There were a lot of ‘bottom lines’ in the lead-up to the election campaign, but what concessions has Winston Peters won for New Zealand First voters? Shane Cowlishaw compares the party’s policies with the initial agreement.
The New Zealand First website has a robust policy section but is light on detail on how the ideas would be achieved and how much they would cost.
Now a Government has been formed and New Zealand First is part of it, they will use the next three years to make progress on some of the ideas they did not get across the line.
But what were they successful at negotiating for up front?
The big one. It would be a colossal ask but one of New Zealand First’s cornerstone policies is to reduce net immigration from its current high of about 73,000 down to 10,000. Doing that without savaging the economy would be difficult and Peters has consistently refused to explain how exactly he would do it. But the party has a focus on allowing immigration only for critical skill gaps and training New Zealanders to fill other roles.
Result: For all the bluster, Peters has so far been relatively silent in his acquiescence over net migration. Labour has won out here, with their plan to reduce the number by 20,000 to 30,000 by largely targeting low-value international migration adopted.
Referred to regularly during the election was shifting the Port of Auckland to Northport in the next decade. Other policies included stricter licensing rules for foreign tourist drivers and a ramping-up of the national rail network.
Result: In a fantastic Winston-ism, there will be “serious consideration” given to shifting the Ports of Auckland to Northland. Of course, serious consideration leaves plenty of wiggle room for it not to happen. Regional rail, however, will see a big boost in funding.
Labour & employment
Boosting the minimum wage to $20 an hour by 2021 was the main thrust here. Enhancing apprenticeship schemes and training New Zealanders in areas of skill shortages rather than recruiting offshore was also a priority, while there was also a joint Ministry of Social Development/NZ Defence Force initiative that sounded suspiciously like a boot camp.
Result: Labour was supportive of gradually raising the minimum wage as well, but New Zealand First has gained the commitment to ramp it up to $20 in the next three years. The move will make unions and workers happy, but not employers.
New Zealand First’s education spokesperson Tracey Martin has been a strong voice and one of the more vocal select committee members. Some of the party’s policies include a return to a 100 percent trained teacher staffing ration in ECE, the scrapping of National Standards for Years 1 to 8, and allowing a teacher representative on the Education Council.
Result: The party already had a lot in common with Labour here, with shared policies around ECE trained teachers and scrapping National Standards. One big win for the Party is the agreement to develop a 30-year strategic plan for New Zealand education.
Tertiary and post-secondary education
A dollar-for-dollar debt write-off for students who were willing to go to the regions where there were shortages is a key policy. Restoring digital literacy training for older New Zealanders is also a policy.
Result: Nothing to see here.
This may seem like a minor portfolio but it’s dear to Peters’ heart, having been Minister of Racing in 2005. New Zealand First wants to boost the international status of top-tier races to attract interest from overseas, restore marque racing plans and prize money initiatives and re-establish breeding programmes. “Return New Zealand racing to what it was good at,” the policy page says.
Result: The racing industry will be happy. There’s an agreement to “support New Zealand First’s Racing policy” while one of the party’s MPs will be the Racing Minister (likely Peters).
Commerce and tax
This area includes several pillar policies for New Zealand First. Switching the Government to KiwiBank and establishing KiwiFund – a low fees state-run KiwiSaver option, was top of the list. Banning the sale of farmland to foreigners was slightly more contentious and removing GST from basic food items was one of the many highlights of Peters’ extended interview with Morning Report co-host Guyon Espiner before the election. The party also wants to see the company tax rate drop to 25 percent over three years and a crack-down on corporate tax avoidance “especially with e-commerce providers like Uber and Amazon”.
Result: Some wins, some losses for New Zealand First. GST off food was always a long-shot and it appears KiwiFund is off the table. Moving the Government’s banking to KiwiBank is likely to happen, however.
Foreign affairs and trade
Peters has been Foreign Minister before and by all accounts did a good job. On the policy front, New Zealand First opposes TPP11 and wants the current FTAs being negotiated revised. Priorities for new FTAs would be with Japan, the United Kingdom, the EU, and the United States, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be given a resource boost.
Result: It’s likely Peters will be the next Foreign Affairs Minister. In the agreement between the two parties, work will begin towards a Free Trade Agreement with the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan block.
Defence & veterans’ affairs
New Zealand First wants to boost our military capability, citing the large maritime zone it’s responsible for. It would reverse falling numbers by boosting the budget for recruitment, pay, and training while the Navy would have its inshore patrol vessel capability restored.
Peters has a lot of support amongst veterans so they would receive an extra 10 percent on top of normal superannuation rates and the party would look to create a sustainable healthcare package.
Result: Ron Mark is expected to become Defence Minister, so that would be a win. But there was only one concession in the agreement, to re-examine the Defence procurement programme to ensure value for money.
