Friday, July 19, 2013

Bryce Edwards: NZ Politics Daily

It’s been a week of debates about economics, ethnicity and inequality. The most interesting story of the week combines all three issues – the controversial decision announced by the Minister of Whanau Ora to shift provision of the funding outside the walls of the state. This has alarmed Chris Trotter who has condemned the whole programme, saying: Nothing Progressive About It: Thoughts on Tariana Turia’s “Whanau Ora” Programme. Similarly, on the right, Muriel Newman says that essentially Whanau Ora is a ‘Maori-only welfare programme’ and the latest change hands the power and funds over to Iwi leaders – see: Institutional racism. Newman also critiques historic and contemporary attempts to introduce Treaty clauses into government legislation.

For a much more positive account of the changes to Whanau Ora, see Morgan Godfery’s In defence (well, sort of) of Whanau Ora. Incidentally, Godfery has also blogged a defence of ‘discriminatory’ gender practices in Maori culture, saying that ‘it's wrong to impose a western conception of sexism on Maori protocol’ – see: Powhiri: the sexism edition

But in terms of the Whanau Ora changes, others on the left have been critical too – see No Right Turn’s Whanau Ora providers must be subject to the OIA and on The Standard it is argued that ‘Whanau Ora has always been a giant invitation to corruption’ – see: Dropping the pretense: Whanau Ora privatization. Newspaper editorials have also made some interesting points about it all – see the Dominion Post’s Whanau Ora needs checks and the Southland Times’ They'll be the judge of that.

This all shows that issues of ethnicity continue to cause strong feelings in New Zealand politics. with even quite minor events incurring heated responses – see for instance, Kate Shuttleworth’s TV camera pushed during Maori education hui exchange

This is why the story of the Pakeha Party has been so interesting and important, despite its current marginality in electoral politics. Matthew Hooton says: Pakeha Party good news for John Key [paywalled]. He argues that such a party is likely to rob votes from the bases of both Labour and New Zealand First. He also believes that ‘Next year’s election is the Pakeha Party’s first and last chance to succeed.  Soon after 2014, the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process – which so aggravates many who like the Pakeha Party – will conclude’. 

But is the Pakeha Party even real? The motives of its founder, David Ruck, are called into question in Cameron Slater’s blogpost, Is the Pakeha Party a marketing scam?, in which it is revealed that Ruck has been trying to sell the Facebook page and website for $100,000. This is followed up by Niko Kloeten’s NBR article Pakeha Party founder tries to flog website for $100k [paywalled]

The rise of the Pakeha Party has at least provided a chance for more debate about ethnicity and inequality. Colin Espiner has made some good contributions to this debate with The politics of race and Are some of us really more equal than others? Other interesting Maori viewpoints are expressed in Tahu Potiki’s Will Pakeha Party emerge? and Dion Tuuta’s 'Pakeha Party' highlights perception of inequality. For an excellent satirical take on the topic, see Ben Uffindell’s Don Brash seizes control of the Pakeha Party

But ethnicity politics is hardly a marginal issue in New Zealand – arguably the Maori and Mana parties have more influence on politics than, say, New Zealand First. After all, the deciding factor in next year’s election could end up being who wins the Maori seat of Waiariki. Te Ururoa Flavell currently holds the seat, and he’s just become the co-leader of the Maori Party (Dishwasher promoted to co-leader), which held its annual conference last week, and affirmed the party’s stance of continuing to work with National, even potentially a National-led government after the next election. All of these decisions have probably killed off the possibility of a Mana-Maori alliance developing (Maori-Mana union unlikely). Instead, it now looks more likely that Mana and Labour will be pushed to develop an electoral alliance in 2014 – whereby Labour gives Mana a free run in Harawira’s seat, but also allows Mana to run the main opposition against Flavell in Waiariki – Mana's Annette Sykes already pushed Labour into third place there in 2011. 

The quid pro quo would be that Labour would not have to compete against Mana in its attempts to re-gain the Te Tai Hauauru and Tamaki Makaurau - sweeping the Maori Party from Parliament altogether. The upshot is that – with the Maori Party currently polling about 2% of the party vote and dependent for its survival on retaining Waiariki – National’s chances of governing again could depend on which way this seat goes. A win for Flavell could provide National with three or more seats; a win for Sykes/Mana could provide a Labour-led government with at least two seats – therefore the result in Waiariki could lead to a crucial difference of five MPs for either the Labour or National-led bloc. 

Economics is the factor behind the Government’s latest welfare reforms. Some elements are already working in terms of saving money – see Michael Field’s Benefit fraud swoop nets thousands. Furthermore, the new drug-testing of beneficiaries now turns out to be cheaper than originally presumed – see No Right Turn’s Beneficiaries will be forced to pay for their own drug tests

According to Chris Trotter the reforms have dubious underpinnings and ‘callous’ impacts – see:  Shame has no place in our welfare system. For a different take on the issue, see Susan Wood’s Protesters should be committed enough to get jobs. And the satirical/critical viewpoint is well put in Scott Yorke’s Another day in the life of Paula Bennett

Are the rich really getting richer? And the poor, poorer? The latest Ministry of Social Development’s report is out:  Household Incomes in New Zealand: trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2012. Brian Fallow analyses the report and concludes that Rising inequality largely a myth. But Max Rashbrooke – the editor of the new book on inequality in New Zealand, has an alternative account in: Rich get richer. The poor? Have a guess

Economist Robert Wade has been touring New Zealand discussing some of these issues – as reported by Dan Satherley in Social ills blamed on growing inequality. And Martyn Bradbury sums up some of Wade’s main messages and evidence in The political issue of the 2014 election. But Wade also caused controversy with his tiff with the Minister of Finance – see Andrea Vance’s English rebukes visiting academic. See also Simon Collins report from this week’s conference on inequality in which economist Geoff Bertram had some practical ideas about reducing inequality – see: Big pay gap angers expert.

