Blog

Give Pharmac a Break

It seems to happen every few years... the heat comes on Pharmac to provide a particular drug. In the last month alone, there have been outcries about medication for epilepsy, lung cancer, and epipens. And we are always told: “Such and such other country funds it!”

But every funding decision Pharmac makes involves a web of detail and some tough, heart-breaking calls. Maybe sometimes it gets the balance right, maybe sometimes it gets it wrong. But in general, this is an incredibly robust model that has served us well for the past 26 years. The problem is really that it has been too successful. Let’s briefly review why we have Pharmac in the first place.

Why Pharmac?

Just about every country in the world has trouble with health spending rising faster than incomes, and New Zealand is no exception. This has been the case since World War Two and is predicted to continue well into the future. By 2040, health and NZ Super are predicted to make up half of all Government spending.

Pharmac was set up in 1993 as a way of curbing those escalating costs. It has proved to be the most durable and successful reform of its era. The idea is that Pharmac has a fixed budget to spend in the most cost-effective way possible. It bargains with drug companies to keep the prices down. It also weighs up how effective different drugs are across different medical conditions. In simple terms, Pharmac uses its budget to buy as many healthy years of life as possible. It is a pretty thankless task because every decision means someone, somewhere misses out.

Is Pharmac Too Successful?

The problem might be that Pharmac has been too successful. For almost 30 years, it has curbed the growth of the drug budget – in fact, drug spending has fallen – while the rest of health spending has continued to balloon. Not many other countries employ the Pharmac model. Many want to implement something similar, but it is too hard to fight the drug companies’ PR machines. No wonder then that most of those countries provide the latest expensive drug – they spend way more than we do on drugs! Also, those countries are mostly richer than us, so no wonder they can afford to spend more. 

Today, the pressure is on once again for Pharmac to fund certain drugs. Is it me or is it a coincidence that these stories always seem to crop up around election or budget time? I may be cynical, but these stories appear too well timed to not have some drug company PR operating in the background.

Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater

The crucial thing, as always, is to keep politicians out of drug-spending decisions. If they get their mitts on them, we will be prey to the PR campaigns of drug companies wanting to flog their latest drug.

The way to deal with this problem (if we decide it is a problem) is to simply allocate Pharmac more money and let it decide how to spend it using the existing processes. Let’s leave things that are working well alone.

The only tweak to Pharmac’s processes that might be needed is to make greater use of citizen’s juries to help Pharmac make some of the tricky values-based decisions it faces.

The place where real reform is needed is not within Pharmac at all, but across the wider health system. We need to apply the same degree of rigour as Pharmac does to all our health spending. We currently spend a lot of money on operations and some of them add very little to our healthy life span. If we scrutinised this area much more closely, it might indicate whether to allocate a greater proportion of money from the standard health budget towards funding more drugs. Given how good Pharmac has been at controlling costs compared to the rest of the health system, that seems likely.


Three Ways to Raise the Carbon Price and Reduce Emissions Today

Congratulations to the Government on introducing the Zero Carbon Bill into Parliament. Despite criticisms it is still a long overdue step to facing up to the massive challenge of reducing our emissions.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember this legislation by itself won't get emissions down. It sets out targets and will eventually map out a pathway for reducing emissions, but it will remain up to politicians to take those steps. 

Despite acknowledging the massive challenge that faces us, this coalition Government hasn't actually done anything to reduce emissions. The offshore oil and gas exploration ban will stop companies prospecting for fossil fuels, but unless we do something to stop people using fossil fuels (either for electricity, industry or transport) then we will simply import more from overseas. 

The most powerful tool the Government has for achieving this is increasing the carbon price. The carbon price needs to start rising NOW. Here's three ways to do it:

1. Get rid of the price cap

Duh. The price can't rise if you cap it, team. At least, if you are going to cap it, raise the cap and show that it will keep rising every year into the future. At the moment our carbon price is $25 per tonne, while in Europe it is 25 Euros ($43). Our carbon price should at least be at the European level. 

The Government has agreed to remove the price cap, but it might not happen for another three and a half years. After this the Government has promised to create something called a "cost containment" regime. What a crock. This just clouds the whole issue in politics and confusion. It could only be created by a Coalition that can't agree on anything and reserves the right to fiddle with the market at a moment's notice. 

Businesses need some certainty over the carbon price to invest. This isn't helping. 

