Ardern and Government deserve praise for handling of Covid-19

We, New Zealand and the World, are facing unprecedented health and financial crises. There will be valid criticisms of the way things are handled in a rapidly changing situation, with over 10,000 deaths so far but potentially millions of fatalities from the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Leaders and Governments are having to do their best in a very challenging environment.

People are uncertain and uneasy, understandably. There are valid fears for lives, for livelihoods, for life savings and for ways of life. Some New Zealanders will die, many will lose jobs lose earnings, lose part or all of their life savings. All of us will have to change the way we live, for months at least and probably for years.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern can be a very good communicator when she is well informed and not doing politics, and as she did dealing with last year’s mosque massacre and the Whakaari/White Island eruption, she has again risen to the occasion and I think is doing a very good job keeping us informed in an assuring manner. She excels at fronting crises.

It is hugely challenging getting the balance right between timely and appropriate actions, and over-reactions. I think the Government is largely getting things about right with it’s response to the virus, with the initial financial package, and with it’s messaging.

There were one or two communication missteps early on but they seem to have been resolved.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has done ok in a support role.

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson has managed finances prudently to date and seems well advised and is acting appropriately in the evolving crisis.

Minister of Health David Clark is not as good a communicator, seems to lack confidence (in a very difficult role) and can seem out of his depth a bit, but he is being covered by others.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield is doing an extraordinary job with daily media conferences, calmly keeping us well informed. He is a huge asset.

I think if National were in Government they would be doing much the same things as our Labour-led Government are.  New Zealand is taking very similar measures to the right wing Australian Government. Times like this need expert advice and common sense, not political idealism.

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has tried to get holding to account balanced with support of the Government in a crisis, but his communication skills and manner aren’t great (unfortunately grate would be closer to the mark). He has been overshadowed by finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith, who yesterday backed the Ait New Zealand support package announced by the Government, and also to an extent health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse.

Greens are doing their thing but are more working with their own constituencies and from the sidelines, publicly at least.

There are some in media and social media who haven’t been able to put politics and prejudices aside, and there are some who seem to think they have better information than the Government and are giving advice and demanding different actions. I trust our Government to be largely on top of things, and have confidence we are being well enough informed. I am resisting criticising and naming the petty and the pissy.

The Government won’t get everything exactly right (in retrospect at least), but I have confidence we have our Government and MPs are doing everything they can to deal with the huge challenges currently facing us. There is scope for valid and reasonable criticisms, but petty politics should be set aside.

We should trust our Prime Minister and our Government and our Opposition to inform us and do what they can for us. I think we have to.

I’m doing quite a bit of research and am following things closely, and I am confident we are being well informed and reasonably warned about what is likely to happen. There are many unknowns, but we have to trust our leaders and Government on this, while doing things for ourselves as well.

We have to work together in families and communities to support each other through this. More on that in the next post.

Covid-19 economic package announced

A substantial economic package was announced today to try to address major effects from the Covid-19 virus outbreak and measures. It has been widely commended as a very good attempt at dealing with an unquantifiable problem, with just a few whiners on blogs and social media and one opposition leader who again shows he has no clue how to deal appropriately with serious issue.


COVID-19: Economic Response Package

The $12.1 billion package is worth 4% of GDP, a larger plan than that implemented in response to the Global Financial Crisis and comparatively larger than relief packages announced to date in Australia, the UK and the US. The package is about protecting New Zealander’s health, protecting the vulnerable, protecting livelihoods, and ensuring the quickest recovery possible on all fronts.

“The Government is pulling out all the stops to protect the health of New Zealanders and the health of our economy,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Economic package to fight COVID-19

Supporting New Zealanders and businesses

The Coalition Government has gone hard with our health response, and now is going hard with our financial assistance. Our immediate goal is to support people and businesses as we weather the impact of COVID-19. We must then ready the economy to recover. The Coalition is united in doing everything we can to support New Zealand workers and businesses.

  • $500 million boost for health
  • $8.7 billion in support for businesses and jobs
  • $2.8 billion for income support and boosting consumer spending

$12.1 billion support for New Zealanders and business

Backing our health services

The best protection for our economy is getting the virus under control, which is why we are investing half a billion dollars in frontline health services to fight COVID-19. If we can manage the virus we can mitigate the damage to the economy. We will be investing in more health staff, more virus testing, more medicines, face masks, extra intensive care capacity and equipment at hospitals, and more money for GPs.

