Cross-party committee to scrutinise Government as Parliament adjourns

Parliament was in recess this week but has been recalled today to deal with urgent business related to Covid-19 and the country lockdown, but will then be suspended for 5 weeks. This means the usual scrutiny of Government through Question Time won’t be possible, so  special committee is being set up.

RNZ: Special committee set-up as Parliament is adjourned

The opposition leader Simon Bridges will chair a cross-party committee, that will scrutinise the Government’s response to Covid-19.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins said all of the Government’s regular legislative programme was now on hold.

Hipkins said tomorrow the house will be focusing on receiving the epidemic notice from the Prime Minister and pass an Imprest Supply Bill, which will allow Government funding to continue to flow as normal.

The epidemic notice would enact the Epidemic Preparedness Act, allowing for actions to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, without having to comply with the usual statuary requirements.

Like last week, Parliamentary business tomorrow will begin with a debate, this time focusing on the epidemic notice and other documents tabled by the Government.

The adjournment will last until April 28, meaning two sitting weeks will be missed.

To enable the politicians to still hold the Government to account, speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard said the cross-party Business Select Committee has put forward a motion to set-up a special Select Committee, which will run for at least the next four-to-five weeks.

He said the committee will meet remotely, be chaired by Opposition leader Simon Bridges with the majority of the sitting MPs being from opposition parties.

The committee will have powers that usually reside with privileges committee, such as the ability to send for people and papers.

“What we think we have got here is a balance of accountability because of a very powerful committee, chaired by the Leader of the Opposition, who can make arrangements to effectively interrogate ministers or public servants on their actions around the pandemic,” he said.

Bridges said it would be a valuable chance for constructive scrutiny of the government, that will make the nation’s response to Covid-19 better and stronger.

Bridges said the committee would be sitting two or three times a week, from next week, to ask the questions New Zealanders want answered.

He said overall, he supported the direction the government has taken, but there are things that can be improved.

However, ACT leader David Seymour called the decision to adjourn Parliament as ‘misguided’.

“We accept that the government has a difficult task ahead, all New Zealanders stand ready to support it, but this is no reason to partially suspend democracy,” he said.

“New Zealanders have just faced the greatest peacetime loss of civil liberties in our history, and it is possible we may not have an election this year.

“ACT believes there should be a Question Time and local electorate offices should remain open,” he said.

From RNZ Live covering an interview of Bridges this morning:

Bridges on the special cross-party committee of scrutiny during the lockdown – says he will have a lot of his front benchers on the committee, National will have a majority in the committee.

He says ultimately he thinks rents need to be paid during this time, says landlords should definitely not be putting up rent at the moment.

He says he’s spoken to some big businesses and what he’s hearing is that the government hasn’t quite hit the mark with the business schemes they’ve introduced.

That’s not surprising. Businesses are facing unprecedented challenges and many will be fighting for survival. The Government is doing what it thinks will help but it must be a work in progress. And they will never be able to ‘hit the mark’ for all businesses.

He doesn’t think benefits should be doubled, like in Australia. Asked whether it would be a good way to pump more money into the economy, Mr Bridges said he didn’t believe NZ’s issue at the moment is an issue of stimulus.

Over the last couple of days Bridges has changed his approach noticeably towards being mostly supportive of Government actions dealing with Covid-19 but with generally sensible sounding questions of some of what is being done. I think this is a good change from him.

Interview with bridges on RNZ: Coronavirus: Simon Bridges to chair scrutiny committee

 

Ardern and Government deserve praise for handling of Covid-19

We, New Zealand and the World, are facing unprecedented health and financial crises. There will be valid criticisms of the way things are handled in a rapidly changing situation, with over 10,000 deaths so far but potentially millions of fatalities from the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Leaders and Governments are having to do their best in a very challenging environment.

People are uncertain and uneasy, understandably. There are valid fears for lives, for livelihoods, for life savings and for ways of life. Some New Zealanders will die, many will lose jobs lose earnings, lose part or all of their life savings. All of us will have to change the way we live, for months at least and probably for years.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern can be a very good communicator when she is well informed and not doing politics, and as she did dealing with last year’s mosque massacre and the Whakaari/White Island eruption, she has again risen to the occasion and I think is doing a very good job keeping us informed in an assuring manner. She excels at fronting crises.

It is hugely challenging getting the balance right between timely and appropriate actions, and over-reactions. I think the Government is largely getting things about right with it’s response to the virus, with the initial financial package, and with it’s messaging.

There were one or two communication missteps early on but they seem to have been resolved.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has done ok in a support role.

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson has managed finances prudently to date and seems well advised and is acting appropriately in the evolving crisis.

Minister of Health David Clark is not as good a communicator, seems to lack confidence (in a very difficult role) and can seem out of his depth a bit, but he is being covered by others.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield is doing an extraordinary job with daily media conferences, calmly keeping us well informed. He is a huge asset.

I think if National were in Government they would be doing much the same things as our Labour-led Government are.  New Zealand is taking very similar measures to the right wing Australian Government. Times like this need expert advice and common sense, not political idealism.

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has tried to get holding to account balanced with support of the Government in a crisis, but his communication skills and manner aren’t great (unfortunately grate would be closer to the mark). He has been overshadowed by finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith, who yesterday backed the Ait New Zealand support package announced by the Government, and also to an extent health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse.

