Consensus government or an awful mess?

It’s certainly been a messy week for the Government. Is it a sign of a bigger, awful mess?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tried to paper over some of this weeks cracks by claiming it was consensus government in action, but there were worrying suggestions it was the opposite – both Labour and NZ First ministers look like they are pushing their own agendas with poor or non-existent communication between them.

There are worrying signs of a lack of overall leadership, and this is at a very tricky time, with Ardern distracted by having a baby and due to go on maternity leave as soon as her baby is born (actually as soon as she goes into Labour and goes into hospital).

The big unknown is whether things will spiral more out of control with Winston Peters in charge.

The media have observed this weeks mess and many have commented on it.

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Three ring circus with one ringmaster at the centre – buckle in for a wild ride

Consensus government in action, or a bloody awful mess?

It’s difficult to characterise the past week as anything but the latter and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may be worried about whether she’ll have a Government to come back to when she returns from maternity leave.

Her MPs don’t exactly make it easy for her.

And if this week has illustrated anything it’s what lies at the beating heart of any coalition-related controversy – Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has been at the centre of everything.

I don’t think he has. He had nothing to do with the David Clark revelations. And nothing to do with the Green uprising over granting water bottling rights.

And nothing to do with Stuart Nash telling a parliamentary committee he didn’t bother reading advice on what effect increasing poluice numbers might have, and would have ignored the advice if he had read it.

Peters  wasn’t directly involved in Kelvin Davis announcing a new prison that will rely on double bunking to cater for growing prisoner numbers – and Davis went as far as saying they could resort to mattresses on the floor. Peters didn’t directly cause that brain fart, but Labour are limited in becoming more lenient on imprisonment when they require NZ First votes to do any law changes.

But Peters dumped Little in a big mess over 3 strikes.

It began with a hastily-arranged press conference by Justice Minister Andrew Little, to reveal that his grand plan to repeal the three strikes legislation had been shot out of the sky.

He’d spent the previous week giving interviews about his plans to take it to Cabinet and push forward – the only issue was, he did not have the numbers to do so. More embarrassingly for Little, Peters decided to wait until the 11th hour to let him know.

Total humiliation  awaits any member of Cabinet who threatens to step outside the bounds of MMP and attempt a “first past the post”-style power play to get ahead of public opinion – that’s what Little got and really, he should have expected it.

That was in part self inflicted, but Peters played Little then dumped on him big time.

Never one to play second fiddle, Peters also took a starring role in a different drama. Days out from assuming the seat at the head of the Cabinet table was the moment he chose to file papers in the High Court, suing the Government and top officials over their handling of his private superannuation details.

Ardern’s assertions rang out more as pleas, that his actions were a totally private matter. Presiding over a Cabinet that may be liable for an eventual payout to Peters is awkward at best, and a clear conflict at worst – a matter that is most certainly in the public interest.

Peters’ court action looks debatable, but he has made Ardern look weak – or more accurately, Ardern has made herself look weak, just as she is about to hand over most of her power to Peters.

Meanwhile, as sources across multiple polls have suggested NZ First has well and truly settled below the 5 per cent MMP threshold, Shane Jones has pulled out the megaphone to tear strips off Fonterra. A total overstep many might say, of a Minister of the Crown. However, Ardern is adamant these comments were made in a private capacity, despite Jones as good as repeating them in the House.

This again makes Ardern look weak if not impotent in her own Government.

And she is now sidelined, leaving Peters and Jones to take on board this week’s signals and likely do as they please to raise their profile, putting the government at risk.

And Labour’s ministers look increasingly arrogant, uncoordinated and messy.

The Government looks like a bunch of headless chooks, with the fox about to take over the hen house.

 

Smaller Waikeria prison upgrade plus mental health facility

The Government has announced that it will build a far smaller (500 bed) replacement high security prison at Waikeria than what the previous Government had proposed, plus a special purpose 100 bed mental health facility.

The only problem with the later may be that it is too small.

With the former being substantially scaled down there will be increased pressure on the Government on how to deal with the quickly expanding prison population.

Media statement from Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis:


• 500 bed high security prison to be constructed at Waikeria

• First-of-its-kind 100 bed mental health facility

• Completion due by early 2022

The Government will build a world-leading high security replacement prison at Waikeria, setting a new direction for Corrections in New Zealand while ditching the American-style mega prison planned by the previous National Government, Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis announced today.

The prison will include a first-of-its-kind in New Zealand mental health facility to address the high rate of mental health issues prevalent in the prison population.

“Today sets a new direction for prisons in New Zealand, putting public safety first while delivering real rehabilitation and mental health support to reduce reoffending,” said Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis at the site of the new prison at Waikeria.

