Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Bryce Edwards: NZ Politics Daily – 31 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) New Zealand has once again been anointed one of the least corrupt countries in the world according to the global anti-corruption NGO Transparency International. However, as reported by RNZ, “New Zealand has slipped from second to third place” in the annual Corruption Perception Index, now behind both Denmark and Finland – see: NZ third-least corrupt country – Transparency International

Furthermore, NZ has dropped in its score from 87/100 to 85/100 – a measure in which zero is considered highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. And New Zealand’s score has been dropping slowly since 2020. The local chapter of Transparency International also points out that this year is the first time that the country has not been in the top two rankings since the transparency index methodology was updated in 2012. So, some sort of slow but definite decline is occurring.

In terms of this year’s decline, the drop is being explained by a survey of business leaders in 2023 called “Executive Opinion Survey”. In this, businesspeople were “asked respondents how common it was for businesses to make undocumented extra payments or bribes connected with trade, public utilities, tax payments or awarding of public contracts. It also asked how common it was for public funds to be diverted to companies, individuals or groups due to corruption. While New Zealand is still given a positive tick by most executives, the survey responses in 2023 indicate reduced business leader confidence in government integrity systems.”

2) In response to the latest corruption rankings, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has put out a statement about the disappointing drop in NZ’s rankings, arguing that to improve New Zealand must be even more open and transparent – see: Corruption Perception Results: NZ Must Be More Open, Chief Ombudsman. Boshier also pointed out: “Last week, a Public Service Commission survey found only about half of respondents thought public servants were open and transparent with information.”

3) More details of the Public Service Commission survey are detailed today in Jem Traylen’s BusinessDesk column, Business of Government: marking your own homework, silo mentalities and more (paywalled)

Traylen reports: “The latest survey data on what people think of public servants suggests they’re generally considered trustworthy and trying their best for their fellow New Zealanders. But, no surprise, the public service is also thought to be hopeless at working as a team and quickly circles the wagons whenever a ball is dropped.” And she points out that Māori respondents to the survey had much less trust in the public service: “who recorded the lowest score of 49%. Asians were the highest at 79%.”

Traylen also points out that questions are increasingly raised – including by Act leader David Seymour – about the fact that the Public Service Commission designs and reports on the survey instead of getting an independent and objective agency without a vested interest such as the Audit Office or Statistics NZ. Essentially it’s a case of yet another government agency “marking their own homework”.

4) With the two major supermarkets under severe public pressure about their market duopoly, and the Commerce Commission carrying out further research, it was curious that on Monday the owner of the Countdown (now “Woolworths”) chain officially dropped the value of the business by a massive 70 per cent. Today Dileepa Fonseka reports Monopoly Watch spokesperson Tex Edwards suggesting it’s a ploy, and contrary to the supermarket’s previous arguments justifying its huge profits: “It just doesn't pass the common sense test, and it's almost as if the board is getting ready for some structural separation attack from the regulator” – see: Woolworths write-down: Embarrassing or just an overpayment (paywalled)

The article also quotes Australasia's leading food and grocery consultant Tim Morris who doesn’t expect the NZ Government to impose any significant changes: “They're a duopoly, there's no signs that anyone's going to do anything about that”. Apparently, he was “sceptical of anything actually taking place on the regulatory front that would change things when it came to supermarket competition.”

5) For a very good discussion of the central concept in the current Treaty debates – sovereignty – see Professor of Political Science at Victoria University of Wellington’s Jack Vowles column today: The idea of ‘sovereignty’ is central to the Treaty debate – why is it so hard to define?

6) Evaluations of the achievements, legacies, and shortfalls of outgoing Green Party co-leader James Shaw are in plenty of supply today. One of the best is Derek Cheng’s James Shaw’s legacy – The ‘suit’ who brought the party back from the brink and leaves behind enduring change (paywalled)

Here’s his summary of Shaw: “The Greenie in a suit who kept the party afloat as it seemed to be sinking, brought it into government for two terms, and then as a minister reached across the aisle to pass enduring legislation.”

As with other accounts of Shaw’s career, Cheng highlights the politician’s very different political nature to other Greens: “When Shaw entered Parliament in 2014, he was already an outlier to the stereotype - rightly or wrongly - of hemp-wearing, tree-hugging Greenies; he had a corporate background, albeit in roles where he tried to steer companies to sustainable practices.”

7) Those from the business sector have always been some of the biggest supporters of the Green co-leader. Today Tom Pullar-Strecker reports the views on Shaw of Auckland Business Chamber chief executive and former National Party leader Simon Bridges, who believes “Shaw had a warmth and decency which meant he had always been well-liked across political lines” and “The same is true from a business perspective. Among politicians on the left, he’s always been one of the handful of most popular for business to engage with” – see: Business groups lose ‘good listener’ within Green Party as James Shaw stands down (paywalled)

8) Similarly, RNZ’s Craig McCulloch highlights that “Senior business voices regularly ranked him among the top Ministerial performers in the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom” but that the flip side was “fierce criticism from within the Greens' ranks” – see: What next as James Shaw leaves for greener pastures?

