Labour scrambles to scale up digital communications

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With the new Labour-led government's first major set piece announcement only days away, it appears that Labour's leader's office has only just woken up to the demands of government and are poised to significantly upscale the digital communications and research focus in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Labour leader's office.

In a number of roles posted to Parliament's careers site yesterday, the Labour leader's office is launching a significant recruiting drive with a particular focus on digital channels. New roles include:

Labour are also recruiting a Senior Researcher and four Researchers.

Now Labour have had a pretty solid approach to digital communications while they were in opposition, but the reality of being in government is that there's simply so much more you have to do. What I am finding surprising is that it's taken to the seventh week of the new government for them to start recruiting for these roles.

While it's obviously important for Labour to ensure they have the right structure for their leader's office, the lack of staffing has clearly hurt their ability to operate over the past few weeks, as evidenced by their bumbling approach to the House and announcements.

As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, the ideal would have been to have these staff in place prior to the mini-Budget. From personal experience, I know how demanding major set pieces can be on the content creators in a team, and having more resourcing in that area opens up big opportunities for the type of content you can produce.

When it comes to an announcement like this, which on day 50 of the new government will set the tone for the coming six months, you really do only get one bite at the cherry, and a lack of resourcing will make executing that successfully all the more difficult.

Additionally, I've also heard rumour's that on the ministerial office front, Labour has been struggling to attract talent. Apparently they've been offering far below the market rate for ministerial press secretaries and advisors, which is resulting in their offers being turned down. While it's true that you take a pay cut to work at Parliament versus what you can get in the private or broader public service, at the same time the work is hugely demanding and can be personally quite draining, so it surprises me that Labour is getting this so wrong.

All that being said and done, I can definitely recommend working at Parliament. No two days are ever the same and, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. Your party can be top of the pops one week, and down in the dumps the next, and all of it usually beyond your ability to control, so it makes for a very exciting ride. The work is immensely satisfying, you'll get to work with some of the most talented and passionate people you'll ever meet, and when things are going well, you do feel like you're making a positive difference for your country.

The political week ahead - 11 December 2017

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This week sees the Labour-led government release the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU - pronounced hi-foo) and also reveal what will amount to a mini-Budget. Though given the scale of the funding shifts required to accommodate the policies agreed to in the coalition and confidence and supply documents, it's not likely to be very mini at all.

Monday

  • Cabinet meets from around 10am through to about 1pm.
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will host her post-Cabinet press conference around 4pm.
  • Statistics NZ releases Electronic Card Transaction data for November 2017 (given the good weather and the start of the holiday shopping season, you'd expect this to be ticking up strongly)

Tuesday

  • Party caucuses meet, so watch for the gallery tweeting, and sometimes live streaming the caucus runs shortly before 10am.
  • The House is sitting. There's Question Time at 2pm, followed by the rather uninspiring Order Paper which will likely see the government filibustering as they try to eek out time until Thursday.
  • Statistics NZ releases the accommodation survey for October 2017. Given the strength of the tourism sector, this should show strong growth.

Wednesday

  • The House is sitting, with this being a Members' Day I think. Question Time as per normal at 2pm.
  • Statistics NZ releases the Food Price Index for November 2017 (effectively a measure of inflation for the price of food) and the Tourism Satellite Index for 2017.

Thursday

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi is released at 12:01am.
  • The Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update will be released by Treasury. From memory these come out sometime between 9am and 11am. I'm assuming that the mini-Budget will be revealed at the same time, rather than in the House. However, it is possible that the government will want an urgent debate on the mini-Budget.
  • The House is sitting, though after Question Time it will be moving into urgency to consider legislation from the government's mini-Budget.
  • The Press Gallery is having its Christmas Party.
  • Statistics NZ releases the Agricultural production statistics for June 2017.

Friday

  • It's possible that the House will be sitting under urgency on Friday, and even into Saturday, to push through legislation from the mini-Budget.
  • Statistics NZ releases their Labour Force Projections through to 2068, and Transport Vehicle Registrations for November 2017.

Is Clare Curran the first Minister to breach the Cabinet Manual?

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Has Clare Curran become the first Minister of the Sixth Labour-led government to breach the Cabinet Manual? Judging by the above tweet (which you can find here) it would seem so, with Minister Curran appearing to fall foul of section 2.99 of the Cabinet Manual which states "No Minister should endorse in any media any product or service."

At first glance Curran's tweet seems innocent enough. Who doesn't have a favourite TV show at a given time? Things are a bit different though when you're a Minister of the Crown, especially so when you're the Minister for Broadcasting, Communications, and Digital Media.

The problem for Curran here arises from the fact that not only has she effectively endorsed the show Better Things by declaring it to be her "favourite thing atm", but she's also singled out the only streaming service that carries Better Things in New Zealand in the tweet - Spark's Lightbox. A quick search this afternoon reveals that none of Neon, Netflix, TVNZ On Demand, or ThreeNow carry the show.

If this had been any other Minister (other than possibly the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister who also has some regulatory responsibility that touches on this industry), you'd be justified in just shrugging your shoulders and ignoring it. It still looks like an endorsement, but the if the Minister doesn't have any responsibility for that sector of the economy, it's not worth losing any sleep over.

Where Curran falls especially foul of the Cabinet Manual in this instance though is that through her ministerial portfolios, she's directly responsible for the industries which both Lightbox and its parent Spark operate in. In effect, Curran is endorsing a show that's exclusively on Lightbox, which could have the impact of causing potential customers of streaming services to choose Lightbox over one of its competitors.

Evidently Lightbox was pretty chuffed with having the Minister responsible for their industry endorsing a show that's exclusively on their streaming service. They ended both retweeting and liking Curran's endorsement. It's the digital equivalent of having Clare Curran holding their product and giving it a thumbs up.

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It's also worth noting that this was entirely proactive on Curran's part too. It's not like she's been invited to a Lightbox event, or a similar situation where Ministers might be photographed such as visiting or opening a business. Curran has seemingly on her own initiative, promoted her favouritism of a show that's found exclusively on Lightbox. Likewise, it's not as if she's declared her love for a specific varietal of something (e.g. saying her favourite wine is chardonnay, or that her favourite ice cream flavour is hokey pokey), she's singled out a specific product and the sole service provider of that product.

Now let's be clear: this isn't the Cabinet Manual breach of the century and I don't think Curran should resign over it. It is, however, a very bad look for a Minister who is already under significant pressure with regards to the government's commitment to being open and transparent, and who has been hidden by the government after two disastrous appearances in Question Time.

At the very least though, Curran should delete the tweet and publicly apologise.

Labour not asleep at the wheel because they're not even in the car

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The Labour-led government's horror start to the 52nd Parliament continues this evening as they've been forced to start filibustering their own legislation as the House has sped through earlier legislation on the Order Paper.

Having commenced the 52nd Parliament by having their bluff called by National over whether they had the numbers to elect Trevor Mallard Speaker, resulting in an embarrassing backdown over Select Committee places, things seem to have gone from bad to worse for Labour.

The next disaster was when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters were away for their first international summit trip, leading Labour Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis in charge. Over the course of three days Davis was torn to shreds in the House during Question Time, appearing to be completely out of his depth and inept. Prime Minister Ardern tried to brush his disastrous performance as him doing exactly what he was meant to do, which begs the question just how bad will it be when she thinks he's done a poor job?

Next was the rather inept keeping of Stuart Nash out of Question Time after he'd put his foot in his mouth over the introduction of GST on online goods. This was followed by Clare Curran bumbling of questions over openness and transparency in government, which has now seen her twice kept away from Question Time with Chris Hipkins having to take her questions instead in what appears to be an admission that Curran isn't up to her role.

In a separate incident, Labour lost an entire patsy question due to the letters of delegation for associate ministers having not been publicised yet.

Labour's ineptitude in the House appears to have been capped off this evening as Labour first deployed its backbenchers, then had to rush eight ministers to the House, including Chris Hipkins and Grant Robertson, to filibuster legislation on their own Order Paper. At the time of writing, government MPs are having to literally read subparts of the legislation they're speaking on and make up fluff around it. We've even had a speech on the meaning of the word "is".

