A case of two front benches: N.Z.’s Parliament in 2018


Parliament finished for the year on Thursday. As the Members of Parliament go to their breaks and recharge for the 2019 year, here is the report for the Government and Opposition.

THE GOVERNMENT

The Government front bench will be a disappointment to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. So many Ministers of the Crown other than herself, Treasurer Grant Robertson and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters have failed to turn out any policy or announcements of significance across the last 12 months. These Ministers will be entering 2019 knowing that they need to act or risk a demotion when Labour sorts its list out for the 2020 General Election.

Where for example is Carmel Sepuloni, Minister of Social Development; Kelvin Davis Minister of Corrections or William Sio Associate Minister for the Courts?

Claire Curran is the major failure in the Government camp, apparently failing to learn from multiple instances of not keeping her diary or officials up to date on her actions. 2/10

Minister of Housing Phil Twyford is highly visible, but not always for the right reasons. Suggestions that he is struggling have been highlighted by his handling of Kiwi Build. His other portfolio in Transport is somewhat more positive with moves being made on rebuilding the railway network and also with the help of the capable Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter (Greens) reducing the congestion on our roads. 5/10

Another one struggling is Iain Lees-Galloway, who has the Immigration portfolio and is struggling to get the case of Karl Sroubek off his desk. The National Party have done an effective job keeping it in the media and it will continue to be a monkey on his back for the foreseeable future. 5/10

The announcement by Dr Megan Woods on oil and gas in April was a deafening clanger. That Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not check with officials before making the announcement is quite incredible. Dr Woods has been dealing with the fall out and the strident National and A.C.T. opposition to it – both have vowed to overturn it. 5/10

To be fair, there are also Ministers who might not have had a stellar year, but are nonetheless making a honest go of the job.

Minister of Justice and Minister responsible for Pike River, Andrew Little has been busy. To his credit he has gained the confidence of the families of the dead and is working towards the eventual goal of getting them out. For little towns like Blackball, but also Greymouth and the West Coast at large this is very important. As Minister of Justice, Mr Little has a review under way, which will be under increasing pressure to deliver something in 2019 as public concern about how New Zealand’s justice system is perceived grow. 7/10

Minister for Children’s Affairs, Tracey Martin is another one who ranks a positive mention. Mrs Martin has pushed hard on the case of Oranga Tamariki, the organization responsible for helping with children’s development issues and getting them out of poverty, which has become one of New Zealand’s biggest social issues. Expect to hear more in the new year. 7/10

THE OPPOSITION

One person in 2019 on the Opposition benches will stand out and that is Jamie Lee-Ross. His self destruction and subsequent admission to a mental health clinic, whilst nearly bringing down his Leader and confidant Simon Bridges was a sordid tale that caught the attention of the public for all the wrong reasons. But that blemish aside, for a first year Opposition, the National Party are doing very well.

Normally being Leader of the Opposition in the first term after being outed is the devil’s job that no one wants, but which someone has to take. And in that context, one has to respect Simon Bridges even if they – like I do – completely despise his politics. Mr Bridges has a huge asset that Labour would do well to recognize: his front bench.

So, who have been the standout performers for Mr Bridges?

Judith Collins, more popularly – and commonly – known as Crusher has been an effective attack dog as spokesperson on justice, police and the courts. This has always been her forte and it endears her to the right-wing of National. Being a potential contender for Simon Bridges job has not harmed her either. 9/10

Michael Woodhouse is one. Mr Woodhouse held the contentious Immigration portfolio in Government and has been using his knowledge of it to hound current Minister Iain Lees-Galloway at every opportunity over the bungled case of Karel Sroubek. It is in part because of him National have had a surprisingly good first year in Opposition. 8/10

Chris Finlayson gets an honourable mention despite having left Parliament. Mr Finlayson oversaw with considerable competency the Treaty negotiations and continued his good work quietly in the background until his retirement. 8/10

Paula Bennett has had a big year and has not been afraid to attack a range of Ministers over their policy announcements (or lack thereof). Her more unfortunate moments largely stem from her boss’ monumental gaffe – even if it was completely accidental – calling her “Paula Benefit”. Her feisty attitude towards beneficiaries and social development however will continue to be divisive. 6/10

Amy Adams will be a disappointment. Perhaps she does not have the inner mongrel an M.P. on the Opposition benches needs to attack the performance of Government Ministers. She has been barely visible as Shadow Treasurer, and most Opposition activity in this role has actually come from other National M.P.’s and David Seymour of the A.C.T. party. 3/10 

Jamie-Lee Ross is the biggest disappointment this year, but it might have the signs of someone struggling with his mental health and being made to go past the breaking point. Whatever the case, the results were shocking. 1/10

 

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