Archive for the ‘government’ Category

So, we now have a government in principle1, with New Zealand First choosing to enter minority coalition with Labour, supported by the Greens. Peters has said he understands that the deal offered to the Greens is a confidence and supply agreement, and the numbers I’ve heard are 4 ministers inside cabinet for NZ First, a parliamentary under-secretary2, and 3 ministers and an under-secretary for the Greens. The leadership team will likely be Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister and Winston Peters as Deputy Prime Minister, although he hasn’t yet confirmed that role.

The TV news is making a big deal that National was the plurality winner, and for the first time isn’t part of the governing arrangement despite that. Our government has always had a constitutional requirement that only needed a majority of seats in the House to secure the treasury benches and the premiership, and that’s what the new Labour-New Zealand First coalition looks to have secured. This is really no big deal, and given that we have recently re-endorsed MMP, people will simply have to get used to the idea that any group of parties that gets over 50% gets to be the government, as it’s not going to change any time soon. I do expect there are some that will take some time to get used to the idea, but it might as well be now, because I expect it to happen again a few times before FPP thinking dies off.

New Zealand First are likely to be looking at areas like regional development, housing, primary industries, immigration, and education in terms of their policy areas of interest.

The Greens are currently holding a Special General Meeting online (better for the environment, more convenient for delegates) to vote on whether they will accept the deal negotiated with Labour, (the various branches having already had discussions on what sorts of agreements we favour, and then instructed their delegates) however the worst likely option is that they might ask for some adjustments before approving the deal3, if they don’t simply approve it outright. The party will seek a full consensus if possible, rather than resorting to the 75% vote that is the minimum requirement to pass a deal, because that’s an important part of party culture. They have officially confirmed to members via email that they are discussing the deal right now, and Jacinda has committed to not interrupting that process.

The offer from Labour, according to Winston, is likely to be a confidence and supply agreement, and this has now been confirmed by James Shaw, who says this is an ideal level of seperation and involvement for the Greens’ first time in government and given the election result. What does that arrangement mean for the Greens?

Well, firstly, it’s approve confidence and supply, or let National govern. Abstaining would give National a majority of one in terms of the remaining votes and thus afford them the support of the house, and Winston appears to have made locking the Greens out of coalition part of its deal, so it’s the only realistic option. There is a valid option to walk away from an agreement and just let National govern if the Greens feel that Labour is abusing their position, so the commentary by some in the media that the Greens have “nowhere else to go” is just wrong, they simply don’t want to go with their other option if they can avoid it. Besides, Labour will want to have the Greens on-side in case there is an option to ditch New Zealand First in three years time.

Secondly, it means more flexibility to criticize and question the government, exempting them from collective responsibility for cabinet decisions, which New Zealand First won’t have, while still giving them access to ministerial positions that can be left out of cabinet, which might include responsibilities like Minister for the Environment, for Climate Change, for Social Development, or for Transport. The ministers appointed outside cabinet would still have ministerial responsibility, so the Greens will need to be careful about which areas they accept ministerial portfolios in, as they will technically be responsible for not just all government policy in that area, but also the operation of those ministries, so they will ideally want any ministers be appointed in areas where they’ve achieved siginificant policy gains or policy alignment with Labour in terms of which ministries they take up. The Greens apparently know which portfolios they have been offered, but are waiting for Labour to announce their entire cabinet before they confirm them.

It’s likely to also include policy concessions, although perhaps not as much as going into full coalition, as that extra independence from the new government will have to come at a price.

This arrangement is not the same thing as the previous arrangements that the Greens have had in the last term of the Clark government or after they crossed the floor over the GE issue, as they will actively be supporting the new government, and in that case they were actually completely on the cross benches. It will be more akin to the relationship between the National Party and the Māori Party last term, but with a stronger junior partner who will be needed to pass any legislation that National doesn’t agree with Labour on. (This also means that Green ministers would be in a similar position to what the previous Māori Party minister was, where they would be asked questions in the House during Question Time, but they would be in a more powerful position where Labour couldn’t sideline them by going to other parties for votes very often, as their only option is getting National onside)

It’s worth noting that although technically parties with a Confidence and Supply agreement are not part of the government proper, even though their ministers are considered part, so if one of the co-leaders is not given a Ministry, they’d be in a position to be openly critical of government policy, and the other could still hold the government to account on areas not related to their portfolio. Of course, reporters or the public never made that distinction in the past, so it’s relevant to see whether they can be convinced that there is a difference between C&S and coalition this time.

