About the Author

Avatar photo

Dr Muriel Newman

National ready to govern again

Print Friendly and PDF
Posted on

This is the final NZCPR Weekly column dealing with the 2011 General Election. We hope you have found value in our coverage. Before the election we wanted to inform you of the policy prescriptions being promoted by the various parties to assist you in making your voting decisions. Since the election, we hope our analysis has provided you with useful insight into issues and agendas that will influence the direction of the country over the next three years. In particular, this newsletter details the promises outlined by the four coalition partners in the National-led government.

These NZCPR Weekly newsletters – and the wealth of information on our NZCPR.com website – are provided as a free service to better inform New Zealanders about the important public policy issues that shape our lives. I established the New Zealand Centre for Political Research think tank back in 2005 after serving nine years as a Member of Parliament as a way of contributing to public affairs from outside of Parliament. When asked how I intended to fund our think tank I explained that I believed that people who found value in our work would support us with voluntary donations. While that has certainly been the case in the past I now I find that I am struggling to find sufficient support for our crucial website upgrade.

As well as being necessary to overcome the technical problems arising from the ongoing growth in readership, the website upgrade is intended to focus on improving the NZCPR’s campaigning capability. MMP politics means that we will soon be facing some very big issues that could profoundly damage the future of this country – like the Maori Party’s plan to enshrine the Treaty of Waitangi and the Maori seats in a new constitution. We – the silent majority – need to have the ability to more effectively fight such moves in a way that strengthens our collective voice and enables us to convince the wider public to engage and support our stand. If you value the service we provide to you each week but haven’t contributed to our website upgrade appeal, then please help us by donating now – as we go into discussions with website developers.

The 263,469 special votes cast at the 2011 General Election have now been counted and a new government has been formed. The final election tallies gave National 1,058,638 party votes or 47.31 percent of the total list votes (down from their election night tally of 47.99 percent) to win 59 MPs – one less than their election night result. Labour gained 27.48 percent of the list votes (up from 27.13) to win 34 MPs, the Greens gained an extra MP to give them 14 with 11.06 percent of the party vote (up from 10.62), New Zealand First won 6.59 percent (down from 6.81) and 8 MPs, the Maori Party 1.43 percent (up from 1.35) and 3 MPs, the Mana Party 1.08 percent (up from 1.0) and 1 MP, ACT 1.07 percent and 1 MP, and United Future 0.6 percent and 1 MP. The biggest party outside of Parliament was the new Conservative Party, which won 59,236 votes, or 2.65 percent of the party vote, down from 2.76 percent on election night.

As a result of the confidence and supply agreements that National signed with ACT and United Future, John Key has the numbers to govern. With a total of 61 votes secured (out of a total of 121) for crucial Parliamentary votes such as the budget, John Key was able to go to the Governor General to inform him that he has formed a new government. While National needs the support of both ACT and United Future to be able to govern, it is not reliant on the support of the Maori Party. That means that although the Maori Party has now also done a deal with National it is not the “kingmaker”.

In practice this distinction might not mean very much since during their last term of government, National took the radical step of sacrificing New Zealand’s publicly owned coastline in favour of Maori ownership and control – even though they didn’t technically need the support of the Maori Party to govern. This means that National may once again be prepared to ignore the rights of the majority of New Zealanders in order to satisfy the Maori Party’s separatist’s demands – just so they can look more “inclusive”.

All three parties have negotiated agreements that give their leaders ministerial positions outside of Cabinet. John Banks will be the Minister for Regulatory Reform, Minister for Small Business, Associate Minister of Education, and Associate Minister of Commerce. Peter Dunne will be the Minister of Revenue, Associate Minister of Health and Associate Minister of Conservation. Pita Sharples will be Minister of Mori Affairs, Associate Minister of Education and Associate Minister of Corrections. Tariana Turia will be the Minister responsible for Whnau Ora, Minister for Disability Issues, Associate Minister of Health, Associate Minister of Housing, and Associate Minister of Social Development and Employment.

