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Can this government get re-elected?

Written By: - Date published: 10:56 am, February 13th, 2022 - 34 comments
Categories: climate change, covid-19, Economy, energy, health, housing, jacinda ardern, labour, polls, poverty, public transport, transport, uncategorized - Tags:

Where will the votes come from to get Labour a third term? 

Prime Minister Ardern promised Parliament this week that Labour would lead New Zealand to “… emerge stronger than ever before.”

In many respects that is true already in efficiency, resilience, and government responsiveness.

But the Prime Minister didn’t communicate what an improved New Zealand would look like.

This government can’t wait three months to re-set itself.

Democratic politics is a popularity contest, and right now a third term is not looking good.

Public Health

The protesters on Parliament grounds may well be incoherent and may yet learn to love “I Write The Songs”, but they are posing the right questions of the government at the right time. We all owe this Labour government a debt of gratitude for their globally outstanding response to the pandamic. But operating the country in a crisis for three years, on top of the multiple other crises we have endured, shows that they can manage but not that they can lead.

The vaccination mandates and the enforced isolation were useful for a time but they need to be replaced with something softer: civil emergencies should suspend human rights for the minimum time possible and that time is up.

No one has any idea whether the entire DHB restructure will deliver any better health outcomes at all, and nor is there any evidence that it will fix the gaping holes in our public health system that the COVID variants have ruthlessly exposed. It is up to the government to demonstrate that it will, because as the Prime Minister points out there are multiple variants still, and “winter is coming”.

The public health “thanks” vote will by 2023 have completely evaporated.

Economy and Budget

Headline unemployment and underemployment is down to historic levels, economic growth is strong, industry and trade are strong though tested. The next stats come out just before Budget is released.

We are showing all the signs of drastic skill shortages in particular areas – which more locals will train for rather than be imported. This is good pressure to have.

But is the government guiding New Zealand to an improved economy? It has done so much with unprecedented wage subsidies and tens of billions of infrastructure investment. The current government has essentially underwritten the wages and salaries of most workers.

The government is expending huge effort taking the place of near-absent worker unions with new comprehensive job-loss compensation, higher minimum wages, stronger collective wage bargaining, and more. Little of that will enable us to be more productive, more efficient, more competitive, or more innovative.

We are well overdue for a government budget that sets out far more than what the government spends, and actually gives strong investment and regulatory signals to markets.

None need be grateful that poverty hasn’t massively expanded over this political term, though it is uncommon for it to be a political issue when unemployment is so low.

Overall it is in the handling of the economy that the government will neutralise the main political attacks through to 2023.

Carbon Zero Plan

We are three months from the 2022-23 budget and three months from the Carbon Zero plan. The Carbon Zero plan will be comprehensive and it will have a very high media and public impact. In the transport sector for example one of the draft targets is to reduce vehicle kilometres travelled by cars and light vehicles by 20% by 2035 through providing better travel options. To remind ourselves, here’s the consultation document.

It will no matter how it is spun be viewed as creeping socialism from a government that is already right in our face.

There are frankly zero new votes in this plan.

Transport

This government has set out the enormous Auckland light rail plan, but unless there is a strong mandate at the next election this project has a less than even chance of occurring. The Wellington plan is patchy but now coming out of design and into build. Until at least 2030 New Zealand has functioning public transport systems capable of shifting emissions significantly in just two of its cities: Auckland and Wellington.

Electric car sales are strong, but our national car fleet is rapidly ageing as available household cash goes into rent or mortgage payments. The government continues to prefer public transport subsidies and capital projects to provide mode choice, rather than regulating old combustion cars out. This approach only works for Auckland and Wellington, not the rest of the country. Again, nothing politically positive for the government out of this.

Energy

In energy, the government has not yet shown how it will deal with two massive issues. The first is the price of petrol and diesel. Carbon trading and global instability will likely increase the cost of petrol further, and without local refining or much storage we are increasingly at the whim of international market spikes and troughs. Powerless government and political risk go hand in hand.

