Expanded protection for politicians?

Vernon Small thinks that The Hagaman-Little defamation case looks to have expanded protection for politicans

…without a lot of fanfare this week the rights of politicians to speak out without forking out on defamation claims seem to have been extended.

Of course, MPs already have that protection when speaking in the House under parliamentary privilege.

But their qualified privilege, beyond the confines of parliamentary debate, appears to have been broadened in a significant way – pending an appeal – with the release of Karen Clark’s considered judgment in relation to the defamation case between business couple Earl and Lani Hagaman and Labour leader Andrew Little.

As was widely reported, the jury found in Little’s favour in respect of Lani Hagaman’s claims.

In the case of Earl Hagaman’s claims it found by a majority that in one of the six causes of action Little had defamed him, but the jury could not agree whether he had lost the protection of qualified privilege.

The jury could also not agree whether Little had defamed Hagaman on four of the other five claims.

What is interesting about Clark’s judgment – and what is likely to spark a forensic analysis by politicians and those who deal with them – is her explanation of her ruling on qualified privilege including an acknowledgement that she may have expanded the common law privilege.

(Though she notes that is “matched” by the check on misuse in the Defamation Act, which stipulates that a defence of qualified privilege fails if publication was “predominantly motivated by ill will towards the plaintiff, or otherwise took improper advantage of the occasion of publication”.)

I would expect that “predominantly motivated by ill will” could be difficult to prove on the balance of probabilities.

It may never be tested in court but could ‘ill political will’ be considered sufficient?

Whether the Hagaman case leads to a significant extension of the protections for politicians – and an erosion of individuals’ opportunity to win defamation actions against them – remains to be seen.

These cases are always determined on the facts. As much as there is a precedent being set here, the core of Clark’s judgment applies specifically to the Leader of the Opposition and the constitutional requirements on that office-holder.

So it is quite a narrow application of the law.

Little established his duty to make the comments “to an audience who had an interest in receiving those communications” and that it was in the public interest that his freedom of expression should prevail “over protection of reputation”.

But will we in future see attempts to extend Clark’s logic beyond the Opposition Leader, perhaps to those spokespeople with delegated roles, or even at a longer stretch to MPs generally?

The Court of Appeal’s view will be well worth watching.

Yes it will, if it happens. If Earl Hagaman dies first we may never have this ruled on by the Court of Appeal.

Little & Peters should see SAS video

Vernon Small points out that basically Prime Minister Bill English has said ‘trust me because I trust Tim Keating’ as his reasoning for not having an inquiry into the SAS attack in Afghanistan that was publicised by Nicky Hager’s and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit & Run.

Stuff: English’s Monday performance shows just how much National lost when Key quit

In the Hit and Run case, in contrast, English has been over-cautious in keeping the military sweet, leaving too many questions unanswered.

Add to that his extraordinary claim that Keating was “independent” and was not part of the operation.

He was in essence saying “trust me, because I trust Keating”.

I don’t think that’s good enough, and neither does Small.

So where to now on this?

If Labour leader Andrew Little wanted to put English’s assurances to the test, he should ask to see the classified video.

As the leader of her majesty’s loyal opposition there could surely be no objection to a similar briefing to that given to English and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee, especially if other non-elected Government officials have been privy to the footage. If English wanted to buttress his position, he should invite Little to view it.

As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Little – and presumably Winston Peters – ought to have the appropriate clearances.

It might help achieve the kind of “reconciliation” between the conflicting accounts that former defence minister Wayne Mapp said were possible.

That is a very good suggestion. Our Defence Force should be trusted not just by the Government but by the whole Intelligence and Security Committee, and to do that they need to see the same evidence that English has seen.

The Defence Force line is that they they use coordinates not village names, but it should not be beyond their ability to establish that the villages named in the book are in the area they identified.

