Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: February 29

Paula Bennett. Photo / Jana Dixon
Paula Bennett. Photo / Jana Dixon

Along with John Key's 'state house kid' background, National has made much of Paula Bennett's experience as a solo mum in the 80s and 90s. While these experiences can be used to show that National hasn't lost touch with the struggles of ordinary New Zealanders, it can sometimes be a liability - especially when they are seen to deny people the same advantages they received from the state. Bennett has been forced to respond to claims she is a 'bloody hypocrite' by Mana Party leader Hone Harawira who pointed to a quote from Bennett in the Herald in 2008 relating how she had to give up part time work while on the DPB because she was 'exhausted'. The obvious comparison is with the requirement announced on Monday that DPB recipients will be forced to seek part and full-time work. Bennett was also able to buy a house thanks to a cheap state loan, which are no longer available and, of course, was able to study while on the DPB thanks to the Training Incentive Allowance that she herself cut last term.

John Key is also being criticised for saying there are plenty of jobs available. Keith Ng looks at the figures in his blogpost 195,508 people can't be that lazy and concludes 'If John Key has found all the jobs, 195,508 people would like to know'. See also Tova O'Brien's Beneficiaries to Govt: Show us the jobs.

There are editorials today in the Press, Dominion Post and Herald that give cautious support to the welfare reforms. But they all conclude that their success really depends on the availability of jobs. Brian Rudman asks Is this policy or just punishment?

The rising cost of local body rates in recent years is attracting central government attention, as outlined in a comprehensive article by Jane Clifton: Tackling our rising rates. There seems to be consensus that the increases well above inflation are a problem but, as you might expect, the finger of blame is being pointed both ways - at local councils themselves and at the requirements forced on them by central government. Clifton's article is supplemented by this week's Listener editorial, Rethinking local government

Eliminating the regional council layer of local government and further amalgamations look to be likely outcomes, something that former Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey enthusiastically endorses, particularly for Wellington.

The local authority under most pressure at the moment is, of course, Christchurch and John McCrone has a must-read backgrounder on how the council became the dysfunctional organisation many residents see it as. McCrone goes back over previous Mayoral-CEO partnerships and identifies the reforms made by 'change manager' Lesley McTurk as Chief Executive in 2003 when Parker's predecessor Garry Moore was mayor. The result was a more hierarchical organisation with an exodus of experienced managers to be replaced by a smaller number of close-knit senior managers. The number of councillors was halved and their involvement in council operations was severely restricted. This will all sound familiar because it closely follows the restructuring that many government departments had already been through. McTurk came to Christchurch from the health sector and currently heads up Housing New Zealand, which is in the process of cutting back community based offices. (McCrone has written another important article - CEO convinced city needs him).

Of course it's one thing to do it to others, but quite another to have it done to yourself, as Bob Parker is finding out in Christchurch. He expresses concern over the loss of control by the Council to the Government - see Jarrod Booker's State control of rebuild scary, says mayor (http://bit.ly/A9ebit).

Andrew Geddis has an extensive and recommended blog post on what will surely become the main issue of the MMP review: the 5% threshold and associated 'electorate lifeline'. Geddis argues for abolishing the lifeline, and reducing the threshold to 2.5%. He cautions against reducing the threshold further, saying that one-person parties can complicate stable government formation and struggle to operate effectively in Parliament.

The other electoral issue of great interest is the very low turnout at the last election, and today Martyn Bradbury makes the case for reforms, specifically increasing lowering the voting age, giving prisoners back the vote, making it easier for people to enroll and making election day more of a celebration of democracy - see: The Universal Suffrage Project 2014.

Labour MP Phil Twyford dares to tread where his leader won't go so far, by calling on Auckland Mayor Len Brown to take decisive action to resolve the Ports of Auckland dispute. Mfat scores an own-goal with revelations they are planning to spend nearly $1 million upgrading an indoor swimming pool for embassy staff in Tokyo - see: $1m for embassy pool, despite MFAT job cuts.

Other important articles today include Bryan Gould's Austerity proven as wrong answer to recession, the Taranaki Daily News Editorial An inconvenient truth: We need protesters, Tim Dare's Why we need public healthcare, Mike Coleman's Red-zoners stressed to breaking point, and the NZ Law Commission's blog post, Who are the news media?.

Finally, Stuff reports on UMR research that shows 'politically left-wing people outnumbered those to the firm right - 44 per cent and 35 per cent respectively with 18 per cent in the centre, but those on the right were more strongly associated with happiness' - see: What makes Kiwis happy?

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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