Bridges confirms talks on breakaway Christian party

There were reports last week that National MP Alfred Ngaro could lead a new Christian Party. With cooperation from National Ngaro would have a reasonable chance of winning an electorate, which is the only way around a prohibitive MP threshold for new parties.

The only new parties to have succeeded in getting into Parliament under MMP are those with incumbent MPs.

Yesterday National leader Simon Bridges confirmed he has talked to Ngaro about the possibility of splitting, but was vague about details. However significantly Bridges did not deny the new party being considered.

Stuff: Simon Bridges confirms he’s talked with MP about a breakaway Christian party

​National leader Simon Bridges has confirmed he’s talked with MP Alfred Ngaro about the establishment of a “values-based, religious party”.

Bridges says it’s an “alluring idea” and he’s giving Ngaro, a former National party minister, “space” to explore the idea.

But he’s being vague on who is behind the nascent party, and sending mixed messages on whether there will be an electorate deal.

“I am not setting up a religious party…I don’t think I’m giving him support or not, I’m just giving him space,” Bridges said.

Bridges would only be ‘giving him space’ if he did not oppose the idea of a split.

Bridges says Ngaro was approached by “some people” in the last few months. He claims not to know who they are.

Sounds like a deliberate ‘plausible denial’ situation.

“Look, I am not interested in electorate deals, that is certainly not something I have canvassed with Alfred or anyone else…

“I can confirm to you I have not done any deals, I have not talked about any deals and actually I am pretty unlikely to want to get into that.”

He won’t want to get into that with the media, but he hasn’t ruled anything out there.

Bridges says he spoke to Ngaro once about the fledgling party. He wouldn’t be drawn on whether the post-Christchurch political environment was the right time to be launching a party hinged on religious values.

“I’ve simply said to them ‘ok let me know how you get on’. We haven’t had other conversations on this…

“We have seen in the past, these sort of values based, religious parties can do very well and I suppose that’s why Alfred and others are exploring this…there potentially is a gap in the market for a Christian or a value-based party.”

Bridges sounds quite amenable to the proposition.

As I have already said, I think that a Christian based party with a good chance of getting into Parliament is a good idea. Doing it with a sitting MP splitting is probably the only of succeeding inn spite of the 5% threshold, which has effectively stopped any new parties getting into Parliament, unless they have an MP with an electorate seat.

I am unlikely to vote for a Christian party, but I strongly support aa party that can get a few percent of people voting for them being represented in Parliament.  That is what MMP should allow, and a number of viable smaller parties would result in better representation in Parliament. Currently the threshold effectively disenfranchises people who prefer niche parties.


Update: bridges is being about this on RNZ. He stated that National will stand an MP in the Botany electorate next election (Botany was mooted as an electorate that Ngaro could stand).

Mallard “best and worst of Speakers”

Some of what Trevor Mallard has done as Speaker is innovative and relatively effective, but he remains dogged by his political bias and his personal baggage with some MPs, which seem unlikely to change.

Audrey Young: Is it time for fresh challenges for Speaker Trevor Mallard?

Mallard’s performance as Speaker this week has not done the Government any favours.

He is seen as simply part of the Government and the Government is seen to be throwing out National MPs – leader Simon Bridges and Nick Smith – from Parliament.

It has been so bad, that if Ardern is casting around for a capable minister to add to her ranks for the June reshuffle, maybe she should consider bringing Mllard back into the ministry.

Mallard was one of the most highly valued and competent ministers in the Helen Clark.

Mallard is a problem for the Government as Speaker, and he would add something that labour lacks in the current Cabinet – experience. I wonder how he would do as Minister of Housing, or Health. The current ministers are struggling to perform adequately.

While Mallard also has ample experience for his role as Speaker he also has a history of animosities that he seems unable to separate from the job.

I have covered Parliament under seven Speakers and Mallard is both the best and the worst, rolled into one.

When he’s good, he’s brilliant, but on a bad day he’s a House-wrecker.

The good:

On a good day (and there have been two in the past six sitting days) question time can be brilliant.

Because of the rules Mallard instituted, the flow of questions and answers is seamless and his intervention is evident only when he insists on a fuller answer.

He listens to questions and answers very carefully. he does not give diatribes when explaining why he has made a decision.

With oversight over written parliamentary questions, he has also demanded a better standard from ministers and twice this year has awarded National an extra 12 questions because of sloppy written answers from Shane Jones and David Clark.

The bad:

Mallard at his worst is when he abuses the inherent power of the chair by punishing Opposition MPs and then punishes them for reacting under extreme provocation.

That is how Simon Bridges came to being kicked out.

