By Alex Tarrant
Interest.co.nz's comprehensive policy pages might prove to be helpful after the fact in helping us predict who Winston Peters will go with. But reading between the lines raises more questions than line-by-line comparisons may answer, particularly due to New Zealand's short electoral cycles. Could quality of headlines with an eye on 2020 be more important than quantity of results?
As things stand, New Zealand First holds the balance of power. National on 58 seats cannot hit the 61 required with ACT (as we've written here many times this year, it was the Maori seats which ultimately might have decided the outcome). Labour and the Greens (45 and 7) are also left hoping for NZ First's 9 to hit 61 combined.
Things might change after the special votes are in on 7 October - predicted to give a boost to the Left of perhaps two seats. Talks may begin but might not reach crunch time until these results are in. In the meantime, we're left to study the tea-leaves, past performances and rivalries and seeing whose policy platforms are most alike.
To be honest, we still don't know how big a role policy will play - it might be the baubles which determine NZ First's preferences. And we still don't know whether Peters will in fact enter into a formal coalition. Does he have the energy, drive and caucus backing to spend three years on the cross-benches focussing on driving through his bugbear policies?
Below are some key policy stances - comparisons of whether Labour or National are closest to Peters, with a smattering of the Greens' positions on some big topics for them - and a bit of commentary on how the major parties might be prepared to negotiate or come around to NZ First's positions. The wordings are taken from our Election 2017 policy pages, which means everything is in the parties' own words.
The list below isn't exhaustive - I'd encourage you to take a look for yourselves on other policies and let us know your thoughts.
One thought I had when doing this exercise was the amount of space left by National on certain policy areas that just happen to be firm favourites of Winston Peters - immigration and skills are two. And these are areas where policies shouldn't cost too much fiscally if National was 'forced' to entertain some of New Zealand First's ideas. Meanwhile, Labour appears very close to New Zealand First on many things. Their regional rail policies could have been written by the same person, for example.
This makes me wonder why New Zealand First would consider going with a party that it matches with so well? I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but just think what New Zealand First's ultimate goal is: To get re-elected with a larger party vote, and perhaps an electorate seat or two, in 2020.
And for that, it has to be seen to have made a difference by being in government with one of the two majors. If it looks like they just went with a party that was pretty much going to make moves on all its major policy areas regardless (ie. rail to Marsden Point, cracking down on Indian students and moving the Ports of Auckland as Labour is proposing), then that won't garner as many "we made them do this" and "NZF forced this change for the good of New Zealand" headlines as the alternative allowed for by National.
It's just a thought - you'll see it grow in my commentary (I wrote all that first). But I'm starting to question my hunch that Peters would turn Left (I'm still 60-40 Left vs Right).
By way of manifesto comparison, NZ First fits much better with Labour, and can be involved in many more policy changes even with the Greens around the table as well. But the influence of New Zealand's short political cycles might mean they favour an approach which would see National allowing them fewer headline-grabbing policies, but at least the space of being the only party in the headline seen driving change. This could also be an argument for them to sit on the cross benches, supporting National or Labour budgets if a few NZF policies were allowed each time à la Gareth Morgan's plans.
This is up against the argument the New Zealand First will still be able to garner headlines keeping Labour and the Greens in check, particularly when it comes to policies that could affect farmers and provincial towns - I believe NZ First has a particular eye on the rural vote in 2020 - like it had in 2017, but it lost out to Bill English - and could use its position in a Labour-Greens government to this aim.
I'd be interested to hear your views. Below are some policy comparisons.
The initial reaction is that Labour is closer to New Zealand First on immigration policy, than National is. That’s based on Labour’s policy to reduce the number of foreign students attending private training organisations. The policy argues that the students use the courses for access to NZ, then take on low-paying jobs, predominantly in Auckland. Labour estimates its policy would see a 20,00-30,000 reduction in student migrants and their partners.
Staying on the Left for a minute, the Greens could be argued to share some common ground with New Zealand First - at least on sentiment (and not on refugees). Here are a couple of lines from their policy: Take all reasonable steps to prevent immigration numbers and the sale of land to rich immigrants from having an adverse impact on Aotearoa/NZ and its Taonga, and, Require all new voluntary migrants granted provisional residency status to demonstrate an awareness of New Zealand's laws and social norms. So, some of the Greens' stance could fit in very well with what Peters is calling for.
