The Morrison government has sent qualified signals that it might agree to some refugees from Nauru being settled in New Zealand.
It says it would be “more likely” to support the New Zealand option if Labor agreed to pass legislation to stop these people then being able to reach Australia by the back door, via the free travel arrangements between the two countries.
The positive note comes ahead of Saturday’s Wentworth byelection, in which the situation of the refugees is one of the issues.
New Zealand has for years had on the table an offer to take 150 of the refugees a year.
The legislation at issue – which has not been able to obtain Senate support – would prohibit anyone who’d come by boat and was settled in another country from ever being allowed into Australia.
But Labor remains opposed to the legislation in its current form.
Opposition immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said Labor welcomed the government’s “sudden and unexplained interest” in considering a deal with New Zealand.
But the “lifetime ban” legislation “is not required to secure regional resettlement arrangements,” he said.
Labor argues the government should negotiate a special arrangement with New Zealand to stop people resettled there from entering Australia, rather than having the catch-all bill.
The issue of the children on Nauru – many of them with serious health issues – escalated in recent weeks, with campaigning by doctors for a more humane approach and pressure from government backbenchers.
On Tuesday the crossbench gave notice of a bill to temporarily relocate children from Nauru for medical treatment.
Crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie asked Scott Morrison whether he would support calls to do this.
It is understood these transfers have been increased after backbenchers Russell Broadbench and Craig Laundy made representations to Morrison in a meeting last month. Victorian backbencher Julia Banks has also spoken out.
Replying to Sharkie, Morrison hinted at more movement recently, when he offered crossbenchers an update “on the issue of transfers that continue to take place on a case-by-case basis”.
There had been quite a number of transfers undertaken, recently and over a longer period, he said, adding that “some work has been done further over the last month on these issues”.
Sources said the sick children were already off Nauru.
At the Liberal party meeting on Tuesday, NSW backbencher Trent Zimmerman asked Morrison about the children and the New Zealand option.
Shorten wrote to Morrison saying Labor would introduce legislation to ensure children received proper medical care.
Among other things this would ensure the recommendation of treating clinicians was prime when determining a temporary medical transfer for a child and ensure the minister, not the bureaucracy, was the final decision-maker on transfers.
Shortly before last years’s general election in Aotearoa New Zealand, a Morrinsville farmer protesting the then opposition Labour Party’s planned water tax held up a placard describing its newly minted leader, Jacinda Ardern, as a “pretty communist”.
It has been quite the year for Ardern. It is worth reiterating just how far she has travelled since she took the reins as Labour’s leader just weeks before the election, igniting a dull campaign and resuscitating Labour’s polling.
A contemporary politician
Following the election, the conservative National Party looked odds-on to retain office. But on 19 October, after almost two weeks of negotiations, the leader of the centre-right New Zealand First (NZF) party, Winston Peters, surprised virtually everyone (including Labour’s front bench) when he used the balance of power to form a government with Labour and the Greens.
In the year since, Ardern has firmly established herself as the government’s and her party’s most valuable political asset. In an ironic turn of events, Andrew Little, the man who voluntarily stood aside so Ardern could become Labour leader, is also performing well.
The informal, popular-culture moments – particularly those mediated by social media – have been just as important and reflect how Ardern occupies political time and space in a way no previous New Zealand prime minister has. She and Gayford have used Twitter to announce Ardern’s pregnancy, triggering stiff nationwide competition for the role of official babysitter. Social media also charted the birth of their child in a public hospital, the PM’s taste for mac’n’cheese, and the creation of a special UN pass for Neve Te Aroha.
But swooning international audiences do not vote in Aotearoa New Zealand, and what plays well on the Colbert Show does not necessarily resonate in quite the same way back home.
Not all smooth sailing
It is important to note that National continues to outpoll Labour on the preferred party vote. At times the political management of the coalition has been shoddy. Ardern has already had to relieve two members of her cabinet – Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri – of their ministerial duties, to the disappointment of those hoping to see more, not fewer, women at the top table.
But there are signs the administration is starting to hit its straps. Finance Minister Grant Robertson recently announced a larger than expected budget surplus, thus meeting his promised public debt/GDP ratio four years ahead of schedule.
Since Ardern’s return from the UN, Peters and his New Zealand First party colleagues have looked uncharacteristically focused, although the call at the party’s recent conference for a Respecting New Zealand Values Bill was quickly slapped down by Ardern.
Meanwhile, the opposition National party is spiralling into nasty internecine strife that has gone global, may cost the party its leader, and will almost certainly damage its polling.
