China relationship a sensitive issue for Ardern

New Zealand’s relationship with China appears to be a sensitive issue, with Jacinda Ardern sounding quite defensive when questioned about it in Parliament yesterday by Simon Bridges. Ardern was supported by both Winston Peters and David Parker asking friendly questions.

Has New Zealand’s relationship with China deteriorated under her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. There is no question that an economic and people-to-people relationship with China is incredibly important to New Zealand. Visitor numbers in the last year are up 8.4 percent. There’s also been an increase in goods exports by 20 percent in the year to September. That demonstrates the strength of our economic engagement and, I would also say, demonstrates the importance of a bipartisan approach to our relationship.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Prime Minister elaborate on her comments yesterday about the collapse of New Zealand’s hitherto foreign policy consensus?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely happy to, because I do think this is an important point. New Zealand, for a number of years, has rightly had an independent foreign policy line that is in the best interests of New Zealand economically, in terms of national security, and in terms of its values. That has generally been followed by both the Government of the day and the Opposition. It’s disappointing that in recent times, we have seen the politicisation of our relationship, which sits directly in contradiction to our economic interests and our national security interests.

Hon Simon Bridges: When the last Government Minister to go to China, David Parker, visited last year, did he secure a meeting with his equivalent ministerial counterpart?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I do not have in front of me the individual bilateral engagements of every Minister who has visited in recent times. But let us speak frankly in this House: there are challenges in our relationship. There are challenges in our relationships with a number of countries at any given time when you run an independent foreign policy.

Hon David Parker: Can the Prime Minister confirm that when I visited China as Minister of Trade and Export Growth in November last year, I met with Vice Minister Chang from the Chinese administration, who is responsible for both the World Trade Organization negotiations on the part of China and for the bilateral trade relationship with New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I can.

Hon Simon Bridges: When will her foreign Minister, Rt Hon Winston Peters, next visit China?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I’ve already referenced the fact that he visited in May 2018. I haven’t asked him about his forward intentions for visits there, or in fact about any other of our engagements. But let us in this House speak frankly. I do not resile from the position that this Government has taken in support of our independent foreign policy, our economic interests, and our national security interests.

She has no idea when her Foreign Affairs Minister will be visiting China next?

Hon Simon Bridges: Is any progress being made on her visit to China as Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I’ve already pointed out, I have already had high-level engagement at the highest level, where, in fact, the Premier, the last time we met, talked about his invitation to me to visit. But, again, I do not measure the strength of our relationship in such binary terms. We have—[Interruption] Our people-to-people exchanges have increased—[Interruption]

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of the fact that she hadn’t read that Georgetown speech before it was delivered, does she confirm that she agrees with all of its contents today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Deputy Prime Minister’s address acknowledged that the United States had taken a different foreign policy line in recent times and that it is in all of our interests if the United States continues to engage both at a regional level and with multilateral institutions. If the Opposition doesn’t agree with that, then that’s a matter for them.

Hon Simon Bridges: Just who is ultimately responsible for New Zealand’s foreign affairs: the foreign Minister or Jacinda Ardern?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As is, of course, convention the Prime Minister and not the Leader of the Opposition.

Hon Simon Bridges: Then why didn’t she read the foreign Minister’s incredibly significant speech to Georgetown University before he gave it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We absolutely have agreeance on the principles of our position and our engagement both with the United States and with China, and in past Governments, there’s equally been general agreeance around New Zealand’s foreign policy interests between Government and Opposition as well. I was already aware of the principles contained in that speech.

So two sensitive issues – the relationship with China, and Ardern’s relationship with Peters.

Of note also was James Shaw’s contribution:

Hon James Shaw: Does the Prime Minister think that the relationship with China might be improved by, say, gifting a sheep farm to a wealthy businessman from that country?

I didn’t think it was Green practice to play those sort of diversionary games in Parliament.

NZ Herald addresses this in their editorial:  Has our govt antagonised China?

When friends fall out it can be very hard not to take sides. When the “friends” are superpowers and you are tiny by comparison, it becomes doubly hard. That is the position our Government is in. Its avowed foreign policy is to remain strictly neutral in the trade war and other tensions between the United States and China. Yet China appears to believe New Zealand is siding against it.

It is hard to draw any other message from the suspension of the invitation to the Prime Minister to visit the People’s Republic this year and the postponement of a joint tourist promotion that was to be launched in Wellington next week. And it is not hard to see why China would have the impression this country is not the friend it used to be.

The new Government’s “reset” of policy towards the Pacific Islands is strongly tinged with support for the US and suspicion of China’s interests in the region. At a speech in Washington in December, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the Southwest Pacific was “becoming more contested and its security is every more fragile”. A purpose of his visit, he said, was to “enlist greater US support in the region closest to New Zealand”.

“We unashamedly ask for the United States to engage more and we think it is in your vital interests to do so. And time is of the essence,” he added.

He talked of “asymmetries at play in the region when larger players are renewing their interest in the Pacific” and said, “the speed and intensity of those interests at play are of great concern to us.” He went on to acknowledge China and said New Zealand “welcomes all partners in the Pacific on terms that take account of the Pacific’s needs, where quality projects are sustainable and delivered transparently”.

Point taken in Beijing no doubt.

Two key points from all of this is how Peters is managing the sometimes relationships between both the USA and China, and how much influence (and knowledge) Ardern has with Peters and his Foreign Affairs portfolio.

Peters has a history of being not very complimentary about China, even making Chines ‘jokes’. He also seems to see himself as the experienced statesman compared to the inexperienced Ardern.

It was always going to be a challenge having the crucial Foreign Affairs role taken by someone in a different party to the Prime Minister. And when that role is being carried out by Peters I think Ardern may continue to have problems with dealing with China.

It will be a real test of Ardern’s mettle as prime Minister that won’t be helped by feel good PR.

‘Let’s do this’ Ardern promise for light rail now ‘let’s do this later, if NZ First let us’

Minister of Transport Phil Twyford has admitted that a Labour promise for a light rail line in Auckland to be completed by 2021 will not be kept, but he says that the Jacinda Ardern promise was made before she was Prime Minister.

Newshub: Jacinda Ardern breaks the first promise she made as Labour leader

The first promise Jacinda Ardern made as Labour leader looks to have gone up in smoke.

During her first big public outing as leader during the election, she promised rail for all – including a line from the Auckland waterfront to Dominion Rd to Mount Roskill, all to be completed by 2021.