2. Phase out the freebies

Currently we give away so many free credits to large exporting emitters (and agriculture) that by 2030 all our emissions allocation will be taken up by these companies. That will leave nothing for the rest of us. We need to start phasing these out, ASAP so our large energy intensive emitters have an incentive to reduce their emissions also.

As for agriculture, given that we have acknowledged methane is different from other greenhouse gases by giving it a different target, it is also time to start renegotiating our international targets accordingly.

3. Get Trees out of the Emissions Trading Scheme  

Trees are fantastic, and we should definitely have more of them in Aotearoa. We particularly need more natives on riverbanks and erosion prone land; I plant a few myself in my spare time. Plantation forestry is also a great option in sensitive catchments where too many nutrients are entering the waterways.

However at the moment New Zealand has so much marginal land that our companies have no need to reduce emissions for the next couple of decades. Instead they will keep on emitting and simply buy up land to plant trees on. There is a risk that we get to 2050 and are still burning a whole lot of fossil fuels. 

We are the only country in the world that allows unlimited use of forestry offsets instead of making emitters actually reduce emissions. As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has pointed out we need to rethink the way that we encourage appropriate land use. Such an approach needs to take greenhouse gas emissions into account but also water quality and biodiversity. At the very least we need to limit the use of forestry offsets to push the carbon price up and force people to actually reduce emissions. 


Applications for Board, Policy Committee, Spokespeople and Candidates

Selection Process for New Board Members

We are looking to expand the Board to at least six members.

The Board needs people that have:

  1. A depth of experience and expertise in an area that is relevant to Board work including:
    • Political or media strategy
    • Strategic leadership
    • Business management
    • Financial management
    • Constitutional Law
    • Communication & marketing
    • Cultural change and creating high performing teams
  2. A real drive to see The Opportunities Party succeed
  3. A clear understanding that success means seeing The Opportunities Party policies implemented, through winning Parliamentary seats, through winning votes in any election in which The Opportunities Party stands.
  4. The ability to communicate clearly in writing and in person - to articulate complex ideas in a way that allows them to be understood
  5. A high level of emotional intelligence - including the ability to empathise and to reflect and change/grow.
  6. A steady temperament and the ability to work under pressure.
  7. Time available to do the work required (around 5 hours per week).
  8. A demonstrated commitment to the Party’s values, including evidence based policy.
  9. A declaration of any conflicts of interest or past issues that may compromise the Party.

Of course fit with the existing team is important as well. In that context the particular skills we are looking for in this intake are:

  • Financial management
  • Political or media strategy
  • Fundraising and networks of donors
  • Law
  • Communication and marketing

If there are more people available with these skills than the slots available, the preference will be given on the basis of promoting diversity. The Board will also promote diversity in the future by ensuring promising younger party members have access to opportunities to build their experience so that they can be on the Board.

Applicants should submit a CV and cover letter to info@top.org.nz for consideration by the end of May (5pm 31st May 2019). All applicants must agree to provide a Criminal Records check when asked and The Opportunities Party will reserve the right to revoke membership to the Board on the outcome of this report.

The Process is as follows:

  • The Board is currently forming a selection panel comprising at least two Board members and one other party member
  • Applications close 5pm 31st May 2019
  • Sub committee need to agree and submit a short list for Board approval
  • Issue voting papers and notification of AGM (aiming for 22 June)
  • New Board members will be announced at the AGM (aiming for 20 July)

Policy Committee

The plan is to broaden the Policy Committee to up to 6 members. 

We are looking for members with experience in the following:

  • Good policy making process, ideally including deliberative democracy methods
  • Expertise in environmental issues, particularly climate and fresh water.
  • Expertise in economic issues, particularly tax and disruptive innovation.
  • Expertise in social issues, particularly child poverty.
  • Expertise in cultural and constitutional issues, particularly the Treaty of Waitangi.

Applicants should submit a CV and cover letter to info@top.org.nz for consideration by the end of May (5pm 31st May 2019). All applicants must agree to provide a Criminal Records check when asked and The Opportunities Party will reserve the right to revoke membership to the Board on the outcome of this report.

The Process:

  • A selection panel is being established
  • Applications close 5pm 31st May 2019
  • Selection panel decides short list (June)
  • Short List have interviews (early July)
  • New Policy Committee members will be announced at the AGM (aiming for 20 July)

Spokespeople/ Candidate Selection

The Opportunities Party will be announcing some Spokespeople at the Annual General Meeting and will make further candidate announcements in early 2020.