What's phenomenal about this is that normally the government treasures House time, there's typically such a demand on it that it's difficult to get new legislation introduced because there's such a backlog to deal with. What we're seeing instead is a government who on the one hand claiming that they're busy, and on the other revealing that they're not so much asleep at the wheel, but that they're completely missing from the car of government, having fallen out of the driver's door some four miles down the round.

And while I was getting this post ready we've had a history lesson on the invention of the telephone, and the Oxford dictionary definition of email and email addresses.

Now there's not necessarily anything too bad about letting backbenchers get some House experience on technical bills, but when you're having to drag a third of your Cabinet back to the House to keep the filibuster going, it's starting to look like bad comedy.

Dunne challenges NZ to become a republic, but can we do it?

In his unofficial valedictory speech at Parliament today at Victoria University's post-election conference, Peter Dunne has called on New Zealand to make our next head of state the President of the Republic of New Zealand. While I agree with this idea at a fundamental level, my own first-hand experience of the flag change campaign through the independent Change the NZ Flag group suggests that no political leader is going to be willing to put their political capital on the line to support it.

Any change to New Zealand's constitutional arrangements has several hurdles to overcome. The first of which is ensuring that any change doesn't fall victim to partisan political point scoring from both politicians and the wider political community, as we saw Labour do with the flag referendum, despite a referendum to change the flag being their long-standing policy.

The next is a general apathy towards messing with the status quo. To be fair to New Zealand's existing constitutional arrangements, they do work relatively well. Our Parliament is able to get things done and doesn't descend into gridlock, we generally have a consistent foreign policy bar some tinkering around the edges, and we're flexible enough to address issues as they arise. If we took the minimalist approach, and simply kept the existing arrangements while switching out the Crown for a Presidential head of state, people would be justified in asking "What's the point?"

Unlike a flag change which could have had positive flow on impacts for our economy through a consistent, identifiable, and unique New Zealand country brand, simply switching who's in charge of our country isn't going to really deliver any tangible benefits other than maybe a little bit of a feel good factor. However, as this solution would see that head of state still appointed by the government of the day, it's hard to see people getting that excited about it.

That brings us onto the next issue, and that is if we're going to change our head of state, why wouldn't we take a look at our other constitutional arrangements too. As Australia found during their Republic referendum in 1999, divisions over the preferred method of selecting or electing their future President played a significant role in the defeat of that referendum. Broadly speaking, many Australians wanted to be able to vote for who their President would be. Of course, as soon as you turn the head of state role into an electable position, it's likely to become a politicised position, which then means you probably should review the powers and resources of that role to make sure you maintain a balance.

A similar situation prevailed here too in the flag referendum, where those who either didn't like Kyle Lockwood's design that was put up against the current defaced blue ensign, or didn't like the process, didn't vote for change or simply didn't participate at all (whether or not they would have made enough of a difference to the final vote had they voted for change would make a great doctorate topic for someone).

If you want a hint of the cascading complexities that anything other than a simple head of state switch-a-roo entails then Sir Geoffery Palmer's draft constitution is interesting reading. He's written a whole book on it, but that op-ed by him gives a general overview of what he's trying to achieve.

Of course, I should point out that a switch of the Crown for a President as head of state to become a republic isn't necessarily as simple as I've made it out to be here. There are legitimate concerns from Māori about the role Te Tiriti o Waitangi would play in a presidential republic, and how a change of head of state might impact the legal status of the Treaty. The role of Te Tiriti in a republic is an important issue whether we simply switch the Crown for a President, or undertake a larger constitutional restructure as suggested by Palmer.

None of these issues are insurmountable. But, if the flag referendum has taught us anything, even something that should be relatively simple like changing our flag, is fraught with political and practical difficulties that make it a risky political move. We're certainly unlikely to see any movement, or indication of a time frame on considering it, in the current Parliamentary term. New Zealand First, while supporting the putting of controversial issues into referendums, is an extremely pro-status quo party, and even National, should it try to support it, would face significant internal pressures from a large conservative wing.

Of course post 2020 if New Zealand First isn't around, that would change at least some of the Parliamentary dynamics that would hold back change.

While I support the notion of Peter Dunne is proposing, I can't yet see a viable path forward for New Zealand becoming a republic. Much like having another go at changing the flag, becoming a republic is going to be a challenge that we'll need to kick to touch for now. But I look forward to supporting the process when it does happen.


Photo credit: Government House from front lawn by LJ Holden, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

The selective bringing back of kindness

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Having made a big deal about wanting to bring kindness back to government, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government have been a bit hit and miss about how they apply that kindness.

On the one hand, if you're a university student you're set to benefit from that kindness. Student allowances are going to be increased and fee free tertiary education is being progressively reintroduced from 1 January 2018. Likewise, single mums will no longer face benefit sanctions for refusing to name the father of their child on the birth certificate. There's new standards for rental accommodation, and paid parental leave will be increasing to 22 weeks in 2018 and 26 weeks by 2020.

While the government will introduce their own legislation to enable sharing of paid parental leave, the petty political games they played over knocking back sensible amendments and declining leave for Amy Adams' stand along bill wasn't so kind.

So that's the kindness out of the way.

On the flip side things are a bit darker. The new government has continued on the xenophobia that it displayed in opposition, with it seeking to introduce legislation to ban foreign buyers from purchasing existing properties, despite the evidence showing this will largely have no impact on prices given the small role foreign buyers have in our market. Factor in the pending immigration crackdown championed by both Labour and New Zealand First, and anti-immigrant sentiment is being stoked by the new government.

If you're a student at a partnership school, you and your family face a summer of uncertainty with Education Minister Chris Hipkins hovering like the sword of Damocles over their futures. Prime Minister Ardern added to this, effectively telling partnership schools it was her way or the highway for their future, with no acknowledgement of the fact that partnership schools are providing a productive alternative for students who aren't thriving in the state school system.

Then there's the "it's not called work for the dole" work for the dole scheme. Despite Shane Jones and Prime Minister Ardern dressing it up as a scheme that will pay the minimum wage, we've seen how these compulsory work schemes have failed in the past, and there's little to suggest this will be any different.

Coalition Cabinet MIA, Shane Jones goes rogue

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Something is amiss with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Cabinet, or maybe it's just completely missing in action? Because in the past two weeks we've seen both Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Regional Development and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones announce significant changes initiatives that hadn't gone through Cabinet.

First, Labour's Chris Hipkins announced changes to the age which children could start primary school. Instead of allowing children to start up to eight weeks before their fifth birthday, children will now have to wait until after their fifth birthday to start school. The change was announced without going through Cabinet, which seems extremely odd for a controversial change that's going to impact thousands of families ever year.

The next incident was over the weekend, as New Zealand First's Shane Jones did the media rounds talking up his "not work for the dole" work for the dole scheme. This morning it emerged that not only has the work for the dole scheme not gone through Cabinet but that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern didn't even know that Shane Jones was going on TV at the weekend to talk up the work for the dole scheme.

Taking significant decisions to Cabinet before you announce them is basic good governance. It not only gives your ministerial colleagues and the Prime Minister a heads up about what's going on, but it also allows them to snuff out politically dumb ideas before they see the light of day.

Likewise, it's Coalition Government 101 to keep your coalition partners informed of any announcements and major media appearances you're making, as to avoid creating the scenes that unfolded this morning. Basic, competent coalition government would have seen Shane Jones' office let the Prime Minister's office know he was going on both the major political TV shows at the weekend, but that he was going to announce the work for the dole scheme.

That Shane Jones' office didn't do this suggest either general incompetence on their part, or that Jones has decided to go rogue because he knows that both Labour and the Greens have long been opposed to any work for the dole scheme. Either way, it adds to the growing narrative that the Labour-led government don't have their back office operations in any sort of coherent shape.

