Tamaki Newsletter–August 2021
Simon O'Connor August 25, 2021 Share
As I begin writing this latest newsletter, we have begun another ‘Level Four’ lock down. While we here in Auckland have been used to various lock downs, we have only had a full, nationwide lock down once before – back in March 2020.
Tamaki Newsletter—June 2021
Simon O'Connor June 23, 2021 Share
We have just passed the shortest day of the year – and with that, we are going to be closer to spring that not. The seasons of politics continue, with a lot happening here in our electorate and in parliament. One particular highlight has been securing the funds to put CCTV cameras up on Achilles Point and at the St Heliers boat ramp. I will share a little more of this later in the newsletter.
Tamaki Newsletter—May 2021
Simon O'Connor May 26, 2021 Share
Already much has happened since my last newsletter a fortnight ago. As they often say, “a week is a long time in politics” and this aphorism is particularly true when I consider the recent Budget release by the government, as well as the ongoing debate around the He Puapua report.
Tamaki Newsletter—April 2021
Simon O'Connor May 06, 2021 Share
This month has been a busy one for us all and, as always, I hope to keep you well-informed with electorate activities (as well as beyond).
Tamaki Newsletter—March/April 2021
Simon O'Connor March 23, 2021 Share
Well, it has been an exceptionally busy few weeks, both here in the electorate and in parliament. I‘d like to draw your attention to a few things happening lately, including a local public meeting I am holding tomorrow night.
LOCAL CRIME PREVENTION MEETING – THIS WEDNESDAY (TOMORROW)
In recent months, many have shared their concern for the growing level of crime in Tamaki. From a wide range of conversations with locals, I am acutely aware of the various car break-ins, parcel thefts, burglaries, noise and disruption, and anti-social behaviour around our suburbs.
I have been engaging our local police and assisting families where I can, but I am also organising a public meeting, due to take place tomorrow evening. I have invited the Police to attend and provide you with the opportunity to share your experiences; hopefully, we can gain some insight into what we can do to protect ourselves and our properties. This meeting will take place tomorrow, Wednesday, 24 March at 7.00 PM at St Chad’s Church and Community Centre (38 St Johns Road, Meadowbank) – I hope to see you all there.
THE TRANS-TASMAN BUBBLE
A few days back, I wrote an op-ed on why we need to open the trans-Tasman bubble. I have shared it again below (abridged), but I was pleased to see that a few days later the National Party began a petition calling for such a bubble. As I write, we have had around 40,000 signatures. If you are interested and haven’t yet signed our petition, please consider submitting your name here: https://bit.ly/3txxOqs
My thoughts on opening the trans-Tasman bubble:
It is time to open the trans-Tasman bubble. I am being asked by constituents on a daily basis about this, and so I thought I would write and make my position and thinking clear on this.
I have often written about proportionality in decision making. At its heart, proportionality is about looking at all the factors and balancing risks. We are now in a position that the benefits of developing a trans-Tasman bubble far outweigh the risks.
A few simple statistics may assist in contextualising this. We have not had a reported case of Covid-19 from someone originating from Australia since late last year. Now granted, we have had to rely on public reporting of this as the Ministry of Health does not provide specific country by country breakdowns. Alongside this, those coming from Australia are making up – I understand – around 40% of all people in MIQ.
Phrased differently, we are quarantining a large number of people for little to no reason, other than reinforcing the government’s elimination strategy (one that can accommodate little to no risk).
As you will know from some press reports, our MIQ system is buckling under immense pressure; more people need spaces than are available. In my capacity as an MP, every day I am receiving requests from people wanting to access MIQ spaces but cannot. What is more heart-breaking are those who are genuinely desperate for such slots. These are people who are sick; wanting to visit ill or dying loved ones; or missing out on some very significant family event, amongst other reasons. The system as it currently stands cannot accommodate all these people except in very exceptional circumstances.
Consequently, opening a trans-Tasman bubble will not only benefit those travelling between Australia and New Zealand but also travellers from other countries. Releasing approximately 40% of MIQ capacity will have beneficial flow-on effects for those travelling in from places other than Australia.
The relational benefits are also enormous. We all know how close our two countries are, and many of us will have loved ones on the other side of the Tasman. These relationships remain disrupted; a bubble would allow us to resume relatively normal engagement. I cannot stress enough the harm and anguish locals have expressed to me about the isolation they are experiencing by being separated from their loved ones.
