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Posts tagged ‘New Zealand’

If it weren’t for the threshold

The 5-per-cent threshold can be something of a menace to small parties.  It probably didn’t seem so unreasonable in 1993, when there was recent history of minor parties regularly exceeding 5 per cent of the vote—in 1996, the Alliance and NZ First both crossed ten per cent.  But now, with only one minor party crossing 5 per cent and the combined National-Labour vote returning to its pre-MMP (at least, 1980s) levels of near 80 per cent, it’s worth wondering: what would have happened if the threshold wasn’t there?

Obviously, NZ First would have returned to Parliament.  But there’s a bit more to it than that.  Based on preliminary results, my spreadsheet tells me these parties would have made it in:¹

Party Electorate List Total
National 41 14 55
Labour 21 20 41
Greens 0 8 8
NZ First 0 5 5
Māori 5 0 5
Act 1 3 4
Jim Anderton’s Progressive 1 0 1
United Future 1 0 1
Kiwi Party 0 1 1
Bill and Ben Party 0 1 1
Total 70 52 122

So it would have changed the composition of Parliament slightly:

List candidates who wouldn’t have made it
Calder, Cam (National)
Gilmore, Aaron (National)
Woodhouse, Michael (National)
Quinn, Paul (National)
Nash, Stuart (Labour)
Sepuloni, Carmel (Labour)
Garrett, David (Act)

List candidates who would have made it
Peters, Winston (NZ First)
Brown, Peter (NZ First)
Mark, Ron (NZ First)
Woolerton, Doug (NZ First)
Stewart, Barbara (NZ First)
Baldock, Larry (Kiwi Party)
Linehan, Jamie (Bill) (Bill and Ben Party)

That’s right—if it weren’t for the threshold, the Bill and Ben Party would have made it in.  And specials wouldn’t put Bill’s seat at risk: by the Sainte-Laguë method they would have been allocated the 97th seat with their (original) quotient of 10,738, well above what would have been the last quotient, Labour’s, of 8,724.  The Kiwi Party would have been allocated the 89th seat.

Would they get into government?  Obviously, National’s victory would not have been so clear-cut.  The National-Act-UF bloc would’ve had a collective 60 seats; the Labour-Green-NZ First-Progressive bloc would’ve had 55—both short of a 62-seat majority.  With all three remaining parties—Māori, Kiwi, and Bill and Ben—Labour would have been able to govern in partnership with six other parties.  A more interesting outcome, perhaps, but unlikely.  The Kiwi Party seemed to show a strong preference for National, leaving Labour a seat short.

National would have needed either Māori Party support or both Kiwi, and Bill and Ben.  These hypothetical circumstances being closer, the Māori Party might have talked to Labour first.  Bill and Ben also hadn’t ruled either major party out, but they seemed more likely to talk to National first, having shaken Key’s hand but not (to my knowledge) Clark’s.  And remember, Clark was still one seat short of 62.  Thus a National-Act-UF-Kiwi-Bill and Ben bloc might seem promising, but remember three things.  First, Key promised to talk to the Māori Party whether they needed them or not—a stance reiterated when preliminary (real) results indicated he wouldn’t need them.  Second, such partnership would be exactly the sort of “five-headed monster” Key wanted to avoid.  Third, even if the Māori Party only agreed to abstain on confidence and supply, Bill and Ben wouldn’t be needed.

That said, Key might have been wanting to show he can make MMP work in the same way Clark did.  In this spirit, the Māori, Kiwi, and Bill and Ben Parties might all have been in on confidence-and-supply abstention agreements, for a concession or two in policy and spokesperson roles.  My guess is Bill would have been keen enough to give National easier terms than Tariana or Larry would.

What have we learnt from this?  The Winston-opposed would have been especially thankful for the 5 per cent threshold, and perhaps more crucially, that it’s not 4 per cent like the Royal Commission on the Electoral System in 1986 recommended.  But there are other consequences.  In 2005, for example, Destiny NZ would have been allocated the 80th seat if there was no such threshold.  Clearly, the threshold is restraining the diversity of views that are represented in Parliament.  It is almost anti-MMP, in a way—this year, at least, it delivered a victory of clarity very rarely seen in proportional systems.  But it was also intended, as put by the Royal Commission, “to prevent a proliferation of minor parties”.  In this sense, one must admit, it is doing its job.