Bridges was kicked out for calling Mallard “unprofessional”. Under Parliament’s rules it was not an unfair punishment. But Bridges was right: Mallard had been unprofessional.

What is happening is that Mallard is giving himself licence to insult MPs but as soon as they bite back they are punished.

Mallard insulted Bridges several times on Tuesday, demanding he knew show “leadership” at a time he knew Bridges was facing leadership pressure. The apparent intention was to humiliate Bridges.

The absolute worst:

However Mallard was at his absolute worst when he refused to put leave on behalf of Nick Smith to give priority to a Bill next members’ day that provided roadside drug testing of drivers.

Smith wanted to know why and Mallard said that he himself had objected. That is unprecedented for the so-called umpire.

When objected, not unfairly, Mallard ordered him to leave the house.

As Speaker, Mallard has power, and he doesn’t want that challenged even when he misuses it.

When Smith abused Mallard on the way out Mallard ordered him back in and named him, suspending him from all proceedings for a day.

The abuse hurled at Mallard by Smith warranted serious punishment, but Mallard’s refusal to put leave was extreme provocation and an abuse of his position.

In contrast, Mallard is quite lenient with government MPs, like Winston Peters.

At times he also appears to protect the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

Mallard has the experience to be a good speaker, and has made worthwhile improvements to how things are done, but he has always had a problem with his temperament, and that is not easily resolved.

Would Ardern consider moving him from the Speaker’s chair to a ministerial responsibility? Would Mallard want to?

National committed to a bipartisan approach to climate change

In response to Wednesday’s announcement on the Climate Change Response Act and the establishment of an an independent advisory Climate Change Commission the leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges, indicated his support and his party’s commitment to finding “a bipartisan approach to climate change”, but he qualified that with “that delivers the best outcomes for New Zealand”.


National welcomes Climate Change Commission

The National Party welcomes today’s announcement of proposed amendments to the Climate Change Response Act as a positive step towards establishing an independent advisory Climate Change Commission, Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges says.

“While we have found common ground on the Commission’s form and function, the net-zero target for long lived gases, and the separate treatment of methane, we have serious reservations about the expected rate of reduction for methane.

“National was clear on its position, as I outlined at my speech at Fieldays last year. We have taken a principled approach to these negotiations, including seeking different treatment for separate gases, and I am pleased to see this reflected in the Bill.

“We are not convinced that the proposed 24-47 per cent reduction for methane meets our test in terms of science, economic impact or global response.

“We’re committed to taking short term politics out of climate change policy, by having an enduring Commission which will give science-based advice for successive governments.

“New Zealand has been a global leader in sustainable agricultural production. For this leadership to be enhanced the sector must continue to embrace change, but this target goes beyond credible scientific recommendations.

“We have signalled to the Government in earlier discussions that it is exactly the sort of decision a newly formed Climate Commission should advise Parliament on, rather than politicians cherry picking numbers. Waiting five years to finally assess whether it’s fit for purpose is not acceptable.

“National remains committed to finding a bipartisan approach to climate change that delivers the best outcomes for New Zealand.”

Government defensive as Opposition keeps up pressure over KiwiBuild targets

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

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

Yesterday in Parliament:

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

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

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

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

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

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: (a waffly reply)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: (a waffly reply)

Judith Collins also touched on it in question 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was the big bold thing they were delivering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

National’s ‘identity crisis’ in opposition

After nine years in Government Labour went through a number of identity crises in opposition until a last minute gamble by Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern pulled victory out of what looked like inevitable defeat.

I followed The Standard during this period and there were many ructions and arguments over Labour’s identity.

So now it is the National Party’s turn to adjust to the shock of demotion into the mainly impotent role of Opposition. And the complaints are coming persistently from Kiwiblog and Whale Oil about what National stands for, or should stand for now. And the Leader of the Opposition (currently Simon Bridges) is also under increasing scrutiny and criticism as he hasn’t restored National to power already.

Opposition is a good time to re-evaluate what a party stands for, now (not a hundred years ago).

Thomas Coughlan asks Who is the National Party?

It takes a while for opposition parties to adjust to the murk and plotting of Parliament, after becoming used to the lofty glow of government. Labour’s memories of instability and plotting are fresh, National’s aren’t.

Understandably, Labour views National’s ructions through the lens of its own knotty history. It sees the choice in fairly blunt terms: Bridges is the Phil Goff leader – an obvious successor to the previous, popular government, but unlikely to embody the change needed to get the party over the line come election.

Collins is the David Cunliffe candidate: madly popular with the party base, but polarising to the political centre who would likely migrate left if the National party pivoted right.

