Bryce Edwards: Political donations, Lobbying, Labour Party recovery, the media’s performance, and National’s questionable reforms

Bryce Edwards: Political donations, Lobbying, Labour Party recovery, the media’s performance, and National’s questionable reforms

Have political donations and lobbying from the natural health sector led to the incoming government’s decision to repeal the Therapeutic Products Act? That’s the question asked today by RNZ’s Farah Hancock, who looks at the long-running relationship between the NZ First party and industry group, the Natural Health Alliance – see: What is it about Winston Peters and the natural health products industry?

The lobby group ran election advertisements, together with the mysterious S.B. Group, calling for a vote for NZ First. Hancock points out that the party then shot up in the polls, got into power, and included a promise to repeal the Therapeutic Products Act in the new Government’s 100-day plan.

Incidentally, the Serious Fraud Office’s failed trial against the individuals charged with using sham donors to circumvent party donation declaration rules has had another small chapter added to it. Those acquitted in relation to donations to the Labour Party have been unsuccessful in their attempt to extract legal costs from the state – see Catrin Owen’s Trio acquitted of ‘sham’ Labour Party donations refused costs of nearly $1.6m.

The Labour Party’s chances of recovery are canvassed today by Chris Trotter, writing for the Democracy Project, in which he argues that the party needs “to undergo a profound reconfiguration”, not just in personnel, but in ideological direction – see: What would it take for Labour to win?

For Trotter, the managerial and elitist ethos of the party needs to be replaced by a working class and radical direction. And the party could start by leading an “open debate about Te Tiriti, its principles, and the co-governance”, thus surprising those that are expecting the parties of the right to now own this area of politics.

Also writing for the news site, Trotter argues that Labour will get nowhere until it confronts the debate over Treaty issues, and likens Chris Hipkins’ decision to avoid this – and to broadly  avoid pushing Labour back towards a more leftwing approach – was what did in his government – see:Nothing left without Labour.

Trotter suggests that Hipkins needs to go as leader, but the caucus doesn’t really have any great alternative leaders representing a different ideological direction for the party. He argues that the “Clarkist Faction” of Hipkins, Ardern and Robertson pushed out rival thinking and thinkers from the party. It was only the party’s Māori caucus that had any countervailing power towards the managerial leadership, and hence, “it is no accident that the only genuinely radical policies to make tangible gains under the Sixth Labour Government, came out of the Māori caucus.”

We are starting to get a better sense of the new government’s approach to core government services with the announcement yesterday that the state housing agency Kāinga Ora is going to be reviewed by former prime minister Bill English – see RNZ’s Former PM Sir Bill English to head review of Kāinga Ora.

Since leaving Parliament in 2018 after 28 years as one of New Zealand’s most influential politicians, English has become influential as a company director and businessman, with a number of different roles, including running a PR consultancy involved in lobbying – Bill English and Co Ltd. And more importantly,

Former Prime Minister Bill English is now one of the most well-connected in Wellington politics-business circles. Since leaving Parliament in 2018 after 28 years as one of New Zealand’s most influential politicians, he’s become influential as a company director and businessman, and the founder and chair of ImpactLab, which English describes as specialising in “using data to support better decision making by measuring social impact”. Essentially the company appears to work with the private and community sector in big data and social investment analysis.

Writing for BusinessDesk today, Pattrick Smellie says English was “chosen to lead the review because he had experience in sorting out crown-owned financial entities’ finances and because the new government wanted to pursue English’s ‘social investment’ approach in its public housing policies” – see: Kāinga Ora solvent, but there are ‘troubling reports’ about the social housing agency (paywalled).

According to Smellie, this new approach for Kāinga Ora, “would see a ‘different mix’ of funding, which could include more use of community housing organisations rather than KO to deliver social housing.”

The Government’s mini-budget will be released tomorrow at 1pm. The Post’s political editor Luke Malpass has interviewed the Finance Minister, and his report suggests that much of what will be unveiled tomorrow will be about signalling the extent of the Government’s fiscal problems and the cuts that they are likely to make (especially in order to be able to deliver tax cuts) – see: ‘We’re going to start a new chapter’: Nicola Willis on her mini-Budget (paywalled).

According to the interview, the mini-Budget will “help New Zealanders understand the fiscal belt-tightening that will have to come down the pipe over the next twelve months”, and will focus on alerting the public to the so-called fiscal cliffs that National believes Labour has left behind in the finances. The report on the interview with Willis also says, “The mini-Budget will include what she calls a ‘down-payment’ on the Government’s agreed tax cuts package.”

For more on Willis’ decision to cancel the mega-ferries upgrade project, see Simon Wilson’s very good column today, Knowing when to drive the Toyota Corolla or Ferrari in planning (paywalled).

He expands on Willis’ analogies of Corolla Vs Ferrari spending options for infrastructure, and agrees that there’s some basis for this argument. For example, in terms of Auckland transport, “A Corolla option – surface light rail, busways or perhaps on some routes even gondolas – could have given the city a whole network and some of it might even have been built by now… Labour’s Ferrari options for Auckland transport were a dangerous fantasy. They were never going to happen, but the cost and lack of action helped destroy political goodwill.”

But Wilson rejects the idea that the budget option for the Cook Strait is a good idea: “A Corolla version of a ferry would not survive the rigours of Cook Strait and it could not manage the $15b worth of freight the ferries carry now, let alone cope with growth.” He suggests that Willis’ cancellation was all about panic and political points scoring, when the sensible thing would have been to work on coming up with a Plan B.

The other big infrastructure cancellation in the weekend was Wellington’s debacle of the last six years – Let’s Get Wellington Moving. For an excellent explanation for what went wrong with the project, see Joel MacManus’ Let’s Get Wellington Moving was a giant waste of time. This must-read column for Wellingtonians can be summed up by one sentence: “LGWM never justified why it should be in charge of things – let alone exist at all.”

And for clever satire about the last rites of the bureaucratic error, see Dave Armstrong’s Farewell LGWM, we hardly knew ye (paywalled).

Finally, the quality of the media is getting a lot of critique at the moment. For negative evaluations today, see Peter Williams’ Media on the attack and Jenny Ruth’s Should NZME keep caving to the thugs’ veto?. And for a positive view, see Gavin Ellis’ Pall of disinformation over year of committed NZ journalism.

But pollster David Farrar has surveyed the public on whether they think the media is politically biased – see: NZ media bias (paywalled). His Curia market research firm asked people: “Do you think the New Zealand media overall are biased towards the right, biased towards the left or not biased?” The largest amount, 37 per cent, thought the media is biased towards the left, while only 12 per cent thought the media is biased to the right – with the rest unsure or thinking the media isn’t politically biased at all. Interestingly, Farrar says “only one in five adults who voted for National or Act regard the media as unbiased.”



Dr Bryce Edwards is the Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

This article can be republished for free under a Creative Commons copyright-free license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project (