Labour slow to restore Canterbury democracy

After slamming the last Government’s sacking of the Canterbury regional council ECan, and of promising to quickly restore democracy, Labour is now in no hurry to act.

Christchurch Labour MP Megan Woods in 2016: ECan legislation an affront to democracy

The Government’s ECan Legislation is an affront to Cantabrians and continues to deny them a democratically elected regional council, says Labour’s Canterbury Spokesperson Megan Woods.

“There is simply no logical, rational or compelling case for a system of regional government in Canterbury that is anti-democratic and radically different from other parts of the country.

“This is not the return to democracy we were promised. This is a continuation of government control.

“It has been six years since the Government sacked the regional council. It is time to put regional governance back where it belongs. That regional governnment has to be in the hands of Cantabrians. There is no justification for controlling Canterbury through appointments made in Wellington.

“I have a Private Members Bill in the ballot to return to a fully elected council at this year’s elections. That Bill stays in the ballot because Labour backs Cantabrians to run their own region,” says Megan Woods.

Labour’s policy on Canterbury (August 2017): Unlocking Potential – Labour’s Plan for Canterbury

Our plan has eight crucial components, each demonstrating Labour’s commitment to get the region moving – and thriving.

Labour will:

  • Restore full democracy to Environment Canterbury

Stuff (November 2017): ECan elections unlikely before 2019

A return to democracy at Environment Canterbury (ECan) appears unlikely before 2019, despite Labour’s long-standing objection to the status quo.

The last Government removed democratically-elected councillors in 2009 and replaced them with seven commissioners the following year.

One of the sacked councillors, Eugenie Sage, is now Minister of Conservation.

Despite promises by former Environment Minister Nick Smith to restore democracy in 2013, it was pushed to 2016. A full return to democracy was delayed again until 2019 – half the current council is elected and half appointed.

During the election campaign, Labour said full elections would be restored “as soon as possible,” but it is understood that is unlikely to happen before 2019, when elections were expected anyway.

Newsroom (today): Labour’s big miss in Canterbury

The Labour-led Government has failed a crucial test in Canterbury.

Despite making an election issue out of a return to full democracy at Canterbury’s regional council, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has confirmed to Newsroom it will follow the last Government’s timetable of waiting until next year’s scheduled local body elections.

That’s little payback for a surge of support for Labour in Christchurch at last year’s election. The decision not to call early elections will disappoint many – including Mahuta’s ministerial colleague Eugenie Sage, who was one of 14 councillors sacked by the National-led Government in 2010, mainly over claims it was mismanaging water.

Labour’s go-slow on Canterbury democracy even leaves it open to a swipe from ex-Environment Minister Nick Smith, who made the National-led Government’s decision, jointly with then Local Government Minister Rodney Hide, to sack councillors at Environment Canterbury (ECan).

Smith, a fading flower in National, says Labour “screamed from the rooftops” in opposition and if it believed the strength of its rhetoric it would have moved to restore a fully elected council. “I think they know, as I did, that a sensible transition through this term of council and full elections in 2019 is actually the right thing for Canterbury.”

After this length of time without an elected regional council it makes sense to restore a democratic body during the Local Body elections next year, but Labour have failed to fulfil their promise. At least they haven’t set up an inquiry on this.

Cannabis referendum could disappoint

One of the policy wins for the Greens is a referendum on personal use of cannabis.

A referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis by 2020. Funding for drug and alcohol addiction services will be increased.

The ‘referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis by 2020’ is both good and bad news.

Cannabis laws and enforcement of them are hopeless, and long overdue for being radically reformed, so it is good to see tangible progress on this.

But I’m really quite disappointed by this.

Why do we need a referendum apart from appeasing NZ First? Polls have consistently shown public support for cannabis law reform.

A referendum in 2020 is likely to mean that legislation wouldn’t go through Parliament until 2021 at the earliest, and if National get back in they are unlikely to put any priority on it. This means any change could be four or five years away.

