Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: A Labour-Green fiscal framework; National's poll rating down; RMA reform down to the wire

Grant Robertson at a Finance and Expenditure select committee hearing: Labour and the Greens want to be seen as a safe pair of fiscal hands. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email, we detail the Labour-Green "Budget Responsibility Rules", check out the latest poll results and detail the sticking points holding back RMA reform from getting across the line.

1. 'We're a safe pair of hands'

The election campaign is shaping up as a contest between the 'steady as she goes' Government that voters know, and a Labour-Green bloc that would like to voters to see them as a 'safe pair of hands.'

The ghost of the 2014 campaign hangs heavy over the thinking of the Labour-Green leadership. National's television ad depicting a sleek Government rowing eight vs the feuding paddlers of Labour, Green and Internet-Mana encapsulated the Government's pitch, which seemed to resonate with the help of the Dirty Politics and 'Moment of Truth' dramas.

So this morning Labour and the Greens announced the first major joint policy of their memorandum of understanding aimed at presenting themselves as an alternative Government in waiting and a "safe pair of hands."

They have announced a set of 'Budget Responsibility Rules' that would commit them to running a sustainable operating surplus over an economic cycle and to returning net core crown debt to 20 percent of GDP by 2022 -- two years later than the current Government's latest plan.

They also pledged to keep Government spending within its recent historical range of 28 percent to 34 percent of GDP, as seen over the last decade.

2. A Kiwi Congressional Budget Office?

Treasury may not love this idea, but it comes with the fiscal framework package presented this morning.

A Labour-Green Government would establish an independent body to set the terms of what a sustainable operating surplus means over an economic cycle.

"It's all about giving people certainty and confidence," Labour Finance Spokesman Grant Robertson told Newsroom before the announcement.

"These rules are a clear and direct statement that we will manage the economy carefully and be held to account," he said.

Green Co-Leader James Shaw said the two parties wanted to give voters a sense of what a Labour-Green Government would look like.

"In Government, we'll be a steady pair of hands. The Greens and Labour are very much on the same page about this. This is what a stable, responsible, alternative Government looks like," he said.

Robertson said the independent monitoring agency would not report to ministers and not be part of Treasury. It would have oversight of Government economic and fiscal forecasts, and would provide an independent assessment of those forecasts to the public.

3. Two years of wiggle room

Robertson and Shaw said a Labour/Green Government would delay the return to 20 percent of net debt to invest to deal with infrastructure deficits in transport, housing and water, and to restart contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

Shaw said the decision to target the 20 percent net debt figure by 2022 rather than the Government's 2020 target was designed to give a Labour-Green Government room to deal with any surprises on election.

"We wanted to give ourselves a little bit of wiggle room because we don't know what the Government has hidden," Shaw said.

Both Shaw and Robertson referred to the risks of a Government committing to fiscal targets that it set and monitored itself. They cited then British Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, subsequently Prime Minister, Gordon Brown in their decision to set up an independent monitor. It would also provide costings of opposition policies.

Brown twice changed the definition of what was a sustainable surplus, Shaw said.

"Politicians have a way of interpreting things to suit their own circumstances," he said.

4. It's all about housing and migration

Newshub last night drip-fed out its latest Reid Research poll result on the question: what do voters think are the key election issues?

Housing and migration topped the list of concerns, with 72 percent of respondents saying the Government was not doing enough to control the housing market and 51 percent saying the Government should cut migration.

Newshub also quoted Labour Leader Andrew Little as saying a Labour-Green Government would reduce migration levels, without saying by exactly how much or how.

The comments aren't completely new, given Little has been talking for months about tightening migration settings to take out some of the low skilled migrant numbers that he argues are substituting for local unemployed and keeping downward pressure on wages. But they signal Labour is ramping up its attention on this area.

In one other poll result, Roy Morgan reported its monthly poll found support for National fell 4.5 percentage points to 43.5 percent, while the Labour-Green bloc rose 5 percentage points to 44 percent. Labour rose 3.5 points to 29.5 percent and Green rose 1.5 to 14.5 percent, while New Zealand First was down 0.5 points to 7.5.

