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Voter turnout : How do we motivate more people to vote? Labour Leadership Q&A #8

Posted by on September 12th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 8

Voter turnout : How do we motivate more people to vote?

Question : To win the next election we need to motivate people to vote and win some of the swing voters in the middle. Share one strategy that you think would be most effective in achieving this?

Submitted by : Dalene Mactier, Southbridge


Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog. This started Tuesday 10th September, and continues till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.



Answer from David Cunliffe

We need three things: strategy, unity and urgency. At the last election more than 800,000 people didn’t vote. At the 2011 election, Labour failed to persuade enough New Zealanders that it was a credible alternative.

When National was telling them that they would cut them off at the knees, they don’t want to hear from Labour that it would too, just a little nearer to the ankles and with more anaesthetic.

I will lead a true red Labour Party, not a pale blue one. I will lead a team that is a clear alternative to John Key.

Voters will understand the difference between Labour and National and how we will build a fairer, more inclusive New Zealand.

We must be united to win. Voters disengage when there is disunity.

Everyone in Labour must put the interests of the party and the country first. We also need to be ready to win now.

We have less than a year to lift our numbers. John Key will spend billions to get re-elected. He is battle-ready and has the best spin money can buy.

New Zealanders need us to win so that they can get back on the ladder to success.


Answer from Shane Jones

Voter turnout is essential.

I am confident I can reconnect the Party with a broader range of voters. I am able to deal with the reasons why 800,000 kiwis chose not to vote in 2011.

A significant percentage of them are in the provinces.

I believe I can broaden the appeal of the Party to these people.

There is no single silver bullet.

However a robust organisation on the ground with vivid messages will work.


Answer from Grant Robertson

We need to be talking to people about the things that matter in their lives – how can they afford their first home, what opportunities are there for their kids when the leave school and university, are there decent jobs out there for them?

If we talk to people about the issues that matter to them, they will see that Labour has the vision and the policies to make a difference in to their lives.

I don’t think for a minute that middle New Zealand is better off under a National Government.

Under National their wages are stagnant, their power bills are growing and our public schools are getting shafted.

I will unite Labour so we can focus on selling our policies to New Zealanders and if we can do that we’ll win.


Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination? Labour Leadership Q&A #4

Posted by on September 11th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 4

Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting yesterday (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The three candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.


Question : Gender pay discrimination in NZ is a reality. The recent ruling in the Kristine Bartlett/SFWU case gives some hope. How would your leadership promote progress on achieving equal pay for work of equal value?

Submitted by : Lesley Soper, Invercargill



Answer from Shane Jones

The previous Labour Government made progress in this area.

It increased the wages of nurses.

I will use my position of leadership to ensure that the States resources are spent to give concrete improvement towards pay equity.

This is a core feature of Labour Party strategy and will not be neglected if I am leader.


Answer from Grant Robertson

I am really proud of the work of SFWU, Kristine and her lawyer Peter Cranney in getting that ruling.

It offers the prospect that equal pay will now become a matter of common law, and we will not need legislation to ensure it.

But we must be vigilant. National has no commitment to equal pay, and if legislation is needed, just as previous Labour governments have done we will pass it.

An immediate increase to the minimum wage, scrapping the Youth Rates, support for the Living Wage campaign and re-establishment of the Pay and Employment Equity Unit within government are also important parts of ensuring that we achieve equal pay for work of equal value


Answer from David Cunliffe

I believe we need to lead by example. National has not been ambitious for women. When National took office, there were 1153 women in boardroom positions. Today, there are only 1059, and falling. Government has a role to play in setting a leadership example, that is why I am committed to no less 50 % of the Labour caucus being women by no later than 2017.

Labour has a strong record of working to address gender pay inequality.

I am committed to investigating legislative and policy changes to close the gap based on the work of the Human Rights Commission and the Pay and Employment Equity Unit. This includes, recognising the right to equal pay, a positive duty to advance equality, and a mechanism to determine work of equal value.

I am also supportive of ensuring information about pay rates are made available so that comparisons can be made and unfair inequalities in pay rates between men and women are revealed.


