Blog | Governing In Times Of Crisis: Poll Booster?

By Nick Howell

Labour is leading the pack coming up to the general election of 17 October. How have they gained such a formidable lead? Is it due to their handling of the COVID-19 crisis or the fumbling of the National Party?

Labour is contesting the upcoming election from an unprecedented position of power; the most recent Colmar Brunton One News Poll put them at 53 percent – dwarfing National’s 32 percent [1]. What led to such a result? Is Labour’s polling proportionate to their performance in dealing with Covid-19? Or, are New Zealanders clinging to familiarity in a time of crisis, akin to the bolstering effect the post-2008 economic recovery had on National’s popularity?

Unquestionably, the Coronavirus and its effects – both medically and economically – is one of the biggest challenges the world has faced in the last 20 years. Over 25 million cases and 800,000 deaths have been confirmed globally. New Zealand’s GDP suffered the largest drop in 29 years, falling 1.6 percent in the March quarter of 2020, as reported by Stats NZ [2]. Such profound effects on health and economic wellbeing have led to a large scale of government intervention. Labour have undoubtedly been proactive: putting the country into lockdown to prevent the virus’ spread, issuing wage subsidies, and allowing tax relief for businesses [3].

This unprecedented level of government intervention understandably frustrated some people, who wished to return to the old ‘normal’. On the other hand, many others have been grateful for the governmental support and robust response – which has been to the benefit of Labour polling.

The old axiom that Labour is concerned with social issues whilst National is concerned with the economy may partly explain Labour’s surge during this time of public uncertainty. Labour markets themselves heavily in this respect – who can forget their Wellbeing Budget? But it cannot be the only explanation. Indeed Labour is now the preferred party for small and medium-sized businesses [4]. Indicating that the sands are shifting, for the first time business owners favour Labour over National.

Crisis = Political Advantage?

A likely political and psychological phenomenon is aiding the Labour surge. As The Economist notes, “one consolation for incumbent governments is that in national crises – warfare, natural disaster, pestilence – they tend to see their popularity rise.” [5] It is not just New Zealand feeling this effect as well – other nations are feeling the so-called ‘coronavirus poll bounce.’ Why is this the case?

Times of crisis give the incumbent government the ability to prove themselves to the public and to market themselves with all the press coverage they receive. Members of the opposition console themselves with piecemeal amounts of media attention amid little substantive role in the actual decision-making. The Atlantic aptly describes the role of opposition as appearing petty in times of crisis [6]. Nobody wants to see nit-picking criticisms when there are questions of national importance on the table. To illustrate, former British Politician Michael Ashcroft cynically stated that if the Second World War occurred today, the questions being asked would include “why can’t I have almond milk on my ration card?”

National has arguably been this type of opposition during the Covid-19 crisis – having faced numerous criticisms for perceived pettiness, and seemingly contrary to Labour on many issues for the sake of opposition [7]. This started with the leader of the National Party at the time, Simon Bridges, criticising the extension of Level 4 Lockdown for its potential impact on mental health. He was promptly accused of ‘nit-picking criticisms’ and of being ‘tone-deaf’ [8]. These criticisms carried over to the debate surrounding the border. National initially advocated for keeping the border open, handily changing their opinion to one of border-protectionism once Labour loosened border policies [9]. This antagonistic style of opposition likely played a part in Bridges losing his leadership of the party. Below is an example of this perceived pettiness:

It therefore seems probable that National may have contributed to their own downfall by failing to present themselves and their policy as a plausible alternative to Labour during a time of national crisis. Criticism has an essential role within the democratic process; however, it seems National may have failed in making these criticisms pertinent and palatable.

Parallels – National and the Global Financial Crisis:

The potential advantage offered to incumbent government in times of crisis is not a particularly new phenomenon. Indeed, the 9 years of National government from 2008 to 2017 were punctuated with crises, the most prominent of these being the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the Christchurch Earthquakes of 2011. National successfully navigated these crises and subsequently used them to their political advantage, giving them the ability to claim themselves as the right party for the economy and in times of tragedy. The result was manifested clearly in the 2011 general election, where National received 47 percent of the vote, compared to a lowly 27 percent showing by Labour [10]. The cliché of National being better for the economy was largely supported by their handling of the financial crisis – a legacy that still lives on.