From Labour’s experience, National’s rightward drift seems inevitable; it’s an obvious and natural response to the identity crisis of opposition.

So what is National’s response?

The question of what to do about the base is squarely in National’s court.  Unlike Labour, members have no role in selecting their leader: it’s all caucus.

National operates as a representative democracy party, where MPs theoretically represent the wishes and preferences of their members.

There’s benefit to that. Members don’t like to hear it but professional politicians often know what they’re doing when it comes to what works and what doesn’t. Their livelihoods depend on it and the best spend more time travelling the country, hearing diverse points of view not just listening to party bases, which can get stuck in a narrow political bubble.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the base either. Especially in opposition. Come election, the base knocks on doors, makes phone calls, puts up hoardings and, most importantly, donates.

Nationals donations seem to have remained at healthy levels – see National Party donations in 2018 topped $700,000 – more than any other party

n the 2018 leadership race, a large plank of Judith Collins’ campaign was centred around her popularity with the base. Members want to see her, and other MPs invite her to their electorates to speak and mingle. These are the people National needs to mobilise if it’s to win, and they’re not going to open up their wallets if they don’t feel they’re being listened to.

But there’s an even greater question of just who constitutes the base. Traditionally, membership of a party was more or less synonymous with being a part of that party’s base. But as fewer and fewer people decide to become members of a political party, the gap between a party’s official membership and its base – which might be understood as people who regularly vote and donate to a party – has grown.

As of 2018, National had roughly 20,000 or so members. A sizeable cohort, but it pales when you place this alongside another measurement of the party’s “base”, which was polled for in the New Zealand Election Study after the 2017 election.

In that study, a full 26.56 percent of people said they were “close to” National. If you were to map that onto the 2.6 million people who voted in the 2017 election, you find that nearly 700,000 voters would say they were “close to” National.

Now, experience suggests that only a fraction of that base is actually going to get out door knocking — but it does illustrate two problems bedevilling National: one, the difficulty in knowing exactly what and where their base is; and two, the knowledge that whatever it is, it’s likely to be massive.

It’s not just the base that’s important for a major party – there is also the all important ‘centre’ or floating voter.

And under MMP support parties have (so far) been critical in winning the Government benches.

Without any friends on the right, National has the unwelcome task of soaking up votes in the centre, whilst mobilising the right wing base. This is more difficult for National than other parties, as its base contains both right-leaning an left-leaning factions.

National’s odd decision to oppose the UN Migration Pact, a cause championed on some of the darkest corners of the internet, and completely at odds with the party’s record as a champion of migration, was an example of the party struggling to do two things at once. The catastrophic “emotional junior staffer” saga was an example of what happens when this goes wrong.

Bridges’ problem (therefore national’s problem) is that he lacks support parties and is failing to impress the base and also the floating voters.

The future success of the National party, unless a new party emerges, depends on it being able to mobilise both on the right, and in the centre. It’s no easy task. Even one of MMPs greatest political forces, Helen Clark, knew she couldn’t win by campaigning on the left.

I have voted National at times in the past, but they are nowhere near close to earning my vote next year. My impression is that they are moving further from where I would consider them as a viable option.

Perhaps it will become clearer next year who the modern National Party is, and who they want to represent.

Their lack of clear identity isn’t a crisis, yet, But it could be next year.

 

Bridges and MPs deliver attacks on lack of delivery

With his leadership of National under ongoing scrutiny, Simon Bridges went on the attack in Parliament yesterday.

I don’t care for that sort of politics so will leave that speech at that, apart from saying that I don’t think it will save Bridges from being dumped as leader sooner or later (it doesn’t look like he will volunteer to step down).

He did a better job with one of Natikonal’s primary attack lines, the alleged lack of achievement by the Government in what Jacinda Ardern referred to as the year of delivery.

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s actions, policies, and statements?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that under the previous Government, job creation was at 10,000 per month, yet in the last three months, job growth has fallen by 4,000—that is, it’s gone negative?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I notice that the member has very specifically drawn on a quarter-to-quarter comparison because what he doesn’t want to say is that the unemployment rate, as it’s being announced today, is at 4.2 percent, the second-lowest level in 10 years. What he doesn’t want to say is that wages grew 3.4 percent over the year; that the underutilisation rate—again, we want to make sure that people, when they’re in employment, are working as much as they want to be working—fell to 11.3 percent, the lowest underutilisation rate since December 2008; and the NEET rate fell—not as much as we’d like, but it has fallen—and the number of employed people rose 38,200 from a year ago. The member has compared one quarter to the next because that was the only number that he felt comfortable raising in this House.