Contempt for democracy

Posted by on March 2nd, 2013

Even supporters of National’s Charter Schools have asked for changes to draft legislation currently before the Education and Science Select Committee. While the overwhelming majority of the 2,000 or so submitters have opposed the idea, and presented compelling research, facts and arguments against them, a handful of supporters have put forward suggested amendments to the Bill that are practical and sensible.

I don’t agree with the whole concept of Charter Schools, and will continue to oppose them. Nothing I’ve heard from submitters has convinced me that we need them, or that our existing publicly-owned and operated schools can’t deliver the supposed ‘flexibility’ and ‘innovation’ these new for-profit schools are supposed to showcase. But if the government is determined to plough ahead, they could at least work to knock the rough edges off the legislation they’ve hastily cobbled together as payback for the Key/Banks ‘cuppa tea’ deal.

Sadly, the government isn’t listening. They’ve already kick-started the process of setting up these new privatised schools before the Bill has even been reported back from select committee, let alone debated and voted on by the whole House. We only finished hearing public submissions on Wednesday. The committee hasn’t yet had the chance to consider what changes to recommend based on them.

This whole process has been a sham. New Zealanders don’t want to see schools set up as profit making businesses. And they certainly don’t want to see Government funding used for schools that employ unqualified teachers, and don’t have to teach to the New Zealand curriculum.

The composition of the Board to oversee the schools establishment, announced yesterday by John Banks, makes it crystal clear that the Government’s real aim is the commercialisation of the school system – not lifting student achievement. National and Act are obsessed with the idea that competition will somehow improve educational outcomes. Even the Treasury doesn’t believe that.

We should be focused on making sure every school is world-class, instead of wasting time and effort on the ideological experiment of Charter Schools. There are some positive changes in the Bill to other areas of education policy (for example more flexibility around school opening hours) but they are being well and truly over-shadowed by National’s ideological experiment in privatising education.

Parata battening down the hatches

Posted by on November 11th, 2012

Hekia Parata now seems to be working on the premise that the less information she gives out, the less accountable she will have to be. After making such a hash of her proposals for school closures and mergers and Christchurch, Parata and her Ministry are now refusing to release the information and advice she received when making those decisions.

I understand officials presented the Minister with several alternative options, but requests for that advice to be released are being refused. That is wrong. In refusing to release that advice officials have argued it would compromise the consultation going on at the moment. How could releasing more, and extremely important, information undermine a supposedly ‘genuine’ consultation?

Similar requests directed to Ms Parata have not been actioned on the basis that she is too busy visiting schools in Christchurch to respond to them. That’s a bit rich coming from a Minister who has refused pleas from those very same schools to give them extra time to undertake consultation.

The Government should be approaching this process in an open, transparent and democratic way. Instead the Minister and her officials are promoting a culture of secrecy. In turn that cloak and dagger secrecy around the release of information is simply creating an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.

That’s not a responsible way for the government to behave. I urge Hekia Parata to openly release all of the information and advice she has received regarding school reorganization in Christchurch. Any refusal to do so will leave people rightly asking what she is trying to hide.

Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Bill

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

One of the Bill’s that was drawn from the ballot today is unlikely to gain as much attention as others, but it could have quite a significant impact on the way government operates. The Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill, in the name of Shane Jones, allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated.

Sound pretty uninteresting? Consider this: the Ombudsmen are the people who investigate alleged breaches of the Official Information Act (among other important roles). If the government is trying to hide something, they are the ones who can force it into the open. They play a vital ‘safeguard’ role within our governing system. But currently they can’t keep up with demand.

During the 2011 financial review of the Office of the Ombudsmen, the Chief Ombudsman stated that the office was ‘in crisis’ due to its high caseload and inability to meet demand. Only a minor increase has been recommended as part of this year’s Budget. This extra funding will cover increases in salary costs but will do nothing to address the more than 300 cases that are presently unallocated and awaiting further consideration.

This Bill allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated. This will ensure that resourcing constraints do not deny access to due process, and will promote greater compliance with legislative requirements by government departments and agencies.

Providing the Ombudsmen with the ability to charge those departments or agencies who are the subject of Official Information Act 1982 investigations is likely to improve compliance with that legislation (which currently contains very weak compliance provisions).

