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Dr Muriel Newman

2013 – Parliament, politics, people

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DB10The start of a new year is an opportune time to reflect on what lies ahead. Parliament resumes on January 29 and will rise for Christmas on December 12, with a total of 93 sitting days scheduled. One of the first tasks of Parliament will be to elect a new Speaker. Lockwood Smith, who has held the post since 2008, is off to London as High Commissioner. Frontrunners for the job are primary industries minister David Carter and building minister Maurice Williamson.

The partial sale of three state-owned assets will dominate Parliamentary business this year – assuming, of course, that the Supreme Court quashes the Maori Council’s claim for the ownership of freshwater. Employment law changes are also expected to be pushed through, along with more Treaty settlements, Privacy Act changes, and many of the 47 bills on Parliament’s Order Paper.

There are other bills in front of Select Committees – full details of their work schedule can be found HERE – and submissions have been called on 13 new bills: Resource Management Reform Bill, Conservation (Natural Heritage Protection) Bill, Public Finance (Fiscal Responsibility) Amendment Bill, Subantarctic Islands Marine Reserves Bill, Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill, Criminal Procedure Legislation Bill, Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (Continuation and Reform) Amendment Bill, Budget Policy Statement 2013, Taxation (Livestock Valuation, Assets Expenditure, and Remedial Matters) Bill, State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill, Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill, Education Amendment Bill, Financial Reporting Bill… full details can be found HERE.

Politically speaking, 2012 was a testing year for the National Party. The global financial crisis continued to cast a pall on the economy, slowing growth to just 0.2 percent. The high dollar was a constant challenge to exporters, but with our exchange rate largely driven by the state of the US and other major economies, there is little a government can do. Unemployment, which measures the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force, rose to 7.3 percent in the third quarter of 2012, up from 6.8 percent in the second quarter. The highest recorded unemployment rate was 11.2 percent in September 1991 and the lowest, 3.5 percent in December 2007.

National has staked its credibility on being a party of sound economic management and set a goal of returning the country to a budget surplus by 2014-15. That means more belt-tightening this year to reduce public sector waste. This same signal is being given to households – save and reduce down debt. But this strategy of frugality for tough times has brought strong complaints from spendthrift opposition parties that continue to call for more government spending.

The Green Party, whose co-leader is eyeing the job of Finance Minister in a Labour-Green Government, has even suggested that the government should start printing money! Fortunately, this idea has been widely rejected, although the Green Party remains undaunted, exposing their dangerous socialist roots.

In this pre-election year we should expect much more of this sort of politicking, as opposition parties undermine the government to present themselves as a credible government-in-waiting. But in calling for more spending in these difficult times, the opposition is adopting the economic policies of Greece.

The point is that individuals not governments create economic growth and jobs. The best governments are those that put in place the conditions for human enterprise to flourish – the more successfully they do that, the richer a society will be.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator Matt Ridley, an acclaimed author and the former Science and Technology Editor for the Economist, expands on this argument in his article Global outlook rosy; Europe’s outlook grim:

“A rational optimist like me thinks the world will go on getting better for most people at a record rate, not because I have a temperamental or ideological bent to good cheer but because of the data. Poverty, hunger, population growth rates, inequality, and mortality from violence, disease and weather – all continue to plummet on a global scale. But a global optimist can still be a regional pessimist. When asked what I am pessimistic about, I usually reply: bureaucracy and superstition.

Matt explains that “Every small businessman I talk to these days has a horror story to tell about the delays and costs that have been visited upon him by planners, inspectors, officials and consultees.”

It is exactly the same here where an increasing burden of red tape and bureaucracy destroys initiative and innovation, causing people with good ideas to walk away. With many of the “delays and costs visited by planners and inspectors” known to emanate from local government, the Productivity Commission has been examining the sector, looking at ways to improve regulatory performance. They have identified some 30 Acts of Parliament that directly impact on the country’s 78 local authorities controlling everything from building to waste management. A survey of 1500 businesses undertaken as part of their study, found that 70 percent were unhappy with the fees charged by local authorities, with almost 40 percent saying that local government compliance placed a significant financial burden on their business.

The Productivity Commission is now seeking feedback on its draft report Towards Better Local Regulation – submissions are due on March 6 and can be made HERE.

Matt Ridley concludes his article by warning that “A growth-preventing bureaucracy is not the only thing suppressing enterprise… Superstition is also playing a part, as it has done in past episodes of economic decline.”

