Jacinda Ardern mustering the troops ahead of Winston Peters arrival

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a busy few days ahead of her. With a misfiring Cabinet, an absentee (both in mind and presence)Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and a baby on the way, Ms Ardern knows time is not on her side.

Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis has been largely invisible. Some say he was deliberately made to go into hiding and press the flesh with the Iwi as a way of shoring up the Maori vote that enabled Labour to sweep the Maori Party from office. Some say he has been shielded because his performance in the House of Representatives when answering questions from the Opposition has its own questions to be answered. Whatever the case, Mr Davis does not seem to be handling some of the more basic duties expected of a Deputy Leader all that well.

Add a misfiring Cabinet, rattling off gaffes that no doubt give National leader Simon Bridges cause for hope, the complexity of the problems facing Ms Ardern in the next 7 days just got quite a bit worse. Transport Minister Phil Twyford was stripped of the responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority after being caught using his cellphone on a flight.

Ms Ardern has her own problems too. And that is not a reference to her impending date with maternity ward, so much as it is a nod to the fact that one of her flag ship policies, ending oil exploration has not gone down the way it was intended. Whilst it now takes a bit of a breather as climate change policy is before the public whilst they are granted the opportunity to make a submission on it, no mistake should be made about the fact that National is going to assemble a formidable case against banning oil exploration. Whilst the result would probably have still been the same, it should have at least been put to Cabinet first.

With all of these problems, little wonder Ms Ardern is only intending to be on leave for six weeks. Her partner, Clarke Gayford, First Man in New Zealand and First Dad will have a significant role to play at home, not just looking after their baby, whenever and however it may come. So who will fill the void for six weeks?

Cue Winston Peters, the survivor of a dozen terms in Parliament, with experience as Cabinet Minister in three Governments. Captain of the Nation for six weeks.

New Zealand politics might be in a piece of uncharted water here. With just a couple of weeks to go before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives birth to her first child, the New Zealand First-Labour-Green Coalition is readying itself for a six week period with an acting-Prime Minister.

Winston Peters however is not new to this situation. He has been Acting Prime Minister in the past, when New Zealand First supported the National led Government of formers Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley. As the longest serving member of Parliament – having spent most of the last 40 years in and around the Beehive and Parliament Buildings – Mr Peters knows the Standing Orders better than anyone including probably the Speaker of the House.

Mr Peters also has significant ministerial experience as well. He was Treasurer in the National-led Government of Mr Bolger/Mrs Shipley for 20 months before being fired by Mrs Shipley in August 1998. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs under former Prime Minister Helen Clark in the 2005-2008 Government. During that time he met a number of high ranking politicians from overseas including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Mr Peters has a knack for reading the minds of the voters. It is not possible to get as far as Mr Peters has without being able to read the electorate. Combine this with his witty, charismatic nature, ability to dish out one liners or complex answers as they are needed and you have the makings of a leader. But to get as far as Mr Peters has, one needs to have a genuine passion for the role, a hunger to succeed and

Simon Bridges drops in popularity; Crusher enters preferred P.M. stakes

National leader Simon Bridges is not the most popular politician in New Zealand at the moment. Whilst he might have the support of his National Party, and not really having been tested in the short time that he has been in office, his popularity is right where Andrew Little’s was this time last year before Jacinda-mania took hold.

Mr Bridges is experiencing the same very low levels of popularity that assailed successive Labour leaders during the three terms that party was out of office. For the time being this is not cause for alarm as Mr Bridges still has at least two years to wait before the next election, meaning there is plenty of time for Labour to make a significant mistake that National can capitalize on.

However if Mr Bridges still finds himself in this position cometh the 2020 Fiscal Budget he might find himself being challenged for the job. For that to happen though, there would need to be a significant change in polling fortunes. Right now A.C.T. and National can muster 59 seats in a Parliament of 122.

Perhaps the party that should be the most concerned is New Zealand First. Since their announcement that they will support the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, the support for the party has plunged with many people who until then had been staunch supporters walking away from the party of Winston Peters. Prior to that announcement, the Party had been widely viewed by the voting public as the only party other than the Greens that was stridently opposed to the C.P.T.P.P. and its predecessor the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (T.P.P.A.). If an election were had today and the poll result was accurate, there would be no New Zealand First in the new Parliament.

