Thursday, 2 July 2015

"It's time Kiwis had a say in nation's top job"

It's that time again - time to select a new Governor-General. In 12 months the current Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, term in office will end.

In my view, the Governor-General should be elected by a super-majority vote of parliament (yes, technically, the appointment would be by parliament making a recommendation to the Queen). It seems ridiculous to me that we appoint members of the Electoral Commission using this process, yet the Governor-General, a much more powerful role constitutionally, is simply appointed by the Prime Minister of the day.

Here's an article I wrote back in 2011, and published in the New Zealand Herald:

Some time this month the Prime Minister will announce who New Zealand's next Governor-General will be. While they represent the Queen in London, constitutionally the Governor-General is the highest office a New Zealander can aspire to.

The appointment is entirely the choice of the Prime Minister of the day. The Queen merely rubber-stamps the appointment.

The new Governor-General will take office in August for five years. He or she will receive a salary of around $180,000, live in two palatial mansions in Wellington and Auckland, be driven around in late-model Jaguars and have a host of other privileges. For the first time, though, he or she will have to pay income tax like the rest of us.

After the infamous comments by TVNZ's Paul Henry last year, it is likely the appointee will be someone who "looks and sounds like" a New Zealander.

In fact, since 1967 we have had someone who looks and sounds like us in the role, including two women (Dames Tizard and Cartwright) and New Zealanders of Maori (Sir Paul Reeves) and most recently Indo-Fijian ancestry.

Yet no New Zealander can aspire to being our head of state - that position is reserved for a family in the United Kingdom. However, we recognise that we have to start somewhere. The Governor-General's office is an obvious candidate for reform.

The Republican Movement believes nominations for the job ought to be made by the general public, instead of the Prime Minister's office sounding potential nominees.

The public's nominee should be subject to approval of three-quarters of MPs and a majority of party leaders in the House of Representatives. It should not be up to the Prime Minister to appoint the officer able to dismiss his or her government from office.

The Government has already passed legislation to ensure members of the Electoral Commission are appointed by a resolution of the House of Representatives following nominations to a committee of Parliament.

Similarly, Ombudsmen and the Auditor-General are appointed by the House. Members of the Electoral Commission are nominated to the House by a special committee of Parliament.

There is no reason why the Governor-General should not be nominated to the Queen in a similar way, albeit with additional requirements to ensure the appointee is neutral, and acceptable to all sides of politics. That is why we propose a "super-super majority".

In the Pacific, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands elect their Governors-General. This is a consequence of both countries gaining independence about the same time in the 1970s.

Since 2007, Samoa has elected its head of state. The first such election took place in 2007, after the death of the last Malietoa who was a king-like figure under the 1962 independence constitution - written by New Zealand legal experts.

Elsewhere within the Commonwealth the republics of India, Malta and Trinidad and Tobago elect their presidencies via parliament with no problems.

This change would be a first step towards reforming the Governor-General's office into a full head of state. Dr Michael Cullen recently proposed such a change in his paper to the Reconstituting the Constitution conference.

Dr Cullen proposes that following the end of the Queen's reign a referendum is held to either make the Governor-General New Zealand's head of state, or for Prince Charles to carry on as our "Sovereign" in London.

In any event, Dr Cullen - a self-described "token-monarchist" - believed that Parliament should debate the appointment by way of a parliamentary order. This does not require legislation, although Victoria University constitutional lawyer Dean Knight, who also spoke at the conference, has prepared a potential members' Bill to amend the Governor-General Act.

There is much secrecy around the appointment process. The Republican Movement has made numerous Official Information Act requests to the Prime Minister's office to clarify the process and framework for the nomination process. All they have confirmed is that the appointment is made in secrecy.

The Prime Minister's office advises the Prime Minister on the framework for appointment, but the exact details of this advice remain shrouded in the official secrecy that surrounds the monarchy.

