The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, February 05, 2007

National's "new" policy agenda

A funny thing happened on the way to being in Government (or not). It seems that National have forgotten that their party has internal policy processes.

Since John Key's elevation to the leadership he's made a number of announcements and references indicating a significant policy shift. This creates some confusion for back-room boffins like myself, when Key makes speeches indicating a move away from Don Brash-era policies like a timeframe for immediately abolishing the Maori seats*, focusing on the issue of climate change (which Key and other leading figures considered questionable not that long ago), not to mention endorsing a nuclear-free New Zealand. Did National squeeze in some remit voting between Brash stepping down and Key opening his mouth?

Most recently, in his Jan. 30th "State of the Nation" speech, Key announced school breakfasts (yep, that's right, really BIG policy stuff) and this month there has been a policy announcement about putting Corrections back into Justice. Those with longer memories may recall that a) many low decile schools started breakfast programmes years ago, and b) National took Corrections out of Justice in the first place when it was last in power.

Now please don't think I don't want National to talk policy. I definitely do - not only so that voters can see what National would do in power, but also because I think it's an important part of democracy that the Opposition not only criticise but also put forward alternatives.

But in the wake of The Hollow Men and the insight that gave into National's policy processes prior to the 2005 election, you'd think Key would be trying to distance himself from the perception that National are more Decepticonz than neocons. By changing policy himself, by media statement and speech-making, he is signalling that National is still a party which will change policy not via it's own, long-standing democratic processes, but to suit political whims.

I'm also a little perturbed by National's approach to industrial relations, which Jordan has already blogged about. Key has said that they wouldn't shift away from the ERA as the key piece of legislation, however continuing to endorse Wayne Mapp's 90 day probation law suggests that National would still want to make some radical changes to employment law.

So perhaps a reader who is in National would care to comment - do Key's announcements reflect recent internal policy debates (and of course their outcomes)? Please note, anonymous comments have never been banned on this blog.

* I first started writing this post in early Dec 2006. Now Key has actually gone back to almost Brash's policy, but he has still delayed the possible implementation of the abolition by three to six years on what Brash promised, to 2014. I smell the whiff of a bargaining chip for negotiations with the Maori Party myself, but Sharples and Turia don't appear to appreciate the game playing.


Oliver said...

Given that a lot of this stuff has come out of their retreat in Gisbournne then I'd say that they have followed their own processes.

As for switching policies to whim think about some Labour stuff that came immediately after each of Brash's Orewa speeches.

As for the 90 Bill, it is a fantastic piece of legislation that would advantage recent immigrants, the long term unemployed and small businesses massively. A new immigrant can say "sure I have no NZ experience and a funny accent but give me 90 days to prove myself and you won't be sorry." Some one whose been unemployed for 6 years can say "sure I've gott facial tattoos/convictions/no recent experience but give me 90 days to prove myself and you won't be sorry." As for a small business, there are many small businesses that don't hire people until they absolutely have to because if the new employee's a dud it's too expensive to get rid of them. The unions spouted plenty of bollocksa aaround this piece of legislation. The first was rolling 89 day contracts, rubbish too much disruption no one would do that. Secondly was you'd get fired inside 90 days if you didn't blow the boss. Rubbish the bill included protections for every scenario the unions made up.

Gerrit said...

Agree with Oliver (but not being as National party member so not sure if this is policy)

The 90 day "parole" period will be part of the working for the dole initiative. No employer would consider employing a long term unemployed person without it.

Dont think the world of unionised and controlled labour will end with a "parole" period but as sure as heck without it any working for the dole scheme will die.

Interesting conumdrum for the unions. Do you block the 90 day "parole" period so that employers wont employee the unemployed and as a result the unionised labour membership numbers do not increase. Or do the unions work with the "parole" scheme in conjunction with enmployer to get them selves more members and thus help the unemployed off the scrap heap.

Policially this changes the situation and you can see National strategically isolating the unions from Labour party policy.

Either support Labour with an anti "parole" period employment stance or support the National party work for the dole scheme.

Be interesting to see Labours response. The Labour blogs off course say the unemployed figures are way down so who needs to support the unemployed anyway? Or they may have a different "work for the dole" scheme. Something I dont think Labour really wants to implement.

Interesting times especially the Labour instant "U" turn on paying back the $800,000.

Now to fix the Field saga!! I think the Labour party will fire him when by statuatory (sp?) rule it will be too close to the general election not to have to call a by election. Time frame for this is?

Span said...

Oliver and Gerrit, the 90 Day Bill died a death a while back, and while National may seek to ressurect it if they get back in the Round House, that may be a while off yet.

You're not going to convince me that it's a good thing, I've already blogged about why it's a terrible idea, but feel free to keep trying.

It's fascinating how this post is about National's policy agenda and yet both of you have turned to attacking Labour in your comments, for unrelated reasons too.

As for the retreat being sufficient policy process - my experience within a political party (the Alliance) has been that policy remits are debated by the membership, not just MPs. Although I do understand there is a difference between party policy and caucus policy, it seems to me that much of National's recent policy announcing is in line with a game-playing strategy, not a policy strategy.

Doesn't bode well for cohesion if National is back on the Treasury Benches from 2008...

Gerrit said...

Attack Labour Span? Where?

All I'm saying if the work for the dole scheme gets traction with the electoratesnd the unions get involved (even with the 90 day bill which I dont think is dead in the water) Labour will need to counter this with either another work for the dole scheme or just let the status quo remain. (leave the unemployed on below minimum wage benefits.

Here is an opportunity for the organised labour unions to be progressive.

Will the union movement go for more members through working with employers to get the unemployed working?

Or will they be arch conservatives and plod the current Labour government line of not having a work for the dole scheme.

This is all game playing policy to rattle the Labour party.

Working so far. Interesting times leading up to the next election.

Oliver said...


I just read your post on the 90day bill and see that you missed the point entirely. The 90 day bill had protections loaded into it and the case you mentioned is exactly the sort of thing that people can be nailed for regardless. Even if that employer somehow got through the employment authorities for that sort of stuff with the 90 bill he'd still get throughly tupped fucked and buggered by OSH and rightly so.

On the topic of employment and labour-market flexibility research in every single OECD country boils down to companies being more willing to hire so-called 'marginals' (new immigrants, long-term unemployed, facial tattos etc) if it's easier to get rid of the duds amongst them early on. One extreme is the US where in Texas people have had job interviews while still in prison for jobs to start on their 2nd day out. The other extreme is France where the costs of making one person redundant can wipe out small businesses, where companies are willing to spend upto 5 million euros on a machine rather than hire a single worker and where youth unemployment runs at 25%.

The key factor in making a probation law work is enforcement. If companies know they'll be prosecuted then they'll comply.

Also, the fears that you and the unions talk about so much have not materialised in any of the other countries with comparable labour markets. The unions are talking shit and too many people are buying it. When you oppose the 90 day bill you make life harder for new immigrants like the taxi driving accountant or the petrol pumping engineer and for the longterm unemployed.

The biggest thing that anybody can learn is how to get their heads around what may seem counter-intuitive.

Span said...

Oliver, you are advocating that we make law for best case scenarios, not worst. I deal on a daily basis with employers who do not have the purest of motives, and I know that they are real and that they wreck havoc and misery on the lives of their employers. A 90 day law would be a wet dream for many of them - the chance to hire and fire at will without any need to follow fair processes or even have a legitimate problem.

And probation periods are already possible under the law, which could be offered by employers in exactly the kind of situations you outline (recently released ex-cons, immigrants, long term unemployed etc). So the 90 day law is not necessary to solve the problem you pose, the solution is already there in the current law.