Peter Dunne says time will tell on the wisdom of the National Party shunning consensus on issues that cut across traditional political boundaries

Peter Dunne says time will tell on the wisdom of the National Party shunning consensus on issues that cut across traditional political boundaries

By Peter Dunne*

About 80% of the legislation Parliament passes is non-controversial, and could just as easily be introduced by any government. Another 10% is controversial and more likely to arise from one particular government than the other, but is not so out of line that it will not be retained by the next government when it comes to office. Only the remaining 10% is so hard-line that it will not survive a change of government. Industrial relations, taxes, and some aspects of education and welfare policy are most likely to come into this latter category.

Essentially this means there is a large degree of continuity in New Zealand politics, which contributes mightily to our political stability. We are not prone to swings from one end of the spectrum to the other as different governments come to office.  All of which makes life difficult for the Opposition of the day, as it tries to define itself separately from the government, but without painting itself as too extreme to frighten off the potential voters it will need at the next election to gain office.

However, sometimes there are issues where the Opposition knows it is on the wrong side of public opinion or practice and that it has to change its position to have a chance of electoral success. So it was that the National Party adopted Labour’s Working for Families programme, and enhanced it in office, despite John Key once having derided it as “communism by stealth”. And why John Key, like Jim Bolger before him,  also moved quickly moved to shore up the nuclear-free New Zealand legislation, which an unsuccessful predecessor had pledged would be “gone by lunchtime”.

But there are limits to all this consensus building in Opposition. After all, it is pretty hard to argue that things would be different if the Opposition came to power, if they have spent too much time agreeing with the government on too many of the major issues. What would be the point of voting for them to get even more of the same than usual if they were to come to power? As always, the trick will be to know where the line should be drawn.

The National Party will be weighing up all these considerations as it finalises a position on the government’s zero-carbon legislation, currently before the House. Certainty, continuity of policy, and doing the right thing by the planet are strong and noble reasons to support the legislation, but National may calculate that such an essentially “me too” stance will not differentiate it sufficiently in voters’ minds (especially its farming core which still harbours strong doubts about the impact of too rapidly reducing methane emissions) to attract or retain their support, particularly if New Zealand First sniffs the same breeze and abandons the government on this issue.

National will also be looking closely across the Tasman at the strong sceptical stance the Morrison Government took on emissions and reducing fossil fuel reliance, and the electoral dividends that apparently paid in their recent election. Now that Judith Collins has put her stake in the ground opposing the zero-carbon legislation it is virtually certain that the consensus in its favour that was building up in Parliament during the last two to three years is about to be broken.

A similar situation seems to be occurring with regard to drug law reform. While there was never anything approaching a consensus between the two main parties on this issue, there had been signs earlier in the year that National might have been willing to look at the government’s ideas, vague and waffly as they have been, but National’s spokesperson’s increasingly critical comments suggest those signs have gone. Rather, National now looks likely to oppose cannabis law reform, and perhaps become part of the “no” campaign, which will make for interesting times if the referendum votes “yes”, but National comes to power after the election.

However, there are particular risks associated with National’s emerging position. It will have had to calculate very carefully its assessment of the potential political gains and losses, and it must therefore be assumed that in terms of its specific political advantage, it has concluded there is more to be gained than lost in adopting such an approach. Then, having rejected the current government’s plans, it will have to factor in what it will have to do about climate change and drug law reform, should it find itself leading the next government. It need only look across the political aisle at the rapidly increasing shambles that is the current government to see what happens when you come to power on the basis of a few slogans and no clearly thought out policy.

Time will tell the wisdom of National’s eschewing of consensus on issues that cut across traditional political boundaries, like climate change and drug law reform’ but it is certainly different from the approach most likely to have been seen from former Prime Ministers Jim Bolger and John Key. And they both went on to win three elections.


*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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Drug law is a red herring.

In Climate terms, you cannot run even BAU, let alone grow exponentially, without burning fossilised sunlight, the source of which is both finite and decreasing in quality. So any Party advocating all-renewable has to be prepared to wear the end of growth, and the knock-on effect on finance. And any Party trying to perpetuate the dying paradigm will just make our existential problems worse, and is doomed to early failure anyway - interest-rates are trending below zero because of the energy-input trend, overlaid with the entropy trend.

So it depends on social maturity, aka informed awareness, to vote for something inconvenient in the short term, for a better outcome long-term, but one which will be worse that the temporary high we artificially achieved. I don't think we're going to get there. I think we'll still be blaming trade wars, Trumps and Brexits even as we go down.

Some of us are getting PlanB together - like how do you feed a city like Auckland, post global trading? I doubt the leaders in that era will include many/any of the current echelon, of whatever hue. They were appropriate for a bygone era.

