Bridges trying to look like “Prime Minister in waiting”

Henry Cook (Stuff):  Simon Bridges doesn’t look like a Prime Minister in waiting yet, but he’s trying

It’s hard to describe, but there is an energy that surrounds prime ministers, and people on their way to becoming prime ministers. Even as you shake their hand and have a chat, you can feel the weight and power of something much larger than their physical form surrounding them.

John Key had it. Bill English learnt it in a hurry. And Jacinda Ardern seemed to command it the moment she took on the leadership, even when it seemed likely she would have to bide her time in Opposition for another three years.

Bridges’ problems:

Last year was a credibility problem. And…

…there remains a tendency to chase every passing car, possibly because there are so many National MPs without power.

National MP Barbara Kuriger put out a ridiculous press release attacking a “red-meat tax” last month, something the Government had very clearly not proposed.

And late last year National engaged in a bad-faith populist campaign against a United Nations migration pact it would have happily signed up to in Government.

Bridges has put Paula Bennett into the drug reform role ahead of the cannabis referendum, replacing the extremely reasonable and knowledgeable Shane Reti with someone much more likely to stoke simplistic scaremongering.

These are things thirsty opposition parties do, not ones ready for Government.

He put Bennett in charge of stoking simplistic scaremongering on drug reform just last month.

If Bridges wants to continue his transformation and start looking like a Prime Minister for everyone, not just the National Party base, these swings to the hard right should be put behind him. Just like his annus horribilis.

Feedback from the Kuriger and Bennett misfires may have contributed to a change in approach.

There is a palpable sense that National is attempting to move on from rowdy opposition to Government-in-waiting.

The most obvious example of this is National’s plans to release eight big policy documents over this year, with the line being that they “don’t want to wait for the Government”. The first of these on  tax thresholds will contrast nicely with whatever the Government’s Tax Working Group suggest. Indeed, National would be pleased if it could just talk about tax all year.

Bridges himself is attempting to shift his image from blustery former crown prosecutor to Prime-Minister-in-waiting.

Bridges and National have quite a bit to do yet to look like PM and Government in waiting. They have plenty of time – eighteen months – but do they have the people who can achieve it?

 

Bridges urges RMA reform now, but National blew it while in Government

Simon Bridges has joined the chorus singing for RMA reform, but Peter Dunne has given a timely reminder that National were off key and blew their chances of reform while in Government.

RNZ: National leader Simon Bridges urges RMA reform over $100m for Māori land ownership

Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced that the government’s Provincial Growth Fund would spend $100 million on supporting Māori landowners to make better use of their land.

Today Mr Bridges told Morning Report the government was just throwing money at the issue and although $100 million sounded like a lot of money it would just “scratch the surface” for a select few.

“It may be a bit harsh but I think it’s a waste of money. You’re throwing it at a select few but you’re not actually going to help Māori.”

Mr Bridges said he would instead help Māori land ownership through law reform.

At yesterday’s announcement Ms Ardern said 80 percent of Māori freehold land was under-utilised and unproductive because the special status of some land made getting loans difficult.

Mr Bridges said the government was making the same mistake as it had with KiwiBuild.

“The one thing that is required is Te Ture Whenua Māori land reform. That’s what’s got to happen because the complex legal intricacies of multiple owners mean it’s always going to be incredibly difficult to do this unless you get that law reform. It’s not a question of the financing.”

“They think if they splash some cash at something there’s good politics in it. But just as with Kiwibuild what you actually have to do is hard law reform around the Resource Management Act,” he said.

Fair point. It is widely known that the Resource Management Act generally is stifling development.

Last month Dave Cull, president of Local Government New Zealand, said RMA ‘broken’, not fit for purpose for local government

To build at scale, the Government is looking to give the UDA the power of compulsory acquisition to assemble large parcels of land and the ability to shortcut the onerous public consultation processes required under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

It is an acknowledgment that the RMA is too consultative and encourages a tragedy of the anti-commons. This is where everyone gets a say in a development, not just affected parties, and as a result many worthwhile projects never get off the ground.

The RMA’s consultation requirements also vastly complicate the already fiendishly difficult matter of assembling land for urban development.

The current Government is trying to work around the RMA with new Urban Development Authority (UDA), responsible for delivering on the Government’s KiwiBuild programme.

The Government is also going try to fix the RMA: Two-step RMA reform to start by fixing the previous government’s blunders

The changes are separate from the legislation to set up an Urban Development Authority to fast-track housing and urban development projects.

