I’ve spent much of my adult life overseas during NZ elections, but when Ive been here I am in admiration at how little we allow the more boorish side of international politics to enter our country.
This year I find my self registered in Auckland Central, and facing with a genuine dilemma.
I quite like the MMP government of the last few years. National and their partners have managed to ‘not screw up ‘as NZ got battered by the global financial crisis, the Christchurch Earthquake, the Japanese Tsunami and the continued global economic meltdown. They even managed to ‘not screw up’ the Rugby World Cup.
Not screwing up might sound like a pretty thin complement, but I don’t intend it to be so. After nine years in opposition, any party would be tempted to ram home a load of politically charged policy that changed everything. Instead National kept a steady hand on the tiller, and largely didn’t change what worked. There were no draconian moves to save the country from the GFC, while the handling of the earthquake has been largely acceptable, though huge gaps are emerging.
The solid last few years are a tribute also to a solid previous 9 years with Labour in charge under MMP, and solid National and Labour led governments before that. We can quibble about the effectiveness of particular governments that have been in power for too long, and we can argue about whether particular policies are right or wrong, but to largely keep things moving in the right direction is pretty much all we ask as New Zealanders.
I like the way our system works, how the Greens and Maori parties worked with National to temper the politics, how Labour worked productively in committee, and how common sense largely prevails. MPs are almost universally good people trying to do good work. But it’s a strange profession, and the election process is a bizarre way to get a job.
I’m a swing voter.
I’ve voted for every major party over the years, which excludes ACT and Winston Peters, and as long I am largely sober those two parties will never get my vote. I’m a fan of economic reason dominating discussions of economics affairs, and of ensuring that every New Zealander (and everyone in the word) gets decent and fair childhood, education, medical care and employment and business opportunities. All three (National, Labour, Greens) major parties agree at least somewhat with these principals, and the differences are where they win or lose on policy.
Labour is currently demonstrating a poor understanding of public sector economics. Their promotion of removing GST on fruit and vegetables is particularly galling. The economic cost to society will be high. We will almost certainly spend more money and time (which can be measured in dollars) on compliance than we will make from this tax.
How about them apples?
Imagine – you are travelling on company business, and buy an apple as part of your lunch. Is that apple GST-free? Should you itemise it separately in your expenses? What if the apple was cooked – is it still exempt? What about canned apples?
Meanwhile the market price of fruit and vegetables is set according to how much consumers will pay, not on cost price. While the overall cost price is important, GST is a small component versus the effects of seasonality, the scale of the supplier and the type of store. Meanwhile it’s also going to decrease the input prices for burgers fast food restaurants like McDonalds – an unintended consequence that may not be desirable.
I don’t mind a low (15-20%) capital gains tax which Labour is proposing, and I do like progressive tax systems. The details of each of these is important though, and more work is required.
Labour is also beating a drum against on asset sales, of which I have more below.
The candidate in Auckland Central is Jacinda Ardern. I’ve seen her in the street 4 times now, once knocking on our apartment block door, once at a fair, at a debate and in Wynyard Quarter with Goff and co. She seems very eager and smart and approachable, and is certainly working hard. But there are also too many party hacks and old folks in the Labour team, with little evidence of the necessary refresh of the candidates that they will need to become electable. They have failed to confront the tough decisions internally, which bodes badly for them making the tough decisions for the country.
National also have some economically unsound policies, and the big one they are campaigning on is asset sales. I’ve heard three reasons for the sales – to raise money, to give more liquidity to the NZX and to get better management by a private sector board.
What’s missing is the effect on the end user – the consumers and businesses. These infrastructure assets, while a small part of the overall Government assets, have a critical effect on the efficiency of our economy. They sell vital services to us, and we need to ensure sustainable and low cost renewable power, and an efficient and low cost yet excellent airline.
The goal of raising money is relatively short term, and could arguably be accomplished by issuing debt from those companies for a much lower expected cost. Meanwhile the NZX is always going to suffer from a critical mass problem, as, frankly, does the ASX.
But it’s the last point where I take real issue. The economic events of the last few years are ample evidence that short term profit focused investors are lousy owners. The Occupy Wall Street movement, with participants in NZ, signifies the contempt for which we hold owners and agents who manage companies for personal gain.
