Wednesday, 19 December 2018


I want a Christmas present I do not think Santa can, or will, deliver me. I am not being selfish or unreasonable, but just realistic, because what I want is a political party I can vote for at the next General Election.

As one who feels currently disenfranchised, I have been looking at what the two main parties have to offer. Both have their good points, but are too bogged down by their negatives to be real options. 

I quite like National's pragmatism and realism, but it is too beholden to the top end of the business community for my liking, and still far too inclined to see its role as doing their bidding. Besides, there is a nasty, punitive streak evident in the attitudes of some of its newer MPs that is disturbing, and a group of hard right activists outside Parliament trying to pull the party more in their direction that is downright scary.

Labour's social policies have always held appeal, but the fact that it is still lock-step with the unions when most New Zealanders are not is a turn-off. Also, its obsequious adherence to political correctness is nauseating. I wish it would actually stand for something, rather than just pandering to every passing cause.

Both parties are still in the rigid "my party, right or wrong mould", with limited capacity to compromise, or reach across the political divide. I well recall the advice a very distinguished former MP gave me many years ago that he joined his particular party simply because he agreed with more of what it stood for than he disagreed with. I have always thought that was the appropriate balance. It would nice to see more evidence of that type of thinking in both Labour and National today.

In my quest, I have even looked at the Greens and ACT as well. The Greens have increasing credibility on environmental issues, especially as the ravages of climate change become daily more apparent, but, oh dear, they do go off at  strange and tangents every now and then, that leave one wondering. ACT is still too trapped in the neo-liberal time warp of the 1980s to be at all relevant today.

As I am a generally tolerant and reasonable person focused on the opportunities that lie ahead for our country, rather than the restoration of yesteryear, I cannot possibly consider New Zealand First. Nor am I am bigot or a racist, which seems to be a precondition for belonging to that party.  

What I want is a basic, progressive  liberal party which believes in social justice, equality and equal access for all to opportunity, built on sound, environmentally sustainable market led economic policies, and where the government is there to help those in need, but otherwise lets people get on with their own lives. I want a party that is no slave to vested interests, and is transparent and open in the pursuit of its principles.

Of course, we used to have a party like that - UnitedFuture - whose policies people kept saying they liked, and that it was important we be in Parliament to promote them, but all that notwithstanding, when the crunch came, they just did not vote for us in sufficient numbers to make it all possible.

For those other middle ground people who feel similarly disenfranchised right now, it seems a simple enough proposition. A party of people like us to represent people like us. Yet, sadly, I do not think even Santa can make it happen!

So, in the meantime, it will be back to just dreaming. Dunne Speaks is taking a break for a few weeks, to focus instead on enjoying Christmas celebrations with family, but will be back early next year ever hopeful of finding a solution to this conundrum, and a party to vote for.

May I wish everyone a very happy and peaceful Christmas and a successful New Year.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018


Just over two years ago when Business New Zealand and the Employers and Manufacturers Association were using the bully-boy and standover tactics more associated with the trade unions of old in an attempt to browbeat Government support partners at the time to oppose a piece of legislation from the Labour Opposition to protect vulnerable workers, I wrote the following piece in this column: “For most New Zealander’s under about forty, the stories of industrial disruption in the 1970s and early 1980s seem like fantasy. The thought that a small group of members of the Boilermakers’ Union was able to hold up the construction of Wellington’s BNZ Tower or Auckland’s Māngere Bridge for years seems too far-fetched to be true. Yet it was, as was the regularity that the Cooks’ and Stewards’ Union or the Seamen’s Union were able to find an excuse to go on strike at various holiday periods, tying up the Cook Strait ferries and disrupting travel plans. And who would have ever thought a union secretary would be brazen enough to go on national television during such a strike to spit out “the travelling public can go to hell” as did the National Union of Railwaymen Secretary Don Goodfellow. Strange as it may seem now, this was all very much the way of the world then.”

The incredulous reaction of many to the threatened three day strike by Air New Zealand engineers just before Christmas confirms many New Zealanders have no recollection of the days when this type of disruption was the norm. The decision to lift the strike notice means that their incredulity will remain for a little while longer, although there is no doubt that the engineers made the wrong call in threatening industrial action on the eve of the Christmas holidays.

This year has seen more industrial action than in any year of the previous quarter century, and principally in the public sector. How much of this is because of pent-up pressures from the term of the previous government, and how much of it arises from a sense that this government is a soft touch is not certain, although there is no doubt the government’s dithering response to both the nurses and now the teachers, to whom so much was at implicitly promised during the election campaign and has yet to be delivered, is a factor.