Changing the culture of politics
Standing back from the detail, what can be said about the political landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand one year on from the formation of the first Labour-NZF-Greens coalition? For one thing, on this side of the ditch we are cautiously re-familiarising ourselves with the idea that the state can be a force for good. The results at this early stage are patchy, as you would expect, but this administration’s belief that government can be benign rather than benighted feels new and different.
Second, Ardern is normalising a whole bunch of things. Being a prime minister and a new mum, breastfeeding at work, and having a male partner who is a primary carer are all becoming, well, just normal.
Third, our cultural politics are changing. Not quickly enough, to be sure, but the symbolism of the fact that Ardern and Gayford’s child carries a Māori name and will be raised speaking both te reo Māori and English has been lost on precisely no-one in this country.
Finally, the nation’s political stocks in the international arena are appreciating. That is no bad thing for a small, exporting nation. There is a powerful progressive-egalitarian narrative in New Zealand reaching back through the nation’s anti-nuclear stance in the mid-1980s to the achievement (or granting) of women’s suffrage in 1893.
As is the case with all political narratives, this one obscures as much as it reveals. But in an age of international fear and loathing, many New Zealanders take quiet pride in the sight of the “pretty communist” defending a rules-based international order, in opposition to the stance taken by the president of the US, a nation that was once the self-appointed leader of the free world. One wonders whether the farmer from Morrinsville appreciated the irony of that moment.
China’s expanding influence is complicating strategic calculations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Small states, dependent on maintaining high levels of trade with China to secure their prosperity, are loathe to criticise or take actions that Beijing could find objectionable. This is creating a dilemma over how small states can protect their national interests at a time when China’s growing influence threatens the status quo.
New Zealand illustrates this dynamic. It watches China extend its influence into the microstates of the South Pacific, a region where New Zealand (and its ally Australia) have long enjoyed a position of prominent influence.
The South Pacific is a geographic region encompassing 16 independent nations (and a number of associate nations and dependencies). The majority of these are microstates that face an array of economic, social and governance challenges and are vulnerable to natural disasters.
The two largest and most prosperous states by a fair margin are Australia and New Zealand. Historically, they have been the most dominant and influential players in the South Pacific.
Earlier this month, New Zealand’s minister of foreign affairs and trade, Winston Peters, announced his government would spend an additional NZ$714 million over four years on international aid, with the majority going to South Pacific nations. Peters explained that New Zealand’s interests in the region stem from its common Pacific identity, the desire to forge a path of shared prosperity and to uphold New Zealand’s national security that, he added, “is directly affected by the Pacific’s stability.”
Peter’s announcement of increased funding added substance to a speech he delivered to the Lowy Institute in Sydney in early March where he committed New Zealand to “shifting the dial” on its foreign policy approach towards the South Pacific. What went unstated – but was made unmistakably clear in Peter’s speech – was the increased role China is playing in the South Pacific and how this is “changing New Zealand’s relative influence”.
Rising China, growing anxieties
Long overdue, the New Zealand government’s renewed push is a soft-power response to a mounting dilemma that small states face in the Asia-Pacific region. In essence, as China’s power grows, it is leading Beijing to extend its influence into virtually every corner of the wider Asia-Pacific region. In the South Pacific, this influence is being secured through aid, loans (creating debt South Pacific states may be unable to pay off) and building projects.
For a region comprised of fragile economies, China’s aid and loans can help bolster economic prospects. Yet, at the same time, China’s engagement is not selfless. A number of strategic interests drive it. As China builds out its blue-water naval capabilities, there are concerns that it may seek a military foothold in the region.
In March, reporting in Australia cited unnamed sources claiming that China was seeking an access agreement to dock its naval ships in Vanuatu in lieu of establishing a permanent military presence. Both China and Vanuatu denied this claim. True or not, reporting such as this taps into a heightened level of strategic anxiety New Zealand and Australian officials are experiencing.
The New Zealand government does not seek to exclude China from the South Pacific. In fact, it has looked to collaborate with Beijing where it can. The Tripartite Cook Islands/China/New Zealand Water Project is an example of this, but the reset is clear evidence of Wellington’s desire to secure a role in the region as Beijing increases its influence. Yet, at this stage, New Zealand’s decision makers are acting as if there is very little they can do beyond responding with soft power in the form of increased aid and appeals to a common identity.
Ultimately, the constraints facing small states like New Zealand stem from their structural position relative to China, defined by an immense discrepancy in material resources. In short, China is an economic behemoth that, except for the United States, dwarfs every other country in the Asia-Pacific region.
While China is extremely important to the continued economic growth of small states in the Asia-Pacific, for Beijing these small states are relatively insignificant to its own economic fortunes. This gives China a potent lever to influence, compel and coerce states that draw its ire.
