Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: Election uncertainty hitting business confidence

The Electoral Commission's list of donations to political parties revealed donations made by Owen Glenn. Photo: Getty Images

In today's email we look into the Electoral Commission's list of donations made to political parties, dig into the sale of the disputes resolution service used by ACC, and ask what is next for ACT.

1. Owen Glenn's political return

Remember Owen Glenn? We've discovered he's back in political life and donating money to political parties, including to both Labour and National. He even tried to donate again to New Zealand First, but they declined.

Perhaps that's understandable.

The rich-lister's donation of $100,000 to Winston Peters' legal fund in 2005 eventually led to Peters' censure in 2008 for misleading Parliament over the donation. Glenn disclosed the details of his conversations with Peters to a select committee. The ensuing furore cost Peters his job as foreign minister in Helen Clark's Labour Government and helped lead to New Zealand First's ejection from Parliament from 2008 to 2011.

Glenn had steered clear of politics for years after that drama.

But yesterday, Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva noticed an unusual name in the Electoral Commission's list of political donations over $30,000. He saw Go Bloodstock NZ Ltd had donated $50,000 to the National Party.

A search of Go Bloodstock NZ Ltd's ownership found its director was John Glenn and its sole shareholder was his brother Owen Glenn.

Sam then tracked down Glenn in Sydney to find out what the story was. He told Sam he had donated $50,000 each to National and Labour just two days before the election. He had also offered New Zealand First $10,000, but wasn't sure if they had accepted or if it had been donated.

Sam found out from New Zealand First they had declined. He also confirmed from Labour that Glenn had donated $50,000, although it has yet to be declared on the Electoral Commission's list of returns.

Glenn also disclosed he just found out he was clear of liver cancer and holds no grudges for the way he was treated in 2008 and after. He would even be happy to accept a role in trade promotion for New Zealand in Europe, the United States or the Far East.

Here is Sam's full story published first this morning on Newsroom Pro.

2. Is it really a Fair Way?

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw has investigated the curiously quiet sale of ACC's disputes service FairWay Resolution to its staff earlier this year without a tender.

Lawyers told Shane it still operated with conflicts of interest and was now cloaked from the Official Information Act because it was now a privately owned entity.

Minister Michael Woodhouse defended the sale without a tender in an interview with Shane, saying Treasury had advised a tender would not improve the price. Woodhouse also doubted whether a move to the court system would solve the complaints independence and said there was no substance to allegations Fair Way was doing the bidding of its sole client -- ACC.

True independence was impossible to achieve “unless you want people to be not paid for their services," Woodhouse said.

"The judiciary is no different in that sense, they’re being paid for their services as well.”

Hmm. An interesting view on the independence of the judiciary from a minister.

Shane's full article was published first on Newsroom Pro and is a useful look behind the scenes of FairWay and its change of status.

3. Is ACT now irrelevant?

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva has taken a deeper look at the future of ACT after its poor electoral result.

Before the election, David Seymour was talking about his plan to make ACT relevant again. Yet the party went backwards, leaving Seymour facing opposition as a solo act.

While Seymour easily held his Epsom electorate with a nearly 5000-vote margin, ACT actually slid backwards in the party vote stakes, dropping to 0.51 per cent from 0.69 per cent in 2014.

It’s a small fall, but a far cry from Seymour’s bold prediction to Newsroom in the election lead-up about bringing in as many as five MPs. Official Information Act because it was now a privately owned entity.

Seymour himself has mixed emotions, disappointed with his result but pointing to the demise of other minor parties as a worst-case scenario he avoided.

“Any fool can prosper in the good times, it’s surviving the hard times that really matter.”

He agrees that the focus on the major parties squeezed ACT, with voters “terrified” of Jacinda Ardern throwing their lot in with National, and the media treating the campaign as if it was an First Past the Post race (one area where Seymour and his bete noire Winston Peters are in rare agreement).

Seymour is particularly bitter about any suggestion he was “gifted” Epsom by National, arguing he and ACT have successfully made the case that the right gets two parties for the price of one by supporting him.

Seymour hints that a rebrand may be on the cards, talking about internal polling commissioned by ACT some months ago on the favourability ratings of himself and his party.

While his net rating was +1 - not bad for a polarising politician - the party’s result was “more negative than any other party we polled, by a considerable margin”.

“Do you keep plugging away, trying to rehabilitate the thing, or do you make a change?”

See Sam's full piece here on Newsroom Pro
, where it was published first yesterday.

4. Business confidence down, but not out

Businesses confidence fell during the election campaign, but less than for other elections, two surveys show.

Uncertainty about the shape and policies of a new Government are affecting business sentiment, but vehicle and retail sales show businesses and consumers have not put away their wallets.

It's tempting upon seeing a sudden drop in business confidence during coalition negotiations to conclude that this is a new and shocking thing that proves New Zealand is economically allergic to a Winston Peters-driven Government under MMP.

