Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Bryce Edwards: NZ Politics Daily – 30 January 2024

Top “NZ Politics Daily” stories today

Below are some of the more interesting and insightful New Zealand politics items from the last 24 hours.

1) Parliament starts up again properly today, and the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan has the best account of what is going to happen, explaining how a confluence of events and meetings kick off today, making it one of the biggest days in politics – see: Parliament is back: ‘Super Tuesday’ set to test MPs with Red Sea, Government’s Māori policies top of agenda

2) Danyl McLauchlan has taken on the Listener’s new weekly political columnist – it had previously been written for many years by Jane Clifton, and for the last year by Michelle Hewitson. McLauchlan first weekly column is now online as well as in print: It’s been a summer of discontent for the coalition government (paywalled)

His main focus is on the current discontent: “the new coalition government has experienced a Summer of Discontent: protests, leaks, court actions and intense criticism from prominent Māori leaders have combined to deny National and its partners the traditional honeymoon enjoyed by incoming governments.”

But McLauchlan suggests that noisy protests against governments don’t necessarily mean they lose popularity – and it can be the opposite: “There is some precedent to the coalition’s messy beginning. When Helen Clark came to power in late 1999, she represented the first genuinely left-wing government since the 1970s, and sections of the business community greeted her election with a very prolonged and undignified temper tantrum. This became known as the Winter of Discontent. Labour moderated a few policies and built relationships in business circles, although it also accepted that its loudest critics were simply its political and ideological enemies, and came to relish their hatred rather than indulge it. Clark won an increased majority at the next election and governed for two more terms.”

On the Treaty debate and general Māori discontent, he suggests that National is posing the following question to iwi leaders: “Would those leaders like more control over health, education and welfare services for their communities, or would they prefer to fixate on Act’s Treaty Principles Bill, which National has promised to support only as far as select committee stage? National hopes that once the bill goes down, most iwi and hapū will seek the former, and the Summer of Discontent will fade into an Autumn of Normality”.

3) In government, the Labour Party’s foreign policy was becoming more pro-US and Establishment. Even Defence Minister Andrew Little was “relatively enthusiastic” about joining up to the latest version of the new Aukus defence pact according to Thomas Coughlan who explores how the party is now recalibrating on foreign policy now that its back in opposition – see: Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman David Parker contemplates China (paywalled)

Coughlan reports that “the party’s new foreign affairs spokesman David Parker took a note to caucus [in December] seeking agreement on the party’s foreign policy stance”, and its one that is more traditionally Labour: “the note sought to apply Labour thinking to contemporary foreign policy challenges, like the Aukus deal, the war in Gaza, and the growing rift between the United States and China”. And Labour is moving away from what appeared to be an increasingly Chinaphobic stance. Parker’s new note is quoted: “We don’t want to position China as a foe. We’ve got a good relationship with them. We don’t agree with them on everything and there are some things that we have quite different values on, including the rights of minorities, for example”.

4) The Labour Party has been taken over by a middle class faction that is socially liberal but otherwise very conservative according to Chris Trotter, writing for the Democracy Project. New leadership is desperately needed. He says that the genuine leftwing of the party has been marginalised by uninspiring Wellington career bureaucrats, with the following outcome: “Promoting women’s rights, Māori rights and gay rights was fine, advocating state ownership, higher taxes and stronger unions was not” – see: The Hollow Party

5) Trotter has also written a column critiquing the political left’s tendency to go down anti-democratic and fringe routes in opposing the Act’s Treaty Principles Bill – see: Intransigent minorities

6) Prime Minister Chris Luxon is under huge pressure on Treaty Principles Bill. And the news media are holding him to account like never before. But according to journalist Graham Adams, the new PM is looking “relaxed and unperturbed by the media onslaught” – see: Luxon keeps cool under referendum fire

7) The PM is walking a tightrope on the issue, and according to conservative political commentator Liam Hehir faces a real dilemma – see his 1News column: Treaty Principles Bill a no-win situation for Luxon

Hehir argues that although National is against a Treaty referendum, the party is aware that there is a strong constituency in favour of it: “There is a very strong constituency for what ACT wants. Polling before the election showed 60% of voters backing ACT’s proposal if a referendum was held. Only 18% were in opposition. Fewer people supported having a vote on it, however. This may be because voters understand the social chaos that would be unleashed and take the reasonable view that the juice would not be worth the squeeze. Still, 45% supported having a vote and only 25% were opposed. There has been other polling, but those numbers should not reassure liberal New Zealanders. What they show is every possibility of a Brexit or Voice situation should the Government go to the voters on the principles of the Treaty.”