Larger economies such as the US and Japan have more room to manoeuvre vis-à-vis China’s increasing influence. Small states like New Zealand are walking a tight rope, lest they adopt positions Beijing finds regrettable and reduces or interferes with its trade.
Recognising New Zealand’s structural position is not to suggest it is powerless in the face of China’s expanding influence in the South Pacific. However, it is all but certain that China’s regional influence will continue to grow at the expense of the influence New Zealand and Australia hold. Decisions will need to be made as to how New Zealand calibrates its foreign policy with this in mind.
One option would be to consider how great New Zealand’s dependence on China truly is. How resilient would New Zealand’s economy be if trade with China were to decrease? According to one report, New Zealand’s economy would be vulnerable but more resilient than others in the region.
Ultimately, balancing China in the South Pacific will require greater coordination with Australia – still the Pacific’s largest donor – and reaching out to other states. Japan, South Korea and the US share concerns about China chipping away at their relative influence. However, Beijing could interpret increased collaboration with larger powers as a sign of regional containment of its growing influence. New Zealand could find itself punished in such a scenario, but running that risk may eventually become unavoidable.
We undertook fieldwork last Anzac Day on this ritual as part of a proposed larger research project examining how the memory of Gallipoli has become central to tension between Turkish republicans and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The republicans want to protect and restore the secular pro-Western origins of the republic, while the AKP wants to integrate Islam into the nation’s civil institutions and national imagination.
Nowhere is this memory politics more significant than in this re-enactment ritual, which under AKP rule has been renamed the Loyalty March for the 57th Regiment.
As founding father of modern Turkey and hero of the war of independence, Mustafa Kemal pushed the 57th Regiment to the highlands, preventing defeat in the campaign.
The origins of the re-enactment are closely tied to this mythology – it was originally known as the 57th Regiment March in the Track of Atatürk. Local university students first organised the commemoration in 2006, partly in response to the increasing number of Australian and New Zealand youth on the battlefields for Anzac Day. For the 90th anniversary the year before, the Anzac Day pilgrimage reached its zenith, with about 17,000 participants.
The structure adopted for the first 57th Regiment re-enactment largely remains today. It involves an eight-kilometre hike from the regiment’s original base at Bigali village to the highlands of the battlefield. The ritual grew rapidly, with 6,000 participants three years after the first march.
Unsurprisingly, given the march’s popularity, the AKP assumed some control of the re-enactment through the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The government began funding the cost of travel and living expenses for young participants. It also oversees official registration and program co-ordination to cap attendance.
Historical re-enactment is about comprehending and experiencing the past as it relates to the ordinary citizen. This commemorative form has proved particularly significant for AKP memory politics by allowing a focus on the martyrdom of 57th Regiment, which suffered heavy casualties.
By providing competition to the traditional heroic saviour narrative of Atatürk at Gallipoli, the AKP has been able to counter the secular pro-Western principles around which he founded the republic. Mandatory prayer sessions have been added at the beginning and end of the march. This has been justified as simulating the actions of the ordinary men who constituted the unit.
This more egalitarian historical focus, which cultural scholars refer to as memory “from below”, gives religion a place in commemorations of Gallipoli. This can also be seen in the increased recognition of individual martyrs through a focus on firsthand accounts of the religious zeal of Turkish soldiers against an infidel invader of their homeland.
Changes to the memorial landscape on the battlefields have aided this way of telling history while also promoting religious observance at the site. Fallen Turkish soldiers remained in mass graves after the war, a reflection of the stigma of Ottoman history in republican Turkey.
The AKP has a vested interest in advancing re-enactment as a commemorative form at Gallipoli, as it provides an opportunity for increased religious references and contexts. To ensure the re-enactment remains popular, though, the AKP has retained much of its original carnival-like character. Participants still take “selfies” and engage in jokes, laughter and joyful conversations while walking.
The recreational character of the re-enactment means participants have a range of motivations for their involvement.
Political chants and song, for example, are often recited by small groups. Some of the most common are the songs of the AKP’s political opponents, the Nationalistic Movement Party.
Other participants engage in religious chants such as Allahu akbar (Allah is the greatest) and Tek yol İslam, tek yol şehadet (Only path is Islam, only path is martyrdom).
The 57th Regiment re-enactment is becoming a popular pilgrimage activity throughout the year. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), for example, had a re-enactment as part of its four-day Justice Congress at Gallipoli in August 2017. The congress was held to highlight violations of the justice system by Erdoğan following the attempted coup.