You can see why they might be reluctant. Having achieved headlines saying Hager and Stephenson had the wrong location for the villages, they will fight to the last spin doctor standing to avoid a headline that reads: “Defence Force confirms its attack was on the villages of Khak Khuday Dad and Naik identified in Hit and Run“.

In the larger scheme of things it may seem a minor point.

But it is that default to “spin” and a reliance on cute semantics that undermines English’s case – and his reliance on the Defence Force.

English hasn’t handled this decisively or convincingly. Everything can’t be revealed about our SAS and Defence Force as Hager and Stephenson want, but the public should have confidence in our military, and that requires more than the perception of one-sided spin.

I also agree with Small on the Key difference, our last PM is likely to have come up a better and more convincing way of dealing with and to the allegations.

I think the whole Intelligence and Security Committee, including Little and Peters, should see the evidence that English has based his decision on.

But English looks too dithery to deal decisively with this.

Political awards

I’m not going to dish out political award – like that vast majority of New Zealanders I have no idea how our MP’s actually work beneath the vanity veneer of PR and the fog of media wars.

Journalists have been somewhat distracted this month with actual political news to deal with but some have managed to review the year.

Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small: Didn’t see that coming: A year of political bombshells

It was the year no-one saw coming. A year when everything we thought we knew about politics was tipped on its head. Brexit. Donald Trump.

No one sees what’s coming, but Brexit and Trump certainly went against most predictions.

Brexit means major changes for the UK and for Europe.

Trump looks like meaning major changes for the US and potentially for the world.

John Key quitting. So much for a quiet year between elections.  There wasn’t a Beehive staffer or Press Gallery journo who wasn’t wilting in the final week before Christmas.

While Key’s resignation excited the local pundits in what is usually a wind down period it is not anywhere near being in the same league.

So far the only changes are a few tweaks to Government under a Prime Minister who was already a major influence, and a few tweaks to ministerial responsibilities that most people won’t notice.

It perhaps opens up next year’s election a bit, but despite Labour’s glee it may not end up making much difference in what was already regarded as an uncertain election. Everyone is still predicting Winston will be ‘king maker’ – and even that’s no change from the last couple of elections.

Watkins and Small name Key as Politician of the Year – for resigning?

Apart from that it was a fairly uneventful and unremarkable year for Key. Most notable was his lack of success in changing the flag and despite getting the TPP over the line it now looks to be dead in the US  water. I wouldn’t say that Key had an award winning year.

They dish out a number of corny awards, but there is one that looks to be a deserved mention:

Backbencher of the year. National MP Mark Mitchell. He chaired the Foreign Affairs and Trade select committee through the divisive Trans Pacific Partnership legislation and helped turned hearings from being fractious to respectful, and even good-natured. On top of that he seems to have earned a reputation as an all-round nice guy, even from his political opponents, and got his reward with a ministerial promotion.

Most of the public probably haven’t heard of Mark Mitchell let alone are aware of his quiet achievements in Parliament.

There are 121 MPs in Parliament most of whom (if not all) are working hard and doing their best. Voters get to see little of this – all we usually see is a few attention seekers granted coverage by media who tend to accentuate the absurd and exaggerate a few issues and events.

If I was to do any award it would be not singling out a single person, it would be for the quiet achievers in Parliament who make a difference without being noticed by most of the people most of the time.

These MPs are the unsung backbone of our democracy.

Housing promises don’t compute

Vernon Small points out that political rhetoric on housing does not match reality, and it simply does not compute when you look at some basic numbers.

Stuff: Promises houses can be more expensive – and more affordable – do not compute

But whether it is a crisis or not, it is certainly becoming a farce.

No more so than in the mutually-exclusive policy aims that Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith has to trot out on behalf of all his colleagues – and he was at it again over the weekend.

Policy goal one is that house prices should not fall, but should rise by single digit percentages.

Policy goal two is that the ratio of house prices to income should fall from the current nine time (going on 12 times) to an average of four to five times across the country.