Clock Ticking:

The general election of October 17 is quickly approaching. With such a significant lead, Labour is looking to be the clear favourite. To stand a chance, National will likely need to straddle the line between substantive opposition and antagonism. If they wish to retain a sizable voter base the perceived pettiness of their politics must vanish.

One thing is certain – Labour’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis will remain a political tool in years to come, just as National’s handling of economic recovery post-2008 has been. How Labour leverages this tool will remain to be seen.












Blog | Green Doctors: How Medical Marijuana is Progressing in New Zealand

by Callia Drinkwater

If the cannabis referendum pamphlet seemed slightly out of touch to you when it claimed that “The proposed Bill does not cover medical cannabis… These are covered by existing laws.” you’re not alone. New Zealand legalising medicinal marijuana slipped entirely under the radar for many, and for good reason – it only came into force on the 1st April 2020, six days after the beginning of lockdown and more pressing matters were occupying the headlines. While we now look ahead to the 2020 election, with two incredibly controversial ballots attached, it’s time to reflect on how the Medical Marijuana Scheme has affected New Zealand so far. What systems are currently at play enabling the prescription of this typically illicit drug? 

Background History

In 2017 the newly sworn in government announced its commitment to make medicinal cannabis available for people with a terminal illness or chronic pain. Since then the idea has been through rigorous processes in parliament and in December of 2018 the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act 2018 came into force. A year later the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Regulation 2019 was created and on the 1st April 2020 it came into force – allowing doctors licenced to practice in New Zealand to prescribe Ministry of Health approved THC and CBD products to patients.

What has actually changed so far?In December 2019, 20 companies were licenced to grow cannabis for research purposes, and a further 238 were licenced to grow industrial hemp. Due to the simple transition, many of these

companies were expected to jump on this new source of revenue, and many entities such as Helius Therapeutics, Cannasouth, Hikurangi Cannabis Company, and Zeacann are all now licenced to cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes. 

While this sounds like a big jump, so far no products have been submitted for assessment to the Ministry of Health – however companies licenced are already investing in creating new products such as soft gel capsules and vaporized cannabis flower. This means that currently only CBD oil and Sativex (an oral spray with THC) are available for prescription – as they were approved by other methods before the 1st April.

But how many New Zealanders does this affect?

In 2012/2013 the Ministry of Health compiled a survey showing that 11% of participants over the age of 15 reported using marijuana in the past 12 months. 42% of users considered the use medicinal, and in people over the age of 55 this percentage was even higher. How this is reflected in a GPs office is yet to be recorded, but organisations like Norml – a pro cannabis organisation since 1980 – claim medicinal use can ease the symptoms of conditions not limited to:

  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Nausea during chemotherapy
  • Chronic pain
  • Hypertension
  • HIV

What issues are seen in this system?

According to the Cannabis Clinic, current legislation leaves two major problems with the system; high costs and lack of expertise. High costs are cited due to the demanding trials that medicinal cannabis must go through before arriving in a licenced pharmacy. These are seen as adding to a price that inevitably stops it being accessible to all, however the payoffs of a reliable high quality product do counteract this to a degree. In terms of lack of expertise, this can only be expected when such changes are so new and GPs are unfamiliar with how exactly to deal with newly available medicines. Due to the reputation of marijuana it is easy to see why many doctors remain wary around the product and some reluctant to provide it to patients. As products are developed and more research is done in the meantime, new information will inform these doctors’ experiences and lead them to be confident with this newly legal substance. Currently there are specific clinics that specialise in THC and CBD medications such as Green Doctors or the aforementioned Cannabis Clinic which have expertise in these areas. 

Whether you intend to vote yes or no on this year’s Cannabis Legalisation and Control Referendum, it is important to know what is already available and how medicinal marijuana may interact with recreational marijuana in the public sphere. For more information specific to this year’s referendums please refer to for non-partisan information concerning both recreational marijuana and the End of Life Choice Referendum.