Like the main April 25 re-enactment, the success and political outcomes of such ritual displays are highly contingent. In the case of the CHP congress, its ability to challenge the AKP’s symbolic alignment with Gallipoli was hampered by photos appearing on social media of congress members drinking alcohol on the battlefields. The images caused a public scandal. A CHP spokesperson admitted:
Such impertinent behavior is completely against the glorious memory of our Gallipoli martyrs.
Whether Australians and New Zealanders will return to Gallipoli en masse for future Anzac Days, and how they will be received if they do, is uncertain. But ritual performances on the battlefields on April 25 are almost certain to remain politically significant in Turkey.
Australia ranks 12th in the Open Budget Index, and scores 74, much higher than the global average of 42 and the OECD average of 68. But Australia’s budget could still be more transparent if it included more on the budget’s impact on welfare and tax and by gender.
The Open Budget Index is published every two years and ranks countries using a transparency score, which is based on a survey for each country about publishing of budget documents, budget oversight and public participation.
This year, there were 115 countries in the index and Australia was included for the first time. Australia ranks behind our neighbours New Zealand and also behind the United States, United Kingdom and France. The top three countries in the index are New Zealand (with a score of 89), South Africa (89) and Sweden (87).
Each country’s survey for the index is prepared independently by an in-country civil society organisation or academic researcher. Applying standardised questions and based on evidence, researchers at the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute conducted the Australian survey. The assessments are also reviewed anonymously..
The survey assessed Australian federal budget process for the 2015-2016 year and the first half of the 2016-2017 year. Australia’s government performs well in publishing most budget documents at different points in the budget process.
Where the Australian budget falls down is in engaging the public in the budget process. The index evaluates public participation with 18 indicators. Australia’s weakest score is in budget participation (41 out of 100). This indicates limited opportunities for the public to engage in the budget process.
Yet, given participation opportunities are much scarcer in most other countries in the world, Australia is in fact one of the top performers on this measure. Almost all countries have only scant opportunities for public participation (score 40 and below), except New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Philippines.
Where Australia scores really well is in its budget oversight by the Australian National Audit Office (a score of 100). But Australia presents a mixed picture on the checks and balances in overseeing the budget. The parliament provides adequate oversight at the executive and audit stage (that gets a score of 67); but limited oversight at the formulation and approval stage for the budget (with a score of 48). Overall, Australia gets a score of 70 out of 100, lagging considerably behind Norway (91) and Germany (89).
The main barrier to improving this is the lack of pre-budget debate by the parliament. Budget Paper No. 1 is given to members of parliament less than two months before the start of the budget year, and in-year budget implementation is not examined by a parliamentary committee.
Room for improvement
It’s crucial that budget processes are fair, open, democratic and accountable. Australia performs well generally on budget transparency – as we should expect as citizens in a robust parliamentary democracy. But there is some room for improvement.
For example, Australia’s budget contains much less information than in the past about distributional effects of budget policy on taxes and welfare. The government is no longer providing “cameo” tables, which show the projected impact in the real disposal incomes of different hypothetical families, as it did in the previous budgets prior to 2014-15.
The Australian budget also does not contain any analysis of the budget by gender. This is in contrast to the 1980s, during that time Australia was the pioneer in introducing gender budget analysis.
These gaps show us why it’s important for us to keep an eye on transparency. We should not be complacent. We need more public reporting, analysis and opportunities for public participation in the budget process.
The New Zealand election was held on 23 September, with final results released on 7 October. The conservative National won 56 of the 120 seats, Labour 46, the anti-immigrant populist NZ First 9, the Greens 8 and the right-wing ACT 1. As a result, the right held 57 seats and the left 54, with NZ First’s 9 seats required for a majority (61 seats) for either the left or right.
26 days after the election, and 12 days after final results were published, NZ First leader Winston Peters today announced that his party would form a coalition government with Labour. With NZ First backing, the left bloc has 63 seats, a clear majority in the NZ Parliament. This outcome ends National’s nine successive years in power, in which Labour had utterly dismal results in the three elections from 2008-14.
Bankers’ SA Galaxy: 31% Liberal, 30% SA Best, 26% Labor
The Australian reported today that a SA Galaxy poll, conducted for the Australian Bankers Association 10-12 October from a sample of 806, gave the Liberals 31% of the primary vote, SA Best (Nick Xenophon’s SA party) 30% and Labor 26%. The next SA election will be held in mid-March 2018.
This poll is not a media-commissioned poll. The ABA is an anti-Labor lobby group that wants to stop the proposed SA state bank tax. Polls such as these are prone to selective release; it is unlikely the ABA would have released a poll with Labor doing well.