Spokespeople need to be able to communicate particular policy priorities in some detail across a variety of media. Candidates will need a more general understanding of our policy and the ability to present in front of a crowd. The ability to fund-raise is also important for both roles.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to represent TOP, let your Regional Coordinator know or get in touch at info@top.org.nz.

In the meantime the best way to showcase your skills is by setting up your own candidate Facebook page and communicating our policy on that. Use your creative communication flair to make posts, videos, write blogs... whatever gets our policies across, showcases your talents and engages people.

The only rule is don't make new policy - just stick to what is already there. Make sure you let us know about your page so we can follow what you are up to! Exceptional content may get shared on The Opportunities Party Facebook page. To make sure everyone has the same opportunity we will use the content posted during June to evaluate candidates.

Mission and Values

To help guide any application, The Opportunities Party core team has been working on a Mission Statement and set of Values to guide our work. 

Our Mission is to engage and equip courageous Kiwis as we build a home where everyone has the opportunity to thrive

Values: 

1. Courageous, cheeky communication

This means that TOP communication calls it how we see it – the unvarnished truth.

More cheek, less arse.

We tell the truth but it is about the policy not the person.

2. Collaborative Community - Manaakitanga & Whanaungatanga

We are creating a genuinely connected community for changemakers.

We collaborate but don’t compromise where it counts.

3. We take a long term view - Kaitiakitanga

Our children and future generations are at the centre of everything we do.

TOP community is united by purpose of promoting the Children’s Fire or the Harakeke image (where the next generation harakeke - the pepi - are in the middle of the older years’ growth and one must prune the outer leaves with care and precision, to keep the pepi healthy and free to grow)

4. We are Curious about What Works

We will do what is required to achieve our goals.

Our policy is informed by the evidence of what works in the long term.

We welcome debate, and change our mind when the evidence changes.

We aren’t afraid to implement difficult changes in order to ensure the future of our Home.

Our focus is on improving the efficiency of public spending, not tax & spend.

5. Disrupting politics as usual

We aren’t left or right.

We do things differently, inspiring ourselves and others.

 


We Wouldn’t Treat Animals Like This

My Poppa (my grandfather) was raised in the harsh reality of farming in Depression-era New Zealand. His father (my great grandfather) was thrown into debt at the start of the Depression. He had shipped his butter to England, but the butter was now worthless and the shipping company still wanted payment for transporting it.

In those days, vets were a luxury so sick or maimed animals were quickly “put out of their misery”. As a boy, my Poppa quickly learned that this was the humane option, even though his family often couldn’t even afford bullets to do the deed.

I’ve previously talked about my grandmother’s death in the context of end-of-life care and the tendency of our health system to over treat and under care. However, in the context of The End of Life Choice Bill, I would like to talk about Poppa’s experience.

My Poppa was strong: a Te Kuiti dairy and sheep farmer, who trained dogs and horses. One day, aged 67, he took me (then a 1st XV rugby player at Avondale College) out to round up sheep. He wanted to wrangle a couple of specific ones into a pen for some treatment. The sheep in question bounced me off countless times, while he leaned over the fence and chuckled. When he finally got bored, he strode into the pen and picked up a sheep with one hand.

Twenty years later, Poppa finally met his match: brain cancer. He fought it for a while. Though the doctors said it was inoperable, he took the medication that made him twitch and spasm to buy more time. But soon he grew tired of the side effects and came off it.

This is a fairly typical story for end-of-life treatment, which is part of a much larger conversation around end-of-life treatment and care. David Seymour’s End of Life Bill is just a tiny part of a much greater issue.

In short, our elderly are often offered only one option: treatment. Sometimes they aren’t told about the downsides, and rarely are they offered other options that might be better for all concerned, like spending some money on simply caring for them. Overseas studies suggest that when patients are informed of the downsides of treatment and options such as enhanced care are available, around a third will choose the latter. Given that all medical treatment has a 100% failure rate eventually, this approach seems to make sense.

My Poppa eventually accepted his fate and, as he deteriorated, he was moved to the Te Kuiti hospice. One night, I came up from Wellington to visit and held his hand as the ward grew dark and silent around us. He couldn’t remember anything recent, so I asked him to tell me stories of his youth instead.

During this time, the importance of family really hit home for me. Poppa had six children, most of whom had two or three kids, so he had no lack of support and was surrounded by friends and family in his final weeks. Not everyone is so lucky.

