Seymour and ‘alt-right’ versus female MPs

Act MP David Seymour was stronly criticised – and supported – for comments he made about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, in particular “she is a real menace to freedom”.

“I just think that Golriz Ghahraman is completely wrong, I don’t know if she understands what she’s saying, but she is a real menace to freedom in this country, whether or not she understands that she is, and I think that it’s important that all right-thinking New Zealanders say “the true danger ah… to any society is rulers who put in place rules and regulations saying you’re not allowed to express yourself” – that’s how tyranny begins.

And I’d just invite people to have a look at speeches that Xi Jing Ping gives and speeches that Golriz Ghahraman gives, and it’s actually very difficult to tell the difference. I actually looked at a couple of paragraphs – one paragraph from each – I tried to guess which was which – and ah… Xi Jing Ping actually looked like a more liberal ah guy on this issue than Golriz Ghahraman.”

It was claimed that this contributed to an escalation in online attacks against Ghahraman which led to Parliament providing increased security for Ghahraman after she got more death threats.

Seymour and Judith Collins were interviewed by Sean Plunket: Judith Collins labeled ‘ageist’ as David Seymour attacks her defence of Golriz Ghahraman

Collins:

He referred to her as being a menace to society. I don’t think she is a menace to society. I think her views are not ones that I agree with, and I would agree with him on that. And I think that she is very illiberal when it comes to people’s freedom of speech but that bit does not mean to say that he needs to put it in such a personal way that he did, against her personally.

And my view is that parliament is a very tough place, but actually for some people it’s a lot tougher and she is someone who gives a lot of stuff back to people but she also, I think at the moment, is getting a lot more than what she deserves. And I just think it’s time we calmed down in parliament, and outside of parliament, and remembered that she is just a human being.

I have no problem with David doing what he does, except that if he does then he can expect me to make a comment about it.

So, actually, just like he wants to express his free speech, I am expressing mine, which is that we need to be a little bit kinder towards each other even when the other person has views entirely different from ourselves, and we don’t need to always make it so personal. That’s my feeling.

Seymour was unrepentant:

If people think that me saying that a politician who wants to expand the powers of the state to decide what you’re allowed to say and when they hear me say it, think that the way I say it is more important than the issue of freedom of speech then I think that person has their priorities wrong.

And I do think that a politician who wants to put stricter boundaries around what people are allowed to say, when they genuinely believe it, is a menace, not to our society, but to give me my proper quote, to freedom in our society. Because that is how tyranny begins and I think we should be a lot more worried about that, than how exactly it is said.

The counter claim has been that stoking up abuse and attacks against an MP, deliberately or not, is also a menace to society.

Yesterday from 1 News: Speaker Trevor Mallard says David Seymour bullied Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman

When asked by TVNZ1’s Breakfast host John Campbell if the comments made by Mr Seymour on radio show Magic last week were bullying, he responded “yes”.

“In my opinion that did step over the line,” Mr Mallard says. “It’s not a breach of privilege because it didn’t happen in the House. It’s not a criminal offence but I think it showed poor judgement.”

He said bullying needed to be called out, and said it was leaders and senior staff who needed to step up against bullying.

Seymour responded: Free speech debate shows hate speech laws are a bad idea

The response to my recent comments on free speech proves we cannot trust government to enforce hate speech laws”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Speaker Trevor Mallard is the latest to denounce my views and try to shut down any criticism of those who would take away our right to freedom of expression.

“Imagine if the state had even greater powers to punish speech at its disposal.

“The Government, emboldened by the Twitter mob, would now be using that power to investigate and punish a sitting MP’s genuinely-held views.

“Hate speech laws turn debate into a popularity contest where the winners get to silence views they don’t like by using the power of the state.

“We find ourselves in an astonishing situation: an MP can vigorously campaign to take away our right to freedom of expression, but, if another MP criticises them, Parliament’s Speaker says they are a bully.

“Freedom of expression is one of the most important values our society has. It cannot be abandoned because anyone, let alone Parliament’s Speaker, weighs in with accusations against anyone who defends it.

“ACT will continue to defend the critical principle that nobody should ever be punished by the power of the state on the basis of opinion.”

Calling out bullying speech is also free speech. As a number of female MPs have done:

Newshub: Women MPs urge David Seymour to apologise for Golriz Ghahraman remarks

A cross-party group representing women in Parliament has urged David Seymour to apologise for remarks he made about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.

Signed by Labour MP Louisa Wall and National MP Jo Hayes – co-chairs of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) New Zealand group – the letter asks that Seymour “reflect” on his “behaviour”.

“We ask that you reflect on your behaviour and consider offering a public apology to Golriz for the comments made, preferably in the House,” the letter addressed to Seymour reads.

The co-chairs said they’d received requests from members of the CWP group urging them to “take appropriate action” on their behalf in response to comments made by Seymour “in reference to a member of the House, Golriz Ghahraman”.

The letter acknowledged how Seymour didn’t make the comments in Parliament and couldn’t be held to account by Standing Orders – the rules of procedure for the House.

