Wednesday, March 30, 2005

MMP Matures

In a piece of Parliamentary theatre today, Peter Dunne presented the PM with a plum patsy question, asking her to comment on the fact that today marks the longest period of continuous stable government in NZ under MMP.

Now while you would have to say that this is not the most significant anniversary on our national calendar, it is worth commenting on.

What I think is noteworthy about the operation of government under the Labour/United Future Confidence and Supply Agreement is not simply the fact that it has provided stability over several years, but that within this framework, there has been considerable scope for the Parties to differ on matters of political principle.

Wheras our first two MMP governments where characterised by coalition agreements which bound two parties together, and ultimately inhibited the independence of the smaller parties concerned (NZF and the Alliance) to their detriment, the current arrangement has given United Future the ability to quite regularly assert it's independence by disagreeing with Labour. They have also supported key government measures such as Working for Families.

Of course, the arrangement has worked only because Labour has other allies in the House to work with when UF doesn't support government legislation. To me, it is that political willingness to pragmatically work with others that marks this administration out as our first mature MMP government.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Courting the Grey Vote??

DPF has written on the recent pledge by New Zealand First (NZF) to increase the superannuation rate from 65% of the average wage to 72.5%. It isn't often that I find myslf sharing an opinion with DPF, but on this case I also believe that the promise is irresponsible.

After decades of partisan wrangling over NZ Superannuation, we at last seemed to have arrived at a reasonably broad political and public consensus around it's future. After the mess of the 90s during which National cut Super to 60% of the average wage , and the National/NZF coalition blew the accord out of the water with the 1997 referendum, it has taken another half decade to rebuild the foundations of a Super consensus which are:

- 65% at 65 years of age
- universal coverage
- pre-funding through the Cullen fund.

Peters' proposal threatens to blow the consensus out of the water and re-politicise this crucial policy area. The costs of 72.5% will be astronomical, particularly given the impending bulge of baby-boomers, and he has failed to state just where the money will come from - cuts to other baseline expenditure, reduced funding for essential capital projects (roads etc...), or higher taxes??? There's an old saying about money and trees.

Whatsmore, I actually rate elderly voters more than Mr Peters apparently does. They know a bribe when they see it and I believe most will think of more than just their own hip pockets on polling day.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Govt v. Juduciary

The NZ Herald has an extensive feature on the supposed fight to the death between the government and the judiciary. I for one think the issue is something of a beatup.

While there have undoubtedly been moments where Dame Sian Elias has expressed points of view which the government has undoubtedly found challenging, it seems to me to be an absolute exaggeration to suggest that this amounts to some kind of constitutional warfare.

While many of the public discussions that have taken place between Dame Sian and senior government ministers have robustly focussed on key issues around the relationship between the executive and the judiciary, I don't actually see where the problem is. There is in New Zealand sometimes a strange fear or dislike of meaningful public discourse on constitutional issues. It is only by having such discussions that we actually begin to clarify the nature of our slightly amorphous constitution - in other words, I actually consider the discussions that Dame Sian has led to be quite healthy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Terri Schiavo

This is such a sad case. It's not only that that the poor woman has suffered for so long, and that the family faces a difficult dilemma, but just as much the fact that the case is now being played out as a public spectical.

The interference of Bush, and the Republican dominated House is shameful. What should have been a family matter, and at very worst a legal issue to be worked through in a measured fashion, has now been escalated to a national-level political football. So much for right-wingers believeing that the state should keep out of people's lives.

You can never answer these kinds of questions on behalf of others, but I know that if my wife or I were ever in a persistent vegetative state, with serious brain deterioration, were reliant on artificial mechanisms to stay alive, and the weight of credible medical evidence was that recovery was not on the cards, we would want the other to let us go - or at least be the one to make the decision.

Monday, March 21, 2005


Don Brash's call today for an overhaul of youth offending provisons was a predictable mish-mash of 'get-tough' rhetoric and poor research. Three major points stand out:

1) Many of the measures suggested in his speech are are already in place. Phil Goff comprehensively outlines this showing that things like parenting orders, increased resources to tackle truancy, and intensive programmes for repeat youth offenders are already happening.