Policy goal three is that incomes should rise steadily, but not in a highly unsustainable or inflationary way. That will not, for yonks, deliver the $200,000-$250,000 a year household income needed to ensure the average $1 million Auckland home is around five times the average household income.  

Play around with the figures, and give Auckland a price margin over the rest of the country (shall we say six times household income?) and you still have a very long wait.

Then add in percentage house price increases that even in single digit percentages are likely to outpace wage increases and  … well you get the picture.

The picture is very clear.

Unless house prices come down a lot or wages go up a lot then ‘policy goals’ are way off the mark. They don’t compute.

And not just for the Government.

Labour MPs are hoist on a similar petard by refusing to publicly admit they would like to see a fall in prices. They have one mitigating grace; that they are prepared to use Government cash to build a swag of affordable houses; but refuse to face the inevitable (perhaps even desirable) truth that house prices must soften – not just rise more slowly.

But Labour’s policy of providing tens of thousands of ‘affordable houses’ comes nowhere near close to making what is actually affordable to people on modest wages possible in Auckland and other cities and regions.

Only Green co-leader Metiria Turei – and a raft of clear-eyed economists – seem prepared to utter the unlovely truth; only a big dive in house prices, especially in Auckland, will provide a significant easing in home affordability in the next 10 to 20 years.

Many may not agree with what Turei has proposed but at least she is being honest about the numbers.

We either need significant housing deflation, or some honesty from National and Labour.

They don’t seem to be inclined towards either.

 

 

Karako’s members’ bill may do some good

Following on from the much scorned Members’ Bill from National backbencher Nuk Korako, Vernon Small rips into National’s handling of Members’ bills.

From Korako’s inconsequential lost property bill reveals dark side of Govt tactic:

Which brings us back to how the Government is manipulating the once-a-fortnight members’ day by stacking the ballot with Government backbenchers’ Bills like Korako’s lamentable deposit.

It wasn’t so long ago, with the Government able to determine its legislative programme, that the members’ ballot was seen as the route for Opposition and minor parties to put forward issues they saw as important.

When the Government had a strong majority there was little concern about what – or how many – proposed laws where wheeled up from the biscuit-tin ballot.

If the Government of the day objected, they could just knock them over like so many skittles. Next!

But with slim majorities, and especially with competing parties in the House since MMP was adopted, it is no longer so simple.

UnitedFuture’s Peter Dunne and the two Maori Party MPs are able to deliver a majority against the Government and it can no longer be sure of the numbers on slightly left of centre issues, especially at first reading.

There are plenty of examples. Last week there were two: David Parker’s move to bring contractors inside minimum wage laws and Andrew Little’s healthy homes bill. Before that were Sue Moroney’s (vetoed) extension to paid parental leave.

Hence the new tactic of stacking the ballot with as many National MPs’ measures as possible. Then the odds are lessened of an Opposition measure, with the potential to embarrass, being drawn.

Having said that, there are small but worthy measures Government members can justifiably put into the ballot. Paul Foster-Bell’s move to exempt RSAs from the need to obtain special liquor licences to serve alcohol on Anzac Day is a clear case in point. 

But others that are worthy and bring out the best in Parliament – such as the marriage equality law or ACT MP David Seymour’s proposed assisted dying bill – can potentially be displaced by National’s members’ ballot-stacking.

And even if the Government hits “flush” on Korako’s strained attempt, there are others lurking in the wings.

For example, you have to wonder in the harsh light of day if Matt Doocey still thinks his Companies (Annual Report Notice Requirements) Amendment Bill is such a good idea.

Do we really need a full members’ day debate on an amendment to remove the requirement to provide a written notice of an annual report to shareholders? 

Brownlee and his fellow ministers may not like it, but if the kind of ridicule being heaped on Korako’s nano-“bill” is the only antidote then so be it.

Opposition parties also abuse and misuse members’ bills too, but Small is justifiably blasting National here for what they do.

