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Live UpdatesAug 4 2022

The tax policy flip flop gets flippier

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Thursday, August 4. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can get in touch with me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • A rare Labour Party press release accuses National of “internal division” over a tax policy flip flop. National has responded by saying it’s a Labour diversion tactic.
  • Documents released to The Spinoff confirm the government still has no timeline for it’s long-planned reform of the Official Information Act.
  • Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono has no regrets about his decision to publicly contemplate a run for the party’s co-leadership.
  • Competition in building supplies market is “not working well”, the Commerce Commission has concluded.
  • There are 6,152 new Covid-19 cases being reported today, with 663 people now in hospital.
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The tax policy flip flop gets flippier

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Thursday, August 4. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can get in touch with me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • A rare Labour Party press release accuses National of “internal division” over a tax policy flip flop. National has responded by saying it’s a Labour diversion tactic.
  • Documents released to The Spinoff confirm the government still has no timeline for it’s long-planned reform of the Official Information Act.
  • Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono has no regrets about his decision to publicly contemplate a run for the party’s co-leadership.
  • Competition in building supplies market is “not working well”, the Commerce Commission has concluded.
  • There are 6,152 new Covid-19 cases being reported today, with 663 people now in hospital.
Aug 4 2022

James Shaw will face nobody to regain Green co-leader role. But he will face Ron

A vacancy for a Green co-leader was created at the party AGM 10 days ago when more than 25% of delegates voted to reopen nominations for the role that had been filled by James Shaw. Nominations have now closed. And, the Green Party has just announced in a statement, the  complete list of candidates is: James Shaw. That doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, however. If more than 25% of delegates vote again for Ron (to re-open nominations), he would almost certainly have to stand aside.

“Voting will be by delegates in a remote election,” advised the Green Party release. “Members of the Green Party will have the opportunity to participate in the process through their local branches. Local branch convenors will be asked to organise a meeting of members in their electorate with at least two weeks’ notice so they can decide how their delegates should vote.”

James Shaw (Image: Getty Images)

Shaw’s chances of getting the job back and keeping Ron to below 25% are strong. The absence of a challenger, from inside or outside the caucus, speaks volumes. He has acknowledged that the concerns of those who voted for Ron last time are legitimate and pledged to listen better. And he’ll be confident of a boosted turnout among delegates – at the AGM just 107 of the 150 voted, with 32 ticking Ron.

Ballot papers will be sent to branches next Thursday. The deadline for their return Friday is September 8. The result will be revealed by Monday September 12 at the latest.

A new Gone By Lunchtime podcast considers the impact of the vote to make Shaw reapply for his job, and the prospect of a James versus Ron battle.

Dead people received the cost of living payment

It’s been confirmed an unknown number of dead people received this week’s cost of living payment.

Unsurprisingly, dead people were not technically eligible for the payment as they were unlikely to be facing pressures from the cost of living crisis.

Asked in parliament today by National’s Nicola Willis whether any deceased people received the payment, revenue minister David Parker first recited some James K Baxter poetry. He then confirmed: “After someone has died they can’t update their details to Inland Revenue”.

Parker said that IRD relied on periodically updated information from Internal Affairs “which is in turn imperfect”.

As for how many dead people had received the payment, Parker did not know. He said it was likely the same number of deceased people who received other payments like superannuation.

Is National’s tax indexation policy back on the table?

National appears to have flip flopped on its previous flip flop around a tax indexation policy.

The proposal, first discussed around the time of this year’s budget, would see New Zealand’s tax thresholds raised in line with inflation.

While National leader Christopher Luxon was touting the policy as recently as yesterday, his deputy Nicola Willis told the Herald this morning that it had been parked.

“As we shape our tax policy for the future, New Zealanders can expect to see a package that really focuses on the squeezed middle of New Zealanders who we know are struggling to get ahead and the shape of that package will be determined next year,” she said.

The policy backtrack triggered a scorching press release from Labour’s Chris Hipkins earlier today, who suggested there was internal conflict within National.

