Political Roundup: NZ’s foreign policy hardens under new leadership

* Geoffrey Miller writes –

 Times are changing in New Zealand foreign policy.

That seems to be the message from New Zealand’s new triumvirate of ministers with responsibility for foreign affairs and defence – Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta and defence minister Andrew Little.

Jacinda Ardern’s departure as Prime Minister was always going to provide an opportunity to adjust New Zealand’s positioning. In particular, Hipkins’ decision to appoint Andrew Little as defence minister – replacing Peeni Henare – seems to have been a strategic move.

From the top, Hipkins has struck a more ideological tone in his most substantive comments on foreign policy to date, promising in a recent interview that New Zealand would maintain ‘steadfast support for Ukraine and its people as they continue to defend their homeland, and in doing so, the principles that we hold dear’.

The comments appeared notably more forceful than what amounted to the final word on Ukraine made by Jacinda Ardern while she was Prime Minister, made in mid-December when the New Zealand Parliament hosted a virtual address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Continue reading “Political Roundup: NZ’s foreign policy hardens under new leadership”

Two  views of how the war in the Ukraine is impacting on  a small  country in the Pacific  

Last  year,  when she  was  still Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern described the state of world affairs as “bloody messy”. Since then there have been few, if any, signs of improvement.  The   war in Ukraine delivered an economic  jolt to NZ, and  its effects  have  barely  dissipated. The war’s expansion would bring more pain for local business and consumers.

Without the military or economic scale to influence events directly, NZ relies on its voice and ability to persuade.

But by placing its faith in a rules-based order and United Nations processes, it also has to work with – and sometimes around – highly imperfect systems. In some areas of international law and policy, the machinery is failing. It’s unclear what the next best step might be. Continue reading “Two  views of how the war in the Ukraine is impacting on  a small  country in the Pacific  “

Political lessons from Ukraine: Part 2

More direction on economic reform does not necessarily make things clearer on the political side.

We’ve just had the remarkable saga of Germany’s Chancellor Scholz doing his best to stop Ukraine getting a timely supply of German-built Leopard tanks. 

Even his Green party foreign minister was moved to remind him that “We are fighting a war against Russia” (diplomats have since been at some pains to explain that this does not mean that Germany is a formal party to the conflict).

Continue reading “Political lessons from Ukraine: Part 2”

Public service review finds procurement and conflict management practices at four agencies fell below standard

Buzz from the Beehive

The statement we were looking for was not to be found on the Beehive website, when we checked early this afternoon.   But the issue we hoped would be addressed in a statement from the Beehive was publicised on the Public Service Commission website.

Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes released the findings of a review into how public service agencies managed conflicts of interest while procuring the services of Ka Awatea Services Ltd (KAS) and Kawai Catalyst Ltd (KC).

Hughes’ statement, curiously, made no mention of the names of Nanaia  Mahuta or her husband, Gannin Ormsby.

The report on the review, on the other hand, makes several references to Mahuta and Gannin Ormsby, her husband, as well as to other members of the Ormsby family.  

The Nats found enough in the report to justify issuing a statement headed 

Serious Flaws In Public Service Procurement

The Public Service Commission’s report into contracts linked to Cabinet Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s family has exposed serious flaws in how the public service deals with conflicts of interest, National’s Public Service spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

Brown mentioned both Mahuta and Gannin Ormsby in his statement, which noted that the report

“… suggests the public service has developed a culture of carelessness in how it procures contracts and manages perceived conflicts of interest, undermining public confidence.

“The findings of the report show the Ministry for the Environment had several opportunities to address issues with their procurement processes into awarding a contract to Ms Mahuta’s husband Gannin Ormsby. Instead of being driven by effective and robust procurement processes, the ministry was driven by its own deadlines.

“Even more concerning, Kāinga Ora did not even ask about any conflicts of interest during its procurement process with Mr Ormsby’s company, a basic requirement for government agencies.”

Brown said Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins needs to step up and explain why agencies are failing to practice effective and robust procurement processes and how agencies deal with conflicts of interest.

But at time of writing, Hipkins had yet to step up and say something about  the report. 

In a nutshell, the review aimed to determine whether public service agencies had appropriately identified and managed any conflicts of interest in their contractual relationships with KAS and KC.

It found:

  • Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry for the Environment failed to properly identify and manage perceived conflicts because they didn’t follow what were otherwise sound agency policies and processes.
  • a minor perceived conflict with Kāinga Ora was not identified because the agency failed to ask about conflicts of interest during the contracting process.
  • there were no conflicts of interest in relation to Department of Conservation contracts, but its contract management was poor.