So, not the sort of stuff that’s going to set the political world alight with excitement, but a very important debate to have all the same.

Politics should be about ideas

Posted by on August 23rd, 2011

Politics should be a contest of ideas. Increasingly it’s becoming more and more focused on tactics and personalities. More column inches have been devoted to analysing whether Labour’s tax policies have moved our poll ratings than have been devoted to detailing what the policies actually are and whether they’re a good idea or not. Plenty of publicity has been given to John Key’s Rugby World Cup forays, much less attention to the fact that under his watch unemployment has sky-rocketed and the cost of living is rising at the fastest rate in over 21 years.

But that’s the reality. We can complain about it, or we can get out there and redouble our efforts to promote the ideas we believe in. I want to be part of Labour government after this year’s election because I think we’ve got the best ideas for turning our economy around, giving hard-working Kiwis a break, and securing a brighter future for our country.

I hate comparisons between politics and sport, but there is one analogy with sport that I do find useful from time to time. In politics, as in sport, it’s important to “leave it all out on the field”. We compete fiercely with our opponents, we think our ideas are better, and we think we’re better able to manage the challenges we face. But we should never forget that our opponents are also driven by decent intent, however misguided we may think that they are.

Nobody is entitled to power, or to claim ownership of a particular constituency. In a democracy, it’s a right that has to constantly be earned. Likewise, I think it shows total contempt for voters to declare the electoral race all but run before the starting whistle has even been blown. There are still three months to go before polling day, and I, along with my colleagues, intend to campaign for the ideas and values that Labour represents right up to the last hour. This one is too important.

Why we’re supporting this Bill

Posted by on August 18th, 2011

Today the Labour Party is taking the unusual step of supporting the National Government passing a Bill through all stages of Parliament’s process under Urgency. We’ve been pretty critical of National’s use of Urgency to avoid select committee scrutiny so I think it’s important we explain why we’re supporting its use in this instance.

In 2008 a major re-write of the Police Act was passed by the previous Labour government. It’s a big and complex piece of legislation and mistakes were made. Under the law, if someone is discharged or found not guilty of a crime, their photographs and fingerprints have to be destroyed by Police, but if they are found guilty, they’re kept on file.

Inadvertently, the law was changed to prevent the Police retaining the photos and fingerprints of young people where they were dealt with by the Youth Court rather than the District Court. In other words, even if the young person was found ‘guilty’ by the Youth Court the Police would have had to destroy their photographs and fingerprints.

This needed to be fixed under Urgency because once the mistake was publicly known young offenders who had been convicted using identifying information the Police had stored could have had grounds for appeal.

The Bill that Parliament is currently passing effectively restores the status quo. It reverses a law change that was made by accident, without debate, without select committee scrutiny, and without anyone even knowing it was happening.

The Green Party and the M?ori Party are voting against the Bill currently before Parliament. Some of their arguments are based on process; that Urgency creates bad law and the Bill deserves select committee scrutiny. As I’ve noted above, on balance I don’t accept that in this case and think there is a legitimate case for Urgency.

But some of the arguments being raised in opposition to the Bill raise wider policy issues. I agree that these are legitimate debates, but this is not the appropriate time to raise them (I would also note that when the substance of the law was being debated, neither the Greens nor the M?ori Party felt sufficiently strongly about the issues at the time to even speak about them and that part of the original Bill was passed unanimously).

As I’ve said, I don’t like the use of Urgency to pass laws in a hurry without proper debate and scrutiny. It should only be used in exceptional circumstances. In this instance I think Urgency is warranted.

Electronic voting

Posted by on August 15th, 2011

In my speech on the Electoral Administration Bill last Thursday I said that I thought it was time we had a debate about electronic voting. That sparked quite a lot of feedback via Twitter and Facebook, with No Right Turn and Kiwiblog also posting their opposition and support on their blogs. I thought I’d set out my thoughts in a bit more detail here.

The first thing to clarify is that I don’t think we should rush into this. A move to electronic voting will need to be robustly debated, the pros and cons carefully weighed, and if we do decide to proceed, great care will need to be taken to ensure we avoid the pitfalls experienced in many overseas jurisdictions.

