Green & Grazed: 18 Consecutive years outside of Government

This is one of a series of post election pieces i’m writing over the next fortnight, today I look at the Green Party and its near Chernobyl like post-Turei meltdown.*

Enough has already been written about the Metiria Turei debacle that I see no merit canvassing that matter further. It is however worthwhile noting that Turei’s own admission gave the party an initial surge in popularity, and with it a momentary vision of securing a record 18 MPs.

It could also be said that such a spike in popularity inadvertently precipitated Jacinda Ardern’s takeover of Labour and its subsequent cannibalisation of the Green Party vote.

Much of that saga is now history.

But since the beginning of August there were 3 other noticeable areas (outside of policy prescriptions) where the party simply lacked the nimble strategic positioning to capture what should have been closer to 10% of the vote.

1. They needed another co-leader.

James Shaw was just a bit too square to do it all on his own.

Shaw is the polite and easily consumable modern Green leader, marketing his party toward a well heeled and better educated strand of the electorate. His one chance to express a broader vision for the Green party was in the minor leaders’ debate, a stage where he was entirely outgunned by a more battle-ready Marama Fox & David Seymour.

That’s not to say either the party’s former co-leader or, potential new co-leader are any different or, that Shaw himself presents as an upper class snob. But when you lack an ‘attack dog’ of say a Steven Joyce or Trevor Mallard variety, the sorts of pit bulls that soak up media attention, you need a few different looking faces fronting the camera, appealing to as many of your potential supporters as possible.

The Greens lost some of their Maori voters and some of their female voters – having a white dude solely running a party championing diversity probably didn’t help the optics all that much.

It’s a situation that could have been avoided on both counts had the party quickly slotted a competent and respected operator such as Marama Davidson into the position of co-leader, at least until after the election had taken place and a more democratic process could have been pursued.

I know what the party hacks will say ‘but our constitution doesn’t allow for that’. Well if that’s the case then your constitution needs an amendment.

2. Golriz Ghahraman should have been 6 on the party list.

Ghahraman will probably get home on special votes but she should have been handed a guaranteed position in the next parliament anyway.

That is, at least ahead of Chloe Swarbrick and Gareth Hughes. Swarbrick will no doubt bring an exciting brand of energy-infused politics to parliament but she has nothing on the experience of a not-much-older Ghahraman, who has both ‘Oxford’ and ‘United Nations’ on the resume.

The fairest assessment of Hughes I can conjure up is ‘Most improved player’, and at least, after 3 terms he can now capably address the media without the assistance from a PR minder.

But if you’ve been in parliament representing your party for 3 terms exclusively from the party list, then it’s probably fair to the party and its members that you opt to stand again outside the 5% threshold and prove you’ve actually added something in your time in parliament, something that makes voters want to ensure your return.

Not only would the marketing of Ghahraman bolstered the intellectual wing of the party, making it even more appealing to urban liberals, it could have also attracted some nervous 1st and 2nd generation kiwi voters who feel the major parties are too often pandering to the likes of Winston Peters and his dog whistling bullshit.

As an extension to this, Ghahraman encapsulates everything the party idealizes when they talk about increasing New Zealand’s refugee intake.

Having already been tested in her previous roles, it makes her a more likely candidate to lead the party in years to come.

3. How a TOP top-up could have played out, but didn’t.

It is of course something the party machine will brush off in light of aforementioned constitutional constraints, but it is again these participatory entanglements that ensured the Greens’ lost an important opportunity when both Clendon and Kennedy resigned.

It was August 7th and barely a week since Ardern had taken over the Labour party, the Greens were in strife as two of their sitting MPs had walked and probably taken with them some of that blue-green vote that is often talked of but equally difficult to quantify.

Running parallel to the Green meltdown was an apprehensive Gareth Morgan who could already see his fledgling party’s’ writing on the wall. TOP were simply not going to make the 5% threshold in the shadows of a newly refurbished Labour party and so in desperation Morgan made Ardern a rather brash offer: To ‘fold the tent’ and disband TOP provided her party adopted their policies.

Well, that was never going to happen.

Jacinda didn’t want to go to the ball with Gareth anyway, she was waiting for James to sort his shit out. But despite already having a date with Jacinda, James couldn’t help but notice how much he had in common with Gareth. So it was up to James to balance romance with bromance.

