Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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The far right is poisoning New Zealand!

How the far right is poisoning New Zealand is an opinion piece in the Washington Post, and I suspect most who read it and are not familiar with the politics of Aotearoa New Zealand will reach the conclusion headlined in the piece.

But do the “facts” used to support the headline stack up?

First of all, what is meant by the far right? I don’t think we’ll all completely agree what is meant by far right in politics, but this definition from Wikipedia seems reasonable:

Far-right politics is a term used to describe politics further on the right of the left-right spectrum than the standard political right, particularly in terms of more extreme nationalist, and nativist ideologies, as well as authoritarian tendencies.

The term is often associated with Nazism, neo-Nazism, fascism, neo-fascism and other ideologies or organizations that feature extreme nationalist, chauvinist, xenophobic, racist or reactionary views. These can lead to oppression and violence against groups of people based on their supposed inferiority, or their perceived threat to the nation, state or ultraconservative traditional social institutions.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some at the claims made.

New Zealand First has traditionally been an afterthought in New Zealand politics. Really? The New Zealand First Party has been a coalition partner in 3 of the last 4 governments. Its leader, Winston Peters has held the post of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in two previous administrations, and held the role of Treasurer in one.

And no matter what one’s of opinion of Peters might be (and mine are not very favourable), those under forty are unlikely to have known a time where he hasn’t been in the headlines. There’s no doubt that he’s a populist, cares little for political correctness, enjoys controversy and being in the spotlight. Peters formed NZ First in 1993 after resigning from the National Party, and has been its leader ever since. The party and Peters are so closely intertwined, that the two names are frequently used interchangeably. Being an afterthought in NZ politics? Absolutely not.

Mack then stated “a far-right party that received just seven percent of the vote had the power to decide who would rule“. Two problems here: far right and power.

New Zealand First policies do not fit with the definition of far right as defined above. Most political commentators here call the party centrist, fitting somewhere between the two major parties: National (centre right) and Labour (centre left). To put the left/right divide in NZ into perspective, the centre right here is further left than the centre left in the USA.The left wing of the American Democrat party would be in alignment with the NZ National party.

Peters is guilty of making racist comments in the past, although never when in government, and I think he would qualify as a bit racist, but he has shown no animosity towards immigrants and ethnic groups already in NZ. The party is anti immigration, although they support an increase in the number of refugees being admitted to the country. The party is socially conservative and Peters voted against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1980s, civil unions in 2005 and marriage equality in 2013, but as far as I can see, neither the party nor Peters has advocated repeals of the legislation. At one time he and the party campaigned for a repeal of the so called “anti-smacking” legislation, but that seems to be off the radar for the time being.

In many ways Peters is an enigma: Highly combative yet liked and respected by political allies and foes alike. I’m not fond of his style, nor many of the policies held by NZ First, but it really does take a vivid imagination to paint either as being far right.

If one does the maths, there were some 15 different possible scenarios that could have been played out in the formation of a stable government after the September elections. Some, admittedly, were unlikely to happen but there were a number of scenarios that could have formed stable governments without the involvement of NZ First. To claim that a party with 7% of the popular vote had the power to decide who would rule, is a failure to understand the nature of negotiation. Labour, the greens and NZ First reached an agreement to form a viable government. Let’s see: Labour 36.9% + NZ First 7.2% + Greens 6.3% = 50.4%. I think that’s sufficient public support to give them the right to form a government. National did not have a moral right to form a government simply because it had 44.4% of the popular vote.

Mack claims that Peters and NZ First held the country to ransom by delaying a decision for weeks while making increasingly extreme demands. Huh? Negotiations started the day after the final vote was declared, and were concluded ten days later. Given that any agreement had to be ratified by members of three political parties (four if you include the negotiations between National and NZ First that were going on at the same time), it was quite an achievement to conclude negotiations in less than two weeks.

And what were the extreme demands that apparently Ardern had kowtowed to? Slashed immigration? A plank In labour’s election platform was the reduction in the net migration gain, currently running at over 70,000 per year, which is placing a strain on housing stock and infrastructure. The section of the coalition agreement on immigration starts with “As per Labour’s policy…” So no far right plan imposed on the new government.

Mack also claims they’ve also put forward legislation banning non-citizens from owning property. Ah, no they haven’t. The proposal is to prevent overseas investors from purchasing and speculating in existing housing stock. There will be no restrictions on non-citizens who reside here from doing so. And foreign investors will still be able to build and own new housing stock. This has been Labour policy since 2013.