The promise was part of a $15 billion package and came with a plea from Ms Ardern – she needed cash to fund it.

“You can call a regional fuel tax ‘crowd-sourcing’ if you like,” she told the public.

That part of the promise did come true: Aucklanders are paying the 10 cents a litre more at the pump.

But Labour hasn’t done the rail part.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Phil Twyford admitted the Government would fail to build light rail down Dominion Rd by 2021. Instead, he only expects work to start on it next year.

Mr Twyford’s defence is that promises made by Jacinda Ardern as Labour leader are completely different from promises made by Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister.

NZ Herald (6 August 2017): Jacinda Ardern outlines Labour’s light rail plan for Auckland

Labour is promising to build a 20km light rail line from the city to the airport as a priority – partly funded by higher petrol prices – leader Jacinda Ardern announced today.

She says Labour will build light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill within four years, followed by light rail from Mt Roskill to the airport and light rail to West Auckland within 10 years.

I wonder if this is another scrapping of an interim target but retaining the 10 year target (as the Government has done with KiwiBuild targets).

“I believe Labour’s plan is a game-changer. It will reduce the $2b a year that congestion costs Auckland. It will realise Auckland’s potential to be a truly world class city,” said Ardern.

She said Labour will give Auckland Council the power to introduce a regional petrol tax – understood to be 10 cents a litre – to help pay for light rail. Infrastructure bonds and targeted rates will also be used to fund transport in Auckland.

A world class city needs a rail connection from the CBD to its international airport – that’s why Labour will build light rail to Auckland Airport as a priority, said Ardern.

The fuel tax to fund it was a priority – it is already being paid in Auckland.

But the actual building seems to be less of a priority – or it was a promise made without a proper assessment of how long it might take to do.

Twyford was still talking up light rail in Auckland as a game changer yesterday in parliament, but the game was going into extra time.

Question No. 8—Transport

8. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Is he committed to building light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland and if so, when will work begin?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes. Light rail will be a game-changer for Auckland. It will be a magnet for private investment in urban renewal, and each line will be able to carry 11,000 commuters per hour, the equivalent of four lanes of motorway. The light rail project will extend Auckland’s rapid transit network, a core part of our plan to build a modern transport system for the city. There is a procurement process under way now, so work has already started.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the Government on track to have built light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mount Roskill within four years of becoming Government, as promised by Jacinda Ardern in August 2017?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: At that point, Jacinda Ardern was not the Prime Minister.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That’s not answering—

SPEAKER: Well, it answered as much as the Minister has any responsibility for it.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, the core part of the question was—

SPEAKER: Well, the member can ask it again. Ask another question if he wants to.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the Government on track to have built light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mount Roskill within four years of becoming Government?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I’ve expressed the view that we hope to have shovels in the ground in 2020. There’s a procurement process under way; that’s what we’re working towards.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is that another target he no longer intends to keep?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I reject the premise of the question.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does the Minister agree with infrastructure Minister Shane Jones’ message to Phil Goff about the light rail project: “I would say before Phil Goff gets too enthusiastic about the Dominion Road idea he needs to sort out how he’s going to fund the CRL project. It hasn’t been completed yet and now he’s got to find $500 million to $1 billion for that.”?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I would point out that the light rail project is being pursued through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and is expected to be funded and financed as part of that 30-year transport plan, and funded partly through the National Land Transport Programme. The member will know that the City Rail Link project that was entered into under the former National Government is funded through Crown contributions—completely separate from the National Land Transport Programme.

Twyford fobbed off the promise as “At that point, Jacinda Ardern was not the Prime Minister.” Does that mean that any promises made by Ardern during the election campaign are not worth the PR they were written by?

An implication raised here is that NZ First are not playing ball in Labour’s ambitious game changer.

Can any election ‘promise’ be taken seriously when governing agreements negate them?

Single party claims like “Labour will build light rail to Auckland Airport as a priority” are meaningless if Labour is not going to run a majority Government alone.

Pressure on Ardern and Government over relationship with China

Jacinda Ardern’s first day in Parliament for the year was difficult, with questions being asked about New Zealand’s apparently deteriorating relationship with China.

Juggling different international interests is one of the biggest challenges for a Government. This cannot be done via PR and friendly media.

While Ardern has had positive coverage at the United Nations (last year) and Davos (last month), she doesn’t seem to have established good working relationships with two of the biggest economic powers, USA and China.

She has played a sort of anti-Trump card to the applause of some (but not Trump), and Foreign Minister Winston peters has been campaigning around the Pacific against Chinese influence.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): NZ-China ‘scheduling issues’ cause for concern

The tourism relationship between New Zealand and China is a “special and enduring one”, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said last October.

That was why the official 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism would be marked with a special event at Te Papa on February 20.

Just one problem: the event was quietly postponed – to an as yet unknown date – due to what Davis described as a “scheduling issue” on the Chinese side.

Coming on the heels of similarly nebulous scheduling issues which put paid to Jacinda Ardern’s plans to visit China before the end of 2018, it is difficult to shake the feeling that a point, however subtle, is being made.

Last year was particularly difficult for Ardern’s Government when it came to China.

He details well covered issues, then concludes:

Where things go from here is unclear: while Ardern says officials are still working on dates for a Beijing visit, there is a sense from some foreign affairs watchers that the delay at China’s end is directly related to other strains on the relationship.

The nature of China’s interventions means people will be on edge for any perceived slight, real or otherwise: some have questioned the fate of a trip to Beijing by Davis and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta which had supposedly been pencilled in for early March (both ministers’ offices say a firm date has never been set down, with discussions still underway).

The relationship may not be as dire as National is claiming – but there are certainly some issues which need to be resolved.

NZ Herald: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there are challenges in NZ’s relationship with China

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is playing down any suggestions New Zealand’s diplomatic relationship with China is on the rocks but admits the two nations were facing some “challenges”.

Ardern was this morning grilled on a number of issues relating to New Zealand’s relationship with China.

She said New Zealand still puts a lot of effort into its relationship with China, but is “at the same time facing some challenges”.

Ardern added: “But in a way I think that preserves New Zealand’s independent foreign policy.”

Having an independent foreign policy is fine, but when it has an affect on relationships with important trade countries it can get quite tricky, as Ardern appears to acknowledge (the ‘challenges’).

Ardern’s predecessor John Key used to go to China every year during his time as Prime Minister.

But Ardern said she did not want to set that expectation.

She said the Government sent a number of ministers to China last year – Foreign Minister Winston Peters visited China midway through the year.