¹ I’ve assumed that all results, including all electorate winners, would remain the same, and that all rules other than the 5-per-cent threshold would have remained the same.

My thoughts on the final TV One leaders’ debate

I’ve decided to base this call on points.  Part-by-part was clearly a silly way to do it, and calling it holistically just doesn’t happen.

This had two main effects on my approach to this debate.  Firstly, for my purposes, I was the sole arbiter of what constitutes a “point”, unlike before, when a “part” was just everything between ad breaks.  I might have split something into two points that others wouldn’t have.  Secondly, it means that I wasn’t afraid to call a point a draw, or even irrelevant, unlike before, when I made a call on every part, even if it was by the slimmest of margins.  If I have the leaders on even numbers at the end of this, so be it.

With this in mind, my additional disclaimer is that I’ve taken all “points” to be of equal value, regardless of how long was spent on it, how important I think it is, or how big the margin was.  It’s additional to this not being an assessment of whose policies I agree with, nor taking account of how the debate was moderated.  Also, it’s not necessarily who I think you should vote for, but then again, with election day tomorrow, I’m probably the last to decide.  The last warning is that, because I took this point by point, this post’s longer, and only shallowly covers each point, so it may lack both depth and conciseness.

The first part
There was nothing surprising or enlightening about the US presidential election, or the one policy of each liked of their opponents’.  When it came to job losses in the financial crisis, Key sort of rambled on for a while, didn’t really go beyond the words “high growth economy”, and his lack of conciseness cost him when Sainsbury had to cut him off.  But while there were no surprises in the leaders’ attitudes to a “grand coalition”, Clark probably overstated the extent of National’s privatisation policy, costing her that point.  I had Key winning the job losses to migrants part, if only thanks to Sainsbury’s prompting him to actually offer a solution.  He did so, he linked it to his diagnosis of fundamental problems, and it made sense.  Clark 1, Key 2, even/irrelevant 2.

Making the economy work
I considered the change part not serious enough to be relevant (though I would have given it to Clark).  Both gave unimpressive answers about the rail, but Clark’s plans seemed more specified.  I was disappointed that neither leader had the guts to give an outright “no” to the Maori Party’s $500-for-free plan, but Clark at least hinted some pragmatism, whereas Key strayed way off-topic.  I would have considered the clash over how much spending is too much relevant if they had had the opportunity to respond to each other.  As for farm animals in the emissions trading scheme, while both leaders gave solutions, Key was more detailed about the basis for his solution.  Clark 2, Key 1, even/irrelevant 1.

Taking a stand
If Key rambled aimlessly again about desperately ill children, luck was in his favour.  He got somewhere with it, when he talked about it not being about “individual cases”, but about a system that “delivers value”.  I guess that was a hard question.  Clark responded well to the suggestion that people stop listening after nine years.  You would think that, with Key’s barrage of statistics, he would set out to prove that the Clark administration was actually sub-standard, but upon prompt, he effectively conceded that nine years from now, his government would be just as useless—whoops!  There was no real clash over the display of tobacco at retail outlets.  Clark 1, Key 1, even/irrelevant 1.

Law and order
I’m not sure if Key changed his boot camps policy, but it sounded a lot better than it did six months ago.  I’m not sure how Albany related to this, but Clark seemed to get drawn to talk about service academies too.  Clark rightly reiterated her early intervention stance, but Key had detailed his (renamed?) Fresh Start Programme enough to take this point.  Asked about how to eradicate P, Key had the more multi-pronged approach; Clark seemed maybe a bit over-obsessed with gangs.  I don’t get what asking about compulsory military training was meant to achieve, and I considered confession time irrelevant (though entertaining).  Key 2, even/irrelevant 2.

