The Ardern Government’s popularity appears to be waning, according to recent opinion polls – and even news media which previously were unduly friendly (no doubt influenced by the succour from state subsidies) are now finding flaws in ministerial performance.
A column in Stuff by its experienced Kevin Norquay has skewered the Ardern team’s propensity to call on New Zealanders to “be kind”, “listen to the science”, and boast “we’re so transparent”.
Norquay likened the Ardern-Robertson government to a “friend” who would like you to look the other way while it gets on with doing what’s good for its own best interests, such as getting re-elected.
“In 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln called democracy ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’. In 2022 NZ, it’s starting to look more like ‘of the people, by the party, for the party,’” wrote Norquay.
“How else to explain health officials in November telling the Government MIQ was ‘no longer justified’, yet having the Government keep inbound MIQ in place for another 15 weeks, then trying to avoid releasing the details publicly?
“‘Listening to the science’ now carries a taint, as decisions made could be seen as party political, rather than public health related.It’s an erosion of trust. Why cover up things that are supposedly done in our best interest?
“They fought to keep it hidden for four months.Robertson echoed that, adding: ‘I continue to believe MIQ did a significant job in keeping New Zealanders safe and in saving lives.’
“There’s that ‘friend’ again, telling us all the secrecy was for our own good. Whether MIQ did a good job is not the point here, it’s when that good job might have ended. You could argue ‘we listen to the science’ remains accurate, with the coda ‘but our decisions are based on the politics’, but transparency was always a fiction written boldly on a blocking PR wall”.
So can the Ardern-Robertson team reverse its slide in popularity?
They will get their chance with the presentation of the forthcoming budget, just three weeks away.
The Government’s economic programme has become crucial not just in a political sense but also for the course the economy and the Budget’s impact on voter attitudes will flow through to the election.
But the government’s difficulty has been compounded by raging inflation. Opposition parties are attacking it for allowing inflation to run out of control-, although Robertson insists overseas factors have driven it.
But that doesn’t help the average Kiwi from feeling the huge financial pinch when buying the groceries and meeting other household costs. It also serves as a reminder of the government’s other failures in housing, child poverty, health and schooling.
Already the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Adrian Orr, has been calling on the government to help in the battle against inflation by deploying its fiscal weaponry. That, in theory, should discourage it from throwing out money to win votes.
And then there are the demands of climate change. Robertson is committed to spelling out how the government will finance its bid to bring NZ’s contribution to global warming under control.
Few doubt this will be an expensive process. Dairy farmers – for example – are worried that the government will adopt the Climate Change Commission’s recommendation that herd numbers should be cut by 15%. This is considered necessary to reduce methane emissions which at present are one of NZ’s biggest impacts on global warming.
That would be a blow to export earnings at a time when the country needs every dollar it can pick up.
There is little doubt this will be one of the most difficult budgets to prepare in the past decade. It will be a major test of Robertson’s skill in deploying his political—and economic— weapons.
Will he be gunning for popularity – or austerity?