The new high-security prison, to be delivered by early 2022, will accommodate 500 prisoners, with the ability to provide mental health treatment for a further 100 offenders.

“New Zealand is safer when the most violent offenders are locked away, but prison is also a place where offenders should be rehabilitated, not trained by other prisoners to become more hardened criminals.

“This strikes the right balance between showing hardened criminals the consequences of their actions, and providing a new facility that can work to rehabilitate prisoners and reduce our appalling rate of re-offending.

“The new mental health facility will service urgent need within our prison system. 62 per cent of prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse disorder in the last twelve months. We currently do very little to help turn these people’s lives around.

“National’s plan to build a mega prison for up to 2,000 prisoners at Waikeria was a clear sign it had given up. They are expensive and ineffective, becoming super-sized factories that just turn low level criminals into hardened criminals.

“This will be one of New Zealand’s smallest prisons. We know smaller prisons make rehabilitation more likely, are closer to communities and link better to local work programmes.

“Prisons shouldn’t be resorts and offenders must face consequences, but we can’t expect prisoners to turn their lives around and walk out the doors ready to be better people if we lock them away in a breeding ground for crime.

“Today’s decision draws a line under New Zealand’s failed prison policy and sets us on a new path towards better prisons, that make our communities safer,” said Kelvin Davis.

http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1806/Waikeria_speech_Kelvin_Davis.docx

http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1806/Waikeria_FAQs.docx


Odd that this was available via Scoop but not from the Beehive website.

Kelvin Davis – no substance to melt down

Kelvin Davis was in the news for the wrong reasons this week, but it can’t be called a melt down, his performance has been little more than liquid for a nearly a year.

What seems a long time ago now, in Opposition, Davis looked like a solid Labour MP with good prospects. When Jacinda Ardern was suddenly elevated to leader Davis was appointed her deputy, and that looked like a smart combination.

But while Ardern stepped up with aplomb, Davis looked way out of his depth, and has struggled to tread water since.

Below the Beltway marks him down on this week’s bad press:

Kelvin Davis – the deputy Labour leader has been missing in action for months, ostensibly while on the road to consult with iwi. But his performance at a select committee raised questions about whether, in fact, the roadshow is just Labour’s cunning plan to keep him in hiding.

Hubris already, Labour?

Kelvin Davis’ appearance at a select committee this week was so excruciating some seasoned watchers almost had to shield their eyes.

Refusing to answer questions, he told Opposition MPs “you guys are in the bilges while we’re up on the bridge looking at the big thing”.

To labour the metaphors further, Davis added:  “In a tourism sense, I’d say we’re looking at the lakes and you guys are looking at puddles.”

Then when National MP Jacqui Dean asked him about the impact of small business costs on tourism jobs, Davis used the classic male put-down, accusing her of being “hysterical” (he didn’t say “hysterical woman”, but might as well have).

It usually takes at least three years for government ministers to get that arrogant. Has Davis just broken the speed record?

So not a good look for Davis, nor for Labour. The timing of this is unfortunate given Ardern is soon to go on maternity leave, leaving Davis as Labour’s senior leader in action (presumably 2IC to Winston Peters).

RNZ: Davis under fire for ‘vacant’ performance in Parliament

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis has given a “vacant” and “complacent” performance at Parliament, refusing to answer basic questions about his portfolio, National MPs say.

National MP Todd McClay described it as “possibly the worst performance of any minister in any select committee ever” and demanded he be recalled.

“He was vacant, not just complacent. He frankly couldn’t answer a single question. I think the tourism industry deserves much, much more than non-answers from a non-minister.”

Mr McClay said the public deserved answers about a budget worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The committee now needs to consider whether it got the detailed response it needs … and if not, this minister should come back before the committee.”

The select committee’s chair, National MP Jonathan Young, said that was a possibility “if we feel that we’re quite dissatisfied with the level of information that we’ve received”.

“Prior to the Budget, they kept saying ‘you’ll have to wait and see’. And here we are, investigating the Budget, and we’re getting ‘you’ll have to wait and see’ again. That’s just totally unacceptable”.

Mr Davis was questioned by the committee about a range of topics including the international tourism levy which Labour campaigned on before the election.

Pressed for details about the levy, Mr Davis repeatedly told the National MPs they’d have to “wait and see”.

“We’re quite confident that we won’t have a problem in attracting visitors to New Zealand.”

Ministry officials confirmed that they did not believe the proposed levy or the $6 million drop in the tourism budget would affect rising visitor numbers.

Mr Davis objected several times to Mr McClay describing the proposal as a “border tax”, eventually refusing to answer a question.

“Sorry, we’re not implementing a tax, but if you want to rephrase the question…”

At one point, Mr Davis accused National MP Jacqui Dean of being “a bit hysterical” for asking about the impact of minimum wage rises on small business.

