The PM dances on a pin about funding furore – but she can’t waltz away from the question of her govt’s integrity

Are  ministers  in   Jacinda  Ardern’s  coalition   beginning  to  live  in  a  dreamworld  of their  own,  distant  from  the  one  where ordinary  New Zealanders  live?

In Parliament, in answer to patsy questions from their own  backbenchers, they  congratulate   themselves  on  their  extraordinary  ( as it  seems to them)  achievements. They  appear  supremely  unconscious  of or oblivious to the  world  most  New Zealanders inhabit.  And this week   they were   doing  their best  to  ignore   the   raging  furnace  torching  NZ  First.

It’s  possible  they were  yawning because  they had  heard it  all before.

But other  NZers found  the allegations  of  financial shenanigans inside  the structure of  NZ  First disturbing.

Stuff reports  the  NZ  First Foundation received 26 donations of $325,900 in just a five month period, adding:

Donors to the foundation include food manufacturers, racing interests, forestry owners and wealthy property developers.”   

You  might regard reports   like  this  as part of a  conspiracy by  the  media  to  unhorse  the   deputy Prime Minister,  and hence the  coalition.

Here’s  the   insight  of  left-wing  commentator  Chris Trotter, who says:

Once again, the enemies of Winston Peters are manoeuvring to eject him and his NZ First Party from Parliament.  Once again the primary vector for their attack is the news media. And, once again, Peters is making it easy for them… 

“If this is errant political behaviour, then there is something quaintly patriotic about it…  Twelve years ago, Winston Peters was still robust enough to come back from the political crucifixion which his political and media enemies had prepared for him.

“In his seventies now, the chances of a second resurrection are slim.. We should, therefore, prepare for the last gasp of Old New Zealand’s very Kiwi corruption”.

The Electoral  Commission  launched an investigation on  Tuesday in an apparent response to the  initial  reports  of  donations being funnelled into  the    NZ  First   Foundation.  Peters  insists  it will find nothing untoward – the  party  has  acted within the   law  at  all times.

But  NZ  First’s 1996-98 coalition with National ended after  Peters was fired as Treasurer and the 2005-08 coalition  with Labour ended when Peters was suspended as Foreign Minister over what became known as the Owen Glenn affair.

Those  who  don’t   learn   from history are  forced to  re-live it, to paraphrase  a  philosopher of   an earlier  era.

The risk  for  the  PM now is that the  latest  NZ  First  chapter  of  political pyromania will  smoke out  all  but  the  most fervent  Jacindamaniacs.

The  damage   is  not  just to  NZ  First  but to  the coalition.  The  PM  sidestepped    questions in  Parliament  about whether  she had   confidence  that  NZ First’s  leader    (and  deputy PM)  had  been  acting within  the law  at  all  times.

As   NZ  Herald   political  editor   Audrey  Young pointed out,  to  answer  “No”  would have been unthinkable.  To answer   “Yes”   would have been untruthful when she has no  way of  knowing.

So instead of answering the questions Ardern did in the House  what she had done with reporters  on her way into the  House: answer  a  question she was not asked”.  

Ardern declared  it would not be  proper for one  political party, Labour, to  inquire into the practices of another,  NZ  First.

Dancing on the head   of  a  pin like that  may mollify her followers,   but  it won’t fool   the  average    voter.

She   is the  Prime  Minister – that’s the critical point –   and it is  the  integrity of  her government  which is   at stake.

As Prime Minister, Ardern is responsible for the conduct of her Ministers. The   Cabinet  Manual  spells   out the rules:

A Minister of the Crown, while holding a ministerial warrant, acts in a number of different capacities:

“a. in a ministerial capacity, making decisions and determining and promoting policy within particular  portfolios;

“b. in a political capacity as a member of Parliament, representing a constituency or particular community of interest; and

“c.in a personal capacity.

“In all these roles and at all times, Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards. This includes exercising a professional approach and good judgement in their interactions with the public and officials, and in all their communications, personal and professional. Ultimately,Ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister for their behaviour”

So  let’s  look  at   the  assessment  of  a politician   who witnessed  the  history  at first hand, Peter  Dunne:

“As today’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern contemplates the allegations swirling about the NZ First Foundation, she should be mindful that, on the basis of her predecessors’ fates, she would appear to be damned if she does (in the Shipley fashion) or does not (in the Bolger and Clark approach).

“While her current instinct seems to be to follow the Bolger/Clark line, she must surely know that could become increasingly untenable, as this situation drags on, which seems highly likely.  After all, the one certainty from history, is that events of this type are seldom as straightforward or easily clarified as NZ First continues to suggest.

“There are likely to be more twists and turns, enmeshing NZ First further in the mire, before a measure of clarity emerges.

“While there is scant evidence this row is doing the Labour Party collateral damage at the moment, it is really only a matter of time, unless things are quickly tidied up. But the PM’s problem is that by then it may be too late for her. Already, she is being lambasted in some quarters for being too laid back in her dealings with NZ First ministers and some of their more egregious behaviours, although this does overlook some of the realities of holding a coalition government together.

“Nevertheless, it could become increasingly difficult for her to maintain a dignified silence on this issue without looking weak and ineffectual, as is already being suggested – the last thing she would want as she heads into election year. Either way, the next few weeks are not going to be easy for her and her government”.

We note that these are the observations of a seasoned politician with a flare for holding ministerial posts as a safe pair of hands and for being a reliable coalition partner.

 

 

 

 

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