Is it an outrageous abuse of fundamental democratic principles, or an essential power for coherent and stable government? Take your pick. Bill English's declaration that the Government will veto Sue Moroney's paid parental leave bill has outraged Opposition parties who think they have the numbers in Parliament to pass the legislation - see Newswire's Parental leave veto upsets Labour and Greens and TVNZ's Government plan to veto bill undemocratic - Labour.
Leftwing blogger Martyn Bradbury is typically incensed: 'This is the first time in modern political history that the minority have over ruled the majority in our house, it is a moment where the democratic empowerment of majority rule will be overturned by the minority' - see: Government to veto parliamentary majority - welcome to casual fascism.
In the comments Chris Trotter begs to differ, saying that voting on the budget is also part of our democratic process and is essential for a government to function: 'The reason the Executive is able to exercise a veto over legislation like Sue Moroney's PMB is quite simple - and actually quite democratic. Under our Westminster-based constitution the Crown (i.e. the Cabinet) asks Parliament to appropriate a specified amount of money for the purposes of governing the realm. This is the exercise we call The Budget. If it wants more money from the people, it must seek a further appropriation. The veto exists to prevent Parliament from legislating for an increase in expenditure (in this case 12 more weeks of PPL) without, at the same time, appropriating the money to offset it. Only the Government gets to spend money - not Parliament. Parliament's role is to vote money (in the form of taxes, duties and dividends) to the Crown and monitor the way the Crown uses it. The Government, in turn, cannot function unless it has a majority of MPs willing to vote for it's Budget. And we, the people, get to elect the MPs. That's the way our democracy works'.
This is a view shared by Andrew Geddis on Morning Report (listen here), although Geddis agrees that the early announcement of the veto before the bill is even debated is unusual. But blogger No Right Turn, has a different view (backed up with historical detail) in The financial veto and the constitution, and Gordon Campbell says the move 'is about political management, not financial management'.
Peter Dunne, and potentially the Maori Party, appear to be having their cake and eating it too in that case - voting for the budget while at the same time voting for legislation outside of the budget. A more honest approach would have been for National to make the vote one of confidence in the government, forcing their support partners to make the hard call.
In her article, Paid parental leave veto disappoints, Danya Levy reports that Dunne has some hope that the government may change its mind by the time the veto is actually used: 'A lot of water can move under the bridge in that time, there can be very strong public submissions in favour of the bill that created an overwhelming sense it should proceed or the public could strongly opposed to it'. Claire Trevett also thinks this is possible - see her interesting analysis of the Government's motivations and tactics in vetoing the bill: Early veto call keeps hopes in check.
On the actual merits of extending paid parental leave, today's Dominion Post editorial (Parental leave bill worth nurturing; ) strongly supports the proposal, arguing that trade-offs should be made to fund it. It cites interest-free student loans, National Superannuation and Working for Families as areas where the savings could be made. Similarly, National blogger David Farrar simply turns the table on Labour and asks, How would Labour pay for paid parental leave?.
The Productivity Commission's Housing affordability inquiry (PDF) is a significant report that confronts a very important element of economic inequality in New Zealand and many of its findings and recommendations will be hotly contested by local and central government politicians and activists.
Andrea Vance's Land, not tax, favoured to cool housing is one of the best articles looking at the report, and it highlights the growing inequalities in the housing market: 'The number of households with at least one person employed which cannot afford to buy a dwelling has risen to 58 per cent of all private renters'. Vance also highlights criticism of the government's $3 billion housing assistance policies, including the inadequate Social Housing Fund for community housing and forced re-locations of state house tenants.
Pattrick Smellie also has a good analysis using the vehement protests currently occurring in Glen Innes as an example. He says the protestors should welcome this report, as it 'expresses a fear that current social housing policy's emphasis on moving people through state houses undervalues the stability needed for sustainable improvements in social outcomes'.
On Glen Innes, Smellie says, 'In one fell swoop, the community feels not just displaced, but also ghettoised by a well-intentioned plan' - see: Social housing findings vital. Also see BusinessDesk's Council plans blamed for housing shortage, which focuses on the role that city councils are allegedly playing in undermining housing affordability.
The Greens are unhappy about the report because it challenges some of their core policies by recommending extending cities, reducing government regulation, and playing down the usefulness of a capital gains tax - see: TV3's Housing report 'unsustainable, incongruous' - Greens. Peter Lyons' Housing inflation distorts economy makes a clear case against another housing bubble.
Although Auckland is the long-term concern, Christchurch has the most urgent housing problem reports Olivia Carville in Rental crisis 'at breaking point'. This paints a very bleak picture of the housing crisis there as winter approaches and challenges Gerry Brownlee's assertion that the rental housing crisis was best left to the market. For an even more bleak view of post-quake Christchurch read The Political Scientist's Christchurch's Second Coming, which argues that, 'From almost any social, political, community or individual vantage point the 'soil' now being prepared for Christchurch's rebirth looks increasingly toxic'.
Issues of energy, the emissions trading scheme, and the environment are in the news lately, which might have something to do with the continuing rise of the Green Party. Of particular note is the decision announced today by the Government to alter elements of the ETS that is being seen as an emitter-friendly move - see Brian Fallow's Farmers to get emissions reprieve and Patrick Smellie's NZ must choose between Europe and 'the rest' on climate change stance. The Listener also has a very good in-depth feature on energy and the environment: Deep-sea drilling: the oil rush is on, as well as an editorial, Fracking: give us the facts.
Other important or interesting political items today include the following:
• Andrea Vance reports that 'Bill English has signalled education, welfare and health departments are the next targets for a shake-up of the public service' (English lists fresh targets for reform;)
• Vernon Small argues strongly against the Government's SkyCity deal, and suggests that Steven Joyce might recover his 'well-tuned political antenna' and scupper the deal, otherwise it will set a bad precedent and reiterate the Government's inclination to make dodgy deals (Pokie tradeoff a gamble for Key;).
• Mary Wareham and Angela Woodward argue that the axing of the Minister for Disarmament and Mfat cutbacks 'illustrate New Zealand's dwindling commitment to disarmament' (Disarmament work could be wasted;).
• The focus that MPs have had to endure on political finance has shifted onto local government, with a lot of discussion today about local politicians' salaries and private affairs - see Bronwyn Torrie's Dominion Post article, Mayors' pay rises amid cost cutting , Nikki Preston's Herald report, Councillors reject call to declare financial interests, and Rob Stock's Sunday Star Times piece, Councillors' money secrets should be revealed.
• The performance of local government politicians is currently being reviewed by a number of newspapers - see The Wellingtonian's The good, the bad and the strugglers and The Press' Rating the Christchurch City councillors.
• Judy Callingham appeals for a new model of public service television, arguing that the TVNZ7 approach was always flawed, and any public service channel needs to be independent of the commercial TVNZ (TVNZ7: if you want to save it - adopt it out; ).
• With the first public submissions in for the MMP Review, David Farrar aggregates the proposals put forward by the parliamentary parties, and finds a fairly strong consensus in favour of the status quo, perhaps reflecting self-interest - see: The parties on the MMP Review.
• The 'class war' in the meatworks industry and on the Auckland waterfront is obviously still very heated, as evidenced by the fact that Affco has invited in the Serious Fraud Office to investigate union accounts - although the SFO has declined - and the Maritime Union says Port intimidating wharfies.
• New Zealand is very used to our Prime Minister declaring himself 'relaxed' about all manner of political setbacks, and now it seems that his British counterpart has adopted the same approach - see: Tom Melzer's Guardian article Is David Cameron 'relaxed' about everything?.