Matt could well have added propaganda to his list. As we know, propaganda is at the heart of politics, and many of the mantras that will be pushed by political parties during this pre-election year, would end up doing more harm than good. Labour and the Greens’ call for higher taxes, “so the rich will pay their fair share”, falls into this category. It ignores the reality that higher income earners already pay the lion’s share of tax in New Zealand, and it conveniently overlooks the fact that in this day and age of tax competition, unfair taxes drive higher income earners offshore.

That is a lesson that is being learnt in a very public fashion by the new socialist President of France, Francois Hollande, who plans to raise tax on earned income above €1 million from the current 41 percent to 75 percent. As a result of this extortionary rate, the top French actor Gerard Depardieu is being driven out to become a high profile tax exile as a citizen of Russia, with its flat tax of 13 percent.

During this year we should also expect to see the influence of the union movement on the Labour Party grow as a result of changes made at their conference in November. The unions will have a stronger voice in Parliament and a controlling vote over the Labour Party leadership, with the leader to be chosen by a 20 percent union vote, a 40 percent caucus vote, and a 40 percent membership vote. Labour Leader David Shearer will face his next leadership vote in February.

The Maori Party too is facing major change as founding co-leader Tariana Turia prepares to step down at the end of this Parliamentary term. Pita Sharples, the other co-leader, will be 72 in July, and while he has been pressured to retire by Mrs Turia, he has currently ruled it out.

The major focus in the coming year for the Maori Party will of course be their constitutional review. Their hand-picked review panel is expected to recommend to the government later this year that New Zealand needs a new Treaty-based constitution. With the Census and the Maori Electoral Option due to begin in March, they may well attempt to negotiate another of their election promises into law: “By the 2014 election, all Maori to be automatically entered on to the Maori roll at the age of 18 with the option to transfer to the General Roll. We will also extend the provision in the Census to identify tribally to the electoral roll, where tribal affiliation is also stated.”1

Such changes are insidious. Requiring first time voters to enrol onto the Maori roll rather than the general roll is a blatant attempt to increase separatism in New Zealand, since each increase in the number of Maori seats results in a decrease in the number of general seats. And is including tribal affiliation in the Census another step on the pathway towards sovereignty and self governing tribes?

The Maori Electoral Option is held after the five-yearly Census to give New Zealanders of Maori descent the opportunity to choose whether they want to be on the Maori roll or the general roll. It is scheduled to run from March 25 until July 24. Last time it was held, in 2006, 14,294 moved from the general roll to the Maori roll and 7,294 from the Maori roll to the general roll. At present there are seven Maori electorates, each one representing around 33,000 potential voters compared to 45,000 potential voters in the 63 general seats.2

The Electoral Commission has recommended that Maori voters should be able to switch rolls between elections, rather than having to wait for the Census, but electoral law specialist Graeme Edgeler disagrees on the basis that it could give Maori voters an advantage in deciding the results of elections: “If it is adopted, a choice to be represented through the Maori roll will be much more able to be exercised for transient tactical reasons, and not as a choice expressing Maori identity.”3 The future of the Maori Electoral Option has been identified as a topic for discussion during the constitutional review.

Because of delays caused by the Christchurch earthquake, the Census is now scheduled for March 5th. It will provide a detailed snapshot of the New Zealand population on that day and is expected to cover 4.6 million people and 1.8 million dwellings – at a cost of $72 million.

One of the more controversial aspects of the Census is the question on ethnic profiling. It asks, “Which ethnic group do you belong to?” with the following options provided for the answer: “New Zealand European, Maori, Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Tongan, Niuean, Chinese, Indian, other”. Since this question is based on cultural heritage, most people living in this country would regard themselves as a New Zealander first and foremost and would like the right to say so. Since that request has now been ignored for over 20 years, the number of people ticking the “other” box and writing in “New Zealander” has grown from 20,313 in 1986 to 429,429 in 2006! Anyone who supports our right to be treated as equals and rejects ethnic division may want to consider doing the same – as well as signing our Declaration of Equality HERE.

2013 is a crucial year in the political calendar as it is the time when parties formulate their election year policies. The life-blood of politics is public opinion. If people do not speak out, their silence is regarded as approval. If you believe a change in direction is needed for our country, then this is the year to take a stand – and to speak out!