A lot of party members have argued that staying at arms-length of a government that needs New Zealand First’s support to sideline the National Party and ACT is probably a good idea, and to be honest I can’t quite disagree. The Greens will likely be transparent about whose idea confidence and supply was is that is indeed the nature of the offer they got, and will be careful not to ruffle feathers while doing so.

While this may not be the ideal government all of us wanted, it will also prevent an almost-unprecedented four-term National government and relieve the pressure on people who are reliant on the state for support, or medical care, or education, and who have been suffering under an under-funded public sector.

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I’d like to share for you a scene from my head:

She takes a long drink of water. It’s been a hard day of negotiating.
“So, we think we know what he’s after. Do you?”

He replies. “Yes, we’ve got it about sussed.”

Shaw joins the conversation: “So, let’s get serious now. Which of us is it going to be?”

And then the bidding starts:

“We’ll be quiet about roads for six years if you do it,” says English.

Ardern counters with: “Oh yeah? We won’t put the boot in about Canterbury if you take him.”

Shaw issues a gentle reminder. “Well, if both sides fail to do a deal and he abstains, you’re kinda stuck being a minority government, Bill.”

English stares him down and says: “Okay, so we concede to him we’ll cancel the tax cuts and spend it on some of his priorities and health, and I won’t say it was your idea. Let’s hope we don’t see each other again in three years.”

…This is how I imagine things going next week at the moment in my head, but of course, in reality National wants their first turn at four terms, and Labour would like to dethrone English before he can pick up any momentum, even if it means a three-way deal with two significant junior partners. And there are people, like those Metiria talked about, who can’t afford another three years of this government.

But it’s definitely not fun being stuck in a position where the three adults around the table are forced to trade favours with a nationalist. There is a real possibility that he’ll drag down a National government with him, and that he’ll manage to arrest the momentum Labour has been enjoying and lock them out from developing a stronger negotiating position in three years if he successfully steals the spotlight enough.

Now is a time for at least our side to be fair but tough. If National wants to sell the country to get Winston, let them over-bargain and have their government suffer for it, then beat them in three years. Having the Greens at the table, rather than waiting to be called by Labour like the Alliance was, would be Ardern’s smartest move. Clark’s negotiations in ’96 suffered badly for her not being able to promise that the Alliance would accept a deal without modicifation, when they should have been at the table to tell both parties themselves. There are certainly sticking points. NZF won’t want to move on environmental rules that impact farmers too harshly. The Greens won’t want to move on immigration. And Labour will be reluctant to be as radical on the economy as both the Greens and New Zealand First would like.

Let’s not even entertain the notion, that some National supporters who seem content to spend plenty of time talking on social media but have made no discernable progress in moving the politics of their own party, have put forward that it is somehow obligatory for the Greens and National to at least try to work together. We can talk if National changes its tune, but right now there’s no credibility and no trust between the two movements. That there is more room with New Zealand First, who our leaders had to remind everyone in the media is in fact a party that engages in racism, is saying something.

The reason the two parties won’t work together is because the Greens will compromise on practical matters, but not their values, and the Nats will compromise their values, but not oppose their donors, who don’t like Green ideas, and aren’t so sure about green ideas, either. If bluegreens are really so desperate to get a coalition, all 6,500 of them, they should be working on making National greener first before asking. This is because their economic policies are fundamentally opposed to the Greens’ philosophy, so it would take stronger environmental concessions to make them competitive with Labour, which they have not made, and show no indications of considering. Most of National’s environmental policy is little more than a green-wash marketing gimmick, and the Greens can’t even get behind Labour’s greenwash attempts.