Overall, the review found agency procurement and conflict management practices at the four agencies fell short of the standards expected of public service agencies. It also found tighter processes for assessing perceived conflicts of interest are needed in the agencies, including where conflicts involve Ministers, and that procurement practices need to improve, in particular the way those agencies manage contracts under $100,000.

The review found no evidence of favouritism, bias, or undue influence over agency decisions in relation to KAS or KC due to any connection with a Minister. The actions of Ministers, the directors of KAS and KC, and members of the public, were outside the scope of this review. However, the review did not identify any matter that would require referral to another oversight body.

While Chris Hipkins (we would like to think) is having his media team work on an appropriate statement, his Cabinet colleagues have been –

Hastening to shut down the scallop fishery in the Coromandel

The two remaining open areas in the Coromandel scallop fishery will close, after new information showed scallops are in decline.

Rushing to compensate historical abuse claimants

A phased roll-out of faster claim payments for survivors of abuse in State care has begun, with the first claimants now receiving offers, Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins and Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni say. 

Rapid payments by the Ministry of Social Development are being prioritised for survivors who are seriously ill or unwell, aged over 70, or have waited the longest to get their claims considered.

The first set of rapid payments are being made by MSD, which has about 3000 historic claims – more than 90% of all the current historical claims being processed by four government agencies.

Sepuloni explains that this is an important step which enables survivors to choose whether to go through a rapid payment process, and ensuring survivors can determine the path the works best for them.

Welcoming the delivery of the the RNZAF’s first Poseidon

Minister of Defence Peeni Henare today marked the arrival of the first of Aotearoa New Zealand’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft at the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Base at Ohakea.

This is the first of four new P-8A Poseidon aircraft bought by the Government “through its historic investment to modernise New Zealand’s defence force”, Henare said.

The Government invested a record $2.53 billion to upgrade our Defence capability in Budget 2018, he recalled, and this included $2.3 billion purchase to replace the aging P-3K2 Orion which had been in service with the RNZAF since the 1960s.

Who was Minister of Defence in 2018?  Oh, yes.  New Zealand First’s Ron Mark.

Thanking retiring Ministers and MPs while (we suspect) hoping certain others will announce their retirements before long, too

Six of the Government’s 64 MPs will retire at the 2023 election, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.

Three ministers – Poto Williams, Aupito William Sio and David Clark – are to retire, along with MPs Jamie Strange, Marja Lubeck and Paul Eagle. All will stay in parliament until the election.

This is another statement where some members of the Point of Order team hoped to find the name of Nanaia Mahuta. Alas, no.

The PM did say:

“These retirements will have no immediate impact on Cabinet with a reshuffle not scheduled until early next year.”

We can wait patiently until early next year.   

Taking further action against Putin and his croneys

New sanctions imposed as part of New Zealand’s ongoing response to the war in Ukraine are targeting individuals and networks behind disinformation campaigns that support the Putin war effort.

Oh, look – the name of Nanaia Mahuta has come into one of the latest bunch of Beehive statements.

As Foreign Affairs she announced a further round of sanctions on 23 individuals who are supporting the illegal Russian invasion.

Those sanctioned this time include the Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media, the CEO of Channel-1 Russia, and key personnel from Russian media outlets including InfoRos, SouthFront, and the Strategic Culture Foundation. 

Since the passing of the Russia Sanctions Act in March, New Zealand has imposed sanctions on more than 1,200 individuals and entities, and has imposed unprecedented trade measures which has seen two-way trade with Russia fall drastically.

More information about sanctions, travel bans, and export controls against Russia and Belarus; as well as diplomatic, military and economic support to Ukraine can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website here.

Expanding the Green List to help fill labour shortages

Immigration Minister Michael Wood today announced a suite of measures to further support New Zealand businesses through the global labour shortage and attract more high skilled workers long term.

The  government has approved over 94,000 job positions for international recruitment, granted over 40,000 working holiday visas, reopened the Pacific Access Category and Samoa Quota, delivered the largest increase in a decade to the RSE scheme, and resumed the Skilled Migrant Category and Parent Category to strengthen our international offering.

And – at long last –  registered nurses and midwives will have an immediate pathway to residence, including those already in New Zealand.

“Since the pandemic 3,474 nurses have arrived in country, but it’s clear we need to do more to encourage nurses to choose New Zealand. Adding these roles will further build on the attractiveness of New Zealand to those looking to set themselves and their families up long term. 

Paying special attention at a special ceremony to Pacific youth at Parliament

A new cohort of Pacific young people have been recognised at Parliament for their excellence across various sectors of New Zealand society at the 2022 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards (PMPYA).

Packing their bags for a flight to Canada to bat for global biodiversity targets

Conservation Minister Poto Williams will lead Aotearoa New Zealand’s delegation to COP15, the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal this week.