“Those exchanges are happening with our Government, it’s just that I don’t want to set an expectation that I go somewhere every single year.”

She stressed that the diplomatic relationship with China was important, but acknowledged there were some challenges.

When asked what those challenges are, Ardern said there were some questions over the Huawei decision.

Stuff:  Until Jacinda Ardern visits China, questions about the relationship will only deepen

There is no doubt that the relationship is in a difficult state, and many in media and foreign affairs circles are on the lookout for any sign that China is punishing New Zealand.

News that the Government’s security bureau may block Chinese giant Huawei from participating in the next generation 5G telecommunications network, seemingly under pressure from our Five Eyes partners, has left the political class on edge.

Everyone expects some form of punishment from the world’s largest command economy, creating a high risk of confirmation bias, where we interpret facts based on what we believe is coming.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was questioned repeatedly, forced to defend the state of relations with New Zealand’s largest trading partner.

Back in October, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis was so excited by the coming China-New Zealand year of tourism that he posted an official statement on the Beehive website.

An opening ceremony event was to be held at Te Papa on February 20, coinciding with the hosting of 2300-year-old Chinese artefacts, the Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality exhibition.

However, a fortnight ago, the Chinese (who were the hosts of the event) unexpectedly cancelled.

“Officials are working with the Chinese Embassy to get a new date confirmed for this event,” a spokesman for Davis said.

These things will take more than a feature in the Womens’ Weekly or a friendly article in the Guardian to resolve.

Whether the current low level tension escalates is impossible to know.

On the one hand, China faces bigger problems, in its ongoing trade war with the United States, meaning it cannot afford to get into unnecessary fights elsewhere.

On the other, if China wanted to demonstrate its power to cause considerable pain to a country resisting its expansion, while causing relatively little pain to its own economy, New Zealand could be an attractive target.

There are certainly challenges for Ardern here, especially with Winston Peters in charge of Foreign Affairs.

China puts Ardern visit on hold, postpones tourism launch

China appears to be putting a squeeze on Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand, with a visit to China by Ardern being postponed, and a joint ‘Year of Tourism’ launch being scuppered.

In part this appears to be in response to block Huawei from supplying equipment for a major 5G broadband installation.

Barry Soper (NZ Herald):  China, New Zealand links sink to new low: PM Jacinda Ardern’s visit on hold, tourism project postponed

Diplomatic links with China appear to have plummeted to a new low as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is given the cold shoulder by Beijing and a major tourism promotion is postponed by the superpower.

Ardern was scheduled to visit China early this year but the invitation has been put on hold.

The 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism was meant to be launched with great fanfare at Wellington’s Te Papa museum next week, but that has been postponed by China.

The initiative was announced by the Key Government almost two years ago when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was in Wellington.

Richard Davies, manager of tourism policy at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said: “China has advised that this event has had to be postponed due to changes of schedule on the Chinese side.”

It looks like a deliberate distancing and point making by China. This has significant implications for trade and tourism.

Ardern said after the Cabinet meeting yesterday that the official visit to Beijing is being worked on. Late last year she was on standby to visit but said they could not co-ordinate their diaries. New Zealand sources in Beijing say her first visit to China is not expected any time soon.

The decision by the Government’s chief spy agency, the GCSB, to axe Chinese telco giant Huawei from the Spark 5G broadband rollout is seen by China as New Zealand taking sides with the United States. The Trump Administration publicly asked its Five Eyes partners not to do business with Huawei.

The GCSB’s version that Huawei posed a risk to national security isn’t enough for Beijing. It wants a better explanation before opening the door to Ardern.

This could take a lot more than a bit of PR poncing to resolve. The real world of international trade and diplomacy involves more than photo ops and friendly articles.

Asset management and corporate adviser David Mahon, based in Beijing, said governments needed to get over thwarting Chinese economic aims in a way reminiscent of the Cold War struggle between capitalism and communism.

“It’s unhelpful for politicians and a few anti-Chinese professors to feed uncorroborated McCarthyite conspiracies about Chinese spy networks in their countries and targeting anyone who doesn’t share their view”.

Philip Burdon, a former National Government Trade Minister and recently chairman of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, said New Zealand couldn’t afford to take sides.

“We clearly need to commit ourselves to the cause of trade liberalisation and the integration of the global economy while respectfully and realistically acknowledging China’s entitlement to a comprehensive and responsible strategic and economic engagement in the region,” he said.

Sources in Beijing say China plans trade retaliation and the turning back of an Air New Zealand plane at the weekend may not have been a coincidence. Sources say the airline has been trying to secure extra landing slots in Shanghai without success.

NZ Herald: Air New Zealand takes blame for administrative blunder that meant Shanghai flight turned around

Air New Zealand has taken responsibility for a costly blunder that resulted in a flight from Auckland to Shanghai being turned around.

A spokeswoman said the aircraft at the centre of yesterday’s problem was new to the route and hadn’t gained the necessary approval.

Asked whether the Chinese stance had changed, she said: ”No, this was the result of an administrative issue on our end.”

An odd sort of ‘administrative issue’. getting approval for a route and landing is a fairly basic part of flight planning.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the mistake was Air New Zealand’s and was separate to China-New Zealand relations.

“It is important to be really clear and not confuse administrative and regulatory issues as issues to do with the relationship.”

Asked how she could be sure that this had nothing to do with any political reasons, she said: “Aircraft travelling into China are required to be registered. This one was not. That is the issue that has occurred here.”

Sounds like a sensitive issue.

Ardern can’t even get a plane off the ground for a visit to China. This isn’t a good sign in New Zealand-Chinese relations, and the late postponement of the launch of the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism should also raise some alarm bells. When is it going to be launched ? Later in the year?

This may not just be a problem for Ardern. Pror to getting into Government with coalition partner NZ First:

China may not be able to tell New Zealand what to do, but they seem quite capable of telling us what they won’t do with us.

This may not help either:

And from RNZ: Government has its ‘eyes wide open’ on China: Winston Peters

Mr Peters comments follow a report by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Chinese Influence and American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance, which criticises New Zealand for not doing enough to counter Chinese influence.

“New Zealand’s government, unlike that of Australia, has taken few steps to counter foreign interference in its internal affairs,” the report said.

“Charity fund-raising, which has been used by Chinese United Front organisations to mask contributions, remains excluded from disclosure requirements.

Mr Peters said that he accepts the comments made in the report.

“When we came into government in 2017, on these issues we came in with our eyes wide open.”

