Try this for an excellent wrap on the upcoming Kiwi elections from political insider Abut Scully and then a pugnacious response from reader “Peter” followed by a further response from Abut.

The system, based on the German model, sees the make up of Parliament determined by the percentage parties attain via a Party vote, while also allowing voters the chance to elect a local member through a second “electorate vote.” In order to be represented in Parliament, a party must either reach a 5% threshold in the Party vote or win at least one electorate seat (in the latter case, the Party vote threshold doesn’t stand so, say, if you have one electorate MP elected, and score 2% of the Party vote, you will have an additional Member elected off your Party list). Confused? If not, get on the phone to any Kiwi you know and explain it to them.

The current Government, of course, is led by the formidable Helen Clark and was composed of the Labour Party and the left wing Alliance Party with support on confidence and supply from the Greens. In recent times, the Alliance has split into two. Party leader Deputy PM Jim Anderton got sick and tired of lentil burgers and formed the Progressive Coalition along with a number of his caucus who were similarly exhausted with the hygiene-challenged loonies among them. It was this realignment that gave Miss Clark the opportunity she needed to go to the polls at a time of her choosing, with a strong economy and a weak Opposition giving her all the additional motivation she needed.

So, with campaign underway, what is the current state of play?

In the years following her brutal coup against former leader (and now WTO chief) Mike Moore, Helen Clark’s was about as popular among New Zealanders as Yassir is among Israelis. But David Lange was not wrong when he claimed that the only things to survive a nuclear attack would be cockroaches and Helen Clark. She makes Howard look positively lily-livered, not to mention feminine.

Helen Clark’s self-belief is such that she should be giving lectures to Anthony Robbins, and she knew that even if New Zealanders would never particularly like her, by God they would learn to respect her. That, if polls are any indication, they surely do.

The latest polls put Labour at between 46-50%, meaning that it is a distinct possibility that they could secure a majority in its own right almost unprecedented in proportional representation elections. They have stumbled somewhat in the last week or two over a couple of scandals/beat ups.

First, there is the ongoing controversy of her adding her signature to paintings that were auctioned for charity under the auspices that she had actually painted them. Dubbed ‘Paintergate’ by some NZ journo who had evidently recently undergone an imagination bypass, this story was given extra legs by the release of the police report detailing the purchase and subsequent destruction of one of the paintings by you guessed it – her own electorate officer (who is also Jim Anderton’s ex-wife). Oh dear. Despite the unsavoury nature of the story, Helen appears likely to ride it out. It’s classic insider stuff a “Lewinsky” that generates trouser stirring in the press gallery but yawns everywhere else. Most importantly, though, Helen has enough stored in the credibility bank to stand a minor withdrawal or two without damaging her electoral standing too badly.

The second issue, which involves revelations about a GE contamination scare (given it involved a crop of corn, no prizes for what it has been dubbed). The GE debate is a huge one in New Zealand, largely because the moratorium over the release of genetically modified material is due to expire next year and the Greens have made extending it indefinitely their central policy plank. These latest revelations, made in a book by notorious conspiracy theorist and John Pilger wannabe, Nicky Hagar, involve a cover up by the Government following the accidental release of genetically modified corn,

Fascinating stuff; no doubt a great read. Too bad its utter bullshit.

The problem for Labour is less the allegations themselves, which have been completely discredited, but Helen’s apparent overreaction to them. Her normally cool demeanour made way for uncharacteristic rage when she was ambushed by a TV interviewer before she had been made aware of the book’s contents. To give you an idea of her approach to this unwelcome line of questioning, the interviewer blamed a car crash on his way home that night on the emotional state he was left in after incurring the PM’s wrath.

Combined, these scandals have wrong footed the Government, and Labour has lost between 3 and 5 points in the polls as a result. The opposition National Party, however, has not been the beneficiary, remaining static in the mid to high twenties. Led by the innocuous Bill English (who some say was elected leader only because he was the sole National MP with a deeper voice than the PM), National has struggled to gain any traction over the course of the term and is running a singularly uninspired campaign. The lead up to the election has been tarred by a fair amount of internal bickering over pre-selections. National Party President and PR guru Michelle Boag (far less pleasant than her Tasmanian cousin, James) has run an industrial vacuum cleaner over the Caucus, disposing of the dead wood and replacing them with handpicked ‘stars’ such as former Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash. Think Bernie Fraser. Halve the charisma.

Instead, it is the minor parties who appear to be gaining ground, notably the Greens who appear to be tapping into a disturbing strain of paranoid conspiracy theory combined with fanatical vegetarianism in the kiwi psyche. They are tracking around 10%, which would give them around 13 or so MPs. The cafe51 at Parliament house better start stockpiling brown rice and organic turnips. Labour has ruled out forming a coalition with the Greens because it refuses to guarantee confidence and supply if the GE moratorium is lifted which it will be.

