Thinking about the threat from Beijing and bringing Cabinet on side may be the explanation, if Jacinda seems distracted

If PM Jacinda Ardern looks more distracted and concerned these days she has good reason.  Housing, child poverty, economic recovery and Covid 19 might be sufficient, but there’s a foreign policy challenge looming: China.

Until very recently, New Zealand’s friends and allies, principally Australia and the US but also Singapore, Japan and South Korea, had reason to believe this country would continue its fence-sitting role with Beijing despite ominous developments in the People’s Republic.

The NZ business community, notably companies with extensive China links such as Fonterra, have hoped this Switzerland-type attitude might continue: you trade with both the good and the bad and you don’t make judgments. You let foreign governments run their own domestic affairs.

This is precisely the line from NZ that China and Russia gladly accept.  Never mind the internal repression, the quashing of democracy, the territorial land and seas grabs – let’s keep business rolling.

Times have changed and now NZ is on the cusp.  China is front and centre for the Cabinet.

Continue reading “Thinking about the threat from Beijing and bringing Cabinet on side may be the explanation, if Jacinda seems distracted”

The APEC summit – opportunities will be missed because our govt opted to make it a virtual occasion

Has  the  New  Zealand  government  made  a  diplomatic   blunder  in  converting  the APEC summit  it  is due to  host in July to a virtual event?

If  it had been  delayed  and NZ had called  a  leaders’  summit  in November,  this  country   would  have had  presidents  such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin,  the US’s  Joe Biden and China’s President  Xi  Jinping together  in Auckland.  This  would  have drawn the  global  media’s attention  to  NZ and  the  country would have  been punching above its  weight in international diplomacy.

And NZ’s  Jacinda  Ardern would have been seen  truly as a member of the  world   leadership  club.

In    bilateral  meetings  during the summit, Ardern may have succeeded in  focussing  Biden on  the  need  for  a  free trade  agreement between the  US  and  NZ or  with  China’s Xi  on how  to  build  on the $30bn target for  two-way trade.

In   hosting APEC  in person  she may even have been  able  to  influence  an  armistice  in the  trade  war  between the US  and  China.

APEC  could  have  become  a  launching  pad  for global  recovery   from the  Covid  pandemic.

As  trade  expert  Charles Finny  sees  it, the  big  value of  APEC is the senior level  interaction  and the  private  discussions that  are held on the  sidelines.

“None  of that can  really happen online, in my  view”.

Auckland  will  miss out  on  hosting  the  21  Pacific  Rim  countries.  The summit  would have  drawn thousands  of  officials, trade  experts  and lobbyists  to  the  city, enabling  hotels  and the  hospitality industry  to regain some of  the economic  benefit  lost  during Covid  lockdowns.

Even  the  senior officials  meeting,  known as  Som, which has been  taking  place in recent weeks, in other  times would have attracted  2000 people  to the  city.

The  question  being  asked  is whether  Ardern – in concentrating  so  heavily   on the  impact  of  Covid-19  on  the  country – has misjudged  the   potential  for   real   and  substantial   diplomatic gains  coming  from the personal interaction   with  world leaders.

Indeed  there  is  some  concern  that   damaging  tensions  have   been  allowed  to  creep  into  relations  with our  closest friend  and ally Australia   partly through  the anti-Covid pandemic. The  trans-Tasman   bubble   has   not  eventuated, though  earlier  it  had seemed  it  might  begin in March.  Australia’s  Scott  Morrison has indicated  he  would  go  ahead  with  the  bubble,  but Ardern  is  still  determined to  “eliminate”  Covid  (and  she  is supported by the majority of  New Zealanders).

Earlier the  trans-Tasman   tension was exacerbated  when Export Trade  Minister Damien O’Connor   advised  Australia  “to follow us  and show more respect”  to  China  and Foreign Minister  Nanaia Mahuta suggested  NZ  could act  as  mediator between  China and  Australia.

The  bad  press  those  ministers  got  in  Australia  was  compounded  when Ardern’s sidekick on Covid,  Chris Hipkins,  was  reported as  saying  that Australia, through its deportees to  NZ,  was sending its garbage back across the Tasman.  Ardern had to  get on the  blower smartly  to Morrison to cool things down   before  spanking  her ministers.

Lockdowns and the slow rollout of vaccines look likely to take their toll on the PM’s popularity

Is  the  smooth  run  for  the  Ardern  government  coming  to  an  end?  It  is  still  riding  high in the polls, but almost  imperceptibly the mood   appears   to be  changing.

Jacinda Ardern  may still be enjoying   a  status  few  other  prime  ministers  have attained but the fallibility  of  some of her ministers is coming  more  clearly  into  focus.

More  particularly, where  the government won so much kudos  in  its  response to   the Covid-19 pandemic, it  now  seems to  have lost its magic  touch.

Ardern herself appears  to be becoming  more defensive, pulling  out of her regular slot  on the Mike Hosking ZB  programme.

