Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me!
That was then, this is now (1)
So what was National’s problem with the number of committee members on Select Committees? “Shadow leader of the House“, Simon Bridges, accused the new Labour-Green-NZ First coalition government of “ trying to limit scrutiny of its actions by attempting to cut the number of Opposition MPs on select committees because it is short on numbers itself ”.
“ One of the most important ways to do that is through the select committee process. But rather than fronting up to that scrutiny, Labour is now saying it wants to allow fewer elected representatives to carry out that vital function – that’s undemocratic.
While the number of positions on select committees has traditionally matched the number of MPs in Parliament, Labour wants to restrict the number because it doesn’t have enough members of its own.”
It’s true. The new Coalition government was going to reduce Select Committee numbers from 120 to 96.
But Bridges was not being truthful with the public when he blamed Labour for wanting to “restrict the number because it doesn’t have enough members of its own”.
In fact, that decision was made by the Standing Orders Committee in July of this year, when National was in government. National’s David Carter was Speaker of the House and Chairperson of the SOC.
The National government SOC report stated;
“We do not favour specifying the number of seats in the Standing Orders. The Business Committee should retain the ability to determine the size of each committee. We propose instead that the Business Committee adopt a target of 96 seats across the 12 subject select committees. We considered models based on 108 committee seats, which would have little impact given the decrease in the number of committees, and 84 committee seats, which would leave too many members without permanent committee seats—a matter considered below. A total of 96 seats will result in most committees having seven, eight, or nine members.”
Bridges belatedly admitted that the reduction in Select Committee numbers was a decision made by National when it had been in government. But he complained that National had made the decision because they were trying to be ‘nice’ to Labour and other opposition parties;
“ We were a Government [in July] … trying to accommodate the Opposition who wanted that. But now the Opposition doesn’t want it. Because back then, it is such a disadvantage to us.”
David Carter’s July 2017 report was clear in its intent;
“We believe there would be some merit in decreasing the overall number of select committee seats while retaining the proportionality requirement. Committees are generally larger than is necessary for them to be effective, and some members have too many committee commitments. With a decrease in the number of subject committees from 13 to 12, committees would become even larger if the overall membership remained around 120.
A decrease in committee seats would provide more flexibility for parties to manage committee attendance and absences. This flexibility would also allow members to attend committee meetings according to their interests, expertise, and availability. Government backbench members would not be expected to be on more than two committees each, allowing them to be more focused in their committee work. There could also be greater scope to arrange extended sittings at the same time as committee meetings, as fewer members would be required to attend those meetings.”
No mention made of “trying to accommodate the Opposition”. Carter’s report was more concerned with National backbench MPs being over-worked. “Making nice” with Labour is not mentioned.
National’s modus operandi of dishonesty appears not to have changed as they begin their long twilight Decade of Opposition.
National’s Simon Bridges also said on 6 November;
“ The role of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account, to scrutinise its actions and to advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent. One of the most important ways to do that is through the select committee process. ”
Curiously, the role of Select Committees to “hold the Government to account, to scrutinise its actions and to advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent” did not seem to tax Mr Bridges’ noble views when National forced through the so-called ‘Hobbit Law’ in 2010.
The “Hobbit law” – aka the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – was enacted under Urgency from First Reading to Royal Asset in under 48 hours!
Such unheard of rapidity to pass legislation – even under Urgency – was the political equivalent of a starship travelling at near-light velocity. Needless to say there was no Select Committee over-sight. There was no scrutiny. And MPs did not get an opportunity to “advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent“.
According to right-wing National apparatchik and blogger, David Farrar, and then Opposition Labour MP, Grant Robertson, the National government used Urgency to pass seventeen laws during it’s first two yours in office. There was no public consultation permitted. No public submissions sought.
National’s (mis-)use of Urgency during it’s nine years in office shows Bridges to be hypocritical when he preaches;
“ The Government must let parliamentary structures fully reflect the decisions of voters and allow its ideas to be tested – that’s in the interests of all New Zealanders.”
But when Simon Bridges was Minister for Labour in 2014, his view on passing health and safety legislation was in stark contrast. As I reported three years ago;
Helen Kelly accused Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges of slowing progress of the passing of the Health and Safety Bill, and actively interfering and restricting the terms of a Worksafe NZ review of safety practices in the forestry industry. She said,
“ We know the minister has restricted right down what they’re allowed to look at. They’re not looking at fatigue. They’re not looking at weather. They’re not looking at hours of work. Simon Bridges has said, ‘no, wait for the review’. ”
Bridges response on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 28 April , did nothing to allay fears that he was taking the side of forestry operators and doing everything within his power to stymie reform of the industry, and resist implementation of a stricter safety regime.
“ We can’t simply, ah, because Helen Kelly sez so, do something in two days.
