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5/11/2018 — Economics, Politics and Government
Cheese rolls dominate Labour conference
By Dene Mackenzie

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered her first leader's address to a party conference on Sunday. Though expectations were high, the Prime Minister failed to deliver in Dunedin.

Far from the chaos of the 1988 conference when Rogernomics was in full flight and the Labour Party was tearing itself apart, the 2018 conference seemed more focused on who could find the best cheese rolls in Dunedin.

For the uninitiated, cheese rolls are a Kiwi classic south of the Waitaki River. Secret recipes abound and delegates attending the conference used social media to provide their favourites to their followers.

But back to the conference. Finance Minister Grant Robertson, himself a product of South Dunedin, dux of Kings High School and a graduate of the University of Otago warmed the conference up on Saturday with an astute round-up of the economy.

Though business and consumer confidence keeps dropping, the economy, at this stage, is going well. Robertson did his best to keep confidence high at the conference, and he was largely successful.

Delegates are still in good heart after New Zealand First leader Winston Peters catapulted the party into power.

Ardern was expected to deliver a new policy which would capture the hearts and minds of the doubters in New Zealand politics. On this, she failed miserably.

The announcement, such as it was, was about employing about 600 learning support coordinators to work alongside teachers across the country. Their job will be to make sure children with extra needs are identified. They will work alongside teacher to ensure kids with high and complex physical needs get the support they deserve.

Of course, the policy is described as a game changer for those children by Ardern. It means the Government spending $217 million over four years. The support staff are expected to be in place by 2020.

Really, if that is the best Labour can do, Ardern needs to have a rethink.

Labour remains embroiled in an immigration controversy about the Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway decision to grant residence to Karel Sroubek, a Czech kick-boxing champion serving prison time for drug smuggling.

New information shows Sroubek travelled back to the Czech Republic, despite fleeing that country in fear of his life in 2003 on a false passport in the name of Jan Antolik.

Despite blame being heaped on the former National administration, Immigration Department officials confirmed they had only told Lees-Galloway about Sroubek.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford has stuffed up the KiwiBuild programme, the cornerstone of Labour’s policy and his efforts on transport in Auckland are not being well received.

It was interesting to hear Ardern hark back to the architect of New Zealand’s state housing programme – Michael Joseph Savage – as a way of selling the KiwiBuild programme which is aimed more at middle class salary earners rather than blue collar workers struggling to find a place to live.

Petrol prices are hurting Kiwi back pockets, and yet we are afforded 600 education support staff.

Few will say education is not important, but the Government has spent about $500 M on special education while closing down charter schools which were providing quality education for kids who otherwise did not fit into the traditional state education system.

So far, after a year, the Government is pandering to its union supporters. The only saving grace is the disarray in which National finds itself. Labour and NZ First can probably coast to victory in 2020 unless someone with star quality emerges from the National back benches. With the sex scandal still bouncing around, it will be a while yet before someone worth voting for emerges.

Rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross is likely to be expelled from Parliament through the “waka jumping” legislation. His female paramour should be made to step down before the 2020 election to avoid old wounds being reopened.

*Dene Mackenzie is a Dunedin political commentator.

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Jacinda Ardern in Dunedin for the conference. Photo: Otago Daily Times.