National, despite jaw-boning about tweaks to migrations settings, this year largely left them untouched. The argument was that various industries are reliant on migrant labour (including in the regions – horticulture and agriculture) and that a reduction would impact economic growth. Commentators have been pointing to National’s strong party vote in areas of Auckland with high Asian migrant populations, saying this indicates the party can’t touch the issue. However, because it is such a stalwart topic for Peters, National will likely have to move on immigration to some extent.
If National has to be wary of not offending its migrant voting base, particularly in Auckland, perhaps English could seek a carve-out to keep allowing existing migrants to bring over immediate family members in return for tightening inflows of new migrants who don’t have existing connections here. Peters wants family reunification “strictly controlled” – which indicates immediate family members could still be allowed in. Bill English this year also moved to tighten how long migrants need to be in the country for before they can access NZ Super – something Peters agrees on.
Meanwhile, Labour and New Zealand First want skills shortages lists to be more regionally focussed (more on skills below). It seems a small ask for National to agree to doing the same, while also tightening foreign student working rights (ie taking on Labour's policy), tightening slightly on reunification outside immediate family, making noises on reducing migrant exploitation and promising to review how skills shortages lists are determined. Even improving the minimum English language requirement and requiring mandatory 'civics' courses could be easy enough for Bill English to stomach.
- Attract highly skilled migrants by reducing numbers to around 10,000 per annum. Increase, the Permanent Residency qualification period from the current two-years.
- Ensure immigration under ‘family reunion’ is strictly controlled.
- Make sure effective measures are put in place to stop the exploitation of migrant workers with respect to wages, safety and work conditions. In Christchurch and elsewhere there is evidence of exploitation of migrant workers.
- Develop strategies to encourage the regional dispersion of immigration to places other than Auckland and the main centres.
- Substantially increase the minimum English requirement.
Read more here.
- Expand the global impact visa. Enable younger, successful and well-connected entrepreneurs at the start of their career to establish their ventures in New Zealand. This new visa will help lift innovation and create jobs through the establishment of new business ventures and access to global networks.
- Continue to look at ways to encourage high value tourists, international students and business visitors to New Zealand.
- Continue to back our employers and make sure access to the international labour market is available when there is a genuine need.
- Encourage investment that provides greater economic benefits for New Zealand through our Entrepreneur and Investor migrant categories.
- Attract migrants with the skills and experience we need for our growing economy.
Read more here.
- Introduce an Exceptional Skills Visa for highly skilled or talented people; and the KiwiBuild Visa to help address the growing shortages in skilled tradespeople and facilitate Labour's KiwiBuild housing programme.
- Strengthen the Labour Market Test for work visas, and make our skills shortage lists more regional.
- Remove the ability to work for international students in low-level courses except where the work is approved as part of their study; and remove the ability to get a work visa without a job for those who have completed study below university level.
- Run a voluntary trial civic engagement course for new and recent migrants to support their participation in New Zealand’s civic life and access to community services.
- With the state sector, establish a two year trial programme to create more equitable opportunities for migrants to advance into senior positions including structured mentoring, pro-active promotion of opportunities to multicultural communities, and a ‘blind’ job application process for senior positions.
Migration policy is linked to skills policy in that the general argument is, ‘we wouldn’t need those migrants if we taught our own youth the skills required’. Steven Joyce on Sunday made overtures to New Zealand First’s education & skills spokeswoman, Tracey Martin. So did Jacinda Ardern.
Below we include the three parties' comments in our 'training and apprenticeships' section. You'll notice National's one is just one line - it was included in its general education policy. While it might therefore look like there is less agreement between NZ First and National than with Labour, this also indicates there is room for National to 'be convinced' about NZ First's position. A key negotiation tactic is trying to get the other side to believe it has forced your hand on entertaining certain policy areas. And the easiest way to do this is to have very thin policy in some area that you're not too bothered about, where policies won't cost that much.
