Ardern is skipper and Robertson is in charge of the engine room as the govt sets sail on a clear course with a new crew

PM  Jacinda  Ardern, conceding the next three years will be very challenging for NZ, has two overarching priorities  for  her  government: to drive the economic recovery from Covid-19, and to continue the health response to keep NZers safe from the virus.

In what will be a difficult environment it’s critical we have our most experienced ministers leading the ongoing Covid response to keep New Zealanders safe from the virus and to accelerate our plan for economic recovery.       

Sensibly, then,  she  has   recognised  the  skills  of   Grant Robertson  who  has  been  given   the  task  of  co-ordinating  the  drive to  regain  economic growth.  Besides  keeping the  Finance  portfolio    Robertson becomes  Minister  of  Infrastructure. And  his  seniority is  reinforced    with the  role, too, of  Deputy Prime Minister—a  role  which he had previously filled  in all but  name.

Labour’s recovery plan includes $42bn of infrastructure investment that will create jobs and ensure the economic recovery.   It    also  has  to   deliver much needed improvements to  roads and public transport, to schools, hospitals and housing, while also continuing to support the regions.

Ardern,  in  effect,  will be  the  captain  on   the  bridge  while  Robertson  is in  charge  of the  engine-room.

Clearly  it  would have been  an anomaly  if  Kelvin  Davis  had  moved up to  be  Deputy  PM,  and  wisely  he  chose  to   step  aside from that  role.

Without  Winston Peters  acting  as a  block  on  Labour  whenever   he  felt  like it,  Labour  now  has a  clear  run.  But  both  Ardern  and Robertson are incrementalists  rather  than  radicals.    They  have  to get  the  economy  up  and  running smoothly  again,  no easy  task  when the  global economy  is stumbling in the face of the pandemic.

Robertson  accepts the Covid-19 economic and health response priorities for the new government will be hard work.

He  told   Radio  NZ  he  recognises Covid-19’s health and economic impact store to be fully felt.

My bit of the equation is particularly around the economic impact. And we are going to have to work very hard as a country over the next few years to recover and rebuild and get that ‘build back better’ approach going.

“So we’re going to have to be careful, we’re going to have to be balanced in the programme as we put forward at the election but I’ve got a lot of optimism about NZ.  I see the economy doing better than people expected, plenty of headwinds to come, but I’ve got huge optimism about our country and our resilience.

He  concedes that with such a large majority in Parliament, Labour faces the risk of second term arrogance as a government.

But Robertson says the prime minister has been extremely clear with all of her colleagues that their job is a privilege and a right that has to be earned, and re-earned, every day.

As  for  his  new job  as  deputy  PM  Robertson  defines it   as being basically a support role for the prime minister.

She can’t be in two places at once and so there’s plenty of occasions where someone needs to fill in. And I’m very very happy to do that.

“I’ve been around Parliament for a long time I’ve seen various people wanting to take the role, so I’ve got a good guide as to as to how those people have done it. Clearly Sir Michael Cullen is someone I’ve looked to from the finance portfolio. He also fulfilled the role of deputy prime minister and finance minister … so I’ll continue to draw on his advice, along with others.”

What’s  clear  is  that   Robertson  has  a  clear  conception  of  his  role  in the  partnership   with  Ardern   and,  unlike  some previous  ministers    who have  held the  finance  portfolio  in  other Labour administrations,  does  not  harbour  an ambition    for  the top  job  (unless of  course  it  was thrust on him).

I’m very humbled and honoured to have the role. I’ve enjoyed working with the prime minister over the last three years as finance minister and to take on the deputy role just gives me another opportunity to support her in doing her job.

“She had asked Kelvin Davis, as she said, to consider the role. And after the election he came back and had said to her that he did not want to take it up, so she raised the possibility with me once he’d said that”.

 With  such a  strong  mandate,  the Ardern  government   could have  struck out  boldly  in  many  directions.

But  with  Robertson  driving the  economic  programme, the  government  can  be  expected  to  move ahead  carefully,  almost cautiously.  He  clearly  understands  he has  to unite  business, the export  sectors  and  farming  behind his  policies  if he is to  batter  down  the challenges   confronting    NZ  in dealing with the  pandemic’s aftermath.


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