Wellbeing budget – transformative, or just ‘variation on a them’

Peter Dunne has said that most budgets he has seen (34 while an MP)  are just variations on a theme – and he includes this year’s ‘wellbeing budget’ in that description.

@honpeterdunne:

I saw 34 Budgets in my time – twice as many as Parker.

The biggest changes were Douglas’s reforms in 1984; Richardson’s Fiscal Responsibility Act in 1994, and English’s social investment reforms after 2015.

The rest, including this year’s, are just variations on a theme.

Others (I have heard a number of people promote this theme) have said that the this year’s budget is not transformational on it’s own, but sets a framework for transformation in the future.

Glen Bennett (New Plymouth Labour Committee Spokesperson):  Wellbeing budget transformational framework for New Zealanders

This week the Hon Grant Robertson delivered the Coalition Government’s second Budget. This Wellbeing Budget 2019 is different from any we’ve seen in New Zealand.

In the past budgets have had one measure, Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Simply put, GDP measures the value of economic activity within a country, what we earn and what we spend those earnings on.

In Addition to GDP, Wellbeing Budget 2019 is measured across five other key priorities, aimed at improving the wellbeing of all New Zealanders and broadening the Budget’s focus beyond economic and fiscal policy.

The priorities are; taking mental health seriously, improving child wellbeing, supporting Māori and Pasifika aspirations, building a productive nation and transforming the economy.

In the lead up to the Wellbeing Budget, in his Budget Policy Statement, the Hon Grant Robertson said:

“Faced with complex issues such as child poverty, inequality, and climate change, we cannot hope to make the best choices for current and future generations if we do not look beyond economic growth and consider social, environmental, and economic implications together.

“While economic growth is important for creating opportunities, our recent history shows that focusing on it alone can be counterproductive and associated with poor outcomes such as greater inequality and pollution.”

Recently several people have asked me what I see as being transformational about this Government, questioning if it’s just business as usual with nothing innovative or new.

The introduction of a Wellbeing Budget is something that I see as being transformational for New Zealand over a long period of time.

The Wellbeing Budget has challenged those sitting around the Cabinet table to look differently at the funding  they lobby for, to look across all Ministries in a holistic way, measuring their long term goals and aspirations against the five priorities of the Wellbeing Budget.

This can only be good for New Zealand and our wellbeing. I can’t see a quick fix to inequality, environmental challenges, child poverty or our mental health crisis, but this is a start.

It’s a moment in time when our Government is laying out a framework that will be transformational for all New Zealanders, not only in 2019, but for years to come.

Mental Health Foundation: Wellbeing Budget 2019 a good start towards transformation

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) are pleased the Government are taking mental health seriously by creating a $1.9 billion mental health package, announced in today’s Wellbeing Budget.

“The funding and initiatives set out in today’s budget are a fantastic start, but it’s crucial Government keep up the momentum into the future if we are to create a New Zealand where all people can experience positive mental health.”

But…

Rod Oram: Budget long on rhetoric, short on transformative funding

… the Government chose six priorities for its first Wellbeing Budget, and devised some innovative ways to bring multiple agencies of Government together to work on each.

This approach has brought about the biggest changes in the three priorities focused on people – mental health, child wellbeing and Maori and Pasifika aspirations. The investment will be substantial, particularly on mental health, and applied in some novel ways.

However, the Government has made far less progress in applying the wellbeing methodology to its other three priorities  – the productive economy, the environment and infrastructure investment.

All three are largely business-as-usual with only a few gestures to new and co-ordinated approaches; they don’t get to grips with the massive transformation all three need; and, worse, there are some serious disconnects between them.

…but it has none of the innovation in programmes or serious commitment of money that the other three capitals have. Yet it is this transition to the low carbon economy which will drive our transformation to a highly productive economy, wealth generating and strongly sustainable nation.

So, while this is a good start on the Wellbeing Budget in social areas, the Government has a Herculean task ahead in economic and environmental ones. One simple search of the Budget document illustrates this: The four new capitals used – financial and physical, natural, social and human had just 17 references in the 149 pages of the Budget document.

