Ardern a great leader occasionally but otherwise lacking

There were always going to be questions asked about the leadership of the coalition government, with a relatively young and inexperienced Jacinda Ardern at the top as Prime Minister, and the relatively old and experienced Winston Peters as her deputy.

Peters has ruled the roost at NZ First for a long time, since he founded the party. He is used to having disproportionate power in his party, and there was a risk that he would exercise disproportionate power in the coalition. And it appears that that is how things are.

Peters and NZ First certainly wield significantly more power than the Green Party, despite having just 1 more seat in Parliament – 9 compared to 8 (and less than a quarter as many seats as Labour).

Ardern surprised many with how she stepped up and performed as Labour leader after Andrew Little stepped down. And she has shown admirable leadership qualities in her response to the Christchurch mosque massacres. In both cases she acted very well, largely on instinct.

But Ardern has struggled with leadership that involves getting her Ministers to perform, and especially when getting her Cabinet to agree on which policies to implement.

Her capitulation over the Capital Gains Tax has highlighted this lack of effective leadership, and Fran O’Sullivan points out in  PM’s leadership missing on CGT issue

Jacinda Ardern is at the peak of international celebrity yet she can’t — or perhaps more accurately won’t — even try to sell a capital gains tax.

That’s the paradox that now confronts New Zealand.

It might be overstating it to accuse the Prime Minister of being an outright cynic. But not even fighting for a policy she says she believes in — and would not only have made a difference, but introduced more fairness into the tax system — is a total cop-out on her part.

It is also a failure of leadership.

Not just that she failed to get Cabinet approval to proceed with some sort of