A pretty disappointing Leader of the Opposition

I’ve been busy on other things so have only seen bits of the political circus this week, but my impressions of the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, tend almost all towards cringe.

He has done nothing to give me any confidence in his ability to be a credible leader. Actually, this week he has reduced my confidence (it was already quite low).

Sure Bridges and his team and some supporters may think he has scored some political hits, but I don’t think he will have impressed many voters, especially voters who matter for electoral success. I think more likely the opposite.

There is an often quoted saying that the Leader of the Opposition is the hardest job in politics, but I think that’s a cop out. It can’t be that hard to not keep looking like a childish jerk.

Police say that budget leaks not unlawful

Police have conformed what has been widely claimed already about the budget leak – they say the information was obtained by ‘exploiting a bug’.  What? Online viruses exploit bugs, but that doesn’t make them lawful.

Whatever the law says on this, questions about the ethics of National publicising the material they obtained remain. As has been pointed out, they could have highlighted the flaws in information security without abusing the budget process.

Stuff:  Budget leaks ‘not unlawful’, no further police action

In a statement ahead of Thursday’s budget and an expected press conference from the National Party where leader Simon Bridges was to explain how he got his hands on budget information early this week, the Treasury said that police had advised that “an unknown person or persons appear to have exploited a feature in the website search tool” – but that this “does not appear to be unlawful”.

Police are therefore not planning further action, but the State Services Commission will undertake an inquiry into the issue.

The Treasury said it and and the GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre has been working on establishing the facts.

“As part of its preparation for Budget 2019, the Treasury developed a clone of its website. Budget information was added to the clone website as and when each Budget document was finalised,” it said in a statement.

“On Budget Day, the Treasury intended to swap the clone website to the live website so that the Budget 2019 information was available online. The clone website was not publically accessible.

“As part of the search function on the website, content is indexed to make the search faster. Search results can be presented with the text in the document that surrounds the search phrase.

“The clone also copies all settings for the website including where the index resides. This led to the index on the live site also containing entries for content that was published only on the clone site.

“As a result, a specifically-worded search would be able to surface small amounts of content from the 2019/20 Estimates documents.

“A large number (approx. 2000) of search terms were placed into the search bar looking for specific information on the 2019 Budget.

“The searches used phrases from the 2018 Budget that were followed by the ‘Summary’ of each Vote. This would return a few sentences – that included the headlines for each Vote paper – but the search would not return the whole document.

“At no point were any full 2019/20 documents accessible outside of the Treasury network.”

The Treasury said the evidence shows “deliberate, systematic and persistent searching of a website that was clearly not intended to be public”.

So there seem to be problems that need resolving.

But what about what National did with the information they obtained?

Lawyer Stephen Price yesterday – Budget leak: Nats’ behaviour “entirely appropriate”?

I’ve just been listening to Simon Bridges’ press conference at Parliament about the budget leak. His main point was to deny that the leaked budget material was a result of a hack. But he made the broader claim that the Nats’ behaviour throughout was “entirely appropriate”. He said there had been “nothing illegal or anything approaching that from the National Party.” He denied that their conduct was at any point unlawful.

I think he’s wrong. I think the Nats have probably engaged in  unlawful behaviour from the get-go. That’s regardless of whether the budget material they released was hacked. The Nats have broken the law relating to Breach of Confidence.

That’s not a crime. It’s a civil claim, like defamation or negligence. But it is the law.

If information is confidential in nature – that is, not in the public domain – and was created and shared in circumstances in which those possessing it knew is was supposed to be confidential, and was then disclosed without permission, that’s a breach of confidence. That obligation of confidence will usually bind anyone else who comes into possession of the information.

There is a public interest defence. That’s what usually protects the media when they receive leaks. Otherwise, as you might have noticed, almost all leaks to the media (especially from employees with clear obligations of confidentiality) fall foul of this law. But usually, there will be some substantial justification the media can use. They will be able to point to some significant way the public is being served by the release of the information that would otherwise be protected by the obligation of confidence.

Is there public interest here? I can’t see it. The information was to be publicly released in two days. The National Party could freely criticise it then. How are the public really made better off by learning of these criticisms two days in advance? Is there really any benefit to a matter of legitimate public concern that overrides the obvious – and perhaps even constitutional – confidentiality that attaches to budget papers?

Nor can National argue that it needed to release the information to hold the government to account for its bungling in allowing the leak. It could have made that case without actually releasing the data.

I think there is a better argument that it was against the public interest for National to have publicised the budget information they obtained.

What could National argue? The best I can come up with is: “We felt it was in the public interest to prick the balloon of spin that the government was floating about the budget being a ‘wellbeing’ budget, and itself revealing bits of it in advance, by providing the public with information that revealed these claims to be misleading. In this we were fulfilling our constitutional duty to hold the government to account. And we didn’t release any market sensitive information.”