David Hall (senior researcher in politics at the Auckland University of Technology): Ardern more transitional than transformational:

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saddled herself with the word “transformational”. She used it heavily in the heady days of the 2017 election campaign, although less so in the compromised reality of a coalition government. Still, it is the aspiration she is held to. The 2019 wellbeing Budget is held to it by association.

But how do we know transformation when we see it?

Obviously, transformation must go beyond the status quo. But to be transformative, it must also go beyond mere reform.

A reform agenda recognises that trouble is brewing, that social, economic and environmental trends are on the wrong track. It accepts that major changes to policy and lifestyle may be required. As sustainable development research shows, it does “not locate the root of the problem in the nature of present society, but in imbalances and a lack of knowledge and information”.

It tends to reach for existing policy levers, and to hang its hopes on technical solutions. It reacts to the toughest choices by devising new frameworks for analysing them.

The wellbeing Budget easily goes this far. Finance minister Grant Robertson is entitled to say, as he did in his Budget speech, that this is a government “not satisfied with the status quo”.

A transformative agenda goes further. It sees problems as rooted in the present structure of society. It isn’t only about managing the flaws and oversights of the dominant system, but overturning the system itself. This involves an order of ambition that the wellbeing Budget lacks.

There is another word for change that the Prime Minister sides with: not “transformation” but just transition. This is the idea that socioeconomic change should be guided by principles of justice, such as equity and inclusivity, to minimise the disruption change can bring. The aim of a just transition is to achieve revolution without revolt.

Ardern obviously sees the idea of a just transition as more broadly relevant, contrasting it with the “rapid, uncaring change” of structural reforms in 1980s New Zealand. To my mind, this better captures the temper of this Government – not transformational, but potentially transitional.

But transformation and transition are just simple labels.

Labour ministers and MPs have kept saying that they can’t change ‘9 years of neglect’ (I think an unfair label) with a single budget, but this was their second budget.

Transformation or revolutionary change takes longer than a three year term in an MMP Parliament.

The Government’s third budget will be trying to balance a carefully nurtured image of financial prudence with further signs of transformational intent – as long as they are re-elected.

Much my depend on whether voters chose to keep the transformation-resistant NZ First party in the mix to moderate changes, or dump them and take a risk with a Labour-Green Government. (Returning National to power looks a long shot at this stage but is an option for those preferring more incremental change than Labour/NZ First).

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

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

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

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

So quite strong language from Dunne.

Newsroom:  Sophistry and bollocks on the referendum

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

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

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

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

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

sophistic bollocks: deceitful nonsense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust politicians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

 

Government decides better weather data access ‘not a priority’

The Government has decided not to change access to weather data in New Zealand, putting improved access into the ‘not a priority’ basket.

A spokesperson for Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Dr Megan Woods said that NIWA was “performing satisfactorily against the New Zealand open data principles, therefore no changes were necessary for its data-access provisions”.

This is despite a 2017 review of open-access weather data for MBIE found New Zealand had the most restrictive barriers out of the United States, Norway, Australia, the United Kingdom and France.

Stuff: Weather data remains restricted –  Government not stepping in to release more taxpayer-funded weather data

The Government has no intention of changing how New Zealand’s two taxpayer-funded forecasting agencies work in an effort to improve access to weather data.

Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Dr Megan Woods says changes have already been signalled by state-owned enterprise MetService to improve data access for competitors, meaning “its services will better align with New Zealand’s open data principles”.

Woods said the decision not to change Niwa and MetService’s operating models was made by her, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Associate Minister of State-Owned Enterprises Shane Jones after discussions in September last year.

In a briefing, released to Stuff under the Official Information Act, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) proposed five options for improving access to data, ranging from the status quo to structural changes of both agencies.

MBIE recommended negotiating changes with both to minimise any possible loss of income from releasing what is largely taxpayer-funded data.

But other documents released showed Treasury did not want to pay for any solution and said MetService’s planned changes were enough, a recommendation that was adopted by the ministers.

MetService’s data changes already under way include:

– A new website with improved data support to be rolled out in the first half of this year.

– A new interface to make a wider range of free data, up to a certain level, publicly available.

– Provision of open oceanographic data.

