiwi families.

So I’ll tell you.

We will close the loophole. It is over.

Families don’t deserve to have the odds stacked against them by their own government. They deserve a fair shot. With Labour that’s what they’ll have.

Now, let me be clear. This isn’t about the mum and dad investor who has bought a rental as a long-term investment. The vast majority of them don’t use this loophole. Those that do will have time to adjust.

This policy is about the big speculators who purchase property after property. It’s about those big time speculators who are taking tens of thousands of dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies as they hoover up house after house.

I say to people who would defend these loopholes – how can we as a society possibly defend handing out subsidies to property speculators when most young couples can’t afford to buy their first home.

You ask me whose side I’m on? It’s families. It’s first home buyers.

Removing the speculators’ tax loophole will save taxpayers $150m a year once fully implemented.

Now, Grant, before you get too excited about Treasury getting that money – I’ve got plans for it!

Today, I’m also announcing Labour will invest those savings into grants for home insulation and heating.

Homeowners and landlords will be able to get up to $2,000 towards the cost of upgrading insulation to modern standards or installing heating.

Over a decade, we’ll help make 600,000 Kiwi homes warmer, drier, and healthier.

This is a perfect complement to my Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill that requires all rentals to be up to a standard where they are fit to live in.

40,000 kids a year go into hospital in New Zealand for illnesses related to living in cold, damp, mouldy homes. We’ve got to change that. We can do better.

And Labour will.

That’s the fresh, new approach we’ll bring to housing.

We will build affordable homes.

We will level the playing field.

We’ll make our homes healthy, warm and dry.

You know, National’s had nine years to tackle the housing crisis. And they have failed at every step.

I’m telling you now, where they’ve failed, we will succeed.

Why have we made getting housing right such a priority?

Because it is absolutely essential to New Zealanders’ sense of security and stability.

Home is about “our place.” It’s a place of celebration; a place of refuge. A launching pad to face the day’s adventures and challenges. It’s our landing spot to rest and get ready for the next day. It’s where life is lived. Where futures are dreamed.

Without a place to call your own, it’s hard to have any of these things. To thrive, to prosper, to stand on our own two feet, every New Zealander needs to have a place they can call theirs.

It is Labour’s mission to restore the foundation stone to strong families and strong communities – decent housing.

I’ve focused on housing so far today, but the same values that make housing such a priority underpin everything else Labour does.

We are putting people first.

That’s why we’ll fund our health system so people get the care they need, and not just the care they can afford.

That’s why Labour is facing up to the crisis of neglect in mental health.

And that’s why we’re going to have an education system that has what it needs, and that prepares our young people for the future of work.

Labour has so many fresh ideas for New Zealand.

We’ll ensure the Government buys Kiwi-made to keep work here and invest in regional infrastructure.

We’ll get young people off the dole and into jobs improving their communities and the environment. I am committed to lifting wages and improving work rights, especially for lower income workers.

We’ll make our rivers cleaner and tackle climate change.

Through all these policies and in every decision, Māori will be at the table. Māori aspiration sits at the core of Labour’s vision for New Zealand.

Because we are a progressive party – we stand for a better future for each generation; we think ahead; we invest in the future.

We are a party of great passion – for our people, for ideas that make this a more perfect country.

You know, the election in September will be about who’ll invest in New Zealand’s future. It’s not about the lolly scramble we’re seeing in this year’s Budget.

This election will be about who has the vision, the guts, and the plan to build a better New Zealand that puts people first.

The answer is: Labour does.

Only Labour will build the houses.

Only Labour will reverse the health cuts and boost funding for GP visits and mental health.

And only Labour will make tertiary education and training fees free for three years.

In Labour, we have the vision, we have the guts, and the plan.

I’m here because I believe that all our people should have a fair shot at the Kiwi Dream.

I believe that, just as Norman Kirk said so memorably, we should all have “Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for”.

I’m here because I believe that a government that puts people first is at the heart of making that vision a reality.