Upon the departure of Clendon and Kennedy, a more bold Green Party could have made an alliance with TOP offering them the respective places of each departing MP; Kennedy’s 8th place (to TOP’s Geoff Simmons) & Clendon’s 16th place (to TOP’s Teresa Moore).

In the end though, Shaw turned up at the school ball all on his own, Jacinda got there a little late and deflated while Morgan stayed home playing video games.

The cold reality for Green party faithful is that they have never actually been in Government even when they were called something else.

TL:DR Political campaigns require political parties with broad appeal and the ability to be nimble, the Greens were neither and were almost wiped out because of it. 

* Yes, I am aware it’s not ‘technically over’ but after listening to Peters last night it’ll be the Greens mostly on the outer (again) even if any deal is struck between NZ First & Labour. 

Winston’s last stand: Tailoring the Emperor’s New Clothes, again.

Leading into the 2014 election I recall Chris Trotter was feeling pretty optimistic, he even suggested National’s vote could slump to the low 40s and a Labour – Green bloc would therefore have a chance of clinching power.

He must have been polling in Mt Albert.

Fast Forward to 2017, and the ever adaptable Trotter had taken a more pragmatic approach, channeling Winston Peters as man of the hour, someone willing to call ‘time’ on the experiment we refer to as ‘neoliberalism’.

So, Peters the revolutionary? Oh, Please.

What is true about Peters is that for decades he has been part of an enigmatic group of politicians around the world who ply their trade casting suspicion over society’s elites. In 1992, he became fed up with his place in the National Government and buggered off to start his own political party, calling it ‘New Zealand First’.

Under the auspices of Mr Peters, New Zealand First have constructed a political platform that resembles a ‘giant jenga’ of bicultural nationalism and blue rinse conservatism.

In contrast to the liberal order that arose and its claim to ‘empower’ individuals, Peters spoke about the faceless elites within it who he claimed were in fact ‘disempowering’ the nation. It is a form of politics that has struck a chord with a significant cross section of the voting public.

But from the mid 90s, Peters had started tailoring the first of his invisible ensembles, something he could drape over a newly empowered and marauding constituency. He accomplished this by promising many things to many people.  He promised the workers that he would ‘stop the clock’ on economic liberalisation, the elderly were promised that he would safeguard their retirement and Maori were promised an end to the National Government. He would also sing a tune that would resonate with all 3 groups, an end to the record numbers of Asian immigrants arriving in the country.

In New Zealand’s first MMP election he garnered 13.4% of the vote and every single Maori constituency. This brought him 16 MPs and more crucially, the balance of power.

It was in the period between 1996 and 1999 that Peters suffered his first public calling out.  After tailoring the imaginary threads of National’s demise in the ‘96 election, he made an about face and joined with them in coalition. And instead of providing the elderly with the financial security he promised, he severed the area between his spine and lower back and fought for a referendum on compulsory superannuation – a proposal that was bitterly rejected by voters.

By now, the facade of fine tapestry became clearer and the popularity of Peter’s party begun to plunge, as did National’s.  Shortly thereafter, a plucky Jenny Shipley rolled Jim Bolger out of a job and Peters knew it was time to abandon ship. But a small group of New Zealand First MPs, led by Tau Henare, broke away and continued to support the now Shipley-led National government.

Peters’ plan to flush away the Shipley government and save himself had backfired spectacularly.  When the 1999 election finally came around just about everyone linked to New Zealand First were bundled out.  Peters himself only clung on to his seat by only a few dozen votes.

But Peters was by no means a spent force.

The old yarn of a child finally calling out the Emperor for ‘not wearing anything at all’ should also present an opportunity for us to reflect on why we have such difficulty calling out politicians who offer us such little substance.

It is as if the ‘system’, this ghastly form of neoliberalism, has taken on a form of personification that absolves those who have spent decades governing within it, from taking any responsibility for its existence, or any meaningful action to replace it.

By 2002 Peters had bounced back, scooping up votes from a National Party that had plummeted to its lowest share of the vote in electoral history.  He still rallied against immigration from the sidelines but the Clark Government didn’t require his services until 2005.

Just as the first tranche of baby boomers started heading into retirement, Peters reentered government and produced a ‘senior card’. But seniors would have about much use swiping a Flybuys card, because the price of everything had started increasing at a rate not seen before.