Prompted by Korako’s much lamented and eminently lamentable bill. Korako (and the luck of the ballot) may have done some good bringing this up.

Small joins slamming of lost property bill

The scathing of Nuk Korako’s Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill continues, this time by Vernon Small

Korako’s inconsequential lost property bill reveals dark side of Govt tactic

None of the derision dumped on Nuk Korako’s Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill does it full justice.

It is not just a trivial piece of legislative whimsy, it is vanishingly inconsequential.

It’s not often you get to reproduce in full the business-end of a “bill”, but here goes:

In section 9(1)(ff) replace “the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated” with “publicising the sale in what the authority considers to be a fair and reasonable manner”.

That’s it. 

So let’s bust a few developing myths about the “bill” – and both law professor Andrew Geddis and legal frequenter of social media Graeme Edgeler have made similar points elsewhere.

What it deals with is the fate of stuff people leave in airports; the odd umbrella, a bag of mints, a jacket maybe. Perhaps an iPhone.

But it doesn’t help in any meaningful way to return even those goods to their rightful owners.

What that single limpid clause does is allow airport authorities NOT to advertise in a local newspaper when they decide to auction off the lost property accumulated in their back offices. That’s all.

It doesn’t remove a rule that restricts advertisements only to newspaper, as some have suggested. They can advertise as widely as they like now.

Nor does it require them to advertise the auction in an itemised way – so you could check if your umbrella, emblazoned with elephants, is included in the sale.

In short, it does nothing for travellers, nothing to help reunite people and possessions, nothing to bulwark us against an international tsunami of lost baggage.

What it does is make it easier for airport authorities, when they decide to sell lost property and pocket the proceeds. 

In the House on Tuesday, Korako, a National list MP, gave an amusing defence of the “bill”. Given the material he had to hand, it was valiant but it was also misleading, implying many of the bogus arguments rebutted above.

If Korako doesn’t want his parliamentary career defined by this nonsense he should be banging on the National whips’ door, begging them to can it before it arrives on the floor of the House.

Nobody would want to be in the Government’s, or Korako’s, shoes when the law change lands in the House, nor suffer the the media spray that will follow.

If it has any shame – or sense of self-preservation – it will dump the “bill” altogether and slip the change into the next available Statutes Amendment Bill, where such arcane trivia belongs.

So it looks like this bill is destined for an ongoing hammering if it continues to proceed in some way through Parliament.

See also Gerry Brownlee versus Andrew Geddis.

I don’t think I have seen any defending of this bill, except for Brownlee’s attack on Geddis.

 

Who’s stupid?

Should we accept leadership by deceit?

Who is stupid, us or New Zealand’s political leaders?

Vernon Small asks “Do John Key and Andrew Little think we are all stupid?” then he suggests that shouldn’t be answered in Foreign trust review brings out the worst in our political leaders

Ok, it is no surprise that many of our elected representatives can be “economical with the truth”. Thus it was in the beginning ….

But you would think there was enough evidence from around the world of how tired voters are getting with politics as usual and with the insider games and rhetoric – of fudging, dissembling and “politics as usual”.

There have been significant levels of ‘protest at the establishment’ support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the US. The Brexit vote is seen as  largely based on a ‘stuff you’ sentiment. And the Aussies are having yet another election and may get yet another leader – who really cares who?

Insider-allergy was a key element in the rise of Donald Trump and the success of Bernie Sanders in the United States.

It also seems to have been a factor in the Brexit vote; an outcome that has delivered a result neither main party wanted but must now put in place for the United Kingdom – even as the backlash against the lies and exaggerations of both sides are coming back to haunt them.

Instead of choosing the best elections and referendums seem to be have become votes for the least worst. By those who can be bothered voting – increasing numbers of people can’t.

Or someone perceived as being able to stick it up them, hence the rise of NZ First here in New Zealand. And similar sentiments probably helped the status quo vote in the flag referendum. They were certainly evident in debate and media coverage.