National has also indicated a willingness to use the defence force to handle youth who current social services are failing to help. This fits in with NZ First's Ron Mark's stance that government should set up defence-force led trades training academies. Meanwhile, paid internships, or 'dole-for apprentices' schemes are favoured by NZ First and Labour. Again, programmes like these shouldn't be too hard for National to swallow, as the costs are very low and they fit with the philosophy of being rewarded for work.
The Greens, too, have a focus on apprenticeships, and on plans to encourage long-term unemployed into training. If they and Labour can hold their noses on boot-camps (or allow for softer boot-camps), perhaps the three opposition parties could find agreement on all other areas of their training policies.
- Review funding and attendance models that create barriers to achieving recognised NZQA qualifications through flexible individual training agreements and workplace internships.
- Work alongside the sector to develop and resource a clear understanding of the Skills Leadership role and the roles of other stakeholders, ie. trainees, secondary schools, employers.
- Minimise the “opportunity costs” (administration and compliance) and financial barriers for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to employ apprentices and provide flexibility for provincial and rural New Zealand students.
- Paid internship programme to provide work experience.
- Introduce the Ministry of Social Development funded and NZ Defence Force operated Youth Enterprise and Training Initiative that will provide formal trade training to students not suited to conventional education.
- Established three primary industry trades academies to train more young people with the skills they need to succeed in the rural sector, with 850 places available each year, and increased tuition subsidies for agriculture-related tertiary qualifications.
Read more here.
- Expanding our previous commitment to pay the equivalent of the unemployment benefit to employers who take on an apprentice. We are removing the cap and extending the eligibility to all 18 to 24 year olds not earning or learning.
- Change funding systems to encourage the development of ‘hop on, hop-off’ training to equalise the focus that is placed on completing a qualification and gaining work experience
- Reinforce the roles of Industry Training Organisations as standard setting bodies for their respective industries, and promote partnerships between industry and tertiary providers to deliver fit for purpose and responsive education to people of all ages and stages of their careers
- Young Entrepreneurs Plan will allow a small number of smart and innovative young New Zealanders to apply to cash in their three free years of education, instead receiving a start-up business grant, training and a business mentor.
- Establish ‘Creative Apprenticeships’ as a New Zealand Apprenticeship option for the creative industries This will allow people to combine training and paid employment to acquire a recognised qualification through a mix of on-job and off-job learning.
Staying with Tracey Martin - who at number three on the NZF list might be expecting some sort of Ministerial position - tertiary education is an interesting area where NZF appears closer to Labour than to National. Jacinda Ardern noted this week that Labour and NZF's end points appeared similar in terms of free tertiary education to an extent, although their paths for getting there were different. This all comes against the back-drop of National tightening up on student loan repayments, and cutting post-grad study funding in recent years.
Tertiary education policy has a couple of focal points. There's the cost of the education, and living assistance. The Greens have tried to trump everyone in the latter area, not only announcing a boost in under-grad student allowance payments, but post-grad allowances as well. On both cost of education and living costs, National would really have to shift its stance to get anywhere near NZ First. We're also getting into a space where changes could be quite costly, for both major parties. Labour has the costs of its free tertiary study policy already priced into its fiscal plan, so this could potentially be shifted to accommodate a similar proposal from NZ First - perhaps funding loan write-offs for certain areas of study instead of a blanket promise for free tertiary study? This could make that money go further - and NZF's debt write-off policy requires at least a year to be called on.
- Introduce the complete Up Front Investment policy which includes a universal living allowance which is not means tested and access to the full accommodation supplement for all full-time students.
- Immediately introduce a dollar-for-dollar debt write-off scheme so that graduates in identified areas of workforce demand may trade a year’s worth of debt for each year of paid full-time work in New Zealand in that area.
- Work with NZUSA and the sector to establish the feasibility of implementing two-thousand ‘First in Family’ tertiary scholarships each year to help those who would be the first in their immediate family to achieve a degree.
- Encourage strategic alliances between industry crown research institutes and tertiary institutions to increase the number of scholarships and government funded research grants available to graduates, universities and employers.
- Introduce, as a priority for all full time students, a universal living allowance which is not subject to parental means testing.
Read more here.