Greens are doing their thing but are more working with their own constituencies and from the sidelines, publicly at least.

There are some in media and social media who haven’t been able to put politics and prejudices aside, and there are some who seem to think they have better information than the Government and are giving advice and demanding different actions. I trust our Government to be largely on top of things, and have confidence we are being well enough informed. I am resisting criticising and naming the petty and the pissy.

The Government won’t get everything exactly right (in retrospect at least), but I have confidence we have our Government and MPs are doing everything they can to deal with the huge challenges currently facing us. There is scope for valid and reasonable criticisms, but petty politics should be set aside.

We should trust our Prime Minister and our Government and our Opposition to inform us and do what they can for us. I think we have to.

I’m doing quite a bit of research and am following things closely, and I am confident we are being well informed and reasonably warned about what is likely to happen. There are many unknowns, but we have to trust our leaders and Government on this, while doing things for ourselves as well.

We have to work together in families and communities to support each other through this. More on that in the next post.

The job of Opposition Leader and “the difference between responsible and political”

The job of Opposition in a democracy such as ours is important, it is a way of holding the Government to account (along with the media who generally do this).

To do Opposition well a good balance needs to be found between criticising the Government and highlighting failings, but not being seen as petty politics or a constant whine of negativity.

The current Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, has had two problems. He has been seen by many to be too negative too often, and his method of delivery either annoys people or turns them off, making his overdoing of negative attacks sound worse. He has been widely criticised, including by what looks like a majority of commenters on the right tending National linked Kiwiblog.

In times of crisis there is some expectation that opposition parties and MPs will put the good of the country before their own re-election ambitions, so the balance should shift towards more cooperation and less nagging and niggling.

Bridges’ speech in response to the Government economic package announcement on Tuesday was widely criticised as negative, petty, tone deaf and inappropriate in the circumstances (although some National supporters praised it). His speech:

A speech by National’s spokesperson on finance, Paul Goldsmith, was praised for a better tone (he said many of the same things), and for praising good aspects of the package while including reasonable criticisms. His speech:

The argument between Opposition negativity versus cooperation flared up in Parliament yesterday between Jacinda Ardern and Bridges.

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, especially the package that was announced yesterday by this Government in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, including the $12.1 billion package that is split between business certainty and continuity—making sure that consumers have enough money in their back pocket to keep the economy going but also that we look after older citizens; and, obviously, the half-billion – dollar investment directly into health to support the response to COVID-19.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she still stand by her statement in the House yesterday that nobody displaying symptoms has been denied a COVID-19 test when Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, stated in the media yesterday that “There needs to be a reason why people are tested for COVID-19. This means along with symptoms of COVID-19 they should have either a history of travel or close contact with a possible case.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Both the Director-General of Health and myself stand by the case definition for testing of COVID-19, which is exactly both as the director-general described and also as I described yesterday, which adds the ability for a clinician to make that decision. I want to say this again very seriously to the member on the other side of the House: this is a time where New Zealanders need to know that this House—

Hon Simon Bridges: Don’t give me a lecture. I’m doing my job in the interests of New Zealand.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —is united. We are politicians, and it is not for us to determine—

Hon Grant Robertson: They don’t think you’re doing your job.

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —when people are tested. It is for doctors to.

SPEAKER: Order! I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but the Minister of Finance should not engage, and I understand that the Leader of the Opposition and a couple of the members were also interjecting. But in his engagement, his volume was coming through the Prime Minister’s mike, and, frankly, it is a matter better not discussed in this House during this serious time.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that GPs have received the clear message from Ashley Bloomfield to stick to the case definition for testing symptoms with a history of travel or close contact with a case, given the letter he sent to all GPs on Sunday, which stated, “I ask you to continue to apply the case definition when considering who you should test, and to use testing supplies and personal protective equipment with prudence.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don’t think anyone would disagree with giving advice that applies some criteria to who is tested, because at a time like this, there will be people who have, for instance, cold symptoms that are unrelated to COVID-19 who simply won’t need a test. It is of course prudent that we allow clinicians—not politicians, not members of the public—to make that decision. My final point is that the best thing we can do is not create an environment where everyone who has a symptom that may be a cold or may be a flu believes they need to be tested for COVID-19. That is not responsible either. Yesterday, 620 tests were undertaken—620 tests. We are testing and, as you’ll see from those tests, those cases continue to be linked to overseas travel.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that answer, will she simply accept, then, that if it is simply symptoms and no other criteria as set out in the definition for testing, there will not be, automatically, testing in this country today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There has never been a situation where every single people who asks for a test would receive one, and nor would that be a responsible response. That is not what countries anywhere in the world are doing. That is not the way the World Health Organization is asking countries to respond, and nor should it be the way we are. I am listening to experts, clinicians, and doctors. I ask the member to do the same.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it quite clear from both her answers and Ashley Bloomfield’s that we have a rationing of testing in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister: has there been universal support from the professional medical fraternity with respect to Ashley Bloomfield and the Prime Minister’s criterion on this matter?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve read some of the writing on this by experts in the field, and there is absolute agreement with the approach that is being taken. I again want—

Hon Members: It’s the Prime Minister’s criteria.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is an outrageous suggestion. I again want to make clear to the other side of the House: this is a national issue. There is no politics in testing; there should only be expert clinician advice. I ask the member again: if you would like to receive a briefing on this, I am happy to provide it, but the member is becoming borderline irresponsible.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that last answer, what does she say to the half a dozen doctors who have contacted me by email and other means in the last 24 hours to express their frustration, given the difference between what she’s saying in this House and what Ashley Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health are quite clearly directing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I ask the member to read for himself the case definition I advised in this House yesterday. Whilst, yes, it does set out specific circumstances, it then makes a note: given the changing global environment, if the clinician believes that they should be testing, then they are able to. But what we do not want to do for doctors is create a pressure environment where every person demands a test, regardless of whether or not there’s any likelihood of their symptoms even being COVID-19, when there isn’t a need for one.