But there are a lot of potential benefits to electronic voting that we can’t ignore. A large percentage of those who are eligible to vote but don’t are young people. Electronic voting is likely to appeal to them quite a lot (the Bill we passed last week allows people to enroll to vote and update their enrollment details online, a very welcome step).

Electronic voting also has the potential to improve participation amongst those with disabilities. Blind people can’t complete a secret ballot under current arrangements, and those less mobile also rely on others to ensure they can do their democratic duty. Those temporarily overseas or out of their electorates may also be more inclined to vote if they could do so online.

The downsides and risks are considerable. If an electronic voting system was used it would need to be auditable and recountable. It’s hard to go past paper ballots on both of those counts. The system would also need to be very simple so that voter intention is clearly respected (ie. your vote goes to the candidate or party you think you’re voting for).

I’m no IT expert, but I do all my banking online, do a lot of shopping online, and interact with most of my friends online. Security has improved remarkably in recent years. I’d be surprised if we couldn’t design a robust, fair and transparent voting system using electronic means. Let’s have the debate. If it improves participation, why wouldn’t we?

Democracy denied by smug Nats

Posted by on August 12th, 2011

Earlier this year Phil Goff and I accepted a petition signed by almost 6,000 Kiwis concerned about the government’s cuts to compensation to those suffering from work-related hearing loss. Thanks to National, people with hearing impairment are the only group of New Zealanders required by law to demonstrate a particular percentage of disability before rehabilitation will be offered under the ACC scheme.

At yesterday’s Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee meeting National members voted en-bloc to report back the petition of Louse Carroll and 5857 others to the House without hearing a single piece of evidence. That’s undemocratic and a slap in the face to all those who sought to have their concerns heard by their House of Representatives.

Having actively discriminated against those with hearing loss, the National government is now turning a deaf ear to their concerns. They aren’t even willing to allow them to come to Parliament and have their say. That’s frankly disgraceful. If almost 6,000 people were willing to take the time to sign a petition to Parliament, the least their elected representatives can do is allow them the courtesy of a hearing.

Transparency around lobbying important

Posted by on June 20th, 2011

I don’t think New Zealand politicians have anything to fear from more open and transparent rules around the activities of lobbyists. The lobbyists I’ve come into contact with in my short time as an MP have been decent people and shouldn’t have anything to fear from a more transparent system either. In fact, the natural suspicion that the secrecy around their current activity arouses would be reduced, potentially leaving them better off in the long run.

I’m pleased the Labour Party has decided to support the Private Members Bill introduced by Sue Kedgley at First Reading, should it be drawn from the ballot. The Bill does two main things. First, it establishes a Register of Lobbyists, to be administered by the Auditor General. Second, it requires the Auditor General to establish a Lobbyist’s Code of Conduct and ensure that it is enforced.

I’ve had a chance to have a quick read through Sue’s Bill and I think it’s a good start, although I’m concerned that it may go wider than necessary. For example, as I read it under the current wording of the Bill, a plumber who makes an appointment to see their local MP to complain that the registration fees imposed by their professional body are too high would technically be deemed to be a lobbyist and therefore be required to register as one or be in breach of the law. I think that’s going a bit far.

New Zealanders are fortunate that we have a form of government that is incredibly open and accessible. Anyone can make an appointment to see their local MP and I’d hate to see any moves to regulate professional lobbyists compromise that. But that’s a question of detail and I’m sure it can be worked through at select committee, should the Bill make it that far. This is certainly a debate worth having.

Lobbyists and Transparency

Posted by on June 4th, 2011

Tracy Watkins has an interesting column in this morning’s Dominion Post about the rise of lobbyists and the lack of rules and transparency around them in the New Zealand political sphere. I agree with a lot of what she writes. Now unlike my friends and colleagues in the Greens, I don’t think a Minister’s decision-making is going to be swayed by a ticket to the rugby and a few sausage rolls, but I am concerned about the increasing number of lobbyists who seem to have unrestricted access to Parliament buildings and the lack of transparency around that.

