Are we building up to 'round two' of the Electoral Finance Act debate that polarised politics a few years ago? Debate and discussion is now revving up over the Greens' private members bill to regulate lobbyists. While the issue is unlikely to become anywhere near as heated and polarised as the EFA in 2007, the lobby legislation certainly comes out of the same ideological toolbox and involves some similar issues, problems, and challenges. These are dealt with in Anthony Hubbard's useful survey of the issues in The secret service, in which interviewees point to the legislation's various merits, limitations, loopholes, and potential unintended consequences. TV3's The Nation has also delved into the debate, with three very good items worth watching: Natasha Smith's 5-minute backgrounder report (Bill to expose extent of NZ lobbying), a 10-minute discussion with Labour MP Clare Curran and Denis O'Rourke from New Zealand First (Politicians take on Lobbying Disclosure Bill), and a 12-minute discussion with lobbyists Mark Unsworth and Cedric Allan, as well as an explanation from blogger Cameron Slater on how NZ lobbying really works.
Also in relation to political finance, it's worth reading Michael Field's Sunday Star Times article on the donations from fishing companies to MPs - see: No cash for crews, but plenty for MPs. The nub of Field's piece is that 'fishing companies say they cannot pay higher wages to crews of foreign charter fishing vessels, but some don't mind giving cash to politicians', and so he details the MPs receiving their largesse, and asks them why. The response from MPs Clayton Cosgrove and Shane Jones is incredibly defensive.
Labour will be happy that the debate over extending paid parental leave refuses to die despite National's best efforts. In fact support appears to be growing for the proposed extension. Today's Herald editorial, Parental leave bill deserves a fair hearing, says that 'National should be prepared to allow the legislation to go through a select committee. It could then gauge public sentiment. It might also find that trade-offs and compromises produced a bill that was affordable'. Columnist Sean Plunket also laments National's use of the veto, saying 'What Mr English did this week is signal he is not interested in learning more about this issue and his mind is closed to the possibility that the as yet unknown cost of extending parental leave might be offset by the possible benefits from perhaps having happier and better adjusted toddlers' - see: Veto card like a toddler's tantrum. But the other side of the debate has received a surprise supporter in the form of the Families Commission, which argues against an extension - see: Andrew Laxon's Families advocate: leave plan too dear. It seems that the new Families Commissioner Carl Davidson - appointed by Paula Bennett - has pushed the agency into a U-turn, leading Sue Bradford to call for his resignation, accusing him 'of betraying the ideals of his office'.
Other very useful contributions to the debate can be found in Charles Anderson's two items, Working mothers caught in childcare trap and Family budgets at breaking point, David Farrar's Women's workforce participation, and Andrew Laxon's The cost of parenthood. These items concentrate on the financial difficulties parents are facing, especially with the lack of affordable childcare. Andrew Laxon's article includes an interesting past statement from Judith Collins supporting paid parental leave: 'I'm generally not against it. As a working woman myself, I could have seriously done with paid parental leave when I had a little child'.
The parliamentary politics of the paid parental leave extension, the veto, and the manoeuvrings of the various parties are covered brilliantly in columns by John Armstrong (National's veto plan shows up) and Tracy Watkins (Belt tightening is not for babies). Armstrong weighs up which parties are winning and losing on the issue, and argues that Labour has the most to win or lose from the debate: 'If the political debate stays focused on the social benefits of paid parental leave, all well and good. If the debate becomes solely one of affordability, Labour has problems'. Meanwhile Watkins thinks National has been the loser because the issue casts the party into the light of the 'flinty conservatism which helped keep National out of power for nine years'. Watkins says the public knows all too well that when Bill English says it's not affordable he really means 'that extending paid parental leave is a low priority for National, compared with other things it wants more'. Watkins thinks the reason National has clamped down so heavily on the issue is because it's afraid that a compromise measure could be achieved on the issue by David Shearer, and that 'would risk giving him a win on a similar scale to the one Helen Clark delivered Mr Key over smacking'. This idea is backed up today by John Key acknowledging that 'paid parental leave is likely to be a key issue at the 2014 election' - see: Nats back parental leave, but will still veto. The issue is also intelligently discussed today on RNZ's Nine to Noon Politics discussion (listen here).
