With the 2011 Rugby World Cup over and won, New Zealanders are taking more notice in the upcoming national election set for November 26. In the shadows of the Rugby World Cup, negative events occurred which do not seem to have damaged the National Party’s standing: the Rena oil spill off the coast of Tauranga, a national credit downgrade, and claims that Prime Minister John Key deceived the House when he said “Standard and Poor’s had said another credit downgrade would be more likely if Labour became the Government”. Thus as the National Party is set to remain in power, this election and the simultaneous referendum on MMP are likely to have a stronger impact on minor parties and their ability to influence Government rather than simply which party will lead. Minor parties will more than ever fight for survival in a critical economic time for New Zealand, trying to link up with international campaigns and media spectacles; as an export and tourism-driven economy New Zealand has not been immune to the effects of the global recession.
With the Prime Minister’s national approval rating around 70%, and the National Party polling around 54%, one would think John Key’s party had released widely popular policies in the lead up to the election. However, the two latest policies affecting welfare and state-owned assets (SOEs) caused significant public stir.
Parties call out policies with impact during tough financial times
In a supposed effort to invest in improvements in current assets and the education sector, the National Party seeks to sell portions of SOEs to create a mixed ownership model; this policy would likely affect the banking, power and transport sectors. Moreover, the Australian arm of an international investment firm was selected to advise and assist the Government in potential sales of SOEs.
The Green Party, Maori Party, Labour Party, Mana Party and United Future have all strongly opposed to the sale of SOEs and appointment of an international advisory firm. The potential for SOEs to fall under international hands is worrisome to them, and instead they prefer the SOEs to either stay as profit producers for the government or in the hands of “Kiwi Mum and Dad investors”. As Minister of Revenue for successive governments, United Future’s Peter Dunne said there had been no real debate or discussion about the sale of SOEs and called for privatization limits; while some assets could be sold off, Dunne believes Kiwibank, Radio NZ and water are non-negotiable. While some countries welcome foreign direct investment, each has a right to investigate the potential impacts of foreign ownership. The Green Party’s plan to create 100,000 new green jobs, in contrast, seeks direct government investment in home insulation projects, incentives for public-private partnerships in renewable energy solutions and government support for small to medium enterprise.
National’s plan for welfare reform is another controversial policy, and aims to move beneficiaries into the workplace and off assistance. The new plan is based on a recommendation from the Welfare Working Group and renames the beneficiary categories to Job Seeker Support Benefit, Sole Parent Support, and Supported Living Payment. The plan targets single parents as culprits. Once her first child reaches the age of 14, a single mother must “look for work” or be penalized. If a mother has a second child while still a single parent, she must look for work once the child turns 1. As John Key once accused, women on the benefit are “breeding for business”.
The 1,000 people that stood in line to apply for 140 jobs at a supermarket in Hamilton illustrated the dire job shortage; opponents claim the lack of jobs is the problem rather than the people on the benefit. Minor parties and editorials are calling for the National Party to create job opportunities instead of simply renaming benefits and making threats to those who cannot even secure part-time work due to the lack of opportunities available.
Tax policy is a third election topic about which Kiwis and Americans alike are keen to hear alternatives. Several minor parties have taken strong stands against businesses in an attempt to ride the ‘occupy’ movement wave. In a challenge to National’s plan to sell SOEs to obtain funds for education, the Mana Party wants to restructure the tax system so that investment in education “is never considered a special extra and is always part of core Government responsibility”. Winston Peters and his party New Zealand First called out CEOs and ultra-wealthy in New Zealand at the recent campaign launch. New Zealand First aims to improve lives of the 90% by changing the tax structure; Peters called for less personal tax, removing tax on savings, less company tax, lowering GST to 12.5%, and removing GST on rates.
Voting Reform – will NZ and the US swap styles?
In addition to the party policies set to affecting social and economic conditions, debate over the voting system for political representation in New Zealand is heating up in the lead up to a referendum. Electors will be asked two questions: whether or not they want to keep Mixed Members of Parliament (MMP), and if NZ changes its voting system, which of four alternative styles would they prefer? The listed alternatives to MMP are the following: First Past the Post (FPP), Preferential Voting (PV), Single Transferable Vote (STV), and Supplementary Member (SM). You can read about each form of voting on the Election website. MMP and SM are more amiable toward a mixed government; FPP and PV make it more difficult for minor parties to get into Government and exert influence. A Supplementary Member group has used New Zealand First leader Winston Peters to illustrate the negative effects of minor parties’ influence on Government. Critics of minor parties feel National or Labour fulfill their needs and see no room for alternative opinions or rabble-rousers such as Peters. The pressure to move away from MMP is strong enough to cause a media spectacle but not enough to maintain a diverse nationwide campaign.
In the US, a movement is gaining hold to oppose the primarily two-party system for the presidential election. Americans Elect seeks a nonpartisan presidential candidate to be on the ballot in all 50 states. An internet-based election will elect the final candidate in June 2012. To ensure the candidate’s ideology is not too far to one side, the VP running mate (chosen by the candidate) must be from a different party. About 60% of Americans like the idea of a third, independent candidate running for president against Democratic and Republic candidates. Already on the ballot of 7 states, Americans Elect is definitely a cause to watch, as it has the potential to produce voting reform in this country, albeit in a different way to New Zealand. The idea of having multiple parties in Government is inconvenient for lobbyists and firms who sway lawmakers in the US; however it would be interesting to see if New Zealand moved toward a system which favors two parties while the US moved toward one which favors diversity. And next, if Kiwis could start watching football, Americans may switch to rugby.