“The Resource Management Act is underperforming in some critical areas and needs fixing,” David Parker said.

Stage One will reverse some objectionable changes made by the previous government in 2017 that were widely criticised.

For example, the Bill would repeal measures that prevent public notification and appeals by applicants and submitters in residential and subdivision consent applications.

Another change, recommended by Regional Councils, is the ability to upgrade groups of consents in line with updated standards. This will help speed the cleaning up of our rivers, which otherwise can be delayed for decades.

A Bill addressing changes that can be made straight away will be introduced to Parliament early next year.

It will address particular issues with resource consenting, and monitoring and enforcement processes in the RMA.

Stage Two will be a more comprehensive review of the resource management system. It will build on current Government work priorities across urban development, climate change, and freshwater, and wider projects being led by various external groups. Stage Two is currently being scoped and is expected to start in 2019.

Good luck with getting agreement with both the Greens and NZ First on meaningful reform. This could take some time.

National tried to reform the RMA while in Government, but failed. Now National blames MMP, minor parties for housing crisis

A National MP has blamed the former Government’s partners for his party’s failure to stop house prices rising beyond the reach of many Kiwis.

“We did a lot in housing – we did a lot of work around the Resource Management Act (RMA). The problem with MMP is we had a partner that actually wouldn’t allow us to make the changes that we wanted to make.”

National actually did poorly in addressing the growing housing problem. This was a significant reason why they failed to retain power in 2017.

RMA changes passed into law in April 2017 after changes were made to satisfy minor partner the Māori Party, while United Future and ACT voted against.

Bridges has also blamed ACT and United Future for National’s failure to reform the RMA

David Seymour has been scathing – ‘Promise. Win. Fail. Apologise’: David Seymour rips into National’s ‘failure’ in Government

On Thursday, National Party leader Simon Bridges expressed regret at his party’s failure to reform the Resource Management Act (RMA), and said it was getting a new RMA reform bill ready.

“The reality is, we should have [reformed the RMA] in the first term,” Mr Bridges said, blaming later support partners for failing to allow changes to be passed.

“The reality is though, by second and third terms we were reliant on partners whether it was the Māori Party, whether it was Peter Dunne – they weren’t up for changes there.”

However ACT Party leader David Seymour says he’s heard similar promises before – but National has always failed to deliver.

“They promise action in Opposition, win Government, fail to do what they said they would, and then apologise after New Zealanders boot them out.

“The four stages of the National Party political cycle are: Promise. Win. Fail. Apologise.”

Mr Seymour says part of the blame of that cycle is down to National’s governance style, which he claims operates “from the left” despite the party “campaigning from the right”.

“Only ACT has been consistent on fundamental RMA reform. The next Government will need a stronger ACT to get National back on track,” he said.

Peter Dunne has explained why National failed to get the support of United Future and ACT in Peter Dunne looks at the challenges for a possible ‘blue-green’ party and the National Party’s quest to get the numbers to allow it to govern:

There is also the delicious irony of National‘s excitement at the prospect of such a party emerging occurring the same week that it blamed previous support partners, UnitedFuture and Act, for the current housing crisis because they would let it gut the Resource Management Act the way it wanted.

National’s approach then was all or nothing – I well recall their Minister telling me he was only prepared to negotiate about the RMA if I gave him an assurance in advance that we would reach an agreement. On another occasion, that same Minister told me he was unwilling to talk further because he suspected (correctly) that I was also consulting with Sir Geoffrey Palmer, the architect of the RMA, and he did not want that.

I think that minister was Nick Smith. He was probably National’s biggest problem with failing RMA reform and letting the housing problems escalate.

Yet, all the while, right up to the eleventh hour, UnitedFuture and Act were putting up separate proposals to the Government for possible changes to streamline the way the RMA operated, and to remove perceived procedural roadblocks. UnitedFuture even suggested bringing the provision of affordable housing into the objectives of the RMA but that was rejected because we would not agree to National’s planned watering down of the RMA’s principles and objectives.

Ideally with something as important as the RMA both Labour and National should work together to sort out it’s weaknesses while retaining important environmental protections.

But National, with a near majority Government, could not work out decent RMA reform with two one MP parties, and still blames them for their own failure.

The Government is trying to throw money at Maori land development, and it’s fair for National to question that approach. They can’t undo their reform blunder while in Government, but they could put petty politics aside and work with Labour on lasting RMA reform.