A Little problem:

At the Labour leader’s media stand-up on Tuesday he defended the cynical late-Saturday, pre-All Black test, timing of a press release in which accepted he was wrong in allegations he made against tax expert John Shewan.

He also insisted he had not been asked for an apology by Shewan – referencing his memory of their first face-to-face meeting. True as far as it went in relation to the first meeting, but ignoring Shewan’s later letter specifically seeking an apology. Misleading at best, as Shewan later pointed out.

But if Little was fudging.

Little should admit he was asked to apologise by Shewan – and then match the action to the request.

A Key problem:

The Prime Minister was blatantly claiming black was lily-white with his continued insistence – against all the facts – that the current rules for foreign trusts is a “full disclosure” regime.

His argument runs that the current rules may only require minimal up front disclosure – the name of the trust, its New Zealand-based trustee and whether a settlor is based in Australia – but greater details must be held and provided to IRD if it seeks them … and that they have always been passed on to countries that ask.

Shewan’s recommendations would, he argued, simply move the information flow up to a level it was held by IRD and searchable, so the information was far more likely to go to countries that wanted it.

But back on the more familiar Planet Shewan, that was not how he saw it.

The current disclosure rules were “inadequate” and he considered “a significant expansion of the rules” was indicated.

Key should acknowledge there is a world of difference between holding information, ready to disclose if asked, and actual disclosure; just as there is gulf between what we have in place for foreign trusts now and what Shewan says we need – which the Government has largely committed to putting in place. 

Why should Key and Little communicate with candour and honesty?

If for no other reason, than that nobody likes being treated as stupid.

I think there are more and better reasons.

But if New Zealand’s political leaders keep treating us as stupid and think that being ignored by the masses means their stupid strategies have been effective one or the other (or both) are likely to cop the backlash as a mass of voters tell them to get stuffed.

We should have leadership, not manipulation and cynicism.

Winston isn’t the solution, there is no obvious solution. Except for sending our politicians a strong signal that we are fed up with their lack of leadership and their contest of stupidity.

Trust requires trust changes

After the Panama papers trust story broke pressure has been heaped on John Key and the Government over New Zealand’s association, with accusations that New Zealand is a tax haven that harbours illegal money hiding and laundering.

Key has a difficult and very important job in dealing with this.

Calls have been made to change how we allow foreign trusts to be formed here, with far better disclosure than Key’s claimed “full disclosure”.

Vernon Small: New Zealand’s trusted reputation demands changes to foreign trust rules

NZ deserves points for good behaviour on this front.

However, this is now an issue of reputation and New Zealand’s standing in the world.

And to claim that the required level of record keeping is “full disclosure”, as Prime Minister John Key did this week, is a bleak joke. To claim it negates accusations NZ is a tax haven – because we do not have such levels of secrecy – is equally laughable. If it doesn’t make New Zealand a “tax haven” – and it sure looks like one – it at the very least makes it “a haven” from scrutiny. Just look at the advertisements spruiking New Zealand’s advantages to foreign trusts.

However you look at it, Key made a significant political blunder this week by instinctively defending the tax and trust regime (and by extension those who might exploit it) in the face of domestic and worldwide suspicion. Don’t ask me, ask the supporters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

To make matters worse he cited the benefit to New Zealand – some $24 million in fees harvested by lawyers and accountants setting up and managing the funds. What price New Zealand’s reputation – something IRD and other officials had already warned about? And is it morally defensible to effectively say any loss of revenue from trusts here is some other country’s issue and we are focused on defending our own tax base? An “each country for itself” approach hardly sits well with international steps, which New Zealand has enthusiastically joined, to deal with corporate profit shifting and base erosion.

By midweek Key was gently rowing back, pointing to OECD work on the issue and opening the door to change to improve the foreign trust regime.

But by appearing to side with the so-called “1 per cent” he handed a cudgel to his opponents to beat him with. It is the very characterisation of Key that they have tried – and struggled – to make stick; the rich former money trader whose sympathies rest with the world’s big money and corporates to the detriment of the “battlers”.