But it went on to tell Seymour: “We, as women MPs, consider your behaviour towards a colleague who has been under attack with death threats and is already in a vulnerable position is unacceptable”.

Again Seymour was unrepentant.

Seymour responded to the letter saying he was “disappointed” to receive it, and that the group “seem to believe that expressing a sincerely held view on an important topic makes me responsible for threats of violence”.

Seymour said the comments he made “do not come close to giving me such responsibility”, adding: “Your belief would absolve the real perpetrators, those making the threats, of responsibility.

“You also introduce a worrying implication that some MPs are unable to fully participate or be criticised because there are violent threats. You are effectively letting violent thugs set the agenda.”

No, they are trying to confront violent thugs from setting the agenda.

Seymour is getting into very risky territory here. He is appealing to the alt-right in social media but I think may be being fooled by how much voter support this might represent.

It has been reported that Act intends rebranding as a party this year. Seymour seems to be already attempting a rebranding.

But I think he would do well to consider the responsibilities of how an MP speaks in relation to free speech, especially when associated with hate speech.

For MPs, what they say can have consequences. They can give credence and support to abusive minorities. And they can also affect voter support. If Seymour lurches too far alt-right he risks becoming too toxic for National to make it easy for him in Epsom.

 

Government defensive as Opposition keeps up pressure over KiwiBuild targets

The National Opposition continues to apply relentless pressure on the Government’s lack of significant progress with what was once a strongly promoted ambitious KiwiBuild target of 100,000 houses in ten years.

But the key target seems to be missing – the lack of availability of reasonably priced land.

Yesterday in Parliament:

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Government still committed to building 100,000 KiwiBuild houses over 10 years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member well knows, we’re going through the process of a reset around the KiwiBuild programme [Interruption]. Are we committed to building affordable homes? Are we committed to trying to improve access for first-home buyers? Are we the Government that has built more houses than any other Government since the 1970s? The answer to that is yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is that a confirmation that the 100,000 houses in a decade commitment is now gone?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it Phil Twyford who’s been reset?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: Then why did the housing Minister Phil Twyford say this morning, on that 100,000 commitment: “It’s like American nuclear ships in the 1980s. It’s a neither confirm nor deny situation.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve just said, we are in the process of working through a KiwiBuild reset, but whilst we do so we are continuing to build houses. Again, as I’ve said many a time in this House, we are a Government building more houses than any other since the 1970s.

Hon Simon Bridges: When is the climb-down on her flagship policy of 100,000 houses in a decade going to be confirmed?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: (a waffly reply)

Hon Simon Bridges: How can she have confidence in Phil Twyford, when he’s seen only 80 KiwiBuild houses built so far and he won’t confirm her flagship policy of 100,000 houses?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because we’ve built more State houses, more transitional houses, and housed more who have been homeless. We have also stopped the sale of residential housing to foreign buyers. We have also closed tax loopholes. We have made a difference to the housing market, and that is ultimately making a difference for families. We inherited a dire situation with our housing market, and we are turning it around.

Hon Simon Bridges: How about a straight answer to a straight question—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will resume his seat. Now, he’ll stand up and he will ask a question properly.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the 100,000 houses in a decade target gone?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve already said to the member’s original question, we are working through our KiwiBuild reset. When we have completed that, we will be making announcements in due course.

Hon Simon Bridges: To be clear, has she had any input into the issue of removing the 100,000 KiwiBuild commitment in recent times?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: (a waffly reply)

Judith Collins also touched on it in question 6.

Hon Judith Collins: Will the recalibration of KiwBuild drop the additionality tests as well as the 100,000 houses target?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I expect that in June we’ll be releasing the results of the reset of KiwiBuild, but I would say this to the member: this Government will not back away from building large numbers of affordable homes for Kiwis, building more State housing, reforming the rental market, housing homeless people, reforming the planning system and infrastructure financing—all of the things that are part of our housing programme that that party never did for nine years in office.

So Twyford did not challenge the suggestion that the 100,000 houses target might be dropped.

National have followed up on this line of attack. RNZ:  KiwiBuild ‘a broken promise’ – Bridges

The government has broken its flagship election promise on Kiwibuild and the Housing Minister should resign, National Party leader Simon Bridges says.

A question mark hangs over a core plank of KiwiBuild – with the government refusing to guarantee its promise to build 100,000 houses over 10 years.

“It was really Labour’s number one flagship promise,” Mr Bridges told Morning Report

“It was the big bold thing they were delivering.

“I’m absolutely certain it is a broken promise and half way through their term it is gone.”

Mr Bridges said if the target did go, Mr Twyford should resign.

While the target number may provide a target for National, it is missing the real target – the lack of availability of reasonably priced land to build on. When in Government National failed to deal with that. There is no sign of Labour dealing with it anywhere near adequately, all they seem to have done with Kiwibuild is put a different label on a continuation of similar means of building, but still with limited land supply.

I don’t think that 100,000 houses in ten years is important at all.