Ironically, despite decades of isolationist rhetoric Peters traded in domestic policy for a post as Foreign Minister. And throughout his tenure the bi lateral trade agreements continued, the numbers of cashed up immigrants accelerated and the gaps between rich and poor widened.

By 2008 the public started to howl that the fine tailored ensemble they had been sold (again) was in fact ‘nothing at all’.

This time Peters and his mob were voted out entirely, albeit for only 3 years.

Peters emerged from the ashes in 2011 to lay claim as a guardian of democracy. Just as he had done decades earlier, he convinced the public that he was the man who could be trusted to keep those faceless elites in line, especially those who frequent otherwise innocuous looking Auckland cafes.

By 2014 he was so emboldened by the response to his campaign that he took his immigration stump speech to the oldies a bit further than he usually would. “Two wongs don’t make a white” said Peters, who made the news that night for being a racist dick.

Peters has spent longer in the New Zealand parliament than the time neoliberalism has dominated its politics and he has been part of 3 governments (Bolger, Bolger / Shipley, Clark) that were proponents of it.  Meanwhile, his go-to election issues have remained practically unchanged for the past 25 years, the only notable exception is that his party sometimes oscillates between pro Maori positions and others which are clearly antagonistic.

New Zealand First policies are just ‘common sense’, Peters will say.  And it is the promise of ‘common sense’ that leads a disillusioned public toward measuring up for his triennially regurgitated and largely evidence-free vision for the country.

It is as if every 3 years the Emperor’s subjects become inflicted by one of those memory cleansing devices you would find in a ‘Men in Black’ movie.

Now to the 2017 campaign and the mood for populist quasi-conservatism articulated by Peters is perhaps stronger throughout the world than it has ever been. Some political pundits are even suggesting that Peters could go as high as 20% of the party vote, virtually all of it coming at Labour’s expense.

The blue rinse constituency will tell you that a vote for Peters is a return to the nostalgia of better times. A time when New Zealand was supposedly prosperous, egalitarian and grounded in its bi-cultural underpinnings.

It’s actually just a vote for the Emperor’s new clothes.

Chris, the facade is not neoliberalism – just those who pretend to be doing something about it.

TL;DR Peters ain’t your homeboy.

This column was originally published here by my good friend Josh Van Veen.

 

Negative gearing: More distortion than a shitty dub step track

Have you heard the latest joke? The housing market is cooling off and it’ll be affordable again sometime soon!

Heh, that old chestnut. Conveniently popping up in our news feeds every time politicians feel the pressure to address self-made distortions in the Australasian housing market. 

I wonder why that is?

With only a few days until the next New Zealand General Election such objective sources as ‘Barfoot & Thompson Realty’ are on hand to spin us another yarn about increasing housing affordability. So, millennials, break out that 180k you’ve got laying around, the average Auckland sale price might fall to $900,000 over the next two years and you too can take advantage of blah blah, etc, etc.

Last night ‘The Block NZ’ managed to climb its way into the national conversation, its contestants wore turgid expressions as the auction process confirmed they would not be rich, that after spending the entirety of winter putting up with Mark Richardson.

In what has been an incredible assumption of egg before chicken, the comparatively lower auction prices at this years’ season finale are being used to claim that the Auckland housing market is now in a state of decline.

Not perhaps that there is an election looming and that housing policy is in fact one of the few areas of substantive difference between the major parties and their allies.

No, of course not, lets just gloss over that little nugget of context. 

The housing situation is a mess on both sides of the Tasman, and it is impacting just about every metropolitan area with more than two supermarkets in its city limits.

The housing market is so f**ked in places like Auckland, it is making Hamilton a more appealing place to live. And because of that, housing in my beloved hometown is now pretty well f**ked too.  

Bank of New Zealand Chief Economist (whom I affectionately consider as the curly haired face of fascism in this country) played a straight bat for the ears of home owning baby boomers recently, berating those desperate to get onto the housing market by suggesting they were either whiny, wasteful or expecting too much.  

He was of course merely engaging in a bit of low-brow millennial bashing, using the sort of language that would have appealed to his investor buddies, whose explosive growth in their property portfolios no doubt gives them better erections than the more conventional diamond-shaped blue pill they’re typically prescribed.

It was also a lazy argument that bordered on plagiarism, which in context made his seriously shit remarks that little bit more ironic.  

