Weakened Merkel forced to backtrack on illegal immigration

Angela Merkel was always going to have a challenge managing a coalition government that took months to form, and relies on the agreement of several diverse parties.

The contentious issue of illegal immigration put the three month old coalition at threat of collapse, but that was averted with an agreement that will toughen up significantly on cross-border migration, if the agreement holds together. It meanbs setting up transit camps on the Austrian border.

Reuters: Merkel to fight another day after settling migration row

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives settled a row over migration that threatened to topple her fragile governing coalition late on Monday evening after talks with her rebellious interior minister led him to drop his threat to resign.

Emerging after five hours of talks, Horst Seehofer, leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), told reporters he would remain in his post after a deal with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) that he said would stem illegal immigration.

“After intensive discussions between the CDU and CSU we have reached an agreement on how we can in future prevent illegal immigration on the border between Germany and Austria,” Seehofer said as he left the CDU’s Berlin headquarters.

The deal, which brought Merkel’s government to the brink of collapse just three months after it was formed, keeps her in office. But the woman who has dominated European politics for 12-1/2 years appears greatly diminished, raising questions over whether she will serve out her term.

NY Yimes: Merkel, to Survive, Agrees to Border Camps for Migrants

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who staked her legacy on welcoming hundreds of thousands of migrants into Germany, agreed on Monday to build border camps for asylum seekers and to tighten the border with Austria in a political deal to save her government.

It was a spectacular turnabout for a leader who has been seen as the standard-bearer of the liberal European order but who has come under intense pressure at home from the far right and from conservatives in her governing coalition over her migration policy.

Although the move to appease the conservatives exposed her growing political weakness, Ms. Merkel will limp on as chancellor. For how long is unclear. The nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment that has challenged multilateralism elsewhere in Europe is taking root — fast — in mainstream German politics.

Ms. Merkel agreed to the latest policy after an insurrection over migration policy led by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, threatened to bring down her coalition.

It’s tough when in a tenuous coalition one of your own ministers threatens to bring it down if they don’t get their way.

The new policy still needs to be approved by the third part in the coalition, the Social Democrats, and also needs to be accepted by Austria, so it isn’t a done deal yet.

It would establish camps, called “transit centers,” at points along the border. Newly arriving migrants would be screened in the centers, and any determined to have already applied for asylum elsewhere in the European Union would be turned back.

Administration aside this this may reduce Germany’s immigration problems but it won’t make them go away – the flood is still in Europe, Germany is just blocking a few holes in the dyke.

Under Ms. Merkel, Germany has been a bulwark against the rise of the far right in Europe and the increasing turn against migrants. Even as neighboring countries turned away those fleeing war and strife in the Middle East, she has welcomed more than a million since 2015, and lobbied for a collective European solution.

Since then the number of new migrants has dropped to a fraction of what it was three years ago. But the good will has been eroding as Germany has struggled to absorb those already in the country.

While migration has reduced significantly concerns over what has already happened and is still happening has grown.

This is a huge ongoing problem for Germany and for Europe.

A new government in Italy is also trying to deal with illegal immigration – Migration crisis: Italy’s threats a plea for help

As migration to Europe surges, Italy has issued threats against aid organizations assisting refugees in the Mediterranean.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an agency that cooperates with the UN, 85,000 migrants fled to Italy from North Africa by boat in the first half of 2017. That figure is 19 percent higher than the one for the first half of last year. And according to IOM, the high point of the “season” hasn’t even been reached yet.

All of the EU’s attempts to reduce the number of migrants have failed so far. The official aim of the EU is to close off the Mediterranean route, as well as the route between Turkey and Greece, as much as possible.

Almost half of those refugees who have been rescued were saved not by EU ships but by private boats being operated by one of the 10 private aid organizations patrolling the area.

Italy now wants to control the work of aid organizations more closely and is preparing new procedures and new rules of conduct. Missions by Frontex and the NGOs have so far been coordinated by the Italian navy. They have accused individual employees of switching off their ships’ transponders.

Without the transponders automatically indicating the position of their vessels, these individuals then allegedly travel to Libyan waters, where they pick up migrants from inflatable boats and rotten wooden cages.

Now, Italy is threatening to close its ports to NGO ships with migrants on board.

Interior ministers from France and Germany have promised Italy more support.

The deeper problem, namely the failed redistribution of refugees to other EU countries, has still not been solved despite two years of dialog.

Illegal migration has become a huge problem for Europe, with no easy solutions.

Immigration issues in New Zealand are tiny in comparison. Being isolated in a remote part of the southern Pacific Ocean makes us hard to get to and relatively easy to police.

 

Labour’s fiscal plan was never realistic

Labour campaigned with a fiscal plan last year, and it was the centre of a controversial claim by Steven Joyce that demonstrated an $11b fiscal ‘hole’.

The reality is that the fiscal plan was not a plan as it could never have been implemented – there was virtually no chance of Labour governing alone. And this is Labour’s excuse for budgeting $12b more than specified in their plan, the cost of governing arrangements with other parties.

This is an obvious reality of single party campaign policies in an MMP environment where single parties have never governed alone, so it may be more a problem of how parties (and media) portray campaign policies.

NZH: Labour’s first Budget vs its campaign plan: Does it match up?

A comparison of Labour’s campaign fiscal plan with its first Budget shows things are not tracking quite as Labour planned during the campaign, something it put down to its coalition agreements and higher costs than expected.