The second is in our electricity bills. This government like most before it is being played by the Tiwai Point owners, and while wind and solar generation is increasing it is the Tiwai Point question that is holding up the entire renewables sector. Government weakness with its generators has led to our highest-ever use of coal since the 1950s. The Lake Onslow battery project isn’t commercially viable since it would only be used for backup, and runs the same high risk of early death as the light rail project. There is no sign the government plans to gain political capital out of price regulation in electricity.

Housing

As I’ve noted before, this government is more interventionist and more active in housing regulation, tax, and construction than any government in the last 50 years. Despite this, rent on median average consumes nearly half of what households earn. That’s higher even than Canada and Australia which have also had real estate booms. Housing construction is booming, consents are up, and the enforced pause on immigration is allowing supply to catch up.

We have a long, long way to go before we are at the inflation points of the late 1980s, but every half % point interest rate increase (of which there will likely be several in 2022) will have a similar disposable income impact on those who own houses as those who rent.

The question of regulating the price of rent will be politically explosive, and to not too fine a point on it almost everyone in parliament owns a rental house.

Water

We have to go back 50 years to find water as an electoral issue, but the 3-Waters programme even has the potential to make the 2022 local government elections slightly interesting – which is some feat. Government hasn’t spelled out what the remaining role for local or regional councils is once it has taken water management off them. It hasn’t recognised that water, like petrol and broadband, has a deep implied reliance across the whole of society. There are still a few around who remember what previous whole-of-network reforms did to us in telecomms, electricity, and rail. Like the health reforms, none can be sure whether water prices will be cheaper or fair, nor how this new form of commercialised supplier + operator oligopoly will work.

This government has left most of its reform initiatives to its last year of the term and they are converging into a godawful mess.

Conclusion

Since the 2020 election this government has seen a precipitous fall in popularity and the Opposition are close to being able to propose an alternative government.

Where will this government gain back the voters it has lost?

Can it improve sufficiently inside 12 months?

How far the tide goes out from its historic high depends on just 12 months of performance from May 2022.

After that the die is cast.

34 comments on “Can this government get re-elected? ”

  1. mike 1

    Well, they'll get my vote.

    That's one.

    Oh, and my partner.

    That's two

  2. observer 3

    We've known since election 2020 what they needed. 40 + 10. Vary the numbers within that, season according to taste.

    A lot of issues in the OP, so let's just look at one: the new Health system, including the Maori entity, a major breakthrough.

    I'll make one prediction now: National won't go into the election promising to scrap it. Collins said she would. Watch Luxon squirm when he's asked if they will.

  3. Has National even promised anything that will turn the voters?

    It's a 2-way street.

    Voters are not just going to change camps on a "Nothing offered" campaign.

    • JanM 4.1

      Exactly. It's all very well making a song and dance about this government not being perfect but it doesn't mean we'll all rush to vote for a party that caused a lot of these problems in the first place!

    • Shanreagh 4.2

      But they often do vote the other way just to get the current lot out.

      So the other party often does not have to offer very much at all. That is the danger. If nothing is offered or accepted as being offered the incoming govt is offered a more or less clean slate to go forward on.

    • Enough is Enough 4.3

      I would say the exact opposite. Governments vote themselves out. So long as they are doing a good competent job, the electorate generally votes for the status quo.

      As an opposition you don't ever really want to over promise or come up with daft policies because you then have to deliver. KiwiBuild anyone?

      National governments are conservative in nature. They don't really ever tranform things like Labour governments do. So don't expect much out of them in terms of big ticket policies

    • alwyn 4.4

      Oppositions don't win elections. Governments lose them. It is only a question of when they will do so. I personally think that it will be 2023. The only thing they did well was the 2020 reaction to the Covid outbreak. However they can only play that card for so long and I think that time has pretty well run out.

      We were promised Freedom day when we got 90% vaccination. It never happened. Then we were told that there would be no penalties for people who didn't get vaccinated. That was just before the last election.

      " Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern went a step further, saying not only will there be no forced vaccinations, but those who choose to opt-out won't face any penalties at all. "

      https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/09/coronavirus-jacinda-ardern-confident-enough-kiwis-will-get-covid-19-vaccine-for-herd-immunity-without-being-forced-to.html

      Hmm.

