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Recycling – National Party style. Something embarrassing about Mr Bridges conference speech uncovered

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Current Leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges gave the usual rah-rah speech to the Loyal & Faithful in Christchurch today (27 July). With National’s party polling and his own personal popularity sliding steadily in the polls, Mr Bridges has not much left to reverse his fortunes.

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The entire Conference was geared toward promoting Simon Bridges to the public.

Even his wife, Natalie Bridges, was pressganged to put in a good word for her husband;

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However, it was Mr Bridges’ speech that really stood out – though not for the right reasons.

When this blogger heard certain parts to it, there was a sense of deja vu. It was as if I had heard the speech before. In fact, listening to other parts of it, I was sure I had.  From eleven years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 30 January 2008, then leader of the National Party, John Key gave his own “State of the Nation” speech, whilst still in Opposition. Mr Key said;

“So the question I’m asking Kiwi voters is this: Do you really believe this is as good as it gets for New Zealand? Or are you prepared to back yourselves and this country to be greater still? National certainly is.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday, Simon Bridges said;

“We cannot and will not sit back and think this is as good as it gets. You deserve better, you deserve and are entitled to expect a government that delivers.”

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

“Why are grocery and petrol prices going through the roof? […] We know you cringe at the thought of filling up the car, paying for the groceries, or trying to pay off your credit card. “

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“I feel a deep sense of urgency as I watch this country that I love falter, as I see middle New Zealanders struggling to pay increasing rents and to put petrol in their car.”

 

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

“Why can’t our hardworking kids afford to buy their own house?”

 

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“A housing market that builds houses.”

 

 

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

Why hasn’t the health system improved when billions of extra dollars have been poured into it?”

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“The New Zealand that I want to lead will not have a two class health system that provides care for those who can pay and leaves others suffering because they can’t.”

 

 

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

“We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates”

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“A strong economy means confident thriving businesses that create more jobs and increase incomes.”

 

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

“It matters because at number 22 your income is lower, you have to work harder…”

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“We know it’s the men and women of New Zealand that work hard…”

 

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

“The National Party has an economic plan that will build the foundations for a better future.”

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“National has a plan and a track record of getting things done. We are the ones that can manage the economy to ensure it is delivering for you.”

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

“We will focus on lifting medium-term economic performance and managing taxpayers’ money effectively.”

 

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“We are the ones that can manage the economy to ensure it is delivering for you.”

 

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

“This year, signs are emerging that the winds of global growth have not only stopped but are turning into a head wind.”

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“All that platitudes and hope have given us is a weakening economy that’s not delivering for anyone.”

 

 

 

 

In 2008, John Key said;

“We will invest in the infrastructure this country needs for productivity growth.”

 

 

Simon Bridges said;

“We are the party of infrastructure.”

 

And there’s more. Read both speeches and the repetition is startling and humourous. As if someone had dusted off past speeches; re-ordered a few words, and then handed it over to Mr Bridges.

Different decade, same bovine excrement. Political manure at it’s best.

This is recycling, done National-style.

Expect more of the same last nine years of National should that party find a coalition partner to propel it over the 50% party vote line.

Which, all humour aside, is a dangerous prospect. With New Zealand – and the entire planet – is facing unprecedented challenges (ie; crises) such as worsening climate change, and resurgent nationalism,  growing from social stresses and dislocation. There are war drums on the horizon.

National has not demonstrated it is a forward-looking political party. It’s “more-of-the-same, business-as-usual” philosophy, as demonstrated by Mr Bridges’ recycled speech,  is simply not tenable.

National’s contempt and constant undermining of policies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is a cynical ploy to win votes. It is short-term self-interest, done at the expense of our climate and future generations.

If National can re-cycle a speech from eleven years ago, it clearly demonstrates it has no new ideas.

Check out Simon Bridges’ speech. He does not mention climate change at all. The word “environment” is barely mentioned once, in passing. Even then it is in the context of growing the economy.

National is a relic of a by-gone age. For the 21st Century, it is simply not fit for purpose.

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References

Radio NZ: Simon Bridges: ‘NZ can’t afford another three years of this government’

National Party: Speech to National Party Conference. Our bottom line – You (alt.link)

NZ Herald: John Key – State of the Nation speech

Other blogposts

The Standard:  The weasel accurately dissects National

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 July  2019.

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Simon Bridges: “No ifs, no buts, no caveats, I will repeal this CGT”

13 March 2019 1 comment

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A recent bold statement from current National Party leader, Simon Bridges, declared his intentions should a capital gains tax (CGT) be enacted;

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…No ifs, no buts, no caveats, I will repeal this CGT as Prime Minister of New Zealand ” – a statement so categorical that it made John Key’s 2008 commitment never to raise GST, look timid;

“National is not going to be raising GST.

National wants to cut taxes not raise taxes.”

Except, he did.  In October 2010, Key’s National government increased GST from 12.5% to 15%.

Nine years later, Simon Bridges has made a similar, solemn, hand-on-heart, promise: “No ifs, no buts, no caveats, I will repeal this CGT as Prime Minister of New Zealand“.

Except, he can’t.

On at least several levels, his commitment to repeal a capital gains tax will fail.

Labour’s  Grant Robertson, made it crystal clear that any proposed CGT will not be implemented until after the 2020 general election;

“We know it is important to get this right, so we will balance the need for certainty and urgency by ensuring that any potential changes will not come into effect until the 2021 tax year. This gives multiple opportunities for public input, and a general election before any new tax would come into effect.”

The process would be straight-forward: whatever the Coalition government decides would be put into legislation that would not ‘activate’ until after the next election. It would take a repeal of that legislation to stop CGT from ‘kicking in’.

The difficulty with this is two-fold.

Firstly, Simon Bridges and the National Party would have to achieve a simple little thing: win the next election.

The chances of that happening – with current polling – is marginal, to say the least.

For starters, National has been trailing Labour in the last two political polls.

Secondly, National has no ‘mates’. ACT is consistently in the zero-to-1% band and the faux-Bluegreen Party is nowhere to be seen.

That leaves two parties: the Greens and NZ First.

The Green Party membership would rather machine gun the last remaining Hector’s Dolphins than entertain a “teal” coalition with the Nats. Bridges’ promise to reinstate offshore exploratory drilling for oil and gas would make any potential National-Green coalition toxic and as likely as a flying saucer landing on the White House lawn.

Which leaves NZ First. It is unclear as to what benefit – if any – a coalition deal with the Nats would offer to NZ First. As well as having been the “kiss of death” to other small parties, National has tried to destroy Winston Peters in the past. Peters is unlikely to have forgotten the leaking of his superannuation over-payment and the strong probability that it was engineered by a senior National government minister who shall remain nameless.

Moreover, if this current Coalition Government passes legislation for a capital gains tax to take effect in 2021, that would mean all three parties – Labour, Greens, and NZ First – voting to pass said necessary legislation.

For a National-NZ First Coalition to repeal that legislation would mean NZ First voting against a law that they themselves helped enact.

The fallout with the public would be massive, echoing NZ First’s disastrous decision to form a coalition with National back in 1996. Public support for NZ First would rapidly evaporate.

There would be simply no possible political gain for NZ First to travel down that road.

So unless Simon Bridges can find a new political party to ally with; or, unless National can win 50% outright of the Party Vote in 2020 – both unlikely scenarios – his promise to “repeal this CGT as Prime Minister of New Zealand” cannot be taken seriously.

Indeed, the comments following Bridges’ ‘tweet’ on 6 March reflected the disbelief of such an unlikely event happening.

And more than one social media commentor asked some pertinent questions;

“Does that include the Brightline Test your government introduced?”

And;

“Will you get rid of tax on wages and if not, why not?”

Considering that National introduced a limited capital gains tax – the  two year ‘brightline’ test – in 2015, Bridges would have to make some hard decisions and explanations to the public.

Would the ‘Brightline’ test remain in place if he had an opportunity the scrap the Coalition’s more comprehensive CGT?

Would he return the ‘Brightline’ test to two years or keep it  at five?

How would he justify retaining a ‘Brightline’ test – whether at two or five years – when scrapping a more comprehensive, and justifiably fairer, capital gains tax? Why is one form of CGT acceptable to National, but not the other?

And as more than one person demanded to know, why is National promising to get rid of one tax (Capital gains) which would benefit property speculators – but not income tax, which would benefit every wage and salary earner in the country  (and put a permanent smile on David Seymour’s face that would never be erased)?

Bridges would be facing these questions and more in 2020 if he decided to make capital gains taxation an election issue next year.

All of which is unsurprising: at around 5% in the polls, Bridges faced the ignominy of approaching the margin of error – depressing symbolism to be viewed as an ‘error’ – and over-taken by one of his National MPs, Judith Collins. This has made him that most desperate of beasts; a politician at risk of becoming irrelevant.

No party can hope to win the governing benches with a Leader who is seen as uninspiring and lacking support from even National Party voters.

If Bridges cannot succeed in campaigning to defeat capital gains, his tenure as National’s leader will come to an abrupt end. To be followed in rapid succession by his political career.

