Is the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at risk of losing the halo she has worn so gracefully for so long?
No way, say her legions of supporters.
Just look at the reaction when Sydney radio veteran Alan Jones called on Australian PM Scott Morrison to “shove a sock down her throat”.
Morrison slapped Jones down over his tirade — which stemmed from Ardern’s warning that Australia “will have to answer to the Pacific” on climate change. Jones labelled Ardern an “utter lightweight” and a “clown”.
Morrison dismissed Jones’ comments as “very disappointing” and “way out of line”.
It’s not surprising many NZers agreed with the Australian PM that Jones had overstepped the mark, and saw Jones’ apology as no more than a face-saving gesture.
Still, for those NZers who regard the trans-Tasman relationship as NZ’s most vital among its external links, there has been a developing pattern in Ardern being critical of Australian Federal policies. That has done little to endear her to Canberra decision makers, particularly over policies on migration, including refugees, and the deportation back to NZ of Kiwi-born former gaolbirds.
The warning signs the halo may be slipping are more easily detected on the home front.
Cartoonists mostly of the left-wing variety have been chary of mocking the PM, and it has been left to the NZ Herald’s Steve Braunias in his iconoclastic “secret diary” series to expose the fallibility of the Ardern lexicon, as in:
“Let me be perfectly clear. On issues like Ihumatao, the difficult issues, the hard issues, we will be there. We will be so there. We will be there with bells on, and a nice warm hat or something—isn’t the weather nasty? Very, very nasty. Brr! But we will face the storm together. So yeah. We will not shirk the difficult issues or the hard issues. That’s not my style. Love a difficult issue. Totally into hard issues…. But returning to Ihumatao. Returning to it as a difficult subject, I mean. Not as a place, because to return there would, by definition, mean that I had visited it in the first place, and I think we ought to be very careful about definitions. Very, very careful. And slow”.
And so on through to the Friday entry: “Bring on the World Cup”.
In pointing up Ardern’s failure to front up to the Ihumatao protestors, Braunias has underlined the tendency for the PM to sidestep where she can “the hard issues” in what she initially advertised as the “year of delivery” for her coalition.
On those hard issues, from child poverty, homelessness, mental health, and the state of the economy, there is little sign of significant improvement.
Measures such as increasing the minimum wage may have lifted the take-home pay of many thousands of workers, but the gains have been offset by rising costs, including those imposed by the government itself like the regional fuel tax and additional petrol taxes.
Earlier the PM contended motorists were being “fleeced” by petrol resellers, but it turns out after a Commerce Commission inquiry that even if the government were to act to trim petrol reselling margins, the price of a litre of regular 91 grade petrol would fall only 2 cents, much less than the higher tax rates extracted from petrol by the Ardern government.
Veteran political correspondent Audrey Young in a weekend column headed “Simon Bridges seems to be rattling Labour” wrote that Ardern was a difficult target in the first year, and also in the months after March 15. “She is no longer taboo, and Bridges is capitalising on it”.
Young reckons Bridges would not achieve the cut through he is getting were it not for the failures of the government. Ardern had heightened expectations, declaring it the year of delivery at the very same Labour caucus retreat in which the failures of KiwiBuild were acknowledged by her. “It seemed like a rookie’s error at the time to set up such high expectations. In hindsight it was definitely an error. Uncertainty still remains over that flagship policy six months later and also over climate change legislation, criminal justice reforms and health sector reforms”.
As if it had not been a testing enough week for the government, it started this week with headlines no more encouraging than this one: “Leaks another headache for PM”.
A digital security breach at the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage exposed the private details of hundreds of young NZers on a website.
This departmental incompetence follows other recent bloopers within the public service, including key ministries such as Treasury and Statistics NZ.
And who is the Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage?.
None other than Jacinda Ardern.
Not surprisingly, she found this security breach “very disappointing”.