So what has NZ First achieved? An increase of the minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2020. This is about $2 more than labour had proposed. The biggest “concession” gained by Peters is funding of regional development to the tune of 10 billion dollars over 10 years. There’s also an agreement to review the existing Super Gold Card with the possibility of replacing it with a new generation Super Gold Card. If these are extreme demands from the far right, I’ll eat my hat.

As for the white supremacists clashes outside Parliament: Six National Front members were holding an annual rally on the steps of parliament when they were glitter bombed and man-handled by several hundred anti-racism protesters. If this is a sign of increased support for far right ideals, what should I make of 60,000 who took part in a far right rally in Poland?

When we look at the new Labour NZ First government, it must be noted that 41% of the executive are Māori or Polynesian, and within the combined caucuses of Labour and the Greens, 50% are women. Hardly a good sign for white supremacists and bigotry.

Before I close this rant over the Washington Post’s appalling journalism, I need to point out that governance agreements between parties in New Zealand tend to form very loose coalitions. To maintain party distinctiveness, the agreements have “agree to disagree” clauses. These allow parties in government to vote against each other on matters important to them.

An example of this is likely to arise when the TPP free trade treaty comes up for ratification in Parliament. Both NZ First and the Greens oppose the treaty and will most likely vote against it. This will not be a threat to the government due to the agree to disagree arrangements. In this particular case, the government will be able to rely on support from National, but there will be other occasions where it will be unable to raise the support necessary to pass legislation, even with major concessions to other parties. However, such events are very unlikely to bring down a government.

If you’d like to know more on how our novel arrangements for multi-party governance is developing in New Zealand, you might like to read the PDF document MMP and the Constitution published by the Victoria University Faculty of Law. It’s a little old, being published in 2009, but it does illustrate how pragmatism rather than ideology influences how the country is governed.

Sorry Ben Mack, but if New Zealand is being poisoned by the far right, then the rest of the world must be in its final death throes.

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What’s so special about today?

I don’t know if today has any significance in your part of the world, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand  the 19th of September is a time to reflect on a major milestone in our country’s history.

It was 124 years ago today that women won the right to vote, making New Zealand the first self-governing country where women were able to vote. However it was not until 1919 that universal suffrage was attained – the right to vote and stand for election. So in this regard, New Zealand was somewhat tardy.

While considerable progress has been made since then – for example, 46% of senior position in the public service are held by women, we still have some way to go. Women are underrepresented in Parliament (only 30% of members of Parliament are women) and in senior management roles in the private sector.

There’s still a pay parity gap. Women on average earn 9% less than men. This is mainly because many of the roles traditionally undertaken by women, and where today women still greatly outnumber men, are undervalued and and are paid poorly. For example nursing, childcare, and teaching.

In the legal and medical professions, the majority of graduates since the early 1990s have been women, yet less than 20% of senior legal partners are women, and much the same applies to senior management in the medical profession.

So while we should be proud of the progress made, it’s also a time to reflect on what each of us can to to bring about true equality.


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The Jacinda effect, or how a week is a long time in politics

Is it a Kiwi thing to name political events after the first name of politicians? For example when Laissez-Faire economics was flavour of the decade in the 1980s, it was dubbed Reaganomics in the US (after Ronald Reagan), Thatchernomics in the UK (after Margaret Thatcher), but here in Aotearoa New Zealand it was called Rogernomics, (after Roger Douglas).

For the past month we have been faced with a new political event named after the first name of a politician – the Jacinda effect, also dubbed Jacindamania. Named after Jacinda Adern, it has turned a what was expected to be a boring and predictable general election into one balanced on a knife edge, with the major political parties leap frogging each other with the publishing of each new opinion poll.

Under our MMP electoral system, party representation in Parliament is determined by the nationwide party vote, and opinion polls can give a very accurate prediction of election results. During election campaigns, support for the major parties do not vary by more than a few percentage points. This year it’s very different.

At the commencement of this year’s campaign in July, the National party was polling at around 47% support while the Labour party was at 25% and falling. Of the minor parties, the Greens and NZ first were neck and neck with 10% each. Other parties were polling at 1% or less. The outcome was predicted to be that either National could form a government on its own or in cooperation with its current allies, NZ Futures, ACT and the Māori Party.