      Meanwhile, after people get really sick of the Covid 19 theme tune being played over and over again, people will start looking at everything else that the Government has failed at and I think will decide to dump the current Government in a landslide.

      An alternative to the Government don't have to have a complete policy package. They just have to look competent and with Luxon in the top job I think that will happen. For the Government to warble on about "nine long years" really doesn't work when they people singing the refrain are themselves responsible for "six worse years".

      So it will be "Bye bye Birdie, good bye".

  4. Patricia Bremner 5

    We will be voting for them, but I do sense a changed attitude from some we think are swing voters.

    Housing is a big issue. Mandates will end sooner rather than later, because their usefulness will wane. Most people will ask, are we better off? Is the country doing ok in a pandemic? More will say yes than no. Why? They will not buy National is "New" and "Improved" Brownlie Collins Woodhouse Bridges et al a constant reminder of past DP.

    Voters send messages in polls. They don't count except as a prod!! There is one important poll only. The election.

    People know that inflation is partly imported (oil) and also caused by shortages due to supply lines. Pandemic spending has also had an effect.

    Gimlet eyes does not have the common touch and his "team" is same old same old.

  5. tsmithfield 6

    I think that the government faces a number of problems at the moment, as has been explained above.

    One of the issues is that I think the general population is getting weary of the Covid restrictions.

    The government did well in the initial stages of the pandemic when they were able to galvanise the nation under the "team of 5 million". But I think it gets more and more difficult to keep this degree of co-operation going, and that the government will come under increasing criticism. That may not be fair, because it is easy for people to criticise when they don't have to make the hard decisions. Nevertheless, the government is in charge, so their actions or lack of them will come under increasing scrutiny.

    Another issue is that the government seems to be creating reasons to piss-off a wide variety of sectors that cumulatively may prove fatal for them at the election.

    Take "Three-Waters for instance: Personally, I think the idea of centrally managing water treatment resources may make a lot of sense. But the way this has been communicated is terrible. The government has brought a big fight with councils that they didn't really need to. And they have shown themselves to be a treacherous bunch by cancelling a promised opt-in option for councils, and running what looks like a sham of a consultation process.

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/457660/three-waters-government-agreed-to-mandated-strategy-before-four-entities-announced

    “Watts said eight weeks of consultation with the local government sector was inadequate, and so was the response to councils' largely negative feedback.

    “They've made a decision on this and the consultation is just, yeah, to tick a box. And this is a real disappointing fact because this is going to affect every single ratepayer in this country," he said."

    So, the actions of the government around this speak louder than the policy itself IMO, and I think is likely to undermine trust in the government more generally.

    Governments usually undertake their transformative policies at the beginning of a term, and leave the lollies to the end when they need votes at the election.

    But this time, it seems all about face. They seem to be trying to drive through a multitude of policies that are likely to be very divisive, and may well prove fatal for them. I don't really know why they are going this way about it.

    • Christopher Randal 6.1

      Three Waters and Auckland Light Rail will be enough to lose them the election.

      Disregarding the overwhelming opposition by both councils and the public to Three Waters is incredibly stupid, and it makes the Minister and the PM look incompetent.

      The huge amount being quoted for light rail is untenable, especially since, if past experience is anything to go on, the price is likely to double. Voters out of Auckland will be asking why Michael Wood can spend this ridiculous amount of money in Auckland and why can't the split it up for the benefit of the rest of the country. Health, Education and Welfare should be getting that money, not a train set for Auckland.

  6. Blazer 7

    Basic needs=food,shelter…how's the Govt doing on those two?

    Food….investigating Supermarket duopoly…!

    Huge increase in food banks helping feed the poor.

    Food price inflation for basic products that NZ produces in abundance are eye watering.

    Vegetables,meat,dairy,fish…you need to be a landlord these days to afford…them.

    Shelter…

    23,000+ living in motels

    Highest house prices in the world.

    Highest rents in the…world.