I don’t think that works. They could make those arguments in two days time and the public would be no worse off. I also note that it turns on the accuracy of the criticism. If the numbers are wrong, or taken out of context, or do not really reveal any misleading government behaviour, that would undermine any attempt to say that the releases were in the public interest. Finally, the fact that the National Party was drip-feeding the leaks tells against any claim that the public needed to have the information urgently and couldn’t wait two days for the budget.

Treasury has been embarrassed by the leak of budget information, whether it was obtained legally or not.

I think that National could have acted with integrity in pointing out the flaw, but they went much further than this by playing politics – they acted on heir own interests rather than public interests. Except that if the public doesn’t like the way they have done things it may not be in their own interests.

I don’t think it enhances Simon Bridges’ leadership credentials. If he wanted to prove himself as a responsible leader he would have highlighted the bug without exploiting it for some short term (two day) political gain.

 

 

 

Treasury refer claimed hacking to police following budget leak

The budget leak publicised by National yesterday has got a lot murkier, with Treasury now saying they have been hacked. The matter has been referred to the police, but Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges is unrepentant for trying to hijack Thursday’s budget announcement.

The leak looks embarrassing for the Government, and also for Treasury, but I think the leak stunt also reflects very poorly on Bridges and National. Bridges has demanded that Minister of Finance Grant Robertson resign over the leak.

1 News: Budget 2019 leaks by National came after Treasury was ‘deliberately and systematically hacked’

Earlier today the National Party leaked what it claimed were highly secretive details of the Government’s wellbeing Budget, due to be delivered on Thursday.

Treasury has confirmed in a statement it was the source of National’s Budget 2019 leaks today after its “systems were deliberately and systematically hacked”.

Confirming the hack this evening Treasury released the following statement:

“Following this morning’s media reports of a potential leak of Budget information, the Treasury has gathered sufficient evidence to indicate that its systems have been deliberately and systematically hacked.

“The Treasury has referred the matter to the Police on the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre.

“The Treasury takes the security of all the information it holds extremely seriously. It has taken immediate steps today to increase the security of all Budget-related information and will be undertaking a full review of information security processes.

“There is no evidence that any personal information held by the Treasury has been subject to this hacking.”

Responding to confirmation of the the hack, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said is a statement:

“This is extremely serious and is now a matter for the Police. We have contacted the National Party tonight to request that they do not release any further material, given that the Treasury said they have sufficient evidence that indicates the material is a result of a systematic hack and is now subject to a Police investigation.”

But Bridges continued on the attack:

If it turns out that budget documents were hacked from Treasury will Bridges resign for using hacked material to try to undermine the Government?

 

Budget leaked

National claims to have been leaked the budget ahead of it going public on Thursday. If National have obtained a copy, that’s bad. But it is also bad that they are making parts of it public.

I can’t remember a budget leak before this.

RNZ – Budget leak: Embarrassing error or conspiracy?

A major pre-Budget bomb has dropped on the Beehive with top level Budget information ending up in the hands of the National Party.

The Prime Minister’s regular media stand-up at Parliament this morning was ticking along with questions about mental health, funding for dentistry and the Debbie Francis report when the news broke – the timing was of course no coincidence.

Jacinda Ardern was blindsided and reporters had just enough time to digest the document released by National before heading to leader Simon Bridges’ regular Tuesday question and answer session.

“National reveals Budget details” screamed the headline on the media release.

With it was a document claiming to reveal the funding for 18 policy areas for the next financial year.

It spanned major portfolios including health, defence, overseas aid, customs, Maori development and justice.

“This is not the Wellbeing Budget it’s the Winston Budget”, declared Mr Bridges.

That’s a reference to Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston and a $1.3 billion spend on defence assets in National’s documents.

But Mr Bridges was a lot more reticent when asked about how National had come across the information – “cock-up or conspiracy?” asked one reporter.

One possibility is that someone within the Government deliberately leaked the material to National.

Mr Bridges talked about a “loose and incompetent” government and would not go as far as calling it a leak, so that seems less likely.

More likely is that someone has been careless with the information and it has ended up with National through human error.

The Finance Minister Grant Robertson hastily convened a media conference where he said some of the figures were right, but some were wrong.

The “major new initiatives”, he said, were not in the National Party document.

The only specific comment he made was about the defence spending, confirming it does includes the purchase of Boeing P-8A Poseidon Aircraft, which had already been announced.

But other than that he refused to say which other parts were right or wrong, or even how much of it was accurate.

The hunt for who was responsible will only begin in earnest once the Budget has been delivered on Thursday, but Treasury is already investigating.

There is actually serious financial implications of part of budgets being leaked ahead of the official release date.

And it is a serious matter if the budget has been deliberately leaked to the Opposition.

Circus politics seems to be getting worse.

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.