As Labour's Grant Robertson was fond of describing things: this is an omnishambles.

The political week ahead - 4 December 2017

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A preview of what's ahead in politics for the week beginning 4 December 2017. This week I'll endeavour to update this if/when I see upcoming events.

Monday

  • Cabinet meets today, which means around 3.30/4pm we'll have the usual post-Cabinet press conference. Look for Prime Minister Ardern to come under pressure over Shane Jones' work for the dole scheme, which he appears to have announced without Cabinet approval. This is at least the second significant announcement the government has made without going through Cabinet, so questions are starting to be asked about whether the Labour-led government has its backroom in order yet.
  • Statistics NZ is releasing goods and services trade by country, essentially a way to see who our largest trading partners are.

Tuesday

  • The parties all have their caucus meetings, so watch on Twitter and Facebook from around 9.30am as the various leaders and MPs speak to media on their way to caucus. Prime Minister Ardern and National's Bill English seem to get their stand ups live streamed on Facebook by at least Stuff.co.nz, though WiFi and 4G reception is patchy in the bowels of Parliament House, so the streams can drop out.
  • The House continues which means Question Time and progression through the Order Paper, of which the provisional Order Paper is available on Parliament's website
  • Parliament is also scheduled to sit right until Thursday 21 December, and Chris Hipkins suggested last week in the House that while Labour wasn't going to be using urgency this week, it was likely to need to use it in the final weeks of this sitting bloc.
  • Statistics NZ releases the value of building work put in place for the September 2017 quarter. I'd expect this to be static to slowly growth than earlier in the year, a combination of both election uncertainty being reflected in this dataset as well as a plateauing housing market.
  • UPDATE: The government has announced that 80,000 students will benefit from its fee free policy for first year courses from 1 January 2018.
  • UPDATE: Prime Minister Ardern will take part in an Al Gore lead 24 hour international discussion on climate change (from about 5pm New Zealand time) - the Climate Relay Project.

Wednesday

  • House sitting. I believe this Wednesday isn't a Members' Day.
  • Statistics NZ is releasing their Local Authority Statistics, essentially a snapshot of the financial health of local government, though it's looking at the whole rather than breaking it down into individual councils.

Thursday

  • House sitting.
  • Statistics NZ releases the wholesale trade survey data, a snapshot of retail sales, especially good for looking at data like machinery or motor vehicle sales.
  • UPDATE: Briefings to Incoming Ministers will be released.
  • UPDATE: Prime Minister Ardern will be visiting the Mana electorate with Kris Faafoi (Mana stretches from Porirua through to Raumati on the Kāpiti Coast, though the joke on the Coast is that as nice of a guy that Kris is, he thinks the electorate stops at Pukerua Bay).

Friday

  • Statistics NZ releases both the Economic survey of manufacturing and their subnational family and household projections.
  • UPDATE: Prime Minister Ardern will be visiting the Waiariki electorate with Labour's Māori caucus.
  • UPDATE: By Friday the report into the gastro outbreak in Havelock North should have been released.

Thinking of running for local government in 2019? Get working now

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So you're thinking of putting your name forward in the 2019 local body elections for your council, District Health Board, or licensing trust. Firstly - congratulations! Despite often getting a bad rap, local body politics plays an important role in ensuring New Zealand has vibrant and thriving communities.

Secondly - what are you waiting for? If you want to be successful in 2019 you need to get working now! Voting for the 2019 local body elections opens on 20 September 2019 and runs until 12 October 2019, so there's already less than two years to go.

Not everyone be fortunate enough to pull of the coup that Paraparaumu's Murray Bell did in 2013, where by virtue of an alphabetically listed STV voting paper, he relied primarily on his candidate profile that accommodated the voting papers to do the work for him. That means you're going to have to start planning for your campaign now.

Here's a few pointers to get you started:

  1. Understand why you want to be involved in local politics. It's all well and good to say that you want to make a difference, but the reality is everyone who goes into politics says that. What's your personal motivation that's unique to you? Are you passionate about making your community a better place to raise a family? Do you care about supporting those less fortunate in society get ahead? Take some time to think about what's important to you.
     
  2. Based off that, understand who's likely to vote for you and think about how you might reach them. Local body elections are notorious for their low voter turnout, so you either have to be able to capture a good segment of existing voters, or do what Chlöe Swarbrick did in the Auckland mayoralty race and mobilise a previously uninvolved voter pool. Depending on who you want to vote for you will dictate how you want to reach them, and what policies and ideas might appeal to them.
     
  3. Do your research to understand what's important to those voters. It goes without saying that most candidates are going to say they want to keep rate rises to a minimum, and that they want to ensure council spending delivers the best bang for buck, so you need a compelling point of different to stand out. Good places to start are local community groups on Facebook, Neighbourly, or your local community newspaper - especially the letters to the editor section. Listen to what people are saying, get involved in a few community initiatives, and make sure you're receptive to new ideas.
     
  4. While you're thinking about ideas and policies that might address those issues, start getting yourself out there and build a public profile. Participate in your local community's Facebook group, write letters to the editor, set up a Facebook page and Twitter profile, share news and issues that are important to your area. If you're really keen, you could go and setup a website, but unless there's likely to be a by-election before 2019, you're probably not likely to need that just yet.
     
  5. And throughout this entire process, talk to your family and friends about how you're thinking about running in the local body elections, and share your ideas with them. Use them as sounding boards for what you're doing, and listen to what they say. Not only are these people likely to tell you whether you're going off on a tangent about something, but they're also the people who you're going to need to help you run your campaign in 2019. If you've involved them early in the process and made them feel a part of it from day one, then they're more likely to give up some of their free time to help you come campaign time.
     
  6. It's also good to seek out some professional advice too. Most potential candidates aren't going to have the time to plan out their campaign themselves, so if you can, it's good to get someone involved who can do that for you. They can help you identify and articulate your vision and values, build a strategy for you, help with policy and campaign collateral development, and allow you to focus on getting out there and meeting voters, while they take care of the mechanics of the campaign for you. Even if it just gives you a framework to work off, it can be money very well spent.

While you're thinking through all of this, keep an eye on a few of the by-elections that are taking place. Voting in Wellington's Southern Ward by-election is taking place right now, and campaigning is already getting underway for Hamilton's East Ward by-election.

A good example from the Hamilton East Ward by-election is that of Matthew Small. Matthew is a 23 year-old disability support worker who generated some great media coverage by being the first candidate to declare for that by-election. Matthew is already making good use of his Facebook page to discuss local issues and, boosted by the early media coverage, will ensure he should get good profile throughout the race.

There's also three by-elections in Auckland taking place early in the new year due to vacancies created by the recent general election. So if you're able to, you could throw your hat in the ring now, or you could pay close attention to what happens, and use those campaigns to inform your own run in 2019.

By-elections are slightly different beats to the main local body elections, as they can be more focused on specific issues that are topical at that time, rather than the broader issues facing a local authority during the normal elections. As a result of that, it's much harder to get people to bother to vote unless they're motivated by a particular issue.

This can be both a blessing, or a curse. If you care deeply about one of those topical issues, it's a great opportunity to use that as a platform to promote yourself and mobilise supporters.

Whether you're planning a run in 2019, or might have a crack at a by-election before then, good luck!

The political week ahead 28 November 2017

Here's a bit of a look ahead at the week in politics. Apologies for not posting this yesterday, my son wasn't well so had him glued to my chest snoozing most of the day.

Tuesday

  • Caucus - All the parties have their caucus meetings from around 10am, so they'll be well into it by the time I've finished writing this blog! Haven't spied anything too exciting from the morning's caucus media run either.
  • National's Amy Adams is going to try and seek leave to introduce her paid parental leave amendment bill to Parliament at the start of Question Time. Leave to introduce this bill can be denied by any MP, though indications are that Labour at the least won't object this time. National has started a petition supporting this amendment, but I feel like they should have had this petition going two weeks ago to maximise on the media exposure the issue was getting. That way, Amy Adams' move to introduce the bill today would have given them a second bite at the cherry in promoting the petition.
  • Then there's Question Time, which I imagine will take place after any motions congratulating Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their engagement. It'll be the first time that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Bill English have squared off in Question Time since the election.
  • That'll be followed by a bit more of the Address in Reply Debate before the government continues to work through the order paper.