10,000 houses – that is additional houses, not just the Government taking over the development of houses that were being built anyway – in two years would still be underperforming but a big improvement.

National will no doubt claim a win if the 100,000/10 year target is dropped, but who trusts long term political promises?

But the fundamental failure continues – it is too hard to make more land available for building houses. And it looks like fixing that is in the too hard basket for this Government, like the last. What Labour labelled as a housing crisis is more of a crisis of timid government.

 

National Party support for the the Arms Amendment Bill

National MPs worked with the Government on the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill and gave their full support and votes for the bill, which passed it’s third and final reading in parliament yesterday.

CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South):

I rise on behalf of the National Party to lend our support to the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, and, in the start of my contribution, I want to, on behalf of the party, acknowledge the Prime Minister for her remarks in opening this third reading debate, and also acknowledge her leadership in the hours and days and weeks following the shooting. I have received many comments in the last few weeks around your leadership, Prime Minister, and I think all of New Zealand has been impressed by your steadfastness at a time of great trial for our country.

I also want to acknowledge the Minister Stuart Nash, who’s worked quite collaboratively with those of us in the Opposition on this regime that we’re about to pass into law, and I want to acknowledge Michael Wood, who chaired the committee, I think, in a very good fashion—a quick fashion, but a very good fashion.

Now we have the Labour Party in Government alongside New Zealand First, and I acknowledge the braveness of the position that they took, Mr Patterson and Ron Mark and the Rt Hon Winston Peters, as Deputy Prime Minister—quite a brave position, actually, for them to take alongside a Labour Cabinet to work alongside the National Party and the Green Party as well for Parliament to speak with as unanimous a voice as possible. Hopefully, the politicking around this will now, essentially, cease, because we are going to say once and for all that, with very rare exceptions, military-style weapons are not welcome in New Zealand.

IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei):

It gives me, well, I guess it’s a privilege, really, to have an opportunity to speak on what probably is a historic piece of legislation for this House. I too want to acknowledge the Prime Minister and the efforts of the leadership of this House and all parties—almost all parties—within it. I also wanted to acknowledge the chair of the Finance and Expenditure Committee and, above all, the officials.

I’d like to think that this piece of law might go down in history as a benchmark in legislation-making, but I accept that the short consultation time is probably not ideal for most of our law.

 I think it’s essential that we get that done and that we get it done urgently and make that publicity work. It’s going to be difficult to get to some people, because, as I’ve said earlier, there will be people in New Zealand who have got no idea they’ve got these weapons in their possession and who don’t have a licence to own them and have never needed to have a licence to own them because they didn’t know they were there.

I think that will be much more common than we believe, because some of what, effectively, could be 100-year-old pieces of equipment that are no longer legal have sat in houses for years and years. So it is essential that we get that publicity done and get it done very well.

It’s essential also that that buy-back scheme, when it is instigated, is—as I think I heard the Prime Minister say earlier—effective, that it’s fair, and that it gives people the incentive to get these guns out and in the police’s hands, or in hands of the buy-back scheme, as quickly as we possibly can, because for it to work effectively, we need to get them all.

That’s the next piece I want to turn to, because I think that as this Act is reviewed going forward—and it no doubt will be—and as the second tranche of legislation comes to the House, it’s essential that we find ways of extracting the weapons out of those people who have no reason to own them and have no licence to own them, because the underworld will have many of these guns. There will be many of them in unknown places in New Zealand.

ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua):

The values that we hold in this country around tolerance for one another, and the ability to get along with one another, are what make New Zealand so wonderful. I, like many of you here in this House, went to many of the Muslim communities, and I went there to give my support, as you did.

What I received back from my Muslim communities was much more. What they offered me was hope, a sense of resoluteness, and they had an unerring sense of purpose. They see themselves as New Zealanders, and they’re committed to being good citizens—playing their part to make a better New Zealand.

Prejudice is such a corrosive element in any society and is unwelcome here in New Zealand. So this is one of those moments—a moment of unity, a unity of intent, and an intent to act as one. So we’re about to pass the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill. I note it is our duty to protect New Zealand and New Zealanders from the unlawful use of these high-velocity weapons, but I think it’s also important that we respect the rights of New Zealanders to own and safely use guns here.

I want to finally just acknowledge the Prime Minister for the role that she has shown in leading this debate. I also want to acknowledge the Minister for bringing this legislation in in a very short period of time and working with the committee. I also want to acknowledge the members of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, who worked in a collegial and collaborative fashion.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the officials, many of whom are sitting up in the gallery here today. They worked tirelessly, and I say thank you from me personally, but certainly on behalf of the committee.

Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney):

It’s a pleasure to take a call in this the third reading. Can I acknowledge the Prime Minister first of all. I was very grateful of the fact that she shared with us some insights around how it crystallised in her mind, the leadership that was required, and then, of course, the Parliament coming together to bring this bill to the House to make the changes that we needed.