  • Dedicated $500 million fund to protect New Zealanders’ health
  • Nearly doubling resources for Public Health Units, specifically to increase capacity for contact tracing
  • $32 million for extra intensive care capacity and equipment at hospitals
  • $50 million in support for GPs and primary care, and $20 million to improve video conferencing and telehealth consultations
  • $20 million for more Healthline capacity

Backing our health services to combat COVID-19

 

Greeenpeace expects more from Government on environmental issues

People and organisations on the left have expressed dismay at the lack of progressive policies being implemented by the Government, which while including the Greens also has NZ First holding things back.

Greenpeace campaigner Genevieve Toop

  • What’s your short assessment on environmental action?

“The government took power riding on a wave of promises to tackle climate change and clean up our rivers. Early on in their tenure they took the kind of bold and decisive action required to do this. They banned new oil and gas exploration, slashed public subsidies to big irrigation and industrial dairy expansion and banned plastic bags.

“These decisions were great news for the environment and a demonstration of people power. They were a welcome reprieve from nine years of the National-led government which pushed for more oil exploration, incentivised industrial dairy expansion, slashed conservation funding, and let plastic pollution skyrocket.

“But since these decisions, the government’s visionary rhetoric has not been matched with the kind of transformational policy reform that is urgently needed. The government have begun to favour incremental change and in several instances they have let big polluters carry on business-as-usual.

“Austrian oil giant OMV is currently exploring for new oil and gas in our waters, a mega-dairy conversion is underway in the iconic Mackenzie Basin, the fishing industry is still bottom trawling 3000 tonnes of coral every year and there is still no backing for a solar revolution to help us get off our dependence on oil gas and coal and end imports of polluting SUVs.”

  • How does the government’s progress on environmental issues stack up?

“Ardern’s government have signalled a change in direction for New Zealand compared with the previous government. However, they have failed to match rhetoric with real action.

“Incremental and reformist policies cannot hope to create the systemic change needed to stem the tide of pollution and stop the ecological breakdown. Aside from the oil and gas exploration ban, this government have yet to step up to the plate with the visionary and transformational change needed.

“This is surprising given the obvious urgency of the climate crisis and the huge mandate for action that they have for example the recent climate strikes.”

  • Do you think the government pays enough attention to environmental issues?

“No. We are in the midst of a global climate emergency which is threatening all life on earth. A government that was taking this seriously would be devoting a sizeable chunk of Budget 2019 towards funding the transition towards a sustainable economy.

“Flagship policies should include a billion-dollar regenerative farming fund, massive investment in solar for schools, homes, public buildings and marae and a big boost for electric and public transport.”

  • What would you score the coalition out of 10 for its action on environmental issues?

“We’ll give them 5/10.”

On the OMV exploration, Green Dunedin mayor Aaron Hawkins is grumpy about them test drilling down our way.

OMV went through the normal processes necessary to get permission  to do this test drilling.

More plastics to be ‘phased out’

The Government has announced that more ‘single use’ plastics will be phased out, in particular:

  • Our first target will be to move away from single-use packaging and beverage containers made of hard-to-recycle PVC and polystyrene. Examples include polystyrene meat trays, cups and takeaway food containers. We will work towards ensuring that these are made of high-value alternatives like PET, HDPE and polypropylene, which can be recycled and reprocessed

Beehive: Govt pledges next steps on plastic waste

The Government will phase out more single-use plastics following the success of its single-use plastic bag ban earlier this year and the release today of a pivotal report for dealing with waste.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has welcomed the Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealandreport, released by her Chief Science Advisor Prof Juliet Gerrard.

“Our ban on plastic bags has already made a difference as we confront our enormous long-term challenge to tackle plastic waste,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Many New Zealanders, including many children, write to me about plastic – concerned with its proliferation over the past decade and the mounting waste ending up in our oceans.

“I share this concern for our natural environment – one that sustains our tourism, trade and our national identity.

