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March 2, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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National’s First 100 Days

The National Party promised their first 100 days in government would feature a spurt of activity, and spurt they did, introducing a swathe of new bills, besides breaking some arms and deparmental heads.

December

Last December, as soon as the new Government came into being, it passed under urgency two justice and two money-related acts. The Bail Amendment Act reversed changes made by Labour in 2007 which had meant bail could only be denied to offenders presenting a “real and significant risk”—National have turned the clock back so that bail can be denied to those who present any degree of risk. The Sentencing (Offences Against Children) Amendment Act makes an offence committed against a child an aggravating factor during sentencing. The Taxation Act brought in a new set of tax cuts, while the controversial Employment Relations Amendment Act puts all employees of small businesses (i.e. those with fewer than twenty workers) on a 90day “probation period”, during which they can be fired without any particular reason. National also introduced the Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill, allowing police to issue on-the-spot protection orders to those at risk from abuse, without having to go through the courts seeking a warrant—this bill is now at the select committee stage. Besides these justice and economic bills, National also passed acts discouraging renewable electricity and biofuels.

Summer Holidays

While parliament took a break through January, John Key broke his arm, and Health Minsiter Tony Ryall continued cracking down on under-performing district health boards. Education Minister Anne Tolley baffled teachers throughout the land by suggesting they split the school-day into two separate streams, something which would require far more resources than the government is willing to use. Other than that, not a hell of a lot happened, because everyone was too busy being drunk, suntanned and swimming to pay any attention to politics. Oh, and John Key turned up and smiled at Te Tii Waitangi marae on Waitangi day, something Clark had given up on as it proved too stressful.

February

When parliament resumed in February, National returned to the business of passing new legislation under urgency. Their repeal of the controversial Electoral Finance Act was supported by everyone except the Greens, and they also introduced a bill to streamline the Resource Management Act, now at the select committee stage. However, the main work has been undertaken by Simon Power and Judith Collins in introducing law-and-order bills, at the same time as Judith Collins took Corrections head Barry Matthews to task over an auditor’s report showing his department was still allowing prisoners to breach their parole conditions without facing the consequences. Two of these new bills—the Corrections Amendment Act 2 (cracking down on prisoners’ communication with the outside world, for example by confiscating cellphones) and the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill—were actually written by Labour but had been allowed to languish until the Nats brought them into play (as we speak, the latter bill is awaiting a final reading). National’s Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill, which grants police greater powers to take DNA samples from alleged offenders, also passed its first reading.

Finally, Power and Collins have introduced four more bills which await final readings and select committee approval. The Gangs and Organised Crime Bill makes membership of a criminal organisation an aggravating factor in sentencing. The Sentencing (Offenders Levy) Amendment Bill requires all offenders to pay a $50 levy to cover their victims’ legal costs. The Children, Young Persons and Their Families (Youth Court) Bill brings 12- and 13-year-olds into the jurisdiction of the youth court, and gives the court a wider range of tools and punishments. Finally, the controversial Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill would bring in the Act Party’s beloved three-strikes policy, denying parole to repeat serious violent offenders—however, National have not promised to support this bill beyond the select committee stage, where it sits currently.

Final Thoughts

So, at the end of 100 days we’ve seen a tough approach to departmental heads in both justice and health, and a swathe of tough-on-crime legislation. This legislation only deals with toughening up the response to the effects of crime, but largely neglects the causes (domestic violence, socio-economic stress, poor quality education) that National promise to now turn to. John Key making a proper appearance at Waitangi, on the heels of appointing both Maori Party leaders to ministerial portfolios, makes this perhaps the first time in its history that National is more in touch with Maori voters than Labour is. The response to the “economic crisis” has been slight but certain, while the details of a promised RMA reform are yet to be really nutted out. National also sought to please the crowd by removing “nanny state” restrictions on fatty foods in schools. So, all-in-all, a bouncy, well-presented first one-hundred days in office, with a respectable amount of cross-party cooperation, but ultimately lacking in meaningful long-term solutions to the economic, environmental or justice concerns at the heart of their programme.

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About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

Comments (5)

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  1. John says:

    You are being too charitable.

    For a start, how many days has Parliament met while the National Govt has been at play? What scrutiny or consultation of actual decisions have we seen?

    What about the Bootcamp implementation? This was a major vote-winning election promise and what are they delivering – spaces for 10 offenders at at a time starting in April 2010! We hear that 40 to complete the bootcamps next year. Is this serious, or is this minimalist attempt to keep an unwise promise?

    Anne Tolley in Education looks like a disaster waiting to happen to me, especially with Allan Peachey chairing Education Committee and being a power behind the throne. The decision on canteen food was totally unnecessary and it will not be beneficial. This is a health issue that will bite us later.

    A QPEC press release questions why Tolley sacked Selwyn College Board, even though the academic achievements under the now-sacked Board of Trustees have been impressive.

    http://scoop.co.nz/stories/ED0902/S00071.htm

    The timing of the sacking, two weeks before recommencement of school, must have cost the school significant enrollments when lifting the roll was a goal that was being addressed by the school!

    It is also mysterious how the Advisor Colleen Roach became the Commissioner. What will she now do, that she did not already advise the successful Board to do?

    There must be a big story behind all this.

    With both of the above examples, a lack of scrutiny by the mainstream media has been regrettable. It would be good if the end of 100 days was also seen as the end of honeymoon.

    John Key himself has not appealed as a very strong leader in the sense that Helen Clark was. His short experience in politics is showing.

    Lets see what happens when various cabinet ministers get it wrong.

  2. the controversial Employment Relations Amendment Act puts all employees of small businesses (i.e. those with fewer than twenty workers) on a 90 day “probation period”, during which they can be fired without any particular reason.

    This is not true. Not even close.

  3. Tristan Egarr says:

    The word “all” is a mistake – the amendment applies only to those employees who agree to the probation period – and I apologise for that error, but the rest is correct, it simply puts into (arguably biased) layman terms the discription National themselves gave:

    “under this bill a new employee who agrees to a trial period of up to 90 days will be unable to raise a personal grievance for reasons of unjustified dismissal.” – Kate Wilkinson, Minister of Labour, 9 December 2009.

  4. John says:

    I was reading Bill Ralston today in the Sunday paper. He is not impressed – too much talk he says.

    Also Pat Booth in suburban newspapers does not think much of Bootcamps.

    National has much to learn but from whom? Bill English?

  5. Evans says:

    And now we hear the delegates at the “Bullying” seminar at Wellington has rubbished bootcamps as well. The govt is on the wrong track all over the place. We need a General Election.

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