He said that the government has already taken action by implementing its Pacific Reset policy.

“That’s why we’ve got the Pacific Reset, which is a huge turnaround in our approach to our neighbourhood and our engagement with it.”

“We all need to understand the changed environment and the Pacific Reset had a proper, serious evaluation of that and that’s why it’s a very, very critical part of our present foreign policy.”

However, he said the policy wasn’t designed to counter the influence of China specifically.

“No, it’s to ensure that the shape and character of our neighbourhood maintains the level of influence of countries who believe in democracy … who believe in sovereignty and countries who have got the best interest of the neighbourhood in mind, not some wider and larger purpose.”

Mr Peters wouldn’t say whether he thought China was becoming increasingly authoritarian.

“When the leader becomes what effectively looks to be the president for life, then that is a changed circumstance that would be naive not to understand.”

“China’s a one-party state – it’s not a democracy”.

These comments are likely to have been noticed in China.

Mr Peters said that he doesn’t believe there will be any reaction from China on the Huawei ban.

Maybe he will need to revise that belief.

Ardern may be caught between China versus US trade battles.

And also between Peters and China.

“Jacinda Ardern should have been able to recite the Treaty”

I thought this media nonsense over Jacinda Ardern not jumping to a journalist demand about literal knowledge of the Treaty of Waitangi was over, but Heather du Plessis-Allan continues it with: Jacinda Ardern should have been able to recite the Treaty

That was embarrassing.

You’d be made of ice not to feel sorry for Jacinda Ardern. Put on the spot like that, asked to recite the articles of the Treaty.

Article One, what does it say? came the question.

“Oh. Article One? On the spot?”

You feel sorry for the PM because you know she’s not that unusual. How many of us can recite the three articles of the Treaty?

I’d guess that most journalists couldn’t recite the Treaty unprepared.

How can you deliver on the promise of the Treaty if you don’t know the promise of the Treaty?

Not being able to recite it has nothing to do with delivering on the Treaty.

David Farrar covered this well last Tuesday: PM fell for the quiz trick

The story here isn’t that the PM didn’t know what Article One says, and needed Willie to help her out.

The story is the media doing a “gotcha” story where they treat politics as a quiz night. You ask an MP a question with the hope they can’t answer it on the spot, and then have a story about how ignorant or out of touch they are.

The classic is how much is a loaf of bread. Others are what is the current inflation rate. Who is the best selling NZ musician etc etc.

MPs should refuse to play these games. If a journalist asks a question along these lines, the best responses are:

  • I’m a Member of Parliament, not a quiz show participant.
  • If you don’t know the answer, go Google it
  • This is silly gotcha politics and I’m not playing along

I think it is petty and irrelevant to what is important.

I wonder how many journalists can recite Article 1 of the  Press Council Principles:

1. Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission. In articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view. Exceptions may apply for long-running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion and in reportage of proceedings where balance is to be judged on a number of stories, rather than a single report.

Is it fair to demand precise answers to questions that are designed to try to catch politicians out?

I don’t think so. These are cheap shots by journalists, trying to create a story out of nothing of importance. And Allen is still milking it, five days after the non-story ‘broke’.

 

“Government is stuck in a fiscal holding pattern”

Bernard Hickey thinks that the Government is “stuck in a fiscal holding pattern” this term due to their commitment to Budget Responsibility Rules, which committed them to get net debt down to 20 percent of GDP and keep the budget in surplus across the economic cycle.

This fiscal straightjacket has been criticised by those who want the Government to launch into significant (and expensive) tax, benefit and social reforms.

Hickey (Newsroom):  ‘Let’s do this’ in a holding pattern

Jacinda Ardern’s first big economic speech of the year warned of global economic headwinds, but it lacked action in response, or a major plan to improve wellbeing. Instead, it exposed how her Government is stuck in a fiscal holding pattern before the 2020 election, when it hopes it can throw off its debt target and capital gains tax shackles.

The breakfast speech to a polite audience of Auckland’s business elite at the Hilton Hotel on the waterfront showed the Prime Minister at the top of her game. She is a smooth operator with a knack for a self-deprecating quip or an aside that can win over even the most sceptical audience.

“Our starting point for the Wellbeing Budget is that while economic growth is important, it alone does not guarantee improvements to New Zealanders’ living standards,” she said, going on to make a strong case to address our obvious wellbeing problems.

“An everyday New Zealander – hearing of the “rock star economy” while their housing costs are skyrocketing, or they can’t afford to send their kids to school with a proper lunch or their mental health is strained – tends to have their faith in the system and in institutions undermined.”

She went on to detail the plans and the priorities for the first Wellbeing Budget in May, and suggested it would help New Zealand cope with economic headwinds from overseas.

“It will ensure that those closest to the margins are protected and that no one is left behind,” she said.

Really?

How can that be true when Kiwibuild is behind schedule and there are massive infrastructure deficits in housing, health, education and transport, which can only be addressed with tens of billions of extra public investment. New Zealand’s population is growing five times faster than the OECD average and Ardern acknowledged in her speech that governments had encouraged population growth without investing in infrastructure to deal with it.

That’s what National had been criticised for (with some justification).

I asked Ardern afterwards if the Government was planning to respond to the slowing economy and higher unemployment by loosening fiscal policy with extra operational or investment spending.

She stuck to the usual line that the Government would keep operating within its Budget Responsibility Rules.

Ardern and right-hand-man and now-Finance Minister Grant Robertson agreed with Green Leader James Shaw shortly after her election as Labour leader to essentially sign up to the same fiscal settings as National had up until earlier that year.

They imposed those rules on themselves to stick with a campaign promise, made to promote Labour as fiscally responsible to combat attempts by National to portray them as loose with money.

Ardern and Robertson are playing a longer game here, but that is frustrating those who want rapid and meaningful reforms.

The only exception to this rule is the need to spend up large to cope with either natural or man-made financial disasters such as the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes.

The irony is they need a new global financial crisis to give them the excuse to do what they need to do to make a real improvement in wellbeing.

So should the Government use its strong balance sheet to fix New Zealand’s massive infrastructure deficits? Yes should be the answer, but the timing should be now, not in two years time.

Unwilling to break its promise, it is now in a holding pattern and hopes voters keep the faith for long enough to give it a chance to throw off the shackles.

The Government has already committed to some extra spending – they boosted the Families Package, rushed in a tertiary education fees policy, and gave NZ First a $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund kitty. They will also end up with significant increases in teacher and nurse wage bills.