A further point has probably not escaped the attention of the National Party: if the Coalition government wins the next election and remains intact, that would signify not just the implementation of the capital gains tax – but it’s bedding-in for three years. That would make it much harder to repeal.

Especially if all the fear-mongering, gloomy predictions failed to materialise and the world (or at least the bit at the bottom where New Zealand sat) failed to end in Mayan Calendar 2012-style. Like GST, National would have to ‘bite the bullet’ and accept the new tax. They simply could not find any justification to repeal it without perpetuating their ‘other’ reputation as being a party of, and for, “rich pricks”.

If Labour, the Greens, and NZ First hold their nerve and don’t blink in the face of right-wing hysteria and bluster, the political gain from implementing CGT could be greater than they anticipate.

In fact, everything to gain, and National to lose.

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Postscript

Response to National MP, Scott Simpson, engaging in fear-mongering over CGT:

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References

Twitter: Simon Bridges – no ifs no buts no caveats – 6 March 2019

Otago Daily Times: Key ruled out GST increase in 2008

NZ Herald: GST rise – The hole in your pocket

Interest.co.nz: Labour releases document setting out tax plan, says no Working Group taxes would come into effect until after 2020 election

Mediaworks/Newshub: National plunges to worst result in over a decade – Newshub poll

NZ Herald: National will reverse Govt’s offshore oil exploration ban if in power in 2020 – Bridges

Radio NZ: Peters’ legal action against National party continuing – lawyer

Beehive: Bright-line test targets gains on property sales

Interest.co.nz: The Bill that will see the bright line test extended from two-years to five has passed its third reading and now awaits the Royal Assent to become law

Mediaworks/Newshub: NZ prefers Judith Collins to Simon Bridges as Prime Minister – Newshub poll

Twitter: Frank Macskasy – Scott Simpson – capital gains tax

Other Blogs

The Standard: Why New Zealand needs a capital gains tax

Previous related blogposts

A Capital Gains Tax?  (14 July 2011)

ACT intending a “serious assault”?  (17 July 2011)

National spins BS to undermine Labour’s Capital Gains Tax (31 May 2014)

A Claytons Capital Gains Tax? (13 September 2014)

Simon Bridges – out of touch with Kiwi Battlers (2 March 2019)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 8 March 2019.

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Simon Bridges – out of touch with Kiwi Battlers

2 March 2019 2 comments

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As property investors/speculators; assorted financiers; and their  political-wing, the National Party,  ramp up their opposition to a capital gains tax to a stridency approaching hysteria, current party leader, Simon Bridges, has used the mainstream media to push his highly propagandised (and highly emotive and misleading) messages;

“What the Kiwi way of life is is a recognition that New Zealanders aspire, they understand that people who work hard, who save, who invest, who take risks deserve the fruits of their labour and there is nothing fair about a capital gains tax that fundamentally gets in the way of that.”

He makes it sound as if property investment in New Zealand is akin to carving out and building a railway through the Himalayas.

On social media, Mr Bridges has used blitzed Twitter and Facebook with isolated examples of supposedly “contradictory cases” where CGT might or might not apply and has even taken to mis-representing aspects of how such a tax might apply (though he was quickly called out by other social media users).

Anyone would think that the Four Harleyriders Of The Apocalypse are bearing down upon us.

But Bridges miscalculated badly when one particular message posted on Twitter caught the eye of several users;

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New Zealanders aspire & want to get ahead for themselves & their families. How is it right that an $8m home in Auckland won’t face a CGT but a couple scrimping and saving for a bach or crib for their family will get slammed with the top tax rate? That’s not the Kiwi way.

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The kiwi way“?!

Homeless people living in garages and vans; families crammed into over-crowded houses; and even the home-seeking kids of the middle-class who cannot afford their own first homes would hardly be “The Kiwi Way“.

They would hardly be sympathetic to property owners lamenting having to “scrimp and save for a bach or crib“. Not many tears would be shed over “a bach or crib“.

Especially when many, if not most, if these “baches” and “cribs” are now substantial constructions and no longer the rustic cottages we once knew as kids.

As several Twitter-users pointed out;

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“Because a primary home is a necessity; a beach house is a luxuary.”

Babes if you don’t understand how CGT works maybe don’t get into it. And your mate’s kids might be “scrimping and saving” for a Bach but most of nz are just struggling to get a house deposit together thanks to the mess which is the property market xox

If you are scrimping perhaps a holiday home should not be a priority?

I don’t know anyone scrimping and saving for a batch. Just to get by each week yes. You are so out of touch bro.”

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There were other criticisms made, with many pointing out to Mr Bridges that a capital gains tax would apply only to any profit made at the end of selling a bach/crib – not saving for it;

“It’s not profit unless you realise it by selling the asset, you mean”

But it speaks loudly that Mr Bridges is openly appealing to the propertied middle class – those who already hold assets.

He does not appear to be even remotely concerned at the homeless nor frustrated young home-seekers who have been forced out of the property market, and destined to forever rent. National could not even admit that a home ownership problem existed.

To do so would have been a tacit admission of failure.

The term “Generation Renters” exists for good reason, as economist Shamubeel Eaqub explained in 2015 (when National was strenuously  rejecting any suggestion of a housing crisis);

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Economist Shamubeel Eaqub calls the Auckland housing story “madness” – and his upcoming book Generation Rent captures the rising sense of hopelessness among young New Zealanders locked out of the home ownership dream.

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The number of households who own or part own their home has decreased by 75,000 since 2007, despite the total number of households increasing by 155,000 in the same period. The number of households renting has increased by 117,000 during that time.

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The facts, however, speak more clearly and truthfully than any rhetoric from the current leader of the National Party, desperate to shore up his waning support and struggling to remain relevent.  If Mr Bridges loses the CGT debate it will be another nail in his political coffin.

The data, however, is hard to dismiss:

In 1991 Home ownership had reached a peak of 73.8%.

By 2013, home ownership had fallen to 64.8%.

Last year’s census results are not yet available according to Statistics NZ, but they are hardly likely to show any improvement.

The numbers show the dire state of our plummetting home ownership rates. If Mr Bridges was truly concerned for the “ordinary Kiwi battler”, he would be focused on those locked out of owning their own home instead of those already owning property and ‘aspiring’ to buy holiday homes on top of their bricks-and-mortar assets.

Instead, Mr Bridges’ comments about “a couple scrimping and saving for a bach or crib” indicates how utterly divorced he and his National Party fellow MPs are from mainstream, non-propertied New Zealand. The fact that most of them own investment properties should not be lost on us. They epitomise privilege.

National was certainly not reluctant to raise GST, prescription charges, family court fees, and a whole raft of other charges in 2010. Where was Mr Bridges then, championing those who “scrimp and save”, only to be hit by increased GST, medicine costs, and government charges?!

Mr Bridges and his privileged colleagues appear clearly wedded to protecting the interests of those for whom property investments has created mostly tax-free wealth. If ever there was a party for entrenched privilege, it is National.

It is also clear that those wanting to “get onto the first rung of the property ladder” need look elsewhere than the National Party. “Aspirational” for  the homeless and first home-owners means something completely different to National.

When a party leader unashamedly declares that he backs existing owners of property; wanting more property; without paying their fair share of tax on unearned gain on property – then those without property should look elsewhere.

The real question is not whether Mr Bridges and National are on the side of the property-owners or home-seekers. That question has well and truly been answered by Mr Bridges’ revealing ‘tweet’ above.

No, the real question now is, which side does NZ First want to be on?

What will be Winston Peters’ legacy? Aspirational home seekers or paper-wealthy property owners looking to increase their assets?

I know which one I’d want to be remembered for.

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Note: This blog author is currently away from his main computer, so reference-links may not be as comprehensive as they normally are.

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References

Radio NZ: Capital gains proposal – ‘What we’ve got here is a tax on a tax’ – Simon Bridges

Twitter: Simon Bridges – oriental bay, ohariu, gorse – 25.2.2019

Twitter: Simon Bridges – auckland home, auckland home office, exempt – 25.2.2019

Twitter: Simon Bridges – couples, scrimping, saving, baches, CGT – 22.2.2019

Radio NZ: Housing ‘challenge’ still not a ‘crisis’

Fairfax/Stuff media: House price rises creating a generation of renters

Statistics NZ: Owner-Occupied Households

Statistics NZ: 2013 Census QuickStats about national highlight

Other Blogs

The Daily Blog: ’The laughable myth of the ‘Kiwi way of life’

The Standard: Spare a thought for our poor impoverished landlords

Previous related blogposts

A Capital Gains Tax?  (14 July 2011)

ACT intending a “serious assault”?  (17 July 2011)

National spins BS to undermine Labour’s Capital Gains Tax (31 May 2014)

A Claytons Capital Gains Tax? (13 September 2014)

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Capital gains tax labour NZ Politics Daily - Bryce Edwards Otago University liberation blog - www.liberation.org.nz

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 February 2019.

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Standard & Poor’s just sabotaged Simon Bridges’ tax bribe announcement

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Poor Simon Bridges.