I’d just like to say that this is an important piece of legislation. We are sending a very clear message as a Parliament and as a country that we don’t see the need for military-style, high-powered semi-automatic weapons in this country. We don’t. You can’t justify their use—other than in fact the exemptions that we’ve clearly stated.

BRETT HUDSON (National):

Parliament decided—it was a choice, and Parliament decided—to take the process we have with this bill to reach the point we have now and where, I would predict, we are about to get to. As adults in the room, we can fully support that—those decisions, those actions, and where we are—and still critique the process which underpins it. There is certainly simply no way a select committee can address a bill of substance in such a short period of time and give it the same scrutiny that it could do if it had an extended, normal, or longer period of time.

With all the will in the world, and with all the effort of members and officials—and I acknowledge the hard work of all the officials—there is simply not, in a shortened period of time, sufficient opportunity to hear all of the voices, to give all of the consideration to all matters raised, to debate every point, or to look at every possible alternative. Shortened time simply does not permit that.

I endorse the decision Parliament took, and it was Parliament’s decision. The Government put forth a proposition to do this bill under an extremely short period of time, but it was Parliament that agreed to do so.

We now find ourselves in the last few minutes of a decision to rid New Zealand of weapons, of firearms, that no normal citizen needs, but with enough careful consideration that where exemptions are warranted, they have been granted, with enough thought and consideration to help inform elements that might take part of the next phase of the firearms reform.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura):

I am so proud of us. We have worked so hard over quite a short period of time, and we have worked in the Finance and Expenditure Committee to get the best bill that we could in the shortest amount of time. Even when we have not agreed, we have been able to be civil and adult, and that is something that I think we can pat ourselves on the back for.

In the National Party, we felt we could have done more for those people who are sports shooters and who engage in international competitions—our competitive shooting sports. We would like to hope that, in the second tranche of legislation, that could be addressed. I was personally, and I think we all were, very impressed with the quality of the submission from the pistol shooters’ association. They have a very good system, which I’ve heard of before, obviously, but to have them run through exactly how it worked gave me a lot of confidence in that system being able to be used for people engaged in sporting events where some of these higher calibre or higher-capacity weapons are used—that we could bring that in for them.

It’s not often that peace breaks out in Parliament, but to most intents and purposes—I won’t say “all” because not entirely—it has over this matter. We have all been deeply moved by what happened in Christchurch, by the murder of 50 people and the attempted murder of many more. We have all been deeply moved. It could have happened anywhere. It happened in two mosques. It could have happened in a kindergarten. It could have happened in a church. It could have happened in a school.

For any New Zealanders who think, well, it wasn’t some place that they would go, it could have been. It could have been anywhere. It’s the sort of thing that I think happens, and we could say a person who has done this has done this for particular reasons. It’s not only that person we need to be concerned about and worried about that they have access to firearms—people with those sorts of thoughts and those drivers—but there are other people as well.

This has been a good opportunity for the Government and the Opposition to work together for New Zealand, and I would hope that the Government will keep us informed and ask for our support on other matters pertaining to these firearms laws.

Apart from one dissenter (David Seymour, ACT) the Bill was strongly supported by a united Parliament, Obviously most MPs realised they had a responsibility to do something significant in the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacres.

Collins keeps pressure on Twyford over KiwiBuild

Judith Collins continued applying pressure over KiwiBuild to Phil Twyford in Parliament yesterday.

Question No. 6—Housing and Urban Development

6. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: How many times, under the KiwiBuild programme, has he approved a Crown underwrite to build houses that were already being built, and what is the total price of these underwrites?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The test applied to determine whether a KiwiBuild underwrite should proceed is additionality—does the proposal increase affordable supply for KiwiBuild buyers in the KiwiBuild price range? I’m advised that the threshold can be met in four key ways: by getting a development under way; by bringing forward a development, or the stage of a development that is scheduled for a later time period; or by redesigning part of a development to provide for additional, affordable homes, rather than a smaller number of more expensive homes. All underwrites approved by the Ministers meet this test. An underwrite has been approved while construction was under way four times. The expected net cost to the Crown of these underwrites is zero. The homes are valued at $26 million, or 4 percent of the total number of underwrites, and almost 0.5 percent of total KiwiBuild homes.

Hon Judith Collins: Why did he approve a Crown underwrite to build houses in Marshland, Christchurch, in November 2018 when council records show these houses were already under construction in April 2018, seven months before he signed the Crown underwrite?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I’d have to go back and look at the details of that particular case, but, as I’ve said, the test that’s applied is that of additionality, and there are a number of ways that that can be provided—

Hon Simon Bridges: Spell it.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I’ll give the member the case of Mike Greer, who’s committed to 104 homes in both Canterbury and west Auckland, and, as he himself has said in the media, the KiwiBuild underwrite has allowed him to bring forward that development more quickly than it otherwise would’ve happened and include more affordable homes in the development.

Hon Judith Collins: Why did he approve a Crown underwrite last November to build houses in Somerfield, Christchurch, when council records show the houses were built and clad last September?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The answer to that question is exactly the same as the one I just gave. As Mike Greer has said, it has allowed that development to come to fruition more quickly than it otherwise would’ve and for more affordable homes to be included.