Analysis by NZ Herald data journalist Keith Ng shows total Crown spending is forecast to be almost $12.5 billion higher over the five years to 2021/22 than Labour forecast in the “fiscal plan” it campaigned on in the last election.

That takes it to $24 billion more than National had planned over that period.

Labour campaigned on its fiscal plan against criticism from National that it had not allowed enough to cover the costs of its policies as well as increases in Government spending such as wage increases.

The higher spending also indicates the cost of securing the support of NZ First and the Green Party was higher than Labour allowed for in its fiscal plan and some policies were costing more than expected.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Budget should not be compared to Labour’s fiscal plan because it was based on Labour Party policy while the Budget reflected the Government arrangement with NZ First and the Greens.

In one way that’s a fair claim by Robertson. Labour was never likely to govern alone.

But did Robertson make it clear that his fiscal plan was not a plan?

He could not know which parties Labour may combine with to form a Government. But he must have known his fiscal plan would never remain intact in an MMP government, and should have expressed it with that clear proviso.

Will this happen next election? It’s likely to be glossed over again, or at least Labour may try that, but having been in Government with two other parties it should be much harder to get away with.

Unless Labour campaigns with the expectation that NZ First and Greens will miss the cut and won’t impact on Labour’s fiscal plan.

 

 

 

Greens scoff at National+Green option.

In their latest poll Newshub did the usual pointless prediction of possible governing numbers (an election has never been decided on a media poll):

These two alternatives presume two major things:

  • That NZ First will not make the threshold – predicting the political demise of NZF and Winston Peters has been proven wrong many times over the years.
  • That Greens would consider a coalition with National over Labour.

It was made very clear during the last term, and especially during coalition negotiations last year, that Greens did not see National as an option for them.

Greens have virtually said that unless National adopts all the Green Party policies then they won’t consider any political alliance (this is ironic given the number of compromises Greens have made with Labour and especially with NZ First, but that’s another story).

This was reiterated by Green party member Matthew Whitehead at The Standard in Pollwatch: Reid Research, 27/05/2018

There is zero chance, despite what Newshub implies, that the Greens will even look at today’s National Party as a valid coalition partner. You would need 75% of Green delegates at our AGM to agree to even consider a coalition deal from them, and the perception that we could do so tends to hurt us in polling. Implying such a deal would even be considered is pretty mischievious.

John Hart, who was 12 on the Green list for 2017 and was expected to become an MP until the Green’s crashed a month before the election, tweeted:

@farmgeek So ACT isn’t included in the Labour/Greens numbers because that would be ridiculous right? And yet lumping Greens in with National…

@StewartLundNZ I think the point was to show that without the Greens, National has no shot at getting back in. But labour would only need the Greens – no need for Act’s seat

@farmgeek That’s cool, but I’d prefer they stick with reality-based scenarios.

@MJWhitehead  Yeah, the correct thing to do here would just be to show NACT at 59 because that coalition ain’t happening with National looking anything like it does today.

@ConanMcKegg Really trying to push that Blue Greens narrative still. I’d have thought that would have died by now.

Gahhhhhhhhh — what part of the Greens will never ever be in govt with National do media not get !? P o l i c y s – light years apart.

I haven’t seen anyone in Greens suggest that going with national in any way was a possibility. They look fully committed to Labour or bust.

Interestingly I can see no poll reaction from @NZGreens, jamespeshaw or @maramadavidson – actually they have been veryu quiet on everything over the weekend.

But that won’t change the apparent impossibility of a National+Green option.

Preliminary coalition agreement in Germany

Germany had their elections the same weekend as our general election in New Zealand, in September last year.

It took a few weeks to sort out a coalition agreement, a confidence and supply agreement and an functional Government. Jacinda Ardern as sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 October.

It’s taking a lot longer in Germany, where a preliminary coalition agreement has just been made.

Der Spiegel: Progress for Merkel In Search for a Government

An end to Germany’s leadership vacuum may finally be in sight as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats reached a preliminary agreement on Friday morning. But there are plenty of hurdles still left to clear.

It was a grueling night for Christian Democratic Union (CDU) head Angela Merkel, Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer and SPD chair Martin Schulz. Indeed, it seemed at times as though it would never end. The talks, aimed at determining whether there was sufficient agreement among the three parties to begin formal coalition negotiations, had begun 24 hours earlier on Thursday morning.

Merkel called the 28-page document a “paper of give and take, as it should be.”

Seehofer, who leads the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, said he was “extremely satisfied.”

And Schulz, who hosted the talks, even went so far as to speak of an “outstanding result.”

Germany still doesn’t have a government — the talks that concluded on Friday morning were merely to determine if a coalition was possible — but the three party heads made it sound like most of the hurdles had been cleared.

Despite the positivity, however, the talks were extremely tough, with some of the news that leaked out during the night seemingly indicating that the talks were on the verge of collapsing — just as the first attempt to form a government did several weeks ago. Schulz, though, denied on Friday morning that failure had been imminent. “They were never on a knife’s edge,” he said, to Merkel’s agreement.

The fact that the three parties were able to reach a tentative agreement after less than a week of talks is hardly a surprise. After the initial round of coalition talks failed in November — negotiations that involved the CDU, CSU, Green Party and Free Democrats — Merkel’s conservatives are eager to establish a stable government as rapidly as possible.