The nurses were fortunate in being at last able to reach a settlement while public support was on their side. The teachers still enjoy public support, although that will begin to wane if threatened combined strikes across the primary and secondary sectors early next school year become prolonged, and teachers become perceived as turning down not unreasonable settlement offers.

The key point in such disputes is timing. When does the inconvenience to the public go beyond what is reasonable? In the case of nurses and teachers there is a general view that they deserve a better deal, hence a greater level of tolerance for their endeavours to achieve that. However, in the case of the Air New Zealand engineers, some of whom apparently already earn as much as $150,000 a year, it was difficult to see the same level of public support ever applying, especially given the level of public inconvenience threatened.

The feeling that the travelling public was potentially being used deliberately and callously as a negotiating pawn, was never likely to be a winning one, and the reaction of recent days showed there was little sympathy for the engineers‘ position. Unlike the nurses and the teachers, they were unable to make the case they were undervalued and overworked to the extent the nation‘s health and the education of its children were being compromised.

It was telling that the Prime Minister, who seemed almost studiously to avoid getting publicly involved in the nurses‘ and teachers‘ disputes because of the public support both enjoyed, was quick to step into the Air New Zealand dispute. She well recognised that even though the government had nothing to do with this dispute, it would bear the brunt of visceral public outrage if the engineers’ strike proceeded and people's holiday plans disrupted.

The mounting industrial action of the last year is already becoming a awkward matter for the government, especially since the Prime Minister appeared during the election campaign to give assurances there would be no strikes on her watch. She will be very keen to calm things down, should the message being pedalled by the National Party that the country is on the verge of returning to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s start to gain public traction.

Although a waning memory, the spectre of Don Goodfellow’s infamous response of all those years ago still looms. No-one wants those times to come to pass again. Goodfellow's despicable sentiments should stay buried with him.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


Congratulations David Clark! In a Government where initiating a review has been a substitute for doing anything, he has become the first Minister to have both established a major review - into Mental Health - and to have received the final report of the finished review, complete with a comprehensive set of recommendations.

But, unfortunately, that is where it stops so far. The Mental Health review has made 40 specific recommendations for change to a system that it describes as broken and long overdue for major change. However, Dr Clark has indicated the Government will not finalise its response until March next year. So, the prospects for urgent action on the report’s recommendations are not high.

Assuming the Government adopts the recommendations - by no means a certainty - the Minister will need to have funding bids in for the 2019 Budget, meaning definitive action is unlikely to come on stream before the latter half of next year at the earliest. If new legislation is required to implement any of the recommendations, it will probably be well into 2019 or even 2020 before it passes, meaning those changes would not take effect until after that.

And some of the recommendations are beyond the Government’s control at this stage. For example, the recommendations regarding decriminalising drugs will not be able to proceed before the recreational cannabis referendum, apparently now scheduled to be held at the time of the next election. The government has yet to indicate whether it will regard the outcome of that referendum as binding, and what steps it will take in the event of a vote for recreational cannabis decriminalisation.

So the path to the positive future recommended by the Mental Health review is a long and uncertain one yet. But none of this should detract from the importance of addressing comprehensively the Mental Health review’s recommendations. There are too many individuals and families suffering to allow that.

And despite the public expectation for swift action, due in part to the Government, as usual, overselling its intentions, it is more important that the Government introduce a comprehensive and integrated response, rather than an ad hoc and piecemeal approach. And that will be a difficult balancing act because the public’s hopes are so high.

In the meantime, the Government may have to do something Labour Governments of late have been loathe to do - make full use of non-government agencies and their skills and experience. There are several hundred such agencies active in the mental health and addictions fields, and there is no reason why they could not be utilised more fully, alongside the services provided by District Health Boards. Indeed, the review provides the opportunity to rationalise the respective roles of the non government agencies and the District Health Boards, and establish a long overdue partnership between them. The obstacle, though, is Labour's long held view that such matters are primarily the province of the state to control.

The Mental Health review opens up the possibility of the most profound changes since the Mason Report of the late 1980s. The Government’s response in March must set out a clear and integrated way forward, together with an interim pathway towards achieving it.

Dr Clark may well feel satisfied that the Mental Health review has been completed on time, and is comprehensive. But for patients and their families, the agonising wait while the review was underway will continue and reach its crescendo when the Government responds in March. In that sense, the mental health challenge is now only just beginning.