The last media-commissioned SA Galaxy poll, in late June, had the Liberals leading Labor 34-28 on primary votes with SA Best on 21%, and a 50-50 tie between the major parties after preferences. If this ABA Galaxy poll is accurate, it implies that SA Best has surged 9 points since Xenophon announced his candidacy for the Liberal-held seat of Hartley.
In the better Premier question, Xenophon had 41%, with both incumbent Premier Jay Weatherill and opposition leader Steven Marshall at 21%.
If these primary votes were replicated at an election, SA Best would win many seats on Labor preferences, and could be the largest party in SA’s lower house. Such an outcome would break the two party duopoly for the first time in an Australian Parliament since the early 20th century.
However, there are still five months to go before the election. Even if this poll is accurate, it could represent SA Best’s high point. Both major parties will attack Xenophon during the election campaign, in an attempt to undermine his popularity. Labor will use Xenophon’s controversial Senate decisions against him.
Although Labor is third in this poll, they are not out of the running. If Labor can take a few percent from SA Best, they would be more likely to benefit on preferences than the Liberals. If Labor retains office at the next election, it will be a fifth consecutive term for them.
After 14 years in office, Queensland Labor was demolished at the 2012 Queensland election, and NSW Labor had a similar fate after 16 years at the 2011 NSW election. A SA Labor victory after 16 years would be a remarkable achievement.
During the dim, distant past of New Zealand’s recent election campaign, soon-to-be-former prime minister Bill English grumbled that the “stardust” that was falling thick and fast on new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern would settle.
Well, it just has – in such quantities that some time next week Ardern will be sworn in as the 40th – and second youngest – prime minister of Aotearoa/New Zealand.
From stardust to PM
It is quite some denouement to an extraordinary period in New Zealand’s political history. A little under three months ago, Ardern was the deputy leader of a Labour Party that was polling in minor party territory. From deputy leader of a struggling opposition party to prime minister in under three months – that’s stardust on an industrial scale.
For Winston Peters, too, who is likely to become the next deputy prime minister (for the second time), it is a spectacular return to form. Three times Peters has been the veto player in the government formation process. On each occasion he has kept everyone guessing, including, it appears, members of his own caucus.
So, here’s what we know. The new government will comprise a formal coalition between Labour and NZF (the first executive coalition we’ve had on this side of the ditch since 2005). As a minority administration, it will govern with support on confidence and supply from the Greens.
NZF will hold four cabinet positions and an additional slot outside of cabinet. This means that just over half of its caucus will be in the political executive. The Greens, too, will – for the first time in their history – have ministerial portfolios: three outside of Cabinet and one parliamentary under-secretary.
But there’s plenty we don’t yet know. We’re not sure who will occupy which portfolios (although we’re fairly sure Peters will be the deputy prime minister). Neither will we know the nature of the policy detail (if any) in the executive agreement and its associated confidence and supply document until next week.
Few rules to form a government
The last time NZF was in formal coalition – ironically, with the National Party in 1996 – there was an awful lot of devil in that detail. Since then, New Zealand governments have moved away from policy-prescriptive agreements to arrangements that emphasise procedural certainty and clarity. However, the attention that has clearly been paid to matters of policy in the negotiations over the last three weeks suggests we may see a swing back to a greater emphasis on policy substance.
Once the dust – wherever it happens to have come from – has settled on today’s momentous events, a number of features of this election will merit careful reflection.
In particular, questions will certainly be asked of the way in which New Zealand governments are formed. Almost alone amongst mature parliamentary democracies, there are few or no formal rules governing the process. Apart from the constitutional requirement that the government is formed by the party or parties able to demonstrate to the governor-general that they command the confidence of parliament, there is little formal guidance and few restrictions on the process.
That goes a long way to explaining why it has taken a few days short of four weeks to form this government and why, for the first time under the mixed member proportional (MMP) electoral system in New Zealand, the incoming government will not be led by the party that won the largest number of seats in the election. All of this is perfectly constitutional, but disconcerting for some New Zealanders nonetheless.
Expect big, boisterous opposition
What next? National will be furious. Expect some talk over the next couple of days of the “moral authority” the party had to govern, given that it won a clear plurality of parliamentary seats. While the constitution recognises no such thing, National certainly had political precedence on its side.
National will ride that wave of righteous anger – internally at least, if not outwardly for public consumption – for some time to come. Hell hath no fury and so forth. And if the Labour/NZF/Green governing bloc starts fraying at the edges, then National’s claim to “moral authority” will start to look a little less imaginary.
