Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: June 18

Winston Peters is proving himself a thorn in both Labour and National's sides this term. Photo / File
Winston Peters is proving himself a thorn in both Labour and National's sides this term. Photo / File

Winston Peters is proving to be the fly in Labour's ointment yet again. Labour has until now had National - and John Key in particular - squirming over the superannuation age. It looked like Labour was leading a debate that would, inevitably, end up on their side. After all, Labour's new and defining policy of reducing entitlements by raising the age of entitlement to the pension has been echoed by a chorus of commentators and lobbyists.

And even the Greens have appeared to be onside for the reduction. But Peters is now, with some success, positioning himself in the box seat to be the defender of superannuation against attacks, and even looking to increase it - see: Peters: make super more generous. Peters says that he will not allow Labour to govern if that party will implement its big changes to National Superannuation.

It creates quite a problem for Labour which, in all probability, will need NZ First to govern, but clearly will not be able to deliver their increase in the age with him. As Adam Bennett points out, there is some wiggle room if Labour puts off the increase until after the next term, but such delaying tactics is exactly what Labour has been attacking John Key over - see: Pension and Peters a tricky issue.

National, while acknowledging the problems it has had with Peters, is clearly signalling they will be looking to NZ First after the next election - see Newswire's Key not ruling out deal with NZ First. On TVNZ's Q+A panel Matthew Hooton made the point that, with the likely reduction in the MMP party vote threshold to 4%, a National/Conservative/NZFirst coalition is a realistic proposition, particularly considering the problems Peters would have as the 'third wheel on a Labour-Green Government' - see the transcript of the Panel discusses Peter Neilson interview.

The complex nature of Winston Peters' politics is examined in a good article by Anthony Hubbard which examines his underlying values: 'Sometimes he appeals to liberal values of fairness and harm reduction. He argues for increasing the minimum wage, for instance, because it would reduce the suffering of the poor and lead to greater economic justice. But sometimes he appeals to other values. His attack on immigrants is based on nationalism and group loyalty. His attack on Maori militants and the bro-ocracy is based on some sense of racial community and solidarity, to put it politely. His critics would call it something much less respectable' - see: Winston's one-man band.

And Peters displayed that duality almost in the same breath over the weekend. He attacked the Financial Services Council (FSC) which has been stoking the debate in the past week - see: Tithing proposed to fund pensions. The FSC has, according to Peters, a huge vested interest in 'the start of privatisation of national superannuation....If any government listens to the council it will be the start of the end of a universal state pension scheme and the introduction of a means tested pittance' - see: NZ Super concerns 'manufactured for the media' - Peters.

Opposing greater private provision of pensions will strike a chord for many voters, particularly those with old and new scars from sharemarket collapses and finance company failures. As Matt McCarten pointed out on Q+A, discussing the FSC's proposal for a private compulsory savings scheme: 'Super is already compulsory. It's called taxation. That's actually what pays'.

Only a few breaths later though and Peters creates a New Zealand First 'Perfect Storm' by claiming that elderly immigrants are to partially to blame for the growing superannuation burden. His evidence, from 'a very senior Chinese source' is almost laughably mysterious and shonky but went down well with the party members and no doubt will suit other voters looking for an easy target to point the finger at - see: No tax paid, but '22,000 migrants can get Super'.

Labour will be pleased to be receiving support for retirement changes in other items today. For example, the Listener editorial urges a solution before we face the same probklems they do in Europe - see: Kicking the can down the road, Paul Thomas paints a scenario where medical science means that younger generations might live, not to 100 but 1000 years - see: Longer lives make super a serious problem, and the Herald editorial has a poke at selfish baby-boomers but suffers a logic failure by suggesting that raising the age of eligibility after most of the boomers have retired would somehow resolve the unfairness - see: Super a bill our kids can't pay.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* Membership of the National Party has been decimated - dropping from about 250,000 in the 1960s to 28,000 in 2012. Yet National is still the biggest New Zealand political party by far. The latest figures are apparently what National's general manager, Greg Hamilton, is telling members - as reported by Cameron Slater in his blog post, How many National Party members will still be alive in 2022?. Slater suggests that this relatively healthy figure disguises the fact that National is headed for a 'massive membership collapse' due to the fact that 'that there are more members over 80 than under 30, and that the median age is somewhere close to 70'.

* The Ports of Auckland workers appear to have won their industrial battle, but it's not yet officially confirmed - see: Cherie Howie's 'Secret' breakthrough at port. As Matt McCarten points out, workers have therefore recently won four significant industrial victories - see: At last, some victories for the bosses' victims.

* Progress with the rebuild in Christchurch is dealt with in a number of useful items today. Two items deal with some changes of heart within government organisations - see the Press editorial, Zoning review is the right decision and Olivia Carville's Govt to look at Chch housing problem. And two other items look at the bigger picture: David Killick argues for a master plan for Canterbury in Think bigger, clearer for Canterbury's future, and John McCrone has an in depth feature weighing up whether Gerry Brownlee is 'ruining the Christchurch rebuild' or producing 'a textbook recovery... that will amaze the world' - see: Minister intent on rebuild path.

* Tim Watkin casts doubt on the compromises Tony Ryall admits the government will make to push through their privatisation policy - see: The asset sales "trade-off" - a lose-lose.

* ACC's hard hearted approach to its clients is examined by Danya Levy - see: ACC 'cold blooded' to victims, and Tapu Misa - see: Money blinds ACC to principles. Meanwhile Dave Armstrong looks at the background and experience of those making the important decisions - see: Is politics becoming too corporate?.

* John Armstrong thinks the Government will soon have to admit it has a serious case of 'second term-itus' - see: Key gets edgy as the blunder-bus rolls on, while Steve Braunias reveals the Prime Minister's innermost thoughts after his recent OE -see: The secret diary of John Key.

* 'White flight' is a reality in our schools apparently. Principles are blaming the decile ratings which they say parents incorrectly interpret as indicating how well a school teaches - see: Pakeha families avoiding low decile schools, figures show. Could this actually just be class and racial prejudice in action?

* The strange loophole that allows Christian propaganda to be taught in state schools is causing divisions amongst parents reports Marika Hill, particularly as more aggressive brands find the way into the classroom - see: Religious lessons divide parents.

* The Trans Pacific Partnership can only work if the US actually sticks to what they have previously agreed to argues Matthew Hooton - see: NZ must stay staunch on TPP.

* Forest and Bird conference attendees may have been surprised to find themselves listening to an attack on the Green Party - see: Gareth Morgan takes a swipe at Green Party. Morgan was arguing that been seen as 'lefties' or 'extremists' actually makes it harder to protect the environment and that conservationists need to have the courage to 'disown' activist groups.

* Finally, Labour MP Clare Curran is on a mission to prove that John Key is less popular in cyberspace than is assumed. A recent NBR article about politicians on Twitter by Chris Keall showed that John Key is top of the twits on 50K. Curran has responded with a blogpost, John Key's "ghost" followers, leading to numerous blogosphere rebuttals and disagreements, including Scott Yorke's Oh Look, Another Post About Red Alert and Danyl Mclauchlan's Logical disjunction watch.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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