John Armstrong: Ardern's baby leave gives her time to give serious thought to Labour's 'cannot be bothered' attitude to business sector

Jacinda Ardern may have left the building in body for the next five weeks or so. But in mind she will still be operating very much on Wellington time. Her stint on maternity leave gives her a unique opportunity to do something denied to other prime ministers.

Baby willing, her time-out is an opportunity to conduct a relatively relaxed stock-take of what her Government is doing right and what it is doing wrong.

Source: 1 NEWS

With regard to the latter, one of the things that is in dire need of some serious thought is Labour's relationship with business in all its guises and sizes.

When mild-mannered representatives of the business community such as the Auckland Chamber of Commerce's Michael Barnett are warning that business confidence is in "free fall" in the country’s largest metropolis and the engine-room of the economy, it is wise to start listening to what he and other economic soothsayers have to say about what might be causing this crisis.

The PM eventually said it was "pretty special" holding baby Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford for the first time. Source: 1 NEWS

It could be a matter of survival — Labour's survival in government to be more precise.

Labour instead gives every impression that it cannot be bothered. It rather seems to be rubbing its hands in anticipation of some kind of sequel to the Winter of Discontent which saw Labour and the business community lock horns in truly ugly fashion back in 2000.

Ms Ardern and Deputy PM Winston Peters shared a joke, looking relaxed ahead of the important discussions. Source: 1 NEWS

That episode is often painted as a blot on the record of Helen Clark’s government of the time.

As Michael Cullen, her ever trusty Finance minister, made very clear with his "we won, you lost, eat that" jibe at National, Labour was the victor.

That stoush, which centred on Labour’s commitment to repeal the much-hated, anti-trade union Employment Contracts Act and replace it with something more worker-friendly, ultimately proved to be cost-free for Labour.

Once replacement legislation had been passed by Parliament, the sting went out of the storm. It culminated in Clark leading Labour to an easy victory in the subsequent general election two years later.

The Finance Minister responds to a gloomy business confidence survey. Source: Q+A

A similar Cullen-like scoffing can be discerned in Labour’s reaction to the current pessimism that is the prevailing theme of survey after survey of business opinion.

Labour has seized on research which shows the perverse nature of such measures of the economic mood.

That analysis found business confidence was pessimistic at the very time the economy was undergoing strong growth. Yet when the mood was optimistic, the economy grew at a slower rate.

That misses the point, however. Those surveys of business opinion are a vehicle by which to send a message to the governing party. The message is that commercial enterprises both big and small are reluctant to hire more staff or to re-invest profits or borrowing order to lift production.

Labour ignores that message at its peril.

The current crop of Cabinet ministers are still at that stage, however, of the electoral cycle which has them believing they are infallible; that if they really tried, they could walk on water.

Under the leadership of first Andrew Little and then Ardern, Labour has also undergone a marked shift to the left. Those voicing the views of business are few and far between in the Labour caucus.

It is also the case that the Government’s honeymoon is long over. Ardern’s troops have become battle-hardened. With a number of contentious policies covering work-place relations in the pipeline, now is the time to remain staunch rather than being seen to be caving in to employers hell-bent on blocking reform.

That is even more necessary for a Government walking a fiscal tight-rope on the highly sensitive matter of the scale of the pay rise that should be granted to the country’s nurses.

In political terms, the bleating of business figures is of Lilliputian significance compared to ending up on the wrong side of public opinion should public hospitals end up being crippled by rolling strikes.

One ingredient is missing from the Beehive’s battle-plan — discipline.

A major factor exacerbating the frustration of those in the world of business is that it is hard to get a grip on the current three-party governing arrangement and the direction in which it is likely to head when confronted with a problem.

In part, that is because this government cannot get a grip on itself.

This week the Government emphatically denied any intention to allow foreigners possessing the required skills to work in New Zealand in order to speed up the construction of new homes under the KiwiBuild programme.

The following day the Government announced just such a policy.

Business hates inconsistency. It hates uncertainty.

Grant Robertson, the Finance Minister, has conceded there is a problem of perception and the Government needed to lift its game when it came to communicating with business.

So, it would seem this is the Winter of Disconnect, rather than another Winter of Discontent.

It could conceivably end up being something much more serious, however. There is a danger that the regular doses of economic pessimism spiral into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Given the robust good health of the domestic economy, however, it would require a lot of talking by a lot of corporate figures to induce an economic downturn.

Labour needs to remove its blinkers, however.

The argument surrounding the drop in business confidence is not taking place in a vacuum.