After publicly ruling out a coalition with Merkel following the election last September, and repeating that rejection in late November, the Social Democrats ultimately realized that there was no alternative to seriously considering another alliance with the conservatives.

The pressure had simply become too great, particularly from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Furthermore, the idea of new elections was particularly unappetizing for the Social Democrats.

It is not over yet, there are still hurdles to overcome.

SPD head Schulz, meanwhile, will embark on Monday on a mini-tour through Germany to speak to the party base — a trip that promises to be a difficult one. The party is extremely wary of yet again playing second fiddle in a Merkel-led government, and without approval from delegates to the special party convention set to take place a week from Sunday in Bonn, the SPD will be unable to enter formal coalition talks.

Merkel’s conservatives don’t face such difficulties. It is seen as a virtual certainty that CDU and CSU leaders will authorize their party heads to enter formal coalition talks. The two parties are eager to finally set up a stable government.

Schulz isn’t just fighting for a coalition with Merkel and Seehofer, he is also fighting for his own future as party head. If the convention should vote against formal coalition negotiations with the conservatives, he would likely be forced to step down — and the party’s entire senior leadership would come under pressure to do the same.

That, in turn, would put Merkel’s own hold on power to the test: Two failed attempts at assembling a government could prove to be too much to withstand.

And Seehofer would be in the same boat.

In comparison, our negotiations circus with Winston Peters as ringmaster seems to be quaint and distant political history.

A CDU/CSU coalition with SPD is a bit like National/ACT forming a coalition with Labour.


German parties involved:

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) / Christian Social Union (CSU)

Leaders: Angela Merkel (CDU)/Horst Seehofer (CSU)

Voters: People over the age of 60, churchgoers, living in rural areas – especially in southern Germany – still represent the hardcore of CDU and CSU voters. The CDU has also traditionally done well among small business owners and people with lower or medium education levels.

2017 Bundestag election result: 33 percent (246/709 seats)

History: The CDU was founded in West Germany in 1950 in the aftermath of World War II as a gathering pool for all of Germany’s Christian conservative voters. It became the most dominant political force in the post-war era, unifying Germany and leading the government for 47 of those 67 years, alongside its Bavaria sister-party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

CDU Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who governed from 1949 to 1963, is the closest the Federal Republic has to a founding father. It was Adenauer and his economy minister (and successor as chancellor), Ludwig Erhard, who presided over West Germany’s “economic miracle.” The party’s reputation as Germany’s rock of moral and economic stability continued under another long-term CDU chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who drove German reunification in 1990 – a key historic moment important in understanding today’s politics.

Social Democratic Party (SPD)

Chairperson: Martin Schulz

Parliamentary leader: Andrea Nahles

2017 Bundestag election result: 20.5 percent (153/709 seats)

Voters: The SPD has traditionally been the party of the working classes and the trade unions. The SPD’s most fertile ground in Germany remains in the densely-populated industrial regions of western Germany, particularly the Ruhr region in North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as the states of Hesse and Lower Saxony.

History: The SPD was founded in 1875, making it Germany’s oldest political party. In the tumultuous first decades of the 20th century, the party acted as an umbrella organization for a number of leftist movements, trade unionists, and communists. But with the founding of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1919, the SPD became the permanent home of the social justice reformers, rather than the revolutionaries – though that didn’t stop its politicians from being sent to concentration camps during the Third Reich.

The SPD’s first chancellor, Willy Brandt, governed West Germany from 1969 to 1974. He earned an international reputation for reconciliation with Eastern Europe during his time as foreign minister in a CDU-led coalition government. He was succeeded by Helmut Schmidt, an SPD icon until his death in 2015. Both remain hugely respected figures in German politics. Altogether, the party has been part of the German government for 34 of the 67 years of the Federal Republic and led governing coalitions for 21 of those. Though its reach has eroded significantly in the past few years, it was still behind some of Merkel’s most significant social reform policies during her third government, which has just ended.

Source: Deutsche Welle – Germany’s political parties CDU, CSU, SPD, AfD, FDP, Left party, Greens – what you need to know

 

Parker and Peters split on water tax

The Minister of Trade and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are split over whether a tax on exported water can be imposed without breaching trade agreements.

NZH:  Winston Peters and David Parker at odds over whether export tax breaches trade deals

Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Trade Minister David Parker appear at odds over the legal position of the planned royalty on water exports.

Peters plans to ignore the advice of top officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and will introduce the royalty which was promised in the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement.

He said the view of Mfat deputy secretary and chief TPP negotiator that it breaches New Zealand’s trade deals was “an opinion.”

“We are a sovereign nation and you are seeing a restoration of our sovereignty.”

Peters said it was not a foreign policy matter: “It is to do with our domestic economy and who runs our economy and who has propriety over our resources.”

Vangelis Vitalis, Foreign Affairs deputy secretary for the trade and economic group, said today that such payments would breach existing trade agreement.

But Parker backed Vitalis. He told reporters export taxes were prohibited by all of New Zealand’s trade agreements “so we have got to find a remedy that is consistent with those obligations.”

He said he had always known that discriminatory measures that impose tax only on exports would be in breach of virtually every trade agreement we’ve got.”

Labour had campaigned on a non-distortionary price on water including on exports.

“There is more than one way for us to meet our ambition. If we were to have a distortionary tax on the export of water, that would breach our trade agreements.”

The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement simply said:

Introduce royalty on exports of bottled water.