Hon Simon Bridges: Are media reports correct that until Monday, there had been an average of just 11 COVID-19 tests conducted a day?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ll do the same that I did with the journalist who asked that question: that was, I believe, an inaccurate way to display what’s happening with our testing. As you would expect, when New Zealand had no cases, there weren’t many tests. Over time, they have increased. We had 620 tests processed in one day yesterday.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t the reality that it’s not that there weren’t any cases; it’s simply that there wasn’t much, if any, testing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think the member will find that when there are no cases, it’s hard to spread, and therefore there is no rational reason to be testing everybody. Again, I ask the member not to listen to me if he does not choose to but listen to the experts.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the 76-year-old Wellingtonian woman who got off a cruise ship and had symptoms but wasn’t tested this week because the GP said, “We’ve been told not to test unless we absolutely have to.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: She would’ve fallen within the criteria. Obviously, the doctor believed that there weren’t symptoms there that meant that they should. I am not going to second-guess a doctor, because that person would have fit within the case profile. Again, my final plea is to the member: think about the audience he is speaking to right now. This doesn’t have to be political.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that it is my constitutional duty to ask her questions and try and get answers on the most significant issue this country has faced in many, many years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have been in that seat and I know the difference between responsible and political. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! It ill behoves the Leader of the Opposition to react. As I’ve warned the Minister of Finance earlier, sometimes people have to take a deep breath when people are winding them up.

NZ leadership under scrutiny over Covid-19

How New Zealand is handling the escalating Covid-19 issues is being questioned more. Is our Government doing enough, or are they reacting too slowly?

Bernard Hickey (Newsroom):  Behind the curve and out of touch

In the six weeks since the imposition of a travel ban on China in the wake of the first Covid-19 outbreaks, the Government has announced $11 million in tourism marketing and $4m for extra business advisers in regional areas. Yesterday, it announced $12 million of support for drought-hit Northland and the rest of the North Island.

That’s $27m or less than 0.01 percent of GDP in response to what some are calling the biggest macro-economic shock to the global economy since the second world war and the worst drought some parts of the country have seen in 100 years.

Yet, again yesterday Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pushed back at the idea the Government should offer more urgent, widespread and direct economic support to small businesses and beneficiaries to help them cope with the cashflow shock that is rippling through the economy. Instead, they have chosen to spend more time designing a scheme to micro-target wage subsidy support for small businesses in different industries and different parts of the economy. They have said we should wait until next week for details, and that business leaders had asked for a targeted response.

New Zealand has been very slow to respond with monetary and fiscal stimulus amid signs cashflow is drying up across the tourism, hospitality, forestry and retail sectors, with nothing much expected to be announced until next week from the Government, and the following week from the Reserve Bank.

Business leaders are calling for more urgent action to protect jobs, including the suspension of provisional tax payments, a potential GST rate cut and more urgent wage subsidies.

On monetary policy, New Zealand is also looking way behind the curve. The US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have both announced emergency rate cuts.

Yet both Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr and Finance Minister Grant Robertson have warned against “knee-jerk” reactions and have both said they have time to formulate more considered and targeted responses.

Trying to get the balance between caution and urgency is difficult in situations like this. The spread of the virus in New Zealand seems well contained (at this stage) but the economic and social effects are growing rapidly.

Stuff – Coronavirus: A winter of fiscal stimulus is coming

The Government has been manfully sticking to its plan for dealing with such outbreaks, with little choice but to follow the current path set out by the health experts: regular warnings, hand-washing, self-isolation and selected travel bans.

By the middle of next week the Government will be rolling out its ‘business continuity package’, which Stuff understands will include targeted wage subsidies and could include some tax changes. It is increasingly looking like tourism – New Zealand’s biggest export sector – will be where a lot of these efforts are directed.

Both politics and the corporate world are heavily risk-averse in this day and age. So the fact that the Government has been slow to turn up the rhetorical volume about the whole thing has actually been quite helpful. After being caught on the hop with its communications around new cases last week, the ship has been steadied, the information flow is better and calm has largely remained.

There are some indications from business that the physical dimension of the shortages may be loosening up. Supply chains both in and out of China – with the exception of export forestry, which was already facing potential log glut in China – seem to be loosening up. That could mean that shortages of imported products will correct before too long, and exports will keep flowing.

For the Government the politics of the issue remains a fine balancing act, between doing what works, and what might not work but make the public feel like the Government is doing something.

I’d prefer any major financial decisions were rigorously thought through and done properly rather than rushed. But the Government needs to be seen to be doing enough.