A simple referendum could be hobbled or watered down by actual legislation if it’s not specific enough.

Perhaps legislation could be done in advance of the referendum so we know what we are voting on. Then the referendum could be to approve of or reject the legislation. But that still means at least a 3 year wait.

I won’t get too annoyed yet, before details are available, but I have some concerns.


Note that this addresses personal use of cannabis as opposed to medicinal use – in Labour’s Taking action in our first 100 days:

  • Introduce legislation to make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain

Ardern has not been specific but has said that most of their ‘first 100 days’ pledges remain intact.


UPDATE – there could be even more disappointment

James Shaw just said in an interview on The Nation that it hasn’t been decided yet whether the referendum will be binding or not.

So it could be in 3 years, and toothless.

 

How solid are campaign policies and pledges?

A lot of attention is given to policies and pledges and promises and hints during election campaigns. Parties argue for their own ‘if we are in Government’ pitches and examine and criticise opposing parties’ promises.

But how much weight should we put on campaign statements? The way MMP works, especially when there is a balance of power play like now, parties have to compromise, they have to give up some of their own policies and accept others.

Already we have seen that Peters appears to back off Maori seat referendum pledge.

If he stood by that pledge it would rule out governing with Labour (or so Labour have said before negotiations begin) so what would reduce his bargaining power substantially.

The way our MMP works all policies are negotiable after the election.

The cynical amongst us might think that some of the ‘promises’ are made to be broken by a junior party accommodation.

Greens knew that would have to have Labour to get into Government, so would have to give up some of their own policies and accept some of Labour’s.

Even though Labour and Greens had a Memorandum of Understanding to present a combined bid for government a core part of that agreement was to be able to have different policies. Even if Labour+Greens had been able to form a government on their own neither would be able to fulfil all their promises.

Peters has already made an adjustment, and with only 7-7.5% of the total vote will have to accept that many of the NZ First policies won’t (or shouldn’t) hold sway no matter which way they go.

There should always be big caveats considered on all campaign policies and pledges.

Labour’s tertiary election policy

Labour launched a refined tertiary education policy yesterday – they had already indicated what they would be offering some time ago. Key pledges – from the start of 2018:

  • Boost living cost assistance for students by $50 a week (currently about $170).
  • Everyone starting tertiary education for the first time will get one year full-time study fees free.

To be “funded out of the $6b that Labour has allocated to education in our Fiscal Plan” – that must be additional spending on education.

This is a big push to get the young vote. I’m not sure it will have the same impact on parents and grandparents that the Labour interest free loans policy had in 2005 (that is regarded as swinging that election in Helen Clark’s favour).

Labour’s summary:

Labour to make continuing education more accessible

Labour will increase the amount students can get in student allowances and living cost loans by $50 a week, while accelerating our plan to make three years of post-secondary education free, says Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern.

“Labour’s plan will mean more young people can go on to study after school and gain qualifications with less debt.

“Students have told us that the priority needs to be living costs. Just getting by week-to-week has become a significant barrier to many people continuing to study.

“Right now a typical student receives an allowance of around $170, but many tell me that’s not enough to even cover their rent.

“Labour will therefore boost living cost assistance for students by $50 a week from the start of 2018.

“I’m keen to remove tertiary fees as quickly as possible, so I have brought forward by one year our three years’ free policy. From the beginning of 2018, everyone starting tertiary education for the first time will get one year full-time study fees free. That will be extended to two years free in 2021 and three years free in 2024. If conditions allow, we will accelerate this policy further.

“At the same time, we will restore the ability of people studying on long courses, like medicine, to get student allowances and loans. These high-level qualifications are in growing demand; it makes no sense to deny support to people studying towards them.

“This policy is funded out of the $6b that Labour has allocated to education in our Fiscal Plan, which has been independently assessed by BERL.