ACT’s Confidence and Supply agreement is focussed on improving business competitiveness and raising productivity growth by reducing intrusive government regulation and excessive government spending. To this end Treasury will provide an annual report on progress including reducing the income gap with Australia, the Regulatory Standards Bill to lower the regulatory burden on businesses and individuals will be passed into law, the Public Finance Act will be amended to include a spending cap limiting government spending to the rate of population growth multiplied by the rate of inflation, and the ACC’s Work Account will be opened up to competition. In addition, the Resource Management Act, which is seen as a major barrier to investment, jobs, and prosperity, will undergo further reform, particularly in the area of planning to ensure there is only one “unitary” plan for each district.

In the social policy area, charter schools will be introduced as a trial in South Auckland and Christchurch. These charter schools, which will operate independently from the state but will qualify for government funding, have the potential to significantly lift the outcomes of disadvantaged students through performance contracts that focus on such things as improving student achievement and rewarding teacher excellence (usually through performance pay). These schools will remain externally accountable. In terms of welfare reform, the recommendations of the Welfare Working Group to provide budgeting support, income management, and intensive parenting services disadvantaged families will be enacted, and employment services will be contracted out to private sector and community organisations.1

As far as United Future is concerned, their confidence and supply agreement continues many of the initiatives developed in the previous parliament. Their concessions include the reinstatement of the Income Sharing Bill to allow married couples to split their income for tax purposes; an enhanced role for Pharmacists in patient medicines management; a reduction in elective surgery waiting lists by greater use of private hospitals; a free of charge annual health-check up for over 65 year olds (when fiscal circumstances allow); a downsizing of the Families Commission to a single Commissioner; the provision of parenting and relationship education in secondary schools; ‘Youth One Stop Shop’ support services; the introduction of alcohol and drug dependency assessments for prisoners appearing before the Parole Board; the establishment of the Game Animal Council as a Statutory Body; and the banning of guided helicopter hunting on the conservation estate and in wilderness areas. In addition, United Future will push for the maintenance of free public access to rivers, lakes, forests and the coastline, and it will support Public-Private partnerships for major roading infrastructure. The government will also investigate United Future’s “Flexi-Superannuation” proposal whereby people can opt into retirement early at a reduced rate of super, or later at a higher rate depending on their individual circumstances and preferences.2

The Maori Party’s confidence and supply agreement has been called a “Relationship Accord” to allow the party to vote against key National policies such as partial asset sales. Essentially the party’s concessions include boosting Whanau Ora to incorporate a stand-alone commissioning agency; establishing a Ministerial Committee on Poverty – chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister Bill English with Hon Tariana Turia as Deputy – which will release six-monthly update reports; doubling the funding for the treatment of rheumatic fever; providing home insulation to 20,000 low-income homes and older state houses; increasing Maori participation in early childhood education and achievement in primary, secondary and tertiary education; drafting statutory legislation for Maori education initiatives like kohanga reo; allocating job, skills and trade training on the basis of race to Maori and Pacific Island youth; establishing skills and trades-based academies; supporting iwi housing providers through grants, loans, land, and surplus State house purchases and transfers; improving the quality of water in rivers, lakes, seas, and rural water supplies; engaging with iwi, hapu and whanau in the government review of the Crown Minerals Act; introducing offsetting of pre-1990 forests; refocusing Te Puni Kokiri on improving Maori employment, training, housing, and education as well as creating a high-level policy unit within TPK; progressing the Maori language revitalisation strategy; continuing anti-smoking initiatives; deciding on whether to allocate 4G spectrum (700MHzBand) to Maori; and supporting the following Maori Party Private Members Bills to a select committee: the Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill, and a cultural heritage bill to recognise Matariki/Puanga and honour the peacemaking heritage established at Parihaka.