I’ll be upfront right here and now and say that I’ve been to several sporting events at the invitation of corporate box owners, often joining MPs from other political parties. But I think MPs, and particularly ministers, need to be careful about which invitations they accept. For example, it would be a very bad look for Steven Joyce to be seen in a Telecom corporate box around the time he is making significant decisions on broadband. On the other hand, I can’t see there being any issue with National backbenchers accepting corporate hospitality from government banker Westpac. They’re not going to have any influence over whether the government banking contract is renewed anyway.

I think New Zealand has come a long way in recent years on issues around transparency. Our elected representatives are now subject to a quite stringent declaration of interests process, and some of the loopholes (for example the ‘annonymising’ trusts that Tracy refers to in her column) have actually been closed so that MPs can’t hide where they have their money stashed, unless they truly don’t know where it is themselves (in other words it’s in a blind trust, although I myself remain skeptical about just how ‘blind’ those trusts actually are).

However, I’d also point out that those who report on our activities aren’t subject to any such transparency, and I think that’s an area that we should also look at. I’ve met just as many press gallery journalists in corporate boxes at the Westpac Stadium as I have other MPs. Given they have huge influence over what the public get to know about the decision-making of elected leaders, why shouldn’t the journalists also have to be transparent about that? When journalists receive free travel, which they often do from the airlines, why shouldn’t they have to declare that? (I do acknowledge that many will put a small statement at the end of an article of someone else has paid for their airfares, but they are not obliged to do so by anything other than their own ethical standards).

With the government increasingly using military aircraft to get around the country and around the world, why shouldn’t the journalists who travel with them on those same flights have to be transparent about that? If we as the Opposition were to critiscise a Minister for using an airforce plane rather than a commercial plane, and the journalist covering that critiscism had also been a passenger on said military aircraft, surely their readers are entitled to know that?

I’ve had quite a bit to do with a number of press gallery journalists in my time working in politics and, for the most part, I think they’ve got incredibly high ethical standards. But I think most politicians do as well. If the fourth estate want to argue, as they do, that we can’t rely on a politician’s word and sense of ethics and we do, in fact, need more rigid and transparent rules around personal interests, why shouldn’t the same argument apply to those who report on our activities?

I think this is a really interesting area of discussion, and I congratulate Tracy for bringing it up. I’m looking forward to the phone ringing off the hook over the next 24 hours as her colleagues stampede to report my call of greater transparency on their part. Oh wait…

Crony Watch #2

Posted by on May 27th, 2011

A while back I asked why the NBR doesn’t run it’s ‘Crony Watch’ column anymore. When Labour was in government they were very quick to critiscise when anyone who had any connection to the Labour Party was appointed to any sort of board or committee. Strangely they haven’t been as vocal and vigilant since National came to power, but there are certainly plenty of examples they could be highlighting. For example:

  • John Key’s electorate chairman, Stephen McElrea, has been given a role on a working group selecting proposals for taxpayer-funded political documentaries about health, education, welfare and law and order. He is also the deputy chair of NZ on Air, who get to choose which Kiwi TV shows get taxpayer subsidies.
  • Richard Griffin, former press secretary to the last National government (and often confused for the former PM) has been appointed Chair of the Board of Radio New Zealand.
  • Former National MP and Cabinet Minister Roger Sowry appointed to the Board of the Electricity Authority and to Chair the Councils of two polytechnics.
  • Former National MP and Leader Don Brash appointed to Chair the government’s 2025 taskforce.
  • Unsuccessful National Party candidate, and next on their list, Conway Powell, appointed to the Health Research Council of New Zealand.
  • Alastair Scott, who unsuccessfully tried to roll John Hayes as National candidate in the Wairarapa, was rewarded with a seat on the Crown Health Funding Agency.
  • National’s candidate in Mt Albert, Ravi Musuku, was rewarded with a slot on the Human Rights Review Tribunal after being rolled in favour of Melissa Lee for the by-election.
  • Former National MP Ian McLean appointed to the Lakes District Health Board.
  • Another former National MP Margaret Moir appointed to the Podiatrists’ Board.
  • Yet another former National MP, Clem Simich, appointed to the Residence Review Board.
  • One of the authors of Don Brash’s Orewa speech, Michael Bassett, appointed to the Board of Te Papa.

I don’t think someone should be disqualified from appointment to a role just because they have been, or are, involved with a political party. But those appointments will always be, and should be, subject to greater scrutiny. That scrutiny should be no less just because it is a National government rather than a Labour one.