The majority of people think that we can maintain our current lifestyles of excess and save the planet. We spend too much time on thinking how we can produce more rather than how we can use less

I think you're just young and broke :)

Too bloody true haha but working on the broke bit

I'd be curious as to how you attribute that to the majority of young people. I'm seeing more moves away from consuming things and toward minimalism - albeit the trend needs to grow more.

Well the way I see it - on instagram and facebook they talk about how bad climate change is and how farmers, cars, oil companies etc are raping the environment. Then they go book a 6 month holiday to Europe to go attend music festivals, buy a new car and continue use copius amounts of single use plastic. Talk is cheap, and these days, talk is infinitely shareable

We must have different friends on social media, clearly. This sounds like a Leighton Hosking portrayal of young folk, more than reality I've seen.

I'm 26 and I see myself as a fairly typical NZer for my age in many respects. Thats what I have based my judgement off

Humans won't run out of anything we really need because it all comes down to the cost of energy - which can ultimately be used to extract any element we need from even very low concentration sources and synthesize anything else we need. There are at least 4-5 viable options for powering civilisation at vastly higher energy consumption up to the point where the sun destroys earth, and over time we are getting more and more efficient in our energy use. Aside from that the high likelihood of superintelligent AI in next few decades makes all such concerns (and climate change) meaningless. They either wipe us out, or massively advance the technology and resources we have access to.

The Gnat's 'measure and manage' approach to social policy, gleefully abandoned by the CoL, at least had the merits of asembling evidence along the way, and allowing refinement of policy on the basis of that data. But that takes time, as trends are emergent phenomena and don't adhere to the electoral cycle. So the CoL has, in throwing away the bathwater, now discovered, as in the measles outbreak, that there were more than a few Babies in amongst it.

It's all very well running the show on Feelz and Wellbeings. But even aside from the obvious self-selection bias inherent in trying to measure either, the fundamental flaw in both is that there's no historical baseline by which to compare. That's convenient politically, as every ephemeral 'win' can be celebrated and every 'lose' blamed on The Last Lot. But it does Jack Squat in terms of actual data by which policy can be refined.
And, as the CoL has all too clearly demonstrated, some hard-to-ignore statistics still come bursting out of the Body Politic, cue 'Alien', like the doubled waiting list for Gubmint Cheese in the form of State Housing....

Rewriting history for the National "too hard to measure" government right here.

What to do indeed???
The reality is that our two biggest trading partners are both burning coal of all descriptions. The Aussies burn less than 2% globally creating 70% of their electricity requirements while the Chinese currently burn about 48% (almost half) of the coal burnt globally every year.
Another reality is that neither of them listen to a word we say on the subject, regardless how much media coverage there is - which is zero in China & quite a bit in Australia, which looks at the situation from all sides, as it should, because of their unfortunate fundamentals.
And I'm afraid there's no Mr Macron to hold our hand anywhere near our narrative, even though the Island nations shout a lot, but then still take the financial handouts from China as well, showing up their lack of credibility on the subject. So, back to our question, what to do? Not what to say, what are we going to do?
Cancel our oil & gas industry & import more oil as needed. Well, good luck with that. All I can see here is our nation's emission levels going up & up. And how will we power up all the EV cars with electricity when renewable energy's availability is so unreliable, as Australia found out in South Australia last year?
Possibly the best way we can do this is through the provision of water, stored, so as to drive turbines in power stations, which we've got a lot of good experience in & which we could do regionally to suit, but then we can't when the current government will not permit the building of any more of these wonderful utilities. Water storage has the added advantage of providing us with our drinking, first world plumbing & rural requirements as well. Perhaps, we could build out the west coast of both islands in offshore wind farms, never to stop blowing, for quadruple the price of the water storage solutions. Or finally solar, which as we know is also very expensive both to set up, to store for future use, expensive to upgrade & once again, very unreliable as many have learnt to their cost.
The answer is simply this. This current government have got it covered. They are all over it, especially with the friendly greens on their side, surely they can't miss? Lots of red & green with a bit of black & white thrown in for good measure. Bingo! No worries mate. Sorted!
No pressure PM. We'll give you a full calendar from today year to deliver it, just like this year. You've got this!

EVs suit renewable energy. All those millions of large batteries could help balance out the times when the likes of wind or solar aren’t producing.

Do nothing - just be patient. Technology advancement is gradually delivering long term cheaper solutions that don't use fossil fuels. EVs will be cheaper than IC vehicles within 10 years. Nuclear renaissance will undercut coal within 20 years. Home PV will undercut delivered electricity for large percentage of population within 20 years. Utility scale PV is cheap enough to supplant gas in sunny countries. Short haul aviation will go electric within 20 years.

We are not Australia.

Yeah, different feedstock entirely.

Completely Different politics. Its almost like comparing Canada and the USA.

Didn’t surveys show Ardern was the most popular choice for Aussie PM?

If I was leading the country I would build a nationwide natural gas network. The economic benefits of that much cheap, low gh emission energy available to homes and industry would be a game changer for NZ. Jonesy and the PGF should get with my programme.