 

The bracket creep ‘stealth tax’

Increasing tax through inflation and a creep up the tax brackets has long been a bone of contention, with successive governments largely letting it happen to presumably get more tax without having to announce tax increases, It hasn’t just happened.

This week National pledged to adjust the brackets for inflation every three years – see National announces policy to address tax bracket creep.

How much more tax do we pay? Tax brackets were last adjusted in 2010 – so according to a NZ Herald calculator:

  • if you earn $30,000 bracket creep would have cost you about $86 per year
  • if you earn $50,000 bracket creep would have cost you about $336 per year
  • if you earn $70,000 bracket creep would have cost you about $614 per year
  • if you earn $70,000 bracket creep would have cost you about $799 per year

NZ Herald:  The $1.7bn ‘stealth’ tax grab – work out how much ‘extra’ tax you have been paying?

Wage and salary earners paid out $1.7 billion in “stealth” tax last year after inflation increases pushed workers and their pay packets into higher tax brackets, according to advice to the Tax Working Group.

Officials have warned the public could see the money as having come through a stealth tax and Government may want to change it as a “value judgment”.

They have also said if the Government did change tax rates it would increase transparency and account for inflation but money would need to be found to pay for public services.

The extra tax was scooped up after the former government left tax brackets largely unchanged during its time in office, with the highest tax bracket fixed to kick in at $70,000.

I have seen criticism of this Herald article as a promotion of National’s policy, but bracket creep has been grizzled about for a long time – Michael Cullen was slammed for allowing it and that contributed to Labour losing the 2008 election.

National under John Key allowed it while they ran Government but they did adjust thresholds in 2010 and also legislated to adjust them again in 2018, but those were overturned before they happened by the incoming Labour led government.

Tax, especially increasing tax, is always a contentious issue.

National announces policy to address tax bracket creep

The last two governments and their finance ministers persistently refused to address tax bracket creep, which is seen as tax increases by stealth – as inflation increases incomes it pushes more income into higher tax brackets.

The incoming Labour led government actually did something, but that was negative – they scrapped catch up tax cuts put in place by National.

Today Simon Bridges announced that a future National government led by him would legislate to raise tax brackets in line with inflation every three years.

National would introduce rolling tax relief

A National Government would link income tax brackets to inflation, ensuring income taxes are adjusted every three years in line with the cost of living and allowing New Zealanders to keep more of what they earn, National Leader Simon Bridges says.

“New Zealanders’ incomes are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living because this Government is imposing more red tape and taxes,” Mr Bridges said in his State of the Nation speech in Christchurch today.

“Over the next four years, New Zealanders will be paying almost $10,000 more per household in tax than they would have been under National. The Government is taking more than it needs, only to waste billions on bad spending.

“On top of that, by 2022 New Zealanders on the average wage will move into the top tax bracket. That’s not right or fair. So in our first term National will fix that by indexing tax thresholds to inflation.

“We will amend the Income Tax Act so tax thresholds are adjusted every three years in line with the cost of living. That will mean that within a year after every election, Treasury will advise the Government on how much the thresholds should be adjusted for inflation.

“This would prevent New Zealanders from moving into higher tax brackets even when their income isn’t keeping up with the rising cost of living. It would ensure New Zealanders keep more of what they earn to stay on top of rising costs of living such as higher prices for necessities like petrol, rent and electricity.

“We will include a veto clause so the Government of the day can withhold the changes in the rare circumstances there is good reason to. But it will have to explain that decision to New Zealanders.

“The changes would make a real difference. Assuming inflation of 2 per cent, someone on the average wage would be $430 a year better off after the first adjustment, $900 after the second and $1,400 after the third.

“We will also do more on tax – but add no new taxes – and I’ll continue talking about our plans between now and next year’s election.

“National is committed to helping New Zealanders get ahead. This step means that as well as cancelling new taxes this Government has piled on, we won’t allow future governments to use inflation as an annual tax increase by stealth.”

In response Minister of Finance trotted out the overused and irrelevant ‘they didn’t do it in their nine years in office’.

But this is a smart move by National. Not only does it allow them to campaign on not raising taxes or allowing taxes to rise ‘by stealth’, they can compare this with what is predicted to be some sort of capital gains tax that will tax inflation affected increases in value of assets.

Of course Labour can come up with a competing policy, but that could be some time away as they ponder the Tax Working Group recommendations.

