Archive for ‘Parliament’ Category

Act: selling its soul to the Devil

datePosted on 21:08, February 12th, 2009 by Anita

Some time in the last few years Act sold its soul to the vengeance-and-retribution lobby. I don’t know if the conversion arrived with Stephen Franks (who went on to the Sensible Sentencing Trust), or whether they held onto their principles until after Franks but the temptation of a monied populist lobby was just too great and the deal was done later.

They’ve tried to keep the detail of the deal quiet: they took Garrett from the Sensible Sentencing Trust but have tried to keep quiet his death penalty past, failing to mention his book on their website, they’ve also tried to paper over his bigotry and problematic interpersonal behaviour. 

The EPMU, however, has provided us with some good information about the price. When they released the evidence in the Shawn Tan case we got to see the inside view on the negotiations between the Asian Anti-Crime Group and Act, with the AAG pointing out Act’s low support and their own ability to mass mobilise the Asian community, followed by gems like

As with any serious investment, there has to be tangible and substantial returns. For the three of us to invest our time, energy and money into campaigning for the ACT Party, we need to have guaranteed returns – and that entails being ranked high enough for us to be assured places in Parliament

So Act, “the Liberal party”, became a vehicle for a punitive conservative authoritarian lobby.

This week we look certain to see National repeal most of the Electoral Finance Act under urgency. While Simon Power is publicly stating they’re going to keep the disclosure rules, which sounds good but … as National well knows the disclosure rules have loopholes.

Like the old rules they allow organisations and individuals to wash large donations by cutting them into smaller donations which fit below the “anonymous” donations threshold. This is the same practice that was enabled by a similar loophole under the old electoral finance rules.

If National was committed to transparency it would be closing that loophole now, and publicly shaming any party that refused to support the action. In reality, of course, National is committed to the appearance of clean hands while maintaining funding routes for its large donors.

Whither Labour?

datePosted on 23:02, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

That’s a question, not an imperative.

It’s impossible to ignore the impact of the Clark-Cullen legacy on NZ’s political orthodoxy. Their government – like Thatcher’s and like Lange’s – moved the political mainstream, requiring incoming governments to appeal to it in order to win support. John Key’s ability to learn from some of the mistakes of his predecessors in both major parties, but not others, has been considered in plenty of different ways, and some of those give more than a moment’s thought to his future. At least now people agree that he has one which doesn’t involve being rolled by Bill English.

But what of Labour? I see two broad possibilities, which I’ll characterise as the Crusaders Game and the Hurricanes Game. Despite being a Hurricanes supporter, by that I don’t mean to privilege one over the other.

The Crusaders Game

Labour recognises that the political agenda is no longer theirs, and concentrates on their core stuff: defence, set-piece, taking advantage of their opposition’s mistakes and infringing at the ruck (but not so much as to seem a cheat).

This means a retrenchment of sorts. Goff is the ideal leader for this game: steady, capable, etc. but they will probably have to alienate the Greens, and if the māori party and its constituency gets what it needs from being part of the National-led government Labour may find themselves friendless. Whatever the case, this strategy will mean ceding the political field to National and starting again in three or six or nine years from within someone else’s political agenda – as National are doing now. This relies on fairly orthodox two-party-plus-hangers-on political thinking – the idea that occupying the centre is the route to success.

The Hurricanes Game

Labour sees in Key’s concessions to the Clark-Cullen agenda an opportunity, and maximises it by relying on gut instinct, team spirit, inspirational leadership, raw opportunism, personal brilliance and complaining about Key’s infringing at the ruck (but not so much as to appear a whinger).

This strategy will require three things: first, new leadership; second, a much closer relationship with the Greens; third, intense and sustained energy. Labour will have to learn to live lean, to rehabilitate itself with the wider left, and ultimately to normalise the idea of the Green New Deal among skeptical NZ voters. This relies upon a quite unorthodox political strategy – the idea that a party or bloc of parties can and should cooperate to move the centre in order to more easily occupy it in their common interest. The danger is that they run out of puff in getting there, and find themselves in three or six or nine years having to adopt the Crusaders Game anyway.

There are other possibilities, of course, but these seem most plausible and simple dichotomies are nice.

So, four questions: what should Labour do (in your humble opinion) and what will Labour do? How, and why?

L

Framing fires

datePosted on 16:03, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

Parliament is sitting today, and the 2009 session rightly opened with a unanimous motion of support for those affected by the Victoria bushfires. The events themselves have been very thoroughly covered on NZ media and internationally, but what I’m interested in is the way in which our politicians have been speaking about them. So, a quick look at each party’s contribution to the debate of the motion this afternoon.

John Key, National: Emphasised close cultural, economic and military relationship – “like no other”, and history of mutual support in times of need. Strong sporting rivalry means strong cultural ties. Firefighters as heroes who care not for borders and are an example to us all. Top-level links between himself and Rudd. Closed with “kia kaha”. Focused on the magnitude of the events on Australia, though a questionable choice of words with “the enormity of what is happening has burned into our consciousness”. Strongly-worded, statesmanlike, decisive.