Wednesday

  • Usual House business including Question Time. I don't think this Wednesday is a Members' Day, but I could be mistaken.

Thursday

  • Usual House business, including Question Time. Labour also expects to pass their Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill, though this could change subject to Amy Adams' amendment bill being tabled on Tuesday afternoon.
  • Stats NZ is releasing Building Consents for October 2017, which will be interesting to see how they tracked during the post-election period while coalition negotiations took place.

Friday

  • As announced by Prime Minister Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson will be giving a significant economic speech on Friday, where he'll announce when the half-year fiscal update will be released and the date of the Labour-led government's "mini-Budget".
  • Stats NZ is releasing provisional Overseas Trade Indexes for the September 2017 quarter. 

Crying a river over Parliamentary written questions

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Poor, poor Labour. How tough life in government must be for them. Or so you'd think with all the tweets over the past 48 hours regarding National submitting a whopping 6,254 written questions to Ministers.

Now it's fair to say that's a bloody huge number of questions. As way of comparison, the nearly ousted opposition in 2008 asked 619 questions in the first three weeks of the new Parliament - though keep in mind that the new Parliament only started on 8 December 2008, so they were pretty quickly into the holiday break.

In 2011 the Christmas break didn't curtail Labour, with the first three weeks of the 50th Parliament seeing 3,712 questions asked. In fact, those 3,712 questions were all lodged on one day - 21 December 2011.

As Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva noted, in the three weeks following the start of the 51st Parliament, 964 questions were lodged. Though what's missing from that analysis is that at the same time Labour was embroiled in its own leadership context, so evidently didn't really have much time to spend actually being an opposition. Plus they'd also been on the receiving end of one of their worst ever election defeats, so there was obviously a bit of wound licking going on. Whereas National managed a fantastic election night result for a three term government, so it makes sense that they're going to launch into opposition with a sense of vigour.

One thing that's been severely lacking from all this talk of Parliamentary questions is analysis of why there have been so many. What it's all stemmed from is a stoush between the Labour-led government and the National Party over getting answers to the question of who ministers have been meeting with during their first month in the job.

Who ministers meet with in their ministerial capacity is important, and there's a long history of both opposition parties and journalists trying to get that information released. National is just as guilty as Labour is at playing silly buggers with the release of that information in the past. But what seems to have happened this time is that National has had a host of questions about ministerial meetings knocked back as being too broad so, in retaliation and to make a point, they've gone ultra-specific instead.

As National's Chris Bishop pointed out, he was told that his day-by-day questions to Police Minister Stuart Nash were too broad, so instead he's asked for an hour-by-hour breakdown.

In many respects, the Labour-led government have only themselves to blame for the deluge of questions. If they'd played ball a bit more when the initial questions were asked of their ministerial diaries, they could have saved everyone, most importantly themselves, a lot of time.

Certainly, National isn't free of blame here, as they're going to an extreme to make a point, and weren't necessarily always forthcoming about the diaries of their own ministers during their time in the hot seat.

But the reality is that who and when ministers meet with people is important public information. We'd want to know if the Minister of Health had been meeting with pharmaceutical executives prior to a health announcement, just as it's useful to know if a Minister is guilty of white lies by professing prior engagements in avoiding Question Time.

The obvious solution is for Ministerial Services to introduce a system where by, say mid-month, a list of meetings that the Minister attended in the previous month for each of their portfolios, is released for the public. We already have a convention of sorts in play around Briefings to Incoming Ministers (BIMs) which are released around four to six weeks after they've been presented to Ministers, and a similar convention for meetings could do wonders for the openness of our government.

While New Zealand already ranks well for transparency, there's always improvements we can make, and this appears to be an easy area to make such an improvement.

Ultimately though, the reality is if the Labour-led government doesn't like the opposition asking questions about who they have, and haven't been meeting with, I'm sure the opposition would be more than happy to swap places if it's all too onerous for ministers.

A spate of councillors behaving badly

With news this week of Hamilton City Councillor Mark Bunting's lewd messages on social media to a journalist, and Horowhenua District's Mayor Michael Feyen triggering a walkout during a council meeting, it occurred to me that we've had a rash of local government representatives behaving (or alleged to have) badly.

The first incident that pops to mind is that of Kāpiti Coast District Councillor David Scott, who was charged with indecent assault, having allegedly pressed himself up against a female council staff member. Councillor Scott is due to go on trial for this in December.

I personally had a run in with Hamilton City Councillor Dave Macpherson, whose nasty and sexually explicit tweets prompted me to lodge a code of conduct complaint with the Hamilton City Council. I won't link to the tweet because it's really not something any elected representative should ever think is appropriate to tweet, and it's pretty disgusting to read. But you can read the Council's response to my code of conduct complaint below.

Then it emerged that another Hamilton City Councillor - Mark Bunting - had sent a lewd joke to journalist Angela Cuming (warning offensive content). Hamilton City Council seems to have a problem with its culture as Councillor Angela O'Leary has highlighted that there's been an ongoing problem with councillors making offensive comments.

And then there's Horowhenua's Michael Feyen. I'm not quite sure where to start with this, as basically the man has been courting controversy for a long time, and has generated a fair amount of it in the short time he's been mayor. Earlier this year was the battle over Feyen's choice for Deputy Mayor that resulting in a running battle between the mayor and councillors, while the most recent was a mass walkout of councillors over Feyen's handling of a council meeting.

Mayor Feyen has indicated he wants to call in the assistance of the Local Government Minister, but I'd wager that will be a move that blows up in his face quite spectacularly. The old rumour mill suggests that Feyen's councillors haven't yet deployed the nuclear option against him yet. Stay tuned...

Suffice to say, I haven't even remotely covered off all the examples of local government representatives behaving badly, and this is before we start to look at the dysfunctional nature of more than a few of our District Health Boards too.

Cavalier attitude to costings undermines Labour's economic credibility

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With Labour traditionally struggling for economic credibility, they're doing themselves no favours with pressure mounting on them to explain how they're going to pay for all the policies they've agreed to in their coalition agreement with New Zealand First, and their confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party.

Of the policies in those agreements, it's notable that only two have a price tag attached to them. They are the $1 billion a year Provincial Pork Barrel (Regional Development Fund) for New Zealand First, and a $100m Green Investment Fund for the Green Party.

Grant Robertson poured fuel on the fire when he appeared on The Nation and was repeatedly pushed by host Lisa Owen on releasing costings. Robertson also erred when he tried to claim that Labour hadn't had access to the public service to cost the policies they'd agreed to, a claim which has now been shown to be false, with Treasury confirming that they had worked on costing policies for Labour during the negotiations to form a new government.

With Robertson's misleading comments spectacularly exposed, the pressure piled on when Labour announced they were increasing student allowances by approximately $50 a week. What Labour failed to do when they made that announcement was to also reveal how much the increase was going to cost, with Tertiary Education Minister Chris Hipkins offering a bumbling excuse that essentially boiled down to that the government would release the costings once they'd figured out how much it would cost.

It was an amazingly cavalier attitude to take about the spending of tax payer's money. Not withstanding the fact that increasing student allowances is a good move, to announce the increase without purportedly knowing the full cost of that increase, suggests a carefree attitude to responsible management of the government finances that plays right into National's hands.

The pressure is clearly showing. Labour was forced to cave after a day and release costings on the student allowance increasing, with it costing around $700 million over four years, less than what they'd originally anticipated it would when they announced the idea in opposition back in April.

Whether or not you agree with National's finance spokesperson Steven Joyce's claim of an $11 billion hole in Labour's fiscal plan, Labour are doing themselves no favours by mangling the financial side of announcements. If Labour wants to dispel doubts about their economic credibility, then they need to be upfront about the costs of new policies as they announce them, and ensure that their mini-Budget, should it be announced, stacks up perfectly.