“There’s more to do and our next steps to tackle plastic waste include:

  • Setting goals to shift away from low-value and hard-to-recycle plastic
  • ·Stimulate innovation and development of solutions to the soft plastic problem
  •  

    Accelerate work with local government and industry on better and more consistent kerbside collection of recyclables

  • With industry, continue work to develop a labelling scheme for packaging, including plastic packaging

 

 

Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage said the report reaffirms and extends the Government’s ambitious plan to reduce waste, which includes:

  • A container return scheme for drink bottles and cans
  • Regulated product stewardship schemes for tough waste issues such as e-waste, tyres and batteries
  • A National Resource Recovery work programme in response to China and other countries’ bans on importing waste and recyclables
  • Improving waste data
  • Expanding and improving the landfill levy to help fund more ways to recover, re-use and reprocess materials
  • A $40 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to turn plastic waste into useful material for businesses and consumers.

“Our goal must be to make Aotearoa an economy where plastic rarely becomes waste or pollution. As Prof Gerrard says there is no silver bullet and we need a systems change. The recommendations in this report will help us to achieve this.

“I aim to have the full Government response to the Rethinking Plastics report confirmed within six months,” Eugenie Sage said.

Since the 1950s, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced globally and nearly 80 per cent of that has gone to the dump or been discarded in the environment. Some 36 per cent of plastic produced today is single-use packaging.

Newsroom: Sequins in our seafood: NZ’s plastic problem revealed

We know there are tiny traces of plastic in New Zealand’s water, soil and seafood, but we don’t know how widespread the problem is or how it’s affecting our health.

We do know that scientists find tiny particles of the stuff virtually everywhere they test for it. Even lettuces have shown they are capable of accumulating micro-plastics, although so far only in the artificial environment of a laboratory.

Until we learn more, we’d better be cautious about the spread of plastic, says a new report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser, Juliet Gerard.

Meanwhile, we know that wasted plastic is killing millions of sea creatures.

In the future, says Gerard, teenagers will look at you funny if you don’t carry your own reusable food container. We will see fewer and fewer bits of washed up fishing rope, and all the plastic we use will be recycled in this country, biodegrade, or go to a leak-proof landfill, stopping toxins reaching the environment.

But getting there is going to require regulation, and better information, the report says. Right now, we don’t even know how much plastic New Zealanders purchase each year, let alone the best alternatives.

Rethinking Plastics is based on work by a panel of 11 experts, covering every part of the plastics chain.

The report is 264 pages, but the Newsroom article details some of the findings.

I think that while in it’s many forms plastic can be a very useful, there is no doubt that the use of plastic has gone too far. Limiting excessive use of plastic is an essential means of limiting unnecessary damage to the environment.

Andrew Little – New Zealanders want a better justice system

Minister of Justice Andrew Little in response to the Te Uepū report – Transforming our Criminal Justice System.


New Zealanders from across the country are calling for the criminal justice system to be overhauled, says Justice Minister Andrew Little.

The Minister today released the interim report He Waka Roimata from Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group, which captures feedback from New Zealanders on the current state of the justice system and offers insights on how it can be improved.

“I welcome the first report from Te Uepū, which clearly demonstrates a public appetite for long-term sustainable and enduring transformation in the justice system,” says Andrew Little.

“This report follows comprehensive engagement with the community and shows New Zealanders want to see less offending, less re-offending, and fewer victims of crime, who are better supported.

“The report provides sober reading. There are many stories and examples shared by victims, families, offenders and organisations that are upsetting, especially those that demonstrate failings in the system that could be avoided through simple, early and appropriate interventions.

“The report also offers hope. The overwhelming sense is that we can make change for the better, and deliver safer and more effective justice for all New Zealanders.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has given their voice especially those who have been victimised.

“Te Uepū is now developing reform options for the Government that it believes will contribute to a safer and more effective justice system,” says Andrew Little.

The interim report can be found at: http://www.safeandeffectivejustice.govt.nz/about-this-work/te-uepu-report

Digital services tax proposals to target multinationals

The avoidance of paying tax by multinational companies is well known, but an effective solution is difficult to come up with. The Government has proposed two options.


Ensuring multinationals pay their fair share of tax

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash today proposed two broad options to ensure offshore digital companies no longer enjoy tax breaks which are not available to local businesses.

“Our number one preference remains an internationally agreed solution through the OECD,” says Mr Robertson. “However if the OECD cannot make sufficient progress this year we need an interim solution. Other nations have already taken this step.”

“The UK has announced it will introduce a two percent DST from April 2020. Austria, the Czech Republic, France, India, Italy and Spain have also enacted or announced DSTs.

“We need to protect our economy and the integrity of our tax system. Modern business practices, digitalisation in particular, mean that a company can be significantly involved in the economic life of a country without paying tax on income or turnover.