The economic benefits are clear. So much so, I won’t even comment further; it’s a no-brainer. The worrying thing is that as our current government hesitates and dawdles, Australia looks to other countries to create travel bubbles. We should be at the front of the queue, not the back (as we pretty much are with the vaccine). It is probably also useful to note that Australia has allowed New Zealanders to travel MIQ-free for some time now. We have an unnecessary asymmetry and one that, I know, agitates the already strained relationship with our closest ally.
Finally, many of these dynamics can apply to most of our Pacific neighbours. Not all, but most. In a way, opening travel bubbles to these countries – particularly those of the Realm – is even more important due to the severe effect a lack of tourism is having on their economies. The cost to them will also be ours as the request for more aid and support will surely follow unless these bubbles are developed soon.
I won’t speculate as to the continued hesitation by the Ardern government other than a near zealous adherence to their elimination strategy, which ultimately provides little room to manoeuvre – be that in the strategy itself and in the general perception that has been created.
As I say, it is time to open the trans-Tasman bubble. It could be done right now and should have been done already.
ST HELIERS POLICE STATION
Several years ago, you will remember the contentious debate around a suggestion to sell our St Heliers Police Station. During that time, I organised a meeting and invited the Police to attend; this resulted in a good discussion and the subsequent decision to retain the Police station.
In recent days, some media have begun speculating as to whether stations, such as ours, should be torn down and sold to help fix the current housing crisis. I for one am not convinced of this for a number of reasons, however, I would welcome your views.
Sadly, on the topic of closing, many of our local banks have closed or are closing. Most recently, the ASB and BNZ in the Village have shut down. Our local business owners and community members have expressed their concerns of the impact this will have, particularly on our older population.
With these concerns in mind, I raised this with the New Zealand Banking Association and requested that we be considered in their trials for banking hubs. I think this is an eloquent solution and one that is being trialled in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, they have come back declining this request, however, it is something I will be keeping an eye on and will likely raise again with them.
YOUR FEEDBACK PREVAILS
You may recall that around two years ago, I helped organise a public discussion about Auckland Transport’s proposals for Mission Bay and St Heliers. Their original idea would have seen over a quarter of the carparks scrapped as well as 14 or so new pedestrian crossings, amongst other things. The meeting was a huge success, with some suggesting we had around 800 locals turn up and speaking clearly in opposition. We agreed that their plans were unwanted and unnecessary and would have made it much harder for us to shop locally and support our business community.
In recent weeks, AT has come back with a fresh plan having actively engaged with our local business association, resident’s association, and local board. There will still be some changes, but nowhere near the scale the first plan had proposed. For more information about the proposal, check out this link here.
A LOCAL VICTORY
No, not the America’s Cup – although, well done Emirates Team New Zealand! You will remember my involvement with Mark Gumbrell and his battle with Master Builders. To recap: work on his house had been halted when his builder went into liquidation, and Mark was looking at a $200,000 loss. Why? Because the company had failed to complete the paperwork for a guarantee, despite him requesting and paying for it. Master Builders refuted any guarantee, and Mark feared he would have to sell the house once it was completed just to cover the loss.
I’m very happy to report that Mark has fought the good fight and won. Master Builders have agreed to honour their guarantee to help him finish his build, or as Mark puts it: “They have come to the party”. I wish Mark the best of luck with completing his project.
Literally, as I type, the government has announced its new housing plans. Much of it is spin insofar as the announcements have a grand quality to them but no details. Remember Kiwibuild? 100,000 homes were promised, yet no there was no pathway as to how this would be achieved (and in fact, the project became a spectacular failure).
Two aspects of the announcement stand out. The first is effectively the imposition of a Capital Gains Tax on homes. The government is going to extend the bright-line test to 10 years. This test was originally two years and meant that a person ‘flipping’ a house (that is buying, doing up, and selling with 24 months) would incur a tax. It was a useful way to target speculators.
Moving the bright-line test to ten years, however, moves us well away from speculators and targets families. Any person selling a home (other than the family home) within ten years of purchase will pay up to 39% tax on the capital gain. Let’s be clear – this is a Capital Gains Tax and many Kiwis will get caught up by this. The other perverse outcome is that many people will simply choose to hold on to property while awaiting the end of the 10-year window. While the rational thing to do, it will do nothing to boost the housing supply.