100 days of action looking like 100 days of driven to distraction

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The new Labour-led government's first 23 days have been decidedly average, with their actions seldom matching the vision and values promised during the campaign.

Even before the new government was sworn in, things got off to a rocky start, with Jacinda Ardern describing capitalism as a "blatant failure." Labour clearly heard the uproar overnight, as Ardern dialled back her language to talk about market failures instead.

Running concurrently to that was a fiasco over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which the Green Party supported but New Zealand First opposed. Several days of confused messaging ensued, with the result that the Sanctuary, while being on the Order Paper at Parliament, appears dead in the water.

That was followed on Tuesday 24 October by the signing of coalition and confidence and supply agreements with New Zealand First and the Green Party respectively. While Ardern, Peters, and Shaw all sung from the same hymn sheet in the press conferences, it quickly became apparent in the details of the documents that NZ First had extracted a hefty price for coalition, and there were plenty of possible policy tension points in the two deals that would see NZ First and the Green Party not see eye-to-eye.

Likewise, policy promises like the $1 billion Provincial Pork Barrel (Regional Economic Development Fund), the Green Investment Bank, promises to investigate moving the port from Auckland, the planting of 100 million trees a year, the breakup of the Ministry for Primary Industries in three different ministries, and more, all lead to a realisation that Labour's ongoing commitment to both deliver all its policies too, as well as stick within its Budget Responsibility Rules, looked dubious at best.

In the NZ First deal there was the additional issue of Winston Peters' controversial Waka Jumping Bill, a blatant and undemocratic attack on one of the few checks we have on Parliamentary power in New Zealand. The inclusion of the bill was roundly criticised from all sides of the political spectrum, and once more set NZ First and the Green Party at odds with each other.

While the government got through its swearing in very successfully, the very next day NZ First's Shane Jones put his foot in his mouth by throwing his weight behind a Work for the Dole scheme, a policy staunchly opposed by both Labour and the Green Party.

That was also followed by news that not only was the Electoral Commission investigating Labour's dodgy intern scheme in Auckland, but that Labour's General Secretary Andrew Kirton didn't seem to believe former Chief of Staff Matt McCarten's story about how he'd paid for the scheme.

The weekend following the swearing in didn't improve things for the Labour-led government either. Grant Robertson gave one of his worse interviews on The Nation, where he got caught out lying that Labour hadn't had Treasury officials available to cost policy promises made to NZ First and the Greens, and refused to reveal how much those concessions were going to cost, and ended up issuing what looks to be a very hallow promise to stick to their Budget responsibility rules.

Next off the rank was the widely criticised ban on non-resident buyers, which brought up all the ghosts of Labour's xenophobic attacks on people with "Chinese sounding surnames", Indian and Chinese chefs, and international students. With the impact of the ban on house prices being minimal at best, the move as one of the new government's first substantial announcements undermined Labour's progressive credentials.

The government managed to get through the rest of that week fairly well, though Phil Twyford magically turned KiwiBuild into KiwiBuy, or KiwiResell when he appeared on the weekend media, casting doubt over Labour's commitment to build 100,000 new homes, and making it look more like they would largely be underwriting homes that were likely to be built by private developers anyway.

The government got a win on the Monday by announcing their plans to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2020, though they've rapidly burnt the political capital they gained on that in the past few days.

The government was also on the ascendancy in a battle over the number of Select Committee places, where National was caught out by an agreement made by the Business Committee in the previous Parliament.

That was overshadowed though by a disastrous appearance on Checkpoint by Minister for Children Tracey Martin, who revealed not only had she wanted to repeal the anti-smacking law, but that she too had smacked her own children. Martin said she still wanted to find ways to "improve" the legislation, though it's hard to see how you can improve the legislation when it appears to be working perfectly.

Ron Mark would also put his foot in the mouth by writing verbal cheques to the RSA despite there being no such commitment from the government. What was worse was that he did so right after his Prime Minister had spoken at the RSA's conference.

The government then found itself at odds with its Foreign Minister as Winston Peters' enthusiasm for a free trade deal with Russia resulting in across the bound condemnation, not only on the ethnics with doing a deal with one of the world's most brutal dictators, whose regime is subject to tough sanctions, but also on the motivations for him wanting such a deal.

A public stoush then followed as Statistics NZ was forced to defend its work and methods, with the coalition agreement with NZ First requiring a review of the department. This came off the back of Grant Robertson's attacks on Stats NZ under the previous government, which earned him a rebuke from the PSA.

The small gains from extending paid parental leave and the Select Committee battle were eroded at the State Opening though. As the House went to elect a Speaker, National called Labour's bluff that the government didn't have enough numbers to get Trevor Mallard elected as Speaker. With Labour clearly unaware of how many numbers they had (while people have tried to blame Ruth Dyson as Labour's Chief Whip, her role is to marshal Labour's MPs, it's traditionally the role of the Leader of the House, in this case Chris Hipkins, to liaise with other parties about their numbers), Labour was forced into making an embarrassing concession on the floor of the House to National over Select Committee places, going from 96 to 109.

The omnishambles from Labour was compouned a few hours later when both Chris Hipkins and Jacinda Ardern fronted media in a barefaced lie as they tried to claim they knew they had the numbers, but wanted Trevor Mallard elected unopposed. Not only did the photos from the Press Gallery tell a different story, but it was quickly pointed out that in 2013 Labour had opposed David Carter's nomination as Speaker, with Chris Hipkins himself seconding Trevor Mallard's nomination. The desperate attempt to spin their way out of embarrassment by Hipkins and Jacinda lacked any credibility.

Chris Hipkins also continued to create issues for the new government with conflicting statements on both National Standards and the fate of Partnership Schools. On the latter, in one interview he'd reassure parents of students at Partnership Schools to sit tight and no decisions would be made in a hurry, and then he'd make a statement suggesting that contracts were under review, and that the government would be looking to close down the schools.

Somewhere along the way, Ardern managed a generally successful trip to Sydney to meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The trip, however, was overshadowed in part thanks to the clumsy actions of - you guessed it - Chris Hipkins, who had appeared to be assisting the Australian Labor Party in finding ways to expose Coalition MPs and Senators who might be in breach of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution.

Winston Peters then dropped a bomb shell, serving legal documents on nine people, including journalists, MPs, and a former staffer, as he sought to find out who was responsible for leaking his superannuation over-payments, forcing Ardern into a difficult position and leading to questions being asked about whether Peters was embarking on an attack on freedom of the press.

At some point, Police Minister Stuart Nash found himself pitted against Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta over whether to meet the government's commitment for 1,800 new Police officers the government would have to recruit Police officers from overseas. Nash was in favour, Mahuta opposed, Nash was forced to back down.

As Ardern kicked off her first major overseas trip to APEC, ASEAN, and the East Asia Summit, Kelvin Davis struggled in Question Time, though most of the focus was on the refreshing approach new Speaker Trevor Mallard brought to the role.

APEC, ASEAN, and the East Asia Summit went generally pretty well for the new government. A new Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership deal was virtually agreed to, seemingly after the deal was dead in the water following a Canadian withdrawal on the Friday (NZ time). However, Ardern overplayed her hand when she tried to claim responsibility for things that had either already be negotiated, such as a side-letter between Australia and New Zealand on ISDS provisions, and the removal from the CPTPP of concessions that had been originally made to the United States, which looked likely to be removed regardless given the US was no longer in the deal.

It's also emerged that Ardern made what was a bloody funny joke about Donald Trump's election "at least people didn't march in the streets" directly to him. While it doesn't seem to have done any damage, it was diplomatically sloppy. Though it was a damned funny quip!

While Ardern wrapped up her overseas summits, trouble was once more brewing back here. Ardern's claim that New Zealand was well behind the OECD average on paid parental leave was comprehensively unpicked. Where Ardern claimed the OECD average was 48 weeks. It's not. It turns out that it's 17.7 weeks, meaning New Zealand is slightly above average.