The latest  lockdowns  accentuated the  hardship  inflicted  on  business, particularly in Auckland, and   the  rollout  of  the Covid vaccination programme  has  been disappointingly  slow. Continue reading “Lockdowns and the slow rollout of vaccines look likely to take their toll on the PM’s popularity”

The PM was angry – but her halo is slipping and Aucklanders are riled, too, by roadblocks and closed businesses

Prime   Minister  Jacinda  Ardern has admitted  to   the  NZ Herald’s  Claire Trevett  that ”Covid  is  constantly in my mind”.

In an interview  at the weekend, extending  over two pages of  the newspaper, Trevett observed:

“Ardern is  now  very confident in her Prime Ministerial  skin. There is  nothing  tentative  about her  leadership.

“She has admitted suffering from a  touch of self  doubt in the past— but if she, or others, ever thought  she  was  not up  to the  job, the  past year has  dispelled  it  completely. There  is  also optimism in her.”

Trevett  went  on to  assert –

“The  most recent  community cases have been dealt  with, with limited  disruption  to people’s  lives” .

On  that, there  may be  a  question mark.  The  interview  appeared   the  very day  another  community Covid case had  led to  a fourth lockdown of  Auckland.  The  decision had been taken by  Cabinet  on Saturday  afternoon  and announced  by Ardern at 9pm. Continue reading “The PM was angry – but her halo is slipping and Aucklanders are riled, too, by roadblocks and closed businesses”

Child poverty measures show improvements – but the PM is pressed to pump more money into income support

All  nine child poverty measures showed downward trends, compared  with  two years  ago, Statistics  NZ reports.

Hurrah!  Another  victory  for  Prime Minister Jacinda  Ardern, it seems.

After  all, she made it  clear   as  she took office that the defeat  of  child  poverty  was her  special priority.

So  what’s  this grumbling from the Child  Poverty Action Group?

The poverty  statistics,  although not  surprising, are “deeply disappointing” and for  families  with disabilities  they are “absolutely shocking”, according to Professor Innes  Asher, chair  of the CPAG.

Most of the nine measures showed no statistical change over the 21 months to March 2020.

“We’ve long said that poverty for children is a huge problem and doing just a little bit will not be enough. We urgently need the government to raise income support significantly for our children in families receiving benefits, and the government needs to use a multi-pronged approach to tackling the housing crisis.

“Incrementalism isn’t working. Persistently delaying implementing the bulk of the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group isn’t working.”

The Children’s Commissioner, Andrew Becroft,  chimed in  that the  government needs  to apply  “big, bold initiatives”.

The  first  priority must  be to lift benefits, he says.

The worry (both critics say) is that they know child poverty will have increased due to COVID-19. The data released this week was collected before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly one out of every five families living with disabilities live in material hardship, more than double the rate of families with no disabled members, the CPAG says.

“Discrimination is the reason why children who are disabled, or who have a disabled caregiver or sibling, are more likely to go without,” says Professor Asher.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, and it absolutely should not be this way. Other countries such as the UK acknowledge families with disabilities have greater expenses, and they support those families so they are no more likely to live in material hardship than others.”

Among the nine measures, the one bright note is that material hardship has definitely reduced overall (in a statistically significant way) from 13.2% to 11%.  That’s a reduction of around 24,000 children, and is likely (although not definitely) to have reduced somewhat for young Māori, from around 22.6% to 19% – around 11,000 young Māori may no longer live in material hardship.

“We expect that we’re probably seeing the effects of the Winter Energy Payment, the extension of free doctors visits to all those aged 13 and under, but also the mushrooming of private charity – food bank numbers have increased massively over the last few years,” says Professor Asher. 

However, material hardship rates for Māori and especially Pacific children are still far above national rates overall: nearly one in five Māori children (19%) live in material hardship (around 54,000 children), and more than one in four Pacific children (25.4% or around 37,000 children) compared with just over one in ten children overall (11% or 125,000 children).

Overall, 168,000 children are still in the severest income poverty, below the 40% income poverty line.

Perhaps  then it is  not  quite  the policy  triumph government  flaks  would  have us believe.

Still, the  Prime  Minister  says:

“We are still working  on it”.

And  the  Finance  Minister Grant  Robertson  is chuffed    that    NZ’s  sovereign currency ratings  have been raised by international agency S&P  on the basis  of  a  stronger-than-expected  recovery.

“The  real thing for  me  is that this is the first upgrade  that  Standard and Poors have done since pandemic, so I think that is  a real sign of  confidence in  our  recovery.  The  other  thing that is  important  is the general confidence   that will flow through, not  only  for NZ  businesses, but  also  for international  businesses, people  looking to invest”.

That’s  for certain:  NZ will need huge investments coming in if eventually it  is  to formulate  the policies  that  will  rid it of child poverty.

As  the  experts  say, the government will have to change its policy so that all low-income families with children are allowed to access all family assistance – currently  children in severest poverty are denied full access to key family assistance because their caregivers receive a benefit.