WeatherWatch managing director Philip Duncan…

…said it was ironic, but unsurprising, that significant parts of the reports dealing with open access to data had been withheld.

“Taxpayers must fund both Niwa and MetService, then we cannot use the data we fund, and on top of that the Government redacts information about why.

“If both Niwa and MetService operate heavily commercially, and both say they are highly accurate, why would the Government need to give them even more money for apparent ‘lost revenue’ if they opened up data?”

National’s research, science and innovation spokeswoman, Dr Parmjeet Parmar​…

…said it was disappointing the Government had opted for “business as usual” after recent reviews.

“With this decision she is going to do nothing. After all this work, and now she has come back and stopped this halfway. In my view it has been a big waste of resources.”

Woods:

“The ministers decided changing the legislative and operating model was not a priority when [the] Government is tackling a number of other priorities”.

Labour has used “not a priority” as an excuse for not doing things they have previously indicated they might do (before they got into Government).

‘Not a priority’ – not actually a progressive government as claimed by Jacinda Ardern..

Democracy, MMP, STV and TOPPING themselves

There has been quite a bit of talk about our system of democracy recently. There are new calls for reducing our MMP threshold, which has proven to be to high and a democratic impediment to small parties in New Zealand, especially those attempting to get into Parliament for the first time.

Peter Dunne has suggested a switch to STV, while Gareth Morgan wants his own way rather than democracy in The Opportunities Party.

Dunne at Newsroom: Let’s get rid of MMP altogether

When politicians start to talk about making changes to the electoral system, it is time to be wary. They do not do such things unless there is something in it for them.

So when Justice Minister Andrew Little starts musing about a referendum to “tidy up” one or two “quirks” of the MMP system, rest assured that he is not doing so out of genuine concern for its credibility and wellbeing, but rather for the protection of the electoral wellbeing of the Labour Party.

Over the last thirty years since the Royal Commission recommended the move to MMP, both the National and Labour Parties have done their best to subvert it.

The major parties have done hat they can to preserve their size, status and perks, at the cost of better democracy,

An astute politician might infer therefore from that that the best way to guard against that public scorn in the future is to broaden the scope of Parliamentary representation, not restrict it.

A truly bold politician might go even one step further and promote the replacement of MMP altogether, and so do away once and for all with the alleged need for tinkering amendments, by moving to STV, the single transferable vote, whereby every MP is directly elected by a constituency and is accountable to that constituency. That would do away with the party list system whereby so many unknown candidates find themselves MPs, even if the electorate had failed to elect them  directly, or had even voted them out on election day. (How fair is the current system when for example, nearly one third of our current Ministers were rejected in individual electorate contests in 2017?)

Now shifting to a system where every Member of Parliament was directly elected would be a reform worth doing. It would certainly shake up the system; provide fairer and better representation; and make every MP directly accountable to a particular electorate, rather than the party bosses. For those reasons alone, there will be no politician bold enough to take it up, when the option of “tweaking” the system to preserve partisan advantage is so much easier.

But there is no chance of a major change to our electoral system in the foreseeable future. and Gareth Morgan has rubbished it.

 

And as TOP conducts a ballot to elect new party leadership Gareth Morgan has been throwing his weight around, trying to influence the ballot with his money. And mouthing off on Twitter some more:

“Appealing only to the privileged, university offspring of urban elites was never going to be enough for TOP. We need to draw as many active members from the tradies and the ZB listener segment. We haven’t, suggesting NZ is too fat, content and comfortable for our policies”

I doubt that Morgan is going to attract many tradies and ZB listeners. Or decent candidates – who would want to be lambasted by him if they didn’t do what he wants.

Bryce Edwards (Newsroom): The death of minor parties under MMP

TOP appears very unlikely to be a real contender in 2020, as the party is currently struggling to reinvent itself as TOP 2.0 and embroiled in a faction fight over its future.

Former deputy leader Geoff Simmons has been operating as the interim leader until now. But it’s not clear he will be elected, especially as Gareth Morgan is campaigning strongly for rival candidate Amy Stevens, an Auckland lawyer currently working for ASB.