This looks a bit corny though:

 

‘Preliminary discussions’ on Blue-Green party

National’s lack of partner parties is a real problem for them under MMP. They either have to take a punt that they can become a single party government, something that has never been allowed by voters under MMP. Or they can hope that a new party starts up that can either be anchored by an electorate MP, or can get 5% (also something never achieved by a new party under MMP).

There has been talk of a more business friendly environmental party for years. The Green Party has often been criticised for it’s fairly extreme social stances, and this limits it’s support from b=voters who want a strong environmental voice in Parliament. Co-leaders like Metiria Turei and Marama Davidson are well supported on the left, but deter more moderately minded environmentalist leaning voters.

Lucy Bennett reports that Blue-Greens movement could be National’s answer to toppling Ardern

Talk of a new centrist green political party which could potentially partner with National in a future government coalition is starting to become more than just speculation.

It is understood preliminary discussions among interested parties have already been held on creating a party that combines economic and environmental credentials, filling a demand not already taken up by existing political parties.

It is also understood former Green Party leadership contender and one-time National candidate hopeful Vernon Tava is the front-runner to lead the party.

James Shaw probably wouldn’t be out of place in a Blue-Green party but I doubt that he would jump the Green ship – unless a Blue-Green startup looked like cannibalising Green party support to the extent that they were at risk of missing the 5% cut?

Tava told the Herald on Sunday a party that had the environment at its heart was missing from the political landscape and it was a great idea. He would consider leading such a party.

“It’s certainly something I would take seriously,” he said.

“I’ve always said it’s a great idea and what we need.”

Despite his Green Party origins, Tava has close links to National Party figures and was campaign chair for National MP Erica Stanford, who holds Murray McCully’s old seat of East Coast Bays.

There has been talk for some time about the possibility of other small parties to bolster National, but National will want to ensure any such party does not carve into its own vote.

National leader Simon Bridges said it was no secret National wanted to see new parties emerge this year.

“What would be most pleasing to see is parties that are additional to National’s support base. Not just for the National Party, but for the public, a genuine green party and an indigenous Māori movement are two reasonably likely scenarios this year,” he said.

Of course National would love to see partner party options for them. But would a Blue-Green party help National take over power from Labour?

I’d certainly be interested in some sort of Blue-Green party. I have voted Greens in the past but have concerns over their strong social/socialist stances. I have concerns about how far left a Labour-Green coalition might go.

But I would be most likely to support a Blue-Green party that was independent and would be willing to partner either National or Labour (or Labour-Greens).

If a Blue-Green party looked to be largely a National puppet party I would be disappointed and I think many other potential supporters would be too. I doubt that it would succeed. If National jacked up an electorate for a Blue-Green party I suspect that wouldn’t go down well with many voters.

I could easily get enthusiastic about genuine independent Blue-Green party as long as it would sit in the middle-ish and drive the best deal it could get out of any other parties who were voted into Parliament.

 

 

Media finally report on Sarah Dowie in relation to JLR

For some reason there was blanket media silence on the identity of the National MP who had had a relationship with ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross, and had sent him a text that had been reported widely and is now the subject of a police investigation.

But now the dam has burst. This had to come out in public. It was widely known anyway.

NZ Herald:  Police probe text allegedly sent from phone of MP Sarah Dowie to Jami-Lee Ross

Police are investigating a text message, allegedly sent from the phone of National Party MP Sarah Dowie, to her former colleague and ex lover Jami-Lee Ross.

https://sarahdowie.national.org.nz/

The police investigation is said to focus on whether the text message – which came after the break-up of their extra-marital relationship – constituted an incitement to self-harm, which is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Ross, 33, has previously named Invercargill MP Dowie, 43, as one of the women with whom he had an extra-marital relationship while National MP for Botany.

The text message included the words: “You deserve to die.”

Ross has claimed that is an incitement to suicide, even though he claims to have considered or attempted suicide a couple of months after receiving the text.

Ross initially received the message in August but has claimed reading it two months later led to considering self-harm. He was taken into mental health care shortly after.

The text message raised questions over whether there was a breach of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed under National and voted for by Dowie. The law regulated digital communications, including text messages, making it illegal to urge someone to self-harm.

The fact of the police investigation was revealed by Ross during a television interview. It was apparently sparked by a call to the Crimestoppers hotline. Ross said he did not lay the complaint.

Ross didn’t say if he knew who laid the complaint, or if they were associated with him.

Asked if Dowie had been aware of the investigation, the National Party leader’s office said she had not.

A spokesman said National Party leader Simon Bridges had also been unaware of the investigation.

