How “responsibility” is being redefined on Ardern’s watch – first at the top, and now at ministerial level

The Ardern  government, adding  a  fresh  policy  pile-up to  the heap  it  has  accumulated,  has been  busy re-defining   the  core   principle  of   ministerial  responsibility.

Health  Minister   David   Clark   has   joined   Transport  Minister  Phil  Twyford   in  the  “look, no hands”  brigade,   as he  shrugs  off   responsibility   for   failing  to  ensure  the government’s   strict border  protocols   as  agreed   by  Cabinet   were  implemented.

And  Twyford, adding the failure to deliver Labour’s  key  2017 election pledge to  build   Auckland’s  light  rail  by 2021  to  his  KiwiBuild  performance,  must still be laughing  as he   draws  his  ministerial  salary  and looks  forward to  another term,  after being  promoted  to  number four on   Labour’s list.

The  consequence  is  headlines  such as “Phil Twford, Minister of   embarrassing failures”  and  “David Clark throws  Ashley Bloomfield  under a  bus,  while Bloomfield looks on”.

Not   quite  the sort   Labour   will cherish  as  it  goes  into a general election  campaign.

Point  of  Order, in an earlier  post,  noted   what  is  emerging  in  NZ as  a redefinition  of   leadership:  Ardern  is   there to lead,  not to take  responsibility.  This defies    all  previous conventions in a  parliamentary   democracy.

This  is  now being refined  for  ministers, too.   They  are there   to  get  Cabinet sign-off  on measures,  but not to take  responsibility  when  a programme is not fulfilled.

Deputy  Prime  Minister   Winston  Peters   (standing in  for the PM  in  Parliament)  took it  a  step  further    when    he   said   when  there are  failures   “we  are  there  to  fix them”.

Some   commentators    argue ministers can’t take responsibility for everything. Not even the most competent minister,  they  say, is safe from “mistakes”  further down  the chain.

That  defies   historical  precedent.  Ministers  have  resigned  in  cases  where  there  have been serious failures.

Take, for  example,  the  Cave  Creek  disaster  in  1995   when  the  Minister of  Conservation, Denis  Marshall,  resigned,  although  clearly the collapse  of  the  structure  which led to  the deaths of  14 people  was a  construction  failure.

But  Clark  sees it  differently:  he contends  border controls and  testing  is an issue of implementation and operation, the  responsibility   for  which    falls  on the    chief  executive  of the  Health  Minister.

Clark  won’t  even  go  as far as  Bob Semple  did   in  Labour’s   first  ministry  when he  famously  said:  “I am  responsible,  but   I  am not to blame”.

Instead   Clark  insists  Bloomfield  has taken  responsibility for  the  border  bungles and  had apologised  to the public  for  them.

TV3’s  political  editor  Tova  O’Brien   (and her  cameraman)   neatly   skewered   Clark  emerging  alongside  Bloomfield    from  a parliamentary  room  when  he  shrugged   off  the  border bungle  onto the Health Department  chief.    It was an image    which  delighted  social  media.

It  may  not  yet  be  diminishing  the clouds of  glory  that    float   above  Jacinda  Ardern,  who  nevertheless  has  sought  to   distance   herself   from  her  “not responsible”  ministers.

She  knows  it  would   give  too  much ammunition   to National  if she  were  to   call on  Clark to fall on his  sword.

In  any   case, she  has other   fires  to  dampen.  The  NZ  Herald  put it to  her  that  the government  was  being torn apart  after  NZ  First  killed off  any  hope   the light rail  project  would  get under way this term.

“This is an MMP Government. It  just happens to be one [area] where we were unable to form a consensus.”

Light Rail was the first big policy announced by Ardern when she took over leadership of Labour leading into the 2017 election.

Labour made a commitment to the Greens in their governing agreement:

“Work will begin on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland”.

Greens co-leader James Shaw said NZ First’s light rail moves were a “slap in the face of Aucklanders”.

How  Aucklanders   will  view   it   will  become  clearer  on  September  19.

2 thoughts on “How “responsibility” is being redefined on Ardern’s watch – first at the top, and now at ministerial level

  1. Ardern”s “star power” is Labour’s only asset, without her they are toast. So protecting the queen bee is paramount for the drones around her. If that means dispensing with the few principles that remain of our unwritten constitution like ministerial responsibility, so be it. We are in transition from a democracy to unaccountable rule by a politburo who answer only to Dear Leader.

    Liked by 1 person

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