Since becoming Leader of the National Party, he has been dogged by embarrassing leaks (which appear to be ongoing even after Jami-Lee Ross’s departure from caucus); a once-trusted MP turned feral; another MP accused of bullying her staff; allegations of a culture of sexual harrassment in the Party; travel expenses that make him look profligate with taxpayers’ money; assorted bed-hopping; and a potential contender for his job breathing down his neck as his poll ratings continue to languish in single figures.

Never mind “it’s not easy being green” – being Blue right now is positively diabolical for Simon Bridges. The only thing missing is a National MP who is revealed to be an agent for a foreign power. Oh…

With indications that the Tax Working Group will shortly be making it’s final report back to the Coalition, and with expectations that it will recommend a Capital Gains Tax on property (excluding the family home), National has launched a multi-media campaign on taxation. Twitter, Facebook, as well as the msm have all carried National’s announcement to cut taxes (dressed up as “tax adjustments” to deflect criticism that National is once again planning to cut taxes for the rich).

It was revealing that Bridges decided to give his speech out-lining plans for  tax-cuts-dressed-up-as-tax-adjustments at the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce, in Christchurch. He would not dare make such a speech at the Child Poverty Action Group, foodbank, or community hall in a predominantly state housing area.

He made his pitch at the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce because those are the people who would – yet again – benefit from tax-cuts-dressed-up-as-tax-adjustments.

As well as offering the bog-standard tax-cut bribe, Simon Bridges also alluded to National’s so-called reputation for being a “prudent fiscal manager“;

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To which one couldn’t help but reply;

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But worse was to come for Simon Bridges.

A day later, international credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, up-graded New Zealand’s sovereign outlook from “stable” to “positive”. The  S&P report noted;

“Accommodative monetary policy, population growth, higher wage outcomes and higher government spending” and a decline in the New Zealand dollar, was continuing to support growth, it said.

“We don’t believe trade tensions between New Zealand’s major trading partners will currently have a substantial impact on the country’s economy and external performance, particularly given that key exports are imported for domestic consumption in China, rather than for re-exporting.”

It was capitalism’s vote-of-confidence in a left-wing government with overtly left-wing policies.

Which stands in stark contrast with the credit-rating down-grade New Zealand experienced in 2010 and 2011 – under the right-wing, Key-led National government;

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New Zealand went from “stable outlook” in 2009 to “negative” by November 2010.  By September 2011, we had dropped from AA Positive to just AA.

In fairness, a sound explanation could lie with the fallout from the 2008 Global Financial crisis and Great Recession that followed.

But no. National compounded the fall in tax revenue resulting from the Recession by cutting taxes in 2009 and 2010, which reduced the tax-take even further. That meant only one recourse for then Finance Minister, Bill English: borrowing. Massive amounts of borrowing..

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National will fast track a second round of tax cuts and is likely to increase borrowing to pay for some of its spending promises, the party’s leader John Key says.

But Mr Key said the borrowing would be for new infrastructure projects rather than National’s quicker and larger tax cuts which would be “hermetically sealed” from the debt programme.

In opening remarks to the party’s annual conference in Wellington today Mr Key said National would incorporate Labour’s October 1 tax cuts, bring forward a second round to April 2009 – a year earlier than Labour – and a third round to April 2010.

Labour’s planned third round would not take effect until April 2011.

National is yet to explain how it will pay for the promised larger cuts.

But deputy leader and finance spokesman Bill English told delegates National was prepared to borrow more to fund infrastructure.

He said New Zealand had one of the lowest levels of debt of any developed country and “additional borrowing” for infrastructure would boost economic growth.

Even after Treasury released a report predicting a $30 billion deficit, then National leader (and subsequent PM), John Key, was not prepared to abandon his party’s planned taxcut bribe;

John Key has defended his party’s planned program of tax cuts, after Treasury numbers released today showed the economic outlook has deteriorated badly since the May budget.

The numbers have seen Treasury reducing its revenue forecasts and increasing its predictions of costs such as benefits.

Cash deficits – the bottom line after all infrastructure funding and payments to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund are made – is predicted to blow out from around $3 billion a year to around $6 billion a year.

Mr Key said National anticipated that the figures would be bad but thought “even Michael Cullen could do better than this”.

But he said his party would proceed as planned with the announcement of their tax strategy on Wednesday and he said there would be tax cuts.

By mid-2009, National realised that spending cuts to social services would have to be made. The public were being “softened up” to the inevitable.

Despite drastic spending cuts to social services; ceasing payment to the NZ Superannuation Fund, and redundancies in the state sector – it was all futile and  insufficient to meet the duel cost of reduced revenue due to recessionary pressures and the – now obviously unaffordable – taxcuts.

By May 2011, the National government was borrowing $380 million per week. Debt stood at $71.6 billion.

National’s crazy borrowing had been exacerbated by tax cuts that we could ill-afford. This is why Standard and Poor’s took alarm at National’s tax-cuts and borrowings, and downgraded our credit outlook to “negative”. It could be said that New Zealand was ‘Going Greek’ in the South Pacific.

So when current National Party leader, Simon Bridges boasted that New Zealanders “trusted National with managing the economy. You know we’ll be careful with your money” – people with long memories reacted with justified derision.

Make no mistake – and let me spell it out with crystal clarity:  there is no such thing as a ‘free school lunch’ or tax-cuts without consequences. School lunches (which are a social necessity) are usually paid for by taxpayers.  Tax-cuts will be paid by all of us, if sufficient numbers of voters buy into Bridges’ tax-cut bribe.

Expect National to cut spending on vital social areas; sell remaining state assets (by stealth, if they can get away with it); stop contributions (again) to the NZ Super Fund; and increase user-pays government charges. Bridges may even go so far as to raise gst again.

As well as promising de facto tax cuts, Bridges has also made other, expensive promises;

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It is difficult to understand how National will pay for it’s promises with all those taxes abolished. And what does Bridges mean “in our first term“? What, exactly, are they planning for a second term?

We have heard this terrible “tax cuts” song before. It will not sound better the second time around.

I hope New Zealanders have better sense than to fall for this fiscal sleight-of-hand again.

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References

Radio NZ: Bridges – National caucus didn’t leak travel expenses

Otago Daily Times: More National Party leaks

Fairfax/Stuff: Another alleged recording of phone call between Simon Bridges and Jami-Lee Ross is leaked

Radio NZ: Maggie Barry bullying claims – Ex-staffer speaks out

Mediaworks/Newshub: National to conduct independent review into party culture

Radio NZ: Simon Bridges defends $113k expenses bill

Noted: Parliament’s star-crossed lovers who crossed each other

Otago Daily Times: Could Collins become National’s new leader?

NBR: Bridges clocks lowest Newshub-Reid poll rating of any National leader for a decade

Newsroom: Newsroom Investigation – National MP trained by Chinese spies

Mediaworks/Newshub: Capital gains tax set to be biggest political scrap of the year

Twitter: Simon Bridges

Facebook: Simon Bridges

Fairfax/Stuff: National promises three-yearly income tax cuts in first major speech of 2019

Fairfax/Stuff: Improved S&P outlook ‘underlines’ position of NZ economy, says Grant Robertson

The Treasury: Credit Ratings

NZ Herald: Nats to borrow for other spending – but not tax cuts

NZ Herald: Key – $30b deficit won’t stop Nats tax cuts

Fairfax/Stuff: Labour Budget pledges face axe

NZ Herald: Govt borrowing $380m a week

Fairfax/Stuff: Government debt rises to $71.6 billion

Twitter: Simon Bridges – 30 January 2018 2.44pm – abolish taxes

Additional

The Atlantic: Tax Cuts Don’t Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds

Other Blogs

Greater Auckland: What happens if you get rid of the Regional Fuel Tax?

The Daily Blog: Yawn – Simon Bridges promises less than a weekly Big Mac Combo in tax cuts

The Standard: Show us the money Simon

Previous related blogposts

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash”

Tax cuts & school children

The Mendacities of Mr Key #3: tax cuts

The consequences of tax-cuts – worker exploitation?

Plunket and the slow strangulation of community organisations

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

An earthquake separates John Key and ‘The Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 19: Tax Cuts Galore! Money Scramble!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 February 2019.

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A possible solution to Party campaign funding rorts

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1. Party donations

As the law currently stands with regards to party donations, there are set limits to election spending. According to the Electoral Commission;

Expenditure limit

A registered party’s election expenses during the regulated period for the 2017 general election (23 June to 22 September) must not exceed $1,115,000 (including GST) plus $26,200 (including GST) per electorate contested by the party.

If a registered party does not contest the party vote, its total election expenses cannot exceed $26,200 (including GST) for each electorate candidate nominated by the party.

The candidate election expenses regime does not apply to people who are list candidates only. Any spending by those candidates promoting the party is an election expense of the party and must be authorised by the party secretary.

Party limits are separate from the expense limits applying to electorate candidates.

The issue of donations is more complicated;

Party donations and contributions to donations of more than $15,000 (including GST) are required to be declared in the party’s annual return of donations. A series of donations, or contributions of more than $1,500 to donations, made by one person that adds up to more than $15,000 must also be declared.