Peter Wilson (RNZ): Managing Covid-19 crisis a tricky business

The government was anxious this week to let the public know it was working hard on a relief package to help businesses affected by Covid-19 but it faced criticism over the pace of its efforts.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson was with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at her post-cabinet press conference on Monday to announce a business continuity package was being developed. On Wednesday Ardern chaired the first meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid-19 Committee and on Thursday Robertson promised “we will get the money out the door as soon as possible”.

It’s likely to be signed off at Monday’s cabinet meeting with details announced shortly after that.

What’s known so far is that it will focus on wage subsidies to protect jobs in affected businesses and a plan to redeploy staff in hard-hit sectors such as forestry. Robertson has several times emphasised that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work and assistance must be carefully targeted.

He isn’t going to follow Australia’s response – a $17.6 billion stimulus package with tax relief for small businesses, support for 117,000 apprentices so they won’t lose their jobs and one-off cash payments to beneficiaries.

Inevitably, the relative speed of the responses was noted: “The Australian government was announcing measures while Ardern’s ministers were still holding committee meetings,” said Politik.

National’s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith described the government as “flat footed” and told RNZ: “What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is lots of announcements about announcements that will be made in the future.”

Goldsmith has been doing a reasonable Opposition job of both criticising the Government and being prepared to work with them.

But National leader Simon Bridges has not had such a good week, looking too much like a whining campaign opportunist.

Matthew Hooton (NZH): Simon Bridges fails the coronavirus political test

When a party’s first response to a global pandemic is to demand looser health regulations, we must ask if it is a serious player.

National’s announcement on Monday of a “bonfire of regulations” was inane. Like the party’s overarching “economic plan” released a month ago, this week’s effort was entirely devoid of substantial content, consisting mainly of social-media slogans.

While the party’s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith continues to make considered contributions, Simon Bridges and his brains trust of Paula Bennett and Todd McClay seem to have decided the election can be won by empty sloganeering and praying the Ardern regime implodes.

Also:

Ardern’s and Labour’s prospects of staying in Government after the September election may be determined by how well they get the handling of the virus and it’s economic effects. There’s time to get the Covid-19 response about right, but significant action is needed fairly soon.

The Government parties are helped by Bridges’ lack of substance, empathy, common sense and communication skills. A barrage of slogans may score some political points some of the time, but not when there are serious issues needing to be dealt with sensibly and ideally with help from all parties in Parliament.


ODT/NZH/RNZ: Government could impose further travel restrictions today

New travel restrictions due to Covid-19 could be announced today, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern convenes a conference with a special committee of senior ministers.

Ms Ardern has signalled that tougher travel restrictions will be imposed and refused to rule out any countries, even Australia.

She said yesterday that the details of the travel bans would be hashed out over the weekend.

That’s a bit confusing – may announce more restrictions today but hashing out details over the weekend.


After ‘Flatten the Curve’, we must now ‘Stop the Spread’. Here’s what that means

Here’s how we expressed that earlier in the week:

One of the things the latest studies are showing is that some people may be able to shed the Covid-19 virus for up to three days before they have symptoms. This is obviously a worrying development as it does mean that people may be more infectious in the early stages of Covid-19 than we initially thought. But it’s also important to mention that many of the people in these studies were living in the same household. That fits with all the data showing that most people need to be in repeated close contact with someone who has the virus to pick it up.

Right now we need every household to sign up to the FluTracking project which is helping to act as an early warning system for Covid-19. We need everyone to get into the habit of washing their hands properly and regularly, and to avoid touching their mouth, nose, and eyes. It’s really hard, I know! Out, too, are hugs, kisses, and hongi.

We need to stay away from other people if we are sick. That means, if we are at all unwell, no going to church, the gym, the theatre, cinema, or to gigs and festivals.

Most importantly, we need to be calling ahead if we feel ill and want to go to the doctor or hospital. Something that will not #FlattenTheCurve is having a whole bunch of healthcare workers in isolation because they’ve been exposed to Covid-19. In fact, that does the opposite: it reduces our capacity to care for people who are sick.

Government , National both announce hot air on dealing with Covid-19 effects on the economy

Two economic announcements today, one from the Government, one from the National Party, are dripping with political campaigning.

The Government has announced they will be making announcements this week, and are assuring media they have already done some things to help businesses adversely affected by the Covid-19 virus.

Beehive: Next steps of Govt and business COVID-19 response

This week the Government will roll out the next steps of its plans to support businesses and workers as part of New Zealand’s ongoing response to COVID-19.

These initiatives will be on top of the immediate measures already in place, including support for the tourism and fisheries industries, an increase in business support funding, and tax and income assistance through IRD and MSD.

“Ministers are actively considering a range of options in response to the impact of COVID-19, and Cabinet will discuss these tomorrow,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

So Robertson has given assurances the Government is doing something, and says that Cabinet will consider doing more tomorrow.  he follows with general political palaver, and then explains what they have been doing.

Last week, the Ministers of Finance and Revenue met with the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, the Tourism Industry Association and Xero to discuss the situation.

Grant Robertson also met with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Reserve Bank Governor to discuss macro-economic impacts as a result of the coronavirus.

“We’re taking the time now to work with industries to plan for how we kick-start activity again as we exit out the other side of COVID-19. What we do know is that this will pass.”

So more talking, but nothing really to announce yet.

Note to editors: The Government is already taking the following actions:

Trying to get editors and media to say how well they have already been doing things.