    Tinkering by a Govt overweight in landlords,while the present and long term consequences of this crisis are basically ignored.

    Only a National Govt could do…worse.

  7. Byd0nz 8

    Did I hear correctly, did Luxon say he would hit the Gvt hard about inflation?

    was there no inflation under National led Gvts?

    very lame attack line from the new and improved.

    • Barfly 8.1

      Luxon should be asked if he watches or reads any international news.

      Inflation is a currently a WORLD WIDE issue .

      Hmm does he want JA to give him a solution to this WORLD WIDE problem?

      • Blazer 8.1.1

        That is a very poor argument.

        NZ is supposedly an independent nation with its own fiscal and monetary policies.

        Climate change is a WORLD WIDE problem too-what do you suggest?

  8. Belladonna 9

    No data to support this – just conversations with friends – the majority of whom voted Labour at the last election.

    Personal support for Jacinda remains high. People like and trust her – though some are starting to question how well she is advised.

    Support for the government (as in the other Ministers) is starting to waver. They are not presenting as competent – and seem to be constantly being blind-sided over issues, and not communicating effectively.

    Policy reversals, when a wild-hair idea turns out to be a political rotten egg (e.g. Auckland cycling bridge), don't help. Local Labour MPs sing from the song sheet when promoting the idea, then go silent when it's reversed [personal experience of our local MP on local Facebook groups] – there's little trust being built up – and people start to wonder if any policy is ever going to get off the ground.

    Hipkins is a particular casualty of this. He's slipped from being well regarded in the middle of last year, to people being unsure about him this year. I'd regard this as a mix of weariness (it's been a rough couple of years for all politicians), and a much-too-heavy workload (which, begs the question, why Labour hasn't redistributed some of his portfolios – and then a discussion over the depth of the talent pool).

    So, can the government get re-elected?

    It comes down to how much people vote for a person (Ardern) and how much they vote for a set of policies. And we won't know that, 'til voting day.

    • observer 9.1

      Pretty fair summary overall, though I'd question the conclusion.

      In the next 2 Budgets Robertson will be pivoting to post-Covid policies. National will want to offer tax cuts (as usual), but they got badly burned in the last 2 elections when their maths came under the spotlight. "Cut public spending" is a message that works in theory, but not on specifics, like your local hospital.

      Reading between the lines on Luxon's messaging, I'd guess that when he says "invest more" but "spend less" (and he says both, often) that can only mean more private investment. That's going to be a hard sell to the voters.

      • Belladonna 9.1.1

        I don't know that new post-Covid policies will help much. People are starting to question whether Labour can deliver on anything (apart from the Covid management). So announcing a new policy suite, unless delivery is planned by the end of this year, is likely to be too little, too late.

        The two current biggies on the horizon are the Health Dept restructure (which, most people see as having little impact on front line delivery improvements – it's all back room stuff); and the 3 waters (which the govt has an enormous task to sell to average voters) – quite frankly, most people simply don't believe Mahuta over the claimed benefits.

        There's a heck of a lot of water-cooler (or the online equivalent) doubt over whether the Auckland light-rail is ever going to get off the ground, or just be another expensive consultant exercise.

      • Blazer 9.1.2

        I do wonder why people would bother to invest in small business ,indeed anything other than property doesn't make sense.

        You see NZ's richest man a multi billionaire buy 9 properties in Mt Wtgn recently.

        On last years price rises they would gross him $54,000 a WEEK,which is the apx equivalent of the weekly profits of 6 Michael Hill Jewellery stores.(public accs).

        As Luxon has 7 properties, not convinced he would give up on such a good thing.

  9. Tiger Mountain 10

    It was posed various times here on the Standard that a majority MMP Govt. scenario would show exactly what this Labour Caucus was made of. And it did and has. Labour is part of the main party neo liberal Parliamentary consensus that has persisted since 1984. Reserve Bank Act, State Sector Act, penetration of public infrastructure by private capital, and fifth columnist style state sector managerialism are not going anywhere till new gen voters wake up and get organised.

