The mainstream media have been much exercised lately over who is running the government.
Broadcaster Mike Hosking, for example, has been saying New Zealand First leader and Deputy PM Winston Peters is saving the government from itself.
“It looks increasingly that if he’s not Prime Minister, he’s a co-Prime Minister. All he needs now is traction in the polls”.
The NZ Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan thinks Jacinda Ardern is facing a “growing challenge” from Peters. Her worry is that
“ … Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern are in danger of moving towards a co-prime ministership in all but name.
“It won’t be formally described that way. But the New Zealand First leader — who is officially Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister — is demonstrating that he is prepared to go against Ardern if she announces policies that are either not already announced in the Speech from the Throne or are not contained in the coalition and support agreements which Labour signed following last year’s election”.
At Fairfax, Tracey Watkins asks:
“Will Peters be Labour’s dud Lotto win?”
She says Peters has not just diminished Labour with his grandstanding; he has diminished Ardern, who has had “to turn the other cheek to his antics”.
Stuff columnist Duncan Garner offers his unique perspective: “Don’t write off this fumbling, deluded coalition just yet” on top of his insight: “It’s been a messy, incoherent, and rudderless 12 months”.
Peters himself dismissed media reports of cracks looming in the coalition government as “balderdash“. He denied that the disagreements over the three strikes law, the refugee quota and most recently the proposed Crown Māori Partnership agency were issues of friction between Labour and NZ First.
“You’re making a mountain out of a communications molehill, ” he told Heather du Plessis-Allan on 2ZB.
He insisted the Government was not “Labour-led”.
“I’m afraid it’s a coalition called Labour and NZ First. We’re happy to be in a coalition representing real change and a chance to address some of the awful anomalies that have gone on in our great society.”
Point of Order holds no brief for Peters and we reckon his memory lapse over the so-called $300,000 bond which NZ First MPs were said to have signed demonstrates he is not quite the statesman his sycophants would like us to believe.
But there is little doubt he did the country a real service when he punctured Labour’s flummery over the so-called “partnership” between the Crown and Maori. Many New Zealanders considered it disgraceful that Maori activist Titewhai Harawira was invited into the Cabinet room as a symbol of this new “partnership” alongside the Prime Minister.
The original Crown-Maori Relations portfolio was set up by Ardern to take oversight of the 7000 or so commitments the Crown has made in Treaty of Waitangi settlements with iwi.
But in a round of hui to consult on the portfolio, ambitions appear to have burgeoned and one oMaori speaker, indigenous rights advocate Natalie Coates, reportedly said it had to have a brief for constitutional issues.
According to some reports, Peters pulled his support for the government’s new Crown-Māori Relations Agency at the last minute, at the Cabinet meeting immediately before the PM was due to announce it.
However, it appears Peters raised the political risks in elevating the agency as a “partnership”. This would be entirely in character with the stance he has taken previously, as far back as when Geoffrey Palmer inserted the “partnership” clause into the SOE legislation in the era of the Lange government.
To formalise a Crown-Iwi “partnership” in the manner proposed in the Cabinet paper goes to the heart of Parliament’s sovereignty and has deeply profound constitutional implications.
Labour has argued the Treaty of Waitangi had a standing in New Zealand’s legal framework and government has to make sure the legal framework continues to maintain the status and place of Tiriti o Waitangi.
It bases this on an Appeal Court ruling in 1987 which it contends described the treaty as a “partnership” Actually, the president of the court, Lord Robin Cooke, said the Treaty created an enduring relationship “of a fiduciary nature akin to a partnership … ”
Justice Minister Andrew Little says that as Lord Robin Cooke ruled in that landmark case, “the treaty is alive, it is a relationship“. Little adds:
“We have to think what that relationship looks like and how it is conducted in the years ahead.”
National criticised the Government’s plans to develop the Crown-Maori Relations portfolio into a more formal partnership office.
Crown-Maori relations spokesman Chris Finlayson says it will raise expectations among iwi and Maori organisations that they will wield more power over Government policy.
“Is this agency really necessary? It is embedding a further layer of consultation and bureaucracy based along racial lines into everyday running of government.”
As we said earlier – Peters is to be thanked for impeding Labour’s latest attempt to further distort what the treaty actually says and what too many people want us to believe it says based on interpretations more than 100 years after the signing. The constitutional implications are enormous.