Personal qualities
There was obviously never going to be any clash about abortion.  But when pressed about their theistic beliefs and what “moves” them, I felt Clark gave the more genuine answer, whereas Key couldn’t tell it wasn’t the time to be talking about policy.  I guess people might like anecdotes like his, but I didn’t think he could generalise it well enough to be convincing.  In a section about “personal qualities” of leaders, I considered this point to be relevant.  There was similarly never going to be a clash about Israel.  Espiner’s question about flip-flops was a good one, and Clark’s hesitation cost her.  Key stumbled slightly on student loans, but his open admission of his mistakes about Kiwibank and Maori Television made him look good.  Clark 1, Key 1, even/irrelevant 4.

The hard decisions
This section was fun to watch, but there wasn’t really anything decisive.  When the leaders gave their views on climate change, it was largely just reiterating their principles.  If you think it was relevant, then I call that point a draw.  Hypothetical questions about Cabinet were interesting, but I didn’t think it was a point of debate.  Even/irrelevant 4.

Counting up the points…
Clark has five, Key has seven and I saw ten as even or irrelevant.  I guess that means my call is with Key.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t take the final statements into account because they weren’t really part of the debate.  (That doesn’t mean the statements won’t impact my vote.)  And, to state the obvious, because I did this on points not parts, my thoughts here probably aren’t comparable to my thoughts on the other debates.  I might have called the other debates differently if I had done them this way.

My thoughts on the TV3 leaders’ debate

Now that I’ve actually seen the TV3 debate, here are my impressions of it.  What this isn’t, though, is a consideration of how well the debate was run (though I’d say it was better than the first TV One debate), nor is it an assessment of whose policies are better, or for whom you should vote—so don’t read into it too much.

Part 1
Clark made a relatively good start, at least compared to Key, outlining her response to the international financial crisis.  Key’s start was fickety, mainly because he didn’t start with his plans.  He would have gained more by addressing the prevalent question—how would he deal with the economy—before he started rattling on about the deficiencies of the Labour-led government.  His answer, when he got round to it, lacked reasoning, at least in comparison to Clark.  How would a focus on growth—presumably one that should always be present—be of specific help to the looming crisis?  Key spent too little on too many things to be convincing.  Clark.

Part 2
The two leaders, I think, were roughly even on the plans they properly outlined at the beginning of this part, though Clark perhaps had a marginal edge in that she spoke in a slightly more logical manner.  Key finally explained why his broadband policy is so important—something I’d been wanting to hear since he first brought it up in Part 1.  But it was the flip-flop discussion that defined this part for me.  Key was able to fully justify his alleged flip-flop on Working For Families package, explaining what’s different between then and now.  Clark’s explanation of her flip-flop on entrenching the Maori seats was less convincing; it was basically “National made us change our mind”.  Key.

Part 3
Clark had a good, straight response to the suggestion that she was coming to the “end of her natural life as a prime minister”, making it clear what she thought the question of leadership was.  Key’s response to the suggestion that the faces on his front bench undermined the freshness of his party, initially at least, wasn’t a response.  With nothing more than “we haven’t defined our Cabinet yet”, he launched straight into why the government needs to change, which wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time.  He took so long to allude to his “stamp on the party”, that it could barely be regarded as an answer.  Clark.

Part 4
It doesn’t say much about this part that the most exciting exchange in it was when, in John Campbell’s words, the leaders were “both desperately trying to claim credit for one of the least popular pieces of legislation”.  Both leaders gave unconvincing answers to the substantive questions put to them.  Key did nothing more than reiterate his “capping the bureaucracy”.  I hoped to get an idea of where he sees the line between enough and too much, or maybe at least a reference to what the bureaucracy does.  Clark was worse—she just rambled on about being a fresh spirit.  I was hoping to hear about why voters shouldn’t be afraid of a nanny state, why the urban myths she alluded to are really myths.  Key was pushing it a bit when he talked about the government “storming through our front doors”, but Clark was pushing it more when she accused Key of being in climate change denial.  Key.