    So AO/NZ will most likely be back to a “proper” MMP Govt. with Labour and Greens, and possibly Te Parti Māori.

    Luxury Luxon with 7 pads, and a Merc to cross the road, is unlikely to precipitate a massive swing to the Natzos. ACT will be exposed if they ever let their other MPs speak publicly or have to front up on all their diabolical Chicago Boys policy.

    So lots will vote for a Labour/Green Govt, which despite the obvious flaws will keep the dirty filthy tories out for another three years.

  10. Corey Humm 11

    In the four elections I've been able to vote, I've voted two ticks red in all but 2017, where party voted green because I was worried they wouldn't get 5% and electorate voted red.

    In 2014,2017,2020 I volunteered, canvassed, fundraised enrolled strangers and took a week off work in the last week of the election and did the get out the vote.

    I don't know who I'll vote for or if I'll even bother voting but I can 95% rule out giving Labour either of my votes.

    If Chloe Swarbrick can keep the Greens focused on left wing economic matters then I'll give them two ticks or Top two ticks.

    Labour doesn't care and are only interested in power for the sake of power

    • Anne 11.1

      It works both ways Corey Humm. A significant number of Labour people are said to have voted Green to keep them in parliament. Done it myself. On the other hand a significant number of Green voters have voted Labour to keep them in office. One might cancel out the other – we will never know.

      • Barfly 11.1.1

        Lol I'm a Labour supporter that votes Green to keep them in Parliament. surprise

        • Anne 11.1.1.1

          Yep. I've done it too. My reason is mainly CC. Its their job to poke and prod Labour to actually do something concrete about it. smiley

        • aj 11.1.1.2

          …. votes Green to keep them in Parliament

          Did that once and would do so again if their support is threatening 5%

  11. DS 13

    High petrol prices are never good for incumbent Governments, of course.

    So far as Covid goes – the whingers are a loud and powerful minority. 58% of the country wants to keep the borders closed, after all, and the notion that the Government has been selling out to the Right via stupid liberalisation never actually gets raised.

  12. greywarshark 14

    Perhaps people would vote where they live in an area that supplies essential infrastructure for NZ. Government has got to get out of its easy chair,and be for the country – make some decisions they will stand behind. -They would have to face the bull while being light on their toes and skilled to protect from any untoward rushes.

    Like Marlborough. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/ldr/461430/former-councillor-says-110m-port-loan-risky-without-crown-guarantee

    Marlborough District Council asked the Crown to guarantee its proposed loan of $150 million to Port Marlborough for the ferry precinct development, but it was refused. Instead, according to its statement of proposal, the government rejected the Crown guarantee because it was already committed to supporting KiwiRail, so Port Marlborough recalculated its borrowing to $110m to "reduce the level of risk" involved.

    There were 27 submissions made during consultation on whether the MDC should raise the $110m loan to finance Port Marlborough's share of the ferry precinct redevelopment. Of the submissions, 11 people supported the proposal, seven partially did, and eight did not.

    Consultation hearings are set down for February 17 and 18, of which 12 submitters are expected to speak on their submissions.

    One of those is former Marlborough District councillor and former Port Marlborough chairman David Dew, who did not support the council's proposal. Dew said his concern was the council was not being honest about the risk of borrowing – given it did not have a Crown guarantee.

    "They're making the assumption that you can trust the Crown, and trust state-owned enterprises," he said. Dew turned to state-owned coalminer Solid Energy as an example. Then Prime Minister John Key said in 2013, state-owned enterprises were not government guaranteed and banks that lent to Solid Energy should expect to wear the loss of its accumulating debt.</i>

  13. Drowsy M. Kram 15

    Can this government get re-elected?

    Hope so, but with talent like Collins, Brownlee, MAGA Muller, Bridges, Pugh, Woodhouse, Goldsmith, Mitchell, Hipango et al., NAct's strong team may yet win the comedy debate.

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  14. Blazer 16

    Is it too early to be thinking of slogans?

    'let's do this..'-worked.

    'keep NZ moving ..'-worked

    So far I've come up with-'let them eat noodles…'-but I'm still working on…it.

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