 A key negotiation at COP15 will be the long-standing proposal to protect 30% of land and sea areas by 2030. 

New targets on combatting invasive species, reducing harm from pesticides, and eliminating plastic pollution will also be important.


Ukraine: what’s to negotiate?

As the Kremlin’s spokesman tells us – somewhat improbably – that regime change was never Vladimir Putin’s goal, the debate on whether Russia and Ukraine should be negotiating gets another bounce.

Depressing – but necessary – to bear in mind that a settlement will rest more on power than on justice.

Some other lessons from the conflict also seem to be getting neglected.

Continue reading “Ukraine: what’s to negotiate?”

Clark has a new Bill to back up his threats to supermarkets – let’s see if Mahuta can similarly bring Putin to heel

Buzz from the Beehive

Who will blink first – Russian oligarchs or Kiwi duopolists?

We ask because our government has further tightened the thumbscrews on both.

It has introduced a bill to crimp the powers of the supermarkets in this country and it  has imposed further sanctions to express this country’s disapproval of Russian and Belarusian military action  in Ukraine.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark said the supermarket duopoly has been given plenty of warning.

“If they fail to adequately open up their wholesale market voluntarily, government will make it happen,” he said.

If Putin fails to pull out of Ukraine voluntarily, it is unlikely the Ardern government can pass a bill to make it happen. Continue reading “Clark has a new Bill to back up his threats to supermarkets – let’s see if Mahuta can similarly bring Putin to heel”

Putin and his cronies are sent a stern message from Down Under – we haven’t finished piling on the pressure with sanctions

Buzz from the Beehive

We imagine Vladimir Putin will be seriously considering a withdrawal of his troops from Ukraine, once he has been apprised of  the speech delivered today by Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The Minister was addressing the Financial Intelligence Unit conference on this country’s response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

This unit sits within the Financial Crime Group framework and is mandated to assist with the detection and investigation of money laundering, terrorism financing and other offences.

It collects, analyses and disseminates financial information received under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009. These functions are undertaken on behalf of the Commissioner of Police.

Wrapping up her speech, Mahuta said:

“Please be assured that Aotearoa New Zealand remains committed to continuing our work through the Russia Sanctions Act, and with you, to put pressure on Putin and his cronies.

“We aren’t done yet.” Continue reading “Putin and his cronies are sent a stern message from Down Under – we haven’t finished piling on the pressure with sanctions”

Mahuta deals to Russia and Iran while the PM fires a shot across the bows of terrorists (and paves the way for “hate” laws)

Buzz from the Beehive

Government action against terrorism and violence generally, and Russian and Iranian violence in particular, feature in the latest announcements from the Beehive. 

Biosecurity awards which celebrate initiatives for war on another front, to keep New Zealand free of economically damaging invaders in the form of pests and bugs, feature too

And then there’s news that women are being provided from today with a “free” (which means taxpayer-funded) dial-an-abortion service to help them be rid of the blight of unwanted pregnancies.

The Beehive website tells us our hard-working ministers, keenly focused on improving our wellbeing, have been …

The PM was conditioning us for the “hate laws” on Justice Minister Kiri Allan’s work agenda, when she addressed a gabfest labelled the second Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism Hui. Continue reading “Mahuta deals to Russia and Iran while the PM fires a shot across the bows of terrorists (and paves the way for “hate” laws)”

NZ was somewhat slow in imposing sanctions on Russia – but we’ve been tightening the screws bit by bit during the year

We don’t know what impact is being made, but by Point of Order’s rough reckoning, the Ardern Government this week fired off the 13th barrage of sanctions and trade bans on Russia and Belarus in response to Vladimir Putin’s attempts to illegally annex parts of Ukraine.

The latest measures comprise

  • Sanctions which target 51 oligarchs including New Zealand-linked Alexander Abramov and 24 Russian-backed office holders in annexed areas of Ukraine
  • New bans on exports and imports of luxury goods like NZ wine and seafood and Russian vodka and caviar, as well as strategically important products like oil, gas and related production equipment
  • An extension of the 35% tariff on Russian imports till March 2025

New Zealand has now imposed sanctions on more than 1,000 individuals and entities and has imposed unprecedented trade measures which have resulted in New Zealand exports to Russia and Russian imports to New Zealand falling drastically, the Government says.

Russia triggered our responses on February 24 when Putin’s forces launched a full invasion of Ukraine, the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War II.

RNZ next day reported that sanctions announced overnight by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta included a ban on export of goods to the Russian military and security services. Continue reading “NZ was somewhat slow in imposing sanctions on Russia – but we’ve been tightening the screws bit by bit during the year”