Some interesting differences here, between an election promise and coalition agreement and what is actually allowed under existing international agreements – making promises without doing basic checks first – and also between Parker and Peters.

Bennett v Peters on the secret document

Following her questioning of the Prime Minister, Paula Bennett also quizzed and the Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in Parliament today, trying to establish that there was ministerial responsibility for the coalition negotiation ‘notes’.

Bennett focused on timing of when Peters described the 38 page document and the following day when he became Minister, and when the font was changed that reduced the size of the document to 33 pages.

Peters doesn’t do himself nor the Government any credit by trying to play a know it all comedian.

3. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his answers to Oral Question No. 2 yesterday; if so, does he also agree with the Prime Minister’s answers to Oral Question No. 1 yesterday?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): To the first part, the honourable member asked nine questions—or attempted questions—yesterday. I answered the six successful questions, and I stand by all of those answers. To the second part, the Prime Minister was asked nine questions yesterday. I heard them, I read them, I agree with them, and today’s Wednesday.

Hon Paula Bennett: You’re amazing.

Mr SPEAKER: Thank you, Ms Bennett.

Hon Paula Bennett: On what date was the coalition document abbreviated?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have no idea as to the exact date that a smart staff member decided to change the font and take the coalition document down from 38 to 33 pages. We were rather busy at the time, and you’ll understand that that wasn’t our major concern.

Hon Paula Bennett: How, then, does the Deputy Prime Minister know that that was done by a staff member under New Zealand First when, in fact, he doesn’t know the date of when the font was changed, and on 25 October he stated that it was 38 pages long, and then, on 26 October, he was sworn in as a Minister? So was one of his secretaries sitting there at midnight on the 25th deciding they would change the font to make it more precise?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if one wants to behave like a Philadelphia lawyer you might ask a question like that, but the reality is that it was changed and it was changed by a person in our operations and that person has confirmed it with me since then so that I could come here and, with pointed accuracy, answer these questions.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is that person employed by Ministerial Services?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I just make it very clear that until we were sworn in, those people were paid for by Parliamentary Service, and that’s why it’s not caught by the Official Information Act.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was very, very precise in: was that person employed—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, yes, and what I am yet to see the relevance of is whether a particular Parliamentary Service employee is now employed by Ministerial Services. I’m not sure that it’s a relevant question.

Hon Paula Bennett: So, actually, this does go to the heart of whether or not this is an official document, and I believe—and the point that I’m trying to make in here is that if it’s been worked on since he’s been a Minister by a ministerial staffer, then that actually makes it an official document. Now, we can argue whether that’s right or wrong, but that’s my line of questioning, and I would like to pursue it by having my questions answered.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Speaking to the point of order, it would be apparent to the meanest mind that to form a coalition, you have to have an agreement. It is quite possible, therefore, that it’d be inevitable the agreement would be decided upon in writing before the coalition is signed off, not after.

Hon Simon Bridges: I think this goes to the very basic point we were discussing earlier in the points of order, which is that, in terms of Speaker’s ruling 156/4, coalition agreements can be the subject of questioning, and it’s really about whether it’s Government business. That’s fundamentally the question of whether it’s Parliamentary Service or Ministerial Services. So this has to be, I’d suggest to you, a relevant line of questioning for us to pursue.

Clayton Mitchell: Referring to the point that the member raised with Speaker’s ruling 156/4, it actually specifically talks about the Prime Minister, not the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, well, I think we’ll leave that point on one side. I think the important question is whether or not someone has been working on something as a Ministerial Services employee. I have heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that the change was made before the change of Government and, therefore, you know, people might have a different angle. There might be a question of further work on the document, and the member might want to pursue that. But at that time of change, I think we’ve had a pretty clear assurance that it couldn’t have been a Ministerial Services employee, because the Rt Hon Winston Peters, at the time, was not a Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: Well, one of the answers that he’s given this time was that, actually, he wasn’t sure of the date, and I have—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I, unlike some other members, have been listening, and I have heard him say that it occurred before the change of Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: If this is going to be pursuing the same matter, Mr Bridges, I don’t want to hear it. If it’s a completely new matter, I will.

Hon Simon Bridges: This is in relation to a critical matter for both the Government and the Opposition. That’s why I raise these points of order. The point of order is this: I appreciate the position you’ve outlined in terms of facts. I agree; I was listening to that. But what the member has asked is whether this person is now a Ministerial Services worker. That is—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. If that’s an area of questioning that the members want to pursue, they can. But it will be slightly challenging getting it within order for a new question. It’s not currently relevant.

Hon Paula Bennett: When he clearly stated on 25 October that there was a 38-page document, he was then sworn in as a Minister the following day. Is he saying that between him discussing his 38-page document and being sworn in, that the font was changed in that document and it was by a New Zealand First staffer and not by someone ultimately—well, they could have been employed by Ministerial Services?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: This might sound like an earth-shattering event, but the reality of it all is that—

Hon Simon Bridges: You thought it was pretty important back then.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: And so did you at the time, I recall, and you’ve never recovered. I want to say it very clearly that my memory was of that size, and I was told by the staff member that, actually, we fonted it down to 33 pages. That’s why I corrected it when the members were asking the question, in the interests of accuracy.

