Little is big on tact as he fields questions related to an array of ministerial portfolios – and to his workload

Is Andrew Little overworked?

The question was raised by TVNZ’s Simon Shepherd in an interview that spanned the Grace Millane case, name suppression orders and Google, abortion law reform, referendums and Winston Peters, the dispute at Ihumatao, and the Labour Party’s handling of sexual harassment  allegations.

Shepherd noted the number of portfolios for which Little is responsible.

He asked:

Okay. Justice, Courts, GCSB, SIS, Treaty negotiations and Pike River – they’re all your portfolios. So why are you carrying such a big load in this coalition government?

Why he is carrying such a big load is a question better addressed to the Prime Minister, who appointed him to those posts.

But Little didn’t steer Shepherd to Ardern’s office for a response.  Nor did he challenge the thrust of the question.  Rather, he said somewhat lamely:

Well, I deal with the issues that turn up on my desk and deal with that. I’m very satisfied with the responsibilities I’ve got, the support that I have and the progress that we’re making.

Next question:

And is it that range of portfolios that you would hope to carry on with?

Little:

I’m very happy, given the workload I’ve got, the support that I have, the leadership that the prime minister and my senior colleagues are providing. I could not be more content.

On the matter of the abortion law and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters’ fascination with referendums, he had good things to say about Peters’ colleague, Tracey Martin:

Yeah, look, things spun a wee bit out of control. The reality is I had extensive negotiations with Tracey Martin, senior Cabinet minister from New Zealand First. They were constructive; they were good; we arrived at the package; it went right through the Cabinet process. Nothing about referendums was raised, and we got the package out there.

Now, I can’t account for New Zealand First’s collective behaviour. The members of New Zealand First I deal with, when I deal with them one-on-one, are excellent, and Tracey is someone who acts with absolute and utter integrity. I absolutely trust her.

We’ve forged a good relationship, and we’ll proceed with this legislation. And, look, if New Zealand First wants to put a referendum up, let them put it up. They stand in the queue with everybody else. 

He doesn’t think there will be enough support for New Zealand First referendum demand.

If I was looking at those numbers, I’d say… You know, I don’t think it’s got much chance, but…

But what?

Shepherd wasn’t inclined to find out but ventured:

So New Zealand First is just playing politics for its base, and it’s hanging Tracey Martin out as a sacrificial lamb for that?

Little was tactfully non-committal:

That’s an interpretation that’s being placed on it. I don’t care to go there. I’m focused on this legislation now. It’s in the hands of the select committee. It’s an excellent select committee – members of all different opinions and from all parties in the House. I think they’ll do a good job.

What does this behaviour mean for the coalition relationships going into election year?

Look, it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve forged a very good relationship. Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters have an excellent chemistry, in my view. You look at it, and actually, this is a government that has made some very bold decisions, embarked on some bold policies.

The Minister was even more delicate when fielding a question about the Ihumatao dispute.

Now, you’ve already said that private land and Treaty settlements – as Treaty minister – is off the table. So how is this going to be settled, do you think?

Well, I have great faith in the Kingitanga and King Tūheitia, who has stamped his imprimatur on the issue. I think as a real expression of tino rangatiratanga is that Māori and all Māori interests are gathering together. The Crown, in my view, has a role to support and to facilitate, but the Crown can’t provide a solution, because the number of stakeholders and those with an interest in that piece of land is extensive, even amongst Māoridom. So that discussion needs to happen. I think the occupiers there, SOUL – they have an absolute passion for protecting the heritage value of the land. I think everybody understands that. But we can’t ignore the legal complications and complexities that go with this in relation to the Treaty settlement programme, in relation to land generally.

So there’s no way that you could buy the land, because that would just open up a can of worms – that is correct?

That would effectively open up 88 settled Treaty agreements, as well as completely change the landscape for about 50.

Indeed it would.

 

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