“What if there’s no jobs for [New Zealanders]?” Ms Dean asked.

“I think you’re being a bit hysterical about that, to be honest. There will be jobs.”

Ms Dean shot back that the comment was “offensive”.

Yesterday Davis apologised, and Ardern expressed her disapproval –PM has words, Davis says he let himself down when he called National MP ‘hysterical’:

The Prime Minister has had words with her deputy over him calling a National MP “hysterical” and has told Kelvin Davis he shouldn’t have said it.

In a statement from Jacinda Ardern’s office, a spokeswoman said, “Minister Davis has apologised to Jacqui Dean and to the Prime Minister herself.

“The Prime Minister says he should not have made that comment and he understands that.”

More details of Davis’s performance at the Select Committee:

Davis is one of the poorest performers in Government, made worse by his position as Labour’s deputy leader. Labour and/or Davis have hidden from scrutiny as much as possible, but with Ardern soon to go on leave this will be more difficult.

Davis needs to step up, or he may have to step down.

Waikeria ‘mega prison’ won’t be built but Government remains vague

Decisions on what to do about an escalating New Zealand prison population are still pending, but the government has revealed it has ruled out building a 2.500 bed prison expansion at Waikeria. other options are being considered.

Limited measures were announced in the Budget. Grant Robertson:

Our goal is to stop the spiralling prison population and reduce it by 30 percent over the next 15 years.

To respond to unavoidable short-term pressures, this Budget will fund accommodation for 600 more prisoner places in rapid-build modular units. Meanwhile, initiatives are being developed to reduce the number of people in prison, while keeping New Zealanders safe.

Three days later the Waikeria expansion was raised by Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta in a TVNZ Marae discussion – Questions surround prison after Maori Development Minister says they won’t throw ‘$1 billion at a prison Waikeria’

Appearing on TVNZ1’s Marae, Nanaia Mahuta was answering a question from National MP Jami-Lee Ross about what the budget meant for struggling families.

“We aren’t going to throw 1 billion dollars at a prison in Waikeria. We want to put it into the regional economy,” Ms Mahuta said today.

Broadcaster Miriama Kamo asked Ms Mahuta directly if that meant the prison was a no-go.

“Let’s clarify, did you just say there will not be a mega prison in Waikeria?”

Ms Mahuta said it was a matter for the Corrections minister to decide.

“I think if you build bigger prisons, they’ll get filled.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson was quick to respond:

This prompted more questions. Stuff: Government says Waikeria won’t be ‘mega prison’, but a wider decision is pending

Asked for further comment Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said the wider decision was still pending but confirmed the “mega-prison” plans would not go ahead. However, he left the option open to expand the prison more moderately.

“We are looking at all the options to deal with the rising prison population and our current capacity crisis,” Davis said.

“I can confirm, we will not be building a mega prison with 2500 beds as proposed by the National government.

“But that decision alone does not deal with the challenges I have mentioned. And we will take action, but it will be considered and not reactive.”

Davis said he would be taking his time to make the right decision, looking at “all the options across the board”. He said he would be working with Justice Minister Andrew Little and Police Minister Stuart Nash.

The 600 prison beds announced in the budget will help address the problem, but only partially.

On Friday…

 …the union representing prison workers was calling on the Government to make a decision soon.

“All prison staff, including Community Corrections staff working in prisons, are under constant pressure, because prisons are so overcrowded they can’t do the rehabilitation work inmates need,” Public Services Association organiser Willie Cochrane said.

“600 beds will not be enough to ease the current crisis, because so many of the current prison areas are not fit to house inmates.

“If that expansion isn’t going ahead, we want to hear what more he’ll do to expand the capacity of our prisons in the short term and keep our members safe in the workplace.”

Cochrane said on Sunday…

…his members wanted a clearer response.

“Frankly, this comment from the Minister leaves us none the wiser,” Cochrane said.

“Our members welcome Labour’s commitment to cut the number of people in prison. But right now, the system is close to breaking point, and our members are getting frustrated at the time the government is taking to reach a decision.”

Labour has been vague on how they would address the growing prison population since before the election. Last August (The Spinoff):

Labour’s policy announcements have so far been all but silent on criminal justice policy. Other than 1,000 additional frontline police – a commitment that will significantly fuel rather than stem the prison population – there is no clear plan to tackle prisons. Indeed, Davis’ announcement-not-announcement of a prison run on tikanga Māori values was quickly quashed by then Labour leader Andrew Little. Until now, a question mark has hovered over Labour’s corrections policy.