When it comes to public opinion as to which political party can best be trusted with the task of managing the economy, Labour starts from a long way behind while National starts from some way ahead.

That is a cold hard fact of political life in New Zealand. You need look no further than the findings of recent 1 NEWS-Colmar Brunton polls for strong evidence that voters do not hold the country’s two major parties in equal regard when it comes to economic competence.

There was a dramatic shift in the public mood in polls conducted prior to last September's general election and ones taken in the immediate aftermath of the formation of the three-party arrangement now ruling the nation.

The number of respondents who thought the economy would be in a better state during the next 12 months than at present dropped from 55 per cent to 36 per cent.

Even more telling was the finding that those who thought the economy would be in a worse state during the same period of time soared from 10 per cent to 36 per cent of those surveyed.

The only thing that changed during the weeks between the two polls were taken was the colour and composition of the government.

Labour has long endeavoured to remove the stigma of questionable economic competence which has attached itself to the party.

If anything, that party’s disregard for the voice of business will only stitch that stigma even deeper into the country’s political fabric.

Jacinda Ardern's Government is now in full stride, despite a slump in business confidence. Source: 1 NEWS



Media personality accused of assaulting woman appears in court

A media personality has elected a trial by jury on assault charges they are facing. 

Source: istock.com

He appeared in the North Shore District Court this morning.

He's facing three assault charges - including one of assaulting a woman with intent to injure.

He had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges back in July.

He has been granted ongoing name suppression through until his trial.

He will next appear in court in November.

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Legalising recreational cannabis could stem NZ’s epidemic of ‘zombie drug’ deaths, Peter Dunne says

Synthetic cannabis has killed more than 40 people in New Zealand since June last year, a massive jump from the previous five years, the coroner recently reported.

One way to serve a blow to the market for the so called zombie-drug in New Zealand would be to legalise recreational cannabis, former MP and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today on TVNZ1's Breakfast.

But the suggestion came with a caveat.

"It would certainly remove some of the incentive for people to try some of these substances," he said. "But...some of these (synthetic drugs) are so potent and so powerful that people may well feel they'll get a better high from these rather than the real product.

"While on the face of it the answer would be yes (to marijuana legalisation), I don't think it's necessarily that simple."

Cannabis and synthetic cannabis are alike in name only. The synthetic variety, often consisting of dried herbs sprayed with chemical compounds derived from old medical studies, encompasses hundreds of different strains, Mr Dunne pointed out.

Two of the most potent versions, described as up to 10 times stronger that the ones that caused a "zombie" outbreak in the US due to the way users reacted to them, have been targeted by the Government for reclassification as Class A drugs.

That would mean penalties for dealing the drugs would increase substantially, from a couple years in prison to up to 14 years.

"I don't think we ever anticipated we'd get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm," NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS yesterday.

They're calling for the drug to be classified as Class A – the most harmful and dangerous. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Dunne agreed that the classification for those two strains should change, but he was sceptical that it would do anything to stem the overdose epidemic.

"They're already illegal, so this doesn't make them any more illegal," he said. "We shouldn't get carried away and assume that's going to resolve the problem...We need at the same time to be beefing up our treatment facilities to deal with the people who are suffering adverse consequences because they will continue to do so."

He also suggested putting in place "a coherent international warning system" and regulating the market for the less potent strains of synthetic cannabis - rather than continuing to outlaw all of them, pushing the market underground.

But even with those solutions, eradicating the drug altogether would be difficult because it's so easy to smuggle, he said.

Police are still trying to identify the men as they want to check on their welfare. Source: 1 NEWS

"The problem is there are hundreds of these, and there are rumours of several hundred more yet to hit the market, so this problem's not going to go away anytime soon," he said.

"If you're seeking to bring this stuff into the country, you bring it all in different bits and bobs so it doesn't look like a finished product. Who knows what's put together to give it its added bite."

But there’s a caveat to the idea, the former MP and associate health minister told Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

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How Finland solved its homeless crisis while numbers increase across Europe

In 2008 Finland made a significant change to their homeless policy, making it the only country in Europe where the number of homeless people has declined.

They achieved this by shutting down emergency shelters and temporary housing and instead began renovating these dwellings into apartments.

This was on top of permanent social housing they were building throughout the country under their Housing First programme.

It wasn’t an overnight success, it was a model Finland had been working on since the 1980s with charities, NGOs and volunteers.

It was the launch of a fully funded national programme a decade ago which saw the tide turn on homelessness.