The changes we propose will clarify the vague and undefined conventions around the appointment and dismissal of the Governor-General. It is often claimed the Prime Minister must consult with the Leader of the Opposition, but this appears to have rarely been the case.

In 1977, when former Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake was elevated to the position, then leader of the Opposition Bill Rowling learnt of the Prime Minister's choice by a radio announcement.

If the House of Representatives debate the nominees it will further our constitutional evolution. It could be the first step to a New Zealand republic with an independent head of state.

* Lewis Holden is chairman of the Republican Movement

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Constitution (Election of Governor-General) Amendment Bill

Jerry Mataparae's term will expire in about a year. So it's time to dust this off...

Constitution (Election of Governor-General) Amendment Bill

Member's Bill

Explanatory Note

Constitution (Election of Governor-General) Amendment Bill

The Parliament of New Zealand enacts as follows:

1. Title
This is the Constitution (Election of Governor-General) Amendment Act 2015.

2. Commencement
This Act comes into force on the day after the date on which it received the Royal Assent.

3. Principal Act Amended
This Act amends the Constitution Act 1986.

4. Amendment of section 2

Section 2 of the principal Act is amended in the manner indicated in Schedule 1

Schedule 1

Insert after section 2 of the principal Act:

2A. Governor-General to be nominated to Sovereign by House of Representatives

(1) The Prime Minister will advise the Sovereign of the appointee to the office of Governor-General elected by the House of Representatives, as determined under section 2C.
(2) A person shall not be qualified to be elected to the office of Governor-General if-
(a) They are not qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament subject to section 47 of the Electoral Act 1993; or
(b) They are a Member of Parliament; or
(c) They have previously been removed from the office of Governor-General under section 2D.

2B. Term of Office of the Governor-General and re-election to office

(1) The term in office of the Governor-General shall be for a period not greater than 5 years;
(2) On the expiry of the term of office of the Governor-General, a subsequent Governor-General must be elected, who shall only serve one term in office.

2C. Election of the Governor-General

(1) If the office of Governor-General becomes vacant, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall call for the nomination of candidates to be elected for nomination to the Sovereign.
(2) Any person shall be deemed to be a candidate for election as Governor-General who, subject to section 2A(2), delivers a letter signed by themselves and at least two Members of Parliament to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, after the Speaker has given notice under subsection (1).
(3) Five days after the notice of the Speaker in subsection (1), the Clerk of the House of Representatives shall inform the House of Representatives of the nominations received.
(4) If only one candidate is nominated, the Speaker shall declare that candidate to be elected, and the Prime Minister shall advise the Sovereign to appoint that person as Governor-General.
(5) If more than one candidate is nominated, the Speaker shall appoint a day, being a day not more than ten days after the notice in subsection (1) for the House of Representatives to vote on candidates.
(6) On the day appointed in subsection (5), the Speaker shall conduct a ballot in which each Member of Parliament present shall vote for one of the candidates nominated for election.
(7) No candidate shall be elected unless they obtain a majority of two-thirds of the votes of those Members of Parliament present and voting and at least half of the parties represented in the House.
(8) If no candidate obtains an majority of two-thirds of votes in the first ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes shall be eliminated, and a further ballot shall be held, after the elimination of the candidate who received the lowest number of votes in the preceding ballot, until one candidate receives a two-thirds majority of votes.
(9) When a candidate receives the required votes under subsection (7) or subsection (8), the Speaker shall declare him or her to be duly elected, and the Prime Minister shall forthwith advise the Sovereign to appoint that person as Governor-General.

2D. Dismissal of the Governor-General

(1) The Governor-General may be dismissed from office by the Prime Minister advising the Sovereign, following a resolution of the House of Representatives passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of its members.
(2) The Governor-General shall not dissolve, prorogue or otherwise interfere with the business of the House of Representatives if such a resolution or vote specified in subsection (1) is before the House of Representatives.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

We're no fools, Winston

It's Bush v Clinton for the White House, a film about dinosaurs is tops at the cinemas... and Winston Peters is banging the anti-immigration drum. It's like the 1990s never ended!