Hon Judith Collins: Why has he underwritten already-built three-bedroom, one-bathroom houses in Westpark Rangiora, selling for $480,000, while Mike Greer Homes are advertising neighbouring three-bedroom houses with an extra bathroom and a larger floorplate on their own website for $20,000 less?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That development is bringing into the market more affordable homes than it otherwise would’ve. This Government is in the business of building affordable homes, unlike what that Government did for nine years—didn’t build a single affordable home and denied there was a housing crisis.

Hon Judith Collins: How many of the Mike Greer homes he has underwritten so far have monolithic cladding?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: If the member wants to put that question down in writing, I’d be happy to answer it.

Hon Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a council inspection report on failed monolithic cladding at 5 Te Rito Street, Christchurch.

SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that being tabled? There appears to be none.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Judith Collins: What is the purpose of him underwriting the price that a developer gets for a house when that house has already been built and, in some cases, marketed unsuccessfully to the public?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, if the member has got evidence that properties have been unsuccessfully marketed, I’d be happy to receive it. But we’ve made it very, very clear that in the case of the 104 homes that Mike Greer Homes is contributing, they were brought to market more quickly, he reduced his margins, and there are more affordable homes available through Mike Greer than there otherwise would’ve been because of the KiwiBuild underwrite.

More feel good, but still waiting for actual good

Voter sentiment is changing from not wanting much change to wanting significant change. Some want revolution.

Perceived personality of politician has become more important than policies and actions – to an increasing number of voters and also to journalists who are increasingly involved in make the narrative rather than reporting.

But the hope of compassionate revolution is not (yet) being realised.

“We have moved into a political era where talk of empathy and compassion rates more highly than taking action, and the extent to which Jacinda Ardern can continue to rewrite the narrative this way will determine the outcome of the next election”

“The Prime Minister’s challenge is to entrench empathy and compassion as the basis of contemporary government, before evidence and achievement reassert themselves.”

Peter Dunne (Newsroom):  Government by worthy sentiment

For the older voters, the broad consensus from 1999 to 2017 was a welcome relief to the upheavals of the 1980s and early 1990s that had led them to opt for MMP in 1993, to place a greater restraint on governments. But for 1999 first time voters, most of whom would have been too young to recall directly the experiences and hardships of the restructurings of the 1980s and early 1990s, the same broad consensus was actually a straightjacket.

No matter the complexion of the government, the policy outcomes had still been broadly the same. While the country was being transformed, quietly and significantly, in those years, to those voters nothing much was actually seeming to change.

So it really did not matter to them which of the major parties was in power – they were all broadly the same anyway, and the succession of leaders each major party put up while in Opposition tended to confirm that.

If anything National under Simon Bridges’ leadership is becoming more old school conservative. His recent “What the Kiwi way of life means to me’ hints more than a little of ‘the good old days’ that we have evolved significantly away from.  There are ,more Kiwi ways of life than there ever was.

What these voters were yearning for, and did not see in contemporary political leaders, were “people like them” becoming more prominent in politics. People who would speak their language, and share their concerns and frustrations.

Bridges is failing at speaking anyone’s language well if at all.

The fortuitous arrival of Jacinda Ardern as leader of the Labour Party in quite dramatic circumstances weeks before the 2017 election was the tonic many of them were seeking to vote for, in the expectation of a real break from the status quo they had known all their voting lives. She was, after all, one of them, fitting their demographic near perfectly, and completely untainted by ever having held any previous significant or substantial political office. So, for her, no problem was insoluble, no challenge insurmountable, and no existing solution sufficient.

Her appeal was (and remains) that she is a break from the past in so many ways.

The contrast between Ardern and the four Labour leaders who preceded her was huge. She made an immediate impact when she stepped up. The media become unusually excited and gave her an enormous amount of favourable coverage, but people, voters, could see for themselves that she was different, she spoke a different language that resonated.

That of itself provides those voters with a confidence that she understands their plight, because she is living it too. Forget the fact that she has changed very few of the policies that Labour took to the 2011 and 2014 elections where they were trashed; or that those they have tried to implement now (like Kiwibuild) are becoming embarrassing failures.

Forget too that her Government now admits that it does not even know how to measure whether or not its policies are working, and the deteriorating relationship with our major trading partner.

It just seems not to matter because the sustaining feature of this Government is not anything it has done or stands for, but rather the effervescent personality of the Prime Minister, that fits the current mood of the group of voters around the median population age.

Indeed, it is highly doubtful whether many of them could articulate beyond the vaguest of platitudes what she actually stands for.

Your NZ commenters probably don’t represent average voters, but as an exercise I asked What does Jacinda Ardern stand for?

We are now in an almost post ‘politics as usual’ phase, where the previous emphasis on policy and delivery has given way to feeling and identifying with the issues of the day, although it is far from clear to where that is leading, or what the new norms will be.

