Is it the kind of headline that will win votes at the general election? “Rock-star reception in Fijian village” followed by a sub-head “Rapturous greeting for Ardern during visit to launch $3m sanitation project”.
The reporter (veteran Barry Soper, Newstalk ZB’s political editor) poses the rhetorical question: “Is there any wonder that Ardern loves going overseas?”
As well, there has been the effusive welcome from Fiji strongman Frank Bainimarama who, according to another reporter, is expecting, even “demanding”, Ardern to pressure Australia on its climate change inaction.
Point of Order suspects Ardern may be less forthcoming than Bainimarama would like, when she meets Australia’s Scott Morrison. Almost certainly climate change won’t be on the agenda in the Morrison-Ardern talks.
Still, that won’t diminish Ardern’s popularity with those New Zealanders who delight in her being billed as one of the world’s leaders, by global media like the US Time magazine which featured her in a cover story recently.
As in Fiji, Ardern will be a popular visitor in Australia, where her kindness and compassion over – for example – the Christchurch mosque shootings are contrasted with the cack-handed Morrison performance during the bushfire catastrophe.
Meanwhile the warm glow engendered by the headlines in the NZ media will shore up the PM’s ratings at home and strengthen the conviction in the Labour camp she can score a home run in this year’s election. New Zealanders always like to think their leaders cut a dash on the international stage.
Yet not all the omens are as favourable for the government as the PM’s own ratings.
Already the economic clouds are darkening and there is a constant drip-feed of news about dodgy donations to the NZ First Foundation, which could see the evaporation of much of the support Winston Peters won in 2017, just as it did in 2008 in similar circumstances.
The latest report on NZ First’s list of donors -offers a glimpse into how policies adopted by the Ardern government, particularly in the racing and fishing industries, have been influenced by the stance taken by NZ First as a result, allegedly, of donations by key figures in those industries.
It creates a problem for left-wing commentators who profess to be puzzled why National has avoided poll damage over donations, even though it, like NZ First, is said to be afflicted with a “corruption” scandal arising from donations.
The problem is that there is no evidence of money donated to National having influenced public policy in the way which happens to be at the core of perceptions affecting NZ First.
A secondary issue is the spillover of those perceptions to the government itself.
Labour does not appear at all keen to hold an inquiry into the so-called “donations scandal”. After all, doesn’t it depend on funds from trade unions, particularly in the state sector, to finance many of its activities in the run-up to an election? Who initiated the review to secure “fair pay”? And at the instigation of whom?
It’s not surprising commentaries are beginning to appear in the media calling on the Deputy PM to step aside until the public has answers from an inquiry into NZ First Foundation donations.
The National Party though won’t be pushing that barrow too hard just yet, because it believes the nasty smell will eventually envelop all three parties in the coalition.
As if the corruption issue isn’t enough to put a serious question mark against the leadership of the coalition — and let’s face it, many key decisions have hinged on what Peters inserted into the coalition agreement — the government is now confronted with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
According to ASB economists it will stall the economy, which in any case was on the decline after the years of growth under National.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson who might have been contemplating a bit of an election year splurge in the budget, may now have to focus on a more immediate stimulus to ensure the economy does not go into a nosedive.
If the government can’t do better in handling the impact of covid-19 than it did in, say, implementing its KiwiBuild policy or reducing child poverty, then all the kindness and compassion exuded by the PM might not save the coalition.