So what should or can the Government do about it?

The tax rules on trusts are probably fair enough, although they differ from many other jurisdictions. It’s the interaction between those and the level of secrecy enjoyed by foreign trusts that creates the problem. You can’t ask for what you don’t know exists. Australia recognised this in asking for the IRD to proactively supply information where an Australian is involved – hence that question on the IRD form.

New Zealand at the very least should ask for the country of origin of any settlor as a first line of disclosure and then make a call whether that should be provided to their home country – if only to buttress our reputation for clean dealing in the post-Panama Papers era.

To some countries that disclosure could be automatic. To others – or in the case of people and organisation with trusts and legitimate fears at home – we could take a more restrictive approach.

Or we could stop registering foreign trusts and have done with it.

It might not be simple to just suddenly scrap the foreign trusts.

But changing to more disclosure won’t be simple. If thousands of trusts have been set up in New Zealand on the understanding that there is a degree of confidentiality then it would be difficult to suddenly remove a shroud of secrecy.

But doing nothing and fobbing off concerns is not a good option.

To retain or regain trust New Zealand needs to address foreign trusts in a meaningful and demonstrable way.

Misuse of OIA and censoring

There’s been growing concerns raised about the abuse of the Official Information Act (OIA) processes, with allegations Ministers and Government departments are wothholding information that should be made available.

In other words they are censoring infoermation, possibly ilegally or at least against the spirit of the OIA.

Vernon Small writes Public watchdogs need to bare their teeth over misuse of OIA, taxpayer events.

Let’s hope the Auditor-General, the State Services Commission or even the Ombudsman have a handy tonne of bricks.

Because something ought to be brought down hard on the officials involved in the preparation – and subsequent censoring – of information relating to various KiwiSaver HomeStart “roadshows” held around the country this year.

he offending sentence was cut from several of the documents, but left – inadvertently it seems – in one of the email trails released under the Official Information Act.

Minister Paula Bennett called it a mistake by an official (though it’s not clear whether including the comment in the first place was the mistake, or the failure to redact it from all the documents). And Parmar herself has denied attending the roadshow, held in the neighbouring electorate of Maungakiekie with MP Sam Lotu-Iiga, in order to raise her profile.

But it’s hard to see why an official in Smith’s office would put in writing Parmar’s interest – and the overtly personal and party political reason for it – unless someone had said it. If it wasn’t Parmar who indicated that, who was it?

The reasons given for the redaction elsewhere in the documents was that it was either “out of scope” or to protect “free and frank advice”.

Faafoi had asked for any correspondence sent or received by Housing NZ, ministers, MPs, and local government relating to the hosting and payments for the roadshows. And the comments about Parmar are directly related to hosting.

So neither reason stacks up.

But it doesn’t end there.

Also redacted from all but one document as “out of scope” was the advice that:

And Small says it’s an outrage:

Now, there is always a fine line between MPs (and government departments) promoting the government’s programme and what is overtly political. But the reference to Parmar’s political ambitions and the close liaison with National Party headquarters takes the whole thing well outside the bounds of acceptability.

That officials should then move to withhold that information doubles the outrage.

Tucker’s worst blunder was a conversation with Prime Minister John Key’s deputy chief of staff where they discuss a conversation with Labour’s then-leader Phil Goff about the timing of his release of information and how Goff might not use it “politically” and “call off the Annette Kings and Maryan Streets”.

Gwyn said she found it “surprising that the director thought it appropriate to discuss his conversations with the leader of the Opposition, in respect of whom he had significant responsibilities (under the NZSIS Act) with a political adviser without considering the conflict that entailed”.

This latest saga is by no means as serious, but the issues – and the threats to public service neutrality (or at least the appearance of neutrality) have not gone away.

Earth to Rennie. Come in please.