Morgan has written a couple of Facebook posts in which he calls for a vote for Stevens, and explains why Simmons is the wrong person for the job. Morgan says Stevens is what TOP needs in order to connect with the centre right of the political spectrum: “what Amy Stevens offers is a business background not one as a public servant” and “she can relate to all those small business owners who are as familiar with the trials and tribulations of running a business”.

And as a bonus, Morgan – who gave $3 million to the party towards the last election – promises more money for TOP if Stevens is elected: “My money will be on Amy to lead the refresh that is TOP 2.0, as I think she’s sufficiently credible to attract the significant funders. I’ll certainly chip in if she’s leading.”

Clearly Morgan believes that TOP has become too liberal or leftwing: “TOP faces a big risk right now that it gets usurped by people who would otherwise vote Left or Centre Left. Our policy programme is for all New Zealanders, we are over-represented by members from the Left, Centre Left”.

Morgan gave TOP and chance in the last election, then ruined that with his antics online. With his dictatorial approach and his rubbishing of current leadership and supporters it looks like he is topping TOP.

Also from Edwards:

Could the next general election result in a two-party Parliament made up of just Labour and National? It seems highly unlikely – especially under proportional representation – and yet the 1News Colmar Brunton poll released on Sunday points to a scenario where we could be close to that.

The possibility that minor parties could be left out of Parliament altogether in 2020 is generally dismissed, often with the assumption that “the minor parties always do better during the election campaign”. This simply isn’t the case. For example, at the last election, support for both the Greens and NZ First plummeted during the campaign.

What’s more, ever since MMP was introduced, every minor party that has gone into government has subsequently received a worse party vote at the following election.

So there is a real risk to both Greens and NZ First. TOP look like self-destructing. The Maori Party, Mana Party and United Future look unlikely to return.

If David Seymour manages to retain the Epsom electorate it could be down to National, Labour and ACT after the 2020 election (but voters may decide they want to prevent this two party dominant scenario).

Meanwhile, the Labour-led Government is pondering bringing in some small fixes for MMP. But the proposal to reduce the 5 percent threshold to 4 percent is mere tinkering in the face of what clearly needs more radical thinking. Abolishing the threshold entirely, makes more sense.

The MMP threshold is proving to be a major barrier to the healthy flourishing of new minor parties. Of course, it’s not the only problem for the small parties. We therefore need a more serious think about the state of minor parties and how to allow them to prosper. If not, New Zealand’s multi-party parliamentary system might soon become a thing of the past, leaving the public with a choice, once again, of just two monolithic traditional parties.

There has been a lot of good discussion on this here at Reddit: Minor parties were supposed to be a big part of politics under MMP, yet they are in serious decline.

 

Peter Dunne on recreational cannabis regulation

On Q+A last night peter Dunne was asked where he now stands on cannabis use and law.

Corin Dann: You’ve been on top of this issue for many years, as a Minister, under a lot of pressure from both sides. Where do you sit now personally on the issue of cannabis?

Peter Dunne: I’ve set my view out probably pretty clearly over the last two or three years.

I think we can move to to treat cannabis for recreational purposes in a regulated market, where we determine the level of risk, where we determine how it’s to be sold, to whom it’s to be sold, and we can have a limited amount of personal cultivation and personal manufacture, pretty akin to the market we have now for tobacco actually.

It keeps it under tight control and the government…

Corin Dann: R18…

Peter Dunne: no advertising, price set by the state effectively…

Corin Dann: It’s interesting that you;ve reached that position. Were you there ten years ago?

Peter Dunne: probably not ten years ago but i think over the last five years I’ve moved to that.

But can I just say one thing. For the referendum to be effective you’ve got to have that model effectively set up to go once the referendum result occurs, a bit like we did when MMP came in. If the vote was yes, here’s what happens. If you just left it as an open ended question you’ll see more of what we saw this evening and no progress.

That’s what Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is proposing. See Q+A: Should NZ legalise recreational cannabis?

Peter Dunne: …that brings you back to how this whole process is structured. I don’t think the Government’s got it’s head properly around this at the moment.

If you’re going to have a referendum which is going to be definitive in some way, then you need to have a proper considered period of education and information dealing with all of these issues beforehand.