- Better meet the needs of employers by exploring responsive teaching environments that encourage high quality research and industry informed teaching.
- Increasing accommodation support for students who need it most through accommodation benefit increases in the Family Incomes Package.
- Establish a new School of Medicine to increase the number of doctors and medical professionals in our rural communities.
- Increase the value of international education in New Zealand to $7b by 2025; and ensure we attract high quality students to high-quality courses, while ensuring those who come here to study do so on the right visas and with the right intentions.
- Piloting three microcredential courses in our tertiary system to make it easier for people to upskill or retrain without committing to longer, formal qualifications.
Read more here.
- Increasing living costs support with both a $50 a week boost to student allowances and a $50 a week lift to the maximum that can be borrowed for living costs
- Restoring post-graduate students’ eligibility for student allowances
- Restoring the eligibility of students in long courses, such as medicine, to access student allowances or loans beyond seven years FTE study
- Accelerating the three years' free policy, starting with one year fees free full-time equivalent for everyone starting tertiary education or training for the first time from 1 January 2018, and extending this to three years’ free by 2024.
- Change funding systems to encourage the development of ‘hop on, hop-off’ training to equalise the focus that is placed on completing a qualification and gaining work experience.
This could be an area where Labour needs NZ First and the Greens around the table together at some point. Again, it's one where the end goal appears the same but the means for getting there differ. Whether we will still have an emissions trading scheme next government - led by National or Labour - is very much up in the air at the moment. For National, this is an area where they might seek to steer Peters away from. Paula Bennett's climate change policy boils down to getting New Zealand included in some international carbon markets and not much else. While taking on the climate role would allow NZF to target Bennett - one of the alleged Super leakers - NZ First might decide it has bigger fish to fry in a National-NZF government if, for instance, it can make real gains on immigration, regional development (trains) and skills.
When it comes to a Labour-led government, NZF will likely fight tooth and nail to stop the Greens from enforcing their prescription to mitigate climate change, even if just a matter of political principle. I believe NZ First will really be targeting the rural vote in 2020, and so will look to block anything like the water tax, agriculture in the ETS, and prohibitive policies when it comes to farming, from anything the Greens are allowed to do. So, we might see a lot of 'high level' aims and goals set regarding climate change targets - net zero by 2050 with a Climate Change Commission set up (all three agree on a CCC) - but disagreement on how to get there.
- Exit the Emissions Trading Scheme and replace it with a UK/Norwegian style Climate Change Act.
- Establish a new Parliamentary Commission for Climate Change (PCCC) as an Office of Parliament.
- Make the PCCC legally responsible for reporting against both the Kyoto and Paris Agreements setting three-yearly ‘Carbon Budget’ designed to reach these commitments (first Budget to become operative in 2021).
- Provide for the PCCC to provide independent advice to central and local government on meeting the Carbon Budget and preparing for climate change.
- Fund the PCCC from current administrative costs for the Emissions Trading Scheme making it is cost neutral.
- Redirect the $1.4 billion of annual savings from the ETS, as it winds down, into applied research and development and climate change adaptation.
Read more here.
- Implement changes to the ETS to make it fit for purpose for reducing emissions.
Read more here.
- Restore the ETS so that it does what it was intended to do – put a price on carbon that drives behaviour change away from carbon-polluting goods and services towards low or zero-carbon options.
- Not allow the importation of international units until it is clear that they have environmental integrity, are from a reputable source and a mature international market, and are realistically priced.
- Require at least 50% of all units surrendered to meet obligations under the ETS to be NZUs.
- Bring agriculture within the Emissions Trading Scheme within our first term with a free allocation of 90%.
- Promote confidence in the ETS by having the Climate Commission, or the Ministry for the Environment, provide ongoing guidance about anticipated future carbon prices, including on a price band with ceiling and floor; and advice on what if any changes should be made to free allocation for agriculture and EITE activities.
Read more here.
Home ownership schemes
Given the debate around housing affordability and first home buyers in recent years, home ownership schemes could be a big part of any coalition negotiations. National has already taken moves to try and help first home buyers, with extension of its deposit subsidy scheme, Homestart.
