Week in Politics: National looks for votes the old fashioned way

8:24 pm on 1 November 2019

By Peter Wilson*

Analysis - National sets out hardline welfare policies, there's more strife for the Transport Minister and Labour faces an Indian backlash that could hurt it at the ballot box.

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National leader Simon Bridges says 92 per cent of patched gang membersreceived a main benefit for an average nine years. Photo: RNZ / DOM THOMAS

National this week floated a raft of welfare policies centred on a tried-and-tested election strategy - getting tough with beneficiaries and gangs.

These are discussed in a document going out to party members for feedback, and there's not much doubt that next year they'll end up in National's election manifesto.

Some are policies taken from the previous National government while others are new. Not all are punitive but those that grabbed headlines were making gang members prove the legality of their income and assets when applying for a benefit and sanctioning sole parents who don't have their children vaccinated.

Cracking down on gangs is familiar rhetoric, and terms such as "National believes in a hand up, not a hand out" have been heard before. This time, the party isn't holding anything back. "National hates gangs. They peddle misery in our communities and are responsible for the scourge of drugs in New Zealand," the document says.

Most party members probably agree with that and the policy is likely to get a tick, but there's more work to be done on it before a "gang plan" is released next year.

Issues that could cause problems include identifying gang members and proving their assets aren't the result of ill-gotten gains. As Newstak ZB's Barry Soper pointed out, what's to stop a gang member registering the Harley in his mum's name?

National's leader Simon Bridges justified the policy on Morning Report, saying 92 per cent of patched gang members had received a main benefit for an average nine years. He said he rejected "the trendy sort of view put forward by people that gangs are about whanua and community".

Black Power spokesman Eugene Ryder voiced a realistic opinion: "What he is trying to do is use the same rhetoric that is used every election, which is how hard we are going to smash gangs and who's got the biggest hammer."

Sanctioning sole parents who don't have their children vaccinated isn't a new idea but no party has tried to implement it in the past. The measles epidemic has brought it into sharp focus for National and Mr Bridges says there needs to be accountability and obligations in return for taxpayer-funded welfare payments.

Softening the overall impact of the document is a proposal to increase post-natal care to three days in hospital for new mums, or at a facility of their choosing. It will be part of a wider policy covering the first 1000 days of a child's life.

Phil Twyford lost the KiwiBuild portfolio after the policy became an embarrassing debacle and now he's in trouble with transport. Stuff's Thomas Coghlan, writing in the Dominion Post, says the minister is on thin ice: "It's clear key figures in the main agency he oversees are losing or have already lost confidence in him."

The agency is the NZTA, responsible for a $4 billion budget. RNZ has reported that when Parliament sits next week Mr Twyford will have to correct an answer he gave about whether any NZTA board members had offered to stay on. He said none had but later recalled that one did.

Now there's more. Coghlan reports that the minister told Parliament NZTA "didn't complete an assessment" of the NZ super Fund's proposal to build Auckland's light rail project. Leaked documents show NZTA did complete an assessment, and sent it to the Super Fund for a response.

When documents are leaked that contradict ministerial statements, it's usually because someone is very upset about what has been said and wants to set the record straight.

National's Chris Bishop has been harassing the minister over what did or didn't happen and he's likely to have another go during question time on Tuesday.

Labour's Indian supporters aren't at all happy with the government and the backlash could be felt at the ballot box. The community has been hit by recent changes to the parent category visa, which mean an applicant has to earn $100,000 a year before they can bring in a parent, and the hard line stance immigration authorities are taking on the length of time married couples have to live together - which cuts out arranged marriages.

Community leaders have told RNZ they feel that can no longer support Labour, and meetings are being arranged where protests will be heard.

The hard part for Labour is that NZ First insisted on the immigration policies, and the Indian leaders know this. But they're making the point that no one in Labour has spoken out against them. The reality is that no one can, because they are coalition government policies. Labour MPs are between a rock and a hard place when they're asked to comment - several declined RNZ requests for interviews.

*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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