So what happened? First, the admission by Metiria Turei, the co-leader of the Greens that she failed to declare to Work and Income (the government department responsible for handling most social security benefits) when she was a solo mother and university student in the 1990s, that flatmates were contributing to her household income. Surprisingly, this omission, dubbed fraud by her opponents and an economic necessity by her supporters, saw her personal popularity rise, and the Greens rising dramatically to 15% support in the polls, and Labour dropping to 23%. Support for National also rose to 49%, making the election result an almost forgone conclusion.

Then the unexpected happened. With less than two months until the elections, Andrew Little, the leader of the Labour Party, resigned. I guess we’ll never know whether he jumped or was pushed, but clearly the resignation was due to his very poor personal ratings in the opinion polls and the effect that was having on the Labour Party. The party elevated the deputy leader, Jacinda Adern to leader, and the results were astounding.

Within days, the Jacinda effect saw National and Labour polling within a few percentage points of each other, and they have gone on to take turns at being the most popular party. Currently they both sit at around 40% – 43% support, depending on the poll. It seems certain neither party will be able to govern on their own.

The Jacinda effect has not only had a detrimental effect on National. It has had a devastating effect on the minor parties. Whereas the Greens had 15% support and NZ First 12% support – 27% between them, the Greens dropped to just under 5% support and NZ First to 7%.

Under MMP, a party gaining less than 5% of the party votes is ineligible for any party seats unless it also gains an electorate seat. That could mean that the Greens might not make it to the next Parliament. That would be a shame, as that leaves NZ first as the only potential government partner. And there’s nothing that Winston Peters, the leader of NZ First, likes better than being seen as the “king maker”.

What’s the problem with that you may ask. Look at it this way. Think of Donald Trump as Winston Peters on steroids. While he’s nowhere near as egocentric as Trump, he’s the most xenophobic, nationalistic politician we have. The name of his political party – New Zealand First – gives a clue to where he stands. And when I say his party, I do mean his party. Winston created it, leads it, and when he eventually leaves politics, so will NZ First.

What I like about our political system is that under MMP no party has been able to govern on its own. The major parties must rely on minor parties to form a government. Typically these are not coalitions, but agreements on matters of confidence and supply. This means that the governing party is not able to railroad legislation through Parliament, but must negotiate support for each bill, and not necessarily from their supporting partners.

It also means that other parties don’t automatically oppose every piece of legislation that comes before the House. I like to think that legislation is more considered and debated rationally as a consequence, instead of the “It’s good because we wrote it” and “It’s bad because they wrote it” mindset that occurred in the days prior to MMP. In those bad old days, it was not uncommon for bills to pass though Parliament without amendments, only to be found wanting after they came into effect.

Our unicameral legislature inevitably means that some poor legislation sneaks through, but these days, the lack of absolute power in Parliament for the governing party, and scrutiny that legislation undergoes through our select committee system means as it’s nowhere near as common as it once was.

The problem with Winston Peters is that he’s likely to demand full coalition instead of the more loose arrangements that have become more or less the convention. If he has a talent (apart from the ability to spend ten minutes not answering an interviewer’s question), it’s getting what he wants in political negotiations. While he makes politics in this country interesting, I really wouldn’t like Winston and his party to be the tail that wags the dog.

As to where my party vote will go, that’s no-one’s business but my own. But I will say this: I have voted every three years since 1969, and not once in all that time has my vote gone to a party forming the government. The odds are that it’s not going to be any different come the 23rd of September. So no matter which party or parties form the next government, it’s unlikely that I voted for them.


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The Orange Guy

240px-trump_circle

All Americans know who the orange guy is, and for that past year, so does most everyone everywhere who is not a cave dwelling hermit. It’s the guy to the right.

For most of us he’s the butt of jokes and provides current affairs programs with something to fill in time when news is otherwise in short supply.

But there is another orange guy who’s been around for for several decades here in Aotearoa New Zealand. As far as we know the guy doesn’t have a name, so is only known as the Orange Guy. The Kiwi orange guy is very different to tRump, except that he too is fake.

Our Orange guy is a gender-neutral, ethnic-neutral, political-neutral amorphous blob that appears for a few months once every few years and then, unlike tRump, completely disappears. The guy has been around for a couple of months now and I quite certain we’ll see no more of the person after the 23rd of this month.

Personally, I think our Orange Guy is much more likeable than the other orange guy. I can’t find any recent clips of the Orange Guy, but here’s one from 2014.


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Sexism in politics

Having grown up in a family with very liberal ideas on gender roles, I sometimes forget that not everyone holds similar values.

