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Nullifying the Winston Effect

Nullifying the Winston Effect

By Nathan Hoturoa Gray

Winston Peters will always go down as the politician that set himself up for life by championing the pension and ingeniously introducing the 'Gold Card' that gives pensioners free public transport for the rest of their lives. It has assured him long standing voter loyalty and a fresh load of new fans each year as New Zealanders approach retirement age. In fact, it's the sort of grey power following that has enabled him to become Kingmaker to the New Zealand Government twice in the past and possibly see him achieve this feat yet again in the upcoming election. That is, if he doesn't get debunked by Media catching him out over the weekend for having received pension over-payments since 2010.

Although he paid back the $18,000 immediately upon being informed by senior department officials of the fiscal error, as the champion of pension payments in New Zealand politics it seems utterly unacceptable that he did not pick up on this mistake during the seven year period. Such fiscal irresponsibility, not to mention waiting for the media to pick up on the story, (as opposed to confessing his mistake as demonstrated by Metiria Turei's benefit fraud confession) certainly should raise a level of distrust in the wider electorate.

Winston has utilized his position as King Maker both effectively and quite devastatingly in the past. One time he delayed the government from being able to form by almost 8 weeks as he took his time cunningly negotiating between the two main party contenders from his extraordinary position of power. It has also ensured for himself powerful Ministerial roles in his career including Foreign Affairs Minister (where he was able to repair the US - NZ relationship), Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister.

Winston's dreams of becoming the Prime Minister this election are all but over given the meteoric rise of Jacinda Ardern and the resulting surge of Labour in the polls. Already this election cycle has seen the cull of many long standing party leaders in this particularly vicious Game of Thrones styled campaign build up. (Peter Dunne from United Future, Metiria Turei from the Greens and Andrew Little from Labour for starters and even ACT leader David Seymour and the leadership of the Maori Party are also having to campaign against a plethora of minor parties in the fight for their lives.) Will Winston now be added to the inter-generational political hit list? Or will he continue on for a record third time as Kingmaker and at the ripe old age of 72 potentially throw New Zealand politics into turmoil by playing off the two major party contenders once more? Indeed given his long held reputation as 'politically unmanageable' (especially by the likes of National leader Bill English who first threw him out of National Party back in the early 90s) and now 'fiscally irresponsible' given the weekend's events what can be done to try and nullify the Winston effect?

The Greens it seems have come up with an ingenious strategy in their recently released Transport policy manifesto by creating what they call the 'Green Card.' This entitles all people under the age of 19 to have free public transport whether on buses, trains or boats throughout New Zealand. The idea behind the policy is that the uptake by our youth will help force many cars off the roads, especially in our busier cities like Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington where rush hour can be a major pain in the proverbial backside not to mention a lack of affordable parking. (One in three cars each morning is estimated for school and college runs.)

Furthermore, university students and those working in apprenticeships will also gain free 'off-peak' public transport given the huge financial challenges they currently face with student debt, rising rents and living costs from the current housing crisis in New Zealand. Given that students' class timetables are generally flexible, the policy aims to provide incentives to encourage them to travel during off peak hours to help lessen peak traffic woes. These off peak incentives are also provided for people with disabilities so at least there is a chance for many of the empty buses that run throughout the day to be better utilized by this influx of free users. (On this note, why not extend free buses to everyone during these off-peak times so as to fill them up altogether?!)

Costing for the policy for free transport to Young New Zealanders is set at around $70 to $80 million dollars, but it would be interesting to see where the figures lie for everyone having the chance to use this infrastructure throughout non-peak hours. (Surely much cheaper then the ten billion dollars earmarked for more road building the National Party seems to think is the only way forward for our transport predicament...)

Currently Aucklanders spend at least four weeks every year sitting in traffic as well as transport costing 15% of an average household's expenditure at approximately $200 per week. Such a policy would not only help to free up road congestion and resulting pollution but enable the city to become ultimately more productive for business and socially. Indeed, more opportunities will open up for our youth to participate in afternoon activities without forcing parents to stop work to cart them around everyday if the public transport was free and more readily accessible.

Naturally all old age pensioners will continue to have their 'Gold Card' benefits under the Green Party's transport policy plan so the 'Green Card' also has the potential of taking away the 'Winston effect' - especially if this policy is promoted effectively in the campaign leading up to the election. Labour as such have not adopted such a 'Green Card' styled transport policy, but it would be an easy idea for them to copy or at least adopt in Parliament with a Green / Labour coalition should they get the numbers to govern along with what ever minor parties make it through this hack and slay election process. The final question therefore is, if Winston goes down with this latest fiasco, will National win back the majority of voters that had defected them for New Zealand First, or will other minor parties like the emerging Opportunities Party have a chance of making it to the top?


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