It’s the year for all those reports to demand decisions

The  Labour-NZ First  coalition  must have been  agreeably  surprised on  completing the year  with  so many  encomiums  from the  pundits  on  its performance.  And with the economy chugging along  at  a useful, though uneven,  pace  the   government  could look back on  2018  with a  great  deal of  satisfaction (as  the  NZ Herald  contended).

But will  2019   be  as  easily navigated?

For this is the  year  of  decision.  The reports  from the scores of   reviews   the government has  ordered will be  piling up on ministerial  desks.  How  well  equipped  is  the coalition to  deal  with them?

Some   insights might  be  found   in  how  Cabinet   operated in  the year past.  Every   ministry  has  its duds  and  Prime  Minister  Jacinda Ardern’s team  is  no  exception,  with  Clare  Curran  and  Meka Whatiri leading the way and Iain Lees-Galloway deserving, but escaping,  the  drop-kick.

But  Ardern   herself  starred   both at  home and  abroad.  Her   ratings in  political  polls  stayed  astonishingly  high.  Across  the Tasman,  she stirred  envy   in  Canberra  where there is a revolving door into the  prime minister’s office.   And there  were accolades at  home:  Tracy  Watkins in  the  Dominion-Post wrote  “The Prime  Minister is at the height of her powers… her international cachet   is huge”.  

Watkins,  in  judging  the unlikely  coalition of Labour, NZ  First  and the Greens “is looking  locked in”, argues that’s all down to  Ardern.  She sees  Ardern  as operating a different  style of  leadership  and  “brand”   which has emphasised  kindness and  compassion over the  qualities more  usually prized  in politics   like  ruthlessness.

Audrey  Young  in the NZ  Herald  saw  things  differently:  “Like him or loathe him, the NZ  First  leader  is the politician of the year”.  She contends Winston Peters  has effectively demanded, and been  given, “a real partnership  in  the coalition”.  In  contrast  to  Watkins,  Young  argues  Ardern has made  plenty of  mistakes  as  prime minister.

Barry Soper,  too,  reckons  Peters   plays politics like no one else in the business.   “He understands how things work and where the pitfalls are”.

Finance  Minister  Grant  Robertson,  as  Point of Order looks over the Cabinet team,  stands  closely  behind  Ardern  and  Peters  as a   key  figure  in the  coalition.  It’s  true  he  inherited  financial  books  in  very good  shape  from the  previous administration  but he has  resisted   calls to  loosen  the purse  strings, even though  some  of his  colleagues  would  like  him  dancing to their  tune  of  “nine years  of neglect” (which is code for  “spend on my pet project”).

Business confidence which fell after the election last year and declined in the first half of this year has recovered, a response possibly  due to compromises on intended changes to employment law and the healthy Budget surplus.

Labour’s  main mission  has been  to raise incomes at the lower end of the scale,  and in  this it  has  succeeded, but there is  much  yet to be done  on  the parallel  issues  of reducing  inequality  and  child  poverty

As  for others in Cabinet,  the standout  probably   has been   Shane  Jones  but it is  a moot  point whether he commands  as  much attention inside  the room  as he  does  in  the  media.

By comparison  Trade Minister  David Parker supplies  real  intellectual  grunt, not  just within  his own portfolios but across the spectrum.  So too  does  Andrew  Little, even  though he  has failed to  make any progress with  Ngaphui  in its treaty  settlement, and critics judged his justice summit a flop.

Housing  Minister Phil Twyford, entrusted with key roles in housing  and  transport, has  found it hard going trying to deliver  on  his  party’s promises,  but  Ardern  might not  find  any  volunteers  to  step into  either of  those  portfolios  just yet.

In  some  quarters   Kris  Faafoi  is   regarded  as  a  rising  star  but that’s probably because he hasn’t blotted  his  copybook rather than  because  of any innovative political  thinking.

Chris Hipkins  and  Megan  Woods   are regarded   as  solid  in  their portfolios  but   real tests  are looming  for them in the  coming year.

From  the  Greens,  there’s  probably some satisfaction  among the party’s supporters  on  issues  like  the medicinal cannabis reform, conservation and  climate  change  issues,  but  given  Winston Peters’  insistence that  it is  a  Labour-NZ First coalition,  it’s not  easy  to assess  what  influence, if  any, the  Greens  exert   on  Cabinet  outcomes,  outside  the  areas   of their  particular   responsibility.

It’s said  they have made more progress against plastic bags than global warming this year and they have managed to redirect some roading funds to railways and cycleways as  well as enticing KiwiRail to resume plans to replace diesel with electric locomotives.  Not  spectacular, yet after more than  20 years in  Parliament, the Greens  can  at last  say  they have  achieved   something.

There  has been  some  speculation   Ardern  might reshuffle  portfolios  and  fill  the gaps  left  by Clare  Curran and  Meka  Whaitiri.

Certainly  there  is talent  among  the  2017  crop  of   backbenchers,  with  Deborah Russell  and Duncan  Webb  leading  contenders.  Such  a   reshuffle   would certainly  confirm  Ardern’s  authority  but  whether she could do it  without  Peters’  approval   is  one of  the  yet-to-be  tested  conditions of the   coalition  arrangement.  And if  you are preaching kindness and compassion,  how  can you  be  ruthless  with those  sitting  around you?

One thought on “It’s the year for all those reports to demand decisions

  1. For goodness sake don’t encourage the left – Greens or Labour with comments about climate change or they will soon have us back in caves and they will do themselves an injury trying to rationalize their weird ideas with reality. I try to keep in mind the comment from Maurice Williamson (probably his only comment worht remembering) referring to teams of cyclists towing logs out of the pine forests. A good one I suggest to keep in mind when james Shaw witters on.


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