Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand First’

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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The legislation to set up the new successor ministry to CYFS, Oranga Tamariki1 had its first reading in Parliament today, (assuming I finish this post on time) and there are a number of interesting things going on with it that bear discussion.

First, a quick disclaimer: There is a Treaty of Waitangi issue around Oranga Tamariki led by the president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League. I have some familial ties to the league2 and have given them some of my time and experience in the past, and although I don’t speak for them in any way, I’m not necessarily an entirely neutral party in that particular issue, so I won’t talk about it much. Louisa Wall, whose partner is said president of the League, also seems to deliberately not be talking about the case and instead leaving that to her Green and Labour colleagues, which seems like a wise separation to make as an MP.

I will say, however, that the government under the Treaty is supposed to do good-faith and substantial consultation with Māori around issues with significant effect on Māori. As Māori children are something like 60%+ of “clients” for CYFS, Māori are essentially the key stakeholder in the new Oranga Tamariki ministry, and have every right to expect substantial consultation, including input on the structure and key points of the new legislation. That is literally a constitutional requirement on the government, and there is an argument that although the structure of the bill has been presented to Māori, no significant changes incorporating feedback were made. Anne Tolley has committed to further consultation with the League in the new year, so hopefully she will take on board and largely address their issues and there will be no need for the dispute to continue.

Like most good (for spectators) bill debates, all of Parliament agrees on what the goals of the bill, broadly, should be, and that a law change is necessary. Evidence suggests that CYFS interventions, on average, are not guaranteed to be safer than the previous situations children found themselves in, which basically means they are, while well-intentioned by all involved, a very expensive and traumatic public relations exercise.

Greater emphasis is being placed on the wishes of children and outcomes for them in this new legislation, which is good, although arguably other legislation around government services also needs to be amended as well to make this a whole-of-government culture change, rather than a rotation of the guard from CYFS to Oranga Tamariki.

The two issues in contention are whether it’s acceptable to remove a clause from the old legislation that allows for extended relatives or community to have priority as caregivers over other people registered with the Ministry. Because extended family holds a special place in Māori (and Polynesian) society, this is basically removing a legislative guarantee that children should be placed within their own community or culture when possible. Basically, the government and New Zealand First think that should be taken into account but not guaranteed by law, and the opposition and the Māori Party think it should, but possibly as a tertiary priority behind the child’s safety and their preferred living situation. I think given the stipulation that it’s actually a lower-tier priority, it wouldn’t hurt to enshrine that principle in full law rather than simply in department policy, as I can definitely tell you that laws get treated far more seriously than policies in the government sector.

The other was a rather odd dig at the Youth Court by Darroch Ball3, who doesn’t ever want 17 year-olds sent to it. (the legislation allows for non-serious offenses by 17 year-olds to go to the Youth Court) Mr. Ball looks at the proportion of offenders who had previously been through the youth court. That’s a terrible way to measure whether the Youth Court is effective. The correct measure of whether the youth court is effective is actually looking at the effectiveness of young people sent to the youth court vs slightly older young people tried as adults. (I have not yet done that, but then again, neither has Mr. Ball, so I will defer to social scientists on that matter, who I imagine are generally in favour of youth courts, if not necessarily of how they’re implemented in New Zealand) Now, there is a reasonable argument that it’s worth giving additional teeth to the youth justice system for when offenders need a more serious punishment. As to views of police on the justice system, frankly, I don’t expect to get a neutral point of view from the police, they’re almost always in favour of harsher punishments, more convictions, and more legal powers. You don’t even need to ask the police to know their (collective) opinion on something, and that sort of rhetoric is just tough-on-crime nonsense that doesn’t help anybody and is purely there to be red meat to social conservatives.

Lastly, there were some amusing parliamentary hijinks around National opting to only brief Labour about the legislation rather than including the Greens and New Zealand first, too. According to Carmel Sepuloni, Labour was not involved and was under the impression that it was a whole-of-opposition briefing until they turned up. Whoops, National!

Overall, this is an important bill that the government needs to get right, and it’s not really doing its job well enough yet.

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