Meanwhile the NZ Government are actually superb natural owners of infrastructure, and the current arms-length system of governance set up with COMU is a generally good way to run them. Governments have very long term perspectives and these companies should be focused not just on short term profits, but also on the overall impact on the economy and end-users. This means more direction to build low or zero carbon emitting power generators, to invest in both generation capacity as well as helping customers use less. It means Meridian spinning off more amazing little companies like Powershop, which was top in the Deloitte Fast 50 this year.
It’s true there are some private sector companies that are managed for very long term goals and focus, but while they are often wildly successful, companies like Apple and Berkshire Hathaway are few, and leaders of the quality of Jobs and Buffett rare.
However this doesn’t mean that National is wrong about selling down, nor that Labour is right about not selling assets.
We have some remarkable potential asset owners in New Zealand, owners focused on the long term gain for investors and for New Zealand. I refer of course to the various iwi, as well as to the superfund and ACC fund. They are the natural buyers for the assets, and it would be highly unlikely that any of them would want to sell to a hostile foreign investor. Many Kiwisaver funds will also invest, though some of them will churn away over time, they will also have a longer term perspective.
I feel that National have not, mainly because they can’t, pushed this point enough beyond a few coded statements. The assets will end up being owned by the Government and by funds investing on behalf of New Zealanders. Prime Minister Key has used the cringe-inducing phrase “Kiwi Mums and Dads” several times, to refer to potential investors, but while most Mums and Dads (and those of us without children) won’t invest directly, the big funds will be investing on our behalf.
Meanwhile the percentages sold could also be reviewed. Firstly we don’t really have to own all the power producers – so why no sell down more of the dirty coal/gas ones and keep the clean green ones. For the others, why not sell down 24% rather than 49% so we maintain super-control with 76% ownership, as with Air New Zealand. For Air New Zealand, please let’s just not touch it as everything is going so well in the Airline of the Year. When Air New Zealand focuses on being excellent at what they do rather than doing deals then we all win.
In Auckland Central the National candidate and incumbent MP is Nikki Kaye. She seems to work hard, though I have only seen her on the campaign trail once. The National supporters in the area meanwhile have collectively managed to rile me up, but then again so have several Labour and essentially all ACT supporters, so let’s call it even.
The Green party continues to mature, and this election is fielding 15 or so very electable candidates. It seems to be fairly widely agreed amongst observers across the spectrum that they have done a great job in selecting their number 10-15 list candidates, young, smart and potentially great additions to parliament.
Their policies are a mixed bag, but they are wisely front and center with the more sane ones – clean rivers, child health and green jobs. A sustainability focused party should have long term economic health at the forefront, and they seem to do so as well. They were also the only party, thanks to @garethmp, to front foot the copyright debate, and they hold the higher ground in the transport debate and in issues like food labelling and rebuilding Christchurch.
But the Greens cannot govern alone, and many of their policies won’t survive the test of the real world. So they need to be in partnership with another party.
But that party should, in my opinion, certainly not be Labour, at least not this cycle. They are not yet ready to govern again, and the dual-left of center parties will struggle with the coming economic events. National on the other hand need the Green perspective to add sustainability and a longer term focus to their government. I’d like to see the Greens work with National to moderate the approach to asset sales, but also to aim higher in other areas like the Christchurch rebuild and sustainable yet high economic growth.
I have no idea what ACT stands for beyond personal ambition with a healthy dose of greed. Their time has long past, and National will be well rid of them.
I just hope he never comes back into politics, as his motivation always seems to be self-serving. He will bring entertainment but instability to parliament.
The Maori party, like the Greens, should be part of any governing coalition. It’s critical that Maori views and requirements are incorporated early into any new policy, and being on the governing coalition is the way to do so. National worked well with them in the last term, and should do so again. Maori have very long term goals, and this longer term perspective is critical to maintain across governments.
Mana, United Future
These are parties of one person who serve an electorate, and will likely get in and keep doing well what they are doing well.
I’m picking National will just win, draw or nearly win the election outright, that ACT will not earn more than one seat (hopefully none), and that National will choose to work with the Maori and Greens as they did in the last term (as well as Peter Dunne of course). New Zealand first won’t be showing up to the bar.
Overall that’s a bit of wishful thinking as I see this group as the best outcome for New Zealand right now. We need to continue to weather the global events, and certainly don’t want rapid politically driven changes.
For Auckland Central, hopefully Nikki Kaye will become a minister and Jacinda Ardern will elevate to a front bench position after a major Labour reshuffle.