Peters is referring to the recent release of net migration figures by Statistics NZ. What do those numbers show?

In the year to May 2015 there was a net gain of 57,800 people to New Zealand. This is made up of:

  • 7,516 applicants for residence visas
  • 17,515 student visas
  • 27,957 work visas
  • 4,812 New Zealand or Australian citizens
Student visas are a critical part of our $2.3 billion (2009 est) education export industry, which despite his alleged desire to expand New Zealand's exports, Winston First opposes. Likewise with work visas. In the industry I work in, the reality is that New Zealand is often too small to train technicians in every facet of IT. 

Nor should we attempt to - we only have a handful of multi-nationals with global reach (sadly) who require some of the skills that are more common overseas. So it's common sense that we should enable workers from overseas to come to New Zealand. In IT, there's also a huge skills transfer component.

Peters bangs on the anti-immigration drum because he knows it wins him votes. Sadly a number of New Zealanders see the great - if not critical - contribution immigrants make to New Zealand economically and socially. Luckily I think most do see it - and welcome new New Zealanders.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The New Labour Party and 70s thinking

Chris Bishop gave a speech recently pointing out the inversion in New Zealand politics:
Historically in New Zealand politics, the Labour Party has liked to think of itself as the party of progressive, even radical, social change.
Conversely, it is sometimes claimed National is the traditional party of conservatism – the party that manages the status quo; that builds on social changes already made.
Whatever the truth of these claims, today’s political situation differs markedly from these perceptions. National and Labour’s traditional roles have reversed.
Labour is now the real conservative party – fearful of innovative social policy, afraid of new ideas – in short, the party which says “No” to everything.
Meanwhile it is National that is the genuine reformist party, determined to enter social policy realms that Labour has selfishly and oddly assumed it owned for itself, such as the welfare system, social housing and education.
The responses to this speech (and subsequent NBR article) have been intriguing. One in particular caught my attention. It wasn't the expected response from the centre-left, which has been "No", they do in fact have all the answers to long-term social problems.

It's the response from the wingnut right faction (no, I'm not going to link to it) the accusation has been leveled that in the speech and article Chris was "...lay[ing] out his and National’s credentials as the New Labour party…approaching Muldoon’s for its left-ness."

It's this response that I find laughable. Firstly, Muldoon was clear right from the start of his premiership that his goal was to "leave New Zealand no worse off than he found it." While I think he was genuine in this goal, it was clear by 1984 that he hadn't achieved this unambitious goal. In swept the Lange-Douglas government and the rest is history.

Muldoon's "left-ness" was his expansion of the government's intervention in the economy. But he kept to usual centre-right policies of the day otherwise. And no-one can accuse the Key government of the sort of Think Big, wage-freeze or exchange rate interventions Muldoon brought in to shield New Zealand from the world.

Secondly, and this is a point missed by the wingnut faction, the goal of the Key government has been to deliver better social outcomes and better value for money for taxpayers. The point Chris made more broadly is that better social outcomes are not left-wing in nature, nor does the opposition have a monopoly on them.

What is becoming obvious though is that the opposition are conservative in the sense that most of their solutions seem to date from the 1970s. Take their broadcasting policy for example: spending millions on regional television stations; spending further millions bringing back a fully public broadcaster combining radio and television. You know, much like the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation of the 1970s. Completely at odds with their own admission that the internet is radically changing the way people access and view content. That's 70s thinking - the sort of thinking that won't move New Zealand forwards.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

OECD: time for port reform

The OECD report on New Zealand's economy makes for very interesting reading. There's been plenty of analysis of the points it makes so there's no point in going over them again here.