Davis and his rise to the role of deputy leader of the Labour Party may yet represent one of the most exciting developments in prison policy in decades. Backed by a leader with a similarly clear vision for a more effective and humane approach to crime and punishment, a seismic shift in corrections policy could come by way of a Labour-Greens government.

With an incumbent prime minister who famously labelled prisons as “a moral and fiscal failure” and a minister of corrections desperately seeking options to reduce the prison population, Labour can put forward a radical platform to overhaul the prison system and National will be unable to do much more than nod along in agreement. There is the very real possibility – pinch me now – that this election we could see a rational, evidence-based debate on the way forward for New Zealand’s broken prison system. Let’s do that.

There has been little sign of “a rational, evidence-based debate on the way forward for New Zealand’s broken prison system”, just vagueness and delays.

Davis, Little and Labour are going  to have to make some major decisions on prisons and imprisonment rates soon.

Further boom in tourism forecast, infrastructure warning

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has forecast up to a 40% increase in tourist numbers by 2024 (that’s just 6 years away). The opportunities have been welcomed by Local Government New Zealand, but they have warned that already stretched infrastructure will be put under more pressure.

Tourism Minister Kelvn Davis: Tourism growth forecast to continue

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis has welcomed new forecasts showing international visitor spending is expected to grow 40 per cent to $14.8 billion a year by 2024.

The New Zealand Tourism Forecasts 2018-2024 were released today by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“New Zealand’s tourism sector is forecast to grow steadily over the next seven years, reaching 5.1 million visitors annually by 2024, up 37 per cent from 2017,” Mr Davis says.

“We expect to see numbers climb fairly rapidly over the next two years, due to favourable economic conditions and better air connectivity, but over the longer term growth will be more moderate.

Mr Davis says a healthy tourism industry is great for New Zealand, though there is work to do to ensure the sustainability of the sector.

“It is important that the Government, councils and industry work together to meet the challenges that accompany the forecast growth.”

It’s worth remembering that John Key was Minister of Tourism for much of the last decade.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ): Predicted tourism boom could push infrastructure to breaking point

LGNZ President Dave Cull says that a new forecast predicting an international visitor increase of 37% to 5.1 million annually by 2024 will be a great boost to regional economies across New Zealand, however infrastructure is already under pressure and much more is needed to ensure a fair funding division is achieved between tourists and local ratepayers.

“The tourism sector is predicted to grow rapidly over the next two years, but as evidenced last summer infrastructure it is extremely stretched in many regions, with provision of public toilets, car parks and basic potable and waste water infrastructure coming at a substantial cost to communities,” says Mr Cull.

“Those communities with scale can share the burden across many rate payers, but smaller ratepaying bases are picking up big bills to accommodate visitor demand and the lack of infrastructure is resulting in tension among communities.”

Mr Cull contends that the increase in international visitor spend should be harnessed to provide tourism infrastructure.

“This is about fairness. It’s not right to burden ratepayers with subsiding the entire cost of infrastructure which is used by tourists, and there needs to be a new mechanism for tourism to support itself.”

LGNZ is advocating strongly to Government on councils’ behalf that the Government introduce a Local Tourist Tax to raise the necessary funding to meet the capital and operating costs associated with tourism mix-used infrastructure future demand, thus alleviating the financial burden on local ratepayers.

Without the necessary funding tools to ensure the needs of both locals and tourists are met, New Zealand faces the prospect of over promising and under delivering in a sector that is so critical to our economic future.

“New Zealand should be known as a high-quality tourist destination with fit-for-purpose facilities to handle the expected increase in numbers and a country that welcomes and embraces their visit.”

The forecast is both promising and challenging.

Waikeria prison decision deferred again

Some work has started on a controversial new prison at Waikeria, but no announcement has yet been made on what is being built.

On 29 March (Stuff) Andrew Little confirms decision on Waikeria within two weeks

Justice Minister Andrew Little has confirmed a decision will be made regarding the future of Waikeria prison within two weeks.

The Government originally promised to make the decision by the end of March but are pushing the deadline to mid-April.

Mr Little has previously said on Newshub Nation he wants to shift justice policy towards rehabilitation in order to lower prison numbers, saying what he saw when visiting Waikeria Prison “horrified him”.

“You have to ask yourself whether this is a place where someone can go from being bad to being good.”

Mr Little said he remained open to the idea of amending bail laws, which Labour previously supported tightening, but says there was no specific plan in place to change them

The Minister said within two or three months there would be a “high profile summit on criminal justice issues to get public debate going”.

Prison populations are projected to soar to over 12,000 by 2022.

Nearly four weeks later still no announcement but some work has started: Otorohanga still hoping for Waikeria prison expansion

Preparatory work has begun at the Waikeria prison site in the King Country, even though the Government has still not decided if it will go ahead with the expansion.