Paid parental leave continued to haunt Labour too, as they rejected National's amendment to enable the full 26 weeks paid parental leave to be shared by parents in a way that worked for their individual family. Instead of adopting the idea, which most of Labour, NZ First, and the Greens all admit is a good policy idea, Labour has instead played politics on the issue, preferring to act in the same manner which the previous National government acted on paid parental leave. This wouldn't have been so much of an issue, had Jacinda Ardern not made such a show of her approach to politics being different to past governments, and promising to champion new ideas regardless of where they came from - even the opposition.

Ardern's relentlessly positive and new style of politics brand was serious undermined in the House when she was questioned on this, and resorted to blaming the National Party for having not introduced the policy themselves. While that may be true, it was also very illustrative of Ardern being a practitioner of politics as usual, a stark contrast to how she promised New Zealand her government would act.

While that fiasco played out, Labour also stumbled badly in the House. Kelvin Davis found himself lost at sea answering questions on the Prime Minister and Police Minister's behalf, notably saying that it would cost only $40 million extra to fund the extra police officers - a statement he eventually had to correct before the House.

Grant Robertson then found himself under attack by economists for, remarkably, an $11b debt hole in Labour's financial numbers.

This was followed by Robertson being forced to throw his Revenue Minister Stuart Nash under the bus when Nash committed the government to introducing GST on goods purchased from overseas online. Robertson all put publicly flogged his junior minister as he said any such move would be a part of Labour's all encompassing Tax Working Group.

And finally, it's emerged recently that seemingly nobody is happy about the prospective of horse trading taking place for Winston Peters' Waka Jumping Bill to get over the line, with someone in the Green Party leaking an internal email discussion about possible trade offs to the media.

While this isn't a complete list of all the trips and stumbles of the new government, what all this points to is a eerily similar pattern to how Labour operated in opposition. Every time they'd get momentum on an issue, they'd seemingly find a way to shoot themselves in the foot and be back to square one.

For all the talk from the Labour-led government on 100 days of action, all they've managed so far is four weeks of being driven to distraction.

A few questions for Jacinda Ardern...

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Prime Minister, a few moments of your time please.

Why, when you told New Zealand that your government was a "new beginning" and that in this Parliament you'd "like to do things differently" does your government act in exactly the same way as previous governments have done, as you deny the amendment making shared paid parental leave possible?

Why, when you've said you want to lead a government focused on the future, do you instead focus on what hasn't been done in the past, replaying the same lines we've seen from previous governments? Yes, it is National's fault that they didn't think of the policy of shared paid parental leave earlier, but you're now the person who can do something about it. Why won't you?

Why, when you made a commitment in front of New Zealand that you would "be a champion for good ideas" even if they came from the opposition benches, will you not allow the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill to be referred back to Select Committee so that the amendment can be incorporated?

Why, when you have admitted that allowing parents to share paid parental leave is an idea with merit, will you not save time in the House, and that there is clearly time for the bill to progress through the House before paid parental leave would increase to 22 weeks, will you not allow the New Zealand public to have their input into this legislation?

Why did you mislead the House when you said that the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill had already been through a Select Committee? Previous bills on this topic may have been, but this is a new bill, and it has not been through Select Committee, which would allow the new idea of shared paid parental leave, which was only brought into the policy debate during the 2017 election, to be properly discussed and implemented?

Why, when your campaign slogan was "Let's do this", is one of the first actions of your government to say "Don't do this," to an idea that's won broad support from across the country?

Why, when you remarked to Bill English during one of the election debates that you didn't want to look like bickering politicians, are you doing just that in the opening weeks of your government?

Why, when you promised to be different, when you committed to champion good ideas, when you agree it is a good idea, when your entire campaign was about "Let's do this", why don't you just get on with making shared paid parental leave a reality, instead of wasting the valuable time of the House, and New Zealanders, by playing politics?

Why, when you've promised to be a different kind of leader, is that leadership stumbling at its first test? New Zealand's families deserve better.

Why, Prime Minister? Why?


If you believe shared paid parental leave should be a priority for this government, I encourage you to sign and share my petition. It may be small, but hopefully it'll send an important message.

Jacinda risks empty promises over denying shared parental leave

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In her speech to the Address in Reply debate, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made two commitments to New Zealanders: "I promise you that things will be done differently," and "to be a champion for good ideas wherever they are found, even if they're found over there," to which she pointed to National's opposition benches.

Yet, in the past 24 hours, we've seen that the new Labour-led government intends to carry on in exactly the same manner that they were so critical of the previous National-led government for employing similar methods.

As Labour pushes through its legislation to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2020, National's Amy Adams proposed an amendment to the legislation that would have allowed both parents to choose how they split those 26 weeks between them, rather than one parent having to use all 26 weeks themselves.

The idea is simple, the cookie cutter approach of one parent taking 26 weeks on their own simply doesn't meet the often complex needs of modern families. By allowing parents to decide between them how to split the 26 week paid parental leave allocation, it would allow parents to come up with a solution that best met their needs. Whether it was having both parents at home for slightly longer after the arrival of baby, allowing a new mum to return to work sooner if she wanted to, or allowing a new dad to spend more time at home during those crucial and busy first few weeks. Likewise the idea of shared paid parental leave would recognise  for same sex couples too, allowing both mothers, or both fathers, to take take off as best suited their specific needs.

The amendment holds virtually no extra cost for the government, bar some small administrative changes required to make it happen. The amendment is also universally regarded as a good idea, recognising that, as a modern society, we want to view all roles in our lives as ones that women and men can do equally, and see them acknowledged and paid equally for those roles too.

So why, given the Prime Minister's promise to do things differently and champion good ideas, even those from the opposition, do Labour, the Green Party, and New Zealand First oppose this? While they protest it's because the change is too complex, we all know that's simply not the case. Bar introducing a new form to apply for a shared paid parental leave arrangement, the change would not come into effect until 2020, giving the government plenty of time to make any of system changes might be required.

Instead, the only way to explain the behaviour of the Labour-led government in rejecting the amendment is that it is an act of political spite. Critics have claimed that National had nine years that they could have introduced this change, but that ignores the fact that National was the only party that had this as a policy going into the 2017 election. In the prior nine years, nobody had thought of this as a policy solution, largely because we were all singularly focused on how quickly the paid parental leave entitlement should be raised.

It's a sad indictment on the new Labour-led government that barely a month into their first term, and not even a week since Jacinda Ardern made those promises to New Zealand in her first speech to the House as Prime Minister, they're already demonstrating that they were little more than empty words bandied about for show.

The real losers in this are New Zealand's parents. As I write this, I'm watching on our baby monitor as our son Alex takes his morning nap. As a stay-at-home dad, who has always wanted to be able to take as equal a role in possible in raising my children as is practical, the ability to share paid parental leave means a hell of a lot to me. We're fortunate that we were in a financial position for my wife and I to swap roles, but that's not the reality for all parents.

So often, one parent has to go back to work within a week or two, if not days, of their child being born. Amy Adams' amendment would have given these families so much more choice and flexibility about how they managed that transition back to work for one of the parents.

If this Labour-led government is to truly live up to Jacinda's promise to do things differently and champion good ideas regardless of where they've come from, they must reconsider their position on this amendment or, at the very least, commit to supporting shared paid parental leave should it come up in a Members' Bill.

At an even more fundamental level, if Jacinda Ardern is serious about her claim that she would bring kindness back, starting with supporting families through something as simple as shared paid parental leave is a perfect place to start.

Finally, if you're still here reading, I'd encourage you to sign and share a simple petition I've put together about this issue. I won't pretend that this petition is going to change the world, and being a stay-at-home parent on limited resources, I'll do what I can to promote. But ultimately the success of making this happen for New Zealand's parents rests with you.

Please head on over and sign and share the petition to show your support for shared paid parental leave in New Zealand.