Blog | The New Party on the Block: Who are the Sustainability party?

By Callia Drinkwater

Since the 2017 election, six new parties have registered to be included on the 2020 ballot. Among these are a variety of Christian value parties, centerism parties, and a conspiracism party. A familiar face can be found in the Sustainable New Zealand Party, led by former Green Party MP, Vernon Tava. The party was created in August of 2019, and has received a mix of support and pushback from both sides of the benches. The question for those involved in the 2020 general election is whose votes are at stake to the new arrival – if any?


In 2017, the incumbent party outcome was placed in the hands of the New Zealand First, a minority party with only 7.2% of the votes. Among negotiations, the Green Party made it abundantly clear that a Green-National coalition was not going to take place, and in 2020 they continue to take that stance. This position was contested and a petition with over 2,000 signatures declared that people were in favour of a National-Green coalition.[1] This gave birth to the concept of a ‘Green-Blue’ Party – or in the case of Sustainable NZ, a party which claims to be open to a coalition with either National or Labour – to fill this space.[2] The idea is to have the environment represented in any coalition Parliament creates, not only attached to other left-wing policies.

Vernon Tava agrees with this sentiment, saying that in ruling out a National-Green coalition, the Green Party has lost its negotiating powers in Parliament, leaving the Labour Party to take them for granted in elections.[2]

In light of the lack of left-wing social ideology, and as an opposition for the Green Party, the media has been predominantly framing the Sustainable NZ party as a ‘blue-green’ party and seeking out a National coalition. Tava argues this is not the case, and that the party would work with either side of the benches.[2] Earlier in 2020, a flurry of members resigning and accusations of fraud shrouded the party in scandal, however, they have since been registered to the Electoral Commission and accusations subsided.[3]

Main Policies

In this party, Tava is aiming to strip the social issues out of an environmental party to focus solely on the environment, with an interest in research for environmentally friendly technology. In light of this the three top priorities for the Sustainable NZ Party are:

  1. Healthy water that sustains life
  2. Save native species from extinction
  3. Sustainable economic growth[4]

These goals are outlined in more detail with their Innovation plan which involves investing in start up businesses, research and development, and access to markets. The Conservation Policy covers the first two goals of the party, with specific policy around the preservation of native animals and reinstating natural ecosystems in New Zealand. 

Who are they appealing to?

Green Party Voters

Vernon Tava argues that within those who vote for the Green Party, many are more conservative, but still environmentally conscious, and would have preferred a National-Green coalition.[5] This suggests that they are hoping to convert many of those who would have typically voted for the Green party, bringing a new avenue to support the environment.

2017 statistics suggest that this is an unlikely switch to make, in the 2017 New Zealand Election Study a survey of 256 Green voters found that 84.42% favoured a Labour-led Government, compared to the 8.47% who would have preferred National to lead. This aligns with the 74.63% of Green voters who placed themselves left of centre politically.[5]

Even though the 2017 election left the Green Party relatively vulnerable to the 5% threshold with only 6.27% of the votes,[6] leader James Shaw has openly expressed his lack of concern for the Sustainable NZ Party and wished Tava luck.[7]

Former Green MP Catherine Delahunty expressed that this concept was disingenuous to the feat of defending the environment, describing it as ‘greening capitalism’, and suggesting that this was targeted at the upper and middle classes only. [8]

National Voters

National Party has publicly supported the Sustainable NZ Party,[9] although others have expressed concern that by supporting the Sustainable NZ Party, the National Party would be more likely to “cannibalise its own support”.[10] This is seen as a substantial issue as if the party receives National votes, yet still remains under the 5% threshold it will be wasted votes for the National Party. In November 2019 National deputy leader Paula Bennet (no longer a National MP) maintained that she believed the party had a chance and that the National party offered something substantially different.[11]

The Opportunities Party Voters

Some have compared the Sustainable NZ Party to the Opportunities Party (TOP) as a centrist party with a focus on environmental issues. Polling at 2.4% in the 2017 election, the TOP party has reason to be concerned about this rival party. Due to its longer existence, TOP arguably has the upper hand, but this cannot be taken for granted.[12]

Where to from here?