One area I'm particularly interested in, highlighted by the New Zealand Initiative, was the OECD's call in 2013 on government to "Consider reducing local government ownership of port assets to bring more market discipline to the sector". This seems like an odd thing for the OECD to talk about (yes, I do all the time, but let's be honest, I'm pretty odd) but it has major downstream affects on the economy.

What's the status quo of New Zealand ports? I crunched the numbers - in terms of total seaport export and import value for the year 2014-15 - and looked at who owns each port:

Port Share of exports (NZ$)* Share of imports (NZ$)* Ownership
NorthPort (Whangarei) 1.66% 8.87% Port of Tauranga (50%), Northland Regional Council (25%), Ports of Auckland (10%) plus other investors.
Ports of Auckland 14.29% 57.86% Auckland Council
CentrePort (Wellington) 3.26% 4.76% Wellington Regional Council
Port of Tauranga 37.56% 11.01% NZX listed; Bay of Plenty Regional Council (54%)
Port Napier 9.26% 1.44% Hawke's Bay Regional Council
Port Taranaki 4.68% 0.60% Taranaki Regional Council
Eastland Port (Gisborne) 0.82% 0.00% Eastland Group Ltd, owned by Eastland Community Trust
Port Marlborough (Picton) 0.19% 0.00% Marlborough District Council
Port Nelson 1.55% 0.84% Nelson City Council (50%), Tasman District Council (50%)
Lytellton Port Company (Christchurch) 11.13% 10.83% Christchurch City Council
Port Otago (Dunedin) 9.04% 1.03% Otago Regional Council
SouthPort (Bluff) 2.99% 1.85% Southland Regional Council (65%); NZX listed 
PrimePort (Timaru) 3.56% 0.91% Port of Tauranga (50%), Timaru District Council (50%)

*YTD 2014-15

As you can see, local government dominates the 13 major port businesses in New Zealand. Two of our ports are NZX listed - Port of Tauranga and SouthPort, which most are either directly or indirectly owned by local governments. Port of Tauranga has been active in seeking joint ventures; it now has two - NorthPort (Marsden Point, new Whangarei) and PrimePort (Timaru). Tauranga now dominates exports, while Auckland dominates imports.

Ports of Auckland was publicly listed from 1993-2005 (due to Waikato Regional Council selling 20% of its shares), and as most Aucklanders now know is currently 100% owned by Auckland Council Investments Limited. Christchurch City Council is considering selling a stake in the Lyttelton Port Company.

These complex ownership structures underlines the many problems for sea ports in New Zealand: with the exception of Auckland and Tauranga, our port companies are small and unable to expand to gain economies of scale. The multiplicity of ports makes it easy for the major international shipping lines to play ports off against one another. As smaller entities, our ports are price takers. This, as the OECD points out, makes life harder for New Zealand exporters.

Meanwhile, Tauranga's strategy appears to be to take business off both Auckland and Lyttelton (Christchurch) ports through its two joint ventures. Ports of Auckland doesn't appear to have much of a strategy other than filling in more of the Waitemata Harbour, and a joint venture with Port Napier, outside of Palmerston North, which appears to be a play at taking business off Wellington's CentrePort.

Add to this the looming problem of "mega" ships, which the Ministry of Transport recently argued should mean that the number of international container ports is significantly reduced, from 10 to 5. The Ministry of Transport suggested Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Lyttelton and Otago would be the survivors, while other ports simply become "feeder" ports.

All of this points to a major restructure of how ports operate in New Zealand. My suggestion is that the ports are consolidated into two main companies - one consisting of Auckland, Wellington, Napier and Lyttelton, the other Tauranga, Taranaki, Marlborough, NorthPort, SouthPort and PrimePort - to create competition (both groups would have roughly 50% of all trade between them). The local authorities could band together to own a stake in each of these consolidated companies, which would be NZX listed.

The expectation would be that the port companies would consolidate their investment to achieve economies of scale in servicing larger TEU ships. Smaller ports would become "feeder" ports to the larger hubs (Auckland, Tauranga, Lyttelton and Timaru).