Squatters at Shelly Bay learn from the PM’s Ihumātao intervention and hunker down for the long haul

We have opened a book, among members of the Point of Order team, on how long it will be before the PM offers to sort out the land dispute at Wellington’s Shelly Bay and (to win the double) how much the settlement will cost taxpayers.

Just a few weeks ago a bunch called Mau Whenua – who are fighting the sale of land at Shelly Bay – were reported to be pinning their hopes on the Māori Land Court to sort things out.

A Stuff report says Mau Whenua is made up mostly of members from Wellington iwi Taranaki Whānui opposed to an earlier sale of Taranaki Whānui land at Shelly Bay to developer Ian Cassels.

The $500 million Shelly Bay project, led by Cassels, is arguably Wellington’s most-controversial development in living memory due to allegations of the illegal sale of Māori land there, perceptions Wellington City Council bent to the will of Cassels, and concerns the seaside site and road to it can’t handle the intensification.

Mau Whenua was due to appear in the High Court in March in an action aimed at overturning the sale.

Alas, a shortage of money became an impediment to this course of action through the legal system when  significant help with funding to pay the $2.2m required to continue the case was withdrawn. Continue reading “Squatters at Shelly Bay learn from the PM’s Ihumātao intervention and hunker down for the long haul”

It’s great to hear Ardern denouncing mob rule in the US and upholding democracy – maybe this will shape what happens here, too

It was comforting to learn our PM is upholding this democracy caper we hear so much about – in the USA, anyway. 

She released a short statement yesterday in response to the insurrection that blotted Congressional proceedings to officially announce the result of the presidential election in the United States.

“Like so many others, I’ve been watching what’s happening in the United States. I share the sentiment of friends in the US – what is happening is wrong.

“Democracy – the right of people to exercise a vote, have their voice heard and then have that decision upheld peacefully should never be undone by a mob.

“Our thoughts are with everyone who is as devastated as we are by the events of today.

“I have no doubt democracy will prevail.”

Great.  But what sort of democracy does she have in mind? Continue reading “It’s great to hear Ardern denouncing mob rule in the US and upholding democracy – maybe this will shape what happens here, too”

Back to the future: Ardern govt refashions a 2007 commitment to make the state service carbon-neutral

The   government’s declaration of a  national  emergency  on climate change has  taken  symbolism  in politics  to new  heights. It’s  an art form perfected by Prime  Minister  Jacinda Ardern and  the  bulk  of  New Zealanders, it seems,  like it.

Look   at  how she  kept  New Zealanders  free  of  the  Covid-19  virus (albeit with a  bit of expert help  from  Dr Ashley  Bloomfield).

A  problem  with  rising  house  prices? Send  a  letter  to  the  Reserve  Bank  governor.

Too  many  children suffering   in  poverty?  Increase   benefits:  problem solved.

So  too  with    climate  change:  First  step,  make  the state  sector  carbon-free.

The  public  cheers. Opposition  politicians who dismiss it are rubbished as  carping critics. Continue reading “Back to the future: Ardern govt refashions a 2007 commitment to make the state service carbon-neutral”

Ardern and Biden keen to work together as US restores its relationships with world agencies

PM Jacinda Ardern’s cordial exchange with President-elect Joe Biden went far better than anyone dared hope. Both sides were pleased. As one US official said, they are certainly kindred spirits.

Biden wants to “reinvigorate” the US-NZ relationship which, considering the heights it reached under former Foreign Minister Winston Peters, means Wellington and Washington DC have finally put away any lingering resentments from the 1980s and the Anzus crisis.

Biden is keen to work with NZ on broad Pacific issues but, as he points out, the US will have to work with friends on the task.  When everyone circumspectly refers to “issues”, they really mean China with its diplomatic, economic and military ambitions in the Pacific.

Biden and his new Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken (a foreign policy veteran), want to try and reset the US-China relationship.

This week Australian PM Scott Morrison urged Washington and Beijing to “show more latitude” to smaller nations. Partners and allies needed “a bit more room to move” as strategic competition intensifies in the region. Continue reading “Ardern and Biden keen to work together as US restores its relationships with world agencies”

The PM reminds summit of state funding on tap to help farmers meet the demands of govt’s environmental agenda

The PM’s farmer and grower audience would have been heartened when she said the election success of Labour in rural New Zealand was a huge honour, but with it came huge responsibility and huge opportunities.  They would have been braced, too, for her promotion – and defence – of the government’s  environmental agenda.

The vote represented both an endorsement of the direction the government is heading and a requirement to work more closely with rural communities, Jacinda Ardern told the Primary Industries Summit.

I have made it very clear to our all our MPs, as well as those in provincial seats, that the primary sector is a key partner and stakeholder for this Government, and I want to see ideas permeate up from the grass roots as well as our engagement at a leadership level.

She then articulated three key objectives for the Government –

  • continuing to keep New Zealanders safe from Covid,
  • accelerating our economic recovery, and
  • laying the foundations for the future.

And she insisted (hurrah!):

Primary industries are at the heart of each objective. Continue reading “The PM reminds summit of state funding on tap to help farmers meet the demands of govt’s environmental agenda”