The Maori Party’s review of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements established in the last Parliament will continue with the Advisory Panel’s recommendations to be delivered to the Government by September 2013. Regarding the fraught issue of Maori seats, the National Party agrees not to seek to remove them without the consent of the Maori people and the Maori Party and the National Party will not pursue their entrenchment in the current Parliamentary term.3

During the next three years National will embark on a reform agenda as outlined in their “Post-election Action Plan”.4 The changes include halving the budget deficit next year to be back in surplus by 2014/15; introducing lower public service staffing caps; ensuring departmental spending targets are met; connecting 58,000 premises to ultra-fast broadband; increasing productivity through establishing the Crown Water Investment Company; allowing choice in the ACC work account; extending the youth training wage (of 80 percent of the adult wage) to six months; constructing the Waterview Connection and Auckland’s Western Ring Route; introducing six-month time limits on RMA consents for medium-sized projects; introducing the partial sale of four SOEs and reducing the Government’s stake in Air New Zealand to create the Future Investment Fund; introducing tougher consumer credit laws to target loan sharks; slowing the phasing-in of the ETS and allowing off-setting for pre-1990 forest owners; updating the Maritime Transport Act including for the International Convention on Civil Liability; introducing a competitive new system for processing oil and gas exploration permits; reforming social welfare to ensure the able-bodied go back to work; sanctioning beneficiaries whose use of drugs prevents them from getting a job; increasing prosecutions for welfare fraud; stopping benefits for people on the run from Police; making it harder for serious offenders to get bail; introducing Civil Detention Orders to protect the community from extremely high-risk offenders; reducing unnecessary parole hearings; passing the Search and Surveillance Bill; increasing penalties for child pornography and breaches of domestic violence protection orders; better protecting vulnerable court participants – especially children; ensuring state houses built before 1978 are insulated; increasing elective surgery operations by 4,000 a year and ensuring that all patients booked receive their operations within four months; ensuring patients needing specialist appointments are seen within four months; expanding the Voluntary Bonding Scheme to health professions and hard-to-staff regions; providing free after-hours GP visits to children under six; rolling out a comprehensive after-hours telephone advice service with access to nurses, GPs, and pharmacists; making secondary school performance information available to parents; developing more effective systems of teacher and principal appraisal; reforming and strengthening the Teachers Council; ensuring 98 percent of new school entrants have participated in early childhood education; and continuing to prioritise the rebuilding of Christchurch.

There is no doubt that major changes are needed to the way New Zealand Inc operates if we are ever going to lift our game and achieve true first world status. In particular, the welfare system must be returned to its proper purpose of providing temporary support for the able bodied in their time of need – instead of trapping them into long term dependency on the state. The mindless regulation and red tape that continually holds back small business must be drastically pruned. The Resource Management Act and overbearing local government planning rules need major surgery so people can get on with their projects instead of being endlessly tied up in costly box-ticking bureaucracy. Government spending must be significantly reduced to levels affordable for a small country of 4 million people so our economy can grow and living standards can rise. But mostly we need to recapture the aspiration to succeed and the traditional “can do” attitude that have been knocked out of us over recent years… but to do that we need to know that all Kiwis are pulling together in the same direction – as society committed to a better future for all New Zealanders, not a society divided by race.

This week’s Guest Commentator, NZCPR Research Associate Mike Butler, picks up on this theme in his article The no-vote protest vote: “With just 48 percent of enrolled Maori voters turning out last week, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia is greatly concerned, although she should be more concerned that her party only captured 1.4 percent of the party vote. If you add in Hone Harawira’s Mana Party’s 1 percent, the total 2.4 percent share shows their influence far outweighs their actual support. They owe their existence to the anachronistic Maori seats.

“If Turia applied some accurate thought and linked voter turnout with policies she has promoted, such as whanau ora separate welfare, signing up to the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, pushing for a treaty-based constitution, and facilitating sweetheart deals with tribal corporations, the message is staring at her in the face – that her party has failed to capture the imagination of Maori voters.If she would step back a bit further, she would realise that the concerns of Maori voters are not separate and distinct. They are the concerns of everyone – jobs, health, education – and the government she was in coalition with has had minimal success on all three.”

John Key will announce his Cabinet line-up on Monday and they will be sworn in on Wednesday. Parliament is likely to have its first sitting on Tuesday December 20th to enable the Governor General to deliver “The Speech from the Throne” outlining the new government’s priorities over the next three years and enabling new MPs to be sworn in. All business on the government’s Order Paper lapses once the House rises for an election, but most of it will be reinstated and resumed by a majority vote under the Constitution Act. The new Parliament is expected to rise for Christmas on December 22nd ready for the real work to begin in February.