Phil Goff, Labour: Spoke for “all New Zealanders”, focusing on impact on families of victims and the “human tragedy” and loss of property. Used family and sport metaphors for the strength of the relationship, like Key. The offer of 100 firefighters “was a good first step”. Generally somewhat procedural, lacked the bite of Key’s speech.

Russel Norman, Green: Very brief. Ticks off main points re support for the motion and assistance, and “respectfully note” the debate on climate change in Australia – but perhaps wisely doesn’t make too much of this.

Rodney Hide, ACT: “All New Zealanders” and “brothers and sisters”, again. Moved quickly to Rudd’s “hell on earth”, then to the possible criminal element behind the fires, hoping that those who committed the “evil” of the arson receive their “just desserts”. He’s angry, first and foremost.

Tariana Turia, māori party: Expressed sympathies in the first place to “the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd” and then to those “families and communities” who have suffered – formally, she’s speaking as ariki ki te ariki, I think. Rather than using family as a metaphor, highlighted the fact that many New Zealanders actually have relatives in Victoria. Fire is “merciless”, families are “scarred’. Said her party would “support the role that this government and this country will play” as if she’s not involved or hasn’t been consulted about it.

Jim Anderton, Progressive: “Brothers and sisters” again, emphasising global and historical magnitude of the fires. NZ being “compelled to share [victims’] grief”. Focused on rebuilding and the resilience and “Aussie dauntlessness”. Firefighters as heroes. Amazingly, he compared the fires to September 11 2001, rationalising it on the basis that the same proportion of population have supposedly been killed. Irony of flooding in Queensland at the same time. Generally a strong speech, but – September 11, WTF! At least he didn’t refer to the supposed arsonists as “terrorists”.

Peter Dunne, United Future: “Kith and kin”. Enormity of the events – “Australia’s worst peacetime tragedy”, which is rhetoric reminiscent of post-9/11. Warns that life will take a long time to return to normal. Talks about media imagery a lot. Encourages people to be “as generous with their resources as they are with their sentiments”.

I see a few true colours there, I think.

L

RMA – National’s changes will go to Select Committee

datePosted on 17:44, February 3rd, 2009 by Anita

Well the broad outline of the changes has been announced, and it’s looks pretty ugly for both sustainability and community involvement, so no surprises there.

On the plus side, firstly and this is a huge plus given National’s behaviour last year, the changes will go to Select Committee. Last year’s arrogant undemocratic practice of major changes without public consultation might, hopefully, be over. That said whether the committee will listen to the public remains a pretty big question.

Second good news, again genuinely good, according to the Greens’ analysis the ludicrous loophole allowing the Crown to breach consent conditions and preventing Councils from stopping them looks like it will go.

Other than that… it looks like we’re trading community voices and a sustainable future for a chance to pave our way out of a global recession.

P.S. As usual the best analysis is over at No Right Turn

Whispering campaigns

datePosted on 06:00, January 30th, 2009 by Anita

For the last six years the National and their allies honed their skills at whispering campaigns; the question now is whether Labour will stoop to their level.

We all heard the whispers; the stories of sex, money and corruption. Largely personal they also targeted the partners and children of politicians. 

Of all the things National and its allies have done it the last few years the whispering campaigns sickened me most.

  1. The dishonesty. John Key never actually called Helen Clark a “heartless childless lesbian bitch”, instead he arranged for enough other people to say it so that he only needed to nod slightly and the attack was made but his hands remained clean.
  2. Personal attacks are just plain wrong. We saw them during the Muldoon administration, and we condemn him for them, so why was it ok for the Brash and Key National parties?
  3. Even if politicians could be argued to open themselves up to this, what about their partners, children and extended families? Many of the people smeared were not political actors and were hurt solely to damage others.
  4. The orchestrated whispering campaigns exposed and reinforced an undercurrent on bigotry. If being called a lesbian is a political attack what does that mean for women who actually are lesbians?

I am hoping desperately that Labour will step away from this tactic. They’ve had a few shameful moments of going there, but not to the extent of National. The question for them now is whether they will follow National’s lead and go for opposition gutter politics, or whether they will step back and fight a clean fight over policy.

I would like to thank Winston Peters

datePosted on 06:00, January 29th, 2009 by Anita

Winston Peters’ political career is over, and I am glad.

But even with that final storm of dishonesty and showmanship, and the memories of bigotry and anger, I have tried to hold on to the great things he did.

  • He campaigned long and hard for national ownership and against privatisation. He, almost single handedly, stopped the privatisation agenda of the Bolger-Shipley National government.
  • He proved this generation of Māori electors is a force to be reckoned with and can’t be taken for granted.
  • Under both National and Labour governments he achieved increases to the minimum wage.
  • His ceaseless campaigning for older people prevented or undid some of the worst of the damage done by the ideological zeal of Labour and National governments intent on dismantling the welfare state.
  • He fought to keep the big corporates honest and treating New Zealanders fairly.