  • Continuing to work closely with banks to ensure they are being proactive with their clients
  • Improving cashflow for small businesses by signalling action on prompt payment terms and times
  • Inland Revenue is entering into instalment arrangements and waiving penalties on a case by case basis where individuals and businesses have had their income and cashflow affected
  • An extra $4 million invested in the Regional Business Partner Programme to allow for extra advisors and give them more time on the ground supporting businesses
  • Working with Xero to get real-time information about the impacts on business, particularly SMEs.

Not much there considering the virus impact on business activity. We will have to see what they come out with later this week.

Aimed directly at the Government announcement, National have also made an economic policy announcement today, aimed at concerns over the current virus induced slowdown.

Paul Goldsmith: Relief package needed as NZ nears recession

With four banks now forecasting negative growth it’s past time for the Government to announce a relief package to help people stay in their jobs, National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“When Cabinet meets tomorrow, this should be at the top of its agenda. This needs to be a detailed package to support businesses and workers directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Political palaver edited out.

“It now seems quite likely New Zealand will go into a recession this year.

It’s not good for a major party to be talking up an economic recession.

“Businesses need clear and urgent action from the Government to help them through this period of uncertainty, not just tinkering around the edges and ad-hoc announcements that lack detail.”

So this announcement doesn’t say anything of importance.

Simon Bridges was just on RNZ saying National were announcing part one (of five) of their economic policy, but it was mostly about a promise to cut red tape, cutting two bits of red tape for every bit they introduce, or something. Bridges mentioned a few things that annoy businesses, but this really sounded like opportunist tinkering around the edges.

RNZ: National wants ‘common-sense test’ on health and safety regulations

National says it would introduce a “health and safety common-sense test” if elected, as part of its plan to slash red-tape burdening small businesses.

The Government is at risk of being seen to as slow to react to the developing economic problems, on to of their reputation for talking more than doing. They have to come up with substantial and urgent plans this week to address things.

It will unveil the “first plank” in its five-point economic growth plan this morning, outlining how it will reduce regulation.

Leader Simon Bridges said the programme was about giving small businesses confidence and creating an economy “where it’s not just burden and cost”.

If elected, National said it would commit to a “bonfire on regulations”, doing away with two regulations for every new one introduced.

It would also scrap 100 regulations within the first six months.

So this doesn’t address the Covid-19 effects at all. Ironically the virus requires increased regulations or restrictions.

National are risking putting more negative pressure on the economy, not a good look for a party that claims to be better at managing the economy. At times when the country (and the world) faces potentially major economic difficulties a responsible party would put the good of the nation ahead of their own election campaign. There will be plenty of time for them to bicker and propose their own ideas that can’t be implemented until later in the year at the earliest.

Both Labour and National have started the week doing little but grandstanding. Struggling businesses deserve better than that.


UPDATE: Jacinda Ardern has just been interviewed on RNZ and was asked if the Government would include National in their talks. Ardern said that National were being kept informed and any suggestions from National on what could be done better would be welcome as it was a global and national problem. Sounds good, but whether there’s any substance to cross-party cooperation on this it is yet to be seen.

I’ll post a link when it becomes available

Simon Bridges whistles Australian deporting but laws already allow it

Another policy announcement by Simon Bridges, deporting Australian criminals that may not do much more than raise the level dog whistling. National to look at reciprocal deportation law

Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says a National Government will look at amending the law to allow Australians convicted of serious crimes in New Zealand to be deported.

If elected, National will explore a policy based on amendments to Australia’s Migration Act in 2014 which allows for people to have their visas cancelled on character grounds.

“It’s the legal right of the Australian Government to deport Kiwi criminals, however we have the same rights and it’s my view that New Zealand needs to explore how a reciprocal policy could work here.”

And especially as under current law Aussie criminals can already be deported.

Newshub: Jacinda Ardern knocks ‘naïve’ Simon Bridges for mulling reciprocal deportations for Australians

The Opposition leader said if National’s elected he will explore a policy based on amendments to Australia’s Migration Act in 2014, which allows for people to have their visas cancelled on character grounds.

Bridges told Magic Talk: “I simply say fair is fair; why wouldn’t we do the same to them? Our laws are much more lenient than the Australian laws… When the Aussies are over here, we should reciprocate in New Zealanders’ interests.”

The Opposition leader said if it’s right for Australia then it’s “worth exploring whether it’s also the right position for New Zealand and our interests”.

The Prime Minister…

…has rejected Bridges’ stance, telling reporters on Monday: “Personally, I think Mr Bridges’ position is naïve.”

Ardern has repeatedly labelled Australia’s policy “corrosive” to the trans-Tasman relationship in the past, raising the issue with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in early 2019, but she later ruled out retaliation after meeting with him again in July.

The Prime Minister pointed out that New Zealand already deports criminals back to countries from which they hold citizenship, but that with Australia it’s a “matter of principle and a matter of proportion”.

“My view is, if we think this policy is wrong, why would we then repeat it?

“My position is that we must do and continue to do everything we can to make the point that what Australia is doing is wrong and the best way I can continue to make that is not by replicating something that I don’t agree with.

In terms of proportion – Ardern said there are roughly 62,000 Australians living in New Zealand compared to around 650,000 New Zealanders living in Australia.

Lawyer Graeme Edgeler responds: “The law already allows convicted Australians to be deported.”