This leaves us with the same question – where does the Sustainable NZ Party fit into the 2020 election? Like Kim Dot Com’s Internet Party, will this fade into non-existence by the 2023 general election – or start as the Opportunities Party did with 2.4% in their first election. 

Despite varying opinions on this new venture, in light of all that has changed since the 2017 election, from COVID-19, relations with China, and leadership changes within the National Party it cannot be underestimated how much the political context has changed since the 2017 election. Chief Executive of Forest and Bird – an independent conservation organisation – argues that despite his reservations about the party’s approach, anything broadening the debate around environmental impact is a good thing, “…anything that achieves better environmental policy has got to be a good thing.”


  10. Jack Vowles –

Blog | Baby Back Benches: Aryana from Young National

This is the fifth of our Bants with Baby Back Benches interviews. Through this series we want our readers to get to know the youth leaders of our political parties, ready for our eventual youth leaders debate, and the upcoming election.

If you’d instead like to listen to our complete conversation click here

By Paul Simperingham, interview with assistance from Liam Davies

Liam and I interviewed Aryana together so that at least once an interviewee would get to see that we both did in fact exist. Aryana was the chair of the Alfred Street Young Nationals in 2019, however, since then she has moved onto Chair of Northern Young Nationals. Unfortunately, partway through the interview, Liam did have to leave, however I think we managed to hold down the fort without him. 

Liam started by asking how Aryana got into politics, specifically National, and specifically her position in Young National.

Aryana explained that as long as she could remember the conversation at home had revolved around big topics and big questions “How can we make society a better place? What policy should we be implementing?”. And without realising it so had the National Party in a way, “Funnily enough, my parents never really outwardly said they supported National but I guess they were the values I grew up with.” 

So when she arrived at uni it was only natural that “It was actually the first club I joined at uni.” From there she slowly moved into larger and larger roles, however, she does point out that she didn’t make the decision all of a sudden. “I always admired those who did it and for those, it went well for. But it took until this year and having a really great deputy that I was excited to run with”. Previously with 

From there Liam moved onto asking about the youth vote, why don’t more young people vote? What can we do about it?

“I think that sometimes people feel like their vote doesn’t make a huge change. They ask, ‘what’s my vote really doing?” She believes that too many people just don’t understand how the system works, how much power they have, and if they don’t they aren’t having their say.

I push this point by asking how she thinks we can change that.

She thinks that getting more politics and more discussion into school will help a lot. She has made attempts to speak at her school however they have to stay a-political, but she questions: “why don’t we then just get all the parties? Then it’s fair right?”

It was at this point that Liam quietly left to go pretend to pay attention in class. We pushed on bravely without him. 

When you hear ‘Young Nat’ a lot of the time a specific stereotype appears in your mind, I asked Aryana what she thinks of this.

“Well, if I believed that image I don’t think I would have signed up.” She does point out that she doesn’t really fit the stereotype. She’s not a white male, she has Persian background, she didn’t go to King’s College, and that the people in Young Nat’s come from a range of backgrounds. “We’re not all rich cats, it’s people who’ve had some of the most horrific backgrounds. I just feel really lucky to know them.” She thinks the stereotype probably comes from people thinking National and their supporters just care about the environment, however, the environment is something that matters a lot to her. “So yeah, don’t believe the stereotypes and come see what we’re like.”

The big question of the interview, I asked why she thinks young people should vote National at the election.

The key points were the key points of the party. Jobs and Infrastructure. She spoke of concern for unemployment coming out of COVID and felt that National was the best choice in that area. That National sees the “post COVID world as an opportunity to make New Zealand the best that it can be.” She believes that a National government will restore business confidence, and that “when Judith crushes it and is Prime Minister” (she did apologise for the crusher line, but said that she couldn’t help it) young Kiwi’s will again have faith in their future in New Zealand. 