The other aspect is removing the ability for investors to offset the interest paid on the mortgage against rental income. You once would have been able to claim back the interest cost of a home loan against the rent received on the property. If you paid $30,000 in rent a year but paid $15,000 in interest on the mortgage, then your tax liability was only $15,000. This now disappears and investors will have to pay against the income alone. This is a big change and one that is going to have an obvious negative outcome: much higher rents. Once again, Labour claims that their policy will help those most in need of rental accommodation, yet this will just make their lives even harder.
HONOURING OUR VETERANS
I was very pleased to represent Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition a few days ago and recognise the services of Jayforce. These were the men and women who went to Japan at the end of the Second World War as part of the occupation forces. On Friday last week, I joined the Governor-General and the Minister of Defence to honour them, lay wreaths in memory of those who died, and then join the veterans and their families for lunch to hear their stories. It was a truly humbling day and I came away with a greater appreciation of the service and sacrifice of these veterans and their comrades. I thank them for their service.
Talking with one of the veterans from Jayforce
All the best for the coming days and I hope to see you on Wednesday night for our meeting on crime prevention.
Tamaki Newsletter—March 2021
Simon O'Connor March 01, 2021 Share
Since I last wrote - which wasn’t all that long ago - we have had two lockdowns. As I write, we are just beginning the second, this one to be in place initially for seven days.
The frustrations around this are enormous and my inbox is full with Tamaki locals expressing their thoughts – from worries about their businesses to stress accessing childcare. People understand the need to protect our health, but they are also wondering what considerations are being given to their businesses or to our mental health and well-being. Worryingly, I have a number of locals telling me how their children are really beginning to struggle with the anxiety these lockdowns and associated messaging have. Cancelled sports events and camps may be understood somewhat by adults, but younger people often just feel disappointment. The decisions being made today are going to have a noticeable and harmful impact down the line.
There has also been a lot of focus on the young man whose actions have directly contributed to this latest lockdown. I completely understand this anger, and he should be held to account, however, the issue is bigger than one person ‑ it is a systematic problem. I would suggest the government has been complacent – resting on its laurels in many ways – when it comes to ensuring compliance. Other countries have, for example, random visits and phone calls to those in isolation. We need to be asking the government more questions around how it is managing things from the border to MIQ, contact tracing to what tests they are choosing to use.
I also want to add in a quick word about vaccines. The government said we would be at the front of the queue, but as with many things the government promises, it became evident that this was untrue. The government could and should have used emergency procedures to assess the vaccine as other countries have done. Perhaps then we would not be yo-yo-ing in and out of lockdowns as we are now.
Not everything is about Covid-19 however; the government have pushed through a number of very significant – and problematic – changes lately.
The government has rushed through changes to stop Councils once and for all from being able to hold referenda on the question of establishing Maori Wards. This is now law, with the public given less than 48 hours to make submissions. Changes to any electoral structure should be carefully considered, but Labour has once again ridden roughshod over this convention.
Setting up Maori wards is rightly controversial. It is developing separate systems based on race. This doesn’t work well in a properly functioning democracy. The new law says that of all the questions a Council can ask the public about – roads, rates, rubbish, you name it – they cannot ask whether the voters want Maori Wards or not. This is banned and nothing else. Disturbingly, once established, the new law provides no ability or mechanism to reverse the change.
The government also continues to make changes to the education curriculum. The changes, however, are not addressing the continuing underachievement of students in many important subject areas such as maths and science, but instead focusing on what I would call more ideological topics. The first is changes to the New Zealand History Curriculum. Teaching our history is good, but as I read the three aims of the curriculum, it seems to me to take a very simplistic view that interactions between humans are always about a good side versus a bad side, with little in between. Worse still, the third aim is a classic Marxist viewpoint that suggests history can only be viewed as a struggle for power.
On top of this, the government is also wanting to introduce ‘anti-racism’ classes. No one supports racist behaviour and each of us can model tolerant and respectful behaviour. Ironically, the proposed ‘Un-teach Racism’ course is all about creating new divisions, arguing for the concept of ‘structural racism’ which are deliberately undefined, and promoting a very singular view of the Treaty of Waitangi.