There are pressures to address what Labour had claimed was underfunding in health, but there seems to be no urgency there. They are now seem to be kicking the ‘mental health crisis’ down nine separate working group roads (see Mental health crisis -> 1 working group -> 9 working groups), and have stretched out their promised rebuild of the Dunedin Hospital (now due for completion in ten years).

Ardern has promised big in this year’s ‘wellbeing’ focussed budget, but has also promised small in debt targets, so Grant Robertson will have quite a balancing act to do.

Hickey sees this as a virtual holding pattern for the next two budgets, unless the world economy turns to custard and gives them an out clause.

 

Ardern’s ‘state of the nation’ speech to Business New Zealand

Jacinda Ardern gave a speech to Business New Zealand yesterday. This is described by some as her ‘State of the Nation’ speech. Here is the Beehive transcript:


PM speech to Business New Zealand breakfast

Good morning everyone.

I want to start by thanking Kirk and his Business New Zealand team for the invitation.

It’s good to have this opportunity to join you as another year starts.

While this is my first economic speech of 2019 here at home, there has been plenty happening internationally since the year kicked off. I want to reflect on some of that this morning, but before I do, I’d like to take stock of our economic and business landscape, set out some of the challenges we face here and in an international context, and then outline our Government’s plan to address those over the coming year.

First though, I want to take a moment to reflect on the events in Tasman. Twelve months after facing a cyclone, the rain in Tasman has been replaced with a fire that when I visited yesterday, was 22km in parameter, and covered 1900 hectares. It has led to the evacuation of hundreds of homes, and roughly 400 people.

I have been in regular contact with our civil defence team, and evacuations are still happening as they try to predict where the wind movement may take the fire, all the while creating a parameter around it and using fire retardant to try and contain it from spreading across an area that is bone dry, and surrounded by forestry.

I spoke to a few people who had been evacuated yesterday. They told me what it was like to evacuate with only a few hours warning. But they didn’t dwell on that.

Mostly they reflected back to me the amazing work being done by emergency services, MPI, council, civil defence and others. So many who I met yesterday were volunteers. One of the coordinators of the many helicopters hauling water over the fire for eleven hours at a time was from Feilding and had travelled through the night to get there. He also happened to be colleagues with my first cousin – it was a true New Zealand moment.

Situations like this always reinforce to me something that you will intuitively know, we are a nation of extraordinary people. And I don’t separate out situations like this as being a one off example of who we are. The traits we have as a nation are there 24/7, and in many fields of work.

You see it in our social sector, our business community, and in our young and older citizens. The trick is to remember that, and for us as Government to bring together the many groups who want to tackle the big challenges we face regardless of which sector of our society that they may work within. We are not a nation of discrete compartments, so we should be facing our challenges together.

And when it comes to the economy, and the business environment, there are challenges.

There are also good reasons for us to be optimistic though.

Last year I talked about the elephant in the room. Pleasingly, the elephant has gotten a little bit smaller in the past 12 months. Perhaps it got to know its company and decided it wasn’t quite as scary as it first thought…

Either way, it’s pleasing progress and it is based on some strong fundamentals.

  • Yesterday’s employment data showed wages are growing and unemployment is at 4.3%, the second lowest in a decade. The lowest was of course last quarter, and we are confident that we’ll reach our 4% target by the end of our term.
  • Growth is relatively strong at around 3% and is forecast to stay close to that level in coming years. That looks particularly strong when compared to the IMF’s recently released forecasts for advanced economies that predicts average growth of about 2% a year.
  • Inflation is tracking at 1.9%, and food price inflation remains low.
  • And it is encouraging that one of the Big Three rating agencies recently gave our economic and financial management the thumbs up. Standards & Poor’s have revised its outlook on New Zealand’s AA foreign and AA+ local currency credit ratings from ‘stable’ to ‘positive’ – its strongest verdict on New Zealand since September 2011.
  • The latest Crown financial statements, released just yesterday, show that core Crown revenue and expenses are in decent shape and delivering a better than budgeted surplus. Running surpluses of course gives us the room to make important capital investments while keeping debt under control and importantly provides a buffer against external shocks and international headwinds.  

As you can see, on key economic measures the Government is delivering. There is good cause for the elephant shrinking.

But there is a shift in mood globally. While global economic growth remains strong, it is beginning to slow.

The IMF is projecting worldwide growth to ease from 3.7% in 2018 to 3.5% in 2019 due to rising trade tensions, political uncertainty and less stimulatory monetary and fiscal policy.

As I mentioned earlier, advanced economies are forecast to grow at only 2% a year.

The finger of blame for the slowdown in global trade growth is generally pointed at countries pursuing increasingly protectionist policies, which are naturally affecting confidence and investment plans.

Trade tensions in the wake of tariffs imposed by the US on Chinese imports dented the strong growth seen in 2017. And the worry for us is that further reductions in Chinese exports could cause a material slowdown in its economy, with adverse effects for New Zealand exporters.

And then there is Brexit.

As all of you will have no doubt seen, the final form of Britain’s exit from the European Union is yet to be decided.

Clearly, the risk of a no-deal scenario remains high. There is a lot of uncertainty around what such a scenario would mean, and while we are doing our best to create a buffer through, for instance, our recently signed mutual recognition agreement, a no deal Brexit could still do harm to EU economies or disrupt financial markets.

Political tensions are beginning to present serious risks to international institutions and the rules-based order that we rely on for security and prosperity. The World Trade Organisation, for example, and other multilateral organisations, are facing challenges to their legitimacy that undermine their effectiveness.

At Davos, a significant conversation revolved around how we could ensure the reform of these institutions, whilst not seeing them blamed for the current political environment which, ultimately, they didn’t cause.

But where does all of that leave a country like New Zealand? We have strong fundamentals and are well prepared, but we need to be realistic that if the global economy slows, it will affect our economic growth.

Now is then the time to take the foundations we have and to build on them. Now is the time to ensure we not only build greater resilience into our economy, but that we modernise it too.

This is a message that we have been sharing for some time, but that I recently heard reinforced by the IMF executive director Christine Lagarde.

We were at APEC in Papua New Guinea when I first heard her reiterate the message that policymakers need to make greater efforts to prepare for the slowdown, and that is a message we are heeding.