“Post-secondary school qualifications are becoming a necessity. If New Zealand is to be a wealthy, successful country in the 21st Century we need more of our young people going on to universities, polytechnics, other tertiary providers, or industry training such as apprenticeships.

“Yet, the proportion of young people in post-secondary school education and training is falling. We can’t continue going backwards on education if we want to go forwards as a country.

“Our commitment to life-long learning underlines the clear choice voters face this election – Labour believes in free education for everyone, and that’s what we’re working towards,” says Jacinda Ardern.

Free tertiary education for everyone is a big aim. Balanced against the promotion of better education is the risk of too much irrelevant education that won’t help people get better jobs, and too many people taking on free education when they are not capable of passing.

The costings should take into account of a probable need to expand universities and polytechnics to cater for increased numbers of students.

English announces National’s transport policy

Bill English is in Auckland announcing National’s transport policy.

Today we have announced that we will invest $267m to accelerate the construction of key commuter rail projects in Auckland & Wellington.

We will electrify the Southern Rail line to Pukekohe ($130m), and accelerate the delivery of the Third Main Rail Line in Auckland ($100m).

Electrification is a key element of the National led government’s focus on supporting a cohesive, efficient transport system for Auckland.

We’ve worked with Council to come up with a long-term, fully costed plan to deliver the transport system Auckland needs over the next 30 yrs.

In Wellington, we will deliver a package of projects worth $37m to support the increased use of commuter rail.

$267 million investment in commuter rail 

National is committing up to $267 million of investment over the next three years in the Auckland and Wellington commuter rail networks to support future passenger growth, National Party Transport Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.

The package includes the electrification of the Papakura to Pukekohe rail line, adding a Third Main Line from Wiri to Westfield and double-tracking the Wellington commuter network between Trentham and Upper Hutt.

“Commuter rail has experienced strong growth in Auckland and Wellington. The National-led Government is continuing its already considerable investment in public transport with a further $267 million investment in commuter rail,” Mr Bridges says.

“In Auckland we will invest $130 million to electrifythe track between Papakura and Pukekohe to support these important growth areas in the south and provide a more reliable and efficient services for commuters.

“Electrification is a key element of the National led government’s focus on supporting a cohesive, efficient transport system for Auckland.

“Auckland’s population growth has meant more commuter trains using the rail network around Auckland and competing with the growing number of freight trains using this important corridor.

“We’re committing to invest $100 million for a Third Main Line from Wiri to Westfield providing a dedicated freight line. This will increase the efficiency of this important corridor, allow for greater frequency, improve travel times and provide more reliability for commuters.

“We’ve worked closed with Council to come up with a long-term, fully costed plan to deliver the transport system Auckland needs over the next 30 years.

“This means we’re investing in the right projects, at the right times. Projects like the City Rail Link which will deliver a step change in Auckland’s commuter rail network.

“We are also announcing a $37 million Wellington Commuter Package. This will further enhance the reliability of Wellington’s commuter rail network and builds on Budget 2017’s $98.4 million investment in Wellington’s commuter rail network.

Wellington’s commuter rail package includes:
• A full double track on the Hutt Valley Line between Upper Hutt and Trentham – $22 million
• A third platform for Porirua Station – $3.5 million
• A turn-back facility at Plimmerton – $2.5 million
• Upgrade of bridges and slopes – $9 million
• Upgrade of ‘Park and Ride’ facilities for the Kapiti and Hutt Valley Lines
• A programme to integrate and optimise rail and bus services.

“The Wellington commuter rail package will enable a more reliable, efficient and frequent commuter service in Wellington. These improvements will support the growing the patronage of these services, Mr Bridges says.

“Together these projects represent a $267 million investment in commuter rail in our biggest cities commuter rail networks.

Q&A:  $267 million investment in commuter rail

Green Infrastructure Fund

James Shaw announced new Green Party environmental policy today:

Green Infrastructure Fund to help NZ become carbon neutral by 2050

The Green Party today announced a plan to kick-start the green economy, create jobs in the clean technology and infrastructure sectors, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The Green Infrastructure Fund will be a magnet to attract funding, and channel it towards the clean technology and infrastructure projects that will reduce New Zealand’s contribution to climate change.