Part 5
I was rather unimpressed when Key’s best response to “what’s the difference between Bill English and Michael Cullen” was “New Zealand needs to change”.  When the discussion turned to the MMP environment, Clark did well asserting her command of the system by contrasting “relationships” with “coalitions”, and then showing why the five-headed monster wasn’t such a bad thing after all.  But Key managed to fight off the impression he was a noob to MMP, topped off with an outline of his foci as prime minister.  I felt his “nine years wasn’t enough time” was a weak shot, and Clark was quick to point out a lot of progress had been made.  Clark’s Roger Douglas call was just cheap, with Key equally quick to respond.  It was a tough call, but calling it a draw’s the cop-out option.  Clark—just.

Holistically, again, I have to say I wasn’t moved.  Overall, I think they came off pretty even.

Nonetheless, even though the flaws of calling a debate on a part-by-part basis are many, fatal, and it simply shouldn’t be done, I’m going to do it anyway: I thought Clark had parts 1, 3 and 5 (just), and Key parts 2 and 4.  I leave the maths to you.

My thoughts on the first leaders’ debate

Here are my thoughts on the first TV One leaders’ debate.  They represent what I thought at the time, when I first watched it on YouTube, because I missed the televised debate, owing to a test.  I’ve picked a “winner” for each section, and then attempted to combine everything at the end.

Opening statements
One would be disappointed if both statements weren’t impressive, and both were.  What put Key ahead was his emphasis in his vision on concepts related to how New Zealanders, or more properly “we”, feel, which were more likely to strike a chord with the average voter.  Key.

KiwiSaver and tax cuts
Key was able to extensively detail his views and plans for the economy, but his failure to address the question, “will people get fired”, lost him points.  Clark, conversely, could convincingly answer everything put to her, but her only impressive moment was her promises of job-rich projects to ensure high employment through a financial crisis.  While it was enlightening, Clark’s inability to launch enough dents into Key’s KiwiSaver plans, and Key’s unusually sound detail on his ideas (bar the last question), clinched him this section.  Key.

Housing and the economically disadvantaged
Clark’s comments on KiwiSaver helping first-home buyers were credible, but Key was able to offer a different yet compelling perspective here.  He benefited from pinpointing “red tape” as a contributor to high housing costs, though the part about shower nozzles might have been a bit excessive.  Clark lost a lot of points when in heated debate she accused Key of being “used to shouting people down at home”.  She then gave a long-winded definition of the rich-poor gap, while Key related a simple explanation to experiences people know about, and then to his own background.  Both leaders seemed to go off-track a bit when asked about how they would help low and middle-income families get through the recession, or at least, unable to clearly relate their policies to the question.  Key.

Climate change and sustainability
Key made good points about the difference between rhetoric and pragmatism, but was unable to clearly articulate his position on the matter.  Whereas Clark could show an obvious stance on the issue and back it with practical evidence and experience, Key found himself arguing both that a balance between economic opportunities and reducing emissions was needed, and that Labour’s policies had failed to address climate change, leaving voters unsure as to whether he would bring that balance, or bring policies that would do what Labour couldn’t.  Clark.

Crime
Both leaders shared the same view on direct answers to both YouTube questions.  Key spent perhaps an excessive amount of time talking about youth crime, but that and his rant on people needing to defend themselves would have resonated well with the emotively moved.  Clark’s stumble on whether the new cops were on the front line cost her slightly, and while Clark gave good answers to all questions, Key showed no differences, so his seizing the opportunity to show his priorities put him forward by a nose.  I’m not entirely sure how a sports tour twenty-seven years ago relates to combatting crime, so I’m going to ignore that part (which would have fallen in Key’s favour, but pointlessly).  Key—just.

Education
Key’s obsession with his national standards policy cost him, as Sainsbury had to prompt him again to get an answer about universal student allowances, in contrast to Clark’s straightforward response.  He then had difficulty defending national standards in the face of Clark’s attacks which referred to advice from the teaching profession and suggested over-regulation on National’s part.  Key exposed Clark’s loss of touch with reality when she tried to say that parents didn’t have to pay for education, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the shortcomings of his national standards policy.  Clark.