Campaigning on Election Day

Posted by on May 25th, 2011

For a long time New Zealand has had a very clear rule that prohibits campaigning on Election Day. All the signs have to be down by midnight the night before, no leaflets are allowed in letterboxes, and we’re not allowed to try and influence voters in any way on the day (although we are allowed to remind them it is Election Day and offer them assistance to get to/from the polling booth and so on).

There was an interesting little article in the Listener recently pointing out that during the recent Canadian elections, where the law prevents “premature transmission” of election results, anyone in the east, where polls close earlier, tweeting or facebooking about results, before the polls have closed in the west, is technically breaking the law and is liable to a $25,000 fine.

That lead me to wonder how enforceable our current laws prohibiting campaigning on election day are in the information age. Technically an ordinary member of the public tweeting on the day “I’ve just gone and voted to get rid of that idiot xxx” or “It’s Election Day. Get out there and vote for our future and vote xxx” is breaking the law. What about if someone comments on an MP or candidates Facebook page with something like “Good luck, hope everyone gets out there and votes for you”?

I like the fact that people are left alone on Election Day to vote at their leisure. I’d hate to see a situation where political parties were lined up along the streets on the day touting for votes. But I do wonder whether we need to re-think how we deal with online and social media. So what do you think? Are our laws out of date? How could they be changed?

Are the Nats dodging the OIA?

Posted by on May 22nd, 2011

The Official Information Act is a really important part of our constitutional framework. Passed back in 1981, it turned the old approach on its head. Before then, information was kept secret unless there was good reason to release it. Now State information is publicly released unless there is good reason to withhold it.

Government departments and agencies have pretty good processes for dealing with requests for official information. An important part of that is making sure information generated is captured and stored in the first place.

The world has changed a lot since the Official Information Act (OIA) was passed in 1981, one of the most notable changes being the emergence of email as a significiant means of information sharing and communication. The public service has adapted and information transmitted via email is captured and released under the OIA when requested.

Recently I was told that some staff working in National ministers’ offices have been setting up Gmail accounts in order to get around the OIA and to ensure that their communications aren’t captured. If they are transmitting ‘official’ information through Gmail and aren’t releasing it when asked, they are breaking the law.

I asked John Key whether he had a policy on the use by staff of Gmail. He is the Minister Responsible for Ministerial Services, so if staff working in the Beehive are breaking the law then the buck stops with him. He answered my question stating “The question the member asks relates to staffing matters which are the responsibility of the Chief Executive.”

Frankly, that’s just not good enough. John Key has a responsibility to ensure that the staff working in the Beehive are complying with the law and aren’t hiding official information. If they are using Gmail accounts to get around the OIA, John Key needs to crack down on that ASAP. Failure to do so suggests they have something to hide.

What were the other 3 trips?

Posted by on April 24th, 2011

John Key would have us believe that his jaunts on military planes and helicopters aren’t among the ‘nice to haves’ that Bill English says we’ll all have to learn to live without, but are essential to his ability to carry out his duties as Prime Minister. If that’s the case, then he won’t have any problem issuing a full list detailing his use of airforce planes and helicopters, including the important matters of state that he was attending to that justified their use.

Stuff reported last week that Key has used the helicopter four times in the past 3 weeks alone, including the now infamous trip from the V8 supercars to the golf club. So what were the other three trips? Looking on Key’s Facebook page, the possibilities are endless. Did he use Airforce helicopters to visit the Timaru skateboard park? Perhaps he used them to make a ‘cameo appearance’ at the NZ Shearing Champs in Te Kuiti?

The PM and other Ministers should be able to use the airforce where it is necessary to carry out their official duties. But there is a pretty clear distinction between attending to official matters of state and using them to jet between photo-ops that are clearly little more than campaigning.

Every quarter Parliament and Ministerial Services issue a breakdown of spending on air travel by MPs and Ministers, but those figures don’t include the use of military aircraft. That’s an anomaly that needs to be fixed. As a general rule, I believe that use of military planes and helicopters by VIPs should be disclosed and the public should be able to judge whether the matters that they were attending to justified their use.