“For us it means it’s always permanent housing that’s supposed to be proved for homeless persons – always permanent instead of temporary solutions,” Finland’s Housing First CEO Juha Kaakinen told 1 NEWS.

Mr Kaakinen says emergency shelters and hostels were failing to keep up with demand and were becoming an “obstacle” to solving homelessness.

“Well it’s obvious that when you are on the street or you are living in temporary accommodation to take care of things like employment issues, health and social issues it’s almost impossible,” he says.

“But a permanent home gives you a safe place where you don’t have to be afraid about what’s going to happen tomorrow, and you know if you can take care of the rent.”

In 2008, Helsinki alone had 500 bed places in emergency shelters, now 10 years later there is only one shelter with 52 beds.

Finland’s Housing First social housing stock for those who are on low incomes or in need of urgent housing makes up 13 per cent of their total housing stock.

Under their housing policy, every new housing area must be 20 per cent social housing.

“It’s quite a simple thing in a way, it makes common sense that you have to have a home like everyone else.”

The Ministry of Social Development says right now we can’t build permanent housing quick enough. Source: 1 NEWS

Not only is permanent housing supplied to those who can’t afford a roof over their head but wrap around support such as financial and debt counselling.

The number of homeless in Finland has dropped from 18,000 to 6500 people with 80 per cent living with friends and relatives while they wait for a home.

This means there is practically no street or rough sleepers in Finland, which has a total population of 5.4 million people.

The Housing First programme in New Zealand is funded by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) across many regions including Auckland.

However, this programme is just one of a myriad of programmes that include charities and community groups.

MSD’s Deputy Chief Executive for Housing Scott Gallacher acknowledges that more housing needs to be built to address the current crisis here.

“Our optimal outcome is to have far more supply of public housing, so people can have long-term stability. The stark reality is the context in which we find ourselves in that we just cannot bring on the degree of supply of long-term housing in the time required.

“The scale of what we’ve got of transitional housing at the moment will probably reduce over time and once we have a far stronger supply of long-term homes for people that is really the optimal outcome that we’re all trying to achieve,” says Mr Gallacher told 1 NEWS.

MSD also acknowledges it needs to provide greater support for those who are homeless to end chronic homelessness.

“It’s not just about the bricks and mortar, it’s not just about the house, it’s about what sort of support are we providing families and individuals to stabilise their lives and actually be able to sustain long-term homes.”

Mr Kaakinen says there is no other way around ending homelessness but to have government involvement.

Read more from Ryan Boswell's Homeless in New Zealand series here: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Finland is the only European country that has seen a decline in homelessness. Source: 1 NEWS


Housing NZ board won't be sacked over meth contamination 'fiasco'

The Housing NZ board will not be sacked over the methamphetamine contamination “fiasco”, Housing Minister Phil Twyford has said.

Housing NZ issued an apology to all those who lost their homes as the organisation pursued a conservative policy around meth contamination in properties.

The Housing NZ board will not be sacked over the methamphetamine contamination “fiasco”, the housing minister said. Source: 1 NEWS

Chief executive Andrew McKenzie also apologised for the organisation’s zero tolerance policy around illegal activities, saying they had ignored the issues that had led to people being tenants of Housing NZ.

A report showed that around 800 tenants suffered through Housing NZ’s response to meth contamination.

“Housing NZ acknowledges that around 800 tenants suffered by either losing their tenancies, losing their possessions, being suspended from the public housing waiting list, negative effects on their credit ratings or, in the worst cases, being made homeless," Mr Twyford said.

“Housing NZ is committed to redressing the hardship these tenants faced. This will be done on a case by case basis and the organisation will look to reimburse costs tenants incurred, and make discretionary grants to cover expenses such as moving costs and furniture replacement.”

Phil Twyford says the Government is committed to improving the lives of renters in New Zealand.
Source: 1 NEWS

“They will also receive a formal apology from Housing NZ.

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For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Twyford said it was a failure of the previous government and they have already paid for it because “they are no longer ministers”.

“The approach to methamphetamine from 2013 by the government of the day was a moral and fiscal failure. Housing NZ had been instructed by then ministers to operate like a private sector landlord. This led to the wellbeing of tenants being ignored.

“Even as evidence grew that the meth standard was too low, and ministers acknowledged it wasn’t ‘fit for purpose’, the former government continued to demonise its tenants. At any time they could have called for independent advice. Our Government is choosing to do the right thing.”

About 800 tenants will receive compensation between $2,500 to $3,000. Source: 1 NEWS