The Department of Corrections said that despite putting the expansion decision on ice, the Government agreed for Corrections to continue some preparatory work at Waikeria while options were considered.

Last Wednesday, Justice Minister Andrew Little said a decision on the “mega prison” would be made public within the next few weeks.

Another few weeks. The prison poses a dilemma for the Government, who have pledged to slash prison numbers but that will take time, and they are currently faced with having to deal with a growing prison population.

There are important legal considerations, as well as finding the money from a budget under pressure to deliver on election pledges.

Waatea News earlier this month: Waikeria decision sparks letter campaign

Campaign group Action Station says 1300 supporters have written letters to Justice Minister Andrew Little and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis urging them to stop the new billion-dollar prison in Waikeria.

Action Station director Laura O’Connell Rapira says the community are passionate about supporting efforts to build a more compassionate justice system which prioritises prevention, restoration and rehabilitation, and an end to the over-incarceration of Maori people.

She says while the Government is concerned about the state of prisons and wants to end double-bunking, a new prison will inevitably fail in terms of reducing crime.

But in the short term growing numbers have to be housed.

There may be no real choice but to build a prison at Waikeria, but if plans are to substantially reduce the prison population this would be a good opportunity to take a radical new approach to prisons, especially in relation to the disproportionate number of Māori prisoners.

If it doesn’t work, then it can be scrapped as numbers are reduced, and if it does work well then older traditional prison space can be scrapped.

But there is an indication a different approach is not being considered.

RNZ: Govt yet to pursue idea of separate Māori prison

The Corrections Minister has not looked to advance an idea he pushed while in opposition, to establish a separate Māori prison.

And a decision on whether to build a new $1 billion prison at Waikeria in rural Waikato is still pending – a month after Kelvin Davis said a final decision would be made.

As Labour’s opposition spokesperson, Mr Davis argued prisoner numbers could be reduced through rehabilitation programmes in a prison run on a kaupapa Māori based approach.

In February this year, he said he was not ruling anything in or out, when asked whether he’d be progressing any units or prisons based on a Māori-only model.

Last week, in a response to an official information request, Mr Davis said while he had been looking at strategies to reduce Māori offending, he had received no advice about a separate Māori prison.

He said he was committed to reducing the prison population by 30 percent over the next 15 years and “addressing the issue of Māori over representation” in prisons.

“I am working with staff, non-government and Māori organisations and communities to meet this challenge and make a meaningful change for all prisoners, including Māori,” Mr Davis said in a letter to RNZ.

It seems odd that Davis hasn’t been looking at Māori-only model, or a Māori-focussed model, while a decision is being made about the Waikeria prison expansion.

It could be something to do with this:

Mr Davis floated the idea of a separate Māori prison last year, as a way of reducing the prison population, a proposal shut down by the party’s leader at the time, Andrew Little.

Davis may have ditched his proposal, or it may have been ditched for him.

The Government can’t keep pushing out a new prison decision for ‘a few weeks’. They will probably have to commit funds in the budget in three weeks. We may find out then whether a Waikeria will be just more of the same, or something bold and different.

Acting Prime Minister

While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters are overseas together, as they are now, Labour’s deputy leader takes on the role of Acting Prime Minister. However Kelvin Davis has kept a low profile.

From Stuff – Below the beltway: The week in politics

Kelvin Davis: Davis has been acting prime minister while Ardern was in Europe all week. We forgive you for having absolutely no idea. While avoiding any mishaps or the spotlight at all might have been a deliberate policy, this would have been a good time Davis to rise his political profile at least a little bit. His interview with RNZ in the Prime Minister’s normal slot wasn’t so bad that it made headlines, but he could have done a much better job defending the Government – he missed an obvious error in the premise of one of the questions which would have turned the conversation around well.

RNZ had some coverage of Davis during the week:

The latest political polling is a mixed bag, with something to celebrate and something to worry about for every party involved.

Acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis says it’s not a good look for Mr Bridges. He also discusses the government ending oil and gas exploration permits, saying he has had a lot of support for it in Northland, and it’s the right thing to do.

Big overseas trip for Ardern – and for the Government

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has set off on an international trip for a couple of weeks. It began with a visit to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast yesterday. She then goes to Europe to meet with the leaders of Germany and France, and then on to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London.

She is also scheduled to visit the Queen – that’s right up Ardern’s celebrity PR style alley.

Trade will be high on Ardern’s political agenda.

It will be interesting to see how things play out here in her absence, given the difficult last month for the Government.

Craig McCulloch (RNZ): CHOGM great chance for PM to be gone

The trip comes at a pivotal time in international relations – roughly one year ahead of the United Kingdom’s final departure from the European Union. Much of the focus then will be on trade.