But this might not have been a bad election for National to lose. The party can now move on from the Key years, start generating fresh ideas and begin bringing through some of its younger talent as it remakes itself as a conservative force. Moreover, National will comprise a big, boisterous opposition. The parliamentary conventions and rules governing the allocation of questions in the house, speaking time and membership on select committee positions mean that it will be able to make life very challenging for the new administration.
Human face of capitalism
And what of the new government? For Labour, NZF and Greens – which between them represent 50.5% of those who cast party votes in the election (against National’s 44.4%) – this is the chance to effect change following nine years of orthodox neoliberal government from National.
Peters’ claim when announcing his decision that he wanted to be part of a government that would restore ‘capitalism with a human face’ falls far short of a clarion call for the destruction of neoliberalism. It does, however, signal a significant change in policy direction. For those New Zealanders on the wrong side of the ledger when it comes to our dire performance in health, housing, productivity, wage and salary growth, poverty and so on, that change can’t come soon enough.
This, then, will be a legacy government, one that represents a generational shift in thinking away from the priorities of the baby boomers towards the concerns of the millennials. The irony that such a thing has been brought about by a man on the other side of 70 won’t be lost on anyone. “Let’s do this” was Ardern’s campaign slogan. Now we get to see how New Zealand’s political odd couple go.
The only realistic choices for a coalition are a centre-right-leaning National-NZF coalition or a centre-left-leaning Labour-Green-NZF coalition.
Why is a National-Labour grand coalition seen as unthinkable? Despite 20 years of a mixed member proportional (MMP) electoral system, New Zealand’s politicians still struggle with compromise and co-operation.
A nascent multiparty democracy
Straight after the election, the Green Party ruled out a coalition with the centre-right National Party, purely on ideological grounds.
Contrast this with Germany, which held general elections a day after New Zealand. Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) immediately entered coalition talks with the left-leaning Green Party and the right-liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).
New Zealand’s reluctance to form pragmatic coalitions can be explained by its democratic history. Until 1996, New Zealand had a simple first-past-the-post system, with one vote for a candidate in a specific electorate. Democracies using this tend to have de facto two-party systems, often entrenching ideological partisanship on the left and right.
New Zealand’s 1996 election marked a new epoch of electoral democracy. Through a referendum in 1993, New Zealanders chose the MMP system. Two votes are cast: one for a party and one for an electorate candidate. Seats in parliament are assigned by total percentage of the party vote, not by how many electorates a party wins.
However, electorate wins are important for minor parties that finish under the 5% party vote threshold.
Unlike first-past-the-post, proportional representation systems like MMP usually produce multi-partyism. The presence of more parties in parliament necessitates coalition-building.
In the New Zealand context, no party has won an absolute majority in any of the seven elections since MMP was introduced.
New Zealand’s first-past-the-post hangover
However, New Zealand seems to have a first-past-the-post hangover. In a recent online poll, the prospect of a National-Labour grand coalition was considered “absurd” by 61% of respondents. The same poll observed a clear ideological division between National and the smaller Green Party.
Internationally, most countries with a longer history of proportional representation have tended to be less polarised than New Zealand when it comes to coalition-building.
While numerous hypothetical coalition marriages are perceived as absurd in New Zealand, few coalition arrangements are out of the question in Germany. One notable exception is the CDU working with anti-establishment right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland, which will enter the Bundestag for the first time this year.
The most likely outcome in Germany’s 2017 elections seems to be a “Jamaica coalition” option, involving Merkel’s CDU (which collected the most votes) with the Greens and the FDP.
Tackling New Zealand’s democratic division
In the New Zealand context, the Jamaica coalition would be akin to National forming a coalition with the Green and ACT parties. However, the Green Party unequivocally ruled out entering a governing coalition with National.
While remaining truthful to a party’s ideological convictions is commendable, it can also keep the party out of power and unable to achieve its policy goals.
Unlike the Green Party, the Māori Party (which lost its place in parliament in this election) previously opted for a more pragmatic approach. It partnered with National in three successive governments. This “deal with the devil” enabled the party to secure concessions such as the Whānau Ora health initiative.
Ultimately, the MMP system is only as good as the underpinning democratic culture. New Zealand’s democratic culture seems to struggle with compromise and co-operation. Such limited coalition arrangements give too much power to a smaller party such as NZF, making it the unmandated “kingmaker” in coalition negotiations.
One answer to New Zealand’s lacking political co-operation – beyond more superficial changes like lowering the 5% threshold – could lie in reducing its overwhelming reliance on elections as the main mechanism of political participation.
After a dramatic election campaign that looked promising for the centre-left, New Zealand’s voters have opted instead for conservatism.