I expect we’re in for a wild ride, but who’s heading down the stream and who’s waiting behind safely onshore on this one is anyone’s guess at this stage. I am currently of the tentative view that the ride is not sufficiently safe for the left to jump in enthusiastically, but it looks like they’re at least toeing the water. All we know is that Winston, surprisingly reasonably1, schooled the media that we do in fact have an MMP system now, not an FPP one, and that they should perhaps have covered his party a bit more before the election rather than playing catchup, which is half-reasonable if you forget that the reason we didn’t see Winston until afterwards is because he refused to show to debates that didn’t feature Ardern and English. (In reality, we should probably have four “tiers” of debates: all-party debates where it’s acceptable to send deputies or senior MPs, smaller-party debates where only over-threshold parties should do the same, list-party debates where Greens, NZF, Labour and National all get together, and Leaders’ Debates which we got far TOO many of this time around.)

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So, TVNZ has feverishly reported both that there is a highly unusual emergency meeting being called of the Queen’s staff, and that a representative has told them that “they can safely assume the Queen and Prince Phillip are not dead.” I won’t mock them for reporting that the queen isn’t dead, because it would be irresponsible reporting not to have sought assurance that she wasn’t when reporting about an emergency meeting with an undisclosed purpose.

I am somewhat amused at the generation gap that the New Zealand media still think the Queen is marginally relevant to life in the south pacific. If she dies, we replace her with another figurehead that literally doesn’t do anything important except sign off on the documents when we need to replace a Governor General. It will be sad if she dies, of course, because she is a human being even if I have no real emotional connection to her myself, and it will be newsworthy, because she is a foreign head of state.

But in de facto terms, she is not our head of state, all those functions have been delegated to the Governor General, and they don’t get picked up even during royal visits. In child custody terms, we’ve been all-but-adopted by the Governor General. She is a mere legal fiction to New Zealand, so the appropriate time to cover this sort of story is really when something has actually happened. If she is getting sick or deciding to abdicate powers in favour of her descendents, the only real effect this will have on us under the current arrangement is that we will be obliged to observe some official mourning customs and possibly change the title from “Queen” to “King” on a lot of our official government stuff, and we don’t need to breathlessly preempt that story online simply because of TVNZ has a large audience of baby boomer monarchists. Most of them probably don’t check your website, TVNZ, save it for the 6pm news.

If the meeting is not about a turn in the Queen’s health or a plan to step aside, then it is still timely for New Zealand to consider if we still want to be a monarchy after the Queen dies. A lot of the reason for public support for monarchy is that people like Queen Elizabeth II specifically, rather than the institution of monarchy in general, and there’s a good argument that we should have a plan for what we want to do on her death, even if it’s simply “enact mourning arrangements in the media and with flags, and switch up our letterheads, signs, and coins.”

And if public opinion or the resolve of our leaders is shifting towards republicanism like polls suggested around the time of the flag referendum, (I say shifting towards, not that it has a majority yet) then we need to start the conversation now about what our constitutional arrangements should look like if we really want the transition to a new monarch to be the point at which we become a republic, because rushing into that process half-blind is not a good idea.

Take a moment, go view this video, specifically but not exclusively the supplementary questions by Jan Logie, (about 5:35) then come back to this post so you have the background you’ll need.

Done? Thanks. The Ministry of Social Development has made an outrageous decision to hold NGO funding hostage to big data collection. The level of data collection they want might not be a problem for certain NGOs, especially were to compromise and allow an opt-in basis, such as say, ones offering immunisations. But prominent organisations like NZAC1 have expressed that handing over the requested data is a breach of confidentiality and in their view unethical, and Rape Crisis have announced they will boycott government funding if they’re made to disclose any additional data. For context, rape crisis centres are constantly struggling to recieve enough community funding to provide the services they need to even with the government’s help, so this should reinforce that they view this mandatory data-sharing as an existential threat.

As someone who has done data analysis in their work, (I did it even though it wasn’t in my job description, in fact) and who even does it in my spare time to settle matters of debate, I absolutely understand the value of this data to the government, especially in targeting their social assistance dollars more effectively. (because money should be prioritised to places where we can prove it’s effective, for sure) I understand the challenges of incomplete data sets. I also understand the challenges of people misinterpreting what data they need to provide. I will even grant that the people in the government who initially requested this data will want it for nothing other than researching what the most effective types of social spending are, and that they fully intend to be ethical caretakers of people’s private information, and to store it securely.

