Category: Peter Dunne

Breaking news: Occupations extremely likely to be property speculating

Cartoon by Vincent Konrad for Socialist Review - used with permission

Cartoon by Vincent Konrad for Socialist Review – used with permission

I have undertaken cutting-edge statistical analysis of the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament, which has revealed some shocking information.

People of the following occupations are all extremely likely to own real property beyond the family home and Māori land interests:

Labour MP: 50%

National MP: 76.27%

Green MP: 50%

NZ First MP: 58.3% or 61.54%*

United Future MP: 100%

These rates are all extremely high – far higher than any ethnic or national group, for example. It is clear what we must do to curb property speculation and solve the housing crisis: Ban MPs from buying property in NZ.

*Info not available for new MP Ria Bond.

MMP strategy and the big parties: Self-interest, hypocrisy and anti-democracy

Gatecrash
National: Self-interest

In the last few days, many have noted National’s blatant self-interest in ignoring the Electoral Commission and maintaining the MMP status quo. The Commission suggested lowering the threshold to 4% and removing the “coat-tailing” exception, but National refused to do so because they wanted to continue having cups of tea with John Banks, Peter Dunne and (if needs be) Colin Craig. And now their chickens are coming home to roost with the Internet Mana strategic alliance. (In theory, the Conservatives and ACT could follow suit – but I’d argue there’s less common ground between Jamie Whyte and Colin Craig than between Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira)

Labour: Hypocrisy

Certain Labour members (edit: though not Louisa Wall) are taking a far more critical view of coat-tailing and strategic use thereof. Many have (rightly) criticised Labour for being anti-strategic, anti-small-parties and anti-anyone-further-left-than-them. Some have also (wrongly) suggested they’re hypocrites for not consistently criticising “coat-tailers” on the left and right. In fact, they are consistently criticising coat-tailers – condemning both Epsom and the Internet Mana alliance as “rort[s] of the system,” “ruse[s]” and “scam[s],” and proposing to get rid of the rule that allows them.

So they’re not being inconsistent. But they are being hypocritical, by condemning coat-tailers in the first place – for at least four reasons.

Firstly, because until Jim Anderton retired, they happily let him win Wigram for another party, and received him and any coat-tail buddies he could bring with him into the Clark governments.

They’ll no doubt say the difference is voters “genuinely liked” Jim Anderton (and their ex-buddy Peter Dunne), whereas Epsom voters only vote for the ACT candidate because they want to see his party represented. Perhaps this is true. But under First Past the Post, millions of voters across the country voted for Labour candidates not because they liked the candidate, but because they wanted to see the party represented. And still under MMP, many Green/Mana/etc supporters vote for Labour local candidates because they prefer a Labour local MP to the only other realistic alternative.

So they’re also hypocritical because they’re happy for Labour voters in Wigram or Green voters in Wellington Central to vote strategically for another party’s candidate, but not National voters in Epsom (or Labour voters in Te Tai Tokerau, for that matter).

Thirdly, they’re hypocritical because they call the “cup of tea” strategy a “rort” and in the very same press release endorse their own “reverse cup of tea” strategy: Labour voters voting for National’s Paul Goldsmith in Epsom. The only way this can possibly be ethically coherent is if they see all local seats as “rightfully” belonging to the same party that won the most party votes in that electorate (ie, always either National or Labour)… but in that case they’d have to give up most of their 22 electorate seats from the last election (some examples). And, of course, it would be pointless having a two-tick system if that was how it worked.

Lastly, they’re hypocritical because what is a political party but a strategic alliance of disparate factions and individuals, with some common purposes, banding together to pursue those purposes in elections and government? There’s at least as much diversity of views within Labour or National as there is between the Internet Party and Mana, and considerably more in-fighting (so far). But Labour have inherited a respectable and safe “major party” status that will never be described as an unholy “rort,” due the historical accident of being descended from a party that once represented the labour movement. This means that by condemning Internet Mana, they’re condemning a “sin” they’re not “tempted” by. Like National but unlike anyone else, they’ve never had to work doubly-hard for each vote, by first convincing potential voters a vote for them won’t be wasted. They’ve never had to resort to creative MMP strategies to provide this assurance. Blinding themselves to the privilege the system gives them, they blame the parties the system doesn’t privilege for taking the opportunities available to them.

