A question about the $55m media fund made Ardern laugh… but not for long


This article was written for The Democracy Project by Graham Adams, a journalist, columnist and reviewer who has written for many of the country’s media outlets including Metro, North & South, Noted, The Spinoff and Newsroom.


Surprisingly for a Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson is an ebullient, jolly sort of fellow and it is not unusual for him to barrack from his seat next to the Prime Minister in Parliament to support her.

This week, Judith Collins had barely finished putting a question to Jacinda Ardern about media funding when he guffawed derisively.

Collins asked:

What does she say to people who are concerned that her $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund — which includes numerous criteria for media to adhere to — is influencing the editorial decisions of media outlets in New Zealand?”

The Prime Minister — perhaps encouraged by her deputy’s derision — rose from her seat to reply.

“Mr Speaker,” she declaimed emphatically, “I would abso-loot-ely reject that!”

With Robertson continuing to chortle at the ridiculousness of Collins’ question, Ardern was emboldened.

“But, better yet, Mr Speaker,” she said, grinning broadly and stifling a laugh: “I would put the question to the media and ask whether they agree with that sentiment.”

Despite the Prime Minister’s obvious glee and that of her colleagues, this was an exceedingly stupid retort. Presumably she is not acquainted with Mandy Rice-Davies’ contribution to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as a result of the Profumo scandal in 1960s Britain. When legal counsel pointed out that a peer had denied having had an affair with her or even having met her, Rice-Davies uttered the immortal line:

“Well he would [say that], wouldn’t he?” Continue reading “A question about the $55m media fund made Ardern laugh… but not for long”

How our present and future needs have been balanced – by lumbering each household with $95,000 in govt debt

As  all   the  lobby group  shouting  fades in  the  wake of the  budget,   how    is  the  real  verdict  shaping  up ?

If  from the  Labour  camp,  you’d  say it was  a   financial  triumph,  balanced  but  with a  bold  vision.  And,  as Sir  Michael Cullen asserted,  there  is   “a  real degree of  bravery”  in the benefit  increases.

According  to Sir  Michael,  Finance  Minister  Grant  Robertson

” .. has  done  a  superb  job   in writing a  budget  which  balances  present  and  future  needs,  begins  to  address our  social inequities and  provides a  solid  foundation for  future  sustainable  growth”.

For  Sir Michael,  this  is  just the  beginning:  he  sees this  as the  first  part of a trilogy  of  budgets.  Roll  on  the other  two!

On the  other  side  of the fence, the   drumbeat was  a   bit   more  discordant.  The praise  certainly was  not  quite  so  fulsome. Continue reading “How our present and future needs have been balanced – by lumbering each household with $95,000 in govt debt”

Water and the co-governing numbers caper in which 68,000 Ngai Tahu might carry the same clout as 750,000 South Islanders

The news media hastened to air Ngai Tahu’s prompt rebuttal of Opposition leader Judith Collins claim that the Government would be giving the tribe an ownership stake in the South Island’s water and water assets.

It has not been so hasty to clearly explain the implications of what Ngai Tahu does want.

Collins referred to a document which – she said – meant South Island water services would be co-owned by Ngai Tahu and the Government.

Not so, was the prompt and tart rebuttal from the tribe and from central and local government leaders.

Co-governance maybe, co-ownership no.

But what does co-governance mean for the administrative structure?

At first blush, vital questions of democratic governance and accountability are raised.

In a press statement from Hobson’s Pledge (not published by news media or posted by Scoop or Voxy) the implications are simply spelled out.

  • One lot of co-governors would represent Ngai Tahu, a tribal business entity that claims the affiliation of 68,000 people,
  • The other lot would represent 23 councils which “may represent 750,000 people”.

If you prefer to use 2018 census figures, they show Maori comprise 110,301 (10%) of a total South Island population of 1,104,531

The 23 local authorities, by the way, serve ALL of the people who live within their boundaries.

The tribe’s political ambitions are no secret – they are reflected in a claim in the High Court, reported on the Ngai Tahu website in an article headed Enough is enough – why Ngāi Tahu is suing the Crown over its waterways.

 In a legal first, Ngāi Tahu has lodged a statement of claim in the High Court seeking recognition of rangatiratanga over its awa and moana, to address the ongoing degradation caused by the environmental mismanagement. 

 According to the article:

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as the representative body of Ngāi Tahu, and 15 tribal leaders, are asking the courts to make declarations that we have rangatiratanga over the wai māori (freshwater) of our takiwā, and that the Crown should engage with us to jointly design a better system to manage and care for our precious waterways.