The current version of the law is here: legislation.govt.nz/act/public/200

The 1987 version of the law is here: legislation.govt.nz/act/public/198

The test could be lower. We could grant fewer reprieves. But the idea of deporting permanent resident criminals is not new.

I doubt that appearing to get tough on Aussie criminals will attract many more votes for National.

The best known (notorious) Australian criminal in New Zealand is Brenton Tarrant, but he is being kept here to face multiple (51) murder charges plus attempted murder charges, as he should be. Bridges would more likely loose supported if he suggested Tarrant should be deported at this stage at least. And I’m sure New Zealanders convicted of crimes in Australia are charged and imprisoned there.

Bridges botches tax plan accouncement

Simon Bridges launched an economic plan today that was high on rhetoric but low on specifics. The lack of detail left a vacuum that has been quickly filled with a focus on a sloppy (at best) statement on average earnings tax rates.

In his speech:  National’s economic plan for 2020

We will announce our full tax plan that will see people on the average wage better off and keeping more of what they earn.

People on the average wage shouldn’t be paying almost 33 per cent in the dollar.

People on ‘the average wage’ have little or none of their earnings taxed at a rate of 33%. Many others have pointed out that average wage earners are taxed closer to 17% overall on earnings.

Alex Brae at The Spinoff:  Good news for Simon Bridges: his big tax idea is already happening

Bridges said during the announcement that in a future announcement he “will announce our full tax plan that will see people on the average wage better off and keeping more of what they earn.” So let that be announced.

And then he declared: “People on the average wage shouldn’t be paying almost 33 per cent in the dollar.”

So what is the average wage then? Stats NZ figures from last year put the median weekly income at $1016, which added up per annum comes to a shade under $53,000.

So what is the effective tax rate for someone on the median wage? Fortunately, IRD has a calculator which can tell you exactly this information. Here it is:

Calculated out, someone on the median wage ends up paying about 17% of their income in income tax.

There is another potential way of calculating it though, which could bring it closer to the mark. Stats NZ’s latest Quarterly Employment Survey shows an average income of $1,243 a week, or $64,650 a year. The difference is over ‘medians’ or ‘means’ – either the middle number selected in a set of numbers, or the sum total of a collection of numbers which is then divided by the number of numbers, which can be heavily skewed by upper outliers.

Such a figure would create a whole new share of tax being paid – you can see that here:


So in either case no earnings are taxed at 33%, let alone all of them.

This is either highly ignorant of Bridges, or the alternate assumption is that he has tried to deliberately mislead.

The National media release:  National’s economic plan for 2020 and beyond

National Leader Simon Bridges has today outlined National’s economic plan heading into election 2020.

“National understands the economy and how it impacts on New Zealanders day to day lives.”

Big whoops.

Either way it looks poor, and is an embarrassing way to try to present National as competent on economic matters.

Here are their bullet points.

Only National has a strong economic plan. This includes;

  • Keeping taxes low
  • Keeping debt low and being responsible managers of the economy
  • Growing incomes and lowering the cost of living
  • Investing more in core public services
  • Creating more jobs and opportunities for all New Zealanders.

The Measures we will use to hold ourselves accountable include;

  • Lifting New Zealand’s economic growth back to at least three per cent per annum
  • Lifting New Zealand’s GDP per capita growth to the top ten in the OECD
  • Reducing the after-tax income tax gap with Australia
  • Reducing the number of New Zealander’s who feel they have to leave for opportunities overseas
  • Reviving business confidence so that businesses feel like they can take more risks and create opportunities for you and your family.

“National will release a full package of policies leading up to the election which will address tax, regulation, infrastructure, small business and families.

A lot more care will need to be taken over the full package, but today’s announcement has set things off badly for Bridges.

Labour opposition leaders have been slammed in the past for fluffing economic policy announcements, by media and by National.

Bridges deserves similar scrutiny and criticism on this performance.

 

 

James Shaw speaks on NZF/BFD use of photos against journalists

After growing pressure to make some sort of statement Green co-leader James Shaw has commented carefully on NZ First handing photos to an attack blog who then threatened the journalists.

NZ Herald: NZ First Foundation saga: Greens break silence on ‘chilling’ photos of journalists

The Greens have broken their silence and expressed alarm at published photos of an ex-NZ First president with journalists who have been reporting on donations to the party.

The photos were published on website The BFD, which has been linked to Whale Oil, the blog at the centre of the 2014 book Dirty Politics.

The BFD has increasingly been used to promote NZ First and to attack the Greens, Jacinda Ardern, Simon Bridges, National and the media.

Shaw told the Herald that the details of what had happened were unclear.

“But regardless of who took the photographs and why, the fact they were passed to a blog that is designed to undermine trust in our political system is a concern.”

Shaw also took a step further in relation to questions about the NZF Foundation and whether it has properly declared donations to the NZF party.

“The allegations are concerning and due process must be followed while they are investigated,” Shaw said.

“We know New Zealanders will be looking at this issue and worrying about what it means for their democracy, which is why we are focused on making the system more transparent and fair.”

This is something, but seems a lot more measured than Green condemnation of John Key and National when Hager’s Dirty Politics in 2014 revealed the use of Whale Oil for political attacks.

Shaw has previously answered questions about the foundation by saying that the country’s electoral system needed to be strengthened.

He is now calling for an independent citizens’ assembly to “clean up” political donations, which have been clouded by questions over the NZF Foundation, as well as the SFO charges laid in relation to a $100,000 donation to the National Party.