Peters famously has no love for the media so it’s perhaps a little surprising that there are no policies to improve the standard of journalism. New Zealand First does, however, want to de-commercialise TVOne and create a new crown entity called the “Public Media Commission” to oversee TVOne and RNZ.
Result: No Public Media Commission (he still loathes the media, however).
In a bold move, New Zealand First would give local government all the GST from foreign tourism (an estimated $1.5b a year) and a quarter-share of revenue from water bottled for export and Crown Minerals. It also wants communities to be able to secede from amalgamated authorities, most famously the pledge for a binding referendum for North Rodney to leave Auckland Council.
Result: While the regions are the big winners of the new coalition, there was no mention of returning tourism GST to local government. There will be a royalty on bottled water, but it’s unknown if any of this will be headed in that direction.
Nationwide health screening of all children under 1 year and free dental care for every pre-school and school child are New Zealand First policies. A review into the aged-care sector was also campaigned on as was the re-establishment of the Mental Health Commission and potential tax rebates to encourage the use of private health insurance.
Result: A mixed bag here. The Mental Health Commission will be re-established, but no review of the aged-care sector. A few concessions for seniors, including a free annual health check as part of the SuperGold Card and an increase in the age for free breast screening to 74.
Law and order
Strengthening the thin blue line is the priority, with an extra 1800 sworn police officers (920 more than National). To do this a temporary training college at Waiouru would be established in partnership with the Army. But the headlines were grabbed by the idea of a 70-strong “Flying Squad” of experienced officers to be deployed to hotspots across the country as needed. Other policies include “life will mean life” sentences with a minimum non-parole period of 40 years for murder, a publicly accessible sex offender register and the establishment of a Firearms Authority independent of police to implement and enforce firearms law.
Result: A win here, with the extra 1800 officers agreed to at a cost of about $100m. No mention of the crack cop squad or New Zealand First’s tough on crime policies, which don’t sit well with Labour. There will be extra funding for Community Law Centre’s and on the legislative side, a new Criminal Case Review Commission.
A foreign buyer ban has been heralded by Peters for some time and ensuring only New Zealand citizens and permanent residents can buy freehold land is a top priority. The party also wants to establish a new agency to buy land and build residential houses for first home buyers. Making house insurance compulsory and improving the quality of rental stock are also policies.
Result: Jacinda Ardern is still standing behind a foreign buyer ban, but it will be tested during the upcoming APEC meeting where it will have to be negotiated into the TPP11. New Zealand First have secured an undertaking to strengthen the Overseas Investment Act with all purchases over five hectares needing to go through the office. A register of foreign-owned land and housing will also be undertaken, and a “Housing Commission” established that is simply Labour’s Affordable Housing Group renamed.
The economy and regional development
Alongside the pillar policy of boosting the economy of the regions, New Zealand First is a proponent of reforming the Reserve Bank Act to give it a wider scope than it currently has. It also wants to redirect money going into the Emissions Trading Scheme.
Result: Perhaps the party’s biggest win. A huge $1b a year Regional Development Fund will see the railways rebuilt, the planting of 100 million trees per year, and the re-establishment of the New Zealand Forestry Service that will be located in the regions. Peters will get his review and reform of the Reserve Bank.
The environment was not a huge campaign issue for New Zealand First, but it does want to make our rivers and lakes swimmable again. It supports the mining industry and would replace the Emissions Trading Scheme with a UK/Norwegian style Climate Change Act. It also wants to ban 1080. To do this it will put money into researching an alternative but also create a state-owned pest fur company called ‘ecoFur’ to sell the coats of possums, stoats and ferrets.
Result: In a clawback of bringing agriculture into the ETS, New Zealand First has won an agreement that upon entry the industry will be 95 percent exempt with all revenues recycled back into agriculture to encourage innovation, mitigation and planting more trees. There will be a royalty on bottled water, but no sign of a state-run fur industry.
Simple. Keep it where it is. Peters knows who his core supporters are and while he has many “bottom lines” this will definitely be one. While raising the age is out of the question New Zealand First want a toughening up of eligibility rules and an increase in qualification from the current 10 years residency to 25 years. Those eligible for overseas pensions would get to keep it without having their New Zealand payments reduced while the SuperGold card would be boosted.
Result: The SuperGold Card was an easy concession and will be happening. The superannuation eligibility age will remain at 65, which was easy considering it was Labour’s policy as well. There were other small wins in areas such as health.
Electricity and power
Former MP Richard Prosser got a dressing down from Peters after telling a business conference New Zealand First would be buying back the shares in electricity companies for less than they were sold for. Peters later clarified that these would only be purchased “when the time is right” – but the party does want an inquiry into high electricity prices.
Result: Predictably there was no mention of buying back electricity company shares, but there will be a review into retail power pricing that will have a few corporate CEOs shifting uncomfortably in their seats.