Saturday: National Party unveils ‘diverse’ Party list
The National Party released its Party list on Saturday. It’s diverse! According to the PR, “There are 22 women and 18 men in the top 40 representing European, Māori, Indian, Cook Island, Samoan, Korean, Filipino, Tongan and Chinese New Zealanders.” But the party is expected to win a lot of electorate seats that were captured in 2020′s “red wave”, and they’ll mostly be won by pākeha men. Speaking of whom, former Cabinet Minister Michael Woodhouse resigned from National’s list after being advised of his low placing and complained to the Otago Daily Times “there was a contest between diversity and experience, and in my case diversity won”.
The traditional argument for diversity in politics is that parties should reflect the nation they hope to govern. Also worth considering: National had a nightmare run last election with their MPs and candidates repeatedly disgracing themselves – Woodhouse admitted he’d posed with a toilet seat featuring a picture of Labour MP Clare Curran – and National felt like a party full of badly behaved men who were there mainly because they were blokes in suits. There’s still an awful lot of them there, cheerfully occupying safe electorate seats. Christopher Luxon will struggle to form a capable Cabinet if he’s elected.
Labour continued with their policy rollout promising to teach compulsory financial literacy in schools. National supports the idea. It’s a good policy! Back in 2017, Jacinda Ardern campaigned on a School Leavers’ Toolkit policy, which would teach financial literacy, alongside driving tests and civics. Nothing ever came of it.
Monday: National announces health policy; Labour takes dramatic fall in polls
Labour announced Monday it will also make reading, writing and maths a compulsory part of children’s learning. It’s ready to roll out to schools next year and be compulsory by 2026 and it’s nearly identical to National’s education policy, released back in March and heavily criticised by the Education Minister Jan Tinetti who now finds herself implementing an almost identical model.
National has already pledged to bring back $5 prescription fees, and announced they’ll use the money to fund 13 cancer treatments which are available in Australia but not New Zealand. New Zealand has a theoretically great model for drug funding: Pharmac is a politically independent body that makes decisions around funding based on evidence not lobbying campaigns by pharmaceutical companies. Unfortunately, it’s been long underfunded and badly run: a damning 2022 review highlighted the poor culture and decision-making within the organisation, especially around new cancer treatments. So, it’s become standard for political parties to announce circumventions of the Pharmac process in election years.
A bombshell 1News Verian poll came out Monday. Labour down, National and Act comfortably forming a new government. It’s a devastating result for Labour and Chris Hipkins: they made an awfully big bet on their GST policy, gambling their economic credibility on the focus groups which told them it would be popular with the public. Hipkins is only slightly more popular than National leader Luxon.
Why isn’t Hipkins connecting with the public? He came in promising to focus on the cost-of-living – the most pressing political issue of the time – and he’s done just that: Labour has scrapped the $5 payment for medical prescriptions, delivered free public transport for children and half price transport for 13-24 year-olds, extended early child care eligibility and promised to remove GST from fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables. What more do voters want?
I suspect they want lower interest rates on mortgages, or lower rents, lower petrol prices and price stability at the supermarket: annual food inflation was 9.6% in July. But Hipkins doesn’t have much agency over these things – he could lower petrol prices via the road user and excise fees again but it’s incredibly expensive. Interest rates are determined by the Reserve Bank and they’ve indicated they’ll keep them high until next year. The government is highly unlikely to impose a price freeze or a rent freeze because of the long-term damage to the economy. Although they might be looking at those poll results and considering it.
Tuesday: New policies continue to roll out
Yet more policy! If re-elected Labour will regulate vape stores, introducing a licensing regime and limiting the number of vendors to 600, which would halve the number of vape outlets. Luxon is looking at “all options” including a vape ban but they don’t have a solid policy yet.
Earlier this month the Green Party released a free dental care policy. On Tuesday, dentists and senior doctors in the public health system voted to go on strike. It’s mostly over pay, which is higher in both the private sector and Australian public sector but the dentists also shared their concerns over the extremely long wait times for dental care It highlights the fragility of policies which promise “free” things without solving the supply-side problems that make them so expensive to begin with.
Wednesday: Government spending critiqued; Act candidates caught out; Todd Muller says goodbye
Earlier this month the Ministry for Pacific Peoples was caught out spending $40,000 on a farewell event for its Secretary, who moved to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, who then spent $5,000 on a welcoming event. This week Stuff reported that the Department of Internal Affairs spent $17,000 hosting a pōwhiri for their new Deputy Chief Executive. Back in the 1990s public service heads often saw themselves as corporate CEOs, and they were criticised for receiving gigantic payouts when they left an organisation. Public servants under Labour have taken on a more priestly role, adopting te reo Māori as a liturgical language and celebrating senior managers as princes of the church (if not actual divinities: last year the Reserve Bank governor infamously described the organisation as the Tāne Mahuta of the financial sector) whose career successes require elaborate formal celebration.
A number of Act candidates were revealed to have made bizarre posts on social media. One has resigned after comparing vaccine mandates to concentration camps. Another linked the Covid-19 vaccines to drownings. A candidate who accused Ardern of wanting to throw people in gulags resigned a month ago.
Political parties attract strange people – the minor parties especially so – and they usually adopt elaborate vetting processes to manage this risk. Act has had some extremely odd people elected into Parliament in the past: David Garrett, the MP who resigned after being caught stealing the identity of a dead baby is probably the nadir but there’s serious competition. Everyone expected their 2020 intake to continue this tradition, but Seymour’s caucus was disappointingly effective. This year they’ll get about 17 MPs on their current polling so someone extremely interesting is bound to slip through.
Earlier this week David Seymour joked(?) about his dream of sending Guy Fawkes to the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, in response to that Ministry’s previously mentioned spending scandal. This was discussed in Parliament, and in a supplementary question Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi asked a question of the Prime Minister that breached a court suppression order.
Normally this will get you in legal trouble but because Waititi was engaging in parliamentary procedure at the time he’s protected by absolute privilege, meaning there can be no legal liability for anything he says. But he will almost certainly be referred to Parliament’s Privileges Committee, where he can be censured, fined, suspended and (theoretically) imprisoned by a group of MPs that currently includes Act MP David Seymour.
Former National Party leader Todd Muller delivered his valedictory speech Wednesday night. Muller was an aide for Jim Bolger back in the 1990s, and while he had a low profile outside National he was often regarded as a potential leader and Prime Minister. Bolger publicly backed Muller in his successful coup against Simon Bridges in May of 2020 – but Muller stood down seven weeks later, after experiencing a nervous breakdown.
His speech referenced these events – he rebuked some members of his party for failing to support him during his period of recovery – and also spoke about the importance of the Climate Change Commission, warning it would become “increasingly meaningless” if the government failed to follow its advice. It’s a speech advocating for principled centrism in politics, and it warned about the deepening bitterness emerging from the political debate around Māori political and economic aspiration.