“Multinational companies like social media platforms and e-commerce sites generate income through cross-border digital services rather than face-to-face retail,” says Mr Robertson.

The DST outlined in a discussion document released today would apply to:

  • platforms which facilitate the sale of goods or services between people, such as Uber and Airbnb and eBay;
  • social media platforms like Facebook;
  • content sharing sites like YouTube and Instagram; and
  • companies which provide search engines and sell data about users.

“A DST would be narrowly targeted at certain highly digitalised business models. It would not apply to sales of goods or services, but to digital platforms who depend on a base of users for income from advertising or data.

“The value of cross-border digital services in New Zealand is estimated to be around $2.7 billion. The estimated revenue of a DST is between $30 million and $80 million, depending on the design,” Grant Robertson said.

Revenue Minister Stuart Nash says the Tax Working Group concluded New Zealand should continue to participate in the OECD discussions but also stand ready to implement a DST if a critical mass of other countries move in that direction.

“The OECD is seeking approval for its digital economy work programme from the G20 group of large economies at a meeting in late June. The progress made at the OECD to date has not been sufficient to allay the concerns of several countries, who have announced or introduced DSTs as unilateral interim measures.

“Any DST in New Zealand would be an interim measure. The Government would look to repeal it if and when the OECD’s international solution was implemented,” says Mr Nash.

The two options are:

  • Changing the current international income tax rules, to allow more taxation in market countries.  This option is currently being discussed by the OECD and the G20 group of large economies.
  •  Applying a separate DST of three per cent to certain revenues earned by highly digitalised multinationals operating in New Zealand. The discussion document seeks feedback on how a DST might work in practice.

“The Government is committed to future-proofing the tax system to ensure it can handle changes to how people work and how business is done,” Mr Nash says.

“The significance of the digital economy is only going to grow over the coming decades. We need to keep adapting to ensure multinationals who do business here are paying their fair share of tax.

“We’ve passed legislation to collect GST on remote services, and to ensure multinationals pay their fair share of tax if they have a physical presence in New Zealand, and we have legislation before parliament to ensure we collect GST on low-value imported goods,” says Mr Nash.

The discussion document can be found at taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz. Consultation closes on 18 July 2019.

 

Second inquiry by State Services over budget leak

The State Services Commission has announced they investigate statements made and actions taken by the Secretary to the Treasury Gabriel Makhlouf following the leak of budget data two days before budget day last week.

This is in addition to an inquiry into the leak itself, announced last week.

Makhlouf seems to have handled things poorly, and the Government was messy with their handling as well.

But two inquiries as a result of the National Opposition ferreting for something so they could grandstand and embarrass the Government.

What has been achieved overall? More self inflicted discrediting of Parliament and politics in general. I don’t see anything positive from all of this.

There is no benefit to the public.

Last week:  Inquiry into unauthorised access to Budget material

The State Services Commission will undertake an inquiry into how Budget material was accessed at the Treasury.

The Secretary to the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, asked the Commissioner to inquire into the adequacy of Treasury policies, systems and processes for managing Budget security.

“Unauthorised access to confidential budget material is a very serious matter,” said State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes.

“Mr Makhlouf has asked me to investigate and I am considering my options. This is a matter of considerable public interest and I will have more to say as soon as I am in a position do so.”

While there is no evidence of a system-wide issue, Mr Hughes has asked Andrew Hampton, the Government Chief Information Security Officer, to work with the Government Chief Digital Officer, Paul James, to provide assurance that information security across the Public Service is sound.

“This is an important issue because it goes to trust and confidence in the Public Service and in the security of government information,” said Mr Hughes.

“The inquiry will seek to understand exactly what has happened so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Today:  Investigation into statements made and actions taken by the Secretary to the Treasury

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has today announced an investigation into recent questions raised concerning the Chief Executive and Secretary to the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, and his actions and public statements about the causes of the unauthorised access to Budget material. 

The investigation will establish the facts in relation to Mr Makhlouf’s public statements about the causes of the unauthorised access; the advice he provided to his Minister at the time; his basis for making those statements and providing that advice; and the decision to refer the matter to the Police.

Mr Hughes said the questions that have been raised are a matter of considerable public interest and should be addressed.

“It’s my job to get to the bottom of this and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Mr Hughes.