“The Green Investment Fund will be the Kiwibank of the clean economy, kick-starting our transition to a carbon neutral economy by 2050,” Green Party Co-leader James Shaw said.

“New Zealand needs to jump on board the global response to climate change and get a piece of the economic action, instead of letting it pass us by.

“Around the world, people are building more clean energy like solar and wind than fossil fuels, but in New Zealand National has held us back from embracing clean economic opportunities.

“Under National, New Zealand will keep subsidising oil drilling instead of creating jobs in clean technologies. Only the Greens will change that.

“National has built a lot of motorways, but they’ve let other infrastructure deteriorate. The Green Infrastructure Fund will renew investment in the infrastructure we need, like clean energy, efficient buildings, sustainable agriculture, and waste reduction projects to keep New Zealand going for decades to come.

“The Green Investment Fund will help New Zealand increase our economic prosperity while at the same time reducing our contribution to climate change, as many European countries are beginning to do.

“Over time, the Fund will see billions of dollars used to build clean energy sources, sustainable agriculture projects, and the infrastructure our cities need to grow without compromising the environment.

“Being carbon neutral by 2050 is an ambitious goal, but it is the people who lack ambition who pose the biggest threat to our prosperity as a country,” Mr Shaw said.

James Shaw speech to the Green Party AGM: Green Infrastructure Fund

 

Labour’s family package

Labour has differentiated themselves from National with the the family package policy they announced today, which targets families with children but they would scrap National’s tax cuts so people without children will miss out unless they are a beneficiary or superannuant who will get a winter handout.

Labour will:

  • Boost Working for Families to all those who currently receive it and extend it to 30,000 more families, in addition to the Working for Families changes announced in Budget 2017.
  • Introduce a Best Start payment to help families with costs in a child’s early years.
  • Introduce a Winter Energy Payment for people receiving superannuation or a main benefit. 
  • Reinstate the Independent Earners’ Tax Credit.
  • Implement the Accommodation Supplement increases announced in Budget 2017.

Delivering for families

For all of our history, families have been at the heart of every decision Labour has made.

We introduced the welfare state and public health system in the late 1930s, because we know how important it is that families can get the care that they need.

We introduced the minimum wage and four weeks’ holiday pay, because we know how important it is that families have quality time together.

We introduced paid parental leave, because we know how important it is that parents have time to bond with their baby in those early months.

And today’s Labour Party is no different. We believe in families, and today we’ve announced a package that will deliver for them.

Our families package will leave 70% of New Zealand families better off than they would be under National’s package. Families on middle incomes will receive up to $48 a week more in Working For Families with Labour’s package than under National.

At the same time, our package will save more than $2 billion over four years, so we’ll be able to invest in houses, hospitals, schools and infrastructure – all the big issues that National has failed to tackle during their nine years in power.

We can do this because our package is targeted at families on low and middle incomes, and we’re not spending $400 million on an unaffordable tax cut for the top 10% of income earners, like National wants to, while public services face cuts and our people face a housing crisis.

This election comes down to choices, to what we think is a priority. Our package shows that Labour’s priority is, as it always has been, New Zealanders. We’ll give everyone a fair shot and the support they need to lead a happy, healthy life.

Labour knows healthy families mean a healthier society, and that’s in the interest of every New Zealander.

Read our full policy here: labour.org.nz/familiespackageshare on twitter

The Nation – Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft

This morning  on The Nation – Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft “on child poverty, secure youth facilities, and should kids get more of a say in policy making”.

From the Office of  the Children’s Commissioner website:

Our Work: We advocate for the interests and well being of children and young people.

Children’s Rights: We provide advice to people who are concerned about a child or young person’s rights or wellbeing.