The housing market in Christchurch is another headache for National and this is best covered today in The Press editorial, Housing headache. This explains why the accommodation shortage is only now becoming a major issue for the city, and discusses potential answers. One obvious solution that the Government has failed to utilise, the editorial says, is quickly repairing the 'nearly 700 Housing New Zealand residences that are still, nearly 14 months after the February earthquake, unoccupied'. The editorial also questions why the Government was willing to waste significant amounts of money on camper vans for Christchurch when they weren't actually needed, but refuses to do so 'now the need is clearly apparent'. The editorial also makes the point that, 'Whether this amounts to a crisis or not is largely a matter of semantics'. And therefore there are plenty of stories and headlines at the moment like this one: No Christchurch rental crisis - 'Pontius' Brownlee.
While the Press editorial is dismissive of the Government implementing a 'rent freeze', this policy is endorsed today by Prof David Alexander, an 'expert in earthquake recovery' and 'chief scientist at Swiss think-tank Global Risk Forum' - see: Government urged to consider Christchurch rent control.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* The Prime Minister is currently visiting Indonesia, attempting to help New Zealand cash in on that country's booming economy - see: PM embarks on trade-strengthening trip to Indonesia. But issues of human rights are instead threatening to overshadow any achievements - see: Greens slate John Key for silence. Rebecca Macfie also provides an in-depth New Zealand perspective on changes in this country - see: Indonesia: another giant awakes.
* The Government's policy of 'catching up with Australia' is discussed today in articles by Fran O'Sullivan (Australia green with policy envy) and Brian Gaynor (Why the kiwi can't catch the kangaroo). O'Sullivan reports that Australian business leaders actually envy 'New Zealand's more business-friendly environment', and Gaynor tries to explain why 'we dropping further and further behind Australia', pointing especially to New Zealand's lack of 'strategies that encourage individuals to invest in the productive sector' instead of residential housing. On a similar topic, there's increasing attention to New Zealanders leaving places like Australia to study - see: Top students turning backs on NZ.
* Two of the more curious incidents in the Ports of Auckland industrial dispute are covered by Matt McCarten's Honourable unionist fights by the rules and the Herald's editorial, Port's misuse of private files lamentable. McCarten deals with the recent resignation from the board of directors of Rob Campbell, who was once a leading far-left unionist but has well and truly switched sides. The Herald editorial condemns the port management's leak of employee personal information to a blogger, and suggests that the company was inspired by the tactics of government ministers such as welfare minister Paula Bennett.
* With the imminent release of the Government decision on the sale of the Crafar farms, it seems that Labour is preparing itself and the public by questioning the competency of the Overseas Investment Office to follow up on 'whether foreign land buyers are staying true to their word and providing a benefit to New Zealand' - see Kate Chapman's Overseas investors not being monitored.
* The Greens are explaining National's decision not to cooperate further with them, by pointing to the Government's 'return to the Right', while Gerry Brownlee says that National has noticed the Greens return to the Left - see: Kate Chapman's Spurned Greens see Nats swing to Right.
* Brian Rudman has a very interesting opinion piece about the contentious Devonport deal currently being considered by the Crown and local iwi - see: Dipsticks right: find iwi another piece of land.
* Nicky Hager has had another of his books turned into a play - this time his 2011 book about New Zealand's role in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 'Other People's Wars' - see: Tom Cardy's New play addresses wars. Put together by playwright Dean Parker it's on at Bats Theatre in Wellington, April 17-28 - ending on Anzac Day.By Bryce Edwards Email Bryce