But none of that makes it a good idea to hold hostage NGO funding to big data. Firstly, there is the obvious issue that services involving counselling or survivors of abusive behaviour absolutely, critically need to be able to provide services on a condition of strict confidentially or even complete anonymity in some cases in order to be able to help people in our society that need it the most.

Not only is it tying the hands of counsellours or volunteers to require them to explain that clients’ data is confidential and private even though it will be provided to MSD, (in addition to being flat out inaccurate- the strict interpretation of confidentiality held to by most such services requires that records be only held in one place, be secured using physical lock-and-key for paper records and encryption for digital ones, and not be shared with anyone else outside of anonymous use in ethical review or in the event that a client is a risk to their own or someone else’s safety) people who have been raped will have difficulty filling out a form identifying themselves when they’re seeking help because they may not be ready to admit what they experienced is real, and writing something down can “make it real.” Jan Logie’s example of men who won’t even give their names is not only accurate but typical of many people seeking support, and not just men. Anyone who accepts this contract is going to be committing to turning away people unable to accept anything less than the strictest confidentiality, or worse, they’re going to entrap themselves into breaching the contract in order to help people.

What adds insult upon insult to this issue, (we’re well past the initial injury if these contracts aren’t amended for services that require confidentiality) is that the government has an expert panel2 helping guide its data strategy that has recommended against precisely this type of mandatory collection in their report3, calling for at least an easily accessible opt-out procedure for all big data collection by Government agencies, so even the proponents of big data don’t want the government to take this approach. Literally the best defense that can be made is that the government is legally allowed to insist that its data collection is more important than anonymity.

If the government wants more data from these services, the most they should reasonably do is require that clients be allowed to opt in to data collection if they’re comfortable with the idea. This allows those receptive to provide a limited data set for analysis, or to ask the questions the government are so keen for their NGO partners to explain, and those not amenable to the idea to dismiss it and still access life-saving services that most likely are incredibly effective uses of funding. If the government can concede that paid leave to deal with the aftermath of domestic violence is effective, they can certainly concede that funding services like Rape Crisis shouldn’t be contingent on mandatory data sharing.

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…a national budget.

It’s a frequent meme of right-wing economics1 that the reason we must cut costs for social services is because we must treat our national finances like our household finances, and Responsibly Pay Off our debts.

This is of course complete garbage. Not only is the specific analogy flawed, really, the only thing the two concepts even hold in common is that they’re both budgets.

Let’s try the metaphor in reverse to see how well it works. Say I treated my household’s budget like a national budget. I live with three other people, and none of us have joint finances. Firstly, if I could act like this were a national budget, I would be visiting the neighbours and using my good credit record to borrow a bunch of money, and there’d be nothing other than the pressure from my neighbours to compel me to ever pay it back, and not only that, if I borrowed enough cash from them, (a commonplace occurrence in national budgets) I would have a sort of perverse control over them where they could be bullied into doing things that are in my best interests even though they don’t want to, like say, letting me put some sort of experimental composting system in their backyard.

And of course, if my household budget were like a national budget, I would be under no compulsion to spend money on what it’s actually intended for- the US is most famous for this trick, robbing its social security fund to pay for deficit spending and then turning around to complain that the fund doesn’t have the cash it needs to actually pay people benefits they’ve earned, because they’ve stuffed the piggybank full of IOUs. That would be like me taking all the power money my flatmates pool with me and blowing it on smashed avocado toast or 26 lattes a day, and whatever else millenials are supposed to spend money on irresponsibly.

So, you’re beginning to see some of the holes, right?

The other interesting thing is that ironically, national debts are actually a lot more like the notion of a “gift economy” than they are like the notion of modern consumer debt that you’re chased down if you can’t pay back. In a gift economy, it’s difficult to truly quantify how much a favour is worth, because nobody uses currency. So you and your neighbours keep doing each other favours backwards and forwards, and often nobody’s sure of who’s ahead and behind, but suddenly everyone’s success is tied together and you’ve formed a community. In foreign relations, some deals work a lot like the gift economy. This isn’t exactly the case with sovereign debt, but there is the similar effect I described earlier, where a foreign nation who has bought up a lot of your debt can become a de-facto economic ally because they are dependent on your ability to service that debt. China currently has that type of relationship to the USA.