Probably the best part of a year actually, which means if you’re going to have the referendum you’d probably want to have it at the latter part of next year clear of local body elections next October, and well before the general election.

I think they’re a way behind the 8 ball on that frankly.

That’s how it appears to me. Last week Minister of Police spoke of treating drugs as a health issue, Jacinda Ardern has said that in the past, but it appears to be all talk and little action apart from Swarbrick doing her best to push things along.

Full panel discussion:

Dunne “more than extremely stunned” by National’s ‘war on drugs’ reversal

After Donald Trump promoted continuing the ‘war on drugs’ Simon Bridges said that a National-led government would sign up to it. Peter Dunne, a minister in the last National-led government, says that he is “more than extremely stunned” by this.

On Monday:  National would sign up to international drug effort

A National-led Government would sign up to the latest international push to tackle drugs, overturning the Labour-led Government’s decision not to, National Party Leader Simon Bridges says.

“Combatting the manufacture and supply of drugs requires governments and law enforcement agencies from right around the world to work together. And we must share ideas about how to tackle addiction and drug use.

“That’s why the Prime Minister’s decision not to sign New Zealand up to the Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem at the UN this week, distancing New Zealand from those international efforts, is concerning.

“More than 120 countries including some of our closest partners from Australia to the US, the UK and Canada have signalled their intention to do their part.

“The Prime Minister’s excuse for not signing up, that the Government is taking ‘a health approach’ isn’t good enough. The strategy calls for countries to do more to address addiction and provide more treatment as well as working more closely together to clamp down on manufacturing and supply.

“Taken together, that’s how we will deal with the drug problem.

“But by distancing New Zealand from that work the Prime Minister risks making New Zealand an easy target and sending the message that her Government is soft on crime and drug dealers.

“This is the latest example of this Government’s soft-on-crime approach. It’s failing to act quickly on synthetic cannabis which continues to become a bigger issue and it’s promising to make it harder for people to be sent to prison and easier for them to get out.

“National will sign up to the agreement, we will support those with drug and alcohol issues but we will also hold those who peddle these drugs to account. The Prime Minister needs to properly explain why she won’t.”

National, particularly Judith Collins but increasingly Bridges, have been running a ‘soft on crime’ campaign against the Government, and Bridges has run this line again here.

Peter Dunne’s response (The Spinoff): I am stunned by National’s somersault in backing Trump’s ‘war on drugs’

Just two years ago I had the privilege as then associate minister of health of addressing the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. That was while the previous National-led government was in office.

In my address I made the following comments:

“Last year at CND 58, I spoke of the importance of three fundamental pillars of drug policy – Proportion, Compassion and Innovation. New Zealand has woven these principles throughout its approach to addressing drug issues, including them as central tenets in its recently launched 2015 National Drug Policy. But perhaps there is a fourth pillar that is missing – boldness. Incremental movement, if any, has been the norm for drug policy development for as long as I can remember – and the movement has not always been forward. As encouraging as the shift has been, the fact is that compared to the global narcotic industries, we are moving at a glacial pace, hamstrung by an outdated overly punitive approach.”

These comments, as noted above, were all consistent with New Zealand’s National Drug Policy adopted by the Cabinet after much debate in 2015. The policy and the speech, and others I gave at the annual UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs meetings through to 2017 made it clear New Zealand rejected the “war on drugs” rhetoric and approach that had dominated international drug policy for too long, in favour of the more compassionate, health centred approach set out in the National Drug Policy.

I am delighted that the prime minister has repeated these messages and confirmed in reality the direction of the National Drug Policy in her address to the UN General Assembly this week, and that she has rejected outright the backward focusing approach of the president of the United States to try to reignite the “war on drugs” when most countries have been looking to move on from that.

That refers to Jacinda Ardern’s address.

However, I am more than extremely stunned that the National Party, which could have claimed the high ground and pointed out she was just copying policy already in place, has instead done a complete somersault on its previous position and apparently now supports the Trump proposition.

