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Insights 37: 29 September 2017
Dr Oliver Hartwich writes in the NBR about MMP for beginners
Read Eric Crampton's essay on why New Zealand is an island of sanity in a mad world
Dr Oliver Hartwich talks to ABC News about what happens after the election

Blue and Green should never be seen. Or should they?
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
Once it was a colour combination frowned upon in the world of fashion (or so I am told). But apparently haute couture has moved on. Should our politicians do so too? 

Watching Bill English and James Shaw respond to questions this week on the possibility of a National/Greens coalition, it is plain neither is comfortable with the concept.

Yet if our political parties – of whatever colour – were true to the MMP game, they would put old loyalties aside. Traditional alliances reflect monochromatic, FPP thinking, when MMP elections come in technicolor. 

Our lack of MMP imagination comes with a high price. It restricts the choices of the major parties, and rules out more interesting policy options. Just read Oliver Hartwich’s column in today’s NBR to see how this has played out in his native Germany, the home of MMP (see above).

It is hardly as if environmental issues sit on a left/right political spectrum. They occupy a different dimension. This is why in Germany, after their election on Sunday, a coalition between their equivalents of National, the Greens and ACT appears the most likely outcome.

So how might a Blue/Green coalition work? Well, the two parties have more in common than they might think.

Philosophically, there is nothing more conservative than caring for the environment. And economically, a clean environment is a must-have for New Zealand. New Zealand’s tourism brand depends on it – as does the reputation of our agricultural sector.

National should have no problem cooperating with the Greens position that our environment deserves more attention. Indeed, it is accepted across the political divide that our waterways need cleaning up. A National/Greens government could achieve this with an innovative regime for tradable water trading, a concept that would also solve the water allocation problem ignored by Labour’s proposed tax.

New Zealand also need much smarter transport policy, including road pricing. This is fertile territory for a Blue/Green solution.
And much of what we have tried in justice policy has not been working. A Greens Minister of Justice could have a mandate to reform New Zealand’s drug policy, and to introduce new ways of tackling recidivism.

This election is the Greens’ best chance to be in government since they were formed. They cannot do much outside the coalition or in opposition. And they would struggle to achieve the same kind of meaningful change with NZ First in any case.

If traditionalists in the fashion world can break down old barriers, maybe our politicians should too.

Pencil this in
Richard Baker | Research Director |
A popular myth is that NASA spent millions of dollars producing a writing pen for the Apollo space programme. The space pen could write in zero gravity and would not leak combustible graphite into an oxygen rich space capsule. The Russians went in another direction and just used a pencil. The truth is that both used special space pencils but the myth still satisfies for its appeal to simplicity. Could there be a similar reductio ad simplicitas for all the current speculation of who will be bedding whom (politically speaking) once the MMP results are finally tabulated?

Why not sweep away NZ First and Green Party scenarios and in a Germanic MMP flourish simply put the two winners together. Jacinda Ardern presided over a remarkable turnaround in Labour’s fortunes and Bill English oversaw an equally stunning effort to maintain high support levels after three terms. Bill as PM and Jacinda as Deputy PM could lead a coalition government with a combined Cabinet.

The notion of a grand coalition is scarcely novel and is routinely dismissed. The two voting camps are too large and too opposed to ever contemplate such a union. Is that such an inviolate proposition? 

Consider the real choice here. For the next three years Labour or National can be in opposition and lob grenades at each other. Alternatively both can serve in the same Cabinet, concentrate on the not insignificant common ground and work, as any effective board would, on better decisions and better policies.

Let us allow our imaginations to run wild for a dizzying moment. Jacinda can push for a price on water. She and Bill can figure out how New Zealanders can price water such that the environment wins, tourism prospers and farmers can farm sustainably.

Phil Twyford, Amy Adams and Nick Smith can convene a taskforce to eliminate density controls and urban boundary limits and increase affordable housing.

Paula Bennet and Carmel Sepuloni can continue the social investment work going back to early intervention initiatives under Helen Clark.

Steven Joyce and Grant Roberston can energise officials to revolutionise local government/central government funding and design a tax regime which promotes productive investments and not tax shelters.

New Zealand likes strong and stable government. It also likes effective policies. Could it be that after three years of a grand coalition New Zealand might be a better place? Let us sharpen our pencils on that one.
Richard Baker is the new Director of Research at the New Zealand Initiative. He owns several pencils.

Election tactics
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow |
New Zealanders are lazy patriots and even worse politicians.

In last week’s election, a bit more than a fifth of us held onto our vote and hoped for the best. And while provisional results show the current government in the lead by double digits, its continued reign rests in the hands of one kingmaker.

As a proud dual citizen, I had the benefit of following two recent elections - watching Rwanda’s gave me a sliver of hope for Aotearoa. 

In a landslide victory, the Rwandan incumbent collected all but 1% of the votes with a 98.5% voter turnout.

While in the space of eight months New Zealand lost a prime minister and two opposition leaders, Rwanda has had the same leader for almost a quarter century. Now, that’s a stable government if you ever saw one.

So assuming the core goal of a politician is to get re-elected, I offer lessons from Rwanda’s August elections.

The first thing New Zealand needs is a constitution: one that can of course be changed at a whim to suit the desires of the incumbent. Instead of serving two-terms of seven years, the African leader can now be re-elected until at least 2034.

But why stop there? The New Zealand Electoral Commission must make the registration process for new candidates impenetrable. Those who make it through must have all their social media posts vetted by the Commission. All contesting parties should be allowed to put up campaign banners wherever they please, so long as it’s not in the same place as the ruling party’s banners – which happen to be everywhere.

Oh, and one must ensure the strongest opposition leader remains behind bars.

The result: A one-man election. While New Zealanders complained about boring debates, Rwandans mostly enjoyed a televised monologue.

But for me the beauty of being a dual citizen is that I get to hide behind the saner state when it suits.

While we, New Zealanders, could have given less airtime to sideshows and given more to the policy issues that truly matter, all I could think of was how lucky I am to be a Kiwi.

In comparison New Zealanders may seem like lazy voters and we could do well with gutsier politicians but we remain lucky living in a liberal democracy.
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