This suggests that the police had not progressed the complaint as far as talking to the alleged offender.

Ross and Dowie were understood to have been in a relationship for more than two years. It is believed to have ended around May.

During that time, Dowie and Ross were both in marriages with children each. Dowie and her husband later separated.

Usually the private lives of MPs has been a no go subject for the media, but Jami-Lee Ross has forced this to become public.

This makes things difficult right now for Dowie, but it is remarkable that it has taken it this long to hit the media headlines.

I posted in November:  The non-naming of the National MP raises media issues. For some reason this post got a number of hits overnight.

Dowie should have pre-empted this instead of waiting for a media frenzy.

More (from Barry Soper): Sarah Dowie, the police inquiry, and the text from her phone

We have decided to name her following the police decision this week to investigate a text allegedly sent from her phone to her 33-year-old former lover during the early hours of a Saturday morning last August.

The decision to name Dowie in no way countenances the behaviour of Ross towards the women who have anonymously made claims of harassment and bullying against him.

It’s not the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s job to protect MPs when a police investigation is under way.

The text sent to Ross said: “Before you interpret this as your usual narc self – don’t. Interpret it as me – you are a f***ing ugly MF pig. Shave that f***ing tuft of hair off your f***ing front of skull head and own your baldness – you sweaty, fat, toe inturned mutant. You deserve to die and leave your children in peace and your wife out of torment – f***er!”

Ross says the text was one of the things that triggered a mental breakdown in October.

After re-reading it, he allegedly sent it to Dowie telling her “you get your wish,” before turning his phone off. After being alerted, the police found him south of Auckland.

Ross claims the police recently approached him about the text.

What Ross claims deserves further investigation, as does his current motives.

Bennett takes pot shots at cannabis debate

Paula Bennett has launched into her new role as National’s spokesperson on drug reform with a lot of gusto and questionable assertions – put another way, with bullshit bluster.

Claire Trevett (NZH): National’s Paula Bennett takes on Big Pot

Bennett’s job is to appease the conservative base in National while trying to look as if the party is being constructive about the issue of liberalising cannabis laws.

Bennett announced she was undecided on the matter and a realist rather than “a prude”.

She has not led a sheltered life and can not be dismissed as an arch-conservative on this issue, although her initial comments might look that way. There are political reasons for that.

The issue feeds in nicely to the law and order narrative National is pushing, and the hope voters will decide the Government is distracted by social reforms and punish Labour accordingly.

Judging from Bennett’s beginning, National is likely to continue to beat the drum against liberalisation.

It is ripe for a bit of scaremongering and Bennett was up for the job.

She said she had many questions and her own vote would depend on the regime wrapped around any reforms.

She had many answers too which indicated she may well not be undecided.

She warned of the downfall of decent society as we know it should marijuana be decriminalised. Not a crevice of New Zealand would be weed-free.

She predicted that in 30 years time, those who voted to decriminalise in 2020 would be apologising to their children.

Weed iceblocks would be there right in the supermarket chiller next to those delicious Kapiti plum ice creams. Children would be buying dollar mixes of electric puha lollies. Mr Whippy would become Mr Ganja.

Russell Brown, an authority on drug issues, took issue with Bennett.

I can’t help but note that both of the above claims are well-worn Bob McCoskrie talking points. Does National really want to go *there*?

Going by Bennett’s opening pot shots it appears that it is a deliberate strategy by her and National.

And finally for now: if you don’t want kiddy cannabis lollies, propose that we follow all the other jurisdictions that prohibit them. We’re not fucking helpless here. Parliament will define exactly how this works.

Chloe Swarbrick also takes issue with Bennett’s bullshit bluster. Stuff: Chloe Swarbrick accuses Paula Bennett of ‘cynical politics’ over drug debate

When asked by host Hayley Holt if the ‘War on Drugs’ was working, National’s deputy leader said it wasn’t.

“Oh goodness, it can’t be. We see too many people addicted, too many ruined lives, too much of it in our streets, from meth to synthetics and others.”

Bennett called herself “relatively open minded” to drug reform and potential marijuana legalisation, but said there were still many more questions to be answered.

If she is open minded it doesn’t show. It looks like she has a deliberate anti-reform agenda in mind.

“It scares me and it should. I’ve got kids I don’t want people dating people who are addicted.”

Bennett said she was concerned that legalisation would mean more companies marketing towards children in the same way that alcopops or RTDs appealed to younger drinkers.