Hon Simon Bridges: So will she answer the question: does she accept that under the previous Government, job creation was at 10,000 per month, yet in the last three months, job growth has fallen—that is, has gone negative—by 4,000 people?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: For the quarter, yes. However, if we’re looking at the average change in employment, it is, of course, in the positive and over 10,000. Again, I notice that the member, when he was in Government, tended not to use quarter-on-quarter either.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know that the reason Statistics New Zealand gave for the unemployment rate falling in the last quarter was because people were deciding to leave the labour force—that is, to go on a benefit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is actually not correct. If someone goes on a benefit, by default they are termed unemployed and would show up in the unemployment statistics, which have gone [Interruption]—if surveyed, they would indeed be regarded as unemployed, and the unemployment rate has gone down. Secondly, I also acknowledge that when the numbers came out, Statistics New Zealand said they saw a rise in men aged over—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Don’t just make it up.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —this is actually from Statistics New Zealand, Mr Brownlee, if you’d like to tune in—55 leaving the labour force in order to go into leisure time—perhaps a suggestion, Mr Brownlee.

Hon Simon Bridges: How does she explain unemployment down but benefits strongly up?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, there’s been a variation of 0.2 percent in the benefit numbers. Again, however, when we look at the percentage of those of the working-age population receiving a main benefit, even where it is now in the March quarter, which is at 9.5 percent, that is lower than it was in every year from March 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, under the last Government. So, yes, of course we want to keep those numbers coming in a different direction, but, again—relative to the last Government—in better shape.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that under the previous Government, 60,000 people came off benefits, yet in the last 12 months, there were 13,000 more people on the benefit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yet, I say again, despite that, we are still at a lower rate than under the last Government. Of course we maintain the aspiration that we want to see people in work. That’s why we have Mana in Mahi, where we are supporting those who are on unemployment benefits to go into work and supporting employers to take them on in apprenticeships. That’s why we’ve got our driver-licensing scheme, where those on youth payments are eligible for free driver-licensing to help them get into work. And it’s why just this week, Ministers announced the work they’re doing with the building and construction sector. We do want people in meaningful work, and we’re taking meaningful action to make it happen.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why are there 13,000 more New Zealanders on the job seeker benefit under her watch?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, I prefer to use the proportion of working-age population, but, again, even then I have said there has been a 0.2 percent increase. We have seen, according to the Ministry of Social Development, some softening in the areas around construction, from memory. So those areas where we have seen problems around our sector is where we’ve seen also job issues, and that’s why we’re doing the work to try and make sure those individuals have the skills to go into those areas of work.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will the Government’s $1.5 billion mental health package be announced pre-Budget or on Budget day?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: All Budget announcements, of course, sit with the Minister of Finance and the Government. We don’t give time lines on what is in and what is out, and nor am I going to confirm the totality of those Budget amounts.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree that it’s a failure that the Ashburton District, with an unemployment rate of 1.8 percent, saw a 20 percent increase in the number of people on the job seeker benefit in the last year?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, my preference would always be to look at some of that individual, regional data myself, because sometimes it does give us patterns around what’s happening for industry areas. Of course, we don’t wish to tolerate growth in any of those areas; that’s why we’re taking very specific initiatives in very specific regions and employment areas in order to try and turn such numbers around. I would again say, though, this is a day where we’ve, again, had the second lowest unemployment rate in a decade, matched only by the lowest in a decade, which we achieved two quarters ago. This is a time for celebration for the country, that we are doing well in the face of some international headwinds which are not positive.

Hon Simon Bridges: If unemployment being down is so good, why are benefits up 13,000 people?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve given multiple answers to this question. Regardless, again, of those rationales, we are taking individual efforts to make sure that in those areas where we have job need we are matching those on a benefit in a way that we just did not see under the last Government. And that is the right approach to get our benefit numbers down.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report, due to be released on Friday, recommend the removal of most or all benefit obligations and sanctions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, I welcome the question from the member, because I’ve noticed some statements being made around sanctions which are just not accurate. There have been no changes to the sanction regime. We have, however, ensured that Work and Income is following the existing policy. So I cannot make any statements around whether or not that kind of rigour was applied to our system before, but it is being applied now. The sanctions themselves, however, have not changed. The second point is that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group—you’ll be able to discuss and debate their recommendations once they’re released.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will her Government not only “remove excessive sanctions in the welfare system” but, as the Speech from the Throne states, also “go further”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have been very open as a Government around some of the discomfort we’ve had with some of the sanctions that exist, for instance, naming of children—the penalty that applies for, particularly, women in those circumstances. That’s something we’ve been very open about. With sanctions, of course, we’ve always been mindful about the impact of them on children in particular. But again, in terms of any announcements, you’ll have to wait until the Government formalises its response.