Earthquakes, floods, and 53 hours that changed my life

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"That's not the cat," was my first thought as I woke up to a shaking room and both wardrobe doors rattling.

"Earthquake" exclaimed Renee who was also woken up by the intensifying tremor. We waited in bed for another 10 or 20 seconds, expecting the movement to slacken off. It didn't.

"We've got to get outside," I shouted as I leapt out of bed. Renee, who was nine months pregnant, didn't hesitate in following me.

By this stage the entire house was rattling and the floor was beginning to feel like jelly. In a brief lull we made it to the front door, turned the key, and ran outside into the lawn.

Our two cars, parked in the driveway by virtue of a garage filled with the yet to be dumped packaging of reading our house for the arrival of our son, bounced around as if some unseen giant hand was testing out the suspension on them.

The shaking started to get more violent and we instinctively tried to sit down. Crouching, a giant shunt from the earth landed us both on our arses as the overhead lines down the street sparked away. The slightly overcast sky lit up with luminescent green flashes as the same scene played out across the district.

Other than the rattling of bottles and chandeliers, the most terrifying sound was the guttural churning you could hear from the ground itself. It felt as if any moment the earth would part and we'd be sucked into it.

Then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, the shaking dissipated. An eerie silence fell over the world bar the desperate call of car alarms, sprung into action by the sheer magnitude of the quake. Occasionally our dog, Max, would bark from his bed in the lounge.

Renee and I waited on the lawn, sitting and hugging each other, for another minute or so, hoping that there was nothing more to follow.

"Should we evacuate?" I remember asking.

"I don't know. Aren't there meant to be sirens?" Renee replied.

Not thinking, I went back inside to get my phone. Thankfully I couldn't see any damage inside. Returning outside I realised there was no cellular or WiFi signal. Power had gone out and, had I been thinking straight, I'd of realised that before I'd gone inside.

Through the darkness we heard cars being started up, and the first of what would turn into a relatively steady stream of cars headed down the main room at the front of our house.

"We've got to go," I said and we both went back inside. I managed to find a torch in my bedside table, "I'm going to get Mika and Max," I called back to Renee.

"What?" she asked in astonishment.

"We have to try and take them," while it was nicely sentimental on my part, it was also incredibly daft. Having retrieved his carrier, Mika (our cat) sprinted straight from the kitchen and underneath our bed and into one of the suitcases. After a fruitless moment trying to get him to come out, we decided to leave it.

Renee by this point had let Max out. Max, who was already upset, instantly barked and growled at me and the flash light. It was only after switching it off and reassuring him that it was me that he started to calm down. We got his collar and lead on him and Renee took him to the car.

My mind now switched to work. With a shake that big I realised that if it wasn't right underneath us, it had probably done a lot worse damage elsewhere. From having worked at Te Papa during the previous Seddon earthquakes, I remembered how important it was for people online to see messages of reassurance. For Te Papa it was just letting people know that everyone inside the museum was safe, especially those who had children who were visiting the museum that day. But when you're advising on the Prime Minister's social media, that takes on a whole new importance. So I grabbed my work bag, knowing that it had my iPad, a couple of battery packs, and charger cables with it, and headed for the car.

Backing out of the driveway we could see move cars heading away from the beach. We joined them. Driving from Paraparaumu Beach through to Paraparaumu Town was a surreal site. 12.15am and it looked more like rush hour, but with people in their pyjamas standing on the footpath trying to process what was happening. We crossed what is now the old State Highway 1. The traffic lights were out, but people were courteous, letting traffic from the main highway head towards the hills. We joined the procession, and towards the peak of Valley Road we pulled over and stopped.

Listening to the radio the first thing we heard was the radio host (and I'm not sure if it was Newstalk ZB or RadioLive) reacting to an aftershock. I popped out and let the dog relieve himself while working through what to do. I sent off a few text messages to family and work colleagues, making sure all were okay. I then set to work on seeing if I could determine what the damage might be, and if there was a tsunami warning in effect.

The next three hours were a bit of a blur. The Prime Minister posted on social media, warnings about the tsunami risk were retweeted. We briefly thought we were in the all clear around 1am and started to head to home. We got halfway back to Paraparaumu Beach before we heard a fresh round of tsunami warnings, so we turned around and ended up parking in the commuter car park at Paraparaumu station. Another car pulled up next to us and we had a chat about their experience.

Hearing more warnings we decided to head to one of the higher points in Paraparaumu, up where the water reservoir is. We sat up there for the next 90 minutes watching people still streaming away from the beach in their cars, listening to the reaction on the radio, and sharing in the collective trauma as New Zealanders told their stories on Twitter.

Around 3.30am we got the all clear and headed for home. Between the adrenaline and the aftershocks I didn't get much sleep.

Based on my experience of the previous earthquakes, where we were living in Martinborough, I'd already decided I wasn't going to go into work on Monday morning. After that first Seddon earthquake I'd nearly got stuck in Wellington. I remember that drive in over the Rimutakas, through the Hutt Valley, and into Wellington. The roads deserted, signs warning people to stay out of the CBD unless absolutely necessary. I wasn't going to repeat that mistake, especially with our due date only six days away, and my work colleagues would have turned me around and told me to go home had I gone in anyway!

Monday flew by as I sat, somewhat helplessly, trying to assist with whatever I could from home. I was set up to work pretty well from home, but there's a limit on what you can do when you need content from on the ground. Thankfully some colleagues who worked closer to the Beehive had managed to get in and were doing amazing work.

On Monday night I still didn't get much sleep. The frequent and strong aftershocks meant we were constantly heading for cover, even if they didn't amount to much.

I woke up early on Tuesday to head into work. I was so focused on the earthquake I completely missed the severe weather warnings. Arriving in Wellington as the weather started to pack in, I didn't think much of it. I was trying to figure out where to park. I knew parking in the Terrace car park wasn't an option, it had nearly been closed in the previous Seddon earthquakes, I didn't want to get trapped. Instead I managed to find a good park on the waterfront. I didn't notice the big tears in the concrete closer to the water where the reclaimed land and wharfs had moved separately from each other.

Our Beehive offices were a mess, but not as bad as they had been the day before. A co-worker had done an amazing job tidying up the worst of the damage. Somehow my desk survived relatively unscathed, though a fridge behind my desk had tried to leap off its perch.

That morning I briefly sat in on an update on the situation in Kaikōura. Coming back down from it, and going through a plan for the day, my manager popped down to see me.

"You'd better head for home, train services have just been cancelled north of Wellington," he said. Everyone was aware I was on baby watch, and they'd suggested that I didn't have to come in that day, but I chose to to help out as I knew what they were all having to deal with.

"I just saw," I said pointing to Tweetdeck on my screen where Metlink's tweet was reappearing in my timeline, "But judging on what they're saying, I think the road might be closed too."

Next thing I knew, Metlink's tweet about bus replacements for trains was out the window, the notification came through that State Highway 1 had been cut. I knew that there was no point trying to take SH2 and going over the Haywards, as if Plimmerton was flooded, so would Pauatahanui be flooded too.
I briefly considered whether it was worth taking the very, very, very long way home, going over the Rimutakas, through the Wairarapa, cutting across the Manawatu Gorge, then back down to Paraparaumu. I ditched that idea when I remembered how vulnerable elements of that route had proven to be to extreme weather. I was stuck in town, and judging by the carnage unfolding outside, I was going to be stuck for a while.

Since I'd been at work from about 7am, I left around 4pm. I'd already decided I was going to stay at my parents' house in Broadmeadows. I thought I'd prepare myself by zipping into Farmers to get a few essentials for an overnight stay. They were closed due to earthquake damage. I doubled back to my car and spent the next hour heading to my mum and dad's. Midway there, stuck in traffic, I had a brief conversation with Renee to update her on what was happening.

We had a brief argument. Renee was insistent I had to get home that night. I told her it was completely out of my control, I couldn't make the roads get cleared faster, and even when they did eventually clear, there would be a traffic snarl up for several hours more.