New Zealand is ready to jump into bed with the EU as soon as the member states hit the green-light on negotiations.

Officials here hope that could come in the next few months and former Trade Minister Todd McClay understands a date is set for late May.

As for the UK, it’s already signalled New Zealand will be one of the first cabs off the rank for a trade agreement.

But official negotiations can’t Bregin till Britain formally Brexits (sorry) in March next year.

At that point, the UK will go into a 21-month transition phase during which it can finally start negotiating deals.

CHOGM has always been regarded as one of the less-important global events – a bi-annual gab-fest between former British colonies.

…it’s the first since the Brexit vote and the first in London in more than three decades.

Leaders from all but two of the 53 Commonwealth countries are to attend. In previous years, as many as half didn’t turn up.

CHOGM is unlikely to hit many headlines.

The photo opportunities too will be priceless for the Prime Minister. Her media team will be hanging out for that shot of her alongside the similarly-youthful Emmanuel Macron. And don’t forget the Queen. Never forget the Queen.

The media are unlikely to let anyone forget the Queen, who is old enough to be Ardern’s grandmother. Irrelevant pap is likely to get the most attention.

Both Ms Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters will use the opportunity to do the rounds and meet some new faces.

With both Ardern and Peters overseas (a problem when you have the deputy PM as Foreign Minister) who will be fronting up for the Government here?

Labours deputy leader Kelvin Davis? he has been virtually anonymous since performing poorly after his sudden promotion during the election campaign last year.

He may have done some homework since and be able to answer the occasional question. It will be interesting to see how he shapes up. he may get to be acting PM a bit over the next few months with Ardern out of action for a few weeks and Peters in charge but still with international duties.

The Government’s new prison dilemma

After years of populist politics pushing up police numbers and sentences the number of people in New Zealand prisons has grown markedly.

We have just about used up all available beds, projections are for more prisoners (more than the more predicted), and there are plans to increase the number of police by another 1800.

The previous Government had planned a new prison to cope. The new Government wants to reduce prisoner numbers, so they have a dilemma – proceed with the new prison, or risk appearing soft on criminals.

Dave Armstrong: Locking away the logic and throwing away the key

Help! There are only 300 prison beds left to accommodate our booming prison population and our useless Labour Government is sitting on its hands wondering whether to build a new $1 billion prison.

That’s the present situation, if the National Party is to be believed.

The facts are that despite our crime levels staying pretty much in line with other countries over the last 30 years, our prison population has skyrocketed thanks to various “get tough” policies enacted by previous governments.

The policy of the previous government seemed to be that in order to get tough on law and order you needed to build more prisons to accommodate all the new criminals. And build them it did.

Now Davis, thanks to his predecessors, is in the unenviable position of either committing to building a $1b prison he doesn’t want or risking an accommodation crisis and alienating police, prison and justice staff – the very people he needs to help him reduce the prison population.

So, given that we don’t want violent criminals roaming the streets, how do we reduce prison numbers?

One option is that, instead of using the extra police to catch more criminals, to focus them on crime prevention.

Another is to re-evaluate what sort of people should be locked up.

A good start would be to get rid of people who aren’t violent. Thankfully, the Government wants to treat drug addiction as a health rather than criminal problem. Governments that do this, such as Portugal’s, report a decrease in drug crime. I suspect the legalisation of cannabis would greatly reduce gang-related crime.

But the current Government seems seriously averse to addressing to obvious problems with our drug laws, apart from allowing a Green referendum probably at the end of this term, that will probably be ignored by the next Government.

Half of prisoners are Māori, so let’s admit that the New Zealand penal system has failed dismally and that we need to look at new initiatives. I understand that many Pākehā may feel uncomfortable with autonomous Māori-run penal facilities, but how would they feel if such facilities were found to slash Māori offending?

The most vocal seem to be focussed on locking up and punishing, rather than addressing the causes of crime.

We know that many prisoners lack education.

We should be locking our prisoners in the classrooms of whatever they want to learn, with inspiring teachers, and throwing away the key.

A large number of prisoners are illiterate.

You don’t need qualifications to be a criminal – but prisons are effective crime universities, but associating people with bleak mainstream futures with experienced criminals looking for recruits.

Davis has had a shaky start in Parliament this term but his record on Corrections has been exemplary. I hope he listens to the top academics who have recently urged him not to build the new prison and ignores the calls from the people who are clamouring for yet another expensive hi-tech monument to our failed penal policies of the past.

But that could be tricky. They can’t just release prisoners to reduce numbers. It’s not an easy or quick thing to turn around in the timeframe needed to make decisions on new prisons.