In the end, Poppa couldn’t tolerate the pain any longer and refused any further assistance. He died the next day. He ultimately won the fight against cancer by denying himself food or water.

Would Poppa have taken the option of assisted dying? I’ve talked to my family about this and we don’t know if it is what he would have chosen. All we know is that he wanted to die at his home on the farm. But it bugs us that he didn’t even have the choice.

The fact is that Poppa was lucky. At present, if someone wants to go, all they can do is nil by mouth, or attempt to overdose on painkillers (or a mix of the two). Nil by mouth can be a prolonged and painful death and drag on for up to two weeks. As my Poppa would have said, we wouldn’t treat animals like this.

Allowing assisted dying requires careful safeguards and processes to be in place. It is right to debate this issue and make sure we get it right - I will talk more about the specifics of The End of Life Choice Bill next week. But fundamentally, like most things in our society once the right safeguards and regulations are in place, shouldn’t it be the individual’s choice? My starting point for this sort of debate is that there has to be a pretty good reason to take individual choice off someone. Imposing other people’s religious beliefs doesn’t make that grade.


Embracing In-gene-uity

Imagine if, in 1855, New Zealanders had banned Number 8 wire – that ingenious invention patented by Henry Bessemer. “You could put an eye out with that!” “People will use it to fence off areas that don’t even belong to them!” What if, fearful of the solutions that Number 8 wire presented, we had banned it, intending to “keep an eye on it” and “review it again in the future”.

It would have changed the course of our history and our collective personality.

We are facing the same situation today. We need to solve some urgent problems to protect our wildlife and our people, yet our scientists are hampered by outmoded rules on genetic modification.

Unlike most other technologies, we regulate genetic modification on the basis of techniques rather than outcomes. Since the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification in 2001, it has been basically impossible for anyone to use genetic technology at all. And that may have been a fair call at the time, but a lot has changed since then. That was pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre smart-phone.

It is equivalent to banning Facebook to prevent terrorist acts, and no one is suggesting that. We are looking for ways to stop people using Facebook to support terror acts, not stopping them using it to communicate with their friends. We regulate to improve the outcomes of the technology, rather than regulating the technology itself.

Genetic technology has come a long way since 2001. Our policy would enable precise gene editing that, unlike the old techniques, adds no foreign material to the DNA. Similar to selective breeding, it targets particular traits or cells and turns them “on” or “off”. Unlike selective breeding however, we can solve problems far more quickly.

The Opportunities Party thinks scientists should be able to use gene editing if it produces the same outcomes as selective breeding. Importantly, we would not change the regulation of old-school genetic modification, where genetic material is introduced from a different organism.

Kiwis have long been famous for our ingenuity. Yet on this issue we are at serious risk of falling behind our trading partners.  

On 10 April 2019, Australia allowed gene editing that does not introduce new genetic material. This is internationally viewed as the “middle ground” between the strict regulation in Europe and the laissez-faire style of the US, Brazil, and Argentina. The Opportunities Party is proposing a very similar approach to Australia.

Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said of gene editing: “Used responsibly, gene editing holds the potential to save millions of lives and empower millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty. It would be a tragedy to pass up the opportunity.”

We can’t use “in-gene-uity” if our hands are tied behind our back.

 


Why Fees Free Uni Failed to Increase Enrolments

The Labour-led Government claimed that removing tuition fees would enable more people from poor backgrounds to go on to tertiary study.

Today, the Government admitted that enrolments haven't risen since its Fees Free policy came in. This was a completely predictable outcome. From the outset, The Opportunities Party labelled the policy middle-class welfare.

Statistics NZ figures have shown that the policy chiefly benefits the rich. This is because students from richer households are far more likely to attend tertiary education and to take longer, more expensive courses than those from poorer households.

Fees Aren’t the Biggest Barrier

A deeper look into the data reveals that the biggest barrier to people from poor backgrounds attending university is not fees, but rather the ability to gain the prerequisite qualifications. And that problem goes right back to pre-school.

Let’s take a look at the numbers: each year, around 60,000 students leave school. Let’s contrast the outcomes of those that leave school from the top two deciles to those from the bottom two.

In 2016, 13,259 students left a Decile 9 or 10 school in a richer neighbourhood. Of those, 9,197 (more than two thirds) left with University Entrance. On the other side of the tracks, 7,059 students left a Decile 1 or 2 school in a poorer neighbourhood and only 1,227 of them with University Entrance – less than 20%.