Fixing the real problem

These days, Anderton is representing a dead fake building instead of Wigram, and Dunne is serving casinos instead of Clark… there’s no small parties left Labour actually likes. So, very nobly, they’re proposing to enact the Electoral Commission’s suggestions if elected.

But these high-minded condemnations and proposed solutions misdiagnose the problem entirely. The problem is that the threshold built into our MMP system stops it being truly proportional. It stacks the system against small and new parties, threatening to waste their votes and making them work far harder for them… thus creating the need and incentive for the so-called “rort” strategies.

That won’t change by getting rid of the coat-tailing exception, or even by lowering the threshold from 5% to 4%. We’d still have small parties banding together – only they’d be doing it to get across the 5% (or 4%) threshold, like the original Alliance. And we’d still have artificially skewed results – like the Labour voters who vote NZ First to make sure they get above 5% (or 4%), or the voters who shy away from small parties because they’re worried they won’t reach 5% (or 4%), often leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The only way to stop disadvantaging small parties and incentivising “dodgy deals” is something neither National, Labour or the Electoral Commission suggest, but the most evidence-based/least reactionary submittersinternational experts and bloggers across the political spectrum do: make MMP fully and straightforwardly proportional, by eradicating the threshold system that causes these problems in the first place. 1% of the votes, 1% of the seats – end of story. No need for the controversial coat-tailing exception, nobody’s vote robbed of effect because the party wasn’t big enough, and no need for creative strategies to negotiate coat-tailing versus wastage.

The Electoral Commission acknowledge that lowering or abolishing the threshold “would be a solution more consistent with the principle of proportionality that underpins the MMP system”… the only reason they won’t do it is because of a fear of a “proliferation of small parties.” Yes; you read that right; a supposedly independent commission are biased towards large parties, considering them “safer” than small parties; even though there’s no evidence high thresholds or few parties brings stability. And, of course, both big parties agree with them – neither of them suggest lowering the threshold below 4%.

The stupid thing is, at the moment we do have a proliferation of small parties; but we also have a proliferation of the strategies Labour condemns, because that’s basically the only way small and new parties can get in. If the Electoral Commission get their way, there may be less opportunities for small parties and their strategies, but (as they admit!) this would come at the cost of true proportionality. Is this anti-democratic knee-jerk response and anti-proportional threshold rule really worth it?

Stuff: more right-wing bias than Radio Rhema

The latest Roy Morgan poll (Aug 20) shows National support down by 7%, and Labour/Greens up by 9%. Roy Morgan attribute this to the unpopular GCSB bill.

Even Christian Right radio have reported this.

So why are Stuff ignoring it?

They reported the last Roy Morgan poll which swung towards National. They also reported a Roy Morgan poll on consumer confidence a week ago. But still nothing on Tuesday’s political poll.

Instead they’ve only reported their own poll the next day. The results showed a more modest leftward shift (National down 1.1%, Labour down 0.3%, Greens up 1.1%, NZ First down 0.4%). But the reporting emphasises Labour’s failure to increase its support, and National’s resilience to maintain its support! They also speculate about future woes for Labour, heap praise on the Conservative party and don’t mention the Greens’ rise.

Why does poll reporting matter? In 2011 we had the lowest election turn-out since the 1880s after the media told us constantly for 3 years that John Key was wildly popular and the election was a no-contest.

It’s been obvious for a while that Stuff loves John Key as much as Cut Your Hair hates fundamentally disagrees with him. But you could have attributed that to an uncritical, stupid, lowest-common-denominator corporate ‘political’ media caring more for cults of personality than politics.

It’s not possible to claim that anymore. Congrats NZ, we have our very own Daily Mail.  And they own most of our newspapers.

(PS: Even with their bias, Stuff seem quite critical of the GCSB bill, and their poll shows three-quarters of us are worried about it.
PPS: With one-seat majorities for such important legislation, the election definitely wasn’t a no-contest.)