Kaye versus Davis on Partnership Schools

It’s fair to say that Kelvin Davis has been unimpressive as Labour’s deputy leader. He is also in an awkward position over Partnership Schools, last year having threatened to resign if they are closed. Current Government policy seems to be to shut them down.

Davis was questioned by Nikki Kaye in Parliament today in his role as Associate Minister of Education (Māori Education).

@GwynnCompton tweeted:

Wow! just demonstrated in the House that Kelvin Davis may have given preferential treatment to Partnership Schools he’s connected to, and the cold shoulder to those he’s not. Needs to be stood down immediately by pending an investigation.

Not only should Davis had recused himself from any dealings with He Puna Marama Trust due to his role as Associate Education Minister, but he then knowingly ignored another Partnership School in his electorate!

3. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Associate Minister of Education (Māori Education): What discussions and visits has he had with schools to discuss Māori education and any opportunities for improved achievement?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Associate Minister of Education): I’ve visited schools and have had many discussions as both Associate Minister of Education and as the local MP for Te Tai Tokerau. We are working on ways to improve achievement, including removing national standards and increasing the supply of Māori and Te Reo teachers.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Has he made any undertakings to a partnership school helping young Māori that he would ensure that their school would be approved as a special character school?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No.

Hon Nikki Kaye: When he said in relation to a discussion about Māori education, “I’ve been working closely with He Puna Marama Trust, and the CEO and the senior management there and we’re very confident that together we’ll make sure this transition happens very easily with very little fuss.”, was he speaking to this partnership school in his capacity as a Minister?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No. And when I was speaking to them, I talked them through the information that the Minister has made publicly available to allay the fears of the scaremongering and misinformation that the Opposition has been bandying around.

Hon Nikki Kaye: When he said yesterday in Parliament in relation to Māori education, “I’ve had communications with some current charter schools.”, has he had any communications with partnership schools that are not in his electorate; if so, which ones?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Can he confirm that when he said yesterday that he’d had discussions with charter schools in his electorate that he has given preferential treatment to some partnership schools in his electorate but the cold shoulder to others?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The premise is just wrong.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Isn’t it true that he made himself available to discuss education impacting young Māori with He Puna Mārama, but when Villa Education Trust, in his electorate, sent him 50 pieces of correspondence, the only thing they got back was being asked to be taken off their mailing list?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I have absolutely no idea what the member is talking about.

Hon Tracey Martin: Can the Minister confirm, or is he aware of, other Associate Ministers of Education who have had interaction with the sponsors of Villa schools or conversations with chief executives of charter schools such as Vanguard—among the other Associate Ministers of Education?

Mr SPEAKER: No, that’s actually not a matter that is the Minister’s responsibility.

Later in the afternoon the Education Amendment act was debated. First up Minister of Education Chris Hipkins referred to Partnership Schools:

The bill provides for the removal of charter schools from the New Zealand education system. This fulfils a clear commitment made by Labour, by New Zealand First, and by the Green Party from the moment the charter school model was first mooted.

The bill does include transitional provisions, which means that the repeal of this legislation will not affect existing charter schools that are currently in operation. This bill has no impact on them at all. In parallel with this legislative process, we are having conversations with those existing charter schools about how they might come into the public education system, and there are a range of options for that on the table.

I think it’s unfortunate that some members of this House have been encouraging schools not to take part in that negotiation process. They would prefer that those schools closed rather than continued to educate and people. They would rather turn those young people into—well, make them into—footballs for their political purposes rather than acting in the best interests of those young New Zealanders.

I am aware, from the feedback that I’ve had so far, that the operators of the existing charter schools have largely ignored those urgings from the members opposite and are engaging in good faith about how they can continue to deliver education for young New Zealanders, and I encourage them to keep doing that. When we said that we were going to negotiate with them in good faith, that is exactly what we meant, and we are going to live up to that commitment.

Nikki Kaye in response:

Look, the National Party is opposing this bill, and we’re opposing it for a range of reasons. I think my message to the Government is they may be quite surprised at how many people end up submitting on this bill. The number of parents that are writing to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education regarding the removal of national standards is phenomenal.

I’ve given speeches in this House and, as I said before, I protested on the weekend. I know that there are members opposite, including Kelvin Davis, who threatened to resign if these partnership schools were closed. The reality is—here are the facts.

Kelvin Davis:

So when they’re all open next year, what are you going to do?

Nikki Kay:

The facts are that what this legislation and what the ministry is doing—and they confirmed this at select committee so members can yell all they want, but they actually can’t deny these facts—is that the partnership schools are being given these options: mutually terminate, terminate, or see out your contract. The model is gone. That means that those partnership schools close.