Labour isn't a fan of subsidies, opting to argue that it will build 100,000 houses and sell them at cost, and not allow buyers to bank any capital gains within five years. New Zealand First's policy is more a return to schemes that existed when Peters first entered Parliament. Allowing first home buyers access to low interest loans through Housing New Zealand (rates would rise as earnings and equity increased) would be a big change to the status quo.
National already uses Housing New Zealand to guarantee 10% equity mortgages to borrowers on low incomes through Welcome Home Loans. But would it go further? Tough to see. Labour's Phil Twyford has talked about using the government's borrowing capacity to finance housing infrastructure, so why not extend that to first home buyer loans? (Outside KiwiBuild, Labour's ownership scheme policy focuses on Maori home ownership - hence the targeted policy below.)
- Provide first home buyers with affordable residential sections under long term low interest sale and purchase agreements of up to 25 years.
- Purchasers would build their own homes using normal bank financing, with title to the section transferred to them and the amount owing for the section, secured by a second ranking statutory land charge.
Read more here.
- A couple will be eligible for an extra $10,000 of Government HomeStart Grants, taking the grants to $20,000 for an existing home or $30,000 for a new build.
- The additional grants mean there is funding to help a further 80,000 people into their first home over the next four years, on top of the 31,000 people the scheme has already helped.
Read more here.
- Partner with hapu, iwi and Māori organisations to develop affordable and social housing through the procurement process and by creating joint development organisations.
- Establish a Māori Housing Unit within the Affordable Housing Authority to ensure housing policies are tailored to meet the specific needs and aspirations of Māori.
- Invest an additional $20 million over four years in NGOs and Māori providers who deliver supported home ownership services such as budgeting advice.
- Reform the Kāinga Whenua and Welcome Home Loans schemes so Māori are able to access home loans on an equal basis to other New Zealanders whether the land has one owner or is part of a whānau trust with multiple owners.
- Work with financial institutions, iwi and Māori organisations to enable iwi and Māori organisations to access mortgages collectively on behalf of their members, and investigate the option of shared equity and rent to buy for KiwiBuild houses with iwi.
Read more here.
Freight and Rail:
A favourite of Winston Peters and his caucus. Also for Labour, it seems. And something they can both agree on with the Greens. For National, its focus on roads this campaign could mean it can be 'brought around' on accepting that government could look to reinstate certain regional rail lines - particularly in Northland and the East Cape - or at least agree to scoping studies as costs might be an issue.
Labour and New Zealand First are so close in terms of rail that there runs the risk that Peters won't be seen as having 'forced' anything in negotiations - meaning not so much attention over New Zealand First's persuasive abilities when it comes to 2020.
I wouldn't be surprised if Labour tries to use rail to woo both NZ First and the Greens. Give NZ First regional rail, and the Greens urban rail, and both will be happy. But again, that allows National to give New Zealand First responsibility for all rail, and with it looking like NZ First forced their hands on it.
- Electrify rail with a spur to Auckland International Airport connecting it to the network.
- Build a rail spur to Auckland International Airport connecting it to the main trunk line.
- Develop Railways of National Importance (RoNI) backed by full electrification; and integrate our Ports, roads and Railways of National Importance.
- Complete the rebuild of Northland’s rail network and build a spur to Northport.
- Reinstate the Gisborne to Wairoa rail line and upgrade other lines.
Read more here.
- Committing to invest $100 million for a Third Main Line from Wiri to Westfield providing a dedicated freight line.
Read more here.
- Reform the structure and governance of KiwiRail to ensure it is best placed to deliver on national transport priorities.
- Retain current electrification of the North Island Main Trunk line, and investigate expansion of electrification to Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga and between Wellington and Palmerston North; and have a long-term goal of electrifying all rail.
- Re-open mothballed railway lines where community and business support exists and there is evidence that the service would be sustainable, notably the Napier to Gisborne rail line.
- Investigate a rail line to Marsden Point and Northport and upgrading the North Auckland Line to take pressure off the roads in Northland.
- Build light rail from the CBD to Auckland Airport. This will be part of a new light rail network that will be built over the next decade with routes to the central suburbs, the airport, and West Auckland, and will later be extended to the North Shore.