“Where it has been legalised, there has been a huge increase in the number of people under the age of 18 who have taken marijuana and there is evidence that it can fry little brain cells when you’re younger. That is of concern to me.”

Swarbrick agreed that there were concerns that were being addressed, and they were being debated openly.

Swarbrick challenged Bennett, asking what evidence the National MP was referring to. Bennett said that the lack of evidence was part of the problem, because it had been on the market for such short time, but claimed that in Canada and the eight US states where cannabis has been legalised, there had been a six per cent increase in car crashes and “more young people showing up to emergency departments with drug issues.”

Swarbrick accused Bennett of relying on the “thoroughly debunked” Rocky Mountain report. She was referring to a 2017 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a US government funded drug prohibition enforcement program in Colorado.

The report was widely criticised for inaccuracies and bias. Forbes labelled the report “dishonest.” In one instance, the report included a column chart showing a dramatic increase in “marijuana-related emergency department visits” between 2012 and 2013 when the legislation took effect, even though the report’s own footnotes noted that “2011 and 2012 emergency department data reflects [sic] incomplete reporting statewide. Inferences concerning trends, including 2011 and 2012, should not be made.”

Swarbrick said the use of that report “seems a lot like a bit of a cynical political move that belittles and degrades the tone of the debate”.

More than a bit of cynical politics from Bennett.

Bennett said Swarbrick was being “passive aggressive and “trying to put me down,” but said she’s “been in politics for far too long to jump at that one”.

That’s a ridiculous and worrying retort from Bennett. She wasn’t being put down, her bullshit and unreliable sources were challenged with facts.

As I have already said, this is a very disappointing move by Bridges, National and Bennett. They have cynically decided to disrupt the drug debate for political purposes – but I think they will lose support with this approach. I for one am moving further from voting National than I have been for a decade.

Bridges and Bennett say they want ‘drug reform’ debate but would vote no anyway

National leader Simon Bridges has announced that Paula Bennett will take on a new role as National’s spokesperson on ‘drug reform’. This could end up being a positive move, but Bridges has tainted the announcement with political niggles that don’t set things off on a positive non-partisan footing.

Simon Bridges: National announces spokesperson for Drug Reform

National Leader Simon Bridges has appointed Paula Bennett to the new position of Spokesperson for Drug Reform as the Government pushes ahead with its agenda of drug decriminalisation, to signal National’s commitment to holding them to account.

This is disappointingly negative from Bridges. Re-evaluating New Zealand’s failed drug laws is long overdue, and there is a lot of public support for some sort of reform, but Bridges has chosen partisan niggling.

“New Zealanders expect their Government to be firm but fair. When it comes to drugs we need a well-thought through and evidence-based approach to drug reform that balances public safety with the need to help vulnerable people.

“This Government’s confused and dangerous commitment to decriminalisation and its soft approach to crime shows it’s not up to that task.

More petty swipes.

“Our work creating a comprehensive medicinal cannabis regime shows we are and that’s why I’ve created this new portfolio which will coordinate the work being done across our policy teams in health, education and law and order.

“It will build on our significant work in Government around the Meth Action Plan, cracking down on drug dealers and stopping trafficking at our borders, while ensuring those who need rehabilitation get access to the best services.

“There is no better person than former Police Minister Paula Bennett who has a thorough understanding of the issues to coordinate this work.

Paula Bennett also took a negative approach:  Coordinated approach to drug reform needed

A coordinated approach across health, education, law and order and border control is needed to counter the complex issues around drugs in New Zealand, National’s new spokesperson for Drug Reform Paula Bennett says.

“The Government’s confused, contradictory and ad hoc policy on drug reform is likely to cause more harm and shows that a measured, sensible and coordinated approach is needed.

“As we see changes coming in by stealth, along with the upcoming referendum there are many unanswered questions and no evidence that the Government is thinking them through.

If it is decided by public referendum, probably in about 20-22 months, with a lot of discussion and debate already, then it can hardly be ‘by stealth’.

In an interview yesterday Bennett conceded that the Police already took a very light handed approach to enforcing current drug laws regarding cannabis use – this was happening under the previous National government.

“When it comes to legalising marijuana, there are serious questions around drug driving, the effects of younger people accessing and using, youth mental health, and how this fits with our ambitions to be smoke free.

These things are already being widely discussed.

“What would a regulated industry look like? Will gangs be able to grow and sell marijuana? Will THC levels be regulated? Will drug testing be done on the roadside? What will the legal age be?