The emerging reality is that, despite some of the rhetoric, we are moving into an era where commitment to aspiration (prioritising empathy and compassion) rates more highly than action (prioritising evidence and achievement).

The Prime Minister’s challenge is to entrench empathy and compassion as the basis of contemporary government, before evidence and achievement reassert themselves.

The extent to which she can rewrite the political narrative this way, and paint National as cold and heartless in the process, and therefore part of the past, rather than anything her Government manages to do, let alone what the opinion polls may say, will determine the outcome of the 2020 election.

I think many on the left would love for Judith Collins to take over the National leadership so they could build on the “cold and heartless” contrast with Ardern. As things stand Bridges playing into National’s opponents hands with his opposition to a compassionate approach to drug law, his opposition a compassionate legalising of euthanasia.

Ardern’s compassion and empathy and wellbeing and fairness – at a superficial level at least – is going to be hard to beat, unless Government failures to match rhetoric with action become too apparent (they are really struggling with housing and health in particular, with poorly performing Ministers Phil Twyford and David Clark).

National have indicated they plan to roll out policies this year, trying to offer substance over nice but empty words. But will voters listen, whether bridges or Collins are leading?

Labour are helped in the compassionate politics stakes by the Greens, but Winston Peters and NZ First are a sharply contrasting blast from the past. This may not matter if NZ First fail to make the threshold next election.

It may be that Ardern successfully manages to fool the masses with more feel good than actual good.

Public housing wait list climbs as landlords sell up

The waiting list for public housing has doubled over the past two years, increasing substantially since the Labour-led government took over in late 2017, despite Labour promising to increase housing stocks and decrease waiting lists and homelessness.

The suspension of tenancy reviews, and landlords selling up and getting out of supplying rental housing, have both been blamed.

Stuff:  Public housing waitlist cracks 10,000, with more families waiting for longer for housing

The public housing waitlist has rocketed past 10,000 as more people wait longer for public housing.

At the end of 2018 fully 10,712 eligible households were waiting for state or social housing – 73 per cent more than a year ago, and over three times the number waiting at the end of 2015.

The vast majority – 78 per cent – were deemed as “priority A”, meaning the Government believed they were the most in need of help. Almost half were in Auckland.

This is despite the Government building 1658 new public housing places over the last year, the largest increase in a decade.

Ministry of Housing and Urban Development officials blamed higher rents, greater awareness of public housing, and a slowdown in the rate of people exiting public housing for the increase.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said concerted effort over “many years” would be needed to fix homelessness.

He didn’t say that during the election campaign in 2017.

Twyford paused “tenancy review” last year – the process by which Housing New Zealand check whether a tenant is still eligible for a state or social home.

National housing spokeswoman Judith Collins vigorously criticised the move, but Twyford said previously that it had not contributed significantly to more people staying on in state homes – only around 200 households would have been up for review during the pause.

Tenancy review resumed on Monday with some changes: any family with children or someone over 65 is now exempt.

Emergency motel stays were on the up too.

In the three months to the end of 2018, 15,676 emergency housing grants for motel stays were granted -up from 14,000 the quarter prior. These went to just under 2700 individual clients – with many taking multiple grants. This was up from 2585 in the quarter prior.

Collins said Twyford’s multiple reforms to private rental market – both enacted and promised – had driven up rents as landlords were selling up and getting out of the business.

“Landlords are leaving the market in droves. The Government in its steps to try and attack landlords has actually sent a whole lot of people out of that market and that means that there is now more people wanting public housing,” Collins said.

“They are selling up and they are selling to people who might put two people or one person in a house rather than five or six.”

Twyford received advice last year from officials saying rents could rise as the result of his reforms to tenancy laws thanks to landlords feeling like they were under assault and selling up to owner-occupiers, who generally have less people in each house than renters.

“While these effects should be minor, the cumulative effect of changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 may lead landlords to perceive the effects as more than minor. As a result, even if legislative changes did not materially affect the financial returns of landlords, some many nevertheless choose to sell their rental properties,” the officials wrote.

“The combined increase of these policies will be to increase sales of rental properties, with fewer landlords purchasing.”

Twyford’s changes included ending letting fees and increasing the quality of rental properties via the Healthy Homes Act.

Sorting out major housing issues was never going to be quick or easy.

The National government were perceived to have dropped the ball on housing, and also on RMA reform (which would have made it easier and cheaper to open up land for development), leaving Twyford and the incoming government with huge problems too deal with.

If anything Twyford has managed it worse than National.

Newshub:  Action, not ‘rhetoric’ needed from Government on housing – poverty campaigner

Ricardo Menendez March from Auckland Action Against Poverty, thinks resources have been wrongly allocated.

“We’ve seen a lot of talk about KiwiBuild, we’ve seen a lot of talk about affordable private rentals, but the state housing sector has suffered as a result.”

Mr Menendez March said not enough is being done to solve the issue and the Government needs to focus on action.

“We are calling on the Government to look at genuinely pulling out all of the stops, not just rhetoric, actually putting in the resources required to build enough state homes.”

