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10/12/2018 — Economics, Politics and Government
Testing Christmas cheer in Government
By Dene Mackenzie

The Labour-led Government is in disarray and it goes into the Christmas break facing fractures in the unity of the three-party agreement which also includes New Zealand First as the coalition partner and the Green Party providing supply and confidence.

In somewhat of an unprecedented outcome, commentators in New Zealand are openly criticising Speaker Trevor Mallard, alleging he is protecting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from having to answer difficult questions in Parliament.

During the 2017 election campaign, Mallard was riding shotgun for Ardern, as was former MP and now diplomat Annette King.

Ardern was seen as young and inexperienced. However, she got Labour into a position where NZ First leader Winston Peters could brush aside National and take on his Deputy Prime Minister role.

National has been gunning for Ardern in the House and last week, leader Simon Bridges was deliberately provocative, resulting in Mallard ordering him out of the debating chamber.

Long-serving MP and shadow leader of the House Gerry Brownlee was up on his feet getting into a scrap with Mallard who then ordered his travelling companion to the All Blacks test match in Japan out of the House.

National MPs dutifully staged a walkout, leaving behind only those MPs who were yet to ask their questions. National successfully moved the debate away from bullying claims made against MP Maggie Barry to being picked on by the Speaker.

Claims against Barry, once a much-loved presenter of a gardening television series, have come anonymously with major media outlets quoting these unnamed sources who are using burner cellphones.

Quite frankly, it is a disgrace the mainstream media has stooped this low, but moving right along.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones made a “captain’s call” on lowering the penalties on people who sell or flip their KiwiBuild houses within a set period.

It was later revealed the three musketeers had made the call without actually alerting the captain. Prime Minister Adern was forced to come out and rebuke Twyford, saying she would review their decision. It was revealed KiwiBuild chief executive Stephen Barclay had quit the flagship organisation just five months into the role. Twyford is not commenting on why Barclay has left.

Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare and his colleague Associate Maori Affairs Minister Willie Jackson had a frank exchange of views last week over a profit of $600,000 being paid to a private shareholder in the Government-funded organisation.

Henare said he would prefer the money to be reinvested. Jackson said Henare needed to start asking tough questions of the chief executive and the information he had been provided.

Henare responded: “That’s why I am the Minister of Whanau Ora and he isn’t.”

Having such a public dispute between ministers shows the lack of discipline among the Government ranks, particularly when Ardern found out through the media of the KiwiBuild decision from her three ministers.

Of a more serious note for the Government is a looming strike right before Christmas which could disrupt the travel plans of thousands of New Zealanders, Kiwis who thought the days of disrupted holidays by people in powerful positions were over, may be disappointed.

The Aviation and Marine Engineers Association and the E tu union, which covers engineers, notified Air New Zealand of a total strike by nearly 1,000 unionised workers on Friday December 21.

About 42,000 customers booked to travel domestically and internationally on that day now face potential flight cancellations. It is important to realise the average income of the maintenance engineers, logistics and other staff to strike is $115,000, more than double the average wage in New Zealand.

Some of the workers to strike earn more than $150,000. The group has received pay increases for the past 12 years and so far, it has rejected recent proposals by the airline including an immediate 2% pay increase followed by a further 3% increase in 12 months.

Rolling strikes by all teachers look likely next year, something the Government is powerless to control. And just yesterday, National said since being sworn in, the Government has announced 206 reviews and working groups, or one about every two days, at a cost of almost $700,000 dollars a day.

Simon Bridges said the Government has abandoned New Zealanders and delegated the job of governing to officials, think tanks, consultants and former politicians while it focuses on tidying up after itself and cashing its coalition negotiation cheques.

The total cost so far is around $280 million but is set to be much higher. The Government does not know the cost of 79 of its reviews and the taxpayers could be facing a $450 M bill, he said.

“At a time when cost of living is on the rise, rents are going up, and more taxes and regulations are being piled on, New Zealanders do not need this wasteful spending as they feel the pinch at Christmas time,” Bridges said.

National has risen back to 46% support in the 1 News Colmar Brunton Opinion Poll, up 3%. Labour is down 3% to 43%, the Greens are down 2% to 5% and NZ First is down 1% to 4%. National is still without friends with whom to govern but it can still claim to be the biggest party in Parliament.

Something Bridges may take comfort in as Judith Collins slipped quietly up in the opinion polls to be just 1% behind Bridges on 6% as preferred prime minister. Early days but summer barbecues for New Zealand politicians are always fun and Collins is a very good hostess.

*Dene Mackenzie is a Dunedin political commenter.

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Parliamentary Speaker Trevor Mallard.