All of this shows that what is currently being suggested is more akin to indoctrination than education.
Frustratingly, we are seeing more and more of ‘cancel culture’ in New Zealand. If you say or do something that the progressive left disagree with, then instead of engaging and discussing, they will simply seek to shut you down. A week or so ago, a reporter wrote an op-ed saying how great it was that corporates could pull advertising from the likes of Magic Talk because of what a commentator’s view was. Here is my response:
I wonder if this opinion writer would be so certain of her position if corporates acted in a way contrary to her value system?
Her basic argument is that corporates and private companies should cancel contracts with other people or entities they disagree with. Most of us could think of examples where we think it is right to withdraw support, sponsorship, or business. However, most of us could equally think of situations where a business is simply throwing around its weight on issues that are much more complicated and are still very much a matter of public debate.
Are we comfortable with corporates and private businesses deciding on moral, ethical, or political questions simply by the power of their money and influence? Again, it is very easy to focus on a single case that is relatively clear cut, but the key is to extrapolate the dynamic wider. Again, the question stands – would this opinion piece writer be so certain of her position if a private business acted in a way that did not accord with her values?
Where to draw the line between 'a private business can do whatever it wants' and 'a private business should align to x social/political norms' is tricky. What worries me is how some people, often on the progressive side of politics (though not exclusively – I have seen conservatives try doing the same), pivot between these two sides depending on whether they agree with the action or not. We should be more principled and consistent than that. I have a general concern about corporates deciding for us – and using their money and influence to do so – about what is right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. Granted, such businesses cannot be indifferent or agnostic either, and herein lies the heart of the issue and the need for much more considered discussion.
For those like me who follow defence matters, the government has announced that we are ending our soldiers’ deployment to Afghanistan after 20 years. I was fortunate enough to travel to Kabul a few years ago to see our soldiers' work and impact there. It was (and is) important and dangerous work. We should thank all those Kiwis who were deployed there for their service, dedication, and sacrifice.
I was fortunate enough to visit Afghanistan a few years ago to see first-hand the incredible work our defence personnel do there.
As I write, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hong Kong has arrested a further 47 democracy advocates for supposedly “subversive behaviour” (according to the egregious new law the government passed a few months back). Those arrested helped run an unofficial "primary" election last June to pick opposition candidates for 2020 legislative elections, which were then postponed. That’s right, the CCP arrested citizens who wanted to run for parliament.
This is outrageous and I join with many other MPs around the world condemning this latest action. Sadly, there is little democracy left in Hong Kong and it is heart-breaking to hear from Hong Kong locals about their experiences.
I’m organising a public safety meeting with the Police in light of the increase in car break-ins, parcel thefts, disorderly behaviour, and other crimes happening across our electorate. I hope to announce the date soon, but it will most likely take place later in March. As you will understand, it takes a little bit of coordination to organise times that work for me, the police, and the venue. The lockdown hasn’t helped either! Keep an eye on my Facebook page for more information; I will write another newsletter advertising this as well.
Be assured, these issues are front and centre to me and in the meantime, I encourage you all to report all suspicious behaviour or crimes to the Police via 105 or 111 in an emergency.
Another meeting, this time with Housing New Zealand/Kainga Ora to discuss their proposed Glendowie housing developments, will also be postponed. The lockdown has prevented this from going ahead this Thursday. I am currently chasing them up regarding a new date or whether they are considering an online forum.
There is a lot happening, and certainly a collective unease and understandable disappointment. Can I wish you and your families all the best for the coming days, and know that while my offices have to remain closed, I remain available via email and phone.
MP for Tamaki
P.S. I will leave you with the thoughts of Karl du Fresne, a former editor of the Dominion Post, who published an article titled New Zealand is being transformed, but not in a good way. He points to how “rampant identity politics are blighting the country” with the entrenchment of racial separatism, encouragement of grievance culture, and the promotion of polarisation and divisiveness. The revamping of our education system, changes to freedoms of speech, and punishment to our farming sector provide evidence of this. You can read the full article here.
Tamaki Newsletter—February 2021
Simon O'Connor February 09, 2021 Share
As always, I trust this latest newsletter finds you well and you have had a restful break over the summer holidays. I enjoyed some time away with family, celebrating Christmas with my wife’s family down south - thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing. It must be said, we live in an incredible country indeed.