“We’ve had a problem for thirty years now, 70% of kids do well, 20% do badly and 10% do very badly”.

“I don’t think most NZers know how bad it is at the bad end”.

“We need a plan, we need targets, we need progress’.

We have a target to halve child poverty by 2030.

The Government says it is too hard to have a single measure but Becroft disagrees. He thinks we are in a muddle. We need as a country to make the target seriously, and that means setting other targets.

Says benefits should be indexed, much like Super.

Child poverty: “We could solve this issue… it’s within our ability if we had the will” Judge Becroft.

We don’t do enough to factor in children’s voices in decision making.

Should solo mums have their benefits docked if they don’t name the father? Becroft says it disadvantages kid.

Should 16 and 17 year olds be able to vote? Becroft says we should think about it.

Too many kids in the youth court had their brains scrambled by cannabis.

An inquiry into abuse in state care? Becroft hasn’t publicly supported this because his agency has been involved in the past. A key emphasis is on making things better in the future.

Interview:  Andrew Becroft

Transcript:  Lisa Owen interviews Andrew Becroft

Labour’s workplace policy

Labour announced their workplace relations policy today.A modest increase in the minimum wage and the retention of trial periods (with some modifications) are included.

Key points:

• Increasing the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour.

This is currently 15.75 so it isn’t a big increase.

• Replacing the current National Government’s ‘fire at will’ law with fair trial periods that provide both protection against unjustified dismissal and a simple, fair, and fast referee service.

• Introducing Fair Pay Agreements that set fair, basic employment conditions across an industry based on the employment standards that apply in that industry.

• Promoting the Living Wage by paying it to all workers in the core public service, and extending it to contractors over time.

• Doubling the number of Labour Inspectors.

Backing fair pay and conditions:

Working for fair pay

Labour will boost the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour and base future increases on the real cost of living for people on low incomes. Over time, we will work towards lifting the minimum wage to two-thirds of the average wage as economic conditions allow.

Labour is committed to being a good employer in government. All core public sector employees will be paid at least the Living Wage, at a cost of $15m, and this will be extended to contractors over time. Labour will also double the number of Labour Inspectors to 110 to help ensure working people’s rights are protected. This will cost $9m.


Fair trial periods

Labour has always supported trial periods for new employees, as a way of giving a person a chance. National’s ‘fire at will’ law is unfair because it denies employees any recourse against unfair treatment and unjustified dismissal. This means an employer can sack an employee without a fair reason, denying that person and their family a livelihood. Treasury has found ‘fire at will’ has created no jobs and not increased hiring of disadvantaged jobseekers. Instead, it has allowed some bad employers to exploit employees.

Labour will replace the existing law with trial periods that include recourse for employees in the event of unjustified dismissal. Employers, particularly small businesses, have legitimate concerns that resolving employment disputes can be time-consuming and expensive. So Labour will establish a new referee service for claims of unjustified dismissal during trial periods. The referee will hold short hearings without lawyers and be able to make decisions to reinstate or award damages of up to a capped amount. This simple, fast, and fair service will be provided free for the parties involved, at a cost to the Government of $4m.


Fair Pay Agreements

Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) will be agreed by businesses within an industry and the unions representing workers within that industry. FPAs will set basic standards for pay and other employment conditions within an industry, according to factors including job type and experience. The recent care and support workers’ settlement is an example of how employers, employees, and government can come together to create an agreement that sets base conditions across an industry.

By setting a floor, FPAs will prevent the ‘race to the bottom’ seen in some industries, where good employers are undercut by some bad employers who reduce labour costs through low wages and poor conditions. FPAs will create a framework for fair wage increases where good employers are not commercially disadvantaged for doing the right thing.

FPAs will cover all employees and workplaces within the relevant industry. Negotiations on FPAs will begin once a sufficient percentage of employers or employees within an industry call for one. This threshold and the precise implementation of FPAs will be developed in government in consultation with all stakeholders.