But we've been here before and this cycle's slide in confidence is actually less than in previous election cycles, including ones where Governments seen as business-friendly were definitely changing to centre-left-leaning Governments.

Consumer and business spending remains solid, with record high new car sales and retail sales growing firmly during September. The economy may be softening a bit (and it was anyway before the election because of a stall in the Auckland housing market), but it is far from falling off a cliff.

ANZ reported last week
that its monthly Business Outlook survey of confidence found confidence about the wider economy fell from a net 18.3 percent seeing improvement over the year ahead in August to a net zero percent seeing improvement in September. That was a two-year low.

"Some of the paring back may reflect a maturing business expansion, but we’re more inclined to put the move down to political uncertainty," ANZ's Cameron Bagrie said just before the election.

As expected, the election result was not conclusive on the night, leaving Winston Peters as the 'kingmaker' to decide whether a National-led Government will win a record fourth term, or whether a Labour-Green-New Zealand First Government will prevail. The uncertainty was extended when Peters said he would not begin serious negotiations until October 7 when the special votes are counted and the results finalised. He has said he plans to make his choice by October 12.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research's (NZIER) Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion
released yesterday found confidence about the general business situation fell to a net seven percent seeing an improvement in the September quarter, which was down from a net 17 percent seeing improvement in the June quarter.

"A decline in business confidence is not unusual heading into a General Election, as businesses and households hold off committing to major spending plans given the uncertainty over the formation of the new Government," NZIER's Principal Economist Christina Leung said.

However, the 10 percentage point drop in general business confidence for this election was less than the average 19 percent fall seen during the MMP era after 1996.

Other measures of economic activity, as well as consumer confidence and business confidence show consumers and businesses feel relatively confident and are still spending, despite the hiatus in Government circles.

The ANZ's seasonally adjusted measure of wider business confidence found a fall from 29 percent to 14 percent and businesses were much more confident about their own business outlooks, which is often seen as a more reliable indicator of economic activity. ANZ's September survey found a net 29.6 percent were confident about their own outlooks, down from 38.2 percent in August.

NZIER's survey found a net 27 percent saw an improvement in the next quarter in their own businesses, up from a net 24 percent who saw improvement in the June quarter. They reported their activity in the September fell to a net 13 percent seeing improvement from a net 17 percent seeing improvement the previous quarter.

5. Auckland population pressure and change

Statistics New Zealand released its latest sub-national ethnic population projections to 2038 yesterday, which illustrated the huge changes in the population mix and size expected in Auckland over the next 20 years.

The chart above tells the story, but it also illustrates the scale of the population change that Auckland Council and the Government will have to plan for, along with the role of the changing ethnic mix in society and politics.

Auckland's population is projected to rise from 1.69 million this year to 2.22 million by 2038, which would require at least another 250,000 dwellings to house that extra population.

That implies about 13,000 new dwellings need to be built every year for 20 years. Last year, which was the peak of the latest boom, just over 10,000 dwellings were consented and around 8,000 were certified as completed.

Also interestingly, on these projects, the combined Asian, Pacific and Maori populations are due to exceed the European population by 2023 on the medium growth projection.

The data shows the Auckland region will have 1.05 million Pacifica, Maori and Asian people by 2023, which would exceed the 986,800 Europeans projected by then.

Currently, there are 913,200 Pacifica/Maori and Asian people in Auckland, with 946,700 Europeans living in the region. Statistics NZ only forecasts in five year blocks, which suggests the 'crossover' point may be in the next year or two.

6. Milestones

Referred - The Electoral Commission announced yesterday it had referred two complaints about the social media activity of Sean Plunket on election day to the police. Plunket, who has just been appointed as a member of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and was TOP's communications director, tweeted: "Hope everyone remembers to put a top on before going out to vote, when it's cold, two tops."

The Commission said two other complaints about unnamed people had also been referred to the Police under the laws banning the use of social media on election day for political activity. Over 1.2 million people voted before election day.

Resigning - ANZ Chief Economist Cameron Bagrie said yesterday he planned to quit from next year after a replacement is found, possibly internally. He said he planned to set up a consultancy and take on board positions. He described the role as exhausting and said he planned to get fit and spend more time with his family. (Stuff)

Deregistration - The Destiny Church faced deregistration as a tax-free charity unless it filed returns for the 2016 and 2017 financial years, DIA was reported as saying. (RNZ)

7. Coming up...

Labour and National are expected to begin preliminary discussions with New Zealand First on Thursday, ahead of the Saturday deadline for the reporting back of the final election results from special votes.

Treasury is due to report back the final results of the 2016/17 financial year to June 30 at midday on Thursday.

8. One fun thing

Getting completely away from the awful events in Las Vegas, here's a fun twitter follow on New Zealand political matters. It's NZ Art Parallels, which matches up political photos with New Zealand art.

Here's their latest: "NZ First leader, Winston Peters; Michael Smither, Hapuka, 1979. (Image: Hagen Hopkins/Getty)"