Rangatiratanga is not ownership. Owning something means using it however you like.

Rangatiratanga as a concept and a practice encompasses rights, responsibilities and obligations. And that includes the obligation to do what we can to stop the continued degradation of our freshwater systems.


We are seeking to have the Government work and co-operate with us to design a better system for water management, one that protects our environment, while still ensuring wai māori for food production and development.

In her press statement, Collins said the Government was advancing plans to transfer 50 per cent of publicly-owned water assets in the South Island to Ngāi Tahu ownership.

She referenced a Department of Internal Affairs document which (she contended) presented the Government’s preferred option for Three Waters reform to 23 mayors and South Island iwi.

The proposal was to consolidate all water infrastructure across the South Island into one organisation.

This new Mainland water agency, which would assume ownership of all water assets and some council debt, was designed to be 50 per cent owned by Ngāi Tahu.

This would mean councils that had invested ratepayer money in pipes, wastewater and drinking water facilities for decades would have these assets taken away.

This is yet another example of Labour adopting a view that the Treaty of Waitangi promises ‘dual-governance’ of core government services like drinking water, health and local government, Ms Collins says.


“ … Labour has now decided the Treaty requires separate systems of governance and fifty-fifty ownership of resources with iwi, and it is making these changes before having a national conversation about whether this is actually what the Treaty decrees.”

Her comments were denounced by Ngai Tahu as “deceptive” and by Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins, who said they were aimed at creating “fear and division”.

There had been no discussion of Ngai Tahu co-ownership of water assets, “but even if there was, it wouldn’t be worth beating the drum and fear-mongering over”, Hawkins said.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, chairman of a group representing Otago and Southland’s 10 city, district and regional councils in discussing the reforms, said it was “imperative we stick to the facts”.

“To come out and say it’s co-ownership or co-governance, it’s way too early to make calls like that.”

But if if it’s not co-ownership or co-governance, what are we talking about?

Cadogan did not explain what was being discussed – apparently because he does not know.

He did acknowledge the reforms were the biggest issue facing local government for at least a generation, and involved crucial issues of democracy and councils’ future liabilities, as well as Ngai Tahu’s role.

But he said councils remained “woefully short on detail” about what was being proposed, and he had called a meeting on May 28 with Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta, who has ministerial responsibility for the reforms, Ngai Tahu and Department of Internal Affairs officials to address that.

Dr Te Maire Tau, co-chairman of Ngai Tahu freshwater governance group Te Kura Taka Pini, said

“Ngai Tahu wants to design the structure of the new entity with the Crown, and share governance responsibilities.

“The tribe has a huge interest in the water infrastructure in the South Island. We’re like the rest of South Island communities, particularly because we’re rural, and we fundamentally don’t have clean drinking water.”

Co-governance would provide a safeguard against any future government that wanted to privatise the waters assets that were being transferred from councils, he said.

The PM was terse when asked in Parliament why the Department of Internal Affairs had presented “as a preferred option to 23 South Island mayors and iwi a document proposing co-ownership of South Island drinking water”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: They did not.

She was nudged to tell a bit more.

Hon Judith Collins: Is the Prime Minister now telling the House that this document here, that was presented to 23 mayors and iwi and says, “Owners are the Canterbury councils and Ngāi Tahu, who are responsible for appointing representatives to the JGG.”—is that not what it says?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m happy to correct the member. I’m advised that that piece of work was commissioned by Ngāi Tahu. It was prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and it is not something that Ngāi Tahu or, of course, the Government, who did not commission it, have been pursuing.

Hon Judith Collins: So when the Prime Minister is now telling the House that this document is the fault of Ngāi Tahu, is she now saying it was not presented by the Department of Internal Affairs at the hui that were being conducted by it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m actually rejecting the content of the question. I’m advised that it was commissioned by Ngāi Tahu. It’s not a question of blame.

Hon Judith Collins: Who presented the document to the 23 South Island mayors and iwi?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It was prepared and commissioned by PwC. It has not been pursued, I’m advised, by either Ngāi Tahu or, indeed, by the Government.

The PM did rule out joint ownership of water infrastructure in the South Island between Ngāi Tahu and councils, as suggested in the document Collins had brandished. 

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Public ownership has always been a bottom line, so not only have we ruled that out; Ngāi Tahu have ruled it out.

But the co-ownership issue remains to be sorted out, apparently.