See the manifesto chapter for a full list of initiatives.

Reactions to Labour’s immigration policy

Labour announced their immigration policy yesterday – see Little announces Labour’s immigration policy.

Greens are usually quick to respond to political news of the day but have nothing on their website about it yet.

NZ Herald:  English says Labour’s immigration ‘breather’ would stall momentum in the economy

Prime Minister Bill English’s strenuous opposition to Labour’s proposed “breather” in immigration draws a clear battle-line in the election.

Labour leader Andrew Little wants net migration cut from the current 70,000 a year by up to 30,000 – mainly targeting overseas students – saying it will relieve pressure on Auckland road by 20,000 cars and 10,000 houses annually.

But English says Labour’s policy is based on a misunderstanding of the export education sector – 70 per cent to 80 per cent of such students left New Zealand at the end of their study, the students did not buy houses and not many had cars.

English also said the cut would stall the momentum in the economy which was producing 10,000 new jobs every month.

RNZ:  Labour’s immigration policy could ruin colleges – industry

Up to 70 percent of private training colleges could collapse if Labour’s new immigration policy is implemented, an organisation representing the industry says.

The Labour Party’s policy targets international students on low-level courses, in a bid to cut down migration by up to 30,000 people a year.

Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand, which represents the industry, predicts up to 70 percent of the sector’s business could collapse.

Chairperson Christine Clark said targeting private training establishments (PTEs) would not solve the problem.

She said Mr Little had confused low level with low quality, and the policy sent a message that people who studied at PTEs were low-level people.

“By saying low level, he’s also targeting the providers who are training the chefs and training the barristers and the technicians and the horticultural people and the farmers and the caregivers.

“New Zealand actually needs those people.”

Dave Guerin from Ed Insider, a company which gives advice to tertiary education groups, said polytechnics would also be in trouble.

“Polytechnics are heavily reliant on the Indian and Chinese market. In some places they make up 80 to 90 percent of their international students.

“I’ve just gone through most of the polytechnic sector’s annual reports. Most of them are seeing growth in international students and declines in domestic students, so if they see a decline in international student then they’ll be in the red financially.”

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said about 20 percent of its workers were on student visas.

Mr Chapman liked Labour’s idea of a visa system which would help people get more jobs in the regions, but said the overall policy did not promote growth.

“The whole policy needs to recognise that we do need skilled workers in this country, be they Kiwis or [through] immigration. We need that balance.

“Any policy that pushes down and stops growth is not assisting the industry going forward.”

RNZ:  ‘Pandering’: Rival MPs criticise Labour immigration plan

United Future leader Peter Dunne…

…said Labour’s plan was “really all about race and pandering to a certain section of the vote”.

“It’s a nod and a wink to try to get New Zealand First on side.

“But frankly it’s going to have a detrimental effect on a number of tertiary institutions in terms of their funding [and] also in terms of the skillset coming into New Zealand.”

ACT leader David Seymour…

…said it was a sad day when “the major opposition party starts beating the race drum”.

“They’ve clearly been watching the UK election. They’ve seen UK Labour do well from the collapse of UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party]. They’re getting desperate.

“They think that maybe they can engineer something like that by moving into New Zealand First’s territory.”

The Green Party…

…is worried some might see the policy as a pitch to xenophobia, but has come to Labour’s defence.

Co-leader James Shaw said he did not think that was where Labour was coming from.

“They’ve done a lot of work and they’ve come a long way from where they were in this debate.

“My sense is that they are trying to reframe the debate as one about how we manage this for the sake of the people who are coming here.”

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters…

…said Labour had finally seen the light.

“But when we were saying it, we were being dumped on by all and sundry, and now all of a sudden the lightbulb’s gone off.

“They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and that’s about the size of it.”

Andrew Little has just been asked on RNZ what endorsement of Labour’s immigration policy by Peters meant. Little said he was happy to get support for the policy from anyone.