Special votes are yet to be counted, and coalition negotiations yet to commence. But New Zealanders have opened the way for the centre-right National Party’s fourth consecutive term in office. National’s provisional election night result of 46% is only slightly down from its 47% in 2014.
Incumbent English to start coalition talks
The incumbent prime minister, Bill English, was jubilant on election night. His speech was as close as he could get to a victory speech. English said:
We will begin discussions with New Zealand First in finding common ground and most importantly forming the kind of government that will allow New Zealand to get on with the success.
NZ First won 7.5% of the votes and now holds the balance of power.
Two of the minor parties that had formerly supported the National-led government on confidence and supply, the United Future and Maori parties, failed to gain any seats. And the ACT Party, which supports National, was returned with one electorate seat only.
The leader of the largest opposition party, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, did not concede defeat on election night, but her chances of forming a government with the centrist NZ First Party and the Greens are much slimmer. The combined seats of those three parties give a majority of only one.
Once special votes are counted, the final official tallies may take a seat away from National and see the Greens gain one, but that will not substantially alter the outcome.
Ardern lifts Labour from doldrums
Nonetheless, Ardern can claim a victory of sorts, as she has steered her party out of the doldrums, from 25% in the 2014 election to 35.8% this time.
The “Jacinda effect” was the dominant theme of the election campaign, drawing considerable international attention.
She was chosen to lead the Labour Party just seven weeks before the election, when Labour was declining in opinion polls. She drew an enthusiastic following and dramatically boosted her party’s polling, but not enough to claim victory on the night.
National’s attacks on Labour’s fiscal and taxation plans seem to have worked, even though they resorted to misrepresentation. A clever reframing of Labour’s slogan “Let’s do this!” to “Let’s tax this!” seems to have done the trick, dissuading enough potential swing voters.
On the day before polling day, rolling averages of public opinion polls showed National was likely to lead the next government, at around 44.5%. Labour had forged ahead of National in some earlier opinion polls, but was down to 37.7%.
So, the election night result was better for National than polls had been predicting. Polling companies will be asking why their pre-electoral surveys tended to favour Labour, compared with election results.
New Zealanders play it safe
New Zealanders have gone for the safe and conservative option. English is a practising Catholic and father of six. His leadership style is uncharismatic, but steady. He lacks the personal popularity and charm of his predecessor, John Key, who handed over the reins of power to English in December 2016.
English will take this election result as a mandate for his party’s programme. It is not clear yet, however, what policy or office-holding concessions he will have to make to Winston Peters, the veteran leader of NZ First. If English has to sack some of his own party colleagues from the cabinet in order to accommodate NZ First, it is bound to cause internal resentment.
Labour’s rise has been partly at the expense of the Greens, who have fallen from 10.7% in 2014 to 5.9% this time – although special votes will probably give the Greens a boost. The combined Labour–Green vote of 41.7% is well short of National’s 46%.
Although the National Party, after nine years in office, was vulnerable to attacks over problems in housing, health, education and the environment, this has not sufficed to cause a significant swing for change.
Centre of NZ politics shifts left
Instead of precipitating party-political fragmentation, this election has shifted back toward two-party politics. Both the Greens and NZ First have declined in support. The total National-plus-Labour party vote of 81.8% is the highest it has been under the proportional representation system in place since 1996.
Since 2008, the National-led government avoided austerity policies, and gradually (almost imperceptibly) shuffled to the left, dealing reluctantly with issues that were normally on Labour’s territory. The centre of New Zealand politics has shifted leftwards, with a greater acceptance of the role of the state. The free-market fundamentalism of the radical neoliberal years of 1984–96 is now on the fringes.
Nonetheless, inequality and poverty are persistent problems, and New Zealanders are well aware of this. Labour has been unable to take advantage of these significant social issues and to convince enough voters to back their messages about hope and change.
Two green bottles and up to four blue ones. Falling from the parliamentary wall, unless the High Court saves them from the rules about MP qualifications. The six are now-resigned Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, fellow upper house members Matt Canavan (LNP) and Malcolm Roberts (One Nation), and two government members of the lower house, Barnaby Joyce and David Gillespie (both Nationals).
At least that’s the latest count, as of Monday’s referral of Joyce to the court. I hesitate to file this piece lest the number rise again today.
What happens now?
First, a word on process. Gillespie’s case is different from the others, in two ways. He is not a dual citizen but faces claims about his “pecuniary interest” in a shop sub-leased to Australia Post. This is the constitutional rule that knocked out Family First senator Bob Day in April.
Also, Gillespie is being sued by his former Labor Party rival, acting as a “common informer” – a fancy term for an officious bystander who sues to enforce the law.