It sounds like one of our watchdogs needs to start watching more closely and baring some teeth.

 

 

Peters and NZ First consolidating

Vernon Small writes in Stuff that Winston Peters and NZ First are quietly consolidating their king-maker role. I think he’s right.

During past terms NZ First has muddled along in the polls and surged during election campaigns. Their vote would better their polling, sometimes significantly. This is because NZ First is seen by many as a protest vote so voters make late decisions to swing towards them.

Small writes:

You wouldn’t normally expect to say “Winston Peters” and “under the radar” in the same breath.

The wily old NZ First leader has been around too long, and is too attuned to popular opinion, to ever qualify as a shrinking violet.

But with the focus on John Key and National’s continued strength in the polls, and as Labour wonders if – or when – leader Andrew Little will lift the party’s fortunes, NZ First’s consolidation in the polls has largely gone unnoticed.

It does seem to have been relatively unnoticed, until Small brought it up.

What is unusual is the relative strength of Peters’ support heading into the middle year of a parliamentary term.

In the latest One News-Colmar Brunton poll the party registered 9 per cent – slightly stronger than its 8.66 per cent on election night 2014.

Since the September 20 poll his support has not dropped below 5.5 per cent and he has recorded mostly 6 and 7s with a smattering of 8s.

The 5.5% was in the September 2015 Roy Morgan poll – they tend to be more variable than other polls and had NZ First back up at 6.5% earlier this month between 3 News/Colmar at 7.9% and One News/Colmar Brunton at 9%.

Details at Opinion polling for the next New Zealand general election.

So this term their poll support has held up. Certainly this could be helped by Labour’s post election leadership upheaval and Andrew Little’s low key and uninspiring first year as leader.

But Peters was also gifted the Northland electorate by National early in the term and he made the most of it. That has helped maintain NZ First credibility and support.

NZ First has a history of struggling mid-term, in the polls at least.

In 1999 the party polled just 4.3 per cent and Peters was about to concede defeat before a late surge in Tauranga gave him the seat.

In 2005 it posted 5.7 per cent, but struggled to get near the threshold in most surveys.

In 2008 election it polled just 4.07 and between August and November 2009 its best was 2.5 and its worst 1 per cent.

That time they didn’t get enough of a surge to make the threshold and many thought NZ First was finished. But Peters proved them wrong.

In 2011 it scored 6.59 per cent and in late 2012 was on 7.5 in one poll but went as low as 1.8 in one Colmar Brunton survey and generally bounced around the threshold.

In 2014 NZ First got 8.66% of the vote, higher than any poll in the term leading up to the election. In the month prior to the election their polling varied between 4% and 8.4%.

See Opinion polling for the New Zealand general election, 2014.

There was one exception to these trends this century:

The closest parallel to the current situation was after the 2002 election – something of an anomaly as National slumped and centrist voters shopped around for a coalition partner for Labour.

At that election he scored 10.38 per cent and his polling stayed strong through 2003, started slipping in 2004, but held up at the 2005 election where he polled 5.7 per cent.

But there’s no sign of Bill English taking over leadership of National so things look quite different to that now.

Regardless, Peters and NZ First are in a relatively strong position for them at this stage of a term. Whether they can sustain that or build on that may be as dependant on other parties as them.

National support sometimes threatens to collapse into the low forties but keeps bouncing back. Their Government ball may or may not lose it’s elasticity.

Greens look like maintaining similar levels of support in the 10-12% range and don’t look likely to leap or collapse in the polls.

The wild card is Labour. If they continue to struggle through to 2017 their support could easily collapse again into the twenties, and NZ First may be the beneficiary.

If Labour manage to build their support that could be at the expense of NZ First, who have been getting ‘don’t like National but don’t want Labour’ votes.

It’s two years until the next election so anything could happen, but at this stage NZ First are looking in a healthy position. Rumours of Winston’s health being a ticking time bomb for his party have proven incorrect for many years.