It is hard to find – let alone justify – a credible reason for this about-face. Certainly the few public statements I have seen go little beyond the uninformed and the platitudinous. So it becomes difficult to believe that the driving principle behind this decision is anything but a perverse determination to take a different view from Labour, whatever that view might be, and no matter what your own government’s record on the matter. It is a very dark day for National’s ongoing credibility on this issue.

It all seems a far cry from when a New Zealand government minister could stand before the UN General Assembly just two short years ago, and say that our country believed that “responsible regulation is the key to reducing drug-related harm and achieving long-term success in drug control approaches.”

The bipartisan focus on drugs as a health issue seems to have been tossed aside as a political inconvenience, especially when knee jerk opposition for the sake of it is so much easier. That is to National’s ongoing shame.

When in Government National dragged the chain badly on addressing out of control drug problems, but this is a backward step even by their standards.

Hopefully decent change will happen before national get back into government, but Ardern and Labour have a lot of stepping up to do on this, and converting some of their rhetoric into real changes to how we deal with drug problems. So far they haven’t even had the guts to deal with cannabis apart from dabbling on medical cannabis use.

For someone who claims to lead a progressive government the progress on drug law reform is very disappointing so far. If Labour actually got something meaningful done they would put Bridges and national to shame.

For and against a CGT and Michael Cullen interview on the Nation

Michael Cullen, ex finance minister and now chairman of the Tax Working Group, will be interviewed on Newshub Nation this morning at 9:30m am (repeated Sunday morning 10 am).

Following the release of the Tax Working Group’s interim report, Simon Shepherd sits down with its chairman Sir Michael Cullen to look at how tax changes could increase income equality and help the environment.

Future of Tax: Interim Report (PDF)

The contentious hobbled CGT should be a talking point.

Stuff:  Ministers issue fresh request to Tax Working Group to ‘consider inequality’

The Government has given the Tax Working Group a prod along after it stopped short of reaching a recommendation on the merits of a broad-based capital gains tax in its interim report.

It set out two models for what a broad-based tax on capital gains could look like in its interim report published on Thursday.

Chairman Sir Michael Cullen said “the key issue” it had looked at was tax on capital income, but said it was not a “no brainer”.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash immediately released a letter they had sent to the TWG.

The letter asked the TWG to “consider a package or packages of measures which reduces inequality, so that New Zealand better reflects the OECD average whilst increasing both fairness across the tax system and housing affordability”.

The ministers also asked the TWG to examine which of two models for taxing capital gains that the TWG considered “would be best to ensure the tax system was … fair and balanced”.

A source close to the TWG said the letter sent “a strong signal” about the Government’s desire for a broader capital gains tax.

Max Rushbrooke for a CGT and pro-equality tax changes: Tax report highlights NZ’s inequality issues

Though it may not have settled on an answer yet, yesterday’s interim report by the Tax Working Group was crystal clear about the problem: we have a tax system that does very little to enhance fairness and reduce inequality.

The need to restore fairness runs like a silver thread throughout the working group’s analysis. Hence one of its preferred options is to tax nearly all the gains that people make from selling assets.

…it would also help reduce inequality, because these so-called capital gains will be largely the preserve of the very well-off. Indeed, many of these people have become adept at disguising their income as capital gains in order to avoid paying tax.

There are, of course, some downsides to introducing a thorough tax on capital gains. It creates more reporting requirements, and could encourage people to hold on to assets for longer. But these seem like minor problems when set against its major benefits.

Peter Dunne is against it: It’s time to bury the capital gains tax

The spectre of a capital gains tax on residential property sales and other substantial assets has loomed large over the New Zealand tax scene for about fifty years now.

Government is a little different, but the outcome seems likely to be the same. While this time the Government has left open the possibility of a capital gains tax, it is the Tax Working Party that looks likely to rule it out, saying the issue is ultimately a political one. And, given the Government’s commitment not to introduce such a tax before it gets a specific renewed electoral mandate, the prospects look as distant as ever. Very few governments win elections promising to introduce more taxes.

All of which raises the question as to why the capital gains issue keeps getting raised, especially since the arguments in favour from both a revenue gathering and efficiency perspective are not that strong.

Advice I received when Minister of Revenue was that it could be over a decade from the time of introducing a broader based capital gains tax until it produced any significant revenue gain for the Government.