Davis has given a speech in response:

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Associate Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Madam Assistant Speaker. Well, that was a waste of breath. The member may as well have not even started speaking.

…Then we get to charter schools themselves, and the model is going. Now I remember in the election campaign, and it’s well documented, that I said that I would resign if any of those schools—the two schools up in the far north—were closed. Now I could say that as the member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau, safe in the knowledge—with my educational background—that there were alternatives that would be able to be implemented, because we can close the model but the schools don’t have to close.

Now, here’s the test. All those people over there who are saying I need to resign—

David Seymour: You do.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: —and I’ll take David Seymour there—if those schools’ doors are open on day one of next year, if the same teachers are teaching in that school, if those same children are there wearing the same uniforms, will that member resign? Will any of these members resign if the school is still operating, albeit under a different model?

Erica Stanford: What about the other charter schools in your electorate?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No, it won’t be a charter school. Will that member over there who’s spouting off—will she resign? Yes or no? Put up or shut up. Put up or shut up. You don’t have any moral mandate—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): Order! Order!

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: —to sit there and bellow your—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): Order! Order! Do not bring the Speaker into the debate.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: My apologies, Madam Assistant Speaker. But those people over there do not have any moral mandate to call for my resignation if they’re not prepared to resign for themselves if those schools—the doors are open, the same teachers are there, and the same children are sitting in front of them. They—silence now, isn’t there? Silence now.

Erica Stanford: Go to Vanguard.

David Seymour: Point of order, Madam Speaker.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: So—oh, “Go to Vanguard.”

Erica Stanford: Why won’t you? You’ve never been.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No, I haven’t been, and why would I go to a school where I don’t support the model? There you go.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): Order! I apologise—point of order, David Seymour.

David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the member’s speech, but I just wanted him to know that if he’s happy to yield some time, I’ll happily answer the question.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): That’s not a valid point of order.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: OK, so there’s been—

Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I’d just like to confirm that I heard the Minister say he would not go to a school that he did not like the model of. Is that true?

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): That’s not a valid point of order. Please sit down.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Look, there are hundreds of schools across the Tai Tokerau, and what the members over there forget is that when you are a Māori member of Parliament in an electorate seat—not only do I have my electorate but in the Tai Tokerau there’s 10 other electorates. If they think it’s a hard job getting around the schools in their electorate, well, then, they need to realise that it’s actually 10 times harder for a member of Parliament in a Māori electorate.

But they’re saying, why don’t I go and visit Vanguard Military School. Look, I’ve had my Associate Minister delegation since 5 December. Since 5 December, there were about 10 school days towards the end of the year. Now anybody who has any knowledge of the education system knows it’s not a good idea for some boffin from Wellington to go to a school at the end of the year, because that’s when you’re having teacher-parent interviews, that’s when the teachers are doing reports, and that’s when the school production’s on. Those people over there don’t understand those pressures because they have never ever been in the education system. Now, they’re saying, “Oh, why haven’t I gone to the three”, or whatever number of fingers they’re holding up. They forget that there are hundreds of schools in my electorate, because it’s 10 times the size of their electorate.

Then there’s been all the misinformation. There’s the scaremongering, there’s the misinformation, and there’s members going around and ringing up saying, “The sky’s going to fall in if these schools close.” Look, there’s nothing to stop those same schools delivering what they are delivering now. It’s just a different model, and that’s really what they’re scared about. They’re scared that these schools are going to be successful despite the fact that they won’t be called charter schools. That’s what they’re scared of. They’re scared of our success.

Now we need to look at what the difference is. Oh no—actually, no, sorry. I’m just going to go through some of the propaganda that’s been promulgated in the media and supported by these guys. I see in today’s paper that the Villa school was complaining about “Davis’ visits to another charter school.” Sorry, since I’ve been the Associate Minister, I haven’t visited any other charter schools. So that’s fallacy number one.

Then it says that “Davis had been in negotiations with”—I haven’t been in negotiations. All I did when they rang me up was take them through the information that the excellent Minister of Education has proactively released and talked them through it, and as soon as you talk them through that information, then all their concerns sort of dim down and die away because they’re actually getting the facts.

But, of course, they want to make out like there’s some big conspiracy—that there’s favouritism amongst the charter schools. Well, actually, I’ve reached out to the Villa Education Trust and I got in touch with their academic manager last night, and I said, “Look, give your boss”—whatever his name is—”my phone number. He can ring my office.”, but, no, there’s been no contact. Although I asked him to give my office a ring, there’s been no contact. Now I think that that person is, again, scared that they can be successful without the charter school model. That’s what their real fear is. That’s what their real fear is. They’re buying into the misinformation and the scaremongering of the members opposite, and then they are coming up themselves—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): I apologise to the member. His time has expired.