Hon Paula Bennett: So why doesn’t the Minister just simply release the document that he describes in many different ways, or, as the Herald said today, it is “a fruitcake of disparate ideas and undeveloped policy”.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I regard that as a compliment, coming from that paper—and its declining readership explains why. So I won’t waste my time or Parliament’s or the listeners’ time.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why have you got it safely locked in a safe in your office, when a secretary has it on a computer and, simply, keeps changing the font?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Because—if I could just say it from a chronological point of view—it was fonted down and then went to the safe. Anyone that’s got any sense of logic would have worked it out before making a fool of themselves, but there’s an old English saying: the malady of ignorance is being ignorant without knowing it.

 

English versus Ardern on the coalition document

Opposition leader Bill English questioned Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the so-called secret coalition document in Parliament today.

Ardern:

I have never denied the existence of these documents. The question is whether or not everything that was enclosed in them were agenda items that we will pursue, and some of them we will not. That does speak to the heart of whether it is an official document. As I say, I welcome the Ombudsman looking at this issue. I welcome him giving his consideration to the question.

 

Draft transcript:


Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her Government’s policy that they will “strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes. In fact, later today the Government will be releasing the Cabinet paper on the change-negotiating mandate for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to ensure greater transparency for New Zealanders around that deal—transparency that, I have to say, they didn’t have under the last Government.

Rt Hon Bill English: Has she seen references by the Deputy Prime Minister to a 38- or 33-page document as containing “[directions] to ministers with accountability and media strategies to ensure … the coalition works.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. The coalition document has been released and is publicly available, but, as the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, when it comes to other ideas that were discussed, if they are found to be workable and are likely to be progressed, then details will of course be released and made public.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is there a document including content she described yesterday in answer to a question about the previously mentioned document: “Every government has a work programme—things … they look in to. [At] The moment … we see some benefit and that it’s something that will progress, that’s the point at which it will be made public.”, and does that mean there is such a document with policies in it that have not yet been made public?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We’ve always been very clear that in the course of a negotiation, a range of documents are exchanged. The question is whether or not all of them will be progressed and whether or not they are official. Nothing has been given to Ministers; nothing has been given to Government departments or officials. Those issues that are progressed and become Government policy will be made public.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is there a 33-page documented draft arrangement between Labour and New Zealand First that you are working from when determining—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I’m not working from any such document. The Leader of the Opposition will try again.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is there a 33-page documented draft arrangement between Labour and New Zealand First that the Government is working from when determining the Government programme?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The coalition agreement that we are working to has been released and is publicly available. Those are the policy and programme items that we are committed to. As for any other documentation through the course of negotiation, we’ve been open that they have existed. That does not mean that those are the firm commitments that we have signed up to, nor that they will ever be progressed. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I just want to ask Dr Smith to, if he is going to interject, interject using the proper form of a member’s name.

Rt Hon Bill English: What, then, does she believe the Deputy Prime Minister was referring to in his description of a 38-page document as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said, there were other documents exchanged during the course of the negotiation, but the one that we are committed to and working to is in the public domain. As the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, if any of those other policies or ideas that we discussed are pursued, they will be publicly released and they will be made available.

Rt Hon Bill English: Has she seen the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that the document includes policy issues such as the measurement of unemployment—”[We’re actually] agreed to work on”—and that that might mean policy commitments have been made, similar to those in the public coalition document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I was actually standing next to him as he said it.

Rt Hon Bill English: So what is the difference between policies agreed on in the already published coalition document and policies referred to by the Deputy Prime Minister that are agreed in this 33-page document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: You can hardly argue that that particular item was secret given that the Deputy Prime Minister said it out loud yesterday while I was standing next to him. The point is that, as we’ve said, if there are policy items or agenda items that we choose to pursue, we will make them public at that time. The only items that we have officially committed to have become part of our coalition agreement and are made publicly available already.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is it the case that the document that has been referred doesn’t exist or is it the case that it exists but she is withholding it under the Official Information Act because she believes it not to be official information?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve acknowledged that there are documents that were exchanged during the negotiations, as there will have been by the Opposition. I welcome the Ombudsman looking at this issue. I welcome him making a decision on whether or not we’ve made the right classification of this documentation. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Mr Brownlee, very close.

Rt Hon Bill English: Given her description that documents were exchanged, is it the case that one of those documents was a 33- or 38-page document including directives to Ministers, policy items that were agreed, policy item that would be worked on, but she is withholding it because she does not regard it as official information?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have never denied the existence of these documents. The question is whether or not everything that was enclosed in them were agenda items that we will pursue, and some of them we will not. That does speak to the heart of whether it is an official document. As I say, I welcome the Ombudsman looking at this issue. I welcome him giving his consideration to the question.

[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Mr Brownlee, very close.

Rt Hon Bill English: Given her description that documents were exchanged, is it the case that one of those documents was a 33- or 38-page document including directives to Ministers, policy items that were agreed, policy items that would be worked on, but she is withholding it because she does not regard it as official information?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have never denied the existence of these documents. The question is whether or not everything that was enclosed in them were agenda items that we will pursue, and some of them we will not. That does speak to the heart of whether it is an official document. As I say, I welcome the Ombudsman looking at this issue. I welcome him giving his consideration to the question.

The secret coalition document

The Labour is taking another hit on it’s promise for more transparency in Government after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has refused to release a coalition document.

Newsroom: Kiwis left in dark over secret document

The Government is refusing to release a secret document with directives for new ministers, despite Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters promising it would be made public.

The existence of the 38-page document was first revealed by Peters the day after Labour and New Zealand First signed a more slender eight-page public coalition agreement.