“There is evidence from other jurisdictions that have legalised marijuana that road deaths have increased, younger people have increased consumption and there are negative neuro-psychological issues for teenagers that use marijuana while their brains are still developing.

“National has shown that it understands the issues around drugs through our Members Bill around medicinal marijuana which was widely recognised as superior to the Government’s legislation.

This is partisan crap.

“We welcome a debate on legalising marijuana however I am concerned that the Government has gone into this half-heartedly and as a distraction. The debate needs to be informed and at this stage all we have seen is an announcement by the Prime Minister about a referendum without her even knowing what the question will be.

“I will be holding her and the Labour-led Government to account.”

Bennett and Bridges seem more intent on trying to score petty political points here than working together for the good of the country.

Bennett raises some valid issues, but her language is laden with negatives.

And it gets worse.

Stuff:  Paula Bennett appointed National’s drug reform spokesperson

Bridges, meanwhile, told reporters he’d never tried the drug.

The Opposition leader said the new portfolio was intended to hold the Government to account ahead of a binding referendum on personal cannabis use at the 2020 general election.

“Let’s learn from Brexit. Let’s not have a simple ‘Yes, no,’ thing, and then after that go through and answer all the complex, hard questions. Let’s have that debate beforehand.”

Bridges said he was likely to vote against legalisation, and that without major debate, the referendum risked being a “cute distraction” from more serious issues.

Bridges is insisting we “have that debate beforehand” (which is already happening), but seems to have already made up his mind to “likely to vote against legalisation”.

Bennett, too, said she was tempted to vote “no”.

“When it comes to legalising marijuana, there are serious questions around drug driving, the effects of younger people accessing and using, youth mental health, and how this fits with our ambitions to be smoke free,” she said.

“I’m one of the more liberal, and if the vote was tomorrow, based on all of these questions that we’ve got that haven’t even been answered, I would be voting against it.”

She says she would vote against something that is not defined yet. That’s a very poor position to take.

Bennett was worse in an interview where she scaremongered, suggesting the possibility of drug laced lollies. Newshub:  Paula Bennett gets new drugs portfolio in National Party shake-up

She issued a series of warnings over the legalisation of cannabis on Tuesday morning, saying cannabis-infused ice creams and lollies have been sold overseas.

This is a very disappointing start in her new role, and Bridges is just as bad.

This is a very poor start to the political year for National – not just on their drug reform stance (more like anti-reform), but also on their partisan approach. They look to be out of touch with wide public support for reforming our current failing drug laws.

Polarisation versus centrism (or can we have both?)

Is political polarisation increasing? Is ‘centrism’ fading away? Is centrism actually a thing?

From Reddit: With the decline of Centrism in global politics, do you see it happening in NZ?

There has a been a trend in the last 2 decade in global politics, in the US, UK Europe etc, we have seen the rise of centrism in politics, New Democrats with Clinton and Obama and New Labour with Tony Blair in UK. Nowadays politics is much more partisan with Democrats going further left and Labour also going left while at the same time the decline of moderates in US and Liberal Democrats decline.

Is politics becoming much more partisan? Or is partisan politics a minority thing that is getting more attention? Controversial politics makes for more dramatic headlines and is more click baity.

Donald Trump certainly drives division as a tactic, but how non-centrist is he?

While their is division in the UK over the Brexit debacle is that because of the strength of partisan politics? Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn look like weak leaders. There is as much division within their parties as their is between them.  This is more poor politics and poor politicians on both sides rather than a rise in partisanship.

Could we see the same thing in NZ, where NZF along with United Future, both centrist parties decline, with Labour/Greens and National/ACT moving further apart?

IS NZ First really a ‘centrist’ party?  Aren’t they more populist? Their last election position on Immigration was right wing-ish, but what they have supported on immigration is the opposite of that, but very similar to what National did and what Labour are doing.

NZ First already declined, dropping out of Parliament in 2008, but came back in 2011 and rose to power in 2017. It is too soon to write them off.

It’s hard to know where National will position themselves under Simon Bridges. Some of Bridges’ policy positions, like on drug law reform and abortion, may be right-ish, but they are unpopular.

Jacinda Ardern has talked up being a progressive and transformative government, but has not actually proven that much yet. Economically the government has been cautious, following much the same line of the last National government.

Proteus_Core:

Short answer…yes, I see growing polarization in NZ politics which I believe will only get worse in the future. I also could easily see the proposition you put forward happening and I actually believe its a probability at this stage and certainly at the next election.