This avenue to challenge an MP has not been used before. It’s not entirely clear the court has power to declare Gillespie “not duly elected”. (As opposed to exacting a penalty from an MP, in the princely sum of A$200, for any day they sat while under a disqualification.)
The other five – facing dual citizenship claims – are not being sued at all. Rather, parliament has referred their positions to the court. A few things flow from that, aside from the Commonwealth almost certainly having to cover their legal costs.
One is that there is no belligerent plaintiff to argue against, say, Joyce. There will just be the solicitor-general, putting legal arguments for the Commonwealth, plus lawyers for whichever of the other four MPs or their parties choose to be represented.
Yet Joyce, Canavan and Roberts share a desire to convince the High Court that they are legitimate, arguing on related grounds that it might be unfair to unseat them.
Another is that while the election is long over, the High Court says it can undo an election on a reference from parliament. This is due to a quirky, 30-year-old ruling. I say quirky because, for more than a century, there’s been an absolutely strict time limit for challenging elections.
With electoral fraud, unlawful campaigning, or electoral commission stuff-up, a court case must begin within 40 days of the election. Yet the High Court says it can undo election results, long afterwards, over qualifications issues.
What will the MPs argue?
We must await the arguments, but it seems that Joyce, Canavan and Roberts will argue that they either took reasonable steps to renounce (Roberts) or that it was unreasonable to expect them to have known of their dual citizenship (Joyce and Canavan). In a 1992 case, the High Court softened the law against dual citizenship to allow a defence of “reasonable steps” of renunciation.
Roberts was born in India (after partition) to a Welsh father. He took some steps – three emails in one day on the eve of nominating, apparently – to renounce his UK inheritance. Was that enough, given the UK has a set application form and fee for renunciation? Roberts, some time after the election, received notice that his UK citizenship was expunged.
Canavan, Australian-born, asserts that his mother took out Italian citizenship on his behalf, without his knowledge.
Similarly, Joyce, also Australian-born, says he was blindsided to learn he had New Zealand citizenship via his NZ-born father. They want the court to inject a subjective element – actual or constructive knowledge of dual nationality – to avoid a finding that taking no steps to renounce does not meet the idea of “reasonable steps”.
It’s possible Joyce will also argue the details of NZ law. For example, whether it automatically bestowed citizenship on him, or whether he was merely guaranteed it if he applied to activate it.
The Greens pair, by resigning, seemed to admit they were disqualified. But MPs cannot declare themselves improperly elected. Only the court can do that.
Ludlam (New Zealand) and Waters (Canada) were each born overseas, but to Australian parents. They left their birth countries at the tender ages of three years and 11 months respectively.
At least in Waters’ case, her family lore (not law) was that her nationalisation as an Australian toddler terminated any Canadian status. In some countries, you lose your birth citizenship when you take out another nationality. This was the law in Australia until recently.
The logic of the Greens’ political position is to have their two Senate seats filled ASAP. Yet, in substance, their pair are hardly more blameworthy than the other MPs, who seek to fight on. They have hemmed themselves in, however, by resigning.
If the court found their disqualifications were OK, the Greens could reappoint them or any other Greens member, under the old rule for filling a “casual vacancy”.
Finally, to legal consequences. If a senator is declared “unduly elected”, the Australian Electoral Commission conducts a recount. Invariably, the next candidate in the party’s original electoral ticket inherits the seat.
That windfall beneficiary can keep it, or the party could cajole them to resign in favour of … the unelected MP. Because all of these MPs, with sufficient paperwork and knowledge, can fix up their qualifications.
Roberts and Waters say they’ve done that. Joyce and doubtless Canavan have that in train.
In a lower house seat, however, a recount would be crazy. The seat would go to the rival major party, robbing the electorate. Instead, the court effectively triggers a byelection.
In a worst-case scenario for Joyce (or Gillespie), he would recontest that fresh election. A lot would be at stake in New England (or Port Macquarie). But it’s hard to see the electors there treating now-ex-Kiwi Joyce as a fifth columnist.
The law is an unnecessary mess
All this is a law professor’s picnic.
Section 44, as it applies to elections, detracts from, rather than adds to, democracy. Its technicalities are a thicket, catching many a candidate. It sits oddly in a Constitution that never guaranteed a right to vote, leaving that small matter to the national parliament.
It’s time for reform. We inherited the dual citizenship rule, an old rule about fealty to one Crown, from our English forebears.
The founders struck it in stone in the Constitution. Yet state parliaments are fine with dual citizens being elected. So too is New Zealand. And, funnily enough, so nowadays is the UK.