That’s why our economic plan includes the following key planks:

  • Doubling down on trade and broadening our trading base to protect our exporters and economy
  • Reform of skills and trade training to address long-term labour shortages and productivity gaps in the New Zealand economy, and to make sure we are prepared for ongoing automation and the future of work
  • Changes to tax to make the system fairer
  • Addressing our long-term infrastructure challenges
  • Transitioning to a sustainable carbon-neutral economy
  • And of course investment in wellbeing, because this is inextricably linked to our economic success too.

Trade

On trade, our experiences in the 1970s and early 1980s taught us there are no winners in trade protectionism.

By taking an active role in WTO reform efforts and by committing ourselves to diversifying our export markets through new and upgraded free trade agreements, we are strengthening our safety net.

At all the international forums I have spoken at in the last year I have made the case for the retention of an international rules-based trading system. I believe it’s incredibly important that we continue to be a leading voice on this, in order to retain a system that allows New Zealand exporters fair access to international markets.

With the CPTPP coming into force, 65% of our exports are now covered by FTA preferences which buttress and build on the WTO disciplines.

The Pacific Alliance and RCEP are making steady progress.

The upgrade of our agreement with China is ongoing and we are about to commence the same negotiations with ASEAN.

But a top trade priority this year is a positive conclusion to the EU free trade negotiations and the launch of free trade talks with the UK in the event of Brexit occurring.

On my recent trip to Europe I received assurances from the EU leadership of their desire to conclude an agreement by the end of this year. It’s an ambitious plan, and one we will pursue whilst also being mindful of getting a quality deal.

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her desire for New Zealand to be amongst the first nations they negotiate with, and for our part we made the case that given New Zealand’s expertise in this space we would make a logical partner to establish a benchmark for a high quality model agreement for the UK.

As importantly as the political assurances I received we also got positive backing from leading British business leaders for a high quality free trade deal as soon as practical after Brexit.

And at home, we are working to rebuild the social licence for trade. The Trade for All Advisory Board will continue meeting this year to look at how our trade policy works with other economic policy to deliver the benefits of trade to all New Zealanders.

Through this combination of trade and foreign policy initiatives we will strengthen our resilience to the risks we face from the uncertain global economy.

Of course it is not just in the international scene that our economy faces challenges.

Domestically we are seeing both short and longer-term issues that could constrain economic growth if left unaddressed.

Education and training

One such issue that the Government has big plans for in 2019 is around skills training.

Whenever I talk to business I hear a recurring theme around skills training and the gap between what business needs and what our training organisations provide.

Businesses are facing a constant struggle finding the people with the right skills at the right time to do the jobs that need to be done. Many of you here today have spoken to me about this issue.

In the past our economy has been too reliant on buying skills through immigration. Immigration is vital, but we need to get the balance right. I want us to focus on how we can be better at growing the skills our economy needs.

Without change, the challenge for businesses and Government is only going to increase.

We know the future of work will look very different than it does today.

A future when, by some estimates, a full one third of jobs in New Zealand are likely to be significantly affected by automation. That’s a million jobs.

For us as a government and you as a business community we cannot afford to let the skills gap continue to drift.

We need to act now.

The Coalition Government has already taken steps to make post-school education and training more accessible, with our fees free programme, which provides 2 years of free industry training and apprenticeships, or one year of free tertiary education.

We also announced changes to allow greater use of micro-credentials to ensure our system is more accessible and responsive to business needs.

My Business Advisory Council has also set skills as one of its key priorities. One of the ideas it has put forward which we are working through is how business themselves can take the lead in committing to reskilling their workforces.

The Government has also done some deep thinking on reforms that are urgently needed to the vocational education system.

The Minister of Education will next week announce proposals for consultation. They are far reaching. But we firmly believe they must be.

We currently have a vocational education system that is in many cases, struggling.

Take the building sector for example. We know we need more tradies and they are just not coming through fast enough.

That’s absolutely no reflection of the people who are involved in the sector – far from it. What it is, is a damning statement that the system has been left to drift, to muddle through.

How is it, for example, that at a time when we’re facing critical skill shortages, our polytechnics and institutes of technology are in many cases going broke?

Over the last two years this Government has been forced to spend $100 million to bail out four polytechnics, and that is a pattern that started before we took office.

That is not the sign of a healthy and sustainable sector.

We need to move away from the cycle that sees course delivery at institutes boom when the economic cycle turns down and then dive when the economy improves, while on-the-job training providers face the opposite cycle.

Instead of our regional polytechnics and institutes of technology retrenching, cutting programmes, and closing campuses, we need them to expand their course delivery throughout the country.

We want a sector that meets the needs of our economy. But the current system faces three major structural issues we need to fix.

It is not well coordinated or integrated. It is not easy for business to engage with and it delivers variable results across the country.

We have a duplication of courses and lack of consistency across the sector.

Many of the institutes face an issue of scale and insufficient capital to grow and respond. All of this is unsustainable.

Here is our vision – I want the vocational training system to be the backbone of our productive economy, and of our regions. I want students and parents to proudly choose a career in the trades and I want businesses to have confidence that the system is flexible and preparing a workforce for the future of work.

We need a model where businesses, iwi and local government in every region play an active role in driving skills development. We need a system of training and skills development that is more flexible and more nimble so we can get people with the rights skills into the right jobs much faster.

As I mentioned, we will be putting out some significant ideas in this area in coming weeks. Alongside our education sector, you have a crucial role to play in this matter and I do look forward to hearing your response to what will be some big new ideas.

But we haven’t just looked to the education sector to upskill our workforce, we have also looked for ideas to support you directly.

We are providing assistance in this regard through the Mana in Mahi training initiative, which provides a wage subsidy to businesses who employ as apprentices young New Zealanders who have been on a benefit for six months or more.

This policy is constructive for both businesses and workers, linking employers who need labour with young people in need of a career path.

I’ve met some of the young people in programmes like Mana in Mahi and He Poutama Rangatahi. They are our best salespeople for these types of initiatives.

Recently in Kaikohe a young woman told me all her friends want to join the course she was on. She is learning and earning and it was, in her own words, better than the street. Especially since she had become a supervisor.

Building a sustainable economy

In addition to skills the Government will use 2019 to contend with bigger, longer-term trends that will have a transformational affect on our economy. 

As I have said before, climate change is the defining issue of my generation.

We know that we all have to adapt now to avoid catastrophe for the generations to come.

We have a plan for a just transition to a low-emissions economy based on a more sustainable growth model. We want to ensure that this transition is phased and signalled early to give businesses and workers certainty and flexibility.

The Government will soon announce plans for legislation to establish an enduring institutional framework for managing the long-term transition to a low-emissions economy.