Of the 2016 school leavers, 7,211 students from Decile 9 and 10 schools went on to study degree-level courses at university in 2017. That’s slightly less than the number with University Entrance, so maybe some of them are taking a gap year. Regardless, well over half of all students from Decile 9 and 10 schools are going straight on to university. The number for Decile 1 and 2 schools was 1,103 students.

Now, University Entrance isn’t a perfect predictor of who can study afterwards. Some students go on to university without it – although you can bet their choice of courses is limited. However, it seems pretty likely that the vast majority who achieved University Entrance in 2016 went on to university in 2017. This suggests that about 90% of the students from Decile 1 and 2 did so. The number who didn’t is between 100–200.

Using this publicly available data, it is easy to see why Labour’s Fees Free policy was never likely to get lots more people from poor backgrounds to university. Most of them who achieve the grades already go. In other words, fees are far from the biggest barrier. After all, we have a pretty generous student loan scheme.

The Real Problem Starts at Pre-school

The real barrier is having the requisite grades, which Labour’s Fees Free policy does nothing about, because this problem starts right back in pre-school.

On average, children from disadvantaged backgrounds turn up to primary school 2 years behind those from richer backgrounds. Internationally speaking, our school system doesn’t throw many resources at helping them make up that difference. As a result, this 2-year performance gap persists pretty much right through our education system. Small wonder then that far fewer students from Decile 1 and 2 schools get University Entrance.

The way to fix this, according to the best research available on the Ministry of Education’s website, isn’t by making tertiary education free. It is by investing in free, full-time, high-quality early childhood education. That is where the gap between rich and poor can be reduced (not eliminated) and our disadvantaged kids can increase their chances of one day going to university.

Until this major problem in our education system is fixed, let’s not pretend that Fees Free tertiary education is anything other than middle-class welfare.


Do We Want a Country Covered in Pine Trees?

Congratulations to the Government on introducing the Zero Carbon Bill. It appears to have been hard won, so Climate Minister James Shaw will no doubt be having a few shandies tonight after getting it across the line. The fact that the National Party and New Zealand First have signed up to most of the recommendations is a real win. 

The commitment to reduce emissions in line with 1.5 degrees of warming globally is particularly encouraging. Although it's  incredibly unlikely we'll achieve that outcome, it does suggest New Zealand will be at the forefront of reducing net emissions. The key word there is net - we will come back to that. 

Even the split target for methane is not the shortfall that some claim. It is in line with science that suggests we need to reduce methane emissions but not get them to zero. That is because methane emissions are short lived, so consistent emissions eventually end up at stable levels in the atmosphere. 

No, the main problem with this Zero Carbon Bill is the potential for too many pine trees. This is where the net emissions becomes important, because New Zealand is unique in allowing our emitters to plant trees instead of reducing their carbon emissions.

You are probably thinking "Too many trees? I thought trees were good?" They are, but you can have too much of a good thing, for a few reasons. As Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton pointed out earlier this year, trees are risky, temporary, and might depress our carbon price. 

Trees are Risky

In Nelson this summer we saw the danger of too many pine trees. The fires were devastating for the community, but also for our emission targets. All the carbon in those trees is back in the atmosphere now. Trees are also increasingly susceptible to disease, invasive predators and forest collapse. We can't bank on them locking carbon up forever. 

Trees are Temporary

Trees only soak carbon up for a limited amount of time, but they need to stay there forever to keep the carbon locked up. Even if we use land for pine plantations, we have to keep replanting the forest. Therefore, for the one-off benefit of soaking up some carbon we lose an eternity of flexibility over how we use that land.

It makes complete sense to turn our erosion prone land back into native forest. But for the rest? We need eventually to get our emissions down to zero eventually, so why not do it as soon as possible? 

Tress Depress Our Carbon Price

New Zealand’s carbon price is currently $25.50 per tonne of carbon dioxide. That’ll encourage some emitters who burn fossil fuels to reduce their emissions. But if it were closer to $50/tonne (as it is in Europe, in line with estimates of the true cost of carbon) and heading toward $100/tonne, emitters would scurry to change their ways.

Of course, as a mechanism, the carbon price alone isn't enough. But it is a big part of the equation for electricity providers and businesses. 