Mr Hughes has asked Deputy State Services Commissioner, Mr John Ombler QSO, to lead the investigation. It will be done as quickly as practicable and the findings, and the Commissioner’s view of them, will be made public.

“Mr Makhlouf believes that at all times he acted in good faith,” said Mr Hughes. “Nonetheless, he and I agree that it is in everyone’s interests that the facts are established before he leaves his role on 27 June if possible. Mr Makhlouf is happy to cooperate fully to achieve that. I ask people to step back and let this process be completed.”

Neither Mr Hughes or Mr Makhlouf will be making any public comment until the investigation is finished. Mr Makhlouf will be working as usual during this period.

The investigation announced today is separate to the inquiry announced last week into the unauthorised access of Budget information. The Terms of Reference and who will lead this inquiry, which is expected to take some months, will be announced shortly.

What about an inquiry into why politicians waste so much time (and public service time) doing negative crap that has no real benefit to the country?

‘Digital and media expert group’ advising on social media regulation revealed

It has taken an Official Information Act request to reveal the members of a digital and media expert group assembled by the Prime Minister to advise her on possible regulation of social media.

Information about the objectives of the group was withheld – “I have considered the public interest considerations”, but surely secrecy is not in the public interest here.

NZ Herald (6 April 2019): Ardern changes down a gear from speedy gun reform to social media landscape

The areas of policy in which Ardern will be more deliberately paced are in regulation of social media, and other issues that impinge on media generally, free speech and the free exchange of ideas. The effects would be more wide-ranging and could be insidious.

Ardern has put together a group of digital and media experts who met with her for the first time in Auckland yesterday to discuss what happened and may be a sounding board and think tank for future policy proposals.

NZ Herald (8 April 2019):  Jacinda Ardern calls for global approach to block harm on digital platforms

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the global community should “speak with one voice” when it comes to blocking harmful content on social media platforms.

Ardern has criticised the role of social media in the Christchurch terror attack on March 15, and she met with a group of digital media experts in Auckland on Friday to learn more about the issue.

“I wanted to make sure I had the views of those that work in the [social media] space, particularly given that questions are being raised around what role New Zealand could and should play in this debate at an international level.”

Many people ‘work in the [social media] space’. Meeting with an unnamed group is only going to get a small number of views.

She said she would be happy to say who she met with, but would seek their permission to do so first.

So if people she meets with don’t want to be revealed Ardern would keep this secret?

Matthew Hooton spotted the reference to the ‘expert group’ so put in an OIA request asking who the experts were, and also who had been invited but couldn’t attend. Yesterday he received a response.

Official Information Act request relating to the digital and media expert group the Prime Minister met with on 5 April 2019.

The group provides an informal way to test policy ideas and inform government thinking about its response to the role of social media in the events of 15 March 2019 in Christchurch. The people currently involved are:

  • Jordan Carter, Chief Executive, Internet NZ
  • Nat Torkington, technologist
  • Miriyana Alexander, Premium Content Editor, NZME
  • Rick Shera, Internet and Digital Business Law Partner, Lowndes Jordan
  • Michael Wallmansberger, cybersecurity professional, independent director; Chair of the CERT NZ Establishment Advisory Board
  • Victoria Maclennan, Managing Director, MD OptimalBI Ltd; Chair of the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group; Co-Chair, NZRise
  • John Wesley-Smith, GL Regulatory Affairs, Spark
  • Lizzie Marvelly, NZ Herald columnist, Villainesse.com co-founder and editor

Not all people involved in the group attended the meeting on Friday, 5 April 20129.

The Office and the department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet assembled the group to have a mix of technology sector, media and legal expertise. The Government Chief Digital Officer and the Minister for Government Digital Services, Hon Dr Megan Woods, provided input on their selection.

To the question for “5. Information on future meetings and the objectives and work programme for the group”:

With regards to question five no formal work programme has been established.

Information was withheld on future meetings and the objectives, and also on these requests:

  • What were the objectives for the group at it’s first meeting?
  • All notes taken by officials or ministerial staff at the first meeting.

So until now we had a semi-secret advisory group, and the objectives and work programme are still secret.

What happened to Ardern’s Government’s promises of openness and transparency?

Ardern’s Chief of Staff closed his OIA response with:

In making my decision, I have considered the public interest considerations in section 9(1) of the Act.

From the Act:

9 Other reasons for withholding official information

(1) Where this section applies, good reason for withholding official information exists, for the purpose of section 5, unless, in the circumstances of the particular case, the withholding of that information is outweighed by other considerations which render it desirable, in the public interest, to make that information available.