David Seymour: Will the Prime Minister rule out co-governance of water infrastructure between Ngāi Tahu and councils, as also suggested in this document, under her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have been very clear on ownership structure. When it comes to the issue of governance of water services, the Government, local government—and, yes, alongside local government there has been good engagement with iwi, and local government themselves have been driving that, too. Those decisions are yet to be made, but we are very clear on ownership.

Collins attempted to pin down the PM on the meaning of co-governance.

Fat chance.

Hon Judith Collins: What does the Prime Minister believe is co-governance of drinking water in the South Island?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Ultimately, this has all been driven by the fact that in Havelock North we had people who got extraordinarily sick, and some who died, as a result of us not having consistent provision around either water regulation, making sure that regulations are upheld, or that our water infrastructure is sufficient. Currently, we have over the next 30 to 40 years $120 billion to $185 billion worth of investment required in infrastructure. What we are starting is a discussion with local government around how we deal with that significant infrastructure gap and investment when currently $1.5 billion, or $45 billion over the next 30 years, is how much local government is likely to invest. That is the problem we’re trying to address, and I would welcome the member’s engagement on that issue.

But when did the discussion start and who has been involved?

A DIA report on consultations on the Three Waters Reform Programme says that between September and October 2020, members of the Three Waters Reform Team and Taumata Arowai conducted a series of hui to engage with iwi, hapū and Māori throughout the country.

The meetings had been attended by over 300 representatives from many different iwi, hapū and Māori organisations.

The meetings had highlighted many emerging issues that have the potential to impact iwi, hapū and Māori throughout the country.

The issues aired in the report “have been themed according to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi to reflect the matters as they relate to Māori as Treaty Partners”.

There was resounding support throughout the hui-ā-motu for a stronger partnership between tangata whenua and the Crown. Many attendees reflected, that if done well, this reform programme is an opportunity to develop/improve this relationship.


DIA heard that it needs to ensure tangata whenua are embedded as Treaty Partners from the very start, including mana whenua representation at every table, on boards and anywhere decisions will be made. It is important DIA alongside iwi, hapū and Māori work through rights, interests and entity ownership and governance, so the Department can identify the roles and responsibilities of all, as Treaty Partners, at these levels.

 Yet at least one South Island mayor – along with most of the rest of the country, who have yet to be consulted – says he knows little about what is going on.

Something is shamefully wrong with the reform process and it most certainly is not democratic.  

Why Collins must ignore critics who claim she is playing the race card and keep challenging the PM on the meaning of “partnership”

Left-wing commentators are cock-a-hoop.  Labour is up 2.7% to 52.7%; National is up 1.4% to 27%; the Greens are down 0.8%; ACT is down 0.7%.

In the latest preferred leader poll results, Jacinda Ardern is down a bit but Judith Collins’s support has gone down by two thirds.

On The Daily Blog, Martyn Bradbury posted an item under the heading Why National’s Māori segregation bashing has failed in the polls.

He seized on the responses when TV3 asked voters if they thought Labour was being separatist, and National divisive… Continue reading “Why Collins must ignore critics who claim she is playing the race card and keep challenging the PM on the meaning of “partnership””

Mallard looks like a sitting duck but the Nats may prefer to wait to bag the PM as well

Back  in   March   the  NZ  Herald  carried  a  report  headlined  “Mallard mess  needs  sorting”.  It  was  written   by  Audrey  Young, then  the political  editor.

The  Labour Party  didn’t  heed the  warning  and  now  this failure is  leaving  a  bigger mess:  on Tuesday night Speaker Trevor Mallard  accused a former parliamentary staffer, to whom he had apologised for claiming he was a rapist, of sexual assault.

In the aftermath, National Party leader Judith Collins again called for Mallard to be removed as Speaker of the House, describing his behaviour as a disgrace and contending he was “temperamentally unfit” for the role

Meanwhile  Prime  Minister Jacinda Ardern  has  boxed  herself  into  a  corner.  She has expressed  “overall”  confidence   in  Mallard  as  Speaker  of the  House,   so  she  can’t sack  him.

But  the  longer  he  stays,  the  more  damage can be done to  Labour. Continue reading “Mallard looks like a sitting duck but the Nats may prefer to wait to bag the PM as well”

Equal treatment for Kiwis? But that mightn’t square with the Treaty and let’s not forget Don Brash is calling for it, too

New Zealanders want a more cohesive society where everyone is treated equally and where freedom of speech is maintained.