I’m here to help build a better New Zealand.

But, before we get that opportunity to help build that better New Zealand, we’ve had to build a better Labour Party.

We’ve had to build a party that is ready to win, to govern, to lead.

As I look out at this Congress, today, I know we have achieved that.

We’ve done it by working together.

We have built a dynamic, modern party.

We have packed out halls and pubs around the country with ordinary Kiwis, keen to hear our vision. Keen to support our plan.

We have built a strong relationship with the Green Party to show that there is a stable alternative government, ready to go.

And because of all that, we’ve been winning. In the local elections. In Mount Roskill. In Mount Albert.

You know, by the time of the Mt Albert by-election, National had stopped even bothering to show up!

Our Party is in amazing shape.

We have a fantastic caucus, amazing new candidates, a huge army of volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of Kiwis signed up as supporters.

Labour is ready to win in 2017.

This election is ours to win. All over the country, people are telling me they’re ready for a change.

To make that happen, we need much more than politicians on a stage.

Ours is a community movement. It’s powered by people like you.

Mums and Dads.

Students and teachers.

Workers and families.

You and me.

Our movement wins when we bring thousands of committed people with us.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

New Zealanders have a clear choice at this election.

We can choose a tired government that has run its course.

Or we can choose a new, positive vision for a better New Zealand.

This isn’t going to be an easy fight. It’s going to be close. It’s going to be tough.

I’ve faced tough fights before, and this is one fight we simply have to win.

Here’s my message to New Zealanders this year:

It’s time for a fresh team with energy and passion.

It’s time for new ideas on housing.

It’s time to give hope to our young people.

Vote for a better New Zealand.

Vote Labour.

Delegates, let’s do it.

Q+A – Little tries again

Andrew Little followed up his interview on The Nation yesterday with an interview in NZ Q+A this morning.

We will cross live to Wellington to talk with Labour Party leader Andrew from the Party’s Election Year Congress.

Will anything more come out of this than Little’s practiced campaign recitals?

Are you pleased with where Labour is at? Avoids question and recites. He is “feeling very confident?

Enough money to fight the election? He thinks they are doing very well, the bulk from “ordinary Kiwis making small contributions”.

Immigration: policy announcement in a few weeks. “We need a breather, slow down and get it right”.

He is “totally confident” he could work with Winston Peters on immigration. Switches to same talking points.

Calling charter schools another name? Still says they are going to repeal the charter school legislation. They will talk to existing partnership schools.

Will Labour keep existing partnerships open? He says he doesn’t know individual school situations?

Will current schools continue? Diverts again.

Little is getting better at divert and recite, he hardly addressed any question directly.

The panel discussion was a bit disappointing – why did they have two Labour people on the panel? Josie Pagani and Mike Williams both said that it was by far the best interview for Little.

Bill English doesn’t exactly ooze charisma, but he has an in depth knowledge of a wide range of issues and policies.

Unless Little learns a lot more, gets some policies he can promote in detail, and learns to think on his feet he is at risk of being run all over in leaders’ debates.

The Nation – Andrew Little

On The Nation this morning:

As Labour holds its annual congress this weekend, Newshub’s Political Editor Patrick Gower talks housing and immigration with leader Andrew Little and asks him how the party’s tracking with just… four months to go until the election.

First up is immigration. Little is still floundering on the number of immigrants he would cut. He keeps repeating “tens of thousands”, but when  pushed says he won’t back off one statement he made cutting to about 25,000, which is 45,000 less than the current 70,000.

Little says immigration needs to be cut by 10s of thousands… and the cuts can be made in work visas.

Thousands of student visas will be cut in Labour’s policy says Little.

“About managing it (immigration) carefully and properly and better”.

Kiwibuild “strongly committed to the 100,000” but then starts generalising again “building a lot of houses in a single year”.

Housing policy will be announced tomorrow.

Will Labour remove tax breaks for landlords? Little says he’ll announce the policy on that tomorrow.