Speaking to media after the allocation of ministerial portfolios, he described it as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”.

“These are directives to ministers with accountability and media strategies to ensure that the coalition works, not in a jealous, envious way, ‘We got this and they got that’, but as a government successively, cohesively working.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into it, in fact day one of our negotiations that was the first subject we raised, how are we going to handle a cohesive coalition arrangement?”

At the time, he said the document was still being finalised, but would cover the appointment process for diplomats.

Peters said then the document would be made public, saying it was “for the province of the Prime Minister to release”.

However, in response to an Official Information Act request from Newsroom seeking the document’s release, Jacinda Ardern’s adviser Heather Simpson claimed “the Prime Minister does not hold any such official information”.

Simpson’s letter referred to Section 2 of the Act, saying official information covered only information held by “a Minister of the Crown in his official capacity”.

The Ombudsman’s OIA guidelines for ministers state that while official information does not include information held by a minister in their role as a member of a political party, “such information may become official information if it is subsequently used for official ministerial purposes”.

Newsroom has appealed the Government’s decision to the Ombudsman.

Not surprisingly National has picked up on this. Bill English: Secret agreement needs to be made public

The Prime Minister needs to release the Government’s secret agreement with NZ First which the Deputy Prime Minister says outlines the way ministers will behave, deal with the media and be held accountable, National Party Leader Bill English says.

“The document, confirmed by Winston Peters, goes to the very heart of the formation of the New Government.

“It is unacceptable for the Prime Minister to claim it’s not public information. It is and the public deserves to know how the new Coalition, and therefore the country, will be run.

“This is not the openness and accountability promised by Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters and enshrined in the public version of their Coalition agreement.

“It’s certainly not them living up to their promise to ‘strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information’.

“This lack of transparency is becoming a habit for this Government. It is also refusing to answer even the most basic questions in Parliament as well as written questions from Opposition MPs and queries from the media.

“It doesn’t seem to understand that part of running a country is being sufficiently organised to be up front and to justify and explain the decisions it is making which affect the lives of New Zealanders.

“When these decisions continue to be so ill-thought through and rushed then that’s of even more concern. They appear to be both disorganised and secretive.

“New Zealanders deserve to know what Labour has promised NZ First and how this agreement affects them,” Mr English says.

Most opinion seems to be that the document should be made public, either legally or on principles of transparency..

But Ardern is adamant that transparency only applies when it suits. Stuff: Government denies there’s an ‘official’ coalition document still to be made public

On Monday at the Prime Minister’s regular post-Cabinet press conference both her and Peters denied there was an “official” document to be released other than the coalition agreement that has already been made available.

“We did release the coalition agreement and we were very clear, both actually on the ways that we would work together, but also on the agenda items that we as two parties have formally committed to – so in our minds we absolutely have made public those things that we’ve made commitments to,” Ardern said.

Both Ardern and Peters said notes were made during negotiations, which included further work that could be done under the coalition agreement but wasn’t yet finalised.

“Yes, of course we made notes during the course of those discussions including further areas that we may undertake some work…some issues will see the light of day and at that point we’ll make sure that people are absolutely clear that that was part of our conversation with NZ First but others may not.

“There are constraints on us as a government, not least the financial constraints we’ve been left by the last government so there’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said.

“There are other areas we may explore together that may be found to be unworkable, that may be found just to be fiscally irresponsible, that may never be progressed.”

This seems to be the way the Ardern led Government intends to operate – they will be transparent in due course.

As acting Prime Minister while Ardern and Peters were overseas Kelvin Davis appeared to flounder in Parliament when he kept answering questions with non answers, like (9 November).

We will make and confirm decisions on appropriate targets in due course.

And like (14 November):

Decisions on interim targets to achieve these housing policies will be made in due course.

Winston Peters also joined the stonewalling yesterday (something he has a long record of hypocrisy on) with some back flipping thrown in:

Peters drew on Moses and the ten commandments to try and make his point, saying, “Moses came down from the mountain and only had ten commandments right? But there’s a lot in the Old Testament as well.”

Peters said the suggestion this was a “secret agreement” was “demonstrably false”.

“I was talking about how we will compartmentalise work of the type that’s just been discussed, send it off to ministers to do some work and see what the result is.”

He said an example of some of that work was how to find a new way to measure unemployment.

“We’ve agreed to work on those things and when we’ve completed the work we’ll tell you what the outcome is.”

This is providing some easy shots from the Opposition:

However, National’s leader Bill English has demanded the government release the agreement, saying it’s “ridiculous for the government to claim either it doesn’t exist or somehow it’s not official information”.

“I think it’s remarkable the prime minister has decided the public should not know about the detailed negotiations between Labour and NZ First because clearly the public agreement is not one they take seriously.

“It was going to be a billion trees, now it’s going to be half a billion trees, they were going to go into Pike River and now they might go into Pike River – we can go through the list of undertakings that they don’t appear to be able to keep,” English said.

This closely follows other examples of a far from open Government – see yesterday’s Government not walking the transparency talk.

Journalists tend to despise information being held from them. Claire Trevett: PM Jacinda Ardern’s hat trick on ‘secret’ document

What Ardern was trying to say was that the coalition agreement was not a full and final settlement – but could be added to. There was, it seemed, a long wish list by NZ First which Labour had not unequivocally said “no” to.

The public might be entitled to presume that what was in the coalition agreement was the cost of NZ First’s support for Labour.