So said National leader Judith Collins in a speech to her party’s northern division conference.  

“These are the things people care about. These are the things that support strong communities and will support New Zealand to recover from Covid-19.”


Meanwhile in Featherston, a Harry Potter quiz had been cancelled at a book festival which – would you believe it? – was set to examine modern “cancel culture”.

The reason is that organisers disagreed with something said by Harry Potter’s creator.

Featherston Booktown Karukatea organisers have chosen not to feature a popular Harry Potter quiz on this year’s programme because of alleged transphobic comments made by the beloved fictional series’ author, JK Rowling.

As for everyone being treated equally, Maori wards were being promoted in local government because a system whereby everyone could stand for office and vote for the candidates of their choice was deemed to be flawed.  And in health administration, two administrative bodies were being established, one of them on a race basis to ensure Maori health was the responsibility of Maori administrators.  Continue reading “Equal treatment for Kiwis? But that mightn’t square with the Treaty and let’s not forget Don Brash is calling for it, too”

How the Nats have opted to invest in the future with small change

A post on the left-wing The Standard blog expresses bemusement at National’s re-election of its party president.

MickySavage writes:

You would think that the conference held immediately after National suffered one of its worst drubbings in its history National would take the opportunity to refresh its leadership and change its direction.

If you did you will be disappointed.

May we suppose this means he was disappointed?

Surprised, perhaps, but Labour and its supporters surely should be delighted at National’s disinclination to overhaul the party leadership after a disastrous general election result.

In his report on the party elections, Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan noted there was some change. But it was small change.  Continue reading “How the Nats have opted to invest in the future with small change”

Thanks to his Trump connections, Kiwi will need a Liddell help from USA’s friends to land top OECD job

National’s leader, Judith Collins, reckons the government should be supporting Kiwi Chris Liddell in his bid to become the next Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Liddell, who has dual US and NZ citizenship, is serving  in the White House as US President Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff and was nominated by Trump in September to be the next boss of the OECD.

The NZ government has yet to decide if it will support him, prompting Collins to say Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern should “front up” if she has a problem with his work for Trump.

“I would have thought that it is always going to be in New Zealand’s best interest to have a highly qualified, very experienced person like Chris Liddell heading our OECD. It’s far more beneficial to New Zealand than playing politics on it,” Collins told RNZ on Tuesday.

But it’s a complicated picture.  Liddell has lived for years in the US and, given Trump’s antipathy to Europe and international organisations, his senior position on Trump’s team may well knock him out of the running.

Trump’s defeat in the presidential elections – yes, we too say Joe Biden has won the presidential election – won’t help either. Continue reading “Thanks to his Trump connections, Kiwi will need a Liddell help from USA’s friends to land top OECD job”

It might be a rogue poll but the Nats must offer alluring policies – and get back to championing our rural regions

Latest  political    polling    puts   Labour   at  60.9%,   which – if  carried  through  to  the election – would   give  it  77  seats  in the  next  Parliament.    Is  anyone  (apart  from the  most fervent  National supporter)   surprised?

National’s  campaign  manager,  Gerry Brownlee,  dismisses   the   Newshub  Reid Research sampling  as  a   “rogue”  poll.    This begs   the   question  whether  he  would  have done  so,  if  it had   shown his own  party  a  bit  higher than   25.1%.

Other   polls   (even  one suspects  National’s  own  private polling)    have  had  Labour     above  the  50%  mark.

With  the  Covid-19   pandemic  raging  around the   world,  New  Zealanders  are  comforted their  government  has  got it   right:   they  only  have to  look  as  far as  Victoria  to see  what happens    when   the  governing  authorities   make a  mess  of it. Continue reading “It might be a rogue poll but the Nats must offer alluring policies – and get back to championing our rural regions”

How David Seymour’s railing against censorship and a Green MP resulted in The Standard praising Judith Collins

A headline in the left-leaning The StandardIn praise of Judith Collins – caught us by surprise.

The author of The Standard’s post criticised ACT leader David Seymour for “being a dick” about Green MP Golriz Gharaman and for tweeting:

“Golriz Ghahraman is a real menace to freedom in this country.” spoke to about the dangers facing free speech in New Zealand and the political theatre of Jacinda Ardern’s Christchurch Call.”

Let’s check out what’s going on here and why – on this matter, at least – Collins is being praised by a left-wing blogger.   Continue reading “How David Seymour’s railing against censorship and a Green MP resulted in The Standard praising Judith Collins”