Hon Simon Bridges: If she and her Government have made no secret of the fact that they’re uncomfortable with the sanctions and obligations, why have no changes been made, and will changes be made when the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report and the Government’s decisions come back?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I was simply flagging a particular sanction that at least Labour and the Greens have been on record on for a number of years. When it comes to announcements, the member will have to wait.

Hon Simon Bridges: So can I confirm that she is uncomfortable with the sanctions and obligations that are in place on benefits today, as she, I think, just said?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. The member completely misinterpreted my statement and he knows it.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the current system and what we’ve got in place right now—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m just going to remind the Prime Minister that she cannot accuse a member of deliberately misleading the House, and I think she just did.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she then saying that the benefit arrangements around obligations and sanctions today are fine as they are?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have not changed them—they have not been changed. We’re just making sure that Work and Income applies them appropriately.

Hon Simon Bridges: Well, what’s the point of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group then?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will see the results in due course.

A problem with this line of attack is that many voters probably don’t care much about what a Goverment doesn’t manage to do.

Bridges launched into an attack on (lack of) delivery in the opening speech in the General Debate.

GENERAL DEBATE

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition): I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business.

You know, when they play the political gold back over the last few years, that last interchange is bound to be there. That was something special.

There’s one thing we need to remember about this Government in 2019, and that’s that the Prime Minister has said, and she’s made it quite clear, that this is the year of delivery. That’s what it is: it’s the year of delivery. Actually, yesterday, she said—[Interruption]—Grant Robertson—it was the year of striving. That’s where she was—the year of delivery—and so far, we don’t have even a roundabout to Shane Jones’ house that’s been delivered.

So what has the Government delivered?

Hon Members: Nothing.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: And in the economy, as Amy Adams has made quite clear in this House, we’ve gone from 4 percent growth to 2 percent growth, and today, we saw what that means: 4,000 fewer jobs in New Zealand at the moment. In poverty, more beneficiaries, more hardship, and more housing grants in their thousands, and that in the year of so-called delivery is an absolute shame. And the members over there think it’s a joke that the economy is worse, that poverty is worse, and that the cost of living is getting higher and higher.

The clowns on the other side think that somehow it’s a bad thing if, in the National Party, we highlight, in the year of delivery, that they’ve got no plans, no policies, they’ve achieved absolutely nothing.

Amy Adams continued:

Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn): Well, it has not been a great start to the year for the Government, you’d have to say, has it? I mean, here we are, in January, the Prime Minister came out proudly and said, “Well, never mind the first, sort of, 14, 15 months of our term, this is going to be the year we get some stuff done.” Then what did she do the very next day? The first item of business in the year of delivery, she came out and said, “Do you know all those KiwiBuild targets? Yeah, nah, just kidding, we’re not actually having those, because we can’t meet them.” So that was the first item of delivery.

Then on Friday, we’ve got the Welfare Working Group coming out. Again, about another $2.5 million of a long working group with all of the worthies in a room trying to figure out how to fix the working group, and I can tell you now, there will be zero action on the recommendations of that report. I tell you now, it’ll be another report where the only delivery this Government knows how to do is set up a working group, consult, consult, and then do nothing; a do-nothing Government.

This isn’t the year of delivery; this is the year of deterioration.

Then look at today with the revelations from Nicola Willis: waiting times for special education services and early education, this Government told us that 76 days is too long, they would halve them. What’s happened? They’ve almost doubled. That is not improving, that is not delivery, that is not well-being; it is total and utter incompetence and it is letting down the people of New Zealand. It is the very opposite of well-being.

This is not the year of delivery; this is the year of debacles. It is the year of decay. It is the year of actual well-being getting worse and worse under this Government, and I have no doubt that the people of New Zealand see through the spin

…So if this is the year of delivery, then the rest of this country will be saying “Bring on the election.”, because the incompetence, the failure, the debacles, and the arrogance we’re seeing from this Government isn’t helping the well-being of New Zealanders at all.

Michael Woodhouse continued:

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National): There is no better illustration of the non-delivery of this Government in their year of delivery than in the health sector. Last month, I went to the Southern District Health Board’s board meeting, where I found out that on a year-to-date basis, their elective cardiac surgery target was behind by 45 percent. They had only achieved 55 percent of their year-to-date target.

For the first time in 10 years, we are on track to do fewer elective surgeries than in the previous year on both a numbers and a case-weighted basis, and yesterday, in question time, the Minister said that it was going to get worse. Another 2,300 elective surgeries have been cancelled this week alone as a consequence of the junior doctors’ strike. He also said that he was aware that there had been people who had been cancelled not once, not twice, but even more than that.

