So, it is nearly May 2015 and time for a six monthly report card for the Opposition and the Government. In that time we have seen Labour start its third term as the major Opposition party, backed by New Zealand First and the Greens. We have seen New Zealand First pick up a 12th M.P. and for the first time in a decade hold an electorate seat and the Greens find out that Russel Norman is standing down. So, how have the Opposition parties gone in the first six months?
When Labour entered Parliament for the first time since the catastrophe that was 20 September 2014, National must have looked unassailable, even if no one wanted to admit it. The morale was rock bottom. They needed a scape goat, even though collectively and individually they were all in the wrong. Six months later, Labour have a new leader in Andrew Little, who thus far appears to have pulled most of the right strings. Jacinda Ardern continues to try to hold the Minister of Social Welfare to account. But much of their bench has been in absentia. Six months on, some progress has been made, but there is a very long way to go. C+
The Greens were a disappointment at the election. Whilst not expecting – or wanting them to take office – I had hoped that they would pick up a few more seats. Since then they have been rocked by the resignation of Russel Norman, who is stepping down from the co-leadership for personal reasons. Dr Norman, as one of the more effective Opposition M.P.’s in Parliament leaves big shoes for his successor to fill. Metiria Turei is a capable co-leader but she cannot steer the ship alone. Several Members of Parliament, notably Julie Anne Genter and Gareth Hughes have been persistently active in their transport and environment portfolio’s. However the health and education spokespeople need to step up. B-
The star of the Opposition though, despite his age as one of the oldest M.P.’s in Parliament is New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Despite being 70, he has just taken the party he founded to its first electoral seat victory in a decade in Northland. Although holding 12 M.P.’s, which is up four from its previous eight, New Zealand First has been something of an under performer, and yet there are some bright stars in its ranks. The return of Ron Mark, an effective spokesperson on defence issues is going to cause National some headaches. His deputy Tracey Martin has etched out a niche for herself in the media as Education spokesperson. Denis O’Rourke continues to advocate for Christchurch residents at a time when Labour has no specific M.P. dedicated to Christchurch issues. Darroch Ball and Fletcher Tabuteau, despite both having only been in Parliament a few months, have submitted Bills to the House. B
All in all there are some promising signs as the first year of their third term on the Opposition benches progresses. But the enormity of the task ahead cannot be denied. Will someone grab the initiative in the Opposition? Will Andrew Little improve his support and that for Labour in the polls? How will the new Green co-leader (which has to be a male by the party Constitution)turn out? If these challenges can be beaten, Prime Minister John Key is almost certainly looking at his last term in the Prime Ministers office.