... But I don’t think it’s a position where we can simply snap our fingers and change systemic, ah, ah, deep problems overnight. Indeed it would be entirely wrong for us to do that. ”
Hypocrisy on so many levels… where does one even start with the National Party?!
In holding to ransom the election of Trevor Mallard as Speaker of the House, National bluffed it’s way to increase the number of their MPs that can be appointed to Select Committees. This was despite a clear understanding between the new Coalition government and National that Trevor Mallard would be elected unopposed as Speaker, and National’s Anne Tolley as Deputy Speaker.
By demanding a vote be taken, National reneged on their agreement.
The threat from the Opposition Benches was a dire warning to the new Coalition government that National was prepared to play dirty.
The Coalition has been taught a clear lesson. As Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins said after the fiasco;
“ Lesson learnt, they won’t catch us out on that ever again in the future. ”
“ Perhaps when dealing with the Opposition, I’ll be a little more careful to make sure I get a specific undertaking from them in future. ”
Indeed, Chris. Be very careful. The lesson of National’s willingness to engage in dirty tricks; double dealing; and other obstructionist tactics should not be lost on any Labour, Green, or NZ First MPs.
National MPs lack honour.
National’s desperation to remain relevant
For National, the stakes are high and they will do everything within their power – perhaps pushing as close to the edge of legality as humanly possible – to achieve the destruction of this Coalition government, and spark an early election.
Make no mistake. National realises two crucial things are in play;
#1: Polling Decay in Opposition
The longer the Nats remain in Opposition, the faster their public support will erode. Post 2008, Labour’s polling continued to plummet, whereas National’s ascendancy continued to build on it electoral success;
The longer National stays in Opposition, the further it’s public support will fall. It is hard to imagine that it’s election night result of 44.4% will be maintained to the next election in 2020.
In short, the Nats risk growing irrelevancy the longer they stay out of government.
#2: Dismantling the Neo-liberal Paradigm
Chris Trotter wrote on 26 October;
“ We face an economic system without the slightest idea how to solve the problems created by its discredited policies and practices. Nevertheless, the Neoliberal Establishment remains very strong, and just as soon as it settles upon an effective strategy of resistance, the fightback will begin.
The Labour-NZ First-Green Government will be presented by these hard-line rightists as an illegitimate and dangerously anti-capitalist regime. Its anti-business and anti-farming policies, they will argue, are not only incompatible with genuine Kiwi democracy, but also constitute a direct attack on the sanctity of private property. As such, it will not be enough to merely oppose this far-left government; it will be necessary to fight it head-on. ”
Brexit. Donald Trump. Justin Trudeau. Jeremy Corbyn. Emmanuel Macron. Whether on the Left or Right, or Mad Populist; whether in office or not; there is a mood for change sweeping the globe. The promises of neo-liberalism; the “free” market; and globalism have failed to materialise for the many – whilst amassing vast wealth for the few.
“Trickle down” has become a sick joke that offers opportunities for cartoonists…
… but not much else for the unemployed; the low-paid; and the precariat. It’s hard to be a cheer-leader for globalisation when your job has been “exported” to Shanghai; outsourced to Manila; or replaced by a robot.
It is against that back-drop of growing public resentment against the neo-liberal orthodoxy that National understands it is living on ‘borrowed time’. The longer they remain in Opposition, the more time the Coalition government has to un-pick the strands of neo-liberalism and reinstate the role of the State in commerce, workplace relations, housing, education, health, and elsewhere.
The more that neo-liberalism is unravelled, the harder it will be for National in the long-term to re-build. Especially if a resurgent State succeeds in housing the homeless; fully funding public healthcare and cutting back waiting lists; and all the other cuts to social services that National sneaked through gradually, without being noticed except by a few.
Expect desperation to be the motivator for everything National does in the next three years.
They know the clock is ticking.
That was then, this is now (2)
On 24 October, Bill English was interviewed on Radio NZ’s Morning Report by Susie Ferguson. He was asked about his earlier comments about the current coalition being a “minority government”;
English began by voicing that the incoming coalition government had not won the “popular vote”. First he complained that his Party should have been the government simply because of it’s size;
“ The voters at large probably expected that if you got 44 and a half percent of the vote, you were some part of the government or the big part of it.”
Then he suggested that the formation of the coalition was somehow “unusual”;
“…How to hold to account a government that’s been put together in an unusual way.”
English did not fully explain why the coalition formation was “unusual”.
Then he hinted that the Coalition government might not be legitimate;
“ Just remember this is a prime minister who’s the first one in a hundred years who lost the popular vote and lost it by quite a bit.”
… It didn’t win the vote.”
English’s comments might make sense under a First Past the Post system – but under MMP his arithmetic doesn’t add up. Added together, Labour, NZ First, and the Greens won more votes than National and ACT. More people voted for change than the status quo.