The other primary area was their infrastructure plan, she thinks it’s a plan for the future and that future generations won’t end up in the infrastructure deficit that we’re currently in. She points to the proposed four-lane highway to Northland as a way to further unlock New Zealand’s economic ability.

I push her a little and ask about any non-infrastructure policy she is excited about

She points to RMA (Resource Management Act) reform as one of National’s top priorities and something she is really excited about. “Why I really like it is because they want to put in an environmental standards act and an urban planning act.” She points to people’s concerns about the environment without the RMA but thinks that National’s replacement legislature will do a great job at protecting environmental standards. 

Finally, I ask her what to expect from her at the debate

“A lot of energy, I’m looking forward to it. I hope there’s a crowd because I like when people get into it.”


Come see Aryana debate the other youth leaders at Baby Back Benches event! While it has been delayed due to lockdown, to keep up on updates event info can be found here

Blog | Bants with the Baby Back Benches: Artie of TOP on Campus

This is the sixth and final of our Bants with Baby Back Benches interviews. Through this series we want our readers to get to know the youth leaders of our political parties, ready for our eventual youth leaders debate, and the upcoming election.

If you’d instead like to listen to our complete conversation click here

By Liam Davies

Artie, President of The Opportunities Party (T.O.P) on campus, turned up to the interview sporting a T.O.P t-shirt, he said he wears them everywhere, and a different one everyday. If this doesn’t show commitment to the party, I don’t know what does! T.O.P is also the only party not represented in parliament attending our Baby Back Benches debate, it was great to hear what T.O.P’s platform is and how they will benefit students. 

I started by asking Artie why he entered into youth politics, and in particular why The Opportunities Party?

Artie admitted that it wasn’t until the lead up to 2017’s election that he started to think politically. Describing his life as living out west, not the nicest area, and how having parents who immigrated from the Soviet Union impacted his political thoughts. Eventually, he realised he could not accept the way things were, ‘I was like Damn!’, and he wanted to create change. Originally Artie liked T.O.P after seeing its previous leader, Garth Morgan, said he would give away free money on the evening news. Since Morgan left the party, Artie started to meet people within T.O.P and saw it as a fresh party that wasn’t mainstream. He saw the party as caring more about its policies and impact, rather than playing the party politics.

Following on, I asked what function he saw the club on campus as having, and how it related to the larger party.

Currently, the club on campus is still new and growing. However, Artie mentioned that there are equivalent groups at several other universities over NZ, as such they hope to create a starting platform for political engagement through T.O.P. Currently, events on campus are a mix of students and adults, as Artie feels that it is better not to create a divide, or split up different groups. He would like the club to engage everyone equally. In relation to the main party, the club on campus is there to inform students of T.O.P policies and how they might get involved with the party.

On youth voter turnout and how we can increase youth engagement.

Artie started by saying how he often hears people say that it’s ‘just one vote.’ Both T.O.P and Artie would like to see alternative forms of civics engagement, that will show people that their vote has significance and impact issues of the day. Artie mentioned direct approaches to public engagement. This included increasing the number of referenda and normalising citizen assemblies in decision-making processes. Artie further hoped that these more direct styles of decision making will have a focus in universities too. He stated that this will help change how youth view politics and will create a motivation to become involved.

As a party that has yet to be represented in parliament, this is the question that T.O.P most needed to answer. Why should young people vote for T.O.P this election? How will students be better off if T.O.P is in government?

‘Don’t leave change to chance,’ is the slogan for the 2020 T.O.P campaign. When Artie spoke about T.O.P policies many were not related directly to student outcomes. However, the policies he discussed were based around environmental, housing and constitution issues. Issues that while they may not be directed specifically at students, they are designed to help today’s students live in a clean environment,  eventually be able to buy a house, and live in an equitable society. One policy, however, that students might be keener on is T.O.P’s UBI, where students should generally see themselves better off than they are under current student allowance schemes.

Will we see T.O.P in parliament after the election? The important question is… Will you vote for them come September 16 2020?


Come see Artie debate the other youth leaders at Baby Back Benches event! While it has been delayed due to lockdown, to keep up on updates event info can be found here