Leadership – what it takes
Key killed it when he tried to assert—repeatedly—this was a “change” election, especially after an unconvincing response to the first YouTube question asking for examples of freshness.  Clark later hashed out the “change” argument to her advantage.  If it wasn’t for this, Key might have won.  He made good, comforting references to his experience in finance and getting through tough economic times, but he simply had to try too hard to set the “fresh” mood in my mind, which didn’t look good.  Clark.

Overall?
A simple count of seven sections would have my thoughts in Key’s favour, but the counting’s a bit more complex than that.  The opening statements can’t be considered an entire section, given they were relatively short and prepared, so it should get less weight.  More importantly, one of the sections I thought Key was stronger in, I also thought was a marginal victory.  In contrast, I felt that all three of the sections Clark had were relatively convincing.  With this in mind, I could assign numerical values to the margins and weightings, and summarise it in a table, but I think that would put too much of it to what numbers I assign.  Instead, I could look at it holistically.  I can’t say I was swayed either way.

Apologies if you were expecting me to call an actual winner.  I might be swayed a bit further on.

Referendum asks an irrelevant question

If you asked me, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”, I would say no, of course.

And of New Zealand’s 4,268,206 people, I figure approximately 4,268,205 people would say the same; the lone exception being a certain Sue Bradford, for whom “smacking” and “assault” are synonyms.  That’s 4,268,205, I say, not 4,268,093.  The other 112 politicians who voted for the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill last year are not exceptions.  I bet you anything they would say no too.

This was reiterated by every speaker, by every party that supported that bill in its third reading (except Ms Bradford).  Smacking would not be a crime.  Smacking should not be a crime.  The bill is not about smacking.  It is about the sheer abuse of children that goes on in some places, hidden behind the old Section 59.  This quote of National’s Chester Borrows is not an isolated example:

Those parents who are worried that this legislation will criminalise lightly smacking a child can rest assured that Parliament’s intention is that this should not be the case, and if at some future time they find themselves on such a charge, they should advise counsel to research Hansard and cite these comments in their defence.

Why on earth, then, do Family First and more than 300,000 voters want a referendum that asks about smacking?  A negative response to that question, which is an almost-certainty, would have no effect on the status quo.  It would merely reaffirm the stance of virtually every member of the Parliament that enacted the law.

Family First and its petition’s supporters have yet to realise this.  Perhaps they are in denial: who could have thought a bill that was originally so absurd could end up being an Act of Parliament that actually means something?  I wrote once in this blog in strong opposition to Ms Bradford’s bill, but much changed between then and its final reading.  The amendment I once opposed had four words, not four sections.

A read of Family First’s case studies might feel emotionally provoking at first, but upon closer study they have little substance.  Not one of the cases resulted even in prosecution, let alone conviction; the single case that even touched the courts was dismissed as soon as it got there.  The cases are largely isolated and the only evidence that they might not have happened under previous legislation is that they are largely the result of people’s misconceptions of the law, which were probably gained through media campaigns by Family First themselves, and which will probably be corrected as the new law settles in properly.

I wonder, if the question began, “Should beating violently with whips, belts or sticks…”, if the matter would be so controversial.  It is this question that the legislation, designed to let go of matters “so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution” (read: smacking), was addressing.  That’s why, if you ask me now, “Should the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 be part of New Zealand law?”, I would say yes, even when my answer to that pointless smacking question remains a clear no.

Election bribery to be expected

It is the classic left-right divide.  The left, by definition, favours more government services; the right, lower taxes.  Any individual with common sense knows that, in general, there is an inverse relationship between the two.  Finance Minister Dr Michael Cullen’s recent tax cut announcements will inevitably, then, be subject to sceptism and—if NZ Herald reader views are anything to go by—will probably be assumed to be nothing more than an election year bribe.