Winston Peters was from a time when we looked after each other, when we were proud of our country, and when we stood firm in our independence. His concept of “we” and how we should live are not mine, but they are good things to believe. I would like to thank him for his time and his energy, he has made New Zealand a better place.

Electoral finance: the principles I – Transparency

datePosted on 06:00, January 25th, 2009 by Anita

In the run up to the election there was massive hypocrisy in the right complaining about the Electoral Finance Act while simultaneously amping up the fuss around New Zealand First finances; complaining about the exploitation of loopholes that the EFA they so hate was supposed to close. So I thought I’d use this as a an opportunity to look at the principles that should underpin our electoral finance rule one by one.

One of the most serious issue raised by Jones, Glenn, the Velas, and the Spencer Trust (not to mention National’s Waitemata Trust, Ruahine Trust, and so on) is transparency. People voted for NZF (and National and Labour) without knowing who was paying their bills, without being able to assess what the funders might be expecting in return.

Would the same people have voted for NZ First in 2005 if they’d known it was being funded by Bob Jones and the racing lobby? Perhaps, but they didn’t in 2008 once they knew. National if they’d known about funding from the tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance industries? Perhaps.

But perhaps they would have looked closer at the policies and made a decision about whose financial interests they were voting for.

What would NZ First do for the racing lobby? We have an answer.

What will National do for tobacco and pharmaceutical companies now they have the cabinet benches? We’ve already got a pretty clear idea about what they’re offering the insurance industry: profit from a privatised workplace accident compensation model, and the Herceptin decision is positioning for politicians making decisions on drug funding.

Perhaps knowing who’s bought influence would help us weigh up what to do with our votes, and it sure would help us keep the bastards honest! 

Principle I: Transparency – it is vital for democracy that we, the voters, know who is behind the candidates, who is paying their bills, who is pulling their strings.

What do they mean by private healthcare provision?

datePosted on 06:00, January 23rd, 2009 by Anita

In a number of threads people have brought up the idea that our existing publicly provided health system is fundamentally flawed and should be replaced by a privately provided healthcare system. Every time I read that argument I want to make a single (bold face) point:

The vast majority of our healthcare is provided by private providers.

The vast majority.

Take me for example, I see my GP (private provider), I have blood tests (private provider), scans (usually a private provider), take medication (private provider) and see a number of specialists (my main one is public but occasionally other public or private specialists). All except the specialists are private providers at least partly funded by the government.  One specialist is a public provider entirely publicly funded.

The only surgery I ever had was in a private hospital fully funded by the government.

So why, if the current health system is so broken, does anyone think that private provision is the answer?

I can see three possible reasons National and Act are arguing for “private health provision”:

  1. Transfer the last of the public money to the private sector to create private sector profits for shareholders.
  2. They don’t mean “private provision” they mean “private funding”, they actually want to cut the government spend and rely on individuals funding their own healthcare. Advantageous for the wealthy (who already have health insurance and would benefit from the tax cuts), disastrous for the poor who can’t afford private cover or care and don’t get tax cuts from the Nats.
  3. Ideological blindness.

Two are awfully cynical and the other requires a level of stupidity I don’t believe they have, any other offers?

Since last year’s election there has been a lot of talk about the tenability of the relationship between the Māori Party and National.

On the one hand National’s hard right policies will hurt many Māori voters; how much damage can the Māori Party let their electorate sustain from their parliamentary partners? What concessions can the MP gain that will outweigh the effects of National’s privatisation and their transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest?

On the other hand the Māori Party is dominated by, to quote John Tamihere, the “relatively wealthy, educated elite” just as the National Party is the party of the Pakeha wealthy educated elite. Like peas in a pod, perhaps these two parties of the elites are made for each other. Interesting analysis on this possibility is available all over the media (e.g. The Herald) and blogs (e.g. Against the current). The analysis, good though it is, has tended to overlook the fact that while the Māori and Pakeha elites have many things in common, their cultural differences are significant too.

One of the areas often discussed as common ground between the parties is provision of social services: both want to transfer service provision (and the funding for it) from the state to “the community”. It looks like an agreement, but what do they mean by “the community”?

National’s view of community social service provision is to pay a small number of large corporates or NGOs to provide bulk social services, just like the big companies they’ve worked for in the private sector. The Māori Party, quite differently, imagine many small iwi, runanga and hapu based providers, with perhaps some provision by Urban Māori Authorities. To the Māori Party the key to community provision is local targeted care by traditional Māori structures.

This cultural gulf recurs throughout the apparent policy agreements between National and the Māori Party. Another example, National wants to privatise health care provision by offering it to large privately owned hospital providers like those Michael Woodhouse lobbied for in his years in the NZ Private Surgical Hospitals Association and the NZ Private Hospitals Association. The Māori Party wants to strengthen and develop the many Hauora built by iwi and hapu throughout the country, just like the one Hone Harawira helped set up in the Far North.

That may be the final ideological divide: the difference between a “community” consisting of corporates and their shareholders, and a “community” of iwi and hapu.

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