I would have thought that it was desirable in the public interest for discussions on social media regulation to be as open as possible.

Social media is used by and affects many people. This sort of secrecy on an advisory group on possible social media regulation is alarming.

Consultation should be as wide as possible, and given the medium involved, that should be easy to do.


Martyn Bradbury makes a reasonable point: Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm shouldn’t an advisory board to the PM on censoring the internet require some academics and experts on civil rights and freedom of speech?

Dunne calls ‘sophistry and bollocks’ on party posturing on cannabis referendum

Peter Dunne has blasted the Government and the Opposition, calling their posturing on the proposed cannabis referendum sophistry and bollocks.

sohistry: The use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.

bollocks: Nonsense; rubbish (used to express contempt or disagreement, or as an exclamation of annoyance)

So quite strong language from Dunne.

Newsroom:  Sophistry and bollocks on the referendum

Next year’s referendum on recreational cannabis will be the first Government-initiated referendum not to have an immediate definitive outcome. Despite being styled as a binding referendum, it will, in reality, be no more than an indicative vote whether or not people wish to change the legal status of cannabis used for recreational purposes along the lines to be set put in a proposed Bill to accompany the referendum.

But this Bill will not even be put before Parliament, let alone passed, until after the referendum has been held, so voters are being asked to take a great deal on trust.

The Justice Minister has given a commitment that the current three Government parties will treat the outcome of the referendum as binding, and that the Bill will come before the next Parliament. But he has given no assurances that the Bill will be the same as that to be released before the referendum, or that it will not be substantially strengthened or weakened by the select committee process to follow, or even when during the term it might be introduced and passed.

Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition says he cannot say what his party’s position will be until they see the proposed legislation. The Minister tries to justify his position by saying that no Parliament can bind its successor Parliaments.

This is, to put it politely, pure sophistic bollocks.

sophistic bollocks: deceitful nonsense

Every piece of legislation passed and regulation promulgated by every New Zealand Parliament since our first Parliament met in May 1854 has to some extent or another bound successor Parliaments. Indeed, if those successor Parliaments have not liked laws passed by their predecessors, they have either repealed or amended them.

That is the stuff of politics and political discourse is all about, and governments have always reserved the right to upend the legislation of an earlier government if they have not liked it, and to replace it with something more akin to their own way of thinking.

From the referendum on compulsory peacetime conscription in 1949, through to the 1967 and 1990 referenda on extending the Parliamentary term to four years, and those referred to earlier, governments of the day have used the process judiciously to allow the voters to determine controversial issues that either the politicians cannot decide upon, or, in the case of electoral law changes, should not decide upon.

And the prime example of the dangers of having a binding referendum with little defined, and then trusting politicians to follow the will of the majority, is Brexit. It is not just a mess on leaving the EU, it’s making a mess of the whole political system in the UK.

The notion of a government-initiated referendum that might or might not be binding, or implemented quite as people expect, has been completely foreign to all of those earlier examples. Yet that is precisely what New Zealand now faces with this Government’s, all things to all people, recreational cannabis referendum.

But it is actually worse than that, which could produce more uncertainty than it seeks to resolve.

On the assumption the referendum passes, the country faces a period of uncertainty while the legislation is considered and wends its way through the Parliamentary process, over at least most of 2021, and possibly the early part of 2022, assuming the Government decides to proceed with it as a priority, and that is by no means a given.

I can’t remember how many times I have heard the current Labour led Government say a promise or policy is ‘not a priority’, which is doublespeak for ‘get stuffed, we’re not doing it now’.

Trust politicians?

All this uncertainty creates a potentially extraordinarily confusing situation, which could have been avoided had the specific law been in place before the referendum, to be triggered by a positive vote.

Everyone would have known not only where things would stand once the law changed, but it will also occur immediately, removing instantly the uncertainty likely to accrue from the inevitable post referendum delay and confusion the government’s current approach will surely cause. However, without that, the current disgruntlement about the inconsistent way the current law on cannabis operates, is likely to give way to a new disgruntlement about its replacement.

The way this issue has turned out is another example of how this unwieldly administration seems at sixes and sevens when it comes to major policy development.

Nothing ever seems to be able to be implemented quite the way it was promoted two years ago when the Government took office. The compromises necessary to keep Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens may well be examples of MMP government in practice but they are increasingly looking like weak excuses for missed opportunities.