2) The difference is that at the moment, the person (case manager, judge...) dealing with the specific situation at hand has the scope to tailor an approach most suitable to getting the young person at hand back on track. Brash's proposals would see things like mandatory counselling for parents kick in given certain circumstances, even though this may be totally pointless if there is a high degree of estrangement between the young person and his/her parents. It's a blunt, one size fits all prescription.

3) Lowering the age of criminal consent to 12 is nasty knee-jerk stuff, and it won't work as a deterrant. Most of the available evidence shows that if you put young people into the adult criminal justice system, quite aside from the harm you expose them to, you actually increase the odds that they will re-offend.

All very predictable and desperate.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


The latest Colmar Brunton poll shows Labour still well ahead:

Labour - 46
National - 35
Greens - 5
NZF - 5
Act - 3
Maori - 1
UF - 1

This was despite a pretty tumultuous month for the government as issues such as NCEA, and the flu vaccine stole the headlines.

What this poll seems to confirm is a pretty settled mood across the electorate, with nearly all of the major pollsters now showing an entrenched gap of around 10% between the two major parties. Based on these figures, National simply cannot construct a centre-right government.

What seems to be emerging pretty early in this election year is a consensus view that Labour, rightly or wrongly, is the only Party around which a stable government will be able to be credibly built after polling day. Certainly the moronic Banks/Act episode will confirm in the minds of many that the right lack even the basic organisation, nous, and cohesion to be a serious prospect.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

User Charges strike

18 year old Howick Councillor and would-be 2008 National Party candidate Jami-lee Ross is leading a charge to introduce user charges at Manukau City's public swimming pools.

With the support of a group or right wing councillors he has won a vote (9-6) at the council's annual plan meeting to introduce charges of $1 to $2 for entry to public pools.

I unequivically oppose this move. Not only is it an attack on a cherished local tradition of free pools that Manukau City residents have enjoyed for many years, but it is the thin end of a user charges agenda that no residents I know of want.

If charges for pools are to be introduced, then why not libraries, parks, rubbish, and any other council service under the sun? Of course we also know that it is the poor and middle income earners who suffer the most under a user pays regime, which makes it particularly appalling that MCC with it's high proportion of people on lower incomes is considering the proposal.

Some ironies:

- Councillor Ross campaigned that he would "give the youth of this city a voice". I somehow doubt that young people in Manukau who now face a curtailment of one of their few remaining free leisure activities feel that this is their voice.

- Councillor Ross is currently running a petition protesting the impact of a recent rates rise on residents, yet now wants to sock it to them when they send their kids for a weekend swim!

I will be campaigning against pool charges and am confident that the proposal can be reversed.

Knock, knock, knockin'

Our campaign moved up a gear today with the start of door to door canvassing.

This is one of my favourite parts of being a candidate as to me it really is the raw coal face of political campaigning. It's just you and the voter. Modern campaigning focusses to much on targetting, market research, and carefully crafted political messages for my liking, and increasingly I think that voters are wise to these techniques.

A lot of research shows that while media blitzing tends to 'confirm' people's voting intentions, it is actually only personal face to face contact that has much of an ability to change people's opinions. My experience is that people are ususally so pleased to see a candidate fronting up on their doorstep that whatever their political opinion, they tend to be very polite and welcoming.

Today's canvassing around central Howick (one of our strong areas in 2002) got a really good response. Many of the residents were elderly, and by and large were pretty pleased with Labour's record in the areas effecting them.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Back on deck

Honeymooning in Vietnam over the last few weeks has kept me away from blogging duties. An extrapolation on our fascinating trip can be found on Mrs Bargolias' blog. Suffice to say that the country was beautiful, the history mindblowing, the food exquisite, and the people enchanting. Go there!

Some quick observations after catching up on the news of the last month:

- Although many of his comments about NCEA are misleading and hollow, Bill English is the only opposition spokesperson capable of delivering a competent attack against the government - maybe they should try him as leader... oh wait...

- my earlier predictions about National's internal disunity becoming increasingly evident have been borne out. This is a direct result of Brash's political naivety.

- The push for a 5% wage rise, led by the EPMU, has gained some real political and popular momentum. The parties of the right expose their real agenda by opposing this modest increase for ordinary working families.

- The cricketers!!!! Thought we were going to be beaten, but didn't see that coming.

Our campaign in Pakuranga changes up a gear this month, with door-knocking starting this weekend.