He said that more needs to be done to improve the unaffordable private rental market too, including regulation.

“The Government have said nothing about putting a cap on rents, introducing legislation to freeze rent increases or at least limit the amount.”

National should be bold with a new leader

The latest poll by Newshub/Reid Research has confirmed that party support has been volatile, with National getting a similar result in the first poll of this year to the first poll of last year, and not far away from a poll in October.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_next_New_Zealand_general_election

National are doing fairly well for a party in opposition after nine years in Government.

But the poll confirmed again that Simon Bridges is not doing well as leader.  Why?

Kate Hawkesby: Exactly what is it about Simon Bridges that voters don’t like?

Another poll, another bad day at the office for Simon Bridges.

So what is it voters don’t like about Simon Bridges? Is it the voice? Is it his perceived weakness? Is it his inability to bat away Jami-Lee Ross?

Is it just bad luck being the guy who had to follow John Key? Is it that people still don’t know him?

Probably all of those things – and more. You can add to that a lurch right on issues like cannabis law reform, euthanasia, abortion, and a conservative Bridges looks out of touch with modern New Zealand.

Or is it just that National’s base likes strong sassy and old-school – in the form of a Judith Collins?

Some like Collins, but I’m far from convinced she is a good choice to take over. While there is some strong support for Collins in National circles, there also seems to be strong opposition. Twice she has put herself forward for the leadership and she hasn’t come close.

I see another problem with switching from Bridges to Collins. They are both from National’s last Government. The country has moved on from that.

After Helen Cl;ark was defeated in 2008 and stepped down Labour went through a few years of giving MPs a go who had been there for yonks waiting for a go (Goff, Cunliffe), and trying newer MPs who didn’t look new (Shearer, Little). They all failed.

National should face the reality that it will be difficult for them to get back into power next year. By 2023 Bridges or Collins will be even more old school and potentially stale and out of touch.

If National really wants to look ahead I think they need to seriously look at choosing a leader for the future, and accept that next years election is likely to be a learning exercise.

I have no idea who would be suitable. I just think it is likely to be someone not on the leadership radar at the moment.

National may simply be too conservative to make a bold move, but they have done it before, backing the inexperienced John Key, and that proved successful.

Choosing a relatively inexperienced MP now who has obvious leadership potential, targeting 2023, seems like a pragmatic approach. And if Labour fail to deliver and crash next year, there is enough experience in national’s ranks to help a new Prime Minister – they should be in a better position to do this than Labour were with Ardern.

We need strong leadership of at least the major parties. Bridges doesn’t cut it.

I would like National to be bold and look to the future, but they don’;t seem to be ready for this yet. They may need another election loss to hammer home the need for real revitalisation and modernisation.

Head of KiwiBuild wasn’t working, now resigns

Last May Minister of Housing Phil Twyford praised the appointment of Stephen Barclay as Head of KiwiBuil:

It was revealed in December that Barclay, wasn’t working, but details weren’t given. Twyford refused to clarify – see Q+A: Phil Twyford “not my job to know” why KiwiBuild CEO not working:

Corin Dann: Do you know why he’s left the job..?

Phil Twyford: No, and I haven’t been advised on that, and it would be really inappropriate for me to comment…

Corin Dann: You don’t know why the CEO of KiwiBuild has not  been in the job since November.

Phil Twyford: Mmm. I know that he’s not at work, um but it’s literally not my job to know, and there are other people who deal with that, and they are, and I’m focussing on trying to get houses built.

Corin Dann: Has he actually resigned?

Phil Twyford: Corin, I can’t comment on this…It’s a matter relating to an individual public servant, and I simply cannot comment on it.

Barclay has now resigned from the job.

RNZ:  KiwiBuild head Stephen Barclay officially resigns

The head of KiwiBuild, Stephen Barclay has officially resigned from the role.

In a statement issued on his behalf, it was announced that he would step down from today.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford’s office said he would not be commenting on Mr Barclay’s resignation as it was an employment matter.

RNZ understands Mr Barclay’s absence arose from an employment dispute following the KiwiBuild unit’s transfer to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

In a statement, the Ministry of Housing’s chief executive Andrew Crisp said he recieved Mr Barclay’s letter of resignation just after 12pm today.

“I am considering how this affects the employment process currently underway,” Mr Crisp said.

KiwiBuild and Twyford have been under fire for some time, and this has given the Opposition more ammunition.

However, the resignation “does not bode well” for KiwiBuild, which “has already shown itself to be a much more difficult beast than Phil Twyford, or the government seem to anticipate,” National Party housing spokesperson Judith Collins said in a statement.

Mr Barclay was appointed to the position in May, but had been absent since November. There should be more transparency about what had happened, she said.

“It’s taken three months for Mr Barclay to exit from a role he held for only four months,” Ms Collins’ statement read.

KiwiBuild had been “fraught with issues”, including houses not selling, and the policy was not working. Mr Twyford should be upfront about why its head could not last a year in the role, she said.