The scorecard so far on child poverty

You’ve probably noticed there’s been a groundswell of awareness, dismay and outrage about child poverty lately, particularly since the Children’s Commissioner convened a panel of experts to come up with suggestions about how to solve it.  This could be a great opportunity for this government to create a positive legacy by actually doing something in response to the countless statistics and stories of poverty emerging in New Zealand over the last twenty-five or thirty years.

In fact, if they wanted to, this government could actually do a lot more about child poverty than a Labour government could… they wouldn’t have to worry about a right-wing opposition lambasting them for nanny-state-taxpayer-money-wasting-social-engineering (well, except John Banks, when he turns up).  They could take significant action, even expensive action, without damaging their political reputation – they may well improve it by showing a more compassionate face.

So, win-win, right?  Well, let’s have a look at how they’ve responded so far to the main recommendations from the Expert Advisory group on child poverty…

Six of the best ideas for change (Andrew Laxon, The New Zealand Herald 06/10/2012)

1. Free meals in schools

This was Mana policy in the last election; since then it’s become John Campbell’s hobby horse and Labour policy.  Actually, I recently learned that John Key signalled support for measures like this in 2007, saying National would start organising businesses to fund meals in poor schools while in opposition, rather than waiting to be in government.

Now that they’re in government, Bill English, chair of the ministerial committee on poverty, has said that children are going hungry because they’re in “homes where there is not a strong sense of responsibility”; but that it’s the responsibility of the whole society to “do something about that”.  It’s hard to know what this means;  but he has signaled that he’s open to the idea of providing meals in schools.  However, his press secretary hastened to add that “no new decisions have been made“.   Both have been busily citing statistics to show that kids going without meals isn’t as widespread as we think, so I don’t think we should be too hopeful too soon.

2. A warrant of fitness for all rental housing

John Key hasn’t exactly embraced this wholeheartedly, but he hasn’t completely ruled it out, saying “There’s probably some limits to what Government can do but we may be able to encourage landlords to increase the quality of their property.”  Bill English is arguably even more interested, though worried it will push housing prices up.  Again, let’s wait and see… no ‘new decisions’ yet.

3. Every child enrolled with health and social services at birth

They’re actually doing some stuff along these lines, but only for beneficiaries.  By not extending these “social obligations” to everyone, and by adding sanctions without increasing support or availability, they can’t avoid the suspicion that they’re more motivated by putting pressure on beneficiaries than helping children.

4. Universal child payment

We had something similar to this until 1991, and of course we still have universal payments to the elderly.  It seems to be working, or at least helping people who need help the least – 10% of the elderly are below the poverty line, while 25% of children are (up from 4% and 10% respectively in 1986).  A welfare expert who visited the country recently said that international research reveals a child payment to be one of three key factors in reducing child poverty.  He insisted that it needs to be universal, because “Programmes that are targeted to the poor tend to end up being poor programmes”.  John Key’s response?  He dismissed the idea as “dopey“.

5. Pass on child support payments to beneficiary solo parents rather than withholding it to offset their benefit.

Bill English said that the expert group has made “a pretty strong case” for this, without necessarily committing to it; but Revenue minister Peter Dunne reckons they can’t afford it.

6. Poverty reduction targets to make politicians accountable

Paula Bennett won’t even measure child poverty, and Bill English is following suit by refusing to set targets to reduce it.  He reckons it’s meaningless to measure child poverty, because he thinks we only have ‘relative’ poverty, and that ‘relative’ poverty is not real poverty.  Those are a couple of huge assumptions, which I’ll discuss in my next blog a future blog, about the suggestion that there is no poverty in New Zealand.

Scorecard so far:
Policies: 0/6
Promises: 0/6
Vague and equivocal support, with a possibility of eventual action: 2.5/6

So, overall, it’s not looking good.

Particularly when we bear in mind that these are relatively conservative and non-partisan suggestions.  That international welfare expert identified three key factors in reducing child poverty: increased parental employment and higher wages, along with the “dopey” universal child payment.  The above recommendations are far gentler, and don’t require National to change their underlying philosophy at all – they could implement all of the above without having to actually create jobs or pay living wages.

Whatever they end up doing or not doing, this government’s response to child poverty will be one of its key legacies.  It will also have a huge impact on thousands of young lives – for better or worse.