What Renee didn't tell me at the time was that since 4.30pm she'd been feeling pains in her stomach. She thought they weren't contractions, just some indigestion or Braxton Hicks. But they had her worried enough that she'd downloaded a contraction timing app on her phone. I carried onto my parents' completely unaware. Renee didn't want me to panic and end up getting stuck in traffic.

After filling up on dinner at mum and dad's, I crashed on their couch, utterly exhausted from what had already been a busy couple of days. My head pounded with a migraine which, despite some painkillers, refused to fade away. Renee flicked me a few more messages insisting I come home, but still not mentioning that she was in labour. The road north was cleared around 6pm, but it wasn't until 8pm that Google maps showed traffic had dropped off. I decided then that I'd head for home, once more along strangely deserted roads.

Driving past Whenua Tapu I saw the massive slip that had blocked the road. The southbound lanes were still blocked, and there was an immense chunk missing from a gully in the hillside, illuminated ominously by floodlights as workers tried to clear it.

On arriving at home, walking through the door and dropping my bags in a state of physical and mental exhaustion, with a migraine that was still raging, Renee appeared in the doorway to the lounge. I gave her a quick kiss before announcing I was shattered, had a migraine, and was going to bed.

"I think I'm in labour."

"Wait, what? How long?"

"Since about 4.30pm. I didn't want you panicking and getting stuck in the traffic."

"Have you called the midwife?"

"Yeah, she said it was probably just indigestion and to keep an eye on it."

"How often have you been getting them?"

"I think about every 20 or 15 minutes. I downloaded an app and have been timing them."

Renee showed me her phone. I did a quick calculation. She'd been experiencing contractions around two minutes long every 10 minutes apart.

"I don't think this is a think you're in labour. You're definitely in labour."

As if on cue, Renee keeled over in pain as another came on. I asked the only question that mattered: "What do you need me to do?" For the next half an hour I spent each contraction rubbing her back. 

Renee decided we should try to get some rest, so we climbed into bed. She lasted one contraction before we decided that was a terrible idea. We called the midwife who, on hearing Renee was 10 minutes apart, decided to come down the road and check on her. While we waited, I spent the time between contractions running around like a headless chicken packing my hospital bag.

Renee's bag had been packed for weeks.

"Yep, you are very definitely in labour. About 5cm. We should probably head to Wellington. Is the road open?"

I confirmed it was open and after helping Renee into the back seat of the car, we once more headed back into Wellington. Along the way Renee's contractions spend up. Nine minutes. Then eight minutes. Then seven minutes. Then six. Each time I slowly counted to twenty for Renee to help her get through them.

Somewhere along the way, my migraine had vanished too. I joke now that there's nothing quite like child birth to cure my migraines. The reality is that the adrenaline of the moment probably solved it for me.

Pulling into Wellington hospital's car park at midnight the contractions were five minutes apart. Julie's first words when she joined us at the car were words I was glad she hadn't mentioned before we left.

"I'm glad you didn't pull over on the way in. I was worried we weren't going to make it before baby came."

For the next 2 hours and 52 minutes I managed to fall even more in love with Renee than I ever thought possible. She was absolutely phenomenal throughout labour, despite the huge amounts of pain and constant discomfort she was in. I stood there by her side, counting to twenty, sometimes to 10, slower, then faster, rubbing her back, getting water and food, and doing what little I could do to help out. I felt like everything I was doing was completely inadequate versus what she was going through, and the steely grit and determination she approached it with, combined with a dry sense of humour along the way, left me utterly in awe of her.

At about 2.52am we welcomed Alexander Philip Compton into the world. As I sat there, holding him in my arms against my bare skin, gazing at that cute, pudgy face that Renee and I had created together, I couldn't help but think back on how crazy the world had been for the past 53 hours.

Yet, in the midst of all that was going on, this precious little life had arrived. I leaned down, kissing him on the forehead as tears streamed from my eyes, and said to him,

"I'll love you forever Alex."

A good point about the international summit "silly shirt" photo tradition

International summits like APEC or the East Asia Summit have a tradition of having all the leaders in attendance having a photo wearing matching attire, usually a piece of clothing that's considered iconic or culturally important to the host country. Usually these photo opportunities are called the "silly shirt" photos by media.

Twitter user Mike Alsan has raised a very good point about referring these as "silly shirts". In response to a Newshub tweet about the shirt for the East Asia Summit, Mike wrote:

Mike raises a bloody good point here. Even though we might think our leaders look odd in these garments, and often they act a bit awkward while they're wearing them, the garments selected often hold a special and important place in the culture of the host country. 

As such, we really shouldn't be calling them "silly shirts" anymore. As Mike points out, we'd be pretty annoyed if international media made fun of Māori culture while attending a summit here, so we should offer the same respect when attending summits overseas.

What it did make me realise though is if we are going to call any of these summit garments "silly shirts", then we probably need to hold a mirror up to ourselves.

While other countries selected garments that reflected their indigenous cultures, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States didn't. Canada opted for what looks like a waterproof outdoors jacket, New Zealand had a plain black jacket with a fern, Australia had everyone in Driza-Bones, and when in Hawaii the US just left everyone in their business suits.

In retrospect, we were the ones with the silly shirts, having not created something that celebrated our respective indigenous cultures.

Thankfully we'll get a chance to put this right when Auckland hosts APEC in 2021.

The political week ahead - 13 November 2017

Week ahead spaced.png

Here's a few highlights to keep an eye out for this week in politics:

Monday 13 November

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, and Trade Minister David Parker (I think!) are in Manila on Monday for the East Asia Summit. At this stage it looks like PM Ardern will hold formal talks with Canada's Justin Trudeau, the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, China's Li Keqiang, India's Narendra Modi, Indonesia's Joko Widodo and the European Union's Donald Tusk. PM Ardern is also looking at catching up with Australia's Malcolm Turnbull, who is currently looking down the barrel of his worst poll results ever and the potential of a spill within the Liberal Party or an early election rearing their heads.
  • Due to so many Cabinet Ministers being away, I don't think Cabinet will be meeting today.

Tuesday 14 November

  • With PM Ardern's East Asia Summit wrapping up, she won't be back in the country until Wednesday at the earliest (but more realistically Thursday).
  • The House is sitting, so there'll be caucus runs from between 9.30am and 10am, and the provisional Order Paper has Questoin Time, the continuation of the Address in Reply debate with maiden speeches (there's still 12 hours and 2 minutes remaining of this debate).
  • Iain Lees-Galloway's Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill is likely to be debated in the evening, with the bill going through urgency. 
  • Stats NZ have their National Population Estimates to 30 September 2017 being released, this is the NZ-wide figure, subnational estimates are released on Thursday, but expect this to kick off a debate about immigration and population growth.

Wednesday 15 November

  • The House is sitting again, so Question Time as per usual, and I believe this may be the first Member's Day of the 52nd Parliament, so hopefully we might see Chris Bishop's Films, Videos, and Publication (Interim Restriction Orders) Amendment Bill passed. There's 90 minutes of debate left on this, so it should get through as it did have plenty of support in the previous Parliament.
  • Stats NZ releases include:
    • Māori Population Estimates - a good chance for new Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta to articulate her vision for Māori Development in the Labour-led Government.

Thursday 16 November

  • PM Ardern should be back from the East Asia Summit, but she won't be in the House, and more likely will be doing engagements in Auckland.
  • The House continues to sit, so Question Time.
  • Stats NZ releases include:
    • Ready mixed concrete, secondary production - an indicator for the construction industry
    • Transport vehicle registrations - this will likely trigger debates about the mix of investment in New Zealand's transport infrastructure
    • Births and deaths: Year ended September 2017
    • Subnational Population Estimates at 30 June 2017 - this will likely be a catalyst for discussion about which regions are doing well/poorly, so look for Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones to be asked what he's doing about it.

Friday 17 November

  • Stats NZ releases Business Price Indexes - an indicator of inflation specifically related to the cost of doing business.