We don’t need to wait for ‘in due course’ to see whether the Government was bullshitting us over promises of increased transparency, it is becoming obvious already they are no better than something that has deteriorated under the past two governments.

It now seemed that may have been only a down payment – but nobody will know what else might be extracted until it is done.

Ardern justified this by saying she did not believe it met the criteria of “official information” that merited release.

This hovered perilously close to former Prime Minister John Key refusing to release information by claiming it happened when he was acting as party leader or a normal human being rather than as Prime Minister.

Labour railed against Key and his many hats, yet here was Ardern merrily leaping to the hat rack herself.

Anyone thinking Ardern may herald a new era of openness should reconsider. She seems to be reverting to opaque and secretive and fobbing off type, like any politicians who think they can get away with it.

I think it’s quite damaging for Ardern’s credibility. She is accruing quite a negative record already.

German coalition talks collapse, EU and the West vulnerable

There were complaints about New Zealand political parties taking several weeks to work out who would be in the new government. The German election was at the same time as ours, but their coalition talks have just collapsed.

The green FDP party walked away from talks, but they are not the only party to blame for the talks collapsing.

Der Spiegel: Everyone Loses in Coalition Collapse

After the collapse of the German coalition talks, the blame game has already begun. Yet all the parties bear responsibility for how the negotiations failed.

The reason for the collapse is clear: The parties involved failed to forge the one thing that is indispensable to keep such an alliance together: trust. And trust, it goes without saying, is the single most important currency in politics. Without trust a coalition cannot work.

No one really expected politicians with such fundamentally different politics and outlooks as Alexander Dobrindt of the CSU and Jürgen Trittin of the Greens to become bosom buddies. But if you want to govern together for four years, you can’t always be assuming that your cabinet colleagues are out to get you at every turn.

This mistrust was due to a number of factors. One, of course, is that such a four-party coalition would have been an unusual constellation, bringing together very different political cultures and ideas. The ongoing tensions between the CDU and CSU over Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees in the autumn of 2015 further complicated matters.

And then there’s the issue of authority: Angela Merkel’s star power in German politics has begun to fade. Her political opponents don’t hold her in the same awe they once did.

NBC News: Angela Merkel’s rule in doubt as German coalition talks collapse

Germany faced an uncertain political future Monday after the collapse of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s talks on forming a new government, raising the prospect of new elections looming.

The Sept. 24 election produced an awkward result that left Merkel’s two-party conservative bloc seeking a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens.

The combination of ideologically disparate parties hadn’t been tried before in a national government, and came to nothing when the Free Democrats walked out of talks Sunday night.

Merkel said her conservatives had left “nothing untried to find a solution.” She said that she “will do everything to ensure that this country is well-led through these difficult weeks.”

CNBC: Merkel’s coalition is in chaos — here’s what happens next

  • Merkel is set to meet with the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier Monday to decide what to do next
  • There are three options on the table, but any of them is bad news for Merkel
  • Without clear leadership in Germany, Europe seems to be about to enter standby mode

“There are three possible options right now: minority government, another grand coalition or new elections,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, told CNBC via email on Monday morning.

Given the way the talks now failed, a minority government looks unlikely,” he added. If Merkel were to lead a minority government, passing legislation in the Bundestag would be a political nightmare given the differences between the several parties.

The second possibility — a so-called grand coalition — would mean Merkel’s CDU sharing power with the Socialist Party, something that it did until the elections in September. However, this is also unlikely given that the latter has stated repeatedly that it wants to stay in opposition and rebuild.

“This realistically only leaves one option: new elections,” Brzeski said. However, it’s even uncertain whether the political impasse could be solved with a new vote.

This is not just putting government on hold in Germany, it has a flow on effect of inaction in the European Union.

Reuters: German president presses parties to form coalition for good of Europe after talks collapse

Efforts to form a three-way governing coalition in Germany collapsed on Monday, pitching Europe’s biggest power into political crisis, and its president told parties they owed it to voters and European neighbors to form a government.

The major obstacle to a deal was immigration, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was forced into negotiations after bleeding support in a Sept. 24 election to the far right in a backlash at her 2015 decision to let in over 1 million migrants.

President Walter Steinmeier said Germany was now facing the worst governing crisis in the 68-year history of its post-World War Two democracy. After meeting Merkel, he warned parties not to shirk their democratic duties – remarks seemingly targeted at the FDP and Social Democrats (SPD), who on Monday ruled out renewing their “grand coalition” with the conservatives.

“Inside our country, but also outside, in particular in our European neighborhood, there would be concern and a lack of understanding if politicians in the biggest and economically strongest country (in Europe) did not live up to their responsibilities,” he said in a statement.

With German leadership seen as crucial for a European Union grappling with governance reform and Britain’s impending exit, FDP leader Christian Lindner’s announcement that he was pulling out spooked investors and sent the euro falling in the morning.

The failure of coalition talks is unprecedented in Germany’s post-war history, and was likened by newsmagazine Der Spiegel to the shock election of U.S. President Donald Trump or Britain’s referendum vote to leave the EU – moments when countries cast aside reputations for stability built up over decades.

With the UK government in disarray after a disastrous snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May, and as they grapple with exiting the EU, governance in Europe is looking very shaky. Alongside the international weakening of the United States under Donald Trump’s presidency the  state of the West is looking the weakest it has been for a long time, and vulnerable.

Der Spiegel: What’s Next for Merkel and Germany?