Perhaps an alternative to fixing the laws would be a good idea, rather than politicians dominated by the large parties who receive large donations doing what suits their own interests.

Shaw’s response tends towards too mild and too late.

Jacinda Ardern has remained fairly silent on the NZF/BFD issue, and has been widely criticised for this.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said there remained many unanswered questions about the “chilling” photos.

“It beggars belief to think that somehow by chance these journalists were photographed with Lester Gray and the photos somehow found their way onto a blog.”

if the National Party had been involved in such a thing, Labour and the Greens would be shouting from the rooftops.

“The Prime Minister appears to be hiding. Her silence is damning. Has she asked who took the photos, did they pay for it, and how did they end up on the blog?”

National were involved in this sort of thing up until 2014, but then distanced themselves from Whale Oil. Cameron Slater then turned his attacks on Key, National, Bill English, Paula Bennett and Bridges. This has continued at The BFD, although Slater now seems to have a more peripheral role.

While the change of position from National is stark it does turn pressure towards Ardern.

Asked about Bridges’ comments, a spokesperson for Ardern said the Prime Minister was focused on the issues New Zealanders care about.

“New Zealand First Party matters are for them to respond to,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

That is a very lame response. Ardern will no doubt be questioned about this in her weekly media conference – and will no doubt have some sort of response prepared. It will have to be much better than her spokesperson.

Will National’s support solid through leadership changes endure?

Support for National has remained fairly substantial and solid, despite the stepping down of the popular leader John key, and also the retirement of his replacement Bill English.

The current leader Simon Bridges has been far less popular, and party support has dropped a bit over the last couple of years that is to be expected for a party relegated to Opposition. National Party support seems to not be affected very much by leadership changes.

Here is how the polls have tracked since the last election.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_2020_New_Zealand_general_election

Bridges’ leadership doesn’t seem to have impacted much on that.

It’s still half a year until the election and anything could happen in that time, but especially with the diminishing of small party support National looks likely to get a reasonable share of the vote again this year (but may struggle to get enough to get back into government).

Josh Van Veen considers  Simon’s Dream: The enduring appeal of National in the Twenty-Twenties 

National supporters might look back wistfully on the early 2010s. But they long ago dispelled the notion that the party’s fate rested with one individual. In that regard, the National Party of 2020 is ‘Tolstoyan’… Despite losing the 2017 election, National remained the largest party by a wide margin. With 44.5 percent of the party vote to Labour’s 36.9 percent, English could boast of having led his party to an impressive result.

For a third term in government party that was a good result, not a lot down on the 47.04% that National got in 2014.

While Bridges’ personal support languishes behind that of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, National continues to poll higher than Labour. It is clear that a significant number of New Zealanders would vote for party over leader. Almost three years to the day of Key’s resignation, a 1 News/Colmar Brunton poll forecast a National victory. If an election had been held in December 2019, according to this poll, Simon Bridges would be the country’s 41st Prime Minister. The poll can’t be dismissed as an outlier. It was the second consecutive poll to indicate the same result. Not only that, but numerous other polls have suggested a tight race. At best we can say the odds are even.

I think that the outcome is certainly too hard to call at this stage.

So why is National still popular? Ask a journalist or commentator and they will most likely tell you that it is because the new government hasn’t delivered. Labour’s promise to fix the housing crisis and end child poverty turned out to be empty. Not to mention the incompetence of certain ministers, bad communication and disunity between the governing parties. They say “Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.” This explanation would be more convincing if Labour had won a numerical victory in 2017. There would be ground to lose to National. In fact, the numbers suggest that nothing much has changed since election night.

A more plausible explanation is that National’s appeal runs deep in the New Zealand psyche. To understand this, we have to forget about policy details, sensational headlines and the day-to-day vagaries of social media. In practice, there isn’t much difference between the way Labour and National behave in office. One is slightly more generous when it comes to the redistribution of wealth, the other has a reputation (deserved or not) for being meticulously scrupulous with public finances. Where ideology is concerned, Labour and National have both converged on the liberal centre. That is to say, the two major parties share a moderately liberal outlook on issues of public importance. Both have embraced globalisation, diversity, environmentalism, the redress of Treaty breaches, and poverty alleviation.

Beyond political rhetoric the actual policy paths of both National and Labour are much more similar than different. The current Government has tweaked more than lurched.

So perhaps it should be unsurprising if the party of John Key, Bill English and Simon Bridges can be identified with a vaguely utopian belief that New Zealand is still a land of plenty where rugged individuals can prosper – with just a bit of help from the government. According to this cherished belief, there isn’t much wrong with New Zealand.

To National supporters, few things are more repugnant than denying the archetypal New Zealander the fruits of his or her labour. But even more insulting is the imposition that those who ‘got ahead’ by hard work and enterprise should feel guilty about others left behind. To suggest that homelessness is a societal problem is to implicate everyone who has in some way profited from the housing market. To say that child poverty exists because we don’t pay enough tax is to accuse people of being selfish.

Yet there are no reasonable grounds for assuming that a National voter cares any less about impoverished children than a Labour voter. According to the 2017 New Zealand Election Study, 86% of National voters agreed with the proposition that “the government should provide decent living standards for children”. A majority (67%) also believed that the government had a responsibility to provide decent housing to those who could not afford it.