So it’s not overstating it to say that in this year of delivery, people’s health and even their lives are at risk as a consequence of this Government’s mismanagement of the health sector.

Remember Dr Clark wailing and gnashing his teeth in Opposition at a survey that showed that one in seven New Zealanders were not able to go to a GP because of affordability? And what’s happened—the number of people who can’t afford to go to the GP has gone up, not down. Over this Government’s time, it’s gone from 14.3 percent to 14.9 percent—non-delivery.

Well, I’m going to make a prediction: at the end of this month, in Budget 2019, there’s going to be no money for Dunedin Hospital. This is from a Minister who, in Opposition, petitioned the previous Parliament that the Government should have started the rebuild of Dunedin Hospital in 2017 and, two years later, not a thing—non delivery.

The removal of national health targets that the Minister said created perverse incentives has created even more perverse incentives. People could be dying, because the Minister does not want to set expectations for throughput of our DHBs—non-delivery in surgery; non-delivery in cancer care. We had Blair Vining standing at the Cancer Care at the Crossroads conference where his wife said her husband would be dead if he had kept to the appointment that the Southern District Health Board had given them. This is a Government that is not delivering and it’s not got its priorities right.

Lawrence Yule:

LAWRENCE YULE (National—Tukituki): General debates about are about bringing things to this House that matter and that are important to your electorate and are important to New Zealand. I’m going to use my short time to highlight a really significant issue in my electorate and in my city of Hastings in this year of supposed delivery from this Government. That is around housing.

In 2016, the Hon Phil Twyford, as a member of the Opposition, said he wanted a state of emergency declared around housing in New Zealand. On 23 May, in an answer to question No. 6 in 2018—almost one year ago—he was critical that the waiting list for State houses in Hastings had gone up by 86 percent.

On 1 May this year—this day; nearly half-way through the Government’s year of non-delivery—we have one hectare of vacant land in Hastings completely serviced and ready to go and no houses on it.

From Stuff in January:  Jacinda Ardern says 2019 year of ‘delivery’ for Government

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told the Labour caucus 2019 will be a year of “delivery” for the Government.

“For us domestically it doesn’t really matter what the international community does or says, it only matters what we deliver”.

Attacks on lack of delivery look likely to continue.

However attacks on Bridges for lack of delivery as National leader also look likely to continue.

 

 

 

 

 

Media frenzy over National leadership

Yesterday the political media were persistently pushing for declarations of trust from Simon Bridges and declarations of loyalty from Judith Collins, knowing that neither would be frank. This is political theatre at it’s worst.

The National caucus had a longer than usual meeting yesterday, prompting the attention after doubts have grown about the ability of Bridges to hold on to the leadership.

Newshub claim to have some sort of scoop:  Newshub understands Sir John Key has shown support for Judith Collins

Newshub understands former Prime Minister Sir John Key has shown some support behind the scenes for Judith Collins to be National leader.

Key would not confirm this to Newshub, only to say, “I don’t comment on leadership issues” – but because of his standing in the party, MPs still go to him for advice and he commands huge respect in the National Caucus.

An endorsement – or even a subtle nod – could be a game-changer.

Or not – Key has no vote on the leadership, and he should be reluctant to get involved in leadership issues.

Newshub was also leaked details of the National Party’s Caucus meeting on Tuesday, which included a specific warning to MPs not to talk to Newshub.

Simon Bridges survived another day as leader of the National Party as well as his first showdown with MPs after some started laying the groundwork for a coup in favour of Judith Collins.

National’s Caucus meeting was Bridges’ first face off with all his MPs in two weeks and since some of them started seriously stirring against his leadership, saying the numbers are firming up for Collins.

National MPs holed up for more than two hours in the meeting, and Bridges emerged victorious.

This is emotive language in lieu of actual news. ‘They are ‘holed up’ for every caucus meeting.

Bridges didn’t emerge victorious, he came out with no change to his leadership.

The rest of the Newshub report is not deserving of being repeated. It is poor nonsense from political editor Tova O’Brien.

This from Politik (prior to yesterday’s meeting) is more reasoned:

It is.clear that National’s membership is becoming impatient; that it wants to see the party produce a plan for the future and engage less in day to day brawling with Labour.

There has been an amount of credible media speculation that this is

There was almost a tacit acknowledgement of that yesterday with a lengthy defence of his leadership by his deputy Paula Bennett.

“There are things you want in a leader,” she said.

“I want somebody who is intelligent.

“I want someone that is going to work harder than me, because that is what I expect in my leader.

“And without sounding it, I work pretty bloody hard for this party and this country.

“But he works harder than I do.