Fundraising activities are also covered;

Raffles, stalls and other fundraisers

A supporter providing a party with free cakes or other goods or services to use for fundraising is not making a donation for the purposes of the Electoral Act if the value of the items given is worth $1,500 or less. Purchasers of raffle tickets and cakes from a cake stall are not ‘donors’ as they are not making a donation to anyone. The total proceeds of a raffle or a cake stall for a party’s campaign are treated as a donation. The person who runs the raffle or cake stall will normally be the donor.

If the total funds from the raffle or cake stall are over $15,000, then the party’s donation return must include the name and address of the person who ran the fundraiser and subsequently donated the proceeds, along with the total amount given and the date that the donation was received by the party secretary.

It would be a fairly profitable “chook raffle” or “cake stall” to raise $15,000. That’s a very expensive chook. And a truck-load lot of cupcakes.

2. Dodgy dealings

Fundraisers such as National’s $5,000/plate dinner event at ‘Antoine’s’ restaurant in Parnell, Auckland in 2014 raised eyebrows, forcing then-PM John Key to defend  his Party’s activities;

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Fundraising events using fronts such as ‘Antoine’s‘ restaurant are nominally legitimate – if dubious – methods to avoid identifying donors to political parties. Donation returns for National in 2010 and 2011 showed tens of thousands of dollars being funnelled through the restaurant;

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There is currently little protection from circumventing disclosure requirements by using ‘fronts’ such as Trusts and private companies.

Only direct donations are monitored.

Only where non-disclosure or false information is provided is the law is unequivocal regarding a donation;

If the party secretary knows, or has reasonable grounds to believe, that the donor has failed to supply information about contributions, the whole donation must be returned to the donor.

And,

Parties are not allowed to retain anonymous donations exceeding $1,500. An anonymous donation is a donation made in such a way that the party secretary who receives the donation does not know the identity of the donor and could not, in the circumstances, reasonably be expected to know the identity of the donor. [See section 207 of the Electoral Act]

If you receive an anonymous donation greater than $1,500 you may retain $1,500 of that donation. The balance of the donation must, within 20 working days of receipt, be paid to the Electoral Commission for payment into a Crown bank account.

NZ First was forced to return a portion of one such donation in 2008 when it received a donation of $3,690.02 from an unknown donor who was obviously providing bogus details;

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The possibility of a deliberate set-up by a political opponent should make all Party Secretaries highly cautious when dealing with donations where the donor’s details are dubious. The Donghua Liu Affair showed vividly what can happen when a Party is accused (falsely in this case) of rorting the Electoral Act.

But where a donor providing larger donation is known to Party leaders it becomes easier to circumvent legal requirements for disclosure. Recent allegations from Jami Lee Ross that businessman Zhang Yikun donated $100,000 to National, via the Botany Electorate of that Party, and was broken up at some point into smaller portions below the $15,000 threshold for mandatory declaration, are being investigated by the Police.

The apparent ease by which the Electoral Act’s requirements for disclosure can be flouted is disturbing. It opens up dangerous vulnerabilities for corruption; undue influence by big business and the wealthy, and candidates-for-money.

The US shows us where Big Money buying influence leads us – and it is not a good place.

Problems surrounding rorting the party donation system need to be urgently addressed. It is harder to cut out rot once it has set in; corruption is hard to dislodge once it has taken hold.

3. Solutions

Suggestions for tightening up legislation has ranged from lowering the limit for mandatory disclosure to $1,000 to full public funding of political parties by taxpayers.

As Green Party co-leader, Marama Davidson warned;

“The fact of the matter is, as long as political parties are accepting donations from powerful vested interests, there is a constant risk of corruption.

It is clear that those vested interests have a tangible influence on the decision making of political parties. This is a threat to democracy and should change.

Political parties are an important component of our democracy and if increasing state money for electioneering removes the influence of powerful vested interests, then it should be considered.”

Writing for Interest.co.nz, David Hargreaves has gone further, calling for a total end of private donations to political parties;

But there’s no question also that these ‘donations’ can be used by those making the donation to seek influence. If a donation ‘buys’ the people giving the money access to the political party concerned (such as dinner at someone’s house) then the opportunity is there to carry influence.

So, you get the situation in which the person making the donation wants to be able to influence proceedings – without the public at large knowing that – while the party receiving the donations doesn’t want the public at large to know that they are getting money from places that might suggest they are being subjected to particular influence.

There has to be obvious concern if particular vested interests are pumping money into political parties in order to seek influence. Now that could be say religious groups. It could be people from other countries – and what if other countries are seeking to assert their so-called ‘soft power’?

This all has to be taken very seriously.

[…]

It’s the lack of transparency about the current system that’s the real problem.

[…]

I increasingly think ‘donations’ should be banned. I think it should be illegal for anybody to contribute money to a political party.

Activist group, Action Stations has called for three significant reforms for Party donations:

  • All donations over $1500 should be declared and the donors named.
  • Loopholes that allow fundraising through trusts, dinners, and charity auctions to remain anonymous should be closed.
  • Donations should be publicly disclosed in real time, to allow greater and immediate scrutiny.

4. There is a further option to tighten up controls on donation.

This blogger proposes that all donations above a certain amount (whether $1,000 or $1,500) be made directly to the Electoral Commission, using internet banking. For those not au fait with internet banking, donations could be available by other means – NZPost, etc – but still made directly to the Electoral Commission.

Each donation would be made to a  nominated Party or Electorate Candidate using drop-down menus on the Commission’s website.

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Donor’s details can be matched with their bank account details. Once verified, the donated amount is lodged in a holding-account and the donor’s name  made public in real-time.

Donations through dinners, auctions, etc, can be lodged directly during the event, into the Commission’s account, disclosing the details of the donor at the dinner or auction. (Again, if the donor’s details do not match their bank account details, the donation is automatically rejected.)

As per Action Station’s demand, donations through Trusts would be banned. Any method that does not provide transparency would not be permitted through the Commission.

Parties would be banned from handling funds greater than $1,000 or $1,500.

This still allows for low-level fund-raising such as sausage sizzles, cake stalls, and chook raffles. (Cake stalls raising $15,000 would be scrutinised to see what the hell those ‘cakes’ were made from.)

Once verified, funds would be disbursed to relevent Parties to meet campaign expenses.

Any funds over the Party and Electorate cap (see above) would be held in escrow for the following election.

Interest gained from holding these funds in the Electoral Commission’s account would self-fund the system.

The obvious primary benefit would be that it makes it harder – though not impossible* – for political Parties to rort the system.

(* A wealthy donor could still, theoretically give smaller amounts to friends and family, who then make said donations to a Party or Electorate Candidate via the Commission’s account. A bank would have to implement protocols to detect suspicious payments. Any police investigation; subsequent prosecution and conviction, would have to have financial penalties so severe that anyone contemplating such a scheme would think very carefully before proceeding.)

The above proposal does not cover every aspect of donations (such as goods and services) to political parties – but it’s a start.

If Jami Lee Ross has achieved anything, it is casting the full glare of public scrutiny over Party donations. His methods may have been unorthodox – but he’s got our attention. We can no longer feign lack of awareness of this dark shadow over our democracy.

The rest is up to us, as a nation, what we do now.

Otherwise, we end up with more-of-the-same;

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For sale: one parliament.

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References

Electoral Commission: Part 3 – Election expenses, donations and loans

Mediaworks: Key not talking about fundraising dinner

Electoral Commission: National_Party_donations_2010.pdf

Electoral Commission:  New Zealand National Party donations 2011.pdf

Electoral Commission: NZ First Party Donations Returns 2008

Fairfax media: Show us the money: Donors bankrolling Greens lead way in fronting up to public

Interest.co.nz: We should urgently consider changes to the way our political parties are funded

Action Stations: Fix Political Donations

Scoop media: Stop powerful vested interests and preserve democracy

NZ Herald: Bryce Edwards – Should taxpayers fund political parties?

Fairfax media: Secret donors – Buck stops here

Additional

The Good Society: Max Rashbrooke – Donations to political parties 2011-16

Electoral Commission: Party Donations by Year

Fairfax media: Over half of major political cash comes from donations of over $15,000

NBR:  Key under fire for Antoine’s donations

Other blogs

The Standard: Ross saga quiescent, but donations scandal needs addressing

Previous related blogposts

National’s fund-raising at Antoine’s – was GST paid?

Some troubling questions about the Ross Affair

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With acknowledgement to Sharon Murdoch

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 31 October 2018.

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= fs =

Some troubling questions about the Ross Affair

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Jami Lee Ross vs Simon Bridges

Whatever drama is taking place before our eyes, one certainty should be borne in mind: this is not a story of Good vs Evil; Light vs Darkness; a lone battler for justice vs corruption in our highest political places. What we are seeing are two faces of the same coin at war with each other.

One is motivated by revenge – for ambitions thwarted.

The other is motivated by desperation – for pure political survival.

Jami Lee Ross has been associated with a small cabal of far-right political activists; Simon Lusk, David Farrar, Judith Collins, Aaron Bhatnagar, and Cameron Slater. (There are others, but they are bit-players.) More on this shortly.