This legislation will contain legally binding emissions’ reduction targets and it will see the establishment of an independent Climate Change Commission, which will recommend emissions reduction budgets and provide advice on policy development and initiatives in transport, energy and primary industries.

The Government’s Just Transition work programme will assist New Zealand to successfully transition to a low-emissions economy.

The work programme includes looking at energy, regional economic development and workforce planning. It has a strong connection to education and skills development to create new jobs.

A Just Transition Summit in May this year will kick-start a national conversation about what the Just Transition means for New Zealand.

But it won’t just be a local conversation. We will be testing ideas that the world is interested in too. The conversations I had in bilateral meetings and conferences increasingly demonstrated to me that the world is not only looking for ideas, it is hunting for them. And New Zealand is on its list.

We recently announced a $100 million capital injection to New Zealand Green Investment Finance Ltd to stimulate new private sector investment in low-emissions industries. More and more investment dollars globally are looking for clean, sustainable ventures to invest in.

New Zealand Green Investment Finance Ltd positions New Zealand to attract its share of that investment capital, and will provide businesses with a pathway to being part of efforts to confront the greatest challenge facing the planet.

Another issue currently confronting the Government is inequality, and our commitment to bring fairness into our tax system.

We have long foreshadowed that we will deliver this year a response to the Tax Working Group.

There has been a lot of speculation on this topic of late, some of it feverish and not always accurate.

But my message to you this morning is succinct.

Yes, we have received the report of the Tax Working Group and, as we have shared publicly, it will be released on Thursday 21 February.

That report is now being pored over by officials, and discussed with Coalition and Confidence and Supply partners. Our plan is for the Finance and Revenue ministers to release the Coalition Government’s full response to the report in April.

Importantly though, the Working Group’s report will be shared with the public. There will be time for everyone to see that work, to debate what they have said and to share views. Anything we subsequently decide will also go through a consultation process before legislation and ultimately will be put to voters at the next election before it comes into force.

As we enter into a period of discussion and debate, I hope it’s guided by the overriding goal of fairness, and building an economy and system that works in the best interest of New Zealand and its people.

The Wellbeing budget

Finally though, a few words on what has become a significant topic of debate and discussion internationally. In fact I saw just yesterday the issue of wellbeing economics being discussed in a Swedish newspaper. I can’t tell you what it said but I am sure it was eminently sensible.

Our starting point for the Wellbeing Budget is that while economic growth is important, it alone does not guarantee improvements to New Zealanders’ living standards.

We want to take a much broader approach that uses the full range of factors that affect the quality of people’s lives.

So there will be measures that track the progress of our country based on what enables people to live fulfilling lives – things like material wealth; our capability as individuals, families and communities; and the health of our environment, such as the cleanliness of rivers.

We can all agree that New Zealand has seen solid rates of GDP growth over the past few years, and of course no one is suggesting we get rid of this indicator. But we also need to ask questions about the quality of that growth. An everyday New Zealander – hearing of the “rock star economy” while their housing costs are skyrocketing, or they can’t afford to send their kids to school with a proper lunch or their mental health is strained – tends to have their faith in the system and in institutions undermined.

So embedding wellbeing will require us to shift to a wider definition of success for our country, one that incorporates not just the health of our finances but also our natural resources, people, and communities.

It will represent a shift away from government departments thinking of their Budget bids in terms of their own appropriations, towards a focus on the outcomes they can achieve in collaboration with others.

All Ministers and departments have been asked to consider what they can contribute to the delivery of each of the Budget priorities.

This in itself is different and was the source of great interest when I was at Davos.

While deep reform will take time, the Government has already made significant strides. Treasury has created the Living Standards Framework, we are reforming the way the state sector works to give effect to a more collaborative way of working, and we will amend the Public Finance Act so that priorities around wellbeing are set each Budget. We are giving effect to the new approach in this year’s Budget.

The five Budget priorities this year are:

  1. To create opportunities for transitioning to a sustainable low emissions economy;
  2. Lifting Maori and Pacific incomes and opportunities;
  3. Supporting a thriving nation in the digital age through innovation;
  4. Reducing child poverty, improving child and youth wellbeing, including addressing family violence; and
  5. Supporting mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders, particularly those under 24.

In Davos the OECD Secretary General advised the Finance Minister and me that they would be reviewing the Government’s wellbeing approach and Budget in their country review this year, an indication of how closely the rest of the world is looking at this new model and what it can offer other countries.

The Wellbeing Budget is not only about improving the livelihoods of New Zealanders, it is key to ensuring we are protected from the international headwinds the economy may face. It will ensure that those closest to the margins are protected and that no one is left behind.

I want to conclude today by affirming the Government’s strong desire to continue partnering with business wherever we can. We will be using forums such as the Small Business Council, the Future of Work Tripartite Forum and my own Business Advisory Council to develop and test initiatives that can help improve business productivity and workers’ wellbeing. But more than that, to continue to work together.

As a country we face challenges on a number of fronts, but in these challenges the Government sees opportunities to build a more resilient economy and I know we are not alone in that.

By diversifying our trade opportunities, upskilling workers, leading the transition to a low carbon economy, ensuring fairness in the tax system and delivering our Wellbeing Budget we have a clear plan that will protect and improve the wellbeing of our people, our businesses, our communities and our environment.

I look forward to working with all of you in delivering on this in 2019. And perhaps along the way that elephant might keep getting a little bit smaller.

Housing crisis >> KiwiBuild crisis >> what next?

When in opposition Labour talked up the housing crisis, even though it was a problem that grew over many years.  They promised big – 100,000 houses big. And ‘affordable’.

In Government they launched KiwiBuild and soon conceded, sort of, that new houses in places like Auckland in particular were a long way from being affordable for people who needed housing the most. But the pushed on.

However it has become apparent that KiwiBuild is growing into some sort of crisis of it’s own  a a crisis of credibility for the out of depth Minister of Housing Phil Twyford, as well as for his Government. And if it can’t appear to be at least partly fixed by next year it could become an election campaign crisis for Labour.

What should happen right now? Listener: The KiwiBuild failure should galvanise urgent action on NZ’s housing disaster

When a nation’s flagship housing policy is such a spectacular failure that it makes the New York Times, the minister in charge cannot avoid the international embarrassment.