“He works harder than any of our other MPs.

“I want someone who has a vision for this country and puts that first.

“And someone who knows that whatever discussions we are having in the caucus are not about who is sitting in what seat but what is best for this country.

“That is what I want in a Leader, and that is what you have got in Simon Bridges.”

National has three more regional conferences to go. There were signs in Hamilton that the grassroots party members want change, possibly big change. The challenge over the next three conferences will be for the leadership to demonstrate that they are listening. Otherwise those standing ovations will become even more reluctant.

Working harder is not good enough if it is simply not working, and that’s how it appears with Bridges. Too many people cringe whenever he speaks on television.

Some of the media sharks smell leadership blood and are more than circling, they are trying to force bites.

National will take their own time to work out what to do about Bridges, who shows no sign of giving up.

 

 

Bridges highlighting ‘discipline and unity’


When a leader sees a need to publicly demand unity and discipline in their caucus I think they have major problems.

National leader Simon Bridges speaks out on leadership, discipline and unity

National leader Simon Bridges is expected to deliver a strong message to his caucus on Tuesday that the only path to power is through discipline and uniting behind his leadership.

He said the message he got from delegates at the first of four regional conferences he attended at the weekend, in Hamilton, was the same.

The issue of leadership had not been raised specifically with him, he said.

“But there was a clear and strong message that in addition to holding the Government to account in developing our plans, we win back power by being disciplined and unified,” he told the Herald. “That came through loud and clear.”

“I think there is a mature understanding that this is a new Government and the country has rallied around it in the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks,” Bridges said.

“But National is still in the 40s, within striking distance of Government with a good campaign.”

Bridges is either fooling himself or trying to fool the public. Either way, he just seems foolish.

Asked if the speculation about his leadership inevitably destabilised it, Bridges said: “Whilst none of that was raised [at the conference], it is very clear from members of the party that they know to win we need certainty about leadership, we need discipline and unity.”

“Our members are proud that National has defeated the capital gains tax although they are anxious that they are going see more attempts at cash grabs from the Government to pay for slushy machines and [NZ First MP] Shane Jones’ slush fund.”

There was a strong view that there had been a real lack of delivery from the Government from housing to transport, where no new road had begun under this Government.

“They talked a big game but aren’t delivering.”

Unity and discipline are relatively easy under strong leadership. They become a problem under failing leadership.

Publicly talking about them shows signs of a major problem.

Bridges appears to be flogging a dead leadership.

How hopeless is National’s current situation?

Now that National seems to have settled in the very low forties in the polls, below Labour and well below Labour+Greens+NZ First, they have a big political hill to climb before next year’s election, especially with the surge in support for Labour and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Even if either or both of Greens and NZ First miss the threshold next year Labour is in a strong position, with a leader who is widely liked versus National with leader Simon Bridges who appears to be widely disliked, or dismissed as not up to the job.

Which means National is in a weak position. This could change, but that would probably need a bad turn for the worse for labour, or for the economy. And it would probably also need National to find a new leader who is respected. Bridges is being written off by National leaning voters as much as anyone.

Matthew Hooton is either being realistic, or is trying to shock National into dumping Bridges: Jacinda Ardern on track for triumph in 2020

Moving towards the election, National will argue that a vote for NZ First is a vote for Ardern, which will be true as far as it goes. But just as truthfully, as more centre voters recognise National’s position as hopeless, Winston Peters or Shane Jones will be able to pitch that a vote for NZ First is a vote to keep the Greens out of Cabinet and major social or economic change off the table.

National now needs to face facts: it and Act are close to 20 points behind the three governing parties.

Bizarrely, some on the centre-right seem to take comfort from the most recent 1 News Colmar Brunton poll — completed before Ardern took the CGT off the table — putting National and Act on 41 per cent. They seem to overlook the fact that this puts them a full 17 points behind Labour, NZ First and the Greens, who were on a combined 58 per cent.

To put this in perspective, gaps of more than 15 points between opposition and governing blocs are exceptionally rare in New Zealand.

Were such a result to occur on election night, it would sit alongside the two worst political debacles in living memory.

By and large, National MPs remain in denial about how hopeless their position is, especially following Ardern’s CGT move.

They misunderstand that, in a country that is generally content, Ardern’s very flakiness on any substantial policy matter is one of the Coalition’s strengths.

That her every utterance is devoid of content and that her Government has no meaningful policy programme is exactly the way the median voter likes it.

Sadly for centre-right voters, it looks as if National will need to repeat its trauma of 2002 and Labour’s of 2014 before it wakes up to the magnitude of the task and difficulty of the decisions required to become a viable alternative government again.