Ross was better known for his Employment Relations Amendment Bill in 2013 which  would allow businesses to break strikes by employing temporary scab labour during industrial action. Ross’s undisguised hatred for unions was apparent when, in June 2012, he released a vicious attack public attack on the Maritime Union (involved in a bitter dispute at the time with the Ports of Auckland management);

This is in fact a story of the Maritime Union biting the hand that feeds them. It is a story of industrial action that, if left to go on much longer, could have disastrous consequences for the Ports of Auckland.

For commercial users, it is a simple matter of certainty and continuity Union action, and the threat of further strikes, have put a serious dent in the Ports of Auckland’s ability to provide their bread and butter services Customers are now voting with their feet. The value of Ports of Auckland and the value of the investment that every Aucklander has in the company will continue to suffer if resolution to this matter is not swift.

Aucklanders can rightly be concerned at the increasingly rogue nature of the Maritime Union. However there are 500 men and women that work at the Port with even more skin in the game and a lot more to lose. The trade union movement evolved through a desire for workers to band together to protect their common interests. This is not a dishonourable goal. But when a union loses sight of its members long term interests and cavalier negotiating tactics start to backfire, the union itself begins putting its own member’s livelihoods at risk.

Unions still occupy a privileged position in New Zealand’s employment law; a relic of the last Labour administration which has not seen significant overhaul for some years. Few non-government organisations can boast clauses in legislation specifically designed for their benefit. Despite only 18 percent of the nation’s workforce being unionised, trade unions can look to whole sections of the Employment Relations Act written exclusively to aid union survival through legislative advantage.

Up until recently, cool heads and rational people sitting around negotiating tables have meant that little focus has been placed on the role that unions play in society. However, with the bare-faced mockery that the Maritime Union is making of civilised negotiations New Zealanders will soon begin to question what position unions should hold in the modern Kiwi workplace.

As the fight for Auckland’s waterfront reaches the tipping point, for ratepayers and workers alike this present stand off must come to an end. The city’s $600 million port investment and worker’s jobs are now on the line. Also on the line is the country’s acceptance of the role of trade unions. It can not be tolerable or acceptable for a union to demonstrate continued disregard for the economic consequences of their actions.

For Simon Bridges, he is better known for enabling legislation criminalising/banning protest action against deep-sea oil exploration;

The government is set to crack down on environmental protesters with fines of up to $100,000 or a year in jail for those who target offshore oil and gas operations.

Energy minister Simon Bridges today announced “stronger measures to protect offshore petroleum and minerals activity from unlawful interference”.

Individuals who intentionally damage or interfere with mining structures, like rigs, or vessels face a 12-month prison sentence or a $50,000 fine. Organisations face a penalty of up to $100,000.

Activists who break a 500-metre “no-go” zone around structures would be liable for a $10,000 fine.

A year later, and National continued to curtail public rights to protest oil and gas exploration in our waters;

The public will lose their right to formally oppose deep-sea oil and gas exploration from tomorrow.

A law change will see applications by oil giants go through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They will now be “non-notified” preventing members of the public lodging a formal protest.

Environment Minister Amy Adams said  the new classification was the “pragmatic option” for exploratory drilling. She believed it provided regulation “proportionate to its effects”.

Neither men fit any notion of being “Champions” for public scrutiny and openess when it comes to political matters. Both are on record willing and able to curtail workers’ rights for collective bargaining, and public rights to oppose environmentally damaging fossil fuel exploration.

Furthermore, if we disregard the (now admitted) sexual shenanigans and the controversial (though not illegal) tape recordings by Jamie Lee Ross, there remain several questions  that deserve far greater scrutiny.

The $100,000 Donation (the real one, not the fabricated Donghua Liu/NZHerald version)

Was a donation of $100,000 made by Chinese businessman, Zhang Yikun?

According to Southland mayor, Gary Tong, who was on a recent business trip to China  with the businessman, Mr Zhang denies ever making such a donation.

Assuming that a donation was made, where was the $100K deposited? In his now infamous recorded conversation with National Parliamentary leader, Simon Bridges,  Jami-Lee Ross pointed to the amount being  deposited into a “Botany electorate account”.

“What would you like done with it? It’s currently sitting in a Botany electorate account.”

In a follow-up text message to National Party president, Peter Goodfellow, Ross said;

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In what form was it deposited – one lump sum, or in smaller amounts?

According to Ross – in the same text message – they were “all under $15,000”.

The following conversation between Bridges and Ross is suggestive that there is a question how the donation should be disclosed to Peter Goodfellow;

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Bridges: The money’s fine sitting there in the Botany account. I don’t know what your arrangement is with Goodfellow or not, that’s all. I need to talk to him. I’m actually seeing him tonight, I wonder if I should.

Ross: I don’t think we can.

Bridges: I should wait and get the right words.

Ross: I don’t think we can raise tens of thousands and completely keep him out of the loop.

Bridges: No, no we can’t.

Ross: Maybe if you’re just honest with him about it.

Bridges: I think that’s right. I’ll raise it with him but we should probably just think it through. I mean, it can be in the Party but I do just want to make sure we’ve got that money to do those things. Don’t you think?

Ross: Donations can only be raised two ways: Party donation or candidate donation.

Party donation has a different disclosure which is fine, and the way they’ve done it meets the disclosure requirements…it meets the requirements where it’s under the particular disclosure level because they’re a big association and there’s multiple people and multiple people make donations, so that’s all fine. But if it was a candidate donation that’d be different. So making them party donations is the way to do it. Legally though if they’re party donations they’re kind of under Greg’s name as the party secretary.

Bridges: We need to tell them, I get that. I get that. I’m going to tell him…I think he’ll accept it I just need to explain to him what it is I want it for. Unless I get him to…leave it with me. I might talk to McClay as well; see what he’s got up his sleeve. Because Peter is going to be with me at this meeting in Wellington, is all. If I then brought him after that…good work though man, that’s a lot of money.

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In the last highlighted extract Ross practically spells out to Bridges that the donation was made by “multiple people and multiple people mak[ing] donations“.

Tellingly, Bridges accepts Ross’s statement without question. He reconfirmed his acceptance of multiple donations/donors on Radio NZ’s Morning Report on 24 October. When asked by Suzie Ferguson if he had “found the $100,000 donation yet“, Bridges replied;

We’ve established that the position is , it was some seven donations from eight people. I didn’t know that at the time – [inaudible].”

Ms Ferguson pressed the point by asking if it added up to $100,000. Bridges replied;

“Look, I think it’s something very much like that, yeah.”

Bridges’ claim he was unaware of multiple donors is at variance with what Jami Lee Ross told him during their recorded conversation;

“Party donation has a different disclosure which is fine, and the way they’ve done it meets the disclosure requirements…it meets the requirements where it’s under the particular disclosure level because they’re a big association and there’s multiple people and multiple people make donations, so that’s all fine.”

National Party President, Peter Goodfellow confirmed unequivocally that no  “$100K” donation had been received by the National Party office;

“There was no such donation. The Botany Electorate of the National Party received eight donations, and Mr Ross declared eight donations to us.”

It will be a  simple matter for Police to conduct a forensic accounting investigation. Once deposited into the Botany-National account the electronic money trail will be relatively straight forward to follow.

If – as Peter Goodfellow claims, and Ross outlined in his recorded conversation with Bridges – it was deposited in smaller amounts, again it would be straight forward to trace the source(s) and donor (s).

If dodgy dealings were involved and the $100k was split into “eight donations“, an electronic trail will reveal the donor(s). The Police probably have those details by now.

Furthermore, if seven of those “eight donations” were individuals who happened to receive an identical sum of, say, $12,500 from Zhang Yikun; and those seven individuals then donated precisely the same sum of, say, $12,500 to Botany National – then a prima facie case exists that an attempt was made to circumvent the Electoral Act 1993.

If it became known that Mr Zhang received that $100,000 from a foreign government – or state-sanctioned entity controlled by a foreign government – that would be explosive! It would cripple the National Party for years to come.

The bottom line is that a donation was made. The question is: how was it made? Both claims of a single $100k donation  and “eight donations” cannot be reconciled.

Someone is lying. By now the Police probably have a good idea who.

Perhaps not quite so “insignificant?

All of which makes Bryce Edwards recent remarks questionable;

“The extraordinary National Party scandal currently unfolding before our eyes is undoubtedly high drama. It has it all – leaks, anonymous texts, threats, secret recordings and explosive allegations… At its heart, however, the scandal is empty. It contains nothing of significance for democracy and society.”

As a series of stories on Radio NZ’s Morning Report began to explore – whilst the prurient side-show of sex, tapes, and personality-plays dominated media headlines last week (15- 19 October) – the real issues of campaign donations is yet to play out.

Ross’s allegations may  be the critically-needed spark that reviews our party donation rules by casting the glare of public scrutiny over ways  the Electoral Act has been, and is, being rorted.

The Four Anonymous Women, What The Nats Knew, And When They Knew It

The  issue raised by the story of four women allegedly harassed by Jami-Lee Ross was raised by independent media, Newsroom, on 18 October – three days  after National party leader Simon Bridges held his press conference identifying  Ross as the leaker of his travel expenses.

