Thursday, 29 August 2013

30 August 2013

Syria is the world’s current international pariah. And the drums of war are beating once more.
The apparently regime sanctioned poison gas attacks on Syrian citizens are despicable, callous and indefensible. They offend all our humanitarian principles. No-one seriously contests that.
The question, though, is what to do about it. International order provides a mechanism through the United Nations and the Security Council for considered, deliberative and globally co-ordinated responses to such outrages. The problem occurs when the UN’s measured approach gives way to paralysis or indecision, or when powerful international member states and their allies become impatient and for wider geopolitical reasons decide they can stand by no longer.
That is what happened with the ill-fated Anglo-American response to Iraq in 2003, which New Zealand prudently stood aside from. It was the right decision then, and would be the right decision today in respect of Syria.
While the major powers seem to be paying diplomatic lip service to the lessons of Iraq and the need for due process, there is the gnawing fear of the inevitability of some form of unilateral military action against Syria. The significant build-up of naval forces in the Mediterranean, and the deployment of British bombers to a Cyprus staging post provide the tell-tale signs.
But while there was a measure of international consensus that the despotic Hussein regime in Iraq had to go, WMDs or not, it is not the same with Syria. There are significant differences within and between the Europeans, for example, meaning any concerted military action against Syria is likely to domestically and internationally divisive and destabilising, especially if it is unsuccessful, and the Assad regime just carries on.
New Zealand is not a military player in these machinations, but it can be a pillar of common sense. We were right over Iraq in 2003. Buoyed by that, we should be in the vanguard of urging diplomatic intervention through the UN and the Arab League, rather than tacitly endorsing the increasing slide to military confrontation.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

26 August 2013

Today I launched a Government discussion paper on UnitedFuture’s flagship FlexiSuper plan.
Under FlexiSuper, people have a choice of taking a reduced rate of superannuation from the age of 60, or a higher rate if they decide to wait until they are up to 70 before picking it up. The basic age of entitlement remains 65, and no change is planned for the rate of superannuation.
FlexiSuper offers a number of advantages. For Māori, Pasifika and other groups with shorter post retirement life spans it offers some dignity in their last years. For those who might wish to work longer, they can look forward to a greater nest egg when they retire and pick up an increased rate of superannuation after 65. For everyone, it offers greater choice in retirement income planning.
And it also lets both National and Labour off their respective superannuation high horses. National can continue to hold to its policy of not increasing the age of entitlement beyond 65, knowing that people will choose for themselves when they pick up superannuation at either an enhanced or discounted rate. Labour can get itself off the hook it got onto by pledging an increase to 67 (which was interpreted by many of its working class voters as meaning they were being told they had work for two years longer) by also letting people choose for themselves.
The discussion paper is open for public comment until 11 October. Then the government will decide what action it may wish to take about FlexiSuper. So the next few weeks are an opportunity for all New Zealanders to have their say, and I encourage them to do so.
The current proposal does not include making Kiwisaver compulsory, but that is another long standing UnitedFuture policy we would like to see action upon.
The combination of FlexiSuper and compulsory Kiwisaver is an attractive package that would go a long way to restoring stability in the perennial superannuation debate.   
You can view a copy of the discussion paper at www.unitedfuture.org.nz
 


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

15 August 2013
Today UnitedFuture will be formally Gazetted once more as a registered political party – just under ten weeks after it was deregistered at its own request by the Electoral Commission.
The entire saga has thrown up a number of absurdities which need to be tidied up to stop our electoral system falling into complete disrepute. And I am preparing a Member’s Bill to do just that.
First, it was UnitedFuture, not the Electoral Commission, that raised the issue of the difficulty we were having verifying the status of some of our members. Had we just signed the annual statutory declaration that we had 500 financial members the Electoral Commission would have been none the wiser because it has no power to check the accuracy of a party’s declaration. So we were deregistered for being honest, which is quite absurd. Therefore, my Bill will require the Electoral Commission to formally audit the membership of all registered parties once every three years to ensure they do in fact have a minimum of 500 financial members, and are not just saying so in the sure knowledge they will not be checked up on.
The next absurdity was the Electoral Commission’s archaic insistence that we produce 500 individually signed declarations and its refusal to accept on-line memberships. That is totally out of step with today’s reality so my amendment will ensure on-line memberships will be treated as valid for registration purposes, and will make the Commission subject to the provisions of the Electronic Transactions Act, something it is currently specifically exempted from.
Third, I am proposing that where a party that has been registered for at least two elections is deregistered it will be able to lodge a re-registration application within 90 days, without being treated as a new party. The Electoral Commission kept telling us that UnitedFuture was clearly not a new party – having been around for nearly 20 years – but under its internal rules (not the Electoral Act incidentally) it claimed it had no option but to treat us a new party. This is clearly a nonsense – a party cannot be both an established party, yet treated as new party, at the same time.
I will be releasing my Bill shortly, and then submitting it to the ballot for Members’ Bills. At the same time, I will be talking with the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister, both of whom have expressed interest in my proposals, to see if my changes can be fitted in to the government’s own forthcoming Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

8 August 2013

This week I am not going to write about the GCSB, the Henry inquiry, the breach of a journalist’s privacy, or stolen emails – I am saving all that for the novel!
Rather, I want to concentrate on our tarnished green reputation. From Fonterra to rivers not safe to swim in, the image of environmentally pristine New Zealand is taking a hammering. We are apparently not quite as pure after all, as we have deluded ourselves to believe. It would appear our green values have been hijacked by the far left of politics, with substance replaced by causes and slogans, so no-one takes care for the environment seriously any more.
The Greens’ attacks on business, and stands against sustainable development have led many middle of the road people, who still care nonetheless, to run a mile from such issues, because they now see them as too polarising and extreme. Meanwhile, rivers are degraded and poor environmental practices allowed to survive by default. But concern about the environment should not be just the prerogative of the young, the idealistic, or the socialist.
Middle New Zealand keenly wants to play its part, but has had enough of its values and concerns being sneered at and derided for not being pure enough. The net result has been their apathy. And degraded rivers, polluted beaches and now Fonterra’s crisis have been the consequence.
It is time to build a new environmental consensus around the concepts of balance and sustainability on which the Resource Management Act is based. An environment where the renowned New Zealand values of enjoying the great outdoors – respecting nature – are back in play. One where development is seen as necessary for sustainable growth, and not a dirty word. And an environment where we all care enough to want to leave something positive for future generations to enjoy.
This is not about politics or ideology – it is far more important than that. It is about the future we want for ourselves and our children. And because of that it is about all of us – not just the well-meaning activists using the issue to push a wider agenda of political and social change.
In short, it is time to stop the games and the pandering to sectional interests, and reclaim the environmental high grounds by focusing anew on what fits best with the lifestyle those of us who call these islands home want to enjoy.