Signs of polarization in social media does not mean that the general voting population is polarising. I think that most people are probably more disinterested than supporting strong positions either way.

Waterbogan:

Yes, in fact it is already happening. United Future has already declined into oblivion, and I see NZ First following them in short order as they have lost a bunch of supporters since the election and again more recently. I would say there is room for another party on the centre/right aiming at the market sector NZ First and the Conservatives formerly shared between them.

United Future faded away, but so is ACT, so did Jim Anderton’;s Progressive Party, so has the Mana Party, and the Conservative Party. Green support has over halved. All small parties have struggled to survive, no matter where they are in the political spectrum.

‘spoondooly’:

There will always be room for populism in NZ but the nature of our political system is that it drives centrism to a degree.

The reality is that parties (by and large) need the centre vote as that is largely where the swing vote occurs. It drives moderate politics to a degree and has brought both our centre left and centre right parties together.

Even populist parties such as NZ First have to largely ditch their manifesto when in power as the majority party would be severely damaged by any coalition arrangement if that manifesto was fully recognised.

So there will always be a degree of populism but by and large NZ is centrist and moderate and our politics recognise this.

This probably reflects two things.

Most Kiwis are fairly moderate (as opposed to centrist) in their political preferences. There are a number of bell curves like this:

And MMP tends to moderate more than polarise, with National and Labour fighting over a fairly large swing vote in the centre.

‘bogan_avant_garde’:

Wait until you hear about the policies of Michael Joseph Savage. Labour are struggling to return to the position on the political spectrum they held from 1916-1983.

Ardern has tried to present herself as a great shift leader, but she is yet to deliver.

The idea that neo-liberal market capitalism with low regulation and free movement of capital is centrism is laughable. What you are seeing when you see Labour ‘shifting to the left’ is in fact Labour shifting to the centre and providing an actual centrist alternative to right wing orthodoxy.

The small noisy left are growing in dismay at the lack of action from Labour and even the Greens. The small noisy right are probably always dismayed and always will be.

The extremes are minorities.

Image result for bell curve politics

(That’s from The Political Typologies of American Educators but is indicative of minority extremes).

One of New Zealand’s most polarising politicians has been Winston Peters, but that’s only when in Opposition. He is currently in Government, and is mostly quite non-controversial.

I don’t think we have much of a problem with polarisation here. We have a much bigger problem with political apathy (if that is actually a problem).

(This is not original) I tried to start up an Apathy Party, but no one was interested.

Make or break year for Simon Bridges

It’s difficult taking over leadership of a political party, especially one of the two parties, and especially after previous long term popular leadership.

Labour had a lot of trouble finding a popular leader after Helen Clark left after losing the 2008 election. They went through four struggling leaders before circumstances forced a shock shift to Jacinda Ardern, who benefited from an impressive first impression and a short campaign – and then from the support of Winston Peters.

Bill English was a capable replacement for John Key, but was saddled with the difficulty of holding onto power after three terms in Government, a dearth of parties they could try to form coalitions with, and had to compete with the mass of media coverage that helped the sudden rise of Ardern.

English stepped down and National chose Simon Bridges to lead them and to lead the Opposition, both big challenges.

In his nearly a year as National’s leader Bridges has struggled to impress or appeal. Overall there has been little praise and a lot of criticism, and that that sums up my impression of him. He often doesn’t come across well in media. He has had a bit of barking-at-cars syndrome. And I don’t like some of his policy choices, like on drug law reform, abortion and euthanasia (these should be conscience votes but a leader can influence his party MPs).

The only major plus is that while Bridges has failed to fire in ‘preferred Prime Minister’ polls his party support has mostly held up surprisingly well. This may be despite him rather than due to his leadership.

One of Bridges’ biggest practical problems is it seems that most media have started to write him off, which like it or not can have a significant influence.

He has to start the year (later this month) with, somehow, a new outlook, a new plan, and a better way of delivery his messages. It’s hard for a politician to turn around a negative image, but it can be done, as Helen Clark proved. But that was last century. The media and the social media pundits demand instant success or the knives and pens and keyboards are quickly sharpened.

I’m not ready to write Bridges off yet. He and his advisers must be aware of his problems, and must be trying to work out how to address them and turn things around. So Bridges may take a new approach this year – if he does it will take time to prove whether it might work for him or not.

But if he continues much the same as last year then I think he is not going to cut it, and if he doesn’t step down for the good of the party he may be pushed.

This year is probably make or break for Bridges.