The story was written by Newsroom   veteran journalist Melanie Reid and Cass Mason.

Initially, all four complainants were anonymous. Which made any similarities to the revelations by three women against US Supreme Court (then-)nominee, Brett Kavanaugh questionable. Those three women – Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, Julie Swetnick – came forward and made their identities public.

One, Christine Blasey Ford, appeared before a Senate Judiciary committee where she was subjected to intense scrutiny and questioning. Her demeanour and testimony was composed, compelling, and credible.

One day prior to the Newsroom story being published, National’s deputy leader, Paula Bennett accused Ross of unspecific “inappropriate behaviour”;

“He had gone out there and said we had been accusing him of sexual harassment of women and that’s not true, and we haven’t done that and he likened himself to Brett Kavanaugh, which was quite extraordinary in his hour-long stand-up, so I continued to be asked about sexual harassment and we hadn’t put sexual harassment to him, but we had put inappropriate behaviour to him.”

It was also in this story that Ross’s allegation that Simon Bridges had met with businessman Zhang Yikun was first confirmed by the National Party. Until this point, Bridges had been evasive in answering media questions on any donations.

All four women are apparently connected to the National Party. One has come forward – former National Party Candidate for Manurewa, Katrina Bungard;

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Ms Bungard’s conflict with Ross began in 2016/17. Ross was campaigning vigorously to have his wife, Lucy Schwaner, appointed to the Howick Local Board.

This was National Party intra-politics with Ross allegedly threatening Ms Bungard for not supporting his wife onto the Howick Local Board. At one point, Ross had served a trespass order against Ms Bungard, to prevent her attending a National Party event. Far-right political operative, Simon Lusk, became involved on behalf of Jami Lee Ross.

Ms Bungard complained to the National Party hierarchy. Apparently, Ms Bungard was satisfied at the time with the National Party’s action addressing Ross’s alleged bullying;

“They helped me at a really stressful time and I am thankful for their assistance.”

Ms Bungard has stated that if  Ross resigned , she would run for his Botany seat in the by-election.

As our American cuzzies put it, Ms Bungard “has skin in the game” – she would stand to benefit materially and politically if Jami Lee Ross resigned.

The other three alleged complainants remain anonymous and their stories cannot be scrutinised or verified.

Other Complainants come forward

David Collings, chair of the Howick Local Board, alleges that he also had a confrontation with Ross. On TV3’s The Nation, Mr Collings painted a grim picture of Jami Lee Ross;

“It got very nasty. He actually threatened, attacked my members, for support. For example, my deputy chair [Katrina Bungard] has aspirations – she’d be a great National MP… he’s used that over her to try and get his way. Threatening her – ‘you’re political career will go nowhere’ – other members of the board, even a sworn police officer, veiled threats about your employment.

[…]

Oh, it got very nasty.

[…]

I wasn’t even contacted. But obviously, I knew exactly what was going on, even was privy to… I think it was on the actual day of our meeting when we elected the chair. He called through – and I’ve said it before – in, like, a Darth Vader voice, ‘I can’t believe you’re willing to give up your political career.’ Sorry, I can do a better Darth Vader voice than that, but that’s what it was like. But like Freddy Krueger or something.

[…] I’m not sure if he said it was him, because I was actually going to try and get my phone to try and record it, so I missed the end of it. But it was on – what do you call it – a cell phone that was untraceable, sort of thing – no number.

We complained to the National Party, and Greg Hamilton – who was the manager at the time – was quite helpful. He said, ‘What you’re telling us is not right. An MP shouldn’t’ be getting involved in something in local government, particularly when his wife is involved.’ Greg was quite helpful, but it didn’t stop.”

Mr Collings went on to describe Ross as;

“Look, this guy – we’ve got a guy in our area that makes Todd Barclay look like an angel.”

National Party member, Katrina Bungard is Deputy Chair of the Howick Local Board.

TV3’s The Nation co-host, Simon Shepherd introduced  David Collings as the chairperson of the Howick Local Board.

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What wasn’t disclosed is that Mr Collings was elected on the right-wing ‘Vision and Voice‘ ticket; a local  grouping of  members that appears to be National Party-aligned;

David Collings

Bob Wichman

Garry Boles

John Spiller (formerly member of National-aligned )

Peter Young

Katrina Bungard (former National candidate)

Adele White (supported by Jami Lee Ross in a petition, 2013)

Lucy Schwaner (Jami Lee Ross’s wife).

As described in a Newsroom story;

Many on the Howick board are National Party types but the party doesn’t stand candidates directly.

It would appear that David Collings also “has skin in the game”.

Obvious questions should be raised as to why the complainants have only now made their stories about alleged harassment public. As Tim Macindoe, MP for Hamilton West, pointed out to Newshub;

“You’re jumping to a whole lot of assumptions about behaviour you don’t know about and I don’t know about.

There are allegations that have been made, but I think given the situation we’re now in, the best thing is for us all to just step back, allow authorities do the jobs they’re needing to do, and I don’t think it’s helpful for us to be involved in public speculation.

As I say we have some allegations that have been made, they may be wildly at variance from the facts.”

The conclusion that this is a “pile on” by National Party members and supporters cannot be easily ignored. Alleged bad behaviour is apparently tolerated by National as long as everyone ‘tows the party line’ and remains loyal.

National Party action over past harassment charges

Justifying Ross’s expulsion, an un-named National Party spokesperson said;

“What Jami-Lee has done and continues to do is unacceptable and the more that comes to light the more we know we made the right decision to expel him from the Caucus.

We are supporting those women who came to us as a result of Jami-Lee’s behaviour.”

However, many of the allegations made against Ross appear to have been recent-historical and have only now surfaced.

Whilst National was “supporting those women who came to us as a result of Jami-Lee’s behaviour” one complainant was encouraged (?) to sign a NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Signed two years ago,  National Party president, Peter Goodfellow, denies it was a NDA;

“We haven’t used any NDAs. That matter was a private matter and they wanted confidentiality, so they both agreed that it would be kept confidential.

That’s the only instance that I’m aware of in my time as president that we’ve had an issue like that and it’s certainly the only time that the parties have requested confidentiality.

It was a matter that was raised by a couple of people and was dealt with – and actually to the satisfaction of the parties.

We acted quickly and helped them to resolve the differences and move on.”

According to Peter Goodfellow, the document was not a NDA but rather a “gentlemen’s agreement”. Which is a quaintly odd euphemism, as one of the signatories was a woman.

Despite the agreement; despite the complaints made over his alleged behaviour, Ross’s career continued to rise within the National Party. He rose to become National’s Senior Whip.

Though the National hierarchy had been aware of complaints  about Ross’s alleged behaviour, at least one woman who complained was silenced through a non-disclosure agreement – and in the meantime Jami Lee Ross continued his rise through the National hierarchy. He was rewarded, whilst complainants were silenced.

His promotion makes a mockery of the sanctimonious utterances of both Simon Bridges and his deputy, Paula Bennett;

“I am in admiration of the courage of these women for what had happened. As soon as I was aware of inappropriate conduct, I acted immediately I knew nothing before the leak investigation about any of these sorts of things … within a day of knowing about them I confronted Jami-Lee Ross about this.” – Simon Bridges

“I think there are bound to be other women, at various degrees, he was grooming. I feel a sense that people deserve to feel safe and particularly from someone in power. I think those women are incredibly courageous and strong to have spoken out. I’m sure when you are dealing with that potentially narcissistic personality, then any kind of position of power would feed into that.” – Paula Bennett

Simon Bridges denies any knowledge of Ross’s alleged bad behaviour. This seems unlikely in a ‘pressure-cooker’ political environment where people talk to each other and gossip runs rampant.  Bridges’ claim of not knowing is simply not credible.

In Parliament, people talk. Especially staff. And often that chit-chat gets back to politician’s ears.

The culture of the National Party seems geared toward rewarding brutal politics and hiding away the victims of those who wield the power. This fact has been made abundantly clear to the public.

Sectioned into care?

On Sunday 21 October, the media reported that Ross had been taken into “mental health care“.

There were suggestions he had been “sectioned” – admitted under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act. This usually involves psychiatrist reports and a decision before a sitting judge. A Court Order is made for compulsory treatment. It takes time to be “sectioned” and is not an easy process;

For the first month, the patient must accept treatment. From the second month onwards, the patient is not required to accept treatment unless they give informed consent, or treatment is considered in the interests of the patient by an independent psychiatrist (not being the responsible clinician), or the patient needs emergency treatment and it is not possible to get their consent.

Two days later, on Tuesday 23 October, Ross was discharged from care.

Two days.

According to David Fisher at the NZ Herald, the “friend” assisting Ross after his “discharge was none other than – Cameron Slater;

It is believed Slater has been personally supporting Ross since the weekend and his assistance extended to helping the MP in his release from Middlemore Hospital’s mental health facilities yesterday.

In the two days that Ross was in “mental health care”, the media spotlight went from the beleaguered rogue MP facing numerous allegations of “bad behaviour”, harrassment, extra-marital affairs – to National Leader Simon Bridges.

Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘ on Tuesday 23 October focused on interviews and hard questions put to Bridges, the National Party, campaign donations,mental health, and workplace harassment. Anything but Jami Lee Ross;

And more the following day on ‘Morning Report‘;

All of a sudden, the blow-torch of media attention was off Ross and on Simon Bridges and the National party in most instances.

If Ross really was admitted into “mental health care” – it was a timely coincidence.

If not, it was a strategic master-stroke – whoever planned it would fit the role of a Bond villain with perfection.

Which leads us to…

The Dirty Politics Cabal

Conspiracy of cock-up?  Jamie Lee Ross’s recording  of conversation(s) with Simon Bridges was either a shrewd decision to cover his back-side as he fell from grace with his Leader – or something far more calculating and sinister.

Bridges claims  that he believes Ross have may been planning and executing his strategy for a considerable period of time;

“I think he has been recording me, and potentially many other members of Parliament, for a very long time.”

So obviously not a spur-of-the-moment, rash-impulse kind, of thing by Ross.

As the Ross/Bridges crisis unfolded since 15 October, several names began to show up – names which feature prominently in Nicky Hager’s expose, Dirty Politics:

Assuming – for a moment – that the most machiavellian planning has gone into destroying Simon Bridges as the leader of the National;

  1. Who would benefit?
  2. What would be the likely outcome for the Party?

In answer to question one, the likely successor to Bridges being deposed would be Judith Collins. Ms Collins featured recently in the TVNZ-Colmar Brunton polls, just marginally behind Simon Bridges;

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Jami Lee Ross’s full scale assault has inarguably destroyed his political career. He may even be unemployable in the private sector, as Kiwiblogger David Farrar, and former MP, Tau Henare, pointed out recently.

But his attacks on Simon Bridges has also undermined his leadership – perhaps beyond repair.

If National falls any further in polling; and Bridges’ popularity drops further; and Collins’ popularity  rises – the inevitable would happen. Bridges would be rolled and Judith Collins installed as the new leader.

In answer to question 2: National would lurch hard-right. New Zealand politics would suddenly become more partisan; more divisive – in short, more like Australia. The hard-right warriors Simon Lusk, Cameron Slater, Aaron Bhatnagar, Jami Lee Ross, et al, would have their new leader and National would become the vehicle for their political agenda and aspirations.

Jamie Lee Ross would eventually be “rehabilitated” politically  and would be appointed to various SOE boards as Collins’ ‘head kicker’.

Far-fetched conspiracy la-la stuff? Perhaps… though even  David Fisher seemed compelled to write in the NZ Herald;

“It’s impossible to know exactly when Ross took a step down what he sees as a righteous – and what Bridges calls treacherous – path.  It’s also difficult to know where it ends. Ross’ actions have shown clear signs of strategy.”

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References

NBR: Ports behind strike-breaking bill – Ross

Scoop media: Jami Lee Ross – Union biting the hand that feeds

Newstalk ZB: Ross saga – Businessman denies making $100k donation

Fairfax media: Environmental protesters’ Govt crack down

Fairfax media: Law will hit deep-sea drilling protesters

Fairfax media: Jami-Lee Ross admits affair with MP, pledges to stay on in Parliament

NZ Herald: Full transcript – The Jami-Lee Ross tape of Simon Bridges

Mediaworks: As it happened – Jami-Lee Ross vs Simon Bridges saga reaches new heights

Mediaworks: Read Jami-Lee Ross’ texts to Greg Hamilton about $100,000 donation

Radio NZ: National’s hollow political scandal entertaining but insignificant

Radio NZ: Morning Report – National Party inquiry to ensure staff ‘feeling safe’ – Bridges (alt-link)

Legislation: Electoral Act 1993

Radio NZ: Morning Report for Tuesday 23 October 2018

Newsroom: Jami-Lee Ross: – Four women speak out

Radio NZ: Jami-Lee Ross identified as National Party leaker

New York Times: The Women Who Have Accused Brett Kavanaugh

NPR: Kavanaugh And Christine Blasey Ford Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee

Radio NZ: Bridges did talk to businessman at centre of donation claim – Bennett

NZ Herald: Simon Bridges continues to stonewall questions about donations and sexual harassment claims

Fairfax media: National party candidate allegedly harassed by Jami-Lee Ross speaks out

NZ Herald: National candidate speaks out over harassment by rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross

Auckland Council: Contact Howick Local Board

Scoop media: C&R Howick Announce Local Board Team

Talking Southern Auckland: Honesty and Integrity Part Two

Newsroom: Nats have a long Jami-Lee agenda

Mediaworks: Jami-Lee Ross’ behaviour allegations might not be accurate – National MP Tim Macindoe

Interest.co.nz: Jami-Lee Ross to remain in Parliament as an independent MP for Botany

Scoop media: TV3 The Nation – Chris Simpson and David Collings

Fairfax media: Vision and Voice dominate Howick Local Board

Radio NZ: National defends handling of woman’s complaint against Jami-Lee Ross

Radio NZ: National aware of Jami-Lee Ross grievances for years

Fairfax media: Toxic relationships with Jami-Lee Ross reported

The Spinoff: ‘I am just motivated to cut throats’: meet Jami Lee-Ross’s political mastermind

NZ Herald: Jami-Lee Ross saga – Identity of ‘Cathedral Club’ donor revealed

TVNZ: After horror week, Simon Bridges takes a hit in latest 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll

Radio NZ: Tau Henare – ‘NZ has never seen anything like this’

NZ Herald: MP Jami-Lee Ross admitted to mental health care

Mediaworks: Jami-Lee Ross has been ‘sectioned’ – but what does that actually mean?

ODT: Jami-Lee Ross out of hospital, ‘not focusing on politics’

NZ Herald: National’s leader Simon Bridges rings Dirty Politics blogger to talk Jami-Lee Ross

Radio NZ: Morning Report – 23 October 2018

Radio NZ: Morning Report – 24 October 2018

NZ Herald: Special report – Simon Bridges v Jami-Lee Ross – the National Party Botany Bagman and his plan for political survival

Additional

Newsroom: Jami-Lee Ross and the shadow of Dirty Politics

Twitter: Jami-Lee Ross – 15 August 2018

Sharechat: Bridges denies Ross allegations, welcomes police inquiry

Radio NZ: Nine to Noon Political Panel (alt-link)

Other Blogs

Whaleoil: Despicable text sent to Jami-Lee Ross by female MP

Kiwiblog: The terrible personal cost

Chris Trotter:  Questions, Questions, Questions

Martyn Bradbury:  Could the Spinoff be possibly wrong about JLR? Maybe?

The Standard:  Bridges loses connection with reality

The Standard:  Nothing to worry about

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

National MP admits collusion with bosses to set up strike-breaking law!!

2017: Parting shots from the Right: tantrums, bloated entitlements, and low, low expectations for our Youth – toru

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 October 2018.

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While the Left fiddles, the Right beats their war-drum

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While the Left has been fiddling about with much gnashing of teeth and tears of concern over the right of two Canadian neo-fascists to speak at an Auckland City council venue – National’s focus has been laser-like at regaining power in 2020.

Like rust, the Right doesn’t sleep. Their failure to install a fourth-term National government came about only because of a fatal mis-step by (most likely) someone in the National Party/Government in a clumsy, ham-fisted ploy to undermine Winston Peters and cripple NZ First in last year’s general election.

Whoever released Peters’ superannuation over-payments to the media did so with political malice-aforethought. It was an agenda to neuter Peters and his party, and it was executed with callous precision.

It failed  because Peters was canny enough to counter with a parry that revealed the ploy for the ruthless strategy that it was.

The black-ops plan succeeded in only alienating Peters and reminding him that National was not to be trusted. With thirtythree years political experience, Peters had no intention to be anyone’s “useful idiot”.

With no potential coalition partner on the horizon (unless one is manufactured by a National MP splintering from his party), National’s only remaining options are;

  1. Coalition with the Greens. Chances: worse than winning Powerball Lotto.
  2. Winning 50%-plus of the Party Vote. Chances: somewhat better than Option One.

National opened it’s 2020 election campaign with three salvos of highly publicised policy released with much fanfare at it’s recent conference.

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Charter Schools

For most middle and upper-middle class voters Charter Schools are a non-issue. Their children either attend State schools, Integrated Schools, or Private Schools. The common thread between all three is that they are established; staffed with qualified professionals; and the curriculum is bog-standard (with minor variations-on-a-theme.)

Charter Schools would appear to further  ghettoise education for lower socio-economic families – a fact already well-known as “white flight” from low-decile State schools.

National’s hard-line stance to increase Charter School numbers should it be re-elected to power is curious because it would not appear to be much of a drawcard  for propertied middleclass voters who tend to vote along self-interest lines.

Which indicates that the policy has other intentions; a toxic “witches’ brew” of  ideological (further) commercialisation of education and a subtle, well-camouflaged attack on teacher’s unions.

So: not specifically designed to be a vote-winning policy. More of an  weaponised attack-policy on State education and unions.