Also, it has been long accepted that the family home would have to be exempted from any such regime, further diminishing its likely impact. Even in the rental sector, the impact would likely be negative for tenants, with landlords boosting rents to offset any negative tax impact when those properties are sold.

… the application of a capital gains tax to other substantial items would be just as fraught, as items will appreciate over time at different rates, while some will depreciate. The administration of such a tax will impose additional strains and complexities on an already struggling tax system for not much revenue gain.

When tax policy moves too far into the area of engineering income redistribution or social equity complicated issues invariably arise at the margins, which the tax system, by virtue of its blanket approach, is not well designed to cope with.

All of which means that the Government would do far better to focus its ongoing attention on ensuring that the greatest amount possible of all taxes currently levied is collected before embarking on the imposition of new or additional taxes.

For all these reasons it is time to bury the capital gains tax argument for good, and focus afresh on tax policy that works, rather than just feels good.

 

UPDATE:


Audrey Young: Capital gains tax defining issue for Labour, NZ First

Tax could make or break Government at the next election. Illustration / Guy Body

One thing is clear after this week’s tax report – tax could make or break the Government at the next election, and a capital gains tax (CGT) will be a defining issue for the relationship between Labour and New Zealand First.

The tax blunder last time taught Jacinda Ardern and then finance spokesman Grant Robertson that the “how” of progressing a policy is as important as the “what”.

Capital gains tax has been an integral part of the post-Clark Labour story. In a sense, Robertson owes his job as Finance Minister to it.

It may be that New Zealand First sees CGT as such a defining issue for Labour that it is obliged to support it as an article of good faith.

Both parties will also be mindful of the integrating effect of the policy on the Coalition.

Because the capital gains tax would not take effect until after the election, it would bind the Coalition partners, Labour and New Zealand First, closer together and require Peters and Ardern to campaign jointly under their tax policy.

That will fundamentally change the dynamics of the next election, whatever the merits and disadvantages of a capital gains tax itself.

 

 

Disgraceful lack of action from David Clark and Labour on drug crisis

The drug abuse crisis continues to hit the headlines,with ongoing and growing problems, more and more deaths, and the Labour-led Government continues to do bugger all if that.

The wellbeing and lives of many people are at risk, this should be getting urgent attention, but the Labour-led government looks as bad as National was in being to gutless to address the problems.

Yesterday from Stuff:  Warning issued over synthetic cannabis use after eight people hospitalised

At least three people have been admitted to intensive care and others treated within 24 hours in Christchurch after using synthetic cannabis.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) issued a warning about the illegal drug after a rush of people suffering from potentially severe synthetic cannabis toxicity ended up in Christchurch Hospital.

Emergency medicine specialist Paul Gee said there had been a noticeable increase in people needing emergency help due to the side effects of synthetic cannabis use.

Eight people have been treated in Christchurch over the last 24 hours, with three having to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Also Synthetic cannabis users gambling with their lives after a ‘bad batch’

Synthetic cannabis users are gambling with their lives, a health official warns following a spate of hospitalisations in Christchurch.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) issued a warning on Thursday evening about the illegal drug after a rush of people suffering from potentially severe synthetic cannabis toxicity ended up in Christchurch Hospital.

As a Minister in the National-led Government Peter Dunne copped a lot of flak for dysfunctional drug laws and growing drug abuse problems, especially the growing use of new drugs often inaccurately referred to as synthetic cannabis.

It suited National to allow the blame to fall on Dunne while they did virtually nothing to deal with obvious drug law problems and growing use of dangerous drugs. And there has been many ignorant attacks on Dunne.

On 1 News yesterday Dunne suggested a rethink on how we deal with natural cannabis: Legalising recreational cannabis could stem NZ’s epidemic of ‘zombie drug’ deaths, Peter Dunne says

Synthetic cannabis has killed more than 40 people in New Zealand since June last year, a massive jump from the previous five years, the coroner recently reported.

One way to serve a blow to the market for the so called zombie-drug in New Zealand would be to legalise recreational cannabis, former MP and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today on TVNZ1’s Breakfast.

