Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday 9th - Debate at Fale Pasifika

Hosted at Fale Pasifika at the University of Auckland, a candidates debate was hosted by the Salvation Army, Problem Gambling Foundation, ASH, and other charities to ask Auckland Central candidates what position their respective parties had on various issues.

The candidates were:
Labour - Jacinda Ardern
National - Nikki Kaye (incumbent)
Greens - Denise Roche
ACT - David Seymour
NZF - Allen Davies
Māori - Tina Porou
Conservatives - Stephen Greenfield

The Topics

1. Problem Gambling Foundation - On pokie machines and charity money from gambling
Most candidates were quick to point the finger at pokie machines being the lowest kind of gambling, and thus the most harmful and destructive. Porou noted that many charities were highly dependent on the money they raise (what Roche calls 'lazy fundraising') and that it was economically unfair that problem gamblers were depriving their families of food and and attention to fund sports club uniforms and other community benefits. Seymour noted that the money raised was making the best out of a bad situation. Greenfield and NZF were quick to jump to a 'sinking lid' policy on the proliferation of the machines, while Ardern was keen on community-based bans and objections on new or continuing machines.

2. Action on Smoking and Health - On tobacco controls
Māori Party have been active in seeking a tobacco ban in New Zealand by 2025, so Porou was quick in reminding the audience of this. Roche added the idea of following Australia in having plain packaging for tobacco products which was under consideration by the current government. Almost all candidates tried to put an emotive angle on the issue, where they all had either personal or family stories about heavy smoking, with Denise Roche talking about her own addiction and her own family member dying from smoking-related illness. There was little resistance from candidates in the name of personal choice and freedom, though Seymour and Greenfield mentioned this, with Seymour adding that a smoke free New Zealand was not a sensible goal, with prohibition creating far worse problems than keeping it legal.

3. The Salvation Army - On drinking culture
Even the NZF candidate admitted he did like a drink, and this issue was approached far more conservatively by candidates. Kaye was representing the government, and her usual style appeared where she listed all the moves the government were making to battle the issue of our drinking culture in New Zealand. The issue was approached in a nanny state style by other candidates, except of course, for David Seymour; who talked about his experience in Canada, where alcohol sales were heavily regulated by the government only to end up with the same drinking culture as New Zealand. He argued that this was a symptom, and not a problem in itself, the having a stronger and more opportunity-rich economy was essential in giving people a future and valuing their lives. Other candidates were more skeptical of this idea, and promoted a great degree of advertising regulation, price regulation, and types of drinks regulation. Seymour replied that this would impact on our alcohol industry, where product differentiation of beer and wine was necessary. Roche, who lives on Waiheke Island and is involved with winemaking, said that she could state a conflict of interest in this issue, though she was the only person to submit to the select committee on this issue that the industry would not self regulate.

Other questions from the floor

1. Differentiation on alcohol and tobacco controls
Since price control and advertising proposals on alcohol were similar to tobacco products, it only makes sense that someone would connect the two products. Seymour mentioned that people could enjoy alcohol in a far more moderate way and impose no costs on society, though he didn't mention that smokers can do the same. Other candidates, such as Porou, mentioned that both were harmful and impacted the poor the most, and both needed regulation regardless. 

2. Revenue gained from tobacco excise
One member of the audience mentioned different statistics to the ones Seymour presented from economist Eric Crampton on the monetary costs and benefits of tobacco use, only to be told by Seymour that his source was a far more reputable economist, and that Crampton's figures were the ones he would prefer to use. Having said that, he acknowledged the work the audience member did in charity, sympathizing due to Seymour's work with the Problem Gambling foundation, and that he would work with the member on other issues.

Overall, though the audience turnout was small (less than 40), the issues raised were good ones that challenged candidates on their knowledge of policy. Nikki Kaye played well at being the incumbent MP, mentioning the work the government was already doing on the issues, showing that the government was already on topic and hinting that her re-election was essential at continuing them. Roche was good at focussing on harm minimization as opposed to tight controls, contrasting with Ardern who took the nanny-state style. Greenfield seemed to be split between personal choice and active measures, giving the impression he was more socially liberal than his party would prefer, and probably making him a good ACT or National candidate, though he did say he joined the conservatives in response to government inaction over many issues. Davies for NZF was near totally inept, keeping with the style he has shown in other debates. Seymour knew he'd be reasonably unpopular by championing economic stability as a solution to social problems and defending personal choice, though he appeared very principled and knowledgable in the effects and in effects of policy, warning where public policy does not achieve the goals it sets out.

Tonight I will be attending a debate on Auckland's transport and planning - two issues that I have deep interest in.  Seeing David Seymour's responses on Back Benches a week ago on the same topics worried me that these would be deeply unpopular, promoting urban sprawl and opposing the CBD rail link. More moderate answers I would purport are supporting the rail link in theory, but asking for better cost-benefit analyses and supporting a modified and more economical solution. Urban sprawl is one that I'm quite against, and the ACT party solution already comes from streamlining the Resource Management Act (1991) to allow more medium-to-high-density growth in the inner city. Relaxing constraints on brownfield development and redevelopment, along with unnecessary details such as building height controls, would make it far easier for developers to supply the demand on inner city sites that are highly sought-after and much more sustainable. Either way, will post about the outcomes later!

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