Now, is it important to pay off our debts? Yes and no. It’s important that internationally, everyone try to even out their budgets so they’re not heavily in debt and they’re not heavily in surplus, both of which create inefficiencies and inequalities in our increasingly interconnected financial system. (Keynes proposed a system to solve a problem similar to this with the balance of trade, called the International Clearing Union, and it’s kinda surprising the concept was never extended to national debt and sovereign wealth)

But it actually doesn’t precisely matter if we go into deficit or debt from time to time, so long as we have sound fiscal management that can get us out of debt from time to time, and no government gets us into so much debt that the interest payments become burdensome. In fact, completely counter-intuitively, it’s actually good for the economy during a recession for the government to be running a deficit, if it’s doing so to buy a lot of goods or services from its own economy, or to directly employ a lot of people who didn’t have jobs. Why? Because sometimes the economy slows down too much due to events in the private sector. During those times, the best thing the government can do is actually step in to employ people, to pay their expenses while they re-train, or to contract a lot of goods it might need later. These programs are very effecient during a recession, because the money is highly likely to be recirculated multiple times, heating the economy back up from a cold start.

In contrast, when the economy is already doing well, it makes a lot of sense to start being efficient with government spending, to cut back on programs that may be wasteful or no longer needed, and to reign in the stimulus to the economy of government spending, and to use that freed-up tax revenue to pay down debt, or even put a little sovereign wealth aside for a rainy day in the future. Why? Because often you can overheat the economy, causing it to sell goods or services that aren’t really needed, and to cause a huge over-correction when the realisation hits the market that all the economic activity was overvalued. (like the dotcom crash when people thought practically any website would be raking in money hand over fist… until actually they discovered they weren’t) By pulling on the reigns, the government can often prolong a period of growth, and save on a lot of inefficiencies in constantly expanding and closing businesses that is caused when the economy frequently goes into boom and into recession. There’s more to cover on this, but it belongs in the notes2.

Household budgets have no similar social incentive to go into debt or to make savings at any particular time based on market conditions. It’s all about what provides the most utility for the household. (ie. do we invest in a car so we can move items and people around more efficiently, or do we save that money to maybe afford a property for our grandkids assuming we can save at more than the inflation rate of house prices?)

Like people who complain about things being a “slap in the face” deserve at least one face-slap to provide comparative context of why their statement is wrong, people who claim a national budget is like a household budget should really try to modulate the speed of the economy by going into debt during a recession and see how that bloody works out for them.

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Tax the wealthy

Posted: January 19, 2017 in government, New Zealand, poverty
Tags: , ,

Idiot/Savant over at NRT has recently supported re-instituting wealth taxes, specifically in response to news about Oxfam’s wealth research, that there is vast wealth inequality in New Zealand. (which ironically, is not actually news- this trend to greater wealth inequality is a long-standing problem, even if it’s not yet as bad here as it is in say, the US, which is a virtual oligarchy for the wealthy)

Steven Joyce is frankly completely in error if he thinks nobody resents this level of inequality. It’s not appropriate, and there needs to be better measures in place to lift up the rest of society if we’re going to continue maintaining our pseudo-capitalist neoliberal/social democratic hybrid society,1 and some of that can be reasonably paid for with wealth taxes.

Some of this issue is down to corporate tax dodging, sure. But it’s worth looking at taxes on individual wealth too, as taxes on individual wealth are supposed to be high enough that the wealthy (which I generally define as people who rely on wealth for a significant portion of their income) are actually incentivised to invest money they don’t intend to actively spend soon in companies, so that it’s being productive for ordinary people.

I/S is quite correct that land taxes2 would be one desirable type of wealth tax we should consider, especially if some of that money is redirected into funding social housing, subsidising services for renters or even directly subsidising affordable rental properties, so as to offset likely increases in market rents from such a tax. This would have the effect of gradually pushing the least profitable (and hopefully therefore some of the worst) landlords out of the market, discouraging land banking, discouraging “housing investments” that aren’t lived in, and adding further incentive to have rentals occupied beyond offsetting maintenance, rates, and the opportunity cost of housing investments. Arguably people pay a “land tax” in the form of rates, but that’s more a building-value-based costing of local service provision than it is an actual wealth tax, although of course there will certainly be landlords that argue that paying rates on an empty property already incentives them to keep it full.That said, this isn’t exactly a radical idea. In fact, John Key was reportedly even mulling over the idea early last year.