This week a TV interviewer put his foot into it by asking a question he really should have known not to ask.

This is Aotearoa New Zealand and the twenty first century. If he has been an employer, he would have been in deep doo doo for asking the question to an employee or prospective employee.

Thankfully his question raised the ire of the interviewee and a significant proportion of the community.

The question was to the new leader of the Labour party, who has a remote chance of becoming the PM (Prime Minister) after the general elections in September.

So what was the question?

“Is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”

The question and the anger it has raised seems to have been reported around the globe. See CNN and The Guardian as examples.

I’m disappointed that there are still men around who hold nineteenth century views of gender roles, but I am pleased that most Kiwi males have moved on.


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Trump’s ban on Trans in the military doesn’t go far enough

Trump is on the right track but banning Transgender people does not go far enough. Not by a long way. Hopefully tomorrow, he’ll correct the situation by banning Gays, Lesbians, Bi, Queer, Inter-sex and all forms of gender and sexual diversity.

But he shouldn’t leave it there. There’s two other groups that do even more harm and cost even more due to huge numbers in the military. They should be banned too. These are the Straight and the Cis-gendered people. Think of all the medical costs and veteran costs that would be saved, not to mention how little disruption would occur within the military with these two groups banned as well.


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The elections are nigh!

Aotearoa New Zealand goes to the polls on the 23rd of September this year to elect our 52nd Parliament. Up until today, it has been difficult to see any sign of the upcoming event apart from the occasional news item and advertisement reminding us that we must be enrolled in order to vote.

However today the campaign begins in earnest as this is the first day on which candidates are permitted to put up election hoardings (billboards), which can be up to 3 square metres (32 square feet) in size.

Election campaigns here are quite different from the spectacle we see on our television screens regarding the American elections. Even from 14,000 Km away, we find the US elections over the top and tiring. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in the midst of it. Thankfully, ours are short and sharp and we find the two months of campaigning more than enough.

One reason that our elections are quieter is that there are very strict controls on how much candidates and political parties are permitted to spend. From today up until the day before polling day spending is restricted to:

  • $26,200 for an electorate candidate
  • $1,115,000 for a registered political party plus $26,200 per electorate contested by the party
  • $12,600 for an unregistered third party promoter
  • $315,000 for a registered third party promoter

That covers all forms of spending: hoardings, newspapers, radio, television, pamphlets, rallies – in fact every expense related to the election campaign. And thankfully, all advertising must stop by the end of the day before election day.

Although most parties have determined who will stand for which electorate, and have sorted out their party lists, official nominations don’t open until the 24th of August and close on the 29th of the same month, so I’ll wait until then before starting my own selection process for my preferred candidate and party. And unlike in many parts of the world, we get two votes: one for the electorate candidate, and one for the party vote. (an electorate is an area containing approximately 60,000 people, plus or minus 5%. The total number of seats each party gets in the Parliament is determined by their share of the party vote nationwide.)

Best of all, radio and television advertising can’t commence until the 23rd of August, so if you can’t avoid listening to commercial stations, you’ll only have to put up with it for a month max. Thank goodness!


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“Trump might do some good for democracy”

Now before you conclude that I have lost my marbles, read on.

Throughout the world, voter turnout at national elections have been declining, mainly due to apathy of younger voters. This is also true in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our most recent General Elections were held in 2014 and the voter turnout was at an all time low of 77%. Voter turnout for those under 30 years of age was 62%, while 88% of people my age voted.

The main reason put forward for poor voter participation by younger people is that they feel that they can make very little difference to the results. While there is some degree of truth in that, especially in electoral systems where “winner takes all” such as with FFP (First Past the Post), the same can’t be said of systems with proportional representation such that used here in Parliamentary elections. If a party gains 5% of the votes, it gets 5% of the seats in the Parliament. in other words, every vote counts.

We next go to the polls on Saturday the 23rd of September 2017 to elect our 52nd Parliament. The head of the Electoral Commission (the body that oversees national and local elections in NZ) believes we may see a reversal in the decline in voter participation this year. She gave two reasons: Brexit and Trump.

The results of both Brexit and the US presidential elections were due largely to voter apathy. In both cases, younger voters were strongly against the final result, and had younger voters participated in numbers approaching the national average, the results would have been different. It seems that finally there is evidence that NOT taking part in the democratic process can have serious consequences.

The good news here is that the younger generations are talking about how and why results such as Brexit and Trump as president could possibly occur. Both results seem contrary to common sense. I do hope that the head of the Electoral Commission is correct and that such discussion will lead to greater voter participation, especially among the young.