The jump to the conclusion, though, is astounding.  Many seem to “know” that National is bound to deliver tax cuts and Labour will most certainly not.  With both parties driving toward the centre, though, it is difficult to apply the left-right stereotype.  Conditions may have changed in the past three or six years, so that cuts are warranted now when they weren’t then.  The tight fiscal policy effectively required by the Public Finance Act may have achieved its purpose, or alternative funding options may be more appropriate for Labour’s next projects.  National has yet to announce anything substantial about its tax cuts policy, other than “we’ll do it”, but a similar restraint from assumption must be exercised.

Cullen’s recent announcement must have been broadly predictable.  It would have been political suicide not to at least hint at tax cuts.  In the same way, it will be political suicide if National overdoes theirs, cutting government services as a result.  Both parties will have to persuade centrist voters that they have the right balance in mind.

To be fair, Labour’s “four tests” for tax cuts do seem a tall ask.  Individually, they might not seem unreasonable, except perhaps to the strongly right-aligned: a refusal to borrow, to cut services, to increase inflation or to reduce social equality.  Combined, though, they form an insurmountable barrier.  National’s suspicion that they will serve as “excuses to deny tax cuts” seems fair.

Although fiscal operating surpluses might make the services criterion an easy task, high consumption spending and the consequential high inflation and interest rates make the inflation test alone an almost certain escape route.  Reserve Bank Governor Dr Alan Bollard has already hinted that tax cuts are likely to keep interest rates high.  Whereas Labour has effectively said it just won’t do it, National will have to show how its cuts won’t make inflation worse than it already is.

The promise of tax cuts at this time is basic politics.  The reality is that citizens are greedy, and many simply don’t understand the link between taxes, government services and inflation, let alone the inflationary effect of their consumption spending habits.  These are the people both parties are trying to attract, so Labour has jumped the gun on National in order to nullify the advantage National has often had of being first to make the big speech.  Election bribery, people say.  Labour’s promise (including the excuses) might or might not be genuine—but what else did you expect?

Related Links

Anti-EFA brigade overreacting to warning to website

Resistance to the Electoral Finance Act (EFA) is not without reason—posts in this blog have been critical of it—but opponents must now realise the line between reacting and overreacting.  The Electoral Commission’s warning to webmaster Andrew Moore did not concern the EFA’s most controversial clause.  On the contrary, it concerned quite possibly the only reasonable requirement of the new law.

The website has a self-explanatory title “Don’t Vote Labour” and breaches the Act by not having the name and address of the publisher on it.  It is a requirement that has always been, one that has existed for years for billboards and print adverts without public complaint, before the internet became widespread.  Times have changed, and the law has to keep up by demanding the same standards of what is now an equally influential medium.

The point here is not about the name-and-address requirement, but that in their desperation to find something to criticise, the anti-EFA activists are promoting a double standard.  They must apply the same rules to campaign websites as billboards, print and broadcasting: either they all should require a name and address, or none of them should.  If the latter applies, why weren’t they campaigning to repeal that requirement before?

EFA opponents must conduct themselves with a sense of rationality if they are to succeed.  They need to argue with the facts, rather than with random statements.  Whaleoil’s claims that t-shirts and bumper stickers will breach the law and that webmasters have to “register” are symptomatic.  Even Helen Clark would admit that t-shirts and bumper stickers don’t “encourage or persuade voters”, as in the EFA’s definition of election advertisement.  And webmasters don’t have to register unless they spend more than $12,000, they only have to print their name and address on the website.  By publishing such hopelessly misleading statements, EFA opponents risk falling from the moral high ground, just like the Labour Party did after the 2005 election.

The law is right to excuse personal political expression in blogs, for the simple reason that the common citizen should not need to worry about regulation.  The Don’t Vote Labour, though, is not just political expression, it is a full-on campaign.  Like donators, campaign leaders should not fear identification if they truly believe in what they are doing.

The warning to the Don’t Vote Labour website is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.  Rather than seize on the small stuff, EFA opponents are far better off waiting for more meaty cases.  Cases of ordinary citizens, not deliberately trying to flout the law, but getting caught up in a maze of regulation nonetheless.  It’ll happen.  The EFA is a mess and will turn out messy cases—but it has yet to do so.

Related Links
Earlier related posts (in my other blog)