5. RMA coming down to the wire

The Government's Resource Management Act (RMA) reform drive is in its final stages of Parliamentary progress and Environment Minister Nick Smith has yet to secure the Maori Party's two votes necessary to get it across the line in the third reading vote.

ACT's David Seymour and Peter Dunne sought to capitalise on that uncertainty yesterday by offering to replace the Maori Party's votes to help get the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill through before the election. But they want some major concessions that some on National's back-bench would privately welcome.

Seymour and Dunne announced on the black and white tiles in Parliament they had renewed their offer of support on the condition the Mana Whakahono a Rohe/Iwi Participation agreements and the Minister's over-ride powers be removed.

The Maori Party wants to keep the Participation agreements and also block, or water down, so-called 360D powers for the Minister to over-rule a GMO ban (or other bylaws) set by Councils.

It is this 360D power that is the key sticking point for the Maori Party. Co-Leader Marama Fox gave some insight yesterday into the shape of the negotiations around 360D, and Smith acknowledged he may have to water down the Minister's powers in the Act.

Fox told reporters in Parliament her party wanted safeguards to the 360D powers introduced at the final committee stages so a Minister could not use "super powers" to override a Council.

"We did have some concerns over certain areas, particularly in the 360D," Fox said.

"We wanted to ensure that the process by which the Minister has to enact that is secure, that it has some oversight or a way for people to appeal those decisions and it's not just walk in and do whatever you like -- no superpowers here please -- and we also wanted to ensure there is protection for regions to declare themselves GE free," she said.

"We wanted to assure ourselves that the process by which those powers can be enacted is suitably robust that the Minister would have to go to consultation with the community, that it's subject to judicial review and we wanted to know he couldn't just walk in and do something without talking with the local region."

Fox said she expected negotiations to be completed within the next day or two.

Smith said he was still confident of a deal and confirmed he was in discussions about potential safeguards for the 360 D powers.

"There will be some technical amendments that we'll need to address during the committee stages," Smith told reporters in Parliament.

"Work is continuing, but I remain confident of the Maori Party's support for the passage of this bill," he said, adding the Government expected to get the bill through the committee stages and its third reading within the next month.

"We're going to have those discussions directly with the Maori Party and there may be some technical changes to the bill," he said when asked about the potential for the Minister's override rights to be subject to appeal or community consultation.

6. 'We'd make a perfect guinea pig'

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw is following the future of work and transport closely from our office in the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

He has already covered the progress of law changes that would allow Uber to operate legally, and yesterday he covered the Select Committee appearance of an American expert on the future of autonomous vehicles and transport generally.

Shane reports Professor Travis Wallers reckons New Zealand would be a great petrie dish for these technologies to be tried out.

“Something I’ve learned being here for the week, historically New Zealand was a testing ground for new technology and I think there remains a real benefit to re-seize that, because dealing with the legal liabilities, dealing with the different forms of government is much easier here than, say, America," Wallers told Shane.

“In my mind, if there’s really a concerted effort to present a coordinated, ‘we want to be the test bed of the world’, it looks like you have the fundamental ingredients to do that,” he says.

Here's Shane's full story.

7. Getting rid of the overhang?

The decision by the Labour Party's Maori MPs to take themselves off the list last week caused a stir, and there may be more to it than just the fight between Labour and the Maori Party.

Thomas Coughlin writes at Newsroom that Labour may be focused more on ensuring the Maori-Mana combination doesn't create over-hang seats.

He includes a useful explanation of how MMP could work to give the Maori Party 'extra' seats within the MMP system, and why Labour is so keen to stop that happening.

8. Food for thought for the weekend

Tyler Cowen has written an insightful piece over at the Cato Institute about the looming battle between authoritarianism and human capital.

"A lot more is up for grabs than we had thought, and many of the dangers come from a very different direction than many people had expected, namely from a kind of old-style authoritarianism, souped up by the clever use of social media," Cowen writes.

"So we’re going to see a kind of intellectual war, and possibly war in other, more violent forms too. That war, using that word in the broadest sense possible, will be between today’s amazing accumulated stock of human capital — and the emotional momentum behind authoritarianism, which is encouraged by the political fraying that stems from underlying fears of disruption."