Which prompted Ms Ferguson to remind English that the new Coalition government is made up of three parties, so how was that different to the National-led government that he (English) led?
English’s response again reflected First Past the Post thinking, by referring to National as the larger party and thereby somehow entitled to rule;
“…when an election is lost, a larger party captured the direction New Zealand wanted to go in.”
Ms Ferguson had to remind Mr English that 44% is not a majority. The arithmetic simply did not support the National leader’s expectations of a “right to govern” based on size. Perhaps because he understood the nature of Radio NZ listeners, he was forced to admit;
“ I accept that, absolutely… It’s a legitimate result…”
Well, I’ve been saying all year that the… all the other parties put together can beat you on the day. And that’s what happened on Thursday. So that’s MMP. That’s how it works.”
But despite claiming to understand how MMP works, he couldn’t result a further dig at the Coalition;
“ Put it this way, if the Labour Party got 44% of the vote, I think anyone would argue they’d be in a stronger position to start a government than they are today.”
But Ms Ferguson was having none of English trying to have a bob-each-way and put to him a simple question; did the National Party have a moral mandate to be the leading party of government?
To which English could only reply:
“ We accept, like everybody else should, that’s its a legitimate result of MMP. No contest about that. That’s how the rules work, we all knew that.”
Nine days later, and English was back on the warpath, threatening to de-stabilise the Coalition government under the pretext of Opposition;
“ We are the dominant select committee party and we’re not the government, and that is going to make a difference to how everything runs.
It’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming government that’s a minority.
Remember this, we are the opposition with a minority government, it’s a term the media don’t use but you’ll get to understand that it is a minority government with a majority opposition and the Greens as the support party, and that’s how we’re going to run it.”
The constant reference to “minority government” and National being the “dominant party” carries on the narrative being run by English’s party strategists; that this new coalition is a “minority” (it’s not); that National was denied it’s rightful position as government (it wasn’t); and that the election results were somehow “stolen” (not true).
With 65% of NZ First supporters showing a strong preference to coalesce with Labour, Winston Peters’ decision was sound and democratic. Any other decision – such as allying with the Nats and ACT – would have had destructive consequences for NZ First.
Which, of course, would have suited National perfectly. The Nats have already destroyed two political parties (United Future and Maori Party) and neutered a third (ACT). Another notch on their belt would not have concerned them greatly.
Indeed, look on National as the Planet Jupiter – drawing in debris such as asteroids and comets with it’s massive gravitational field; effectively “scouring” the solar system of small objects.
National draws in smaller parties with it’s massive political-gravitational pull, and consumes them.
No wonder the Green Party exercised caution and ensured their trajectory carried them safely away from National’s crushing embrace. A “Teal Coalition” would have torn apart the Greens as effectively as Jupiter smashed Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994.
But if English and his cronies in Her Majesty’s ‘Loyal’ Opposition believe that “it’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming government that’s a minority” – then they had best tread carefully.
The voting public are not all gullible fools and they do take notice.
As does the media.
On 9 November and 10 November, Fairfax media ran two consecutive editorials on the incoming coalition government and National’s role as Parliament’s newest Opposition.
On 9 November, an editorial writer cautioned National;
“ Oppositions whose sole aim is to sabotage the government, however, risk alienating the voters. In the United States, the Republican Party repeatedly tried to shut down the government altogether by denying it the money it needs to function.
The long-term risk is that this strategy will be tried by the other side when the roles are switched. The result could be the kind of paralysis of government too often seen in the United States. Oppositions don’t gain in the long term by making the country ungovernable.
In New Zealand, there is also a strong tradition of giving a new government a “fair go”. Voters traditionally allow some leeway, and even grant it a kind of temporary political honeymoon…”
And on 10 November, similar warnings were issued;
“ The opposition has already signalled that it intends to make life more difficult than usual for the Government, but it must be very careful not to alienate the public as it does so. ”
The greatest irony may soon become apparent: it is not the new Labour-Green-NZ First coalition that will be scrutinised during this Parliamentary term.
It may be the National Opposition that is held to account.
As National’s webpages tend to disappear from their website, along with their statements, they have been saved for future reference.
Parliament: Simon Bridges
NZ Herald: National’s list of laws passed under urgency
National Party: Government trying to limit scrutiny
Radio NZ: Unions seek prosecution over deaths
Radio NZ: Minister of Labour responds to criticism (audio)
Parliament: Health and Safety Reform Bill
Electoral Commission: 2017 General Election – Official Result
Electoral Commission: New Zealand 2017 General Election – Official Results
Fairfax media: Editorial – the prime minister’s positive way forward
Bowalley Road: Strategies Of Right-Wing Resistance – It CAN Happen Here.
The Daily Blog: How dare National claim an ‘erosion of democracy’
Previous related blogposts
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