There have been various reports recently about Bridges being poorly supported by National MPs, and numbers being counted.

But do they have the gumption to actually do anything? Or are they going to wait until it gets worse for them before they act?

There are suggestions that prospective alternate leaders see next year’s election as lost anyway so don’t want to try to step up before then. That defeatist approach is bad enough as a strategy – taking over from the captain of a sinking ship isn’t a very smart plan – but it also shows a lack of leadership potential.

Judith Collins is often suggested as waiting in the wings, but it seems that she is not liked by enough MPs to get win their confidence. So who else is there? Ardern wasn’t rated until she got elevated in an emergency situation. There could be someone in the national ranks who could do a good job of stepping up.

The problem with politics is showing good leadership skills – and intent – is frowned upon, especially by current leadership, so it is difficult to judge the abilities of all National MPs.

If the National caucus has any serious contenders hidden in their midst they should be showing leadership and try to take over before things get too bad,

Otherwise they look to be in a hopeless political situation, and just accepting that and struggling on makes them look undeserving of voter support.

Bridges tries to keep tax debate going

When Jacinda Ardern announced that the Government was ditching any change to a Capital Gains Tax, and also that she was dropping any CGT plans while she remained leader, some (notably Michael Cullen) claimed that that neutered Simon Bridges and any tax debate in next year’s election campaign.

But Bridges is trying to keep the tax discussion going. He has gone as far as putting a a bill into the member’s ballot that would index tax brackets to inflation. This would avoid the bracket creep that harmed Labour’s re-election chances in 2008 when the Clark/Cullen government list to John Key and National – but Bill English also let bracket creep erode take home pays through their nine years in office.

National went into last election with legislation already in place to adjust tax rates and brackets, but lost power, and the Labour led government reversed those adjustments.

The Spinoff – The Bulletin: Bridges pushes for bigger focus on tax debate

As Stuff’s Henry Cooke points out, under the member’s ballot it almost certain not to pass if it gets pulled out, “but would force the Government parties to vote against an effective tax cut.” National has signalled they intend to campaign on the issue, which means that if it does come out there will be a voting record of that come election time. If Labour in turn opt to campaign on any of the other, non CGT recommendations from the Tax Working Group, that would set the terms of the debate on ground that National would be comfortable with.

The policy would result in the loss of about $650 million a year in tax revenue, according to Mr Bridges’ figures, reports the NZ Herald. When the policy has come up, finance minister Grant Robertson has often pointed to that figure as money that will have to be cut from elsewhere. And while the Budget Responsibility Rules are in place – vocally hated as they are by those who want bigger investments in social services – it’s difficult to argue that the government is currently over-spending.

A point of clarification – as people go up tax brackets, they only pay higher rates on their income above the previous threshold. So while the percentage of people earning above the 33% rate for incomes of $70,000 up has risen (11% of earners in 2011 to 17% in 2016) those people are only paying 33% on what they make on top of the $70,000. Even for those in that bracket, income earned at lower thresholds gets taxed at a lower rate.

How the tax rates and brackets work is poorly understood.

The current Government has passed legislation that they have promoted as An end to unnecessary secondary tax

Workers who are paying too much tax because of incorrect secondary tax codes are in line for relief with the passage of legislation through Parliament late last night.

The Taxation (Annual Rates for 2018-19, Modernising Tax Administration, and Remedial Matters) Bill passed its third reading and will come into effect on 1 April.

“We promised to eliminate unnecessary secondary tax for workers with more than one job. We are delivering on that promise,” says Revenue Minister Stuart Nash.

But this is quite misleading. Secondary tax rates (there are several) won’t change. Workers who paid secondary tax will continue to pay secondary tax, and their tax for a year will be no different.

All this does is encourage IRD to advise employees through the tax year if their secondary tax rate is appropriate to their level of earnings or not.

“The changes mean Inland Revenue will more closely monitor the tax paid by wage and salary earners through the year. If it appears the worker is being over taxed, Inland Revenue will suggest a more suitable PAYE tax code tailored to that worker.

“Till now the tax on the second job has often seemed too high. These changes ensure wage and salary earners are only paying the tax they should. Just under 600,000 secondary tax codes are used every year.”

Again this is misleading. The end of year tax calculation which determines how much tax you pay in a year remains exactly the same.

All this change does is attempts to tax more accurately through the year. It will reduce the chances of underpaying or overpaying (it can work both ways) interim tax via secondary tax rates, that is all. The end result will be exactly the same.

Secondary tax is a system designed to prevent employees from getting big tax bills at the end of the tax year. People who earn variable amounts in different jobs will always have a greater chance of inaccuracy through the year, regardless of this change.