However, our carbon price is unlikely to rise much in the immediate future. We have heaps of marginal land, which emitters can buy up and plant into forest. While that might be good in some areas (e.g. native forest on erosion-prone land), this offset will keep our carbon price artificially low. And this won’t help us achieve zero emissions. 

Commissioner Upton's solution

Simon Upton has proposed another solution that needs much closer scrutiny: that we should treat not only methane differently, but also trees. In fact, that we should deal with land use in a different way to fossil fuel emissions. 

While the details require a lot more thought, this proposal would still see costs shoot up for emitters. And it wouldn't be a free ride for agriculture either – or certainly less so than what New Zealand First has negotiated in this deal. 

At the very least, we should put a cap on using forestry as an offset as Europe has done. 

This is important stuff. We are shaping property rights that will last for generations and have a huge impact on what our country looks like in 30 or 100 years’ time. We need to get it right.


Member Update

As we transition from being fully-funded and led by one person to a member-led movement, some culture change will be required within The Opportunities Party. Little wonder then, that a few within our ranks are raising concerns about our new ways of doing things.

So in the interests of radical transparency and doing politics differently, here is some detail on their concerns. Rather than listen to secrets and whispers, members and supporters are welcome to read this and make up their own minds. If you have any questions feel free to get in touch.

Naturally I would rather spend my time critiquing Government policy or communicating our own best practice, evidence informed ideas, but here we are.

The concerns raised include the following:

  1. Leader Pay
  2. Party finances
  3. Separation of governance and operations
  4. The power and conduct of volunteers within the Party
  5. Conduct of the leadership election
  6. Board changes

I will address each of these in turn.

1. Leader Pay

Around the leadership election in December 2018 the Board discussed paying the Leader. Finances were limited at the time (as we will discuss below) but the feeling was that the Leadership position needed full time focus and there had to be a recognition of the time involved. It was felt that a salary similar to a teacher – roughly $60,000 per annum was appropriate. This was communicated to members in an email on 21 December.

While the Party was still in set up phase and becoming financially sustainable the contract for Leader was subject to finance being available. This is completely normal in politics – after all you could be out of a job at any time.

A few people have challenged why a Party Leader needs a salary at all. I can assure you this is more than a full time job, and practically speaking , it would be very difficult to find alternative employment as Leader of a political party. Without that income I would need to stand down and find a job, and the vast majority of people I have spoken to within the Party don’t want that to happen.

2. Party Finances

This brings us to the issue of party finances. As previously communicated, this will be made fully transparent when we release our Campaign Strategy. We will also set out the minimum funding needed in order to mount a serious campaign in 2020.

Nonetheless, some are concerned that we are spending beyond our means, so here is an interim update. Accounting for all accounts payable, the Party currently has over $30,000 in the bank. During April we received over $8,500 in donations from almost 300 different donors. Core monthly expenses such as IT licenses etc are around $2,600. The Leader’s salary has never been above $5,000 per month. Based on current costs, the Party is financially sustainable.

However, I think we all recognise that our current efforts will not be enough to get us into Parliament in 2020. We need to be financially prudent, but we also need to take some risks in order to boost our profile and therefore our income. Donation income is uncertain and it may make sense to spend more than we earn in some months.

As mentioned above our Campaign Strategy will set out our spending plan going forward. In the short term, to be a contender in the next election we need to get back to our election night polling of 2-3% by early 2020. We have to do everything we can to achieve that goal. If we don’t there is no point having money sitting in the bank.

3. Separation of governance and operations

I am wearing a variety of hats within the Party at the moment. I am not happy about it, but during the set up phase of TOP 2.0 it has been all hands to the pump.

In the set up phase we haven’t been able to pay someone to run the organisation day to day. Therefore I offered the Board to take on the General Manager role as well as Leader. This has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes, but totally necessary to bed down the foundations of the Party and build the volunteer team. We now have an incredible team of volunteers in place in the national team and in our regional teams around the country. I am grateful for all the mahi that those talented people put in for the Party every day. It might take a couple more months to get this team fully fleshed out and humming, but it is worth it.

As soon as income allows we intend to appoint a paid General Manager so that I can hand over day to day operations to them and focus my attention on raising the profile of the Party and getting our policy and ideas out there.

As Leader I am also on the Board, and Chair of the Board. This is a hangover of the original Constitution we have inherited. My priority is to expand the Board to 5-6 people, then either hand the position of Chair over to someone else or step off the Board entirely. Constitutional changes may need to be considered, and since I was elected as Leader I have made it clear I want a full review of our Constitution to ensure it is fit for purpose given where we are headed as a Party.