Housing is a complex issue, beyond the musings of economists there is an idea being touted by some politicians that it can be addressed by transforming everyone’s favourite “f**k off we’re full” slogan into a nationwide immigration policy. While immigrants usually take a couple of generations before they’re discussing stock options down at the country club, they are already good for some things; in this case, taking the blame that might otherwise fall on the type of people who donate to political parties.

It’s also important to remember that it is immigrants doing the jobs we can’t be f**ked doing ourselves – such as shift work in hospitals, working in one of our genuine growth industries (prisons) or even wiping the asses of our parents as they begin to populate retirement villages. Those new migrants will all need somewhere to live too. So, we need to build more homes to at least keep pace with their arrival.

But, there is something else driving demand at such a breathtaking pace; it’s the unseen incentives we give people to park capital in the real estate market.

This obscene policy is called ‘negative gearing’. It’s a process only allowed to operate so liberally in our two fine countries. While it’s banned entirely throughout most of Europe and the United States.

It is practically undisputed among top economists, people such as Philip Lowe, the Reserve Bank Governor of Australia, that negative gearing is a contributor to the considerably over-inflated housing market we’re all chained to.

Negative gearing is defined rather succinctly here.

“It is when the cost of an investment is greater than the income earned from it. For rental properties, costs can include interest payments on a loan or mortgage (but not the principal payments), and expenses such as maintenance, rates, water, insurance, depreciation, accountants and agent fees.

If a property owner has a loss on their investment, they can claim a tax deduction and offset that loss against income earned elsewhere.”

Housing investors are almost always borrowing money to fund their new purchases, and with any mortgage, the amount of interest paid in each installment is more at the beginning of the loan. Therefore, in the first decade at least they can write off such losses against their personal income taxes because their interests costs are high.

This makes property a compelling option for investors, because while they may not be earning the passive income you’d typically hope for from a rental property, they’re able to limit their tax burden while watching the equity in their investment home skyrocket.

After a few years the investor can reach a cost equilibrium but also a substantive capital gain. Provided enough equity has been realised, those same investors can buy another home.

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

The result is that more people are competing to buy the same number of homes, which pushes prices even higher. When the investor finally secures that shitty old run down ex-state house for 700k, they then need to rent it out for a weekly amount that at least keeps within range of their monthly mortgage repayment.

The end result of this madness is that housing in Australasia has become a multi trillion dollar ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff gush from his federal prison cell.

Even old mate Tony conceded that by ending the practice it will have some impact on the housing market – he must have wanted to shower after admitting that.

It’s also around this moment you start to realise why New Zealand has over 41,000 people (about 1% of the population) either sleeping rough or in woefully inadequate forms of housing (read: cars, garages and boarding houses) throughout the country.  

Census data from way back in 2011 puts the Australian number at over 100,000.  I would bet the value of a week’s’ rent for my tiny studio apartment that the figure is higher now.

How can we fix this mess?

Clearly, you could do nothing and hope for the best – it’s certainly what the Property Council of Australia and New Zealand Property Investors’ Federation would like you to do.

OMG DID YOU SEE THE BLOCK LAST NIGHT??!! 

Or, you could drastically cut immigration as suggested, boot a whole lot of people out and then transform the country into some form of agrarian utopia by pushing people from the cities and into farms (google ‘Khmer Rouge’ for further information).

The first part of which is kind of what happened in Perth, except it wasn’t Government-directed; the decline in the resources sector caused a mass exodus of the formerly employed; many of them Kiwis now returning home to greener pastures.

That’s another reason negative gearing sucks; if growth flatlines and the economy tanks (in the way it has done in West Australia) the housing market will collapse in an even more dramatic fashion, leaving a lot of people in negative equity (where their mortgages are higher than what they could sell the home for).

So, negative gearing must go or be significantly curtailed, because even if the market stutters for a few months in times of uncertainty (as it is currently doing) it will simply rebound at some point if nothing is done to fix the structural issues created by artificial demand.

In the long run, negative gearing is a ‘no one wins’ type scenario for just about everybody – except the boomers who have cashed out already, and of course the banks, politicians, and lobbyists who awarded themselves the liberty in the first place.

TL;DR?  The housing crisis is an issue of both supply and demand. In times of uncertainty, demand will taper off. However, unless you change the underlying structural issues in the market, demand-driven distortions will inevitably return.