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Insights 39: 20 October 2023
NZ Herald: Dr Eric Crampton on why NZ needs an independent Parliamentary Budget Office
Podcast: Dr Oliver Hartwich and Dr Matthew Birchall chat about election results
The Post: Dr Eric Crampton on Wellington's water wakeup-call

The REM phase of politics
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
An apparent pause grips the political scene in the quiet days after New Zealand’s election.  

The old government remains in caretaker mode. Special votes are being counted. Formal talks to shape the next coalition have not yet started.  

Some might see this as time lost, a delay before the dawn of a new government. Yet, a closer look offers a different tale. 

The current political phase is the equivalent of the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) in sleep. On the outside, all seems quiet as we lay with fast-flickering eyes. But within us, the mind is active, processing the day’s events, dreaming, and forming new thoughts. 

That is just what is happening in our politics right now. As quiet as the Wellington scenery may look, there is a buzz of activity underneath.  

Behind closed doors, the political gears are turning. Parties are honing their negotiation plans. Politicians from various camps are in quiet talks, face-to-face or through common friends. 

This discussion unfolds far from the media’s probing eyes or the public service’s oversight. It is not yet subject to the Official Information Act, either.  

There is no fear of immediate voter backlash because the next election is three years away.  Voters’ memories will blur over time, so everything happening now will be forgotten by 2026. 

And so, the soon-to-be government parties can explore fresh ideas, new alliances, and different arrangements. This makes for a hotbed for free-flowing ideas and creativity, a rarity in the parliamentary cycle. 

Of course, the public will see little of this. And so, after the excitement of the election campaign, they may find the seeming political hiatus rather dull – or maybe relief after the furore of the campaign.  

And so, let us allow our politicians of all parties this most unusual time in the political calendar.  

Ideally, let this be when politicians dream up new and better ways of governing this country. And when they are done with it, we will want to hear what the new two- or three-party government plans to do. 

The routine of government, of Parliament and election campaigning will start again soon enough. 

Electoral quirks
Dr Matthew Birchall | Research Fellow |
We made it – or at least, we thought we had.
After a tiring and often dispiriting election campaign, New Zealand has voted for a new centre-right government.
However, New Zealand’s electoral system means that Christopher Luxon’s ascent to the 9th Floor will be far from straight-forward.
This complexity is a by-product of a system designed to ensure accessibility to voting. For example, you don’t need to present photo ID at polling stations.
The drawback is a prolonged verification process, particularly evident in the case of ‘special votes’. These special votes will determine whether National can form a two-party coalition with Act or if they will need the support of New Zealand First.
If we take recent history as a guide, the negotiations are likely to drag on for some time, potentially until the end of November. By then, National is likely to pick up an additional seat in a by-election for Port Waikato, following the death of Act candidate Neil Christensen during the campaign.
A colleague has suggested that this lag may stimulate creative policy discussions. There is considerable merit in allowing coalition partners to test novel ideas and forge strong working relationships. It happens all the time in Belgium and the Netherlands, for example.
Yet, there is one critical rider. The parties jockeying for position in Amsterdam and Brussels do not have to wait for extended periods after the election for special votes to come in. Instead, they are able to immediately commence the policy work that will drive the next government.
By contrast, New Zealand allows special votes to be returned for ten days after an election.
The Germans do it better. There, voters wishing to vote outside their electorate or before election day can do so by post. They have many weeks to do so. But these postal ballots must then arrive by election day so they can be counted alongside in-person votes. By midnight, the final results are typically announced.
This method ensures that anyone who wants to vote can vote while also speeding up the process of declaring the final result.
More significant still are electoral quirks that can change the election outcome.
The ‘overhang’ seats are the most obvious potential culprit. If a party wins more electorate seats than the number to which its party vote would otherwise entitle it, the overall parliamentary makeup becomes less proportional. That is likely to happen this year because of Te Pāti Māori’s success in the Māori seats. To ensure proportionality, the Electoral Commission should investigate reforms to eliminate these overhang seats.
MMP is an inherently complex electoral system. If we are to persist with it, we should do all we can to make it as efficient as possible.

Newton’s fifth law of rugby dynamics
Max Salmon | Intern |
How sweet is the sound of victory! On Sunday morning, the All Blacks won against the Irish team. To most, this came as a pleasant surprise. Indeed, only a few weeks ago, there was rampant, unpatriotic doubt about New Zealand’s ability even to make it to the quarter finals.

However, an educated few foresaw this sudden turnaround.

How could this be? Well, the science is quite elementary. Consider that New Zealand has won three Rugby World Cups since the event’s inception – in 1987, 2011, and 2015.

Now, let’s reflect upon what these years have in common. Correct: Fiscally conservative governments! Lange’s 4th Labour government was in power during our first win and Key’s National government for our second and third.

The conclusion is inescapable. Fiscally conservative, economically responsible, commonsensical, nation saving, prosperity inducing, divinely mandated, neoliberal governments produce World-Cup-winning rugby teams. It’s practically scientific fact.

Our games with Ireland display this in microcosm. A whopping 80% of all our test match losses to the Emerald Isle have occurred during the tenure of the outgoing, fiscally profligate, Labour government.

Rugby illiterates unfamiliar with the sport might accuse me of mistaking correlation for causation. But for scholars of the game (such as myself), three data points are all that is required to establish a clearly immutable law.

So, you can see why I was unsurprised at the outcome for the boys in black last Sunday. Their success was preordained. Just as certain as the sun rising in the east. With a National government receiving the people's acclaim on Saturday, they could rest easy in the knowledge of certain victory.


I fear that the promise of a fiscally conservative government alone may not be enough. The new team in the Beehive must act immediately and decisively if we are to be guaranteed success in the coming games.

If National really cares about the national sport, we will have a mini-budget within the week, outlining cuts in government spending and taxes. Plans for reaching surplus must be unveiled. Now is not the time for political pragmatism or centrist equivocation. Now is the time for immediate action to save our economy, and our national pride.

A balanced budget is the key to perfect scrums, precise drop goals, and the eternal glory of New Zealand rugby! Only the most entrenched unionists would suggest otherwise.

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