But the story hasn’t stopped there: National MP Chris Bishop sent out a press conference this afternoon which reiterated National’s tax policy. “This will include indexing income tax thresholds for inflation,” he said.

Bishop also accused the government of using “spin” to distract from its own issues, namely around the cost of living payment bungle. “While Kiwis up and down the country are feeling the pain, the Labour Party has spent all morning obsessing over National and misrepresenting clear statements to try and score cheap political points,” said Bishop.

We still haven’t heard directly from the National leadership yet, and it’s not exactly clear why Bishop was responsible for remonstrating Labour, so it’s entirely possible this back-and-forth over tax policy will continue.

Green MP hoping to see racist immigration law scrapped

A Green MP is hoping for cross-party support abolishing a “racist” law that stripped Western Sāmoans of automatic New Zealand citizenship.

The Citizenship (Western Sāmoa) Act 1982, which remains the law to this day, prevented Western Sāmoans born between 1924 and 1949 from automatically becoming New Zealand citizens.

Teanau Tuiono launched a member’s bill today that would see the law ditched. “There are people alive today who were not just entitled to become New Zealand citizens, but who were New Zealand citizens – but whom the government stopped being citizens because it didn’t like where they were born,” he said.

“It is possible to trace a direct line from the inequities that Pacific peoples face today to the widespread anti-Pacific racism of the Dawn Raids era, including this legislation.”

A petition calling for the law to be abolished garnered widespread support in 2003 – but the Helen Clark-led government chose not to act.

As a member’s bill, the path for becoming law requires the luck of being drawn from the ballot and then being debated. Tuiono, however, said he was hoping for cross-party support to see the ballot bypassed. “I’ve had some conversations [with other MPs]… the way that I see it is that the Labour Party did apologise in 2003 and we’ve had the Dawn Raids apology as well,” he told The Spinoff at a press conference.

“There is an understanding around the house, I believe, that there were wrongs and there were injustices and the way you get closure is to remove [the law].”

Read more: The Citizenship (Western Sāmoa) Act is New Zealand’s most racist immigration law

Data change will see NZ’s overall vaccine rate decline

There will soon be a technical change in the way health officials record our Covid-19 vaccination rate.

From the start of next week, another 233,000 people will be added to the list of those eligible for their Covid-19 vaccinations. This is based on statistics of who used health services in 2021.

Speaking at today’s midday Covid press conference, Dr Andrew Old said 2020 data has, until now, been used to calculate vaccination rates.

While moving to the newer data will mean a technical decrease in reported vaccination rates overall due to the larger number of eligible New Zealanders being identified, it does not not mean any fewer people were vaccinated.

“Despite this technical change, the total number of people aged over 12 who’ve had at least two vaccinations has risen from 3.63 million at the beginning of December 2021, to 3.98 million as at 1 August 2022,” said Nick Chamberlain, national director of Te Whatu Ora.

“And with thousands of people still being vaccinated every day, and more than 11.1 million vaccinations given to New Zealanders aged 5 and up so far, coverage remains very high.”

Gone By Lunchtime: It’s James vs Ron for Greens co-leader

The Green Party AGM voted to make James Shaw reapply for his job, but so far his only challenger is Ron, aka Re-Open Nominations. On the new episode of Gone By Lunchtime, Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas ask what it means for the party. Plus: Thousands of people around the world have been given $350 they don’t deserve by the NZ government – is this a big cock-up or a big beat-up? Is enough being done to close the gaping loophole exposed in political donations law? And a comprehensive history of Ben’s political career.

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Covid-19 update: Officials confident the winter surge is easing

Health officials remain confident that the surge of new Covid-19 cases over winter has eased.

There are 6,152 new infections being reported today, with 663 people now in hospital (including 14 in intensive care).

“Case rates have continued to trend lower across all regions for the second week running. Cases among people over 65 have dropped by 21% in the past week,” said Dr Andrew Old, head of the Public Health Agency.

“While we know that some cases will always go unreported, testing of health workers and wastewater supports the belief we are having a true decline in Covid-19.”

