COMMENT: By Bryce Edwards
Will New Zealand politics in 2019 be characterised by policy substance or issues of leadership, personalities and political manoeuvrings? The various political journalists and pundits have made their forecasts (and indulged in some wishful thinking) for the year ahead.
Every year the political journalists at Stuff put together a long list of predictions for the year. This year's list has the usual mix of policy and people-focused forecasts – see: 2019 Political predictions: Big calls for the year ahead. And it's also worth looking back at how well they did with their 2018 forecasts (they scored only 90/200) – see: 2018 Political predictions: MPs made big, bold moves.
In terms of policy issues for the Government, the Stuff team are predicting the following for 2019: the capital gains tax will be extended but generally the Government will water down tax reform, a referendum on euthanasia will be established, promised abortion law reform will be parked, and little progress will be made on KiwiBuild.
The Government will also continue to be beset by the Sroubek immigration saga, worker strikes will continue (although the teacher unions are predicted to resolve their claims early in the year), the bullying inquiry in Parliament will lead to substantial reform, and Green co-leader Marama Davidson will embarrass her party with another soap-box campaign.
There are also some major political manoeuvrings predicted – in particular, Judith Collins is forecast to carry out a successful coup against her leader, Simon Bridges. Two new National Party-friendly parties will arise. And a Cabinet reshuffle will bring promotions for Kris Faafoi, Ruth Dyson, Deborah Russell, and Fletcher Tabuteau. And they predict a backbench Government MP will get in trouble for personal issues, and another minister will depart.
Emulating Stuff's exercise, rightwing blogger David Farrar has his forecasts here: Predictions for 2019. They include a rebrand for the Act Party (to become the "Freedom Party"); deputy Labour Party leader Kelvin Davis to be replaced, another government minister will go, and any proposed new capital gains tax will fail to get enough parliamentary support.
Again, caution is required – Farrar also looks back on his predictions from last year, giving himself a score of 12/20 – see: Scoring my 2018 predictions.
On the left, David Cormack presents more of a wishlist than forecast, particularly on issues like climate change: "let's just do something. Anything" – see: It's the end of the year as we know it. Let's make things happen in 2019. Cormack also hopes something is done about immigration, inequality, and the lack of housing.
Continuing the leftwing predictions/wishlist, Greg Presland writes at The Standard with his own outlook on 2019 – see: Political punditry in 2019. Some of the more interesting forecasts are: Phil Goff to win the Auckland mayoralty again, Simon Bridges to remain as National leader, National will continue to have no political party allies, and the New Conservative Party wins a bigger profile but doesn't actually take off.
The New Conservatives are predicted to do much better by Martyn Bradbury, who sees them going above five per cent in the polls, aided by an escalating culture war in New Zealand – in particular a conservative backlash against the "woke" left which he sees as being more interested in a "counter productive fight" against the likes of Jordan Peterson – see: Pessimistic Predictions for 2019.
In addition, Bradbury forecasts Phil Goff to lose the Auckland mayoralty, the Greens to slip further in the polls, Labour Party deputy leader Kelvin Davis to step down, Shane Jones to continue building his powerbase in the Northland electorate (eyeing up a 2020 election there), and "Kiwibuild will continue to underperform and remain a political weeping wound throughout 2019."
Another version of a 2019 wishlist was published in the Herald, and was amongst a longer list of complaints about life in New Zealand – see: No more! Things we can do without in 2019. The "no more" list includes: "Abortion in the Crimes Act; Child poverty; Public health service waits; National Party leaks; New Australian Prime Ministers; One more person referring to "Burning Bridges". It sounds like you have Winston whispering in your ear; Bullies; KiwiBuild scandals; Brexit updates; The Prime Minister missing question time."
The Spinoff surveyed fifteen political pundits on what the three biggest issues of the political year would be – see: 2019 in politics: What will the big issues be?. The main issues picked were climate change (cited by six), geopolitical issues relating to China (six), the economy (four) and housing (four).
In terms of climate change, Linda Clark says: "Finding the politically saleable way forward is going to be a real test of the coalition's skill and persuasion. This issue needs a bipartisan approach – but there won't be one."
Many other writers cite the reports generated by the myriad of Government working groups as defining the upcoming year. Stacey Kirk says: "Tax, education, criminal justice reform, welfare reform and mental health working groups are all expected to land in the coming year, and when that happens, the Government will have some tough financial decisions to make" – see: Political slates wiped clean won't stay that way for long in 2019.
Kirk also suggests that National will be very policy-focused this year, too: "Intent on being the policy factory Labour never was in Opposition, National is set to be releasing a number of discussion papers as well as some fully formed policies. In the hope it will keep the party's rep as a slick operating unit – looking leaderly and switched on".
A Herald editorial also draws attention to the various working groups being a focus for politics in 2019, and forecasts that, in terms of the mental health report, "the Government probably will do something significant on that front this year", while the radical reforms proposed by the Tomorrow's Schools working group are likely to be watered down – see: Smorgasbord of issues to keep us all busy in 2019.
It's tax reform that many are pointing to as the big issue of 2019, and Peter Williams has an excellent discussion on this in his column, Tax set to become major political issue. Williams argues, however, that large scale reform seems unlikely.
This also seems to be the conclusion of Bill Ralston, who views the Tax Working Group's report as significant, but believes politics is likely to curtail radical reform: "All of the group's proposals would require the consent of NZ First. Even if Peters does agree to all the proposed changes, which is very unlikely, Labour will have to take its new tax platform to the electorate in 2020. Voters, especially the rapidly rising elderly cohort, are likely to be averse to tax increases, especially a capital gains tax on their houses and share funds, their keys to a comfortable retirement" – see: Grab your popcorn, there's plenty more political drama to come.
Ralston's more interesting prediction and analysis is about Judith Collins taking over National's leadership: "National will have to drop several percentage points in the polls before a coup can happen, but I'm picking that Collins has in mind a timeline that could give her the leadership shortly before next Christmas. The plotters, I understand, also have links to Winston Peters and New Zealand First. A Collins leadership would work to the benefit of both National and Peters who, it is believed, could work with her. It would give the Nats a potential partner in a future government, and be a valuable bargaining chip for Peters in any post-election negotiations with Labour."
Finally, if political pundits are not deemed reliable enough – after all, who predicted the major issue of 2018 would be anything like the Jami-Lee Ross saga? – then perhaps it's time for supernatural talents to be consulted. Newshub have recruited two, who disagree about how stable or wild the upcoming year is going to be, but what they do agree on is that Judith Collins is on her way in – see Sophie Bateman and Sam Harvey's Interview with the psychic: Top predictions for 2019, and Vita Molyneux's 'Psychic' Barry Newman predicts what 2019 holds for New Zealand.