Is cannabis law reform therefore about to join welfare, tax reform, electoral reform and a raft of other things this Government says it would “love” to do properly, but, when the crunch comes, just cannot ever quite manage to bring together in a cohesive and comprehensive way?

The only think making the deceitful nonsense from the Government look so bad is the matching deceitful nonsense from the opposition.

 

 

 

Little ‘transformational’ about Government so far

Jacinda Ardern promoted her Government as being transformational, but apart from transforming Winston Peters and Shane Jones into well funded promoters of their own interests these is not much transforming going on.

Ardern opened her year claiming that this would be her Government’s year of delivery, but what they have delivered so far has been underwhelming.

The just announced welfare ‘reforms’ have been paltry – see Welfare advisory group – 42 recommendations, 3 to be implemented.

Tim Watkin: Government is running out of chances to be ‘transformational’

Strike one: Capital Gains Tax. Strike two: Welfare reform. The Labour-led government is running out of chances to be the “transformational” administration Jacinda Ardern promised in the 2017 election campaign.

Today the Welfare Expert Advisory Group handed the government a radical blueprint to not just tinker with welfare, but – in their words – to make “urgent and fundamental change”.

It was scathing about sanctions against beneficiaries, saying evidence shows they do little but create more harm to those already at the bottom of society. And it recommended a massive 47 percent increase in current benefit levels.

Those would be hugely controversial reforms… or, you could say, transformational. And they are not of the cuff ideas.

The current and previous Children’s Commissioners have urged such substantial benefit increases as the most effective way to tackle child poverty.

What people seldom consider though is that since then wages and salaries have continued to grow. Super, linked to wages, has grown to. But other benefits – with any increases linked to inflation, not wage growth – have not been increased nearly as much. Until, that is, Sir John Key and Bill English famously raised them in 2015. So the gap between work and welfare has grown since the 1990s.

That’s why the report today says, “The level of financial support is now so low that too many New Zealanders are living in desperate situations”.

In sum, the argument in support of this radical prescription is that you can raise abatements here and offer support there, but the best and least bureaucratic way to tackle poverty is to – wait for it – give the poor more money.

So as part of their coalition deal, Labour and the Greens commission this report. They get the transformational advice most of them would have wanted. How do they respond?

Welfare Minister Carmel Sepuloni agrees the welfare system is not working.

Marama Davidson agrees the welfare system is not working.

And then they commit to ignore the report’s big recommendations.

They say no to up to 47 percent benefit increases, preferring “a staged implementation”. The call for “urgent change” is rejected. Remarkably, Ms Davidson has put her quotes into the same press release, tying the Greens to this approach, when they could have been dissenting from the rafters.

The political and institutional reality is that no government can make these changes overnight. But the cold water thrown on this report underlines what we’ve learnt about this government in its handling of tax, its debt level, labour reform and more.

It is not just incremental, it looks timid.

If the Ardern administration wants to be the transformational government she and her allies think they are in their hearts, they are running out of issues.

A lot of transformation has been limited by NZ First, who seem to have got most of what they want while limiting Labour initiatives (like the CGT) and hobbling the Greens.

Much may depend on what the Government come sup with on climate change, the issue Ardern describe as the nuclear free issue of the present time. Announcements on climate change have been delayed months already. There have been further delays, but promises for next week.

RNZ: NZ First voters will be happy with Zero Carbon Bill deal – Peters

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says his party’s voters will be happy with the deal he’s struck with the Green Party over the Zero Carbon Bill.

Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw this week delayed the release of two reports from the Interim Climate Change Committee until the government makes a decision on how to respond, which will contribute to the final climate change legislation.

Mr Peters wouldn’t be drawn on what the specifics of the bill are but did give an inch when RNZ asked whether his voters would be happy with the legislation, replying, “yes”.

That won’t be encouraging for those wanting transformative action on climate change.

Mr Peters said he couldn’t comment on when the bill would go to Cabinet because that was a matter for the Prime Minister but he understood it would be “sooner rather than later”.

Asked if it would be on the agenda at Cabinet on Monday, Mr Peters said he couldn’t answer that question.

Ardern and Shaw will have a lot of questions to answer if they fail to measure up on climate change. Their reputations are depending on actual transformation.

The future of the Greens in parliament may well depend on this one.