In a long Northland tradition
By Richard Harman (author)
NZ First's caucus and Board meet today at 10 30 to begin the final decision-making process on who they will go into Government with.
It is likely to be a lengthy process if only because the policy choices they will have to make are complex.
But maybe the decision will hinge just as much not only on what policy concessions they can get from either National or Labour, but possibly it will also be about what NZ First can stop National or Labour doing.
Because National has been the Government, it's much easier to see where Winston Peters would like to change their behaviour.
And there is a logic and history to his position.
He argues that a too-high exchange rate and overseas investment is driven by big-city money men has radically destabilised the economic and social structures of regional New Zealand.
Ultimately that is what NZ First is about.
This provincial suspicion of the cities is not new in Northland.
In 1922 the Country Party was formed in the North by the Auckland Farmers’ Union and for ten years had an MP, Captain Harold Rushworth, an Oxford-educated lawyer who farmed at Opua in the Bay of Islands.
Rushworth campaigned against the banks and the British owned meat companies and for local facilities such as hospitals and roads.
His campaign against the banks extended to him at one point cross examining a bank witness to a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1934 into Monetary Policy for four and a half hours.
“I believe that at the root of the monetary question lies the genesis of all that our social order stands for,” he told a Whangarei meeting in 1934.
“Not until our monetary system is put in order will it be possible for our social order to function.
“I believe the salvation of* this country is in effective control over its monetary system
“We must have self-government in finance,”
It is possible to follow this line of thinking through Northland politics right up to the present day.
It is possible to follow the legacy of the Union and the Country right up to the present day.
But the Northland anti-banking politicians were also anti union providing horse riding "cossacks" to fight the waterfront unions during their 1913 strike.
They were a centrist force --- albeit a small one -- in New Zealand politics just like NZ First today.
Their anti banking ethos was expanded on by the monetary reform party, Social Credit and in 1966, a Kerikeri accountant, Vern Cracknell, won theBay of Islands seat for Social Credit.
He lasted only one term but drawing on the old Country Party base, Social Credit was strong in Northland and during its 1980s peak came second in the Bay of Islands and Kaipara seats.
Winston Peters’ win in the 2015 Northland seat which embraces the Bay of Islands and Kaipara was within Northland’s long tradition of small farmer antagonism to the big cities and particularly the banks.
Time and time again Peters has called for changes to the Reserve Bank in his speeches. He mentions it in virtually every one.
NZ First's policy is not heavy in detail. Lowering the exchange rate – which is one of Peters’ main ambitions --- conventionally demands that the Bank lower its Official Cash Rate to make the New Zealand dollar less attractive.
But given that the current rate is 1.75% there is not much room to go lower.
However, Peters may be asking questions about the bank at the right time.
There is a growing international debate about the effectiveness of inflation targeting regimes such as that employed in New Zealand.
NZ First would like to see New Zealand adopt an Australian or American style target which included output and employment as part of its measure.
Labour’s policy is similar.
Singapore goes even further.
It does not target inflation directly at all but instead targets the exchange rate for which it sets a band within which the Singapore dollar can fluctuate.
National is unlikely to agree to something as radical as this right now, but it might be amenable to some sort of inquiry which included a look at the Singapore system.
But if Peters wants to change the Reserve Bank under National --- his wish list for Labour might be more extensive.
At the top will be the water tax; the ETS and possibly a commitment from Labour not to include a mandatory role for Maori in water allocation and management.
But again, Peters might have chosen the right moment to contest the ETS.
There is a growing consensus among environmental organisations and business lobby groups that it might be better to scrap the ETS and implement something like the British Climate Change Act which implements a whole of Government solution to climate change.
if Peters can go to his supporters with evidence that he is getting a reversal on some current policy that might be just as potent as going to them with “wins” like shifting the Auckland port to Whangarei.
That’s what his Caucus and Board will be talking about today and no one – not even the Leader – - was willing last night to say how long that process might take.