8) Act leader David Seymour is the most interesting politician in the new conservative government, and he is the person most likely to produce transformation in an otherwise cautious administration – but rather than doing it through Treaty reform, according to Tim Watkin, “It’s in reforming the very machinery of government – regulations – that Seymour is best placed to take his one shot at transformation” – see: David Seymour Promise Of Grand Designs Reveals Tension At The Heart Of Government

9) Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau has done a U-turn on introducing water meters to properties to help solve the water crisis. But she will face a lot of opposition from progressives in the city who see meters as a distraction from fixing the real problems, and leading to more economic inequality and potential privatisation – see RNZ’s Water meters in Wellington?: How it worked in Kāpiti

Here’s the key part: “Wellington Residents' Coalition chair Warwick Taylor told Morning Report the latest estimate of the cost for installing the meters was $130 million which would be better spent on conservation measures such as helping people to buy front-loading washing machines, water tanks and efficient shower heads. The immediate issue was the possibility of running out of water this summer and water meters would not solve that - it would be a measure for the long-term. Lower income residents would also be hardest hit by their adoption because they often had larger households..‘We believe that a property tax is a fairer way of levying people, then the user pays.’ He compared it to the difficulty people have paying their electricity bills.’ People do not want another bill.’ He was worried that profit would become the driver if the government went ahead with plans for shifting council and regional council owned assets into Wellington Water, a council-owned company.”

10) The WCC is sitting on a secret report on the state of Wellington Water, but this will soon be released – especially after the Minister of Local Government Simeon Brown asked for it yesterday in his meeting with the Mayor – see Tom Hunt’s Water agency seeks $2.5b cash boost (paywalled)

Here’s the introduction to the article: “A soon-to-be released secret report into Wellington Water – which is asking Wellington City Council for more than $2.5 billion – reveals soaring costs and duplicated jobs. The agency on Monday confirmed it is seeking from the city $714 million in operational funding and $1.8b in capital funding in its 10-year plan, being decided in 2024. But, even if the funding was improved, Wellington Water chief executive Tonia Haskell said the city was ‘at least five years away from a noticeable difference’ in pipe problems and a full fix could be decades away.”

More details of the secret report’s conclusions are detailed: “Details were leaked to The Post in December, showing a lack of clearly defined reporting and performance measures with contractors, that the Wellington City Council carried the majority of risk, and that costs to the council had soared much higher than contractor costs. It found a convoluted process meant customer calls were duplicated, leading to a back-and forth between Wellington Water and the council. Jobs were regularly duplicated in the process, leading to significant delays in crews being sent to fix problems.”

11) Another big controversy in Wellington is about to kick off, with the Council about to rewrite its District Plan – the rulebook for housing construction. According to the Spinoff, “It’s an enormous opportunity for Wellington to tackle its housing crisis head-on. It will decide between two starkly different futures: In one, Wellington embraces apartments and townhouses, builds tens of thousands of new homes, and grows into a thriving, liveable and equitable city. In the other, the city becomes a museum filled with villas owned by retirees, while young people flee for Auckland (or worse, Upper Hutt).” Hence, the Spinoff is launching a campaign to have an impact – see Joel MacManus’ Announcing the War for Wellington

12) But with all of the problems facing Wellington at the moment, is the Capital worth saving? Auckland University economist Robert MacCulloch basically says “no”, and argues that central government should stop over-subsidising its infrastructure – see: If the Coalition Agreement Stands, Wellington Will Cease to Exist as a City and become a Town, maybe a Village

Here’s MacCulloch’s key point: “It may sound stark, but Wellington no longer adds up. It is a city built on subsidies; built on the backs of others. The costs of running it are no longer justified while infrastructure decays elsewhere. Wellington City fails its own criteria of cost-benefit analysis, a formal requirement of the new government. The only way Wellington can survive is if its bureaucrats refuse to implement the principles in the Coalition Agreement. I expect they will since the bureaucracy, like Mainstream Media, regards the new government as illegitimate.”

Dr Bryce Edwards is a Policy Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington, where he runs the Democracy Project, and is a full-time researcher in the School of Government. This article was originally published HERE.

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