The Green Party are still struggling with the post-Metiria Turei era. Mrs Turei’s departure from Parliament as a result of being made to resign following admissions that she misled Department of Work and Income over her income whilst she was a solo mother, was bad enough. But that was damage that could have been (probably would have been)fixed had she announced at the same time that she had paid it all back, leaving the Opposition with minimal ammunition and probably not causing the revolt in the ranks of the Green Party. Although they have now elected Marama Davidson to the co-leadership position, Mrs Davidson has yet to be distinctly heard, which is something that the Greens will be hoping changes in the near future. Because of that, the Greens slipped slightly in the poll.

A.C.T. continues to languish in the poll, supported only by leader David Seymour’s hold on the Epsom electorate. Granted Mr Seymour has been showing off his dance moves on Dancing With The Stars, and his End of Life Choice Bill has cross party support in dealing with euthanasia, there is little else maintaining peoples interest in him or his party.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sails positively on. A few weeks away from going on maternity leave and handing Mr Peters temporary control of the country, Ms Ardern sits on 40.2% support in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. Since much Labour policy is still to come and her handling of the problems that have so far come her way, has been largely competent, like Mr Bridges, although for quite contrasting reasons, she has little cause for alarm.

Budgeting expectations: New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2018

Today is the day that New Zealand and the world see the first budget of the Labour-New Zealand First-Greens coalition Government. It will be the first delivered by Labour Treasurer Grant Robertson. In anticipation of the budget, here is a recap of what has been announced and what can be expected.

The broad shape of some large expenditures have already been announced. The details that are still to follow on these will come later as those expenditures are put into effect. So, what are they?

  1. Transport – A total of $28 billion has been announced for fixing transport in Auckland, a sum that caught many by surprise, and which will be spread out over a 10 year period
  2. Housing – KiwiBuild was given a N.Z.$2 billion capital advance in December to get underway the construction of 100,000 new homes in New Zealand, and $100 million was allocated in the first pre-Budget announcement of which $37.1 million comes from existing budgetary measures
  3. Christchurch – The Government made significant election promises to Christchurch, which include supporting commuter rail, assistance for those struggling with insurance claims
  4. Foreign Affairs – you can see my earlier article acknowledging the $1 billion allocated to the Pacific and other aspects of New Zealand foreign affairs, but it is worth noting the reopening of the embassy in Sweden which closed under the National government

With so many big announcements already made, one might be wondering if Labour has any more tricks left in the bag. Mr Robertson will no doubt be acutely aware of other areas of funding for which announcements will need to be made at some point. They include the courts, prison and Police so that we may get on with dealing to the methamphetamine epidemic taking hold as well as trying to address why going to prison does not seem to be working as a sentencing tool.

At some point Mr Robertson will also have to address the potential of a nurses strike for better pay and conditions, which if answered will cost several hundred million dollars. In this case though, I wonder if it not so much an inadequate budget as inept District Health Board planning – shortly after Labour was elected in 2000 I heard that scrapping the District Health Boards in favour of a central funding model would save $750 million per annum, and whilst I am not necessarily suggesting such a move, a review of them is tempting.

Other areas that will need an increase in funding are Research, Science and Technology – New Zealand has lagged behind other O.E.C.D. countries for years in terms of investment into science. Some scientists have observed what appears to them to be a war on science by politicians with agenda’s that do not necessarily conform to the known facts, particularly around environmental issues.

I personally doubt Labour will make any radical new announcements today. Most of what happens I suspect will be building on existing announcements. Still, this is a big day for Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens. Voters, despite National’s attempts to show the contrary will probably go easy on them until a sense of direction (or lack of)becomes obvious.

Mr Robertson will deliver the Fiscal Budget at 1400 hours.


Centre-right commentators show their desperation

When National lost the election in 2017, the centre-right of New Zealand politics was in a state of despair. Shock! Horror! How could Winston Peters support a centre-left Government?

Quite easily it seems. After all, Mr Peters did leave National in 1993 to form New Zealand First because he thought that the market policies of the party were going to cause irreparable social damage to New Zealand. He had opposed asset sales as a means of raising money and many of his supporters felt betrayed by both major parties.

Determined to get back at the Government that they are convinced is going to turn New Zealand into a socialist nirvana, the centre-right have wasted no time trying to undermine in any way they can the new Government. But there is just one problem: their cheer leaders seem to forget National were not any better at the same time in early 2009.

Mike Hosking, well known as a avowed National Party supporter, has spent much time trying to give the appearance of the centre-left Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern being a disorganized, ill disciplined group that has no plans. He has been joined in recent days by columnist John Armstrong, who has criticized the Governments handling of the spy situation regarding Russia.

