A bunch of less-loving questions about the new coalition deals, like how badly the Maori Party's mana has been damaged by its deal and whether Sir Roger Douglas will be on the leadership council
As much as I hate to mess with Jon Johansson's uplifting mood of aroha and the media's uncritical reports of National's coalition-forming honeymoon period, I've got some questions. Lordy, do I have a lot of questions. And they're not full of love.
- Won't the Maori Party look at ACT's coalition deal and be kicking itself for not negotiating harder? If they're meant to be the ballast to ACT, then the government is going to tilt well to the right after ACT got much more out of National in terms of policy concessions. Both minor parties have five seats, but the Maori Party did not win support for a single piece of legislation. They got National not to abolish the Maori seats, a concession they'd won before the election, and a promise-nothing review. ACT got two bills supported through to select committee, the multi-billion dollar emissions trading scheme put on hold and thermal generation re-instated, two advisory groups to advance other policy priorities (productivity and the RMA), two taskforces on public sector spending, a working group on education funding, and a leadership council. Last week's rushed hui and meetings with iwi leaders urged the party to get "the best deal possible". Judging by the results, sadly, the Maori Party negotiators failed.
- Why has the party that was meant to be looking forward to a brigher future chosen to dredge up two of the most divisive issues from the past decade of New Zealand politics – bulk-funding and the Foreshore and Seabed Act?
- What plans does ACT have for education, not that it has its fingers in that pie? An associate ministership and an inter-working party means you can expect policy initiatives on that front.
- Who needs to be in Cabinet (and who's got time?) when there was so many councils, taskforces, and working parties to attend? Will Sir Roger Douglas will be on the National-ACT leadership council, and if he is, might that not be even better, more exclusive access than the Cabinet table?
- Does anyone understand the huge implications of ACT's Taxpayers' Rights bill, that National has promptly promised to support to select committee, "with the aim of passing into law a cap on the growth of core Crown expenses"? It would allow all government spending increases to merely match the rate of inflation plus population growth. Think that through... The government could only offer a new public service if it cut some existing service. Want proper public transport in Auckland? Cut health funding. Want a big pay rise for nurses and police officers? Cut teachers' pay. Want a new scheme to make first house purchases more affordable, or an extension to KiwiSaver, or any other new social policy, and it means a cut somewhere else in public services. As Bernard Hickey has written on the Stuff website, "It would effectively do for fiscal policy what the Reserve Bank Act did for monetary policy. It would be one way to take the politicians out of government". Me, I quite like politicians in my government. I think it's called democracy.
- Have we wasted the whole last decade debating climate change policy, if we need to go back and start from scratch with a select committee review of ETS? No party was happy with the scheme that was finally passed in September. It took years of negotiation and huge political compromise from those who voted for it. Now National will consider "any amendments or alternatives to it, including carbon taxes". Are we just starting again then? Given that US president-elect Barack Obama is committed to a cap and trade scheme and even the United Nations is working on plans for a "Green New Deal", why on earth are we choosing to give up our competitive advantage (ie years of policy work)?
- Why is so much of New Zealand business so conservative and, well, stupid? New Zealand's brand is "100% Pure", right? And protecting brand value is what good business does, right? And if we don't stay ahead of other western countries as they green their economies, we're going to struggle to maintain that brand, and with it our export orders, right? So why oh why does New Zealand business support delaying an emissions trading scheme? Our business leaders often praise America and its businesspeople for their business acumen. Well, California has made a commitment to leading the world's nacent green economy. The Los Angeles Business Council, for example, just last week emphasised "the existence of billions of dollars in economic opportunity related to the burgeoning industry that includes solar and wind energy technologies, as well as water conservation and emission-reduction solutions". US venture capitalists pumped $1.1 billion into the clean and renewable energy sector last quarter, up 90 percent on the same quarter last year. Perhaps they have a clue?
- Why is New Zealand business stupid, part II. This from Business New Zealand this morning: “Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly says more laws and regulations always mean more government spending.... The creation of the new role of Minister of Regulatory Reform and the promise of taskforces to identify wasteful spending are a positive response to the problem". Really, without any irony at all? So with a straight face you're saying that more taskforces and ministers – ie more bureaucracy – will help cut bureaucracy. Send in the clowns.
- Ditto National. How many taskforces, working parties, and councils can a party that campaigned on less government form before it looks ridiculous?
- When will ACT and the Maori Party first come to blows? (Oh, while I was writing this piece). And will National be able to hold them together?
- What is a Big Game Hunting Council? And will Sarah Palin be hired as a consultant?
Well, that's a few for a start. Feel free to add your own to the conversation.