9) Herald business journalist Fran O’Sullivan says that Shaw has a big future outside of politics, business consultancy, or even working with the National-led Government in the climate space – see: James Shaw now up for grabs (paywalled)

O’Sullivan writes that Shaw was never in sync with the social justice direction that his party is shifting in: “Shaw had appeared completely lost among the sea of activists who are fast running the Greens’ brand into the ground as they resort to performative theatre, particularly on Palestine… You won’t see Shaw among other Green MPs wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh, the distinctive black-and-white scarf, in Parliament. Or shouting anti-Israel slogans, some of which verge on anti-Semitism.”

She suggests “Shaw would be a first-class candidate to be New Zealand’s next Climate Change Commissioner when incumbent Dr Rod Carr steps down later this year. While the commission’s nominations committee will assess potential candidates and give advice to the Government on that score, the decision on who will next lead this powerful body will inevitably be a political one.”

10) Shaw’s relationship is very good with the National Party as well its business backers. He also has an especially good and long-time relationship with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, dating back from when Shaw used to work as a corporate sustainability business consultant. This is explained today by Richard Harman in: A Parliamentary idealist goes (paywalled)

In this, Harman reports Luxon’s reactions to Shaw’s retirement from politics: “James Shaw is actually one of the opposition MPs I really respect… I got to know James outside of coming to politics myself, and I’ve become good friends with him over the last three years as well… I’ve really respected James and what he’s achieved, and I think he leaves this place having left in place something that’s pretty enduring, the net zero legislation… I just have huge respect for James; I like the way that he talks to lots of politicians on all sides… I like the way that he actually also engages lots of stakeholders from across the country.”

Harman also quotes Shaw on Luxon, from well before Luxon became PM: “There is a new generation of CEOs coming up through the ranks who have grown up in the postmodern world… They understand that there are environmental limits to the way that we do business and conduct our lives… It’s interesting talking to Christopher Luxon about his time at Unilever in Canada…. Unilever are probably one of the world’s most progressive global corporates when it comes to comprehension of the social environmental and economic sustainability construct… It’s totally second nature to how they do business… He’s been brought up in that world, as have I.”

11) Attention is now turning to who will be the next Greens co-leader. Of the best accounts, see Thomas Coughlan’s Green Party taking steps to find next co-leader to replace James Shaw

12) Most commentators say it’s almost a certainty that the replacement will be Chlöe Swarbrick. For the most enthusiastic of these, see Tova O’Brien’s Why Chlöe Swarbrick is the only option for the Greens. O’Brien says: “Swarbrick is fiercely intelligent, popular, passionate, has an enormous profile and stellar self-proclaimed ‘woke’ credentials befitting the Green co-leadership.” But attention is drawn to the possibility that Wellington Mayor and Green, Tory Whanau, could be the Greens’ future.

13) Many commentators are picking Swarbrick as the obvious choice because she is the candidate most like Shaw in terms of being a more middle-class, centrist option. For example, the Post’s Andrea Vance says today: “what is little understood about Swarbrick is that she is both close to Shaw and very much under his tutelage. The party does not need two radical leaders and with a little more polish, Swarbrick could easily slip into Shaw’s shoes as the more acceptable face of the Greens. As much as the party likes to believe it is the voice of working people, much of their support is drawn from high-income earners. If Swarbrick recognises that at least half the leadership needs to reinforce the concerns of their well-intentioned middle-class vote, then she could be a formidable force” – see: How Chlöe Swarbrick could become the next ‘acceptable face’ of the Greens (paywalled)

14) Newstalk’s Heather du Plessis-Allan isn’t so sure – and views Swarbrick as being more in the “social justice warriors” (i.e. “woke”) faction of the party instead of “the climate warriors” faction (i.e. environmentalist). Without Shaw, she says the “Greens will become less of an environment party and more of a social justice, anti-capitalism party” – see: I worry for the future of the Greens without Shaw

15) For a more sympathetic analysis of where the Greens are going, see 1News’ John Campbell column, The James Shaw conundrum. Campbell ponders whether the Greens need to become more assertive and Green, and therefore less compromising and joined to the hip of the Labour Party.

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

NZ is extremely tolerant of corruption. Witness the Maori extortions supported by dishonest intellectualism and aggressive threats and behaviour, and now we hear, senior political leaders subscribe to Crown Maori partnership and betraying those who elected them.

And this is not corrupt?