A tourism levy “we are looking at that” and Little is “personally in favour” bust doesn’t have a figure in mind.

Social investment – they have got into Labour space? Gower pushes on this twice and both times Little launches into campaign spiel.

Mental health is a big issue – “everybody is saying”.

Little says the Govt’s social investment policy is not connecting with the lived experience of NZers.

The debacle of the last two weeks? It looks and feels like a debacle. Where is the discipline?

Will Te Reo be compulsory in the first term? No says Little.

Labour leader says National’s social investment policy is all about data and numbers not “lived experiences”.

Is time running out for Little? A diversion into spiel again.

What is Little’s one big idea for New Zealand? Little recites campaign mantra on housing again.

Do you want to be Prime Minister again? Little recites campaign mantra.

Time to try Maori prisons?

When I first heard the suggestion by Maori MPs that a Maori run prison be set up in Northland my immediate reaction was nah, we shouldn’t have separate penal systems. But I’ve thought it through and think that it merits serious consideration.

Maori disproportionately feature in prison  and re-offending rates. The current system is not working well. So why not try something different that tries to address core problems.

Critics often say it is up to Maori to fix their own problems, and this Maori Prison proposal does exactly that.

Newshub: Labour proposes Māori prison to fix rising numbers

Labour has come up with a radical solution to the high number of Māori in jail – it wants a separate Māori prison.

It wants to convert an existing prison into one run entirely on Māori values.

“A prison based on Māori values, not exclusively for Māori but for anybody, but they’ll know that the values that the prison will be run under will be based along Māori lines,” Labour’s Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis told Newshub.

Why not try it? It can’t do much worse than the current penal system.

There are 10052 prisoners and 5077 of them are Māori, making up 50.5 percent of the prison population.

Mr Davis says if Labour wins, he wants to make one of New Zealand’s 18 prisons a prison for Māori, run by Māori on Māori values.

“Why don’t we just try, have the courage to try one of those 18 prisons and run it along kaupapa Māori lines,” he said.

The Maori party supports this: Māori Party backs Māori-run prisons as ‘inevitable’

It is just a matter of time before New Zealand introduces prisons run by Māori applying Māori values, the Māori Party says.

Prime Minister Bill English shot down a proposal, by Labour corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis, on the idea this morning, saying rehabilitation efforts already took Māori values into account.

“It’s incorporated into our [prisons] where it’s appropriate,” he said.

And it’s obviously not working very well.

“We just didn’t see the point in trying to designate – you know, a prison’s a Māori prison and other prisons are not Māori – because actually there’s going to be Maori in all our prisons.”

However, Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox said she had repeatedly raised the idea with the government and did not think it was dead in the water just yet.

“Eventually, in the future, this is going to be inevitable.

“I don’t think it is happening now, but we need to look at what is the pathway to get there – and that is what we’re in discussions about.”

Andrew Little sort of supported the proposal but then as good as ruled it out.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the idea was worth debating, but was not Labour’s official policy.

He did not have “a firm view” on whether separate Māori prisons should be introduced, but said the prison system was not working and something needed to changed.

Mr Little suggested it was sometimes important to have a public debate before forming official policy.

“I’m glad that we’ve got an MP… coming up with creative ideas, new ideas, fresh approaches. That’s important.”

Asked whether it could become official policy before the election, Mr Little said the party was at the “tail end” of its policy formation and the idea was not there.

So he wants to kick the can down the road and fob off the initiative.

But Labour are also trying to secure a big proportion of the Maori vote and are promoting the possibility that 25% of their MPs after the election will be Maori. So why not have 25% of their key election policies addressing big Maori issues?

But one of Labour’s Māori MPs, Adrian Rurawhe, said he would like to see it become formal party policy.

“It’s totally in line with how staff in Māori focus units already operate. So lifting it to another level would have really good outcomes.”

National MP Nuk Korako also said he liked the idea and planned to raise it with Corrections Minister Louise Upston.