It would be crazy for the Nats to go further right. They have that sown up, the farmers and climate change denial boomers have no one else to vote for. The votes they need to get back are in the middle, the people who aren’t old or conservative. If they don’t embrace the younger generation at some stage won’t they eventually die out?

Its been the same refrain for 50 years - that the votes of the future are to the left where the youth are. But guess what. Young adults grown up, cast aside youthful naivety and revolutionary zeal and move to the right (if you aren't a socialist at 18 then you haven't got a heart, but if you aren't a capitalist at 40 then you haven't got a brain). But agree the battle is always in the middle.

Quite right. Nats are right plus as much centre as they can get without losing the right to a further right party, and Labour are left plus as much centre as they can get without alienating too many left to their own further left party. This also explains why so much of our parliamentary voting agenda goes through without too much drama, as the same middle people vote for a different party each election, but have political beliefs that are not a lot different from each other. It makes things interesting, without any particular party absolutely screwing the country. Except Rob of course. But that was ages ago.

A quick look at some key clauses.
Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill.
" (2) The Commission and the Minister must— ......
(b) have regard to the following matters: .....

(ix) economic circumstances and the likely impact of the Minister’s decision on taxation, public spending, and public borrowing: ...."

" 5L Matters Commission must consider In performing its functions and duties and exercising its powers under this Act, the Commission must consider, where relevant,— .....
(e) the distribution of benefits, costs, and risks between generations; and .....
(f) responses to climate change taken or planned by parties to the Paris Agreement or to the Convention " .....

Note the absence on which parties have done little or nothing.
Here's little old NZ punching above its weight (flyweight vs heavy weight) and shouting to the world, look what we have done while forgetting its impact is probably less than 0.5%? and the high cost to the economy.

I also bet that there won't be one climate change sceptic on the commission and sure as eggs are eggs a tax is likely to be recommended.

I don't think people care as much about climate change as the media tells us they do. A majority may say they care deeply in surveys, but I don't know anyone (young or old ) who has changed their behaviour (including giving up flying) in even minor ways, which is a much better gauge of how much it matters to people.
It doesn't seem to have led to any change even in the PM's behaviour, who flies everywhere, including on holiday to the Islands when she could have gone by train to Dannevirke.
Anyone who says they can't make a difference by changing their behaviour (as many do), and thus continue flying, driving etc, should accept that the same argument can be extrapolated to NZ as a whole. At 0.17% of global emissions, whatever we do is pointless and can't change the weather. The media tends to fudge over this to perpetuate the idea that what NZ does counts. It doesn't.

Anyone who's lived through the last 30 years of wailing about impending doom that fails to materialise will inevitably stop caring and become cynical. Young people of today are no different - they will get fatigued by it and stop believing the scare profiteers just as older people do, data is the enemy of the merchants of doom. (Yes the earth is warming, but not at a rate that is of any real concern, eg NZ is 0.8°C/century, about same as moving 1km north every year, and sea level rising at imperceptible 1-2mm/year with no significant acceleration over last 100 years. Big deal. Humanity has far bigger threats to manage.

The exponential function is the reason to expect doom, soon.

The vast majority make comments like yours - linear ones. Check out the rate fish are migrating away fro the Equator - 5-10 km a year. Inconsequential? Hardly. I suggest that people who are older, just hope things won't go pear-shaped in their remaining years.

I didn't buy a house 30 years ago on the waterfront in Devonport because it was low lying. I calculated that even if oceans didn't rise people would be wary, like me, of buying it if I wanted to sell. Thirty years on, it is still there, the water no more encroaching than it was then. So the exponential function hasn't kicked in during that time... why would anyone believe it will in the next 30 or 60?
And if it's exponential, we in NZ don't have a chance of stopping the process with China and India increasing their emissions.

Also quite right. I only stopped using supermarket bags because I was made to stop. I am only considering an electric car because it is subsidized by my 2 petrol cars. With climate change, listen to what people say, but also pay attention to what they do. The celebrity climate changers are full of hypocritical hot air. Al Gore, the chap with the bullshit hockey stick graph, etc, ad nauseum.

It is a bit hard to give Bolger the same credit as Key. For a start he did lose an election, 1987. He got the leadership only because Muldoon cut down and humiliated Jim McLay That was a vindictive act of the highest order. You see, McLay had had the backbone to confront Muldoon over his almost criminal actions immediately after the 1984 election loss. Many in National did not have either that courage and sense of decency. Then there was the ludicrous coalition with NZF & the remaining half of that. Remember bugger the polls. Bolger and Birch ran a lacklustre and complacent campaign, undone largely by the “the worm” that ironically, favoured Mr Dunne and his party at the time. When I think of Bolger I cannot help but think of Churchill’s comment about Attlee, “ a modest man with much to be modest about.”

Ridiculous coalitions with NZF never end well.