Week in politics: Helping farmers and buying back guns

1:30 pm on 21 June 2019

By Peter Wilson*

Winston Peters made sure he was standing next to Prime Minister Ardern this week when she announced the Farm Debt Mediation Bill, and he had a good reason for being there.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The bill is under the name of Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor but that isn't the way it started. NZ First's farmer MP Mark Patterson drafted it as a member's bill and it was taken over by the government as part of the coalition agreement. It went through a fix-up process because member's bills are amateur productions and there's no doubt it will be passed.

It means farmers having problems with their banks must be offered mediation before action can be taken against them, and a mediated agreement will be binding. The rationale is that many farmers don't have the time or the financial expertise to effectively take on bank officers who are professional negotiators.

Mr O'Connor says it will set up a fair process that will ensure all the facts are on the table before decisions are taken.

For NZ First, it's another voter-friendly move that will bolster its image as the party that cares about the regions and the farmers. Peters will be reminding them of that come election time.

Police Minister Stuart Nash announced the keenly-anticipated details of the gun buy-back scheme, revealing $190 million has been budgeted - $140m from the government and $40m from ACC. That's pretty much a stab in the dark, as Finance Minister Grant Robertson admitted.

"There is high uncertainty around any costings owing to the lack of information on the number of prohibited items, their type and condition," he said. When a finance minister talks about "high uncertainty" you know they don't really have a clue. Mr Nash has previously said he has no idea how many banned weapons are out there.

The plan is that owners who hand in their guns will be paid 95 percent of the wholesale price for new ones, 70 percent for used guns and 25 percent for those that are in poor condition. Police set those benchmarks after calling in KPMG who consulted farmers, hunters, dealers, auctioneers and gun clubs.

So they did their homework and the prices seem reasonable, but there have been cries of protest. Nicole McKee, who speaks for the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, accused the government of doing it on the cheap. "The danger is that people will not hand in their firearms if the price is not right," she said. Ms McKee thinks $1 billion would be a more realistic figure for the buy-back budget.

Her feedback, she said, was that many gun owners thought they were being ripped off and the cost of high-end rifles had been grossly miscalculated. The council is considering legal action.

Justice Minister Andrew Little announced the proposed changes to electoral law designed to make it easier for people to vote. They include election-day enrolment, more ballot boxes in places where people visit such as supermarkets and an easier process for overseas voters.

Mr Little described the proposals as "not particularly controversial" but probably knew better.

National was outraged and there's going to be a fierce fight in Parliament when the changes are put through. Opposition spokesman Nick Smith said it was a stitch-up - same-day enrolment would favour left-wing parties and the government was "cherry-picking electoral law" to improve its chances in next year's election.

The opposition also knows that making overseas voting easier will particularly favour the Greens, who always reap a significant number of specials.

Mr Little has rejected Dr Smith's complaints. "People from all walks of life and different ends of the political spectrum forget to enrol or don't get around to re-enrolling, so this will benefit voters generally," he said.

That's true, but it's mostly young voters who turn up at polling stations on election day wanting to cast their ballots even though they haven't enrolled. There were reports of this happening at the last election, when Jacindamania energised young voters.

And the last word this week goes to Peters. Asked at a select committee hearing on Thursday for his views on how the British leadership contest was going and the prospects of a good bilateral relationship in the future, our foreign minister told MPs he had great news for them. "My friend Boris Johnson is going to be prime minister, so we're off to a flying start - he will be an excellent prime minister, he has character and courage."

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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