“I think a Māori approach to anything is really important. Not only just prisons. If [Kelvin Davis] can get some traction on that, that would be great,” he said.

Mr English said it would not be desirable to create the impression of “some sort of separate system”.

So not just Labour’s Maori MPs, but also a National Maori MP supporting it. And the Greens: Bigger dreams needed for prison reform

Te Taitokerau MP Kelvin Davis is keen to see Northland regional prison at Ngawha run on kaupapa Maori lines, with Greens and Maori Party MPs also sympathetic to the idea.

Unfortunately both Little and English are dismissing it.

Who is more likely to shift on this when they think it through, National with pressure from the Maori Party, or Labour with pressure from their Maori MPs, and perhaps the Maori Party and the Greens?

Others are warming to the idea too.

Martin van Beynen: ‘Lamentable’ Maori incarceration figures demand fresh approach

The idea of special prisons run entirely on Maori values sounds like it is worth a crack.

Things couldn’t really get much worse if you look at the statistics about Maori imprisonment.

Given these lamentable figures and the cost to society – including to the families of offenders – just about anything is worth trying.

The reservation I have with the idea of Maori values is that it’s difficult to know what they are and if they are really going to make a difference.

Nothing much now seems to be making a significant difference, so something else, anything else, is surely worth a try.

Duncan Garner: Why not try a Maori prison? The current penal system is an abject failure

I’m asking for everyone to think outside the square for a few minutes. Please. I support trying a kaupapa Maori prison – run by Maori, for predominately Maori, along Maori lines. Is your blood boiling yet? Bear with me.

The reality is prison is mainly a Maori issue. And the current prison system is an abject failure – they’re just a finishing school for crims and a recruitment dream for gangs.

I’m not talking about the baddest ones. I accept they probably can’t be helped and being locked away is the best answer.

Maori prisons will still be tough jails. Yes, we lock them up each night. But we also take them home to be taught who they are and to meet their whanau.

I’m not suggesting all our jails go this way – let’s just try one. The prison experiment over the past 70 years has been a debacle. Rehabilitation is woefully low, recidivism is painfully high.

What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work? Too late – we’re there. Make Maori responsible for turning around Maori. That’s tino rangatiratanga if I’ve ever seen it.

I liked Labour MP Kelvin Davis’ call for a Maori prison this week. Labour leader Andrew Little didn’t have the balls to support Davis – it’s election year after all and it’s time to re-start peddling all this tough on crime bollocks that politicians spout. Plus Labour prefer their Maori MPs on the doormat to be walked over.

It’s time to try something genuinely new.

It’s contradictory to demand that Maori sort their own problems out and then refuse to let them try.

A Maori prison must be worth a try and must be given a go.

 

Make or break weekend for Little?

This weekend could be make or break for Andrew Little’s ambitions. Same for Labour as they have their election year Congress (a party conference with PR rather than conferring),

Labour have failed to impress voters since Helen Clark lost the 2008 election. In every election this century Labour has lost support and have trended downwards since 1938.

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Lately Labour has been polling in the high twenties, hardly improved on their a record low election result in 2014 and well short of where it needs to be if they want to be in a strong position to lead a coalition government.

Andrew Little took over the leadership after the 2014 loss but two and a half years later he is struggling to appeal to voters.

Little and Labour are trying hard to address those issues, but while they talk about them they have been slow to come out with clear or decisive policies. Little is reported to be announcing something on housing in his big speech tomorrow.

An issue not on that list but probably critical to Labour’s chances is ‘Maori’ Little didn’t mention that word at all in his January ‘state of the nation’ speech.

He will need to do much better tomorrow, without getting tangled up trying to appease two distinctly different voter groups, the ‘middle New Zealand’ said to be essential to ‘win’ an election, and the Maori vote that Labour are putting so much hope on while giving them little in the way of policies – Little has ruled out two policies promoted by Maori candidates and MPs this week, partnership schools and Maori prisons.