Meantime John Key and his Cabinet should start practicing what they preach and stop splashing taxpayer cash on photo-ops for the PM. At the last election John Key chartered a plane so that he could flit from one photo-op to the next. He should stick to that approach rather than suck military resources into his campaign machinery.

A different Question Time format?

Posted by on April 16th, 2011

I recently had the opportunity to visit the European Parliament (not at the Kiwi taxpayers expense) and witnessed President’s Question Time. It’s very different to what we are used to back home. Each questioner is given 30 seconds to ask their ‘question’, which typically amounts to a statement with a short question at the end. The President then has 30 seconds to respond. The questioner then usually got 1 further supplementary.

The first half hour of question time roamed freely, whereas the second half was devoted to a particular topic, in this case the nuclear situation in Japan. It was a very civilized affair, with no interjections or interruptions (that in part can be attributed to the multitude of languages being used and the need for simultaneous translation). The Speaker played no role other than calling questioners.

My general sense was that the quality of the debate was higher than in a typical NZ parliamentary question time. I wonder how some of our PMs and Ministers would cope with an hour of intense scrutiny like that? It would certainly highlight pretty quickly who is on top of the details of their portfolios and who isn’t. Something worth thinking about?

What happened to crony watch?

Posted by on April 8th, 2011

When Labour was in government the NBR used to have a regular column called ‘Crony Watch’ where they would chronicle any government appointments that had any sort of political connection. Strangely, since National came go power it seems to have disappeared.

I’m wondering whether this is because they don’t feel that the National Party appointing their own activists and funders to taxpayer funded Roles is cronyism, or is it just that there are now so many of them they don’t have room?

I’m not opposed to political appointments based on merit, you shouldn’t be disqualified from public service just because you happen to have history with one party or another. I supported Labour’s decision to appoint Jim Bolger to head NZ Post and I support National’s decision to replace him with Michael Cullen.

But National’s appointments should get the same level of scrutiny as Labour’s appointments. Are we getting value for money from Don Brash’s task force given the govt reject his recommendations before they even read them? (mind you, Key doesn’t seem to be a particularly big reader of important documents).

Will ACT Party candidate Graham Scott add value to the Productivity Commission. Is Jenny Shipley the best person go head one of our largest energy companies? Should Steven Joyce have given massive taxpayer loans to a company he used to own that operates in direct competition with a government owned enterprise?

Is it a good thing that Murray McCully has decided to abandon past practice and hand-pick appointees for overseas diplomatic roles? Will that lead to cronyism? Given McCully has just appointed a sitting National MP to what should be an independent role, it’s fair to ask.

These are all legitimate questions that the media would have been asking Labour in the same circumstances. It’s a shame different standards seem to apply when the Tories are in charge.

In defence of democracy

Posted by on December 9th, 2010

Last night Parliament took away the right to vote from a group of New Zealanders. They are a group of people you might not have much time for, those serving prison sentences of three years or less. Some of them will have done some awful things, some of them will have done a large number of minor things, some of them might well be innocent. All of them will return to our communities one day.

I can understand that there will be many people who will say, ‘good job’, and many who did not realise that there were any prisoners who could vote. But I believe that Parliament taking away their right to vote (actually their right to be on the electoral roll) on the basis of a poorly thought out private members bill, passed by a narrow margain is in my view one of the most shameful things I have witnessed in this Parliament.

There is not much that is more fundamental in a democracy than the right to vote, and it was whisked away last night with barely a justification from the government. A government who that very day had announced a constitutional review that had at its heart the need to only make changes to electoral law if there is a good reason and if there is a consensus.

To me accepting the right to vote for people who challenge our values is one of the greatest tests of being truly committed to democracy. Eliminating that right for some people we consider not worthy, as glibly as was done by the government, is to me an assault on democratic values. As the Bill of Rights Act assessment on this bill notes overriding that right to vote (which itself is part of the Act) requires a high test to be passed. That has not happened here.

Beyond that, the Bill is a cruel hoax on the victims of crime and their families. Not one piece of evidence was provided to show that passing this Bill would stop crimes, or reduce re-offending. It will not make New Zealand a safer place. It will not help rehabilitation or re-integration into society. It creates massive inconsistencies (e.g. people convicted of the same crime, one on home detention, the other in prison will have different rights) and it nearly, accidentally, gave the right to vote to the most serious offenders through a drafting error, until Prof Andrew Geddis, pointed out the mistake.

