Huge expectations now rest on the newly re-elected Ardern government. Just as the pioneering Labour government did in the 1930s under Michael Joseph Savage and the fourth Labour government did under David Lange in the 1980’s, it has won a stronger mandate to fulfill its programme.
So will it become truly transformational – as it first promised in 2017 – or will the economic recession threatening NZ overwhelm the new ministry?
Election night delivered a fairy-tale outcome for the politician dubbed by The Economist as “Jacindarella” , but will the second term not only restore NZ to full employment and prosperity but confirm the Ardern government as the most progressive since the days of its founding prime minister?
Already lobby groups are hammering at the door.
Working people and their unions have expectations that a new government without a handbrake will move faster and further to support people and the environment, says the CTU’s Richard Wagstaff.
“While important progress was made in the last three years, we expect to see more and faster positive change in the next term. People have spoken and we have collectively chosen to elect a progressive government, without a handbrake, which will place people at the heart of decisions.
“This next government has been given an overwhelming mandate to end poverty and inequality in NZ. A strong union movement is at the heart of that.”
Greenpeace has been quick to call for sharper action on climate change.
“With an historic landslide to Labour, solid wins for the Greens and the departure of NZ First, this new government has no more excuses,” says Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman.
“With Winston Peters and his party gone we expect to see immediate moves to tackle agricultural climate pollution, to invest in rail and cycleways, and to protect the oceans from overfishing.”
Greenpeace believes the election result has given a Labour-led administration the clear runway to pursue an environmental position much more in keeping with the ideals that most Kiwis share.
Polls show that 79% of New Zealanders are concerned about climate change and seven out of 10 want a transformative green recovery out of Covid-19.
Even lobby groups for animal welfare are demanding Labour gets properly to work in its second term.
Animal rights organisation SAFE CEO Debra Ashton said with a majority of the seats in Parliament, Labour can make quick progress on animal welfare.
“Labour can really get things done now, like fulfilling some broken promises on animal welfare. They should start with banning colony cages.“
The Labour party had promised to end the caging of hens in 2014 and 2017, yet hens are still confined to colony cages. A 2020 Colmar Brunton Poll showed 76% of people oppose the use of colony cages.
“Jacinda Ardern has a clear mandate to phase out the caging of hens.”
Point of Order doubts SAFE’s plea will be top of the agenda when the new Labour caucus meets.
What may be more pressing for Ardern and her team (no, not the one of 5m, but the freshly chosen 64) will be the composition of the government itself. Will it form a coalition with the Greens, or go it alone?
The Greens’ co-leaders have clear expectations they will be invited into the Cabinet room, but within the Labour caucus there may be strong pressure to go it alone, particularly from those on the fringes of Cabinet selection. The Maori caucus, for example, may feel slighted if Cabinet seats are offered to the Greens.
Those inclined to take the long view may argue that Labour should keep the Greens firmly on side and retain them in the tent.
In any case, who is going to speak out if Jacinda insists the Greens should be kept onside?
Ardern has other weighty issues to ponder. She will be eager to keep that international halo intact.
So who to nominate as foreign minister in place of the redoubtable Winston Peters?.
Andrew Little appears to be the most likely candidate. She will also need a new defence minister to succeed Ron Mark and Kelvin Davis is thought to be the choice for that portfolio.
Little will have a hard job succeeding Winston Peters whose longevity in politics gave him an extraordinary range of contacts around the world. Peters also had a hands-off policy in running MFAT – not digging down into the weeds of which junior or middle-raking officer should be posted here or there.
Nor did he indulge in favourites. He has left what MFAT hopes will be a lasting legacy in not appointing former ministers to plum appointments. In this respect MFAT is fortunate in that Ardern won’t be obliged to find jobs for defeated Cabinet ministers.
Little will inherit a fairly well-tuned ministry. Annette King is regarded as doing a workmanlike job in Canberra, despite coming from a party opposite to the governing Liberal-National coalition. Her term ends in 2022.
One of the ministry’s best diplomats, Bede Corry, has recently taken over in London as high commissioner and has already become known for his penetrating and insightful reporting on the byzantine ways of the Boris Johnson Conservative government. In any case, relations are stalled while the British resolve their looming departure from the European Union.
There has been some progress on negotiations of a free trade agreement but several rounds remain and again, trade policy with the British are in a hiatus while the mechanics of leaving the EU are resolved.
Likewise, in the United States, relations are on hold pending the outcome of the US presidential elections. The term of Ambassador Rosemary Banks concludes later next year. The embassy had made inroads into both the Democrats and Republicans at high levels in terms of policy, meaning that whoever wins the White House, NZ will have high-level contacts.
Despite Peters’ enthusiasm for a free trade agreement with the US, a realistic view is that under President Donald Trump and his special trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, little progress was possible since neither liked bilateral trade deals.
One area where Peters has had a notable success is focusing US attention on the Southern Pacific and the need for an active presence to counter China’s expanding interests and presence.
Whether a Joe Biden administration has a different view is yet to be defined. His representatives have been opaque. Unlike the administration of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, the Democrats are more inward-looking. Further, US unions have contributed handsomely to the Democrats’ fighting funds and Biden has gone out of his way to address union rallies.
Defence relations with the US are at their highest levels in decades. The US Navy has had the RNZN represented at the RIMPAC multinational naval exercises off Hawaii, RNZAF officers are training to fly the new Boeing P-8A Poseidons at a US naval air station in Florida while the first steps in building the new C-130J-30 Super Hercules are also underway. A US navy ship visit is due shortly. Mark has been much appreciated in Defence circles and Davis will have a hard act to follow.