Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been snaring the headlines again on her mission in South-east Asia, celebrating the signing of an upgraded free trade agreement with ASEAN, condemning the regime in Myanmar, and having a 10-minute conversation with US president Joe Biden.
Then there were the formal meetings of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia. Now she is seeking to lift trade with Vietnam. Still to come is the APEC forum meeting in Cambodia, where possibly she will have a head-to-head with China’s President Xi Jinping.
She does this so well that some of her countrymen back home think she should do it permanently.
But would those same countrymen accept deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson in the role of Prime Minister?
Not judging by the criticis he has been attracting while she has been away.As Sports Minister Robertson could share the glow of the Black Ferns’ triumph. As Finance Minister,the report card was less favourable.
In his Saturday column in the NZ Herald Steven Joyce was particularly severe, contending that the failure to let the central bank focus on stability risks its independence.
The headline neatly encapsulated the Joyce criticism: “Robertson sticking an Orr in on RBNZ’s role”.
Joyce argues the reappointmentof Adrian Orr as governor of the Reserve Bank by Robertson for a second term of 5 years is “troubling”.
“Because of the bank’s importance and independence, the appointment of the governor is supposed to be a non-partisan decision that both sides of politics can live with. For whatever reason, it is clear that for the opposition parties and many independent commentators that is not currently the case.
“A sensible finance minister concerned for the independence of the institution would have either appointed a new governor or reappointed the current one for a shorter term.
“I should stress the criticism is directed at Robertson. It is Robertson who appointed Orr and the buck stops with him on Orr’s reappointment”.
Business journalist Bernard Hickey told Radio NZ’s Morning Report that as an independent, inflation-targeting central bank, RBNZ had missed its target and the public were right to want some accountability.
He said while it had responded to the pandemic in a similar way to other central banks around the world, the various things it had implemented in addition to its remit of setting the official cash rate (OCR) had caused a “perfect storm”.
Hickey points out:
“The Opposition is now saying Adrian Orr is not just a purely independent apolitical person, he did so many things in concert with Grant Robertson, so many joint memorandums of understanding, joint letters, that he crossed the line.”
Claire Trevett, political editor of the NZ Herald,noted in her Saturday column that the cost of living is rated the top issue for voters,with the economy ranking second.
She says polling shows on the issue of which party is considered best at managing the economy, almost twice as many people believe National is best at 47% to Labour’s 24%.
Hardly a feather in Robertson’s cap.
Trevett reckons the bluntest lesson—or solution—for Labour came in the Reid Research poll,in which an overwhelming 85% of people supported a tax-free income threshold
“Labour has not ruled out some tax cuts in its 2023 policy, and Ardern’s observation that a tax-free threshold did at least deliver the same to those on low incomes the same as high may or may not be a hint about what it is looking at.
“It may be Labour’s only hope”, says Trevett.
So, with an election budget still to come, Robertson back at his desk may be telling himself “Don’t count me out yet”