Labour’s Maori electorate MPs (and Labour’s strategists) have created a problem for themselves by not standing on the party list.

While party vote is essential for Labour’s overall success, six Maori MPs have to win their seats again or they are out of Parliament, so they are going to put more effort into their own interests.

The controversies over partnership schools and Maori prisons is indicative of this.

Somehow Little is going to need to overcome this perception…

…without annoying voters who don’t want preferential treatment for Maori.

If he doesn’t deal with that successfully then whatever he says about housing, inequality, poverty immigration and economy may not matter much.

This could be a make or break weekend for Little.

It’s still over four months until the election, but there are signs Little could be losing support from within Labour and signs that confidence in Labour is really struggling, again (or still).

Little’s speech will be important – what he says and how he delivers it, but more important than the PR driven RA RA will be in the next week or two when the contents and ramifications of the speech sink in amongst Labour’s MPs, candidates and rank and file.

If they are not happy and confident amongst themselves – and that is difficult to fake – then voters are going to remain unimpressed.

Labour’s Maori challenges

Labour have got themselves into a tricky situation with their Maori agenda. They have promoted the fact that they stand to end up with a quarter of their MPs as Maori – but are struggling to deal with Maori issues credibly.

Vernon Small: Labour and Little are on the horns of a dilemma over Maori issues

Standing in the “Lange room”, in front of the made-for-television screens screaming “Labour”, he launched into his opening remarks ahead of this weekend’s election year Congress.

First up was the shape of the Labour caucus and a likely strong Maori presence; “we will have at least 12 Maori MPs”.

With six MPs in eminently winnable seats opting off the list, the Maori caucus may have been hoping tactically to get some list MPs higher up.

If that was the plan, it mis-fired.  In striking its list and meeting any ethnic, gender or regional “quotas” the party takes into account the likely seats it will win. On that basis Maori will be well represented, as Little noted.

But that hadn’t stopped a blast of criticism and disappointment from Jackson and others, with some highlighting the “bad look” of having no Maori candidates in the top 15 of its shop front to the voters.

Those attacks clearly frustrated the hell out of Labour’s top table, with chief of staff Neale Jones turning to social media to publish a list with Maori seat MPs added in caucus order. It showed Kelvin Davis at between six and seven with Nanaia Mahuta and Meka Whaitiri all in the top 15.

Hence Little’s opening shots. But he went further in his pitch to Labour’s most reliable voting bloc.

But while he may have offered an olive branch to Maori he was also wrestling with the reality of that very Maori voice in his own caucus – not helped by a dreadful Morning Report interview on charter schools where he just sounded evasive.

Little has really struggled with dealing with the party’s strong opposition to partnership schools versus strong Maori of them.

It’s a familiar dilemma for Labour with echoes that go back to the foreshore and seabed debate and the short lived “Closing the Gaps” programme in Helen Clark’s first term.

How do you balance specific Maori concerns – including Maori-specific solutions – while looking over your shoulder at the reaction of your other core constituents … and a pursuing Winston Peters?

Given Little’s sweeping and principled stance about the ubiquitous role of Maori, how does he achieve his high-flying vision without – as Maori co-leader Marama Fox puts it – muzzling his own MPs?

You have to ask whether he is being too timid or is in thrall to nightmares from the Clark years and the advantage National took of divisive issues.

It comes amid some worrying sign from the party’s internal polling, which puts Peters increasingly in the driver’s seat to determine the direction of the next Government. Labour is weakening below 30 per cent and NZ First is on the rise – even as National is more vulnerable as its vote erodes into the low 40s.

Given the importance of a show of unity, and the need to focus on Little’s keynote speech on Sunday the pressure will be on to keep dissent on the down-low.

But that doesn’t make it go away.

It won’t make the media ignore it either. I think Little will be interviewed on both The Nation and Q&A in the weekend. He will need to have worked out a more credible and convincing way to explain how he is going to deal the horns of his Maori dilemma than he has done so far this week.