This is the position Housing Minister Phil Twyford now finds himself in. Having arrogantly sneered at all those who dared question his strategy and timetable, he has failed to deliver on the very thing New Zealanders care most about – the urgent need for a solution to our housing crisis. This policy was central to Labour’s pitch to voters at the last election. The failure to deliver 1000 KiwiBuild homes by July – so far only 47 have been completed – is the definition of a broken promise, ameliorated only by the likelihood that few truly believed the Government would keep its word in the first place.

That the previous Government struggled to make any meaningful changes in the housing area should have indicated to Twyford that affordability was more complex than Labour, and National before it, had assumed.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared the market had failed, so the Government had to step in. She was right that the market had failed, but wrong to assume that the Government would make complex problems disappear merely by becoming a property developer itself.

Perhaps she should have paid more attention to competence rather than kindness. A kind captain of a sinking ship is still in charge of a disaster.

Inevitably, it has come up against all the same obstacles private developers face. These include the high cost of land, labour and materials, restrictive regulations, local authorities’ planning rules, lack of infrastructure, the Resource Management Act and neighbourhoods where existing homeowners refuse to countenance more intensive development.

The market failure Ardern referred to will not be solved by swapping a private property developer for a state-owned one. The market failure is not ideological. This is the real world, and not the 1930s with plenty of suburban land available for state housing.

The Prime Minister hasn’t resiled from the Government’s commitment to deliver 100,000 houses in 10 years. But a Government that is elected for three years still promising to ratchet up house production with a goal 10 years hence when it may not be in office, is not treating the public with respect. New Zealanders, having already witnessed the debacle over tree planting, are not so easily fooled.

The Government needs to urgently do what it can to change those things over which it has control. The Opposition, having itself failed when in government to make headway on housing affordability, owes it to New Zealanders to support any reasonable legislative changes to facilitate more house building. Ratepayers, too, need to allow councils, which have more say than the Government over the availability of land for new, infill and high-density housing, to use the powers at their disposal. And we all need to accept that changes that make homes affordable may affect the value of many existing houses.

That’s a tough one.

Certainly the cost of housing is an issue that needs to be addressed, and quickly. But it appears that the Government hasn’t got the courage or the ability to do this.

The recent Demographia International Report, which compares median house prices in seven wealthy countries plus Hong Kong, reports that in Australia housing has become more affordable over the past year as prices fell due to tightening credit. Yet, alarmingly, New Zealand housing has simply become more unaffordable since this Government took office. Property here is now further out of reach than in the US, Australia and the UK. This is beyond embarrassment. This is a national disaster.

Disaster, crisis, whatever. It needs urgent attention – but does Ardern understand this?

 

Waitangi Eve generally ran smoothly

As usual there is quite a bit going in at Waitangi today on the eve of the main celebrations on Waitangi Day.

A couple of controversial things,

And Don Brash’s speech got heckled and disrupted, and he cut it short. It’s a shame respect wasn’t given to expressing different views, but Brash didn’t help his cause by raising some issues that would always be seen as provocative.

RNZ: Brash continues speech at Waitangi after protestors calmed

But other than that things generally seem to have gone fairly smoothly.

All parliamentary party leaders (except David Seymour?) were able to have a say without any dramas.

I can’t find it at the moment but RNZ reported that Simon Bridges was conciliatory and Ardern welcoimed that.

Calls for more than handouts for Māori

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Regional Development minister Shane Jones have preceded Waitangi Day celebrations with announcements of hundreds of millions of dollars in development grants, but this approach has been questioned and in some cases slammed – see National leader Simon Bridges urges RMA reform over $100m for Māori land ownership

NZ Herald editorial: Handouts are no substitute for a Ngapuhi Treaty settlement

The Prime Minister is doling out a great deal of money on her extended visit to Northland for Waitangi Day.

At a Kaipara marae on Sunday she announced $100 million of the Government’s $1 billion provincial growth fund will be set aside as capital for Māori developments.

Yesterday at Mangatoa Station near Kaikohe she announced $82m from the fund will be used to set up regional training and employment “hubs”, and a further $20m from the fund will go to establishing regional digital “hubs” to help small towns and marae get internet connections.

In two days, with Regional Development Minister Shane Jones at her elbow, they have committed about a fifth of the original fund which is already depleted by some grants of dubious value he made last year.

While the projects announced at the weekend will be spread around a number of regions Northland is one of the most needy, which is why successive governments have been working so hard to try to help Ngapuhi get organised for a Treaty settlement.

After a year of trying, Justice Minister Andrew Little seems to be no closer than previous ministers came to finding a bargaining partner all Ngapuhi hapu will accept.

Now the Government seems to be giving handouts instead.

The Government may be right that Māori land is the underdeveloped asset that can provide those parts with more wealth. But providing seed capital is the easy part. It has to do much more to ensure the seedlings are not mulched.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom):  Ardern’s Waitangi sequel a test of relationship

Heading to what has traditionally been a tempestuous occasion for prime ministers, Jacinda Ardern’s Waitangi debut in 2018 went about as well as she could have hoped.

While Waitangi Day organising committee chairman Pita Paraone believes Ardern will receive a similar reception this year, he suggests there may be “a bit of murmuring” from Māori over some areas of discontent.

There has always been murmurings of discontent at Waitangi.

Matthew Tukaki, chairman of the National Māori Authority, agrees there will be plenty of expectation from Māori for the Government to deliver on its many promises.

“We’ve had a year of inquiries, we’ve had a year of investigations … 2019 for this Government must be the year of action.”

Many of the issues prioritised by Māori are the same as for the wider population: Paraone mentions mental health and housing, while Tukaki talks about high suicide and unemployment rates.

Tukaki says there is value in “universal principles that guide your waka”, but argues that is not enough: it must be supported by targeted reform and policies to succeed.

Solutions will not come in the form of short-term fixes, he says, but a longer-term vision that can be sustained over years or decades.

The handouts look to be more short term political fixes, or attempted fixes, but fundamental problems remain.

“For too long, government agencies and offices and ministries have been working on solutions and then saying to Māori, ‘Here’s a solution to whatever problem’,” (Labour MP and deputy Prime Minister) Kelvin Davis says.

Like “here’s some money”.

“Really what we need to say is, here’s a problem, how do we work on a solution together so it actually meets the needs of the people who we’re working for?”

There is a lot of work to do there, more than meeting a next year holding to account deadline that Ardern seems to be trying to address.

Māori will be looking to the future too, and whether Ardern’s government can deliver on its promises: perhaps with an added degree of wariness, but also hope.

They will be hoping for more from Ardern and her Government.