4. The power and conduct of volunteers within the Party

The Opportunities Party is now a member-led movement, almost entirely powered by volunteers. A few people have raised concerns about volunteer conduct and how much say and sway these people have within the organisation.

Firstly to conduct. We are a new organisation with a new culture. We now have a clear set of values to guide our behaviour. The first expectation is that all volunteers and members adhere to promoting evidence-based policies. We are also developing role descriptions and policies for conduct covering such issues as bullying. Bullying is not acceptable in any form, and as a Party we have to be able to sit down and work issues through professionally and constructively.

However, I see this as a member-led movement. It is as much your party as it is mine, so of course our volunteers have a say. After all, they are the ones actually doing the work. If you want to shape it, get involved and help.

5. Conduct of the leadership election

I will attempt to explain briefly the complex background. So here is the guts without naming names: The Opportunities Party was given a $50,000 donation late in 2018. The donor took exception to the leadership election and wanted it shut down. They threatened legal action if this didn’t happen. Instead of shutting the election down, the Board chose to return the donation to the donor and continue the election process.

Despite the finances of the Party, I feel this was the right decision. Members have donated far more than $50,000 since The Opportunities Party was restarted in September 2018, so I felt they deserved a say. In my view we cannot transition to a member-led movement by continuing to completely acquiesce to the wishes of large funders.

Some claim that the election was not Constitutional but this is false. The Board has the power to elect the leader, but there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents the Board from holding an election as part of that process. I made it clear from the outset I wanted to see an election for the leadership. During the process the Board publicly promised to implement the outcome of the election in their leadership selection, and they did so.

The real reason that the leadership election was called into question had nothing to do with whether it was constitutional. It was because of the people taking part in the election. Some people have an opinion on who should have been able to run in the leadership election. My view is that this was up to the members to decide through the democratic process.

A few people have also claimed the election was rigged. The Board wanted to reboot TOP in 2019 and there was a lot to be done before then. There was an election to hold, and funding to raise but given all the kerfuffle around de-registering, we also needed to reinvigorate the troops. Some sort of outreach was needed to test the temperature of our members and supporters. The Board discussed whether to hold the election or the tour first, and decided to go with the tour. I had no part in this decision.

So I went on a tour of the country for four weeks. I didn’t get paid for it and was living on my savings. I did get my travel expenses reimbursed by the Party (about $800). The trip was a “Listening Tour” designed to get a sense of where members wanted the party to head, and what we could learn from the past. It was designed to energise the membership and volunteer base and get a sense of the Party’s vision and values.

Perhaps that gave me an unfair advantage in the election that came afterwards. However, it would have been quite difficult for any leadership candidate to know where members wanted to take the Party if we hadn’t done this. Bit of a catch 22.

The Board could have given more time to the election, but that would have pushed it into March or April 2019 before we even had a result. Not great for building towards 2020.

6. Board Changes

In March the Board had an opportunity to negotiate a potential funder. One of the conditions of that negotiation taking place was that the funder appointed someone they knew on the Board. This was an unusual request but some of the Board felt it was a good chance for the Party to obtain funding. Matt Isbister was appointed to the Board in place of Paddy Plunket, which members have already been informed of.

Negotiations with this potential funder collapsed almost immediately after the appointment was made. Matt Isbister has since stood down from the Board and will be replaced at the Board meeting on Monday.

As mentioned above, the plan is to enlarge the Board to 5-6 people as soon as possible.

If you have questions about any of this - I’m always free to talk with members and volunteers. You are all part of something extraordinary in New Zealand’s history. Now is our time to focus on the future, be the clever opposition, get the important ideas out there and the Opportunities Party into Parliament.

Looking backward is good for learning, but looking forward with purpose and resolve is the road we need to take.

Let’s ride. Together.


GE-FREE NZ response to Opportunities Party Gene Editing policy is Anti-Science

Last month Australia allowed the use of gene editing in cases where no new genetic material is added. The Opportunities Party has called for New Zealand to follow Australia’s lead.

This prompted a hysterical response from GE Free NZ, who likened the Australian move to the “Wild West” of gene editing.

