Last week the National and Maori parties passed their Resource Management Act (RMA) reforms though Parliament. There was an air of arrogance from Environment Minister Nick Smith as the Bill passed through the House - knowing full well that he had the 59 National votes and a proxy for the two Maori Party votes in a 121 member Parliament.
In my view the National Party has made a strategic error in passing this unpopular amendment by making the RMA a bigger "Frankenstein".
The RMA is a disgrace. It's a racket for lawyers, self-acclaimed experts on all manner of esoteric concepts, planners, commissioners, judges, and iwi. Many of these racketeers have become rich, at the expense of inflated land and house prices, and consent applicants.
The latest RMA amendments tinker around the edges of much needed reform, but make matters much worse with respect to the need to consult "affected" parties, particularly on cultural issues. It is fair to question why culture forms part of the RMA at all. For that ideological nonsense we can blame Frankenstein's father, Sir Geoffrey Palmer. It is only included because environment is taken to be all things to all people, not just the green environment.
In my view entrenching cultural issues even deeper within the RMA as Nick Smith's amendment does, will damage National's chances of re-election. Most damaging is the manner in which the Bill was passed, and it has exposed the naked reality that National Party MPs are patsies to their ruling cabal. Let's be honest about this. The National Party backbenchers are there to make up the numbers: 59. They only represent their constituency (assuming they have one) on issues when it suits them to do so.
Under MMP there's a pretty simple equation which applies to all parties, not only National: Toe the line or lose your job. That's not to say most MPs are not sincere about wanting to make New Zealand a better place, but the reality is they are servants to the Party hierarchy, first, second, and third.
Just last week the Greens announced a new look line-up of fresh faced millennials, who bumped some existing Members of Parliament down into unwinnable list positions. It seems in the Green Party, age and experience counts for less than youth and photogenic appeal.
Given most MPs don't actually need to do much more than warm a seat, it probably doesn’t matter much what the Green newbies think - their value is more for appearances to convince those young voters who are unlikely to vote, to vote for the Greens. They are pursuing that stage show because the Green's have finally figured out there is nothing to gain by taking votes from Labour as it takes them no closer to beating National.
In my view their young-faces strategy is unlikely to work because young people are probably as cynical about young politicians as those with wrinkles of experience. And what does age have to do with it anyway? Burnie Sanders did pretty well at attracting the youth vote in America, but then he was only 75 years young!
National’s greatest risk from the RMA reforms is the significant opportunity it gives NZ First, and if their comments in the House are to be believed they are going to take advantage of it.
In his third reading speech on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, Ron Mark said, "I want to start by making it very, very clear to the House that New Zealand First is not going to go through this election talking about bottom lines, except for this matter. We wish to make it very, very clear as a party that if any party in this House today debating this bill and voting for it, in particular, wishes to be in Government with us post 23 September, they will have to accept that we will repeal this bill."
Most commentators believe NZ First will do much better at this election than last. For a start, they are about 2-3% ahead of they were at the same time last election due to the self-mutilation of the Conservative Party. It is not unreasonable to think they could gain a further 3-5% from the protest votes of former National Party voters, who are annoyed at the Party’s arrogance and subservience to Maori interests. On those numbers, National would be reliant on NZ First to form a government.
By allowing itself to be ruled by the likes of Nick Smith, the National caucus could well find itself kowtowing to Winston Peters. The problem is can NZ First be trusted to keep his word, any more than National can be trusted to remain true to its principles?