It is back into the full swing of things now, with my office and team also back to their usual hours. As always, if you have any queries or concerns, let the team and I know and we will do our best to assist.
My favourite photo I took during my summer holidays. This is at Tunnel Beach, just outside Dunedin.
As we begin a new year, we have much to look forward to but also a number of challenges. Sadly, many of those challenges from 2020 remain present in 2021. As I write, it appears that international travel will remain elusive for the next 12 months, as too a clear answer as to why New Zealand is still waiting for the various vaccines. As you know, many of our allies – such as the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States – have already begun vaccinating their citizens. Israel already has vaccinated over a quarter of its population! Last year, the government was telling us we would be at the “front of the queue,” yet as with so many things Labour says, the opposite is true.
We also have the Ministry of Education’s recent announcement on what they want the New Zealand history curriculum to look like. Put very simply, it is a shocker not least as one of its three aims is to teach students that “history has been shaped by the exercise and effects of power." This idea is straight out of Marxist thinking, inspired by philosophers like Hegel and others who see life as simply a battle between opposing sides; a never-ending revolution to dominate, control, and have power. Excuse my being somewhat philosophical (granted, it is my post-graduate expertise), but teaching this singular viewpoint is simply wrong. There are many ways to view history, including one that is far more relational, and yet this government wants to promote the one view that fits their political narratives. New Zealand has a great history, and it should be taught. However, what is currently being suggested looks to me more like indoctrination than education.
Somewhat related is the other major issue I see developing this year and that is free speech. The government seems intent on introducing legislation that is not so much about speech that is hateful in the strict sense, but rather speech they hate or dislike. Granted, we have not seen the actual legislation but early signs and comments from the government are not positive. A healthy liberal democracy exists because it can allows for free speech and one must question the commitment to democratic principles of those who wish, effectively, to censor the views they do not like. We have already seen far too much ‘cancel culture’ and bullying of those whose views do not align with their supposedly progressive agenda.
It has been great to see so many people out and about enjoying the beaches, parks, and spaces of our amazing electorate. The Prada Cup, and in a few weeks the America’s Cup, will see more action on the harbour which provides a good excuse to visit the many fantastic businesses in the area. Talking with many local business owners, things remain tough, so supporting local is a good thing!
Thanks to locals Carla and Paul who dropped this incredible framed photo of Kohimarama from 1924 to my office. What a wonderful bit of history.
A warm congratulations to Tamaki local and retired Court of Appeal judge Lynton Stevens for being honoured by the Queen with a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for his services to the judiciary and the community. Among his many achievements, he recently chaired the Government inquiry into the Havelock North water contamination as well as having been instrumental in the successful renewal of the Auckland Racing Club. It is a fantastic and well-deserved achievement, so once again, a big congratulations.
Tamaki local and retired Court of Appeal judge Lynton Stevens, now a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
As always, I welcome your thoughts on any local issues or developing issues you see within politics. In the meantime, every best wish to you and your family.
MP for Tamaki
Tamaki Newsletter—December 2020
Simon O'Connor December 10, 2020 Share
This will be my first newsletter for December, but also my last for 2020. There is a lot to update on you below – from local successes to activities in Parliament – but first and foremost, I want to say thank you for all the support, advice, and encouragement this year. The results of the election were certainly not good for National, however, we here in Tamaki can be proud of our efforts and for delivering one of the best results of any blue seat. So again, my sincere thanks.
Tamaki Newsletter—August 2020
Simon O'Connor August 24, 2020 Share
Well, what crazy times we continue to be in, including the Auckland lockdown continuing until at least Sunday evening. The last few weeks have been very difficult for many people, not at least our business owners who have been forced to close down once again. My mind particularly turns to our café and restaurant owners. In talking to many people in recent days, it is clear they are doing it tough. My thanks, however, to everyone who has ‘supported local’ and I encourage you to continue doing so.
Tamaki Newsletter—June 2020
Simon O'Connor June 26, 2020 Share
As I write, the parliament is once again in Urgency – that is, the government has the House sitting from 9am until midnight each day to rush through a large number of bills. It is quite extraordinary to have government MPs literally taking five-second calls on important legislation, including a complete overhaul of how the public service works. Instead of debating, they are ramming legislation through. I cannot help but think it is rather symbolic of how this government is working overall.