Opportunities Party leader Geoff Simmons has stated “GE Free NZ are scaremongers who don’t or won’t understand the science. Because they don’t understand it, they fear it. New Zealand faces a number of environmental challenges including climate change, kauri dieback and predators like rats, stoats and possums. By the time we work out so-called ‘natural solutions’ to these problems our taonga will be gone and we’ll be over-run with pests.”

“Gene editing is very different to old school genetic modification. No new genetic material is added and it has identical outcomes to selective breeding. Do GE Free NZ also oppose selective breeding?”

Innovation expert Anne French helped develop Opportunities Party policy. She says “GE Free NZ have asked for evidence for our stance. There is plenty of evidence in our detailed policy document including releases from 129 Nobel Laureates and New Zealand’s own Royal Society.”

“In contrast, GE Free NZ  have offered up one paper which states exactly the opposite of what they claim. The paper concludes that the process of cell culture (not gene editing) causes mutations - and cell culture is completely unregulated in New Zealand. Our policy requires researchers to prove that no other changes were made in the organism. GE Free NZ choose to fear-monger over engaging in intelligent discussion. ”

Geoff Simmons continues “Instead of being a ‘Wild West’ the Australian proposal is seen by international experts as a ‘middle ground’ between the laissez faire approach of the United States, Brazil and Argentina; and the strict approach of the European Union.

Simmons concludes “GE Free NZ’s lack of understanding of the science is breathtaking. In fact, their response to our policy borders on outright misdirection.”

“We hope there is greater depth of thought behind the stances of the Green Party and Labour Party on this issue, although the Greens seem to be avoiding the discussion.”

The Opportunities Party recognises the need for dialogue amongst stakeholders. We all live here and are invested in the best outcomes for our country. Burying our collective heads in the sand will not solve our serious problems.


When You Eat Your Easter Eggs - Remember Who the Chicken Is

The Labour led Government has gone into the Easter break chickening out of a Capital Gains Tax in any form. Obviously they are hoping that people will get stuck into their chocolate eggs and forget about it all over the break. 

But Kiwis won't be able to forget about the crippling cost of living, which is almost entirely a product of house prices and rents rising faster than incomes. Nor will younger generations be able to forget the fact that they will never be able to afford their own home. Nor will businesses be able to forget about our economy limping along from lack of investment because all of our money is tied up in housing speculation. 

Federated Farmers were right to call a Capital Gains Tax a mangy dog, and in the end it had to be put down. The Labour led Government excluded the family home from the outset. This meant any tax wouldn't have much impact on house prices, which was supposed to be the point. Businesses rightly squealed about their inclusion when the problem was so clearly the housing market. New Zealand First were no doubt going to make sure that farmers were exempt. So that would have left... investment property. Such a tiny proportion of our economy that it would barely have been worth the administration costs. And ultimately the poorest people in our society would have ended up bearing the brunt in higher rents. 

New Zealand desperately needs tax reform, but not the proposal from the Tax Working Group. The tax reform we need would deal with our growing inequality, housing crisis and poor productivity. To do that housing needs to be taxed in the same way we tax other assets.

The Opportunities Party's tax reform is the best practice way to achieve exactly that. But there are other ways to achieve a similar goal, such as the ideas suggested by Andrew Coleman. The Tax Working Group, largely because of its restrictive Terms of Reference, wasn't really able to consider either of these ideas. 

Capitalism can work, but only if it is a level playing field. Right now we have the opposite of a level playing field. We have a game that is rigged in the favour of a few. We have neoliberalism. 

The Government has failed to be a leader on tax and New Zealand’s housing crisis. By sheltering New Zealanders from a conversation about how we tax all assets, including the family home, they ultimately sowed the seeds of this proposal's demise.

Now watch house prices and rents return to their inevitable upward march. Watch renters - half of Kiwis - continue to get screwed because they miss out on the biggest tax break this country has; owning their own home. Watch hard working Kiwi families get squeezed even harder. Watch young people walk away from their dreams of owning their own home. And watch our businesses continue to struggle for the capital they need to grow. 

Incredibly the Prime Minister has also ruled out putting a price (some call it a tax, we call it a price) on water. The total cost of the Tax Working Group will likely come in under $2m, but with all these big ticket items off the table you have to wonder why we bothered at all. The result has been some very minor tinkering with a broken system. 

The lesson is simple. If we are going to bother getting experts involved, don't hamstring them from the outset with loopholes designed to make them politically palatable.

We need to get real with the public, and let them make an informed choice.