But are they disorganized? We are talking about a Government that has not even had time to deliver its first fiscal budget. We are talking about a Government that has not even reached the six month stage of its first year in office.

The situation with the Russian spies is one such case of the centre-right commentators trying to cast a misleading appearance. The New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service says it is not aware of any Russian spies operating in New Zealand. That is not to strictly say there are none, but that the Government is not aware of any and thus cannot expel anyone. It is also important to note that the New Zealand Government preferred to ascertain how New Zealand might be affected before it announced measures against Russia, instead of rushing into a knee jerk reaction.

It also smacks of hypocrisy. China most probably has significant spies in New Zealand, and indeed some people wonder if because of his training the National Party have a former Chinese spook in their ranks. Jian Yang denies he is a spook and so does the National Party, yet the latter works hard to cultivate significant Chinese investment here – no problem with that – but was often silent when credible concerns were raised about Chin

Another claim being made is that the Government has no plans. This could not be further from the truth. A quick look at the list of Bills of Parliament that are open for public submissions on the Parliament website show Bills of Government and a couple of ones submitted by Opposition parties. More importantly those Bills represent some substantial changes coming:

  • The Employment Relations Bill deals with a wide range of changes to employment law that the Government intends to put into law
  • The Charter Schools Bill ends the charade that is charter schools
  • International Treaty examination of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership
  • Education (National Education and Learning Priorities)Amendment Bill
  • Education Amendment Bill

So, the Opposition and the centre-right commentators can grumble all they want, but how much better had the National-A.C.T.-United Future coalition done at the same stage of their nine years in office? From memory, it was about the same time that their lack of a long term plan for New Zealand was in the early stages of revealing itself. I gave that Government the benefit of the doubt until about mid way through their second year, so I intend to do the same with this one.

The maverick that is Shane Jones

I imagine most Houses of Representatives around the world have a maverick or two in them – slightly unhinged, seemingly clever and charismatic, yet one for any party leader to keep a wary watch on. If that is the case, Shane Jones of New Zealand First is undoubtedly one of this community.

Mr Jones entered Parliament as a Labour M.P. in 2005 and served until his departure in 2014. He was Minister for Building and Construction from October 2007 through to Labour’s defeat in 2008. He was found to have used a credit card to hire pornographic films and to charter an executive jet at cost of $1,200 when his schedule allegedly changed. This led to him being demoted in Labour and stripped of his shadow portfolio’s.

Viewed as a potential vote winner by some, Mr Jones extensive networks in Maoridom, his chairmanship of the Waitangi organizing committee give him considerable influence. His support of Talleys and Sealord, both of whom have been linked to Mr Jones’ various election campaigns, however may put him offside with the union activists for supporting the companies attack on the largely Maori Afco workforce.

Later Mr Jones was at the centre of a citizenship probe when he was found to have supported a Chinese businessman wanting New Zealand citizenship on humanitarian grounds. Whilst the charges against the businessman, William Yan were dropped eventually, Mr Jones was investigated by the Auditor General at the request of the then Labour leader David Shearer.

Mr Jones however also has his critics and they are many. They range from New Zealand rank and file members through to members of the public. Their reasons for opposing Mr Jones range from his questionable history in the Labour Party; his lack of coal face time in New Zealand First – he got selected over and above candidates who had been with the party for several years; concerns about whether or not anyone would be able to keep Mr Jones in check should he start rabbiting of to the media. Another cause of concern was that Talley’s fishing company was bankrolling Mr Jones’ 2017 election campaign.

Mr Jones however has gone himself into a potentially damaging mud fight with Air New Zealand. For years the national carrier has been slowly cutting out Link routes such as those that go to/from the Kapiti Coast. This week in a rather ugly spat claims and counter claims all came to the surface in a way that does not really cast any of the major players in a favourable light.

In the course of the dispute so far Mr Jones who is Minister for Regional Development lambasted the Chief Executive of the airline, as well as the Chair of the Air New Zealand board. This followed a decision by Air New Zealand to cut some regional links that are viewed as important to the well being of those regions. The airline hit back, stating that any view of a lack of independence would be view as damaging to the interests of all involved, including the Crown. However the National Party alleges that Mr Jones accepted an R.S.V.P. to attend a dinner hosted by Air New Zealand that would feature former United States President Barak Obama.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Mr Jones to tone down the attacks on Air New Zealand. It remains to be seen whether this maverick Member of Parliament, Minister for Regional Development and apparent friend of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters will comply or keep up his attack.