The political reaction to National's welfare reform measures has been more interesting than the announcement itself. The Government revealed little that hadn't already been flagged during the election campaign and although the policy won't enhance John Key's 'nice guy' image, there is always political mileage in 'getting tough' on beneficiaries - especially solo Mums and youth. This is exactly why Labour's response has been muted - with Jacinda Ardern being pushed up front rather than David Shearer.
More importantly, it's likely that Labour itself will soon take aim at welfare. John Armstrong seems to have inside information that Shearer will be delivering a major positioning speech in little over two weeks that may 'flag the most significant reorientation of Labour thinking since the party kissed goodbye to Sir Roger Douglas'. Indications are that welfare reform will be a significant part of the speech.
The common theme of all the critiques is that forcing beneficiaries to find work when unemployment is already high, and getting worse, is futile and punitive. Sue Bradford, speaking on behalf of Auckland Action Against Poverty says the policies are about the labour market in general: 'And really what it's all about is trying to drive down the cost of labour by harassing vulnerable sole parents and young people. Are they going to be queuing up for the jobs at Affco and the Ports of Auckland? I mean really'. Gordon Campbell also has a very good analysis that makes some obvious points: the cost of benefits is always high and unaffordable when there are few jobs, and over two thirds of DPB recipients receive the benefit for less than four years .
Tracy Watkins sees the announcement as evidence of a sense of urgency in National's second term, saying that the next round of public sector reforms will involve contracting out services and involve 'massive and fundamental change' - see: Pace of fundamental reforms clicks up a few gears (http://bit.ly/zmqgN1). Conspicuous by their silence is the Maori Party who will have to make a decision on whether to support their coalition partner when the legislation comes before Parliament.
Anthony Hubbard wrote in the Sunday Star Times at the weekend that Labour should be riding high given National's fumbling management of issues this year, but has failed to take advantage. He has suggestions for which election policies Labour should dump but notes that making major cuts to its Working for Families policies, would make Labour seem more 'moderate, less desperate to please the proletariat. But it would hurt the children of the poor.'
Labour has formally launched an election review and has called upon 'critical friends' to assist and take submissions for a report in July. This is more an internal, organisational review rather than on policy direction, but as Jake Quinn points out there are some important issues particularly the processes that decide who gets to be a Labour MP. He advocates for candidates with stronger community connections rather than the typical 'leader's office staffer or unknown Auckland or Wellington union organiser'. Another Labour insider, Robert Winter, agrees the review is needed but expresses concern that the political result will be 'a repackaged Blairism', and that the current leadership is 'safely centrist, and the rest of the caucus displays little capacity for radical thinking and debate'. Similarly, in his Press column Sitting Ducks? Chris Trotter has a good assessment of where Shearer is at and picks a move back to the centre to a 'responsible and moderate Labour Party' that will shore up support on the left by virtue of increased support in the polls.
Mike Moore has come under attack from both sides of the parliamentary benches, with Hone Harawira and Tariana Turia attacking him for attending a World Trade reception hosted by tobacco company Philip Morris and other oil, pharmaceutical and retail giants. While the sponsors list looks toxic to any New Zealand political audience, it's pretty standard fare for any US political gathering. Harawira called for Moore to be sacked as US ambassador, particularly as New Zealand has a legislated aim to make the country smoke free by 2025.
In other articles of note, Karl du Fresne weighs in on the Paul Holmes Waitangi Day controversy saying that Outrage a tactic to shut down debate, Andrea Vance notes that National has realised it can't fight on too many fronts and has put the changes to the legal aid system on hold, Chris Trotter takes the Sensible Sentencing Trust to task for their support of the 'Christie's Law' campaign to tighten bail conditions, while Scott Yorke parodies the political one-upmanship which so often characterises political debates around sentencing all over the world, and Adam Bennett reports on the latest in the Crafar farm saga.By Bryce Edwards Email Bryce