Another thing worth considering is that there’s no inheritance tax in New Zealand. Why not? If you’ve got a large enough collection of property to actually merit the name of an “estate,” (ie. well over a million dollars worth) maybe your heir(s) should pay some tax on it if they want to collect, or forfeit part of it to the state if they don’t pay. That’s not unreasonable. And the law can be designed to allow reasonable exemptions for family farms that might trigger such a tax due to large land areas so that farms don’t have to be sold or part-sold to large or overseas commercial interests when their owners pass, so long as those farms remain closely-held family enterprises for a reasonable period of time.

Capital gains taxes and financial transaction taxes also fall into this area, although if we were to institute other wealth taxes, we might not need a CGT.

Wealth is almost3 completely untaxed in New Zealand, and that’s not actually right. If we have to put up with GST that unfairly overtaxes the poor, and PAYE that targets labour for tax, the wealthy can at least pay a Capital Gains Tax, if not several more different types of taxes because they can afford it. If they want to pull an Atlas Shrugged and all go off and live in tax havens, fine by me, we can just nationalise any assets they own here in retaliation if it ever becomes a legitimate problem4.

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So I remarked yesterday on a couple weird things going on in Labour’s reshuffle. This has been completely blown out of the water by National’s hilarious reshuffle announcement this afternoon. For those wanting a comparable diagram to Labour’s, you need to go to twitter for it. (actually, I’m sure it will be available elsewhere, but having found it on twitter already there is no way I am wading through publicity pieces on the Nats’ website to check. I did confirm that neither Scoop nor the major digital media players were bothering to post it, however)

Worth noting is the announcement that Parata is retaining education until May 1, at which point she will retire to the back benches. As this implies a plan to continue sittings of parliament at least into May, this likely rules out an early election, and puts the election timing anywhere between 1st July and 18th November 2017. This also implicitly rules in a by-election in Mount Albert, which the government had been hinting at anyway. Given the relatively low stakes in a final by-election for this term, Labour should consider sticking purely for people power for this one to preserve their campaign warchest for the General Election. It will be a good test, either for Jacinda, or whoever she ends up competing with for selection.

Highlights of the new cabinet:

  • Wanting to one-up Michael Woods as Ethnic Communities spokesperson, Judith Collins is now the Minister for Ethnic Communities. Not only is it a white person, it’s also Judith Collins, perhaps the most odious (in both senses of the word) conservative in National’s lineup. This is a ministerial position practically designed for a liberal, so Collins makes no sense in any way shape or form in this role in terms of competencies or political philosophy, although as you’ll see one point down, it actually makes a certain amount of sense in terms of internal National Party politics, as Bill is essentially trying to undermine Collins with her own base by putting her in the position of either acting like a liberal to succeed, or acting like a conservative and failing at her portfolio. Bill’s approach to Collins is a lot less conciliatory than Key’s was thus far, immediately demoting her after ascending to the leadership, and I’m not certain whether that’s a good strategy for him- it probably depends on whether Joyce can credibly step in and take over the more conservative wing of the party now that he is #3. Collins also has Revenue and Energy, which are actually both important portfolios, but are usually awarded to people who need to be seen as important but aren’t actually valued in government. On the plus side, with Collins in charge of IRD, perhaps she’ll crush some corporate tax dodgers instead of cars. Yeah right. =/
  • The Deputy PM is now minister for Women. (which, honestly, is an appropriate importance to place on the portfolio that literally impacts just over half the population- it should ideally be someone within the inner circle holding that role at the least) She also picks up Key’s Tourism portfolio and grabs Police off Collins. Other than Police, this all makes sense to me in terms of her position as deputy and her strengths as National’s top liberal, but I expect the reason Police is thrown into the mix is that the portfolio is red meat to National’s base and giving it to the Deputy makes it seem like they’re a Law and Order party, and also pinches credit for that particular fact away from the most conservative member. It probably doesn’t signal much of a change in approach on the issues, however. So we’re taking a bit of a turn to a more conservative direction under English, for sure. As usual, I expect a lot of playing defense and publicity and very little substantively achieved under Bennet’s leadership of these ministries that actually owes anything to Bennet.
  • As expected, we get the pleasure of seeing Joyce vs Robertson for future Finance debates. Urgh.
  • The would-be deputy Simon Bridges is essentially moved up into #5 position, making him effectively Ardern’s opposite, which is highly appropriate as they’re both essentially deputies-in-training now. It’s almost uncanny in fact, as they’re both over-ranked for their competence, although Ardern to a lesser degree than Bridges, as she at least is suited to her portfolios, if not her numerical position in the Shadow Cabinet. Bridges has yet to give an acceptable answer to a question in Parliament, although I think to be frank that is seen as a qualifying factor in National’s lineup. There are subtle echoes here of Clare Curran’s entrance into Shadow Cabinet, as this is another promotion that makes no sense when evaluating Bridges’ actual competence as a Minister. Unlike Curran, however, the explanation is readily apparent: Bridges has networks and sway with a lot of backbenchers, and his promotion into the informal inner circle of the “kitchen cabinet” will satisfy them that their concerns are being listened to, and like Nash, his promotion is to mollify his ambitions .
  • Amy Adams is moved into the #6 position, taking up portfolios that basically make her the new Paula Bennet, however this puts her in the same cabinet ranking as Chris Hipkins would occupy if the government changes in 2017. (Assuming, that is, any Green members inside cabinet are unranked or at least ranked separately to Labour ones) This is a sensible promotion and I think Adams deserves a chance to succeed in her social and justice portfolios, not that I’m going to be any less cynical about the likelihood of the government doing good work in those areas.
  • Nick Smith isn’t demoted. There are significant calls for this, but honestly he is probably doing more than you would normally expect a housing minister under National to do. Although the situation is unacceptable, National have largely managed to stall it getting much worse, so they’ve actually done “better” on housing than the previous Labour government, which actually did cause the problem, but it was one they did need to cause to solve the economic problems they were dealing with at the time, so it’s not really much a of a dodge for National to blame this problem on Labour- they’ve had eight long years to solve it, and all they’ve managed to do is arrest the growth of the crisis. There’s certainly an argument that housing needs to be moved away from Nick Smith, but to be honest I don’t see any better outcomes under National if someone else is put in charge. Whether you like his priorities or not, at least within them, Nick Smith is quite competent. And he certainly shouldn’t lose his other portfolios, because good luck finding anyone else who actually cares about the environment to any degree in the National Party caucus.
  • No new portfolios for Nikki Kaye yet. I expect this is related more to her health than anything else, and we’ll see her pick up something significant when Parata resigns from cabinet in May, either Education itself, or by having something traded to her from whoever gets Education. It’s even quite possible she’ll be traded some of the other portfolios lying around once she’s back in politics full-time.
  • Louise Upston and Paul Goldsmith are both promoted into cabinets. I don’t really have much to say about Louise yet, so she gets the benefit of the doubt. Paul Goldsmith inside cabinet is the real Clare Curran of this bunch, a backbencher who deserves to stay a backbencher and is definitive proof that the government has run out of qualified ministerial candidates. This is literally the guy they put up to lose against David Seymour, who went around taking down signs for himself so he wouldn’t win. That is not the stuff ministers are made of.
  • A bunch of new people have become ministers too but none of them are exactly names you’d know easily even if you watch Parliament TV or In The House. We’ll wait and see whether they’re good, mediocre, or terrible.

Unlike Labour, however, National doesn’t have the excuse of a shallow caucus to draw from. They have 59 seats in Parliament at the moment, all but an outright majority, which should mean selecting the right minister for the right role is easy, so any failures here are down to either Bill English failing to square the circle of assigning ministers to the right positions without upsetting caucus or members, or, more likely, to whoever actually selected candidates for and/or ordered National’s Party Vote list. (because they definitely don’t vote on it!)

While National have generally done okay at seeing off ministers whose used-by has been reached, (with a few notable exceptions) this definitely doesn’t look like a cabinet of winners. The political jeering that the leadership is now the “B-team” is looking to extend to a lot of the winners in this reshuffle as well, so I’ll be surprised if English enjoys anywhere near the media honeymoon or the polling strengths that accompanied Key given the announcements so far.