Twyford has kept distancing himself from this.

But he won’t be able to keep distancing himself from the under performance of KiwiBuild if he can’t get the massive housing project cranked up this year.

Nonsense over written questions

National have been criticised for the number of written questions they have been submitting to Ministers. But National claim that Ministers are refusing to answer questions and avoiding answering questions, forcing National MPs to write multiple versions of very similar questions.

I think it’s sad to see such petty use and abuse of democratic processes. I think the responsibility is largely on Ministers to live up to their transparency hype.

RNZ: National’s written questions blitz at a new level – professor

A barrage of written questions from the National Party is heaping pressure on ministerial offices, prompting one to restructure and a government agency to hire a new staff member.

In the year since forming the government, ministers have received 42,221 written parliamentary questions from National MPs. That’s around 800 a week, or 115 a day, weekends included.

Several ministers have been caught tripping up over the process – which the National Party calls incompetence.

But Auckland University Emeritus Professor Barry Gustafson said the exercise appeared to be more of a fishing expedition than anything to do with policy.

That’s an odd comment from a professor. There’s more to effective Opposition than querying policy. Aren’t written questions basically there to enable fishing expeditions?

“They cast a hundred or thousand hooks into the sea and hope that they’ll pull up one fish.”

The opposition was searching for inconsistencies in ministers’ answers or something they could develop to embarrass the government.

“It’s getting well away, when you do that, from the original intention of written questions – which was to hold the government accountable on major policy matters and actions.”

“…and actions” is an important addition there.

The actions of two Ministers have already resulted in them stepping down or being sacked.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said his office had requested additional staffing to deal with the high volume of written questions and official information requests.

“This was unavailable so the office restructured to employ a staff member to coordinate responses,” he said in a statement.

There have been important questions to ask about the deferral of an extradition.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the KiwiBuild unit in the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had to hire someone with the primary job of answering opposition questions.

Mr Twyford said he was committed to answering questions properly as they were an important part of the parliamentary process.

But he said “there’s no doubt that the volume and the trivial nature of some of the questions is a deliberate tactic by the opposition to tie up government staff resources.”

I think there’s quite a bit of doubt about Twyford’s claim.

National housing spokesperson Judith Collins stood by every one of her questions.

Opposition MPs had to ask very specific questions when a minister refused to answer broader questions properly, Ms Collins said.

“You end up having to send maybe five or six questions, when one decent answer was all you actually wanted.”

I’ve seen examples of this.

I thought the Greens were supposed to be into transparent Government.

Other ministers’ offices had pulled people off their usual posts in various ministries, which Prof Gustafson said was a waste of taxpayer money.

“You’re going to clog the system up with a lot of quite trivial and unnecessary [questions].

So who should decide which questions are too trivial? It certainly shouldn’t be left to the Ministers.

Prof Gustafson said both sides were guilty.

In 2010 the Labour MP Trevor Mallard, now Parliament’s Speaker, wrote and sent 20,570 questions to National ministers.

While Mr Mallard would not comment on whether he thought that was appropriate, he said he had noticed that “ministers who proactively release material are subject to fewer questions”.

In other words, Ministers who are transparent don’t get hassled with so many questions. Ministers who try to play avoidance games get more questions. There’s a simple answer there.

National MP Chris Bishop (@cjsbishop):

Here are some things written questions are used for:

  1. To find out who Ministers are meeting. Because that matters.
  2. To find out what papers they’re getting. Because that matters (I usually then OIA ones I’m interested in).
  3. To see what they’re taking to Cabinet
  4. To get stats. Eg how many new police have been hired by new government. Because they made promises around that.
  5. To track how the govt is going on fulfilling its commitments in the coalition document. Eg thanks to written questions we know that Stats Minister James Shaw as done absolutely nothing about starting a review of the official measures of unemployment, even though it’s in the coalition document.
  6. To dive further into detail behind Ministerial answers in the House, where supps are severely limited.
  7. To get the government to provide evidence for statements they make. What Ministers say matters. And the proof for statements (or lack of it) matters.

In short, written questions are bloody important. We’ve asked a lot, cos we’re working hard. Written questions brought down Claire Curran and have provided material for innumerable press releases and oral questions.

Good government matters. Good opposition makes governments perform better. Written questions are a vital tool of Parliamentary accountability.

I thought the Greens had committed to something like that, but James Shaw or his staff don’t appear to be practicing what they have preached.

All parties play games and play the system in ways they think will help them achieve what they want.

National were bad in how they played Official Information requests. But this Government is looking like they could be worse, despite ‘promising’ to be better.

What I think the main problem here is – we have a Government that claimed they would improve transparency, that they would be the most transparent government ever, but their actions suggest the opposite.

Politics and Kiwibuild

The Government used the first couple take possession of a KiwiBuild house in a publicity promotion for their policy.

Then an uproar erupted over criticising KiwiBuild, using the couple as an example.

Judith Collins got involved, which attracted a lot of criticism. and so it goes on.