Economically, the Government’s SkyCity convention deal doesn’t add up according to reports about Treasury’s advice – see Andrea Vance and Hamish Rutherford’s Officials' SkyCity warnings ignored. This latest news will have tipped the scales for some – see for example, Dominion Post’s Skycity deal a wrong move. And today David Fisher exposes even more economic-based doubt about the deal in his report, State analyst casts doubt on SkyCity venture

Another aspect of the SkyCity negotiations that hasn't received much attention is the alleged desire by the Government to assert control over who might be able to make bookings in the new convention centre – see No Right Turn’s Sky deal included anti-free speech clause and Russell Brown’s A different kind of country.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

Who runs politics in New Zealand? Is it the MPs or the party professionals? For an interesting insight into the spin-doctors behind David Shearer, see Audrey Young’s Reshaping Shearer as potential PM. Shearer has a media team of four ex-journalists as well as a team of four political advisers. On top of that there are media trainers who get brought in to finesse Shearer’s political communication style. 

Perhaps it’s actually political journalists who essentially control politics in New Zealand. Following on from Duncan Garner’s infamous ‘coup tweet’ last week, there are increasing questions about the role of the media in becoming ‘political players’. This is dealt with very well in Chris Trotter’s When politicians and journalists collide. And Garner is backed up by Colin Espiner’s The anatomy of a coup. But for alternative takes on the issue of the influence of political journalists, see Toby Manhire’s Toxic politics, coups and media pawns and John Drinnan’s Garner in shock-jock mode. Also, for a humourous view of it all, see Steve Braunias’ Secret diary of Duncan Garner

Big questions are also still being asked about Shearer’s leadership. The best read is Tim Watkin’s David Shearer's last round. Ding, ding. Audrey Young has some good analysis of what’s going on in Labour, and says that Shearer has a 50/50 chance of surviving – see: Turmoil on cards for Labour leadership. See also, Claire Trevett’s Playing for time. But blogger Pete George has some supposedly inside analysis of what’s happening in Labour – see: “All agree Shearer is finished”. Susan Wood says its Time for Labour to start addressing issues that matter. And Cameron Slater has the apparent inside gossip about the party organisation in Will Moira go? For an amusing satirical view from the pen of ‘David Shearer’ see, A man with no plan as man-ban canned.

For all that you need to know about the latest in the GCSB debate, read Toby Manhire’s Spy bill do-gooders get their comeuppance. For those concerned about the bill, there will be nationwide protests on July 27 – No Right Turn has the details in Protest against the GCSB bill next weekend. For more interesting revelations about the intelligence community in New Zealand, see David Fisher’s Private spying company hosts conference for NZ intelligence community

Housing affordability looks like it could be a central election issue in 2014. Vernon Small looks at one possible policy solution for the National Government – see: Mortgage brake a headache for Key. See also, Tracy Watkins’ Labour diverts from housing minefield

The Jon Stephenson defamation trial against the Defence Force is over – see Radio NZ’s Hung jury in Defence Force defamation case. Blogger Martyn Bradbury responds with Why hung Jury is a chilling slap in the face to Journalism in NZ and Why defamation case against NZDF by Journalist is so important. In the end it seemed to be a case of determining whether the untrue statements from the Defence Force were damaging or not – see Teuila Fuatai’s Defamation trial: 'It's a dagger through the heart' and Stuff’s Journalist's defamation case worth '$10' – lawyer

The next big moral question for MPs to debate could be a private members bill about euthanasia put forward by Labour’s Maryan Street. Except some in Labour want her to withdraw the bill – see Isaac Davison’s Euthanasia bill under party pressure. Blogger No Right Turn is naturally dismissive: A surfeit of caution.

The minor parties have been quiet lately. But for some interesting news about two of them – see Andrea Vance’s Key to go to ACT breakfast and Lawrence Gullery’s Former MP laments NZ First legacy

Twitter can be a powerful and amusing political device for MPs. Claire Trevett has an excellent rundown on the state of this political arena – see: MPs unleashed in Twittersphere.

Finally, the more hyperbolic critics of John Key are often likening him to other ‘terrible’ PMs like Rob Muldoon or describing him as similar to Helen Clark or even Stalin or Caligula. And so The Civilian’s Ben Uffindell takes a poke at the likes of Martyn Bradbury and Clare Curran in his report, Study finds that every Prime Minister was worst Prime Minister.

Dr Bryce Edwards is a politics lecturer at Otago University.

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