Perhaps that is why it has become fashionable in right-wing circles to dismiss talk of kindness as mere ‘virtue signalling’. Ardern might have spoken with more empathy than English but they both professed a moral conviction that it was their duty to help the poor. Most voters agreed. The crucial difference is that English did it without offending the sensibilities of New Zealanders who believe that wealth is acquired only through hard work and sacrifice.

The enduring appeal of National can’t be explained by Labour’s failure to deliver or brilliance on the part of Simon Bridges. Rather, it is due to the million or so voters who find some emotional coherence in what the party represents on an individual level. It would be a mistake to dismiss these voters as reactionary bigots or selfish boomers. While such people undoubtedly exist, few lack a moral compass and concern for others. Just about everyone is offended by the sight of human suffering.

But the simple truth is that most New Zealanders are comfortable and few understand material hardship. They have difficulty accepting that strangers doing it tough can’t just go to Work and Income for help. Homelessness and child poverty, while troubling, only exist in the news media. For them, New Zealand is still a land of plenty. Any statement to the contrary is a personal attack.

I think there may well be many who see not much wrong with Aotearoa as it is – for those prepared to work.

When leftists say “tax the rich to feed the kids” and demand justice for beneficiaries, it is as if they are speaking a different language to everyone else. Ardern’s decision to permanently rule out a capital gains tax confirmed that National, not Labour, is closer to the mythic New Zealand ideal. Whatever his shortcomings as a leader, Bridges’ sense of history is clear. He knows that National can win in spite of any one individual.

Labour must now make a difficult choice: whether to rely on NZ First and the Greens or go head to head with National in a contest for the political centre. This choice will define New Zealand politics for the next decade. To get it wrong would be Simon’s dream.

Labour is moving more towards being reliant on the Greens at least – the Labour-Green ticket. And they will also need to grapple with how much to associate themselves with NZ First as an  essential part of their continued coalition chances.

National may not manage to lift their support to get into power later this year, but they are still seen as a large single party with solid support.

 

Political posturing and petulance at Waitangi

In the past it was common at Waitangi for protesters to target politicians with posturing and petulance, but yesterday it was political leaders doing the dick waving.

Simon Bridges walked onto the lower marae with an expression that appeared to attempt an air of gravitas, but was closer to ass. he seemed to think that a four lane highway was a priority for Northland Maori.

Winston Peters manouvered James Shaw and smirked, then pulled rank on Shane Jones to take over his speaking slot, characteristically laughing at his own humour, but claiming he was incensed at Bridges (and the media) politicising the day, as he further politicised the day.

And Shane Jones took politics further, saying he intended to ‘take down National in Northland’.

One News:

Newshub:  New Zealand First’s Shane Jones reveals plan to take down National in Northland

Relations between Simon Bridges and Winston Peters have gone from frosty to arctic at Waitangi, and this might make things worse: Shane Jones has exclusively revealed to Newshub there’s a plan afoot to take down National in Northland, with him at the centre of it.

Jones, the self-proclaimed champion of the regions and boy from the north, has put in a bid with his party to run in Northland, the seat his boss Winston Peters – leader of New Zealand First – seized from National in 2015 but lost to them again in 2017.

The rift between New Zealand First and National escalated to all-out war at Waitangi on Tuesday when politicians were welcomed onto the upper marae.

Peters didn’t pretend to hide his disdain, laughing and ridiculing National leader Simon Bridges right through his speech. Even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern got caught in the act, sharing a giggle with veteran Maori activist Titewhai Harawira.

And when Bridges’ speech wrapped, Peters refused to stand.

This confirms that Bridges had no choice but to rule doing any sort of post election deal with NZ First, but Peters seems to think that isn’t a solid commitment.

RNZ: Winston Peters convinced National Party would be open to coalition

Winston Peters says he knows for a fact the National Party will still be open to coalition talks with New Zealand First after the election, despite the party’s leader Simon Bridges ruling it out.

Bridges says he can’t trust Peters and his caucus is united behind his decision to rule out working with New Zealand First.

Any credibility Bridges may have by the election would be annihilated if he changed his mind after the election.

The BFD (Whale Oil renamed to avoid legal and financial issues) is still pimping for Peters and NZ First. They seem to think that Bridges could be rolled and he and Paula Bennett (and everyone else who Lusk and Slater don’t like) dumped after the election and a new leadership would join force with Peters. That’s as likely as Slater shedding his political toxicity.

And Jacinda Ardern has indicated that Labour won’t help Jones and NZ First in Northland.

RNZ: No NZ First -Labour electoral pact in Northland – Ardern

Ardern said Labour would not be stepping aside for New Zealand First in Northland.

“I didn’t do deals last election, I have no plans to do deals this election,” she said.

When asked if Prime will be campaigning at full capacity Ardern said “you can bet on that”.

So National has ruled out NZ First, and Ardern has ruled out helping NZ First. I think that Labour has to play hardball in their own interests, cosying up to Peters and Jones would damage their chances of retaining power.

Talking of power, Ardern would have much more of it as Prime Minister if she didn’t have Peters dictating to her as virtual co-leader (who thinks he deserves to be the boss).

And with Bridges trying to look serious and instead looking silly as he jousts with Peters and Jones, The antics at Waitangi may be a signal that the day of the dick waver is over.

Ardern usually does well at big events, and after yesterday without doing anything but be there her re-election chances look quite a lot better.