I try not to lose my temper, in Parliament or in life. But last night I was close to it. (My speech is here) Parliament took away a fundamental right from a group of New Zealanders with barely a word in justification, without a word from the Justice Minister or the Attorney General in the debate. The majority was provided by the ACT Party who gave us a 48 second contribution. Democracy, and those who have fought for it here and overseas, deserve better than that.

Does Parliament need to slow down?

Posted by on November 13th, 2010

In this morning’s Dominion Post there is an interview with Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former PM and undoubtedly our most distinguished (local) constitutional expert. He has expressed some concern about some of the laws Parliament has passed recently and the use of parliamentary ‘Urgency’ to do so, and I tend to agree.

New Zealand’s legislative system is very simple by international standards. We only have one chamber, so once a Bill is passed by Parliament, it’s usually law within a matter of days. In other countries, there are ‘second thought’ processes where the law is considered by an upper house, such as the House of Lords in the UK or the Senate in the US. There can also be a ‘veto’ power, for example in the US where the President, elected separately from the legislature, can reject a law. In New Zealand, while the Governor General technically has that power, it has never been used and in the event that it was, the mandate to do so would be dubious at best.

In our system, the government of the day commands a majority in the House (by definition) so it can do pretty much whatever it wants. In the past few months we’ve seen two examples of laws passed through all their stages in a single sitting, the Canterbury Earthquake legislation (supported by all parties) and changes to employment laws (only supported by the governing parties). I strongly believe both of those laws could have been improved had they been through a Select Committee process in which the public and subject matter experts were given the opportunity to have input.

I don’t think we need to go to the trouble and expense of establishing another level within the legislature, but I do think we could put a few more checks and balances on the system we currently have. For example, we could establish some clear criteria the government would need to meet before they could push a Bill through all its stages under Urgency. We could also have a mandatory review process for urgent laws, for example by adding a sunset clause that would come into effect unless a Select Committee reviewed the new law and recommended it be endorsed (or endorsed with amendment).

I’m also concerned that the significance of the parliamentary legislature is being undermined by a procession of laws that give much greater power to the Executive. The Canterbury Earthquake law and the Rugby World Cup Empowering Bill are just two examples. I wonder how our constitutional framework could be improved to avoid this leeching of power to the Executive?

Ultimately the greatest check on the government’s power comes every three years in the form of a General Election. I personally think three years isn’t a long enough term for effective governance (that’s a whole different issue) but before we could even think about a longer term, we’d need to make sure that safeguards against the abuse of power were significantly strengthened. Parliament has a vital role to play in keeping the government honest and ensuring that democracy is well served. I’m not convinced we’re doing that as best we could.

After a time of wonder……

Posted by on August 28th, 2010

I’ve had a bit of a break from Red Alert recently but am keen to get back into it. Have just got home from being at the OpenLabourNZ do in Wellington this afternoon. Big ups to Clare Curran for pushing us along this path. Excellent conversation.

I have always been a fan of greater democracy and openness and the improved ability of more people to participate in decisions which affect them. Sometimes I’ve been made to feel like like Ms Naive when raising these issues in the Labour Party.  Like I don’t really know how politics works…..But I am still wedded to the principles of transparency and openness and accountability.  They are the principles on which we need to base our democracy. People won’t engage if they can’t.

Technology (as well as Clare Curran) is compelling us along this path and I welcome it. I’m pleased David Farrar was there – he has intelligent things to say about processes and access to information. I’m sorry he will be treated by a leper by his erstwhile right wing cobbers but there you go.  His choice. If the Labour Party can’t get with the democratising programme, we deserve to be left behind.

I like that we have an Official Information Act – how else would we have known that the Nats acted against official advice when they chose to extend the fire at will legislation to ALL NZ workplaces? So now we know that they chose that option a) out of  ideology (as good a reason as any); b) to make the imploding ACT party feel better; or c) to please their wealthy mates. We can now choose which of those options we believe and vote accordingly.

Bring on more of it.