So thank you Donald, you are the reason the next generation of Kiwis are beginning to take a greater interest in the democratic process. They don’t want to see our leaders behaving as you do.


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Equality on the decline?

In 20o5 Aotearoa New Zealand became the first nation in the world where all top positions were held by women: the Monarch, the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Chief Justice.

There have been other firsts that at first glance give the appearance that women are more equal here than elsewhere, including being the first country to grant women the vote. The 1976 relationship act and its amendments grant equal rights to both members of a relationship irrespective of marital status or gender is another.

Just as America prides itself on its liberty and freedom, NZ has always prided itself on its egalitarianism – both between the sexes and the population as a whole. In fact, back in the 1940s a visiting academic suggested we should build a statue proclaiming our egalitarianism in the much the same manner as the Statue of Liberty proclaims freedom in America.

The myth persists in both countries. Sadly America has slid well down the freedom and liberty ladder, even though over half the population believe it is the most free nation on earth. Our claim to egalitarianism has take a huge tumble since the mid 1980s. Fewer Kiwis believe in our own myth. Approximately 75% of the population no longer believe that everyone in NZ receives a “fair go”. But that leaves a quarter of the population still believing that we are a nation of equals.

Why the sudden change in equality since the 1980s? In what was a sort of political revolution, the leftist Labour party adopted radical economic reforms much like “Thatchernomics” in the UK and “Reaganomics” in the US, only more extreme. Known here as “Rogernomics” (named after the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas) it saw the halving of the top tax rate, the slashing of social welfare, the privatisation of much of the public sector (sold mostly to foreign investors) and a reduction in the bargaining power of workers. Tariffs and other trade protections were eliminated resulting in a massive transfer of unskilled jobs overseas.

The initial result was high levels of unemployment and the social conditions that typically accompany it. Today unemployment is more “acceptable” but we now have a class of “working poor” that struggle and frequently fail at keeping their family out of poverty. Today, about one in five children live in households where the income is below the poverty line. I believe this is totally unacceptable.

New Zealand has the unenviable reputation of now being the nation with the fastest growing disparity between rich and poor in the OECD. While we are far from reaching the level of disparity seen in the USA and some developing nations, we approaching the likes of the UK. While it’s true that displays of wealth are still frowned upon, there is a growing acceptance that poverty is a “natural” part of the social fabric. I don’t.

One outcome of the economic reforms has been an increase in the disparity of income between men and women. Prior to the reforms, and into the first few years afterwards, the difference in income between men and women had been declining and was well on the way to being eliminated. There were dreams of Aotearoa New Zealand being the first country to achieve true pay equality. This has been shattered over the last two decades as the gender pay gap has increased markedly to around 12% (based on hourly income, more so if based on actual income).

One of the measures of freedom I take seriously is socio-economic mobility. This is the ability for someone to move out of the socio-economic group of their parents. In America, the “Land of Opportunity” around half or slightly less move to a different group. By contrast, in NZ it was around 75%. This has declined and is now hovering around the 70% mark.

It has barely been a generation since the economic reforms, and as they become a permanent feature of of our society, I suspect that socio-economic mobility will decline further. That, along with the growing disparity between rich and poor is a recipe for social disharmony – perhaps on the levels we see in Britain, the USA, and elsewhere. The mind shudders.

Equally unnerving is that it brings the prospect of us growing our own Trump –  someone gaining enormous wealth through a largely unregulated economy, and at the cost of a low skilled workforce, and then gaining political influence by telling those worse affected by those very practices that he will make things right for them. Yeah, right.


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Dear America

I make no bones of the fact that I believe Trump represents the worst of American values and “The American Way”. The fact that someone such as he could be freely elected to office at a time when the world requires inclusivism and pluralism, not exclusivism and exceptionalism (and I mean in a humanist and secular sense as well as in a religious sense), makes me wonder whether collectively America has lost its marbles.

Do values such as “love and warmth and sympathy” as expressed in my father’s last poem, and so important in my whanau (wider family) count for anything any more? Trump certainly fails on all counts from what I can see.

Professor Clements is the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, and Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association. I believe his post I have linked to below speaks for most Kiwis.

Dear America and Americans There are only 9 days before Donald J Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA. This is a prospect that appalls most New Zealanders as it does millions of others all around the world. We had no say and no vote in the election so can only watch […]

via Dear America — Kevin’s Peace Musings