But the suggestion came with a caveat.

“It would certainly remove some of the incentive for people to try some of these substances,” he said. “But…some of these (synthetic drugs) are so potent and so powerful that people may well feel they’ll get a better high from these rather than the real product.

“While on the face of it the answer would be yes (to marijuana legalisation), I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple.”

“I don’t think we ever anticipated we’d get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm,” NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS yesterday.

So what is the current Government doing about it? very little as far as I’m aware. Health Minister David Clark seems as reluctant as National was to address the problem, and most of the Labour-led Government seem to be gutless – the exception is Green MP Chloe Swarbrick who is working hard to try to progress long overdue drug law reforms.

The only official press release from David Clark since becoming Minister was this last December: Medicinal cannabis to ease suffering. Labour have been very disappointing in their handling even of medicinal cannabis.

Nothing from Clark mentioning ‘synthetic’. What the hell is he doing apart from nothing?

NZ Herald (31 July 2018): Health Minister David Clark in favour of liberalising drug laws

Health Minister David Clark is personally in favour of more liberal drug laws because prohibition has not worked in the past.

But Clark would not commit to abiding by the result of any referendum on loosening laws around cannabis use, saying he preferred to wait for advice from his colleagues.

“I think it’s highly likely that that’s the course we would take … all I’ve said is I want to wait for advice.

“I haven’t had a conversation with colleagues about how that referendum’s going to be framed and what question we’re going to be asking the public.

“Broadly, I favour at a more personal level, more liberal drug laws because I think in the world when prohibition has been tried, it hasn’t worked.”

We have multiple drug crises, with both synthetics and P (methamphetamine). Natural cannabis is far less dangerous, but it is getting more expensive and harder to obtain because drug pushers make more money out of getting people addicted to P and synthetic drugs. They have no trouble finding more victims to replace those who die.

National’s lack of action on drug abuse and drug laws was extremely disappointing.

Clark and Labour are acting just as poorly. This is disgraceful.

GDP and Tax Working Group announcements today

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Prime Minister’s mix-up could have led to a much more brutal economics lesson

Jacinda Ardern’s confusion over two sets of figures is understandable, given the volume of material crossing her desk, as well as never-ending negotiations with her governing partners.

But with her control of the Government coming under scrutiny, it was exactly the kind of simple mistake she did not need.

On Tuesday, Ardern was asked a clear and straightforward question about her expectations for “the GDP numbers on Thursday”, economic growth figures due out in two days

Although her answer hinted that she and host Mike Hosking were not exactly on the same page, she acknowledged “the GDP numbers” – listeners would probably believe she was giving a hint that the figures were good. “I’m pretty pleased.”

Instead, she was talking about the Crown’s financial statements – the Government’s books – which are not due to be released for about three weeks, and which few people outside Parliament or bond trading circles care much about.

To some it will seem like a meaningless mistake, but the integrity of market-sensitive information is critical to New Zealand’s reputation as a transparent economy.

No-one gets the inside word, or at least, no-one should, even though lots of people want it. Ardern’s comments left the impression that she not only knew, but that she had not kept the secret.

Whatever the economic growth figures do show this week, they will almost certainly move the currency and other parts of the financial markets, amid speculation that new Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr is prepared to cut interest rates if the economy slows.

The speed with which Ardern’s office acknowledged the mistake underlines how important it was that the comments were not amplified without clarification.

Peter Dunne: It’s time to bury the capital gains tax

All of which raises the question as to why the capital gains issue keeps getting raised, especially since the arguments in favour from both a revenue gathering and efficiency perspective are not that strong.

After all, given both the long and variable lead times involved between the purchase and sale of taxable assets, a comprehensive capital gains tax is at best likely to be a somewhat unreliable and unpredictable contributor to annual revenues. Advice I received when Minister of Revenue was that it could be over a decade from the time of introducing a broader based capital gains tax until it produced any significant revenue gain for the Government.

Also, it has been long accepted that the family home would have to be exempted from any such regime, further diminishing its likely impact. Even in the rental sector, the impact would likely be negative for tenants, with landlords boosting rents to offset any negative tax impact when those properties are sold.