 

The overall Covid-19 death toll has risen by 49, said Old. However, not all of these deaths have yet been directly attributed to the virus.

Old said it was now expected that the peak of Covid-related hospitalisations will fall at the lower end of modelling, although there remained a chance that it could hit 1,000 beds.

Image: Toby Morris

MP Teanau Tuiono confident Greens in ‘good position’ despite recent in-fighting

Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono has no regrets about his decision to publicly contemplate a run for the party’s co-leadership.

After James Shaw was forced to reapply for his role, most Green MPs ruled out running against him (though few publicly threw their support behind him either). Tuiono, however, admitted he was considering a run and dragged out the speculation for several days before ultimately announcing he would not throw his hat in the ring.

At a press event today, Tuiono told The Spinoff live updates his relationship with Shaw was “pretty good” though hinted it may not be as strong as it once was. “We’re getting there,” he said.

It was “conjecture” to say the Green Party had been damaged by the recent leadership tussle, said Tuiono. “I think we’re in a good position,” he said. “It’s important to have these robust discussions.”

Tuiono did not, however, appear to have any regrets about his actions, despite drawing out the scrutiny of the Green’s internal troubles on for longer than necessary. “It would be always good to talk faster with our membership, but they have very varied opinions… it’s important to hear them out,” Tuiono said.

Asked whether he’d consider a run for the co-leadership should the party find itself in a similar position next year, Tuiono said it wasn’t currently his intention. “I’m not looking at running at this time,” he said. “Everybody was surprised with what happened but what’s important is that we listen to our members and follow the process as well.”

Green Party list MP Teanau Tuiono (Photo by Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images)

Labour claims ‘internal division’ within National after tax plan backtrack

A press release sent with Labour Party letterhead has skewered the National Party and accused its leadership of being divided.

It comes after it was revealed today that National had pulled its proposed tax policy that would have seen tax thresholds adjusted for inflation. That came from finance spokesperson and deputy leader Nicola Willis in an interview with the Herald. But just yesterday morning, leader Christopher Luxon was doubling down on that supposedly-pulled policy during his morning media run.

Labour has quickly jumped on the flip-flop, with MP Chris Hipkins suggesting National was in chaos. “This was Chris Luxon’s first policy as National Party leader, and now his deputy Nicola Willis has dumped it six months later. It’s the sort of disarray we got used to in the days of Bridges, Muller and Collins,” Hipkins said.

“This has got internal division written all over it. The fact is Luxon was selling his State of the Nation policy as recently as yesterday in his media round, seemingly unaware Nicola Willis had already spoken to journalists about scrapping it prior to him going on air.”

Hipkins doubled down: “This is another sign that Luxon is out of touch and not ready – in government you can’t keep changing your mind on fundamental issues and policy like this.”

Labour’s Chris Hipkins has stuck the knife into National’s leadership duo (Images: Getty)

We’re about a year out from the election, and a policy bungle such as this is the perfect opportunity for Labour to jump on Luxon’s perceived lack of political credentials. Hipkins called the National leader inexperienced and said it followed a “series of blunders” over recent months.

“The question National MPs must surely be asking themselves is: was Luxon promoted too soon with these rookie errors rapidly piling up?” said Hipkins. “Luxon’s puppet at the Backbencher might be Humpty Dumpty but one has to wonder if the Fosbury Flop might have been more accurate.”

After four years, there’s still no timeline for overdue OIA reform

The government still has no timeline for it’s long-planned reform of the Official Information Act.

Documents released to The Spinoff under the act (ironically) revealed that cabinet has not decided on a review or when it will be completed. “There is no confirmed timeline for a review of the OIA at this stage,” said an April memo by the former justice minister, Kris Faafoi.

The same document noted that cabinet had agreed to a review back in 2018. “Reviewing the OIA could be an opportunity to consider improving the openness, transparency, and accessibility of government information.”

Andrew Little was the justice minister who kicked off the process in 2018, before it got delayed and passed onto his successor Kris Faafoi. In June, he resigned and the new minister placed in charge of any possible review was Kiri Allan.