Now, after a month of talks, German doesn’t know what will happen next. It is an unprecedented moment of uncertainty for a country that prizes stability and predictability above all else. “At the very least,” said Merkel, “it is a day of deep reflection on the path forward for Germany.”

It is difficult to overstate the impact of the collapsed talks. Indeed, for Merkel herself, Sunday night could mark the beginning of the end to her political career after 12 years in the Chancellery. Clearly drained from the exertion of the past several weeks, Merkel said on Sunday night that she would “almost even call it an historical day.” It was the kind of sentence Germany has become used to from Merkel: a bit unpolished and inelegant. But it could end up being true.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier now has a key role to play. For the time being, Germany will continue to be governed by the acting coalition pairing Merkel’s conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats. But it is up to Steinmeier, himself a Social Democrat, to navigate the path forward toward new elections – unless Merkel decides to experiment with a minority government.

The third possibility, one being discussed intently on Monday, is a repeat of the current “grand coalition.”

 

Criminal Cases Review Commission

A surprise inclusion in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement was under Law and Order:

Establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission

This is very good news. National had refused to do it, saying it wasn’t necessary – as Justice Minister both Judith Collins and Amy Adams refused to consider a review commission.

That was disappointing and perhaps odd given that Review body ‘could save NZ millions’.

Where did this come from? It’s not something NZ First campaigned on as far as I’m aware, and I can’t find it in their policies. But they had issued a media release on it a year ago, in October 2016:

Criminal Cases Review Commission Needed

New Zealand First will establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission as soon as it is in a position to do so, says Justice Spokesperson Denis O’Rourke.

“In too many cases in recent years the safety of convictions for serious crimes have been called into question, and ad hoc associations of supporters of those convicted have sought to find ways of having those cases reviewed.

“This is very difficult and very expensive, and as a result the success of such associations in achieving a review often depends on how much money they raise and how much fuss they can make. That is not the way these matters should be dealt with in a modern and effective justice system.

“The government’s refusal to put a permanent commission in place to review appropriate cases is regrettable and demonstrates a lack of commitment to ensure a just and effective system for review.

Yes, that has been very disappointing.

“The Bain and Teina Pora cases have been the most prominent in recent years, and in April 2015 Brian Rudman in the NZ Herald called for a Commission of Inquiry into the conviction of Peter Ellis in the notorious Christchurch Creche affair. This was also rejected by the government. Currently there are other cases where a review may be justified.

“New Zealand should establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) along the lines of the UK one set up in their Criminal Appeal Act 1995. The twelfth report to the House of Commons on that Commission for the year 2014-15, concluded that “the CCRC is performing reasonably well, with areas for improvement identified” and “the Commission needs to be given the resources and the powers it requires to do perform its job effectively”.

“The report recorded that the CCRC had achieved a 70% success rate of its referrals and recommended additional powers concerning access to official documents and other material and to information held by private bodies, which could assist in investigations. The report also made a major recommendation “that the CCRC take advantage of its unique position and develop a formal system for feeding back into the criminal justice system on the causes of miscarriages of justice”.

“It is therefore obvious that New Zealand could and should use the UK legislation and experience to inform similar legislation for a Criminal Cases Review Commission here. Such a Commission should have the power to investigate cases on its own initiative, or when referred to it by the Attorney-General or by resolution of parliament in response to a petition.

“The Commission would be empowered to refer cases for reconsideration to the Court of Appeal, the grounds for doing so being the same as in section 13 of the UK Act, where the Commission “considers that there is a real possibility that the conviction, verdict, finding or sentence would not be upheld were the reference to be made”.

I posted about it in June last year: Criminal Cases Review Commission

From the New Zealand Police Conduct Association: Criminal Cases Review Commission

Jacinda Ardern supported one as Labour’s Justice Spokesperson in June 2015: Pora case a case to learn from

Conformation that Teina Pora will receive $2.5million from the Crown for more than 20 years of wrongful imprisonment does not fix the flaws in our system that led to this miscarriage of justice, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says.

“The result today, and the decision by the Privy Council last year to quash Teina Pora’s convictions, came about only after a legal team volunteered thousands of hours to his case.

“Minister Amy Adams claims the end result proves the system worked. That is incorrect. Justice must be timely.

“This case is further proof that we need an Independent Criminal Case Review Commission – a mechanism to look at cases like this, and refer them back to the Appeal Court.

Back in 2013 before he became leader Andrew Little also called for a review commission: Labour calls for body to investigate miscarriages of justice

The Labour Party is calling for an independent review commission to be set up, as further information comes to light suggesting a possible miscarriage of justice in the Teina Pora case.

Labour’s justice spokesperson Andrew Little says information revealed in a TV3 investigation shows police officers had doubts about Pora’s responsibility for the crime.

He says in such cases further investigations need to be carried out by an impartial body.

Mr Little says this country needs a standing commission independent of the police, judiciary or Ministry of Justice to look at instances of miscarriage of justice, along the lines of the United Kingdom’s criminal cases review commision.

He says work looking into setting up a such a body by the previous Labour-led government needs to be continued to ensure public confidence in the justice system.

So the last Labour Government had done preliminary work on setting one up.

It’s curious how this ended up in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement given that it isn’t listed as an NZ First policy and I can not remember and can find no sign of Winston Peters or NZ First or Labour campaigning on it, but regardless of how it got there it is a welcome inclusion.