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Classroom sizes

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising policy to be released was classroom size reduction. Made by current National Party leader, Simon Bridges on the day of the Conference opening on 29 July, he committed National to this radical (for Tories) social policy in clear english;

“All our kids should get the individual attention they deserve. That’s why I want more teachers in our primary schools, to ensure smaller class sizes for our children.

Schools currently get one teacher for every 29 nine and ten year olds. It’s lower than that for younger children.

Those ratios should be reduced.”

Mr Bridges’ newfound concern for classroom sizes harks back to several speeches made by former PM, John Key, in 2007 and 2008, where he lamented growing social problems in New Zealand.

In 2007;

“As New Zealanders, we have grown up to believe in and cherish an egalitarian society. We like to think that our children’s futures will be determined by their abilities, their motivation and their hard work. They will not be dictated by the size of their parent’s bank balance or the suburb they were born in.”

And again in 2007;

“During his State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Mr Key indicated National would seek to introduce a food in schools programme at our poorest schools in partnership with the business community.

[…]

“I approached Wesley Primary School yesterday, a decile 1 school near McGehan Close, a street that has had more than its fair share of problems in recent times. I am told Wesley Primary, like so many schools in New Zealand, has too many kids turning up hungry.

[…]

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.”

In 2008;

“This time a year ago, I talked about the underclass that has been allowed to develop in New Zealand. Labour said the problem didn’t exist. They said there was no underclass in New Zealand.”

Once elected into power, National quiety dropped it’s concern for social problems. Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, did not even want to countenance measuring growing child poverty in this country. It suddenly became the fault of the poor.

Now Simon Bridges has dusted off National’s Manual for Crying Crocodile Tears.

Ironically, in tapping into parental fears of over-burdened schools and their children suffering because of over-worked teachers, Mr Bridges’ policy commitment stands diametrically opposed to National’s doomed policy announced on 16 May 2012 to increase classroom sizes;

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The policy was announced by gaff-prone former education minister, Hekia Parata, who  clumsily (if honestly) admitted that the move was purely for fiscal reasons;

”The reality is that we are in a tight economic environment. In order to make new investment in quality teaching and leading, we have to make some trade-offs… ”

Teachers – and more importantly, voting middle-class parents were having none of it. National’s cost-cutting of welfare, health, and state housing was one thing. But interfering with their Little Johnny and Janey’s education? Like hell.

Especially when it was revealed that then-Prime Minister, John Key’s own children attended private schools with… smaller class sizes!

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The over-powering stench of hypocrisy further infuriated the voting public. The policy lasted twentyone days before it was hastily dumped;

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Simon Bridges was unequivocal:  a National government would spend more on education;

“National will invest more to make sure our kids get the best quality start to their education, but we will also demand nothing but the highest standards.”

However, National has not explained how they will pay for the cost of additional teachers. Especially as National continues to  advocate for a billion dollar mega-prison to be built;  promised to dump the Coalition’s fuel taxes, and has not ruled out offering election tax-cut bribes.

As National has been fond of demanding: where will the money come from for extra teachers? Is this National’s own multi-billion dollar fiscal hole?

It was left to Labour’s own education minister, Chris Hipkins to point out;

“It’s very expensive to make even a modest change to class sizes and I think that’s something we want to talk to the teaching profession about.”

However, barely a day after his Conference speech, Mr Bridges was already backtracking;

Simon Bridges admits his promise of smaller class sizes may not mean fewer students per classroom.

The National leader announced a new policy to reduce the teacher-student ratio, as a centrepiece of his conference address over the weekend.

However, many primary schools run “modern learning environments” with several classes in the same room.

Bridges told Kerre McIvor National’s policy is about the number of staff per student, not the number of students per room.

” So in those modern learning environments, that may mean more teachers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean smaller classrooms.”

At least Hekia Parata’s plan to increase classroom sizes lasted three weeks.  Mr Bridges’ ersatz “commitment” did not last 24 hours.

The Coalition should be making mincemeat out of Mr Bridges’ policy u-turn.

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Crime

An oldie, but a goodie.  Tories understand how to tug the fear-strings of a sizeable chunk of the voting middle-class. National and other conservative parties around the world are (in)famous for manipulating middle-class fears on crime for electoral purposes.

One of their 2011 election hoardings explicitly exploited  those fears;

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A recent video campaign on National’s Facebook platform has gone a step further into whipping up fear and paranoia;

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This is a shameful, naked ploy to play on peoples’ fears.

It was backed up by former mercenary, and current National Party “Justice” Spokesperson, Mark Mitchell, who tried to offer “alternative facts” relating to crime figures;

The Government needs to stop looking for excuses to go soft on crime and come up with a plan to reduce crime, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.

“No doubt the report today from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor saying that being tough on crime is to blame for rising prison costs and inmate numbers is music to Andrew Little and Grant Robertson’s ears.

“They’ve been looking for excuses to loosen up bail and sentencing laws so that the Government doesn’t have to go ahead with building the new Waikeria prison and can boast about reducing prison numbers.

“But the cost of prisons cannot be an excuse not to put people in prison, if that’s where they need to be. The priority must be to ensure that victims are kept safe from violent criminals.

“We know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending.

“Violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011 and this is largely the type of crime that people get sent to prison for. This is also the type of crime that has the most serious and long-lasting impact on victims’ lives.

Which is confusing as not too long ago, National was trumpeting several propaganda infographics on their Twitter account;

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Mr Mitchell is at pains to point out that  “we know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending” – yet the infographics above make no such distinction. On the contrary, the second “broken bottles” infographic makes clear the figures relate to “Total Recorded Crimes”.

Perhaps they should get their propaganda straight.

In a startling admission, Mr Mitchell confirmed that ““violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011″. It appears that the “Three Strikes Law” – enacted the previous year in 2010 – has failed to reduce criminal offending.

The questions that  Coalition government ministers should be putting to their National Party colleagues are;

  1. Is it not irresponsible to be exploiting fear about crime for electoral purposes? How will knee-jerk rhetoric assist an intelligent debate on imprisonment and rehabilitation?
  2. If crime, imprisonment, and rehabilitation require cross-party concensus, will National continue to pursue electioneering on “tough on crime”?
  3. If National pursues a get-tough-on-crime election platform in 2020, and if they are elected to government – how will they pay for hundreds more prisoners jailed? Will National borrow a billion dollars to pay for a new mega-prison? Will health, education, DoC, and social housing budgets be cut? Will National increase GST, as they did in 2010 (despite promising not to)?
  4. What is the limit that National will tolerate for an increasing prison population?

National has made clear that it intends to play the “tough-on-crime” card at the next election. The propaganda campaign has already begun.

The Coalition Parties need to formulate a clear strategy to combat fear-mongering by a National party desperate to regain power.

The question that should be put to National is; where will the billions of dollars for new prisons come from?

The prison population has all but doubled in eighteen years, and tripled since 1987, as successive governments have ramped up “tough on crime” rhetoric and pandered to fearful low-information voters;

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Tough-on-crime may be National’s default strategy. If addressed correctly, it can also be their weakness.

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References

NZ Herald: Steven Joyce says he would have advised against leaking Winston Peters’ super details

The Daily Blog: Real reason why National are considering cutting ACT off

NZ Herald: National Party conference kicks off with nod for Simon Bridges from former Australian PM John Howard

Massey University: Education Policy Response Group (p30)

Fairfax media: Parents’ choice driving ‘eye-opening’ segregation in New Zealand schools

NZ Herald: National will cut primary school class sizes if it gets into Govt, Simon Bridges tells conference

NZ Herald: John Key’s ‘A fair go for all’ speech

Scoop media: National launches its Food in Schools programme

NZ Herald: John Key – State of the Nation speech

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

Fairfax media: Bigger class sizes announced

NZ Herald: Key called hypocrite over class sizes

Fairfax media: Backlash forces Government class size U-turn

Fairfax media: Smaller class sizes under Nats, says Simon Bridges in major speech

NewstalkZB: Simon Bridges explains smaller class size policy

Radio NZ: No promises from Hipkins on reducing class sizes

NZ Herald: Simon Bridges says scale-back of Waikeria prison flies in the face of latest prison projections

NZ Herald: Sir John Key downplays Simon Bridges’ polling ahead of National Party conference

TVNZ: Simon Bridges says he’ll dump regional fuel tax if elected

Fairfax media: Does the Government have any money for this Budget? Yes

NZ Herald: Murder and mutilation comments emerge on National’s new ‘tough on crime’ social media campaign

National Party: Prison costs cannot be excuse to go soft on crime

Twitter: National Party – The crime rate is falling under National.

Parliament Legislation: Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010

Fairfax media: Key ‘no GST rise’ video emerges

Fairfax media: National leader Simon Bridges talks up ‘tough on crime’ stance

Fairfax media: 20 Years of ‘tough on crime’ stance sees prison population surge

Additional

Radio NZ: Charter school report silent on educational achievement

Other Blogposts

The Daily Blog: What everyone seemed to miss in their criticism of the National Party Conference

The Daily Blog: What the 2018 National Party Conference tells us

Previous related blogposts

Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 August 2018.

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