She told The Spinoff that cabinet had still not made a decision on any review. “There is a significant workload in the justice portfolio including gang violence, family justice reform, modernising New Zealand’s electoral law and work on the government’s response to Covid-19,” Allan said. “It is not possible to pursue all of these simultaneously but I am regularly reassessing my portfolio priorities.”

(Image: The Spinoff)

Delays on a reform were initially blamed on Covid-19, though Little remained confident during his tenure as justice minister that the Official Information Act would be rewritten. Then, in early 2021, Faafoi said he expected the review to be undertaken “later in this parliamentary term”.

With just one year to go, it’s looking more and more likely this long-awaited work will be pushed back even further.

Competition in building supplies market ‘not working as well’, report finds

Competition is not working as well as it could in the residential building supplies market and the solution lies in improving conditions for entry and expansion, the Commerce Commerce has found.

Chair Anna Rawlings announced this morning the preliminary findings of its year-long study into the building supplies sector, including that competition would be improved if it was easier for building products to be introduced and expand in relevant markets. “If competition was more effective, it would work with the regulatory system to deliver those safe, healthy, durable and affordable homes that New Zealanders are looking for,” Rawlings said.

The commission found the market’s lacklustre competition was due to a “too slow, costly and uncertain” regulatory system that incentivised architects, construction companies and building consent authorities to favour proven products over new or competing alternatives. Moreover, quantity-forcing rebates, or discounts that reward merchants for purchasing greater volumes of product through a single supplier, are reinforcing barriers to entry.

Competition between merchants was working well, Rawlings said, but they were benefitting from restrictive land covenants and entering into exclusive leases – two factors that could impact competition. The commission has raised similar concerns in its grocery and fuel market studies.

Vertical integration, or businesses that operate at different levels of the building product supply chain, doesn’t appear to be affecting competition over the longer term, the commission found.

Its proposed solution is to make it easier for building products to gain a foothold in the market, and for smaller suppliers to be able to expand. Among the commission’s eight draft recommendations include making competition an explicit objective to be promoted in the building regulatory system; better reflecting a Māori perspective in the regulatory system; exploring ways to remove impediments to substitute products; establishing a national building products register and a building consent authority “centre of excellence” to help coordinate consenting and product approvals; and promoting compliance with the law.

The commission will consult with the sector over the next four months, with the aim of releasing its final report on December 6.

The Bulletin: Golriz Ghahraman’s proposed bill breaches the Bill of Rights – just

As the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan reports, Ghahraman, a former human rights lawyer, has a members’ bill intended to be a fix of New Zealand’s electoral rules. Bills introduced to parliament get scrutinised for whether they breach the Bill of Rights. If they do, they are then vetted by the attorney general to check they are consistent with the Bill of Rights and whether any breaches can be justified in a “free and democratic society”.

David Parker’s review of Ghahraman’s bill found parts were inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, but only just. Parker’s concern relates to freedom of expression but that alone wasn’t cause for a breach, and referred to an absence of information and wrote that he needs to see more. The government is currently undertaking its own legislation programme of electoral law reform.

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National quietly parks proposed tax policy

National has quietly ditched its proposal to cut taxes in order to tackle the cost of living crisis.

The party’s deputy leader Nicola Willis told the Herald the policy had been parked for now, and a new tax plan will be brought to the next election.

“What we said was in this budget, the government had room to add inflation adjusted tax thresholds. We think that would have been the right thing to do,” Willis said.

“As we shape our tax policy for the future, New Zealanders can expect to see a package that really focuses on the squeezed middle of New Zealanders who we know are struggling to get ahead and the shape of that package will be determined next year.”

The proposed tax cuts were referenced as recently as yesterday by National leader Christopher Luxon. Lifting the tax thresholds in line with inflation would have been the most “simple and elegant” way to deal with rising costs, he told RNZ.

Host Corin Dann questioned whether this would be inflationary, a criticism directed at National’s policy from all corners of parliament – including Act. “Increasing the fiscal impulse by cutting tax and not cutting spending is inflationary,” said leader David Seymour to members earlier this year.