Winston Peters of New Zealand First is doing his usual last minute rabble rousing on race and immigration just in time to meet the required 5%. I have enjoyed more than a few drinks with Winston, who is engaging company and a great laugh. It’s just a shame that the cameras fail to pick up the cheeky grin that follows every outrageous statement he makes in private which makes it clear he doesn’t really believe a word he is saying. He’ll be back, with 6 or 7 colleagues to keep him company.

ACT, led by former Labour Minister Richard Prebble, is benefiting from National’s slump and seems to be attracting an increasing share of the right-wing vote. Expect them to return with a slightly larger contingent to keep on playing their laissez faire loony tunes.

Jim Anderton’s Progressive Coalition (he inserted his name so voters would realise what it was) will not reach 5%, but Anderton himself is sure to win in his electorate of Wigram. Helen has indicated that she wants him in Cabinet, although it is not clear whether he would remain Deputy PM. If they do slightly better than most polls indicate, he may be able to bring one other colleague into Parliament on his coat-tails.

The Alliance, led by the lisping Laila Harre, appear to be stuffed, with little chance of winning an electorate or reaching the 5% threshold. After July 27, expect New Zealand to be confronting an over-supply of sociology lecturers and part time olive growers.

United NZ is the banner under which the amicable but astoundingly dull Peter Dunne gets re-elected every time in his suburban electorate of Ohariu Belmont. His parliamentary colleagues won’t resent his re-election who else will get up and speak on the “Customs Duties Amendment Bill (No 5) Bill” and appear to actually enjoy it?

In short, the likely outcome will be that Helen Clark, with her loyal sidekick Jim Anderton in toe, will be in a position to form a Government, either with an outright majority or a few shy of that. Either way, Helen Clark’s reign appears far from over her 64th birthday is nearly 5 elections away!


CRIKEY: A good article such as this always elicits excellent replies such as the following from Peter:

Callous capitalism gone wrong

By Kiwi watching Peter

Who’s Who in the Zoo was an enjoyable and seriously funny article. I think it needs a little more context which I will have a shot at providing.

“New Zealanders will go to the polls on Saturday July 27, the third election under the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system adopted by referendum in a temporary bout of collective insanity in 1993.”

Or collective sanity, depending on your point of view. By 1993 many and perhaps even most Kiwis had become deeply deeply pissed off with the extreme version of economic rationalism that they had endured for the best part of a decade under jolly Roger Douglas and his merry band (including for the record, one Helen Clark who has cast of her economic rationalist rags in the interim). Each year the rhetoric was the same – “If we all [=’you all’] accept pain and suffering now, then it will be beer and skittles for everyone in the future – real soon now”. In the event people could not help but notice that the beer and skittles retreated approximately 1.5 years as each year passed. Further, thougthful Kiwis saw that National (=Liberal) were offering the same thing, but even more so, which indeed proved to be the case.

MMP – eventually – offered Kiwis a way out of this lunacy.

When NZ put everyone onto individual contracts and reduced the minimum wage to penury levels – not sure what it was in 1993, but by 1996 it had risen to the dizzy heights of $NZ6.40 – it took quite some time for the government and its economists to notice two effects that should have been obvious (1) anyone who can hire someone for five bucks an hour will. (Good bye middle income jobs, Goodbye middle class). (2) people living on that level of income don’t buy much. (Good bye spending. Goodbye economy – it collapsed like a cold souffle). Importers and manufacturers discovered that no matter how cheap their costs were, it helped to have someone on the other side of the counter with the folding stuff in their pockets. (Driving into a service station in Cromwell in the mid-90s, I was astonished at the sheer volume of driveway staff – it was difficult to avoid hitting them – one to fill your tank, another to clean your window, one to go ‘brrring brring’ as you drove over him on the way in etc At $3.50 per hour (junior rates) presumably easy get a fresh one out of the box.)

Once the redundancy moneys ran out, the party was over. Later came a second round of nationwide lay-offs but this time without redundancy payments as by then everyone was on short term individual contracts. In truth, there was a big time burst of entrpreneurism after the first round of redundancies as tens of thousands of former employees enthusiastically started up micro-businesses, but once demand dried up, so to did these, as well as the enthusiasm to be an entrepreneur. Might as well spend your last few bucks on having some fun, and many did just this.

For a succinct description of what happens when you listen to loonies, see this website. I found five mintes ago after a one minute search. I’m sure there are others just as good. Quoting from that:

“It has been so long since anyone in the business press has praised the New Zealand “miracle,” it’s almost as if we imagined the whole thing. But, of course, the current silence is really no mystery. The 15-year free market experiment has been an unmitigated disaster. The suffering caused among ordinary New Zealanders is well known: the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world; the proliferation of food banks; huge increases in violent and other crime; the bankruptcy of half the farms in the country; the economic disruption of hundreds of thousands of lives; health care, education and other social services devastated by the mad marketplace scientists.

“There are lessons from New Zealand, but they do not involve adopting that tortured country as a model.”

BTW it’s really like this in NZ. (OK, not everwhere all the time).

For entertainment value, try trawling the web for old articles written at the time of the “NZ miracle”. They are funny/sad whether written from an outsider’s perspectrive (eg. when our Libs were all heading off to NZ to see how it really ought to be done); and arrogant/smug when written by the then NZ rulers (“Why is everyone in the world so stupid except me” – Homer Simpson, just before his house catches fire as he falls asleep on the couch)

I see no room for smugness on our part. In my opionion, the main thing that has saved us from NZ’s fate is our federal & bi-cameral system. NZ is first past the post, uni-cameral and has no states. Governments are – or rather, were until MMP – elected dictatorships. Cabinets enjoyed the ability to implement their policies in the purest possbile form, unfettered by such irritations such as the senate or state governments. Imagine the moves John Howard would make if he had a majority in both houses and Liberal Governments in every state and you’re starting to get the picture.


Abut Sully is not going to take that lying down and responds as follows:

Swinger Parties: The (Partial) Truth Behind MMP

By Abut Sully

Peter’s response to my article was well informed, insightful and intelligent. So I am clearly out of my depth. It appears that, unlike me, he is somewhat of a policy wonk and I have no intention of engaging in a wonking competition.

He is owed one confession: I actually voted for MMP and did so for many of the reasons Peter outlines. First past the post governments in New Zealand did, in many cases, act with unconstrained arrogance, and this was occurring well before the timeframe Peter discusses. Elected in 1975, the National Government led by the vertically challenged Rob Muldoon spent nine years imposing its will on the New Zealand people in ways that would make Kim Jong Il blush.

His brand of populism saw, among other things, agricultural subsidies rise to levels where sheep earned more than the average wage. To suppress unemployment, NZ Rail employed more people than it transported, there were two posties per letter, and chain gangs of the otherwise jobless were paid to dig holes in the ground, only to fill them again (these skills became useful later when marijuana planting became a popular career choice).

By 1984, the country was faltering, divided and broke. David Lange’s Labour Government was a breath of fresh air and, for the early years at least, so were its many reforms.

Peter is right in saying they over-stretched, big time. Roger Douglas acted as if he had been hypnotised by Adam Smith. His zealotry was infectious and he was able to seduce enough members of Cabinet to his viewpoint to prevail (although Peter is harsh to suggest Helen was one). Lange, on the other hand, seemed more concerned about where his next one-liner was coming from, not to mention his next sausage roll.

Lange was Milli Vanilli, miming the words penned by post-adolescent Rogernome bureaucrats who geekily but eerily stalked the halls of Treasury dreaming up new assets to sell, taxes to cut, regulations to slash, and computer games to purchase. (It’s a shame the Internet had yet to be invented they could have left the New Zealand economy alone while they explored the many pleasures of one-hand-typing).

I agree with Peter that things got pretty bad for a while there, but the Hieronymus Bosch picture he paints is a tad over the top. If things were truly that gloomy, it wouldn’t be youth suicide we would need to worry about. 95% of the adult population would have topped themselves. (Not to mention the now poverty stricken sheep!)

It also struck me as odd that Peter gave no mention of the first MMP term, a convenient omission in order to support his argument that MMP was some kind of elixir.

The first lesson New Zealanders learnt from MMP was not one of cooperation, moderation and common sense. Rather, as New Zealanders watched parties and politicians join in an obscene ritualistic dance of Naked Self Interest, they were rightly disgusted. The process of building a Coalition appeared less like an exercise in building stable government than a middle aged swinger’s party. Looking back now, I am certain that Helen Clark is delighted that Winston Peters picked up Jim Bolger’s car keys and not hers.

The Bolger-Peters, then Shipley-Peters then Shipley without Peters-but-with-some-others, Government was a monumental farce, and an embarrassment to the country.

On a positive note, the Government was so comically dysfunctional it was incapable of actually doing anything, and that was a relief. And perhaps it also helped educate New Zealanders to use the MMP system less like a lottery. It certainly provided a foundation for the success of the Clark-Anderton term.

But the system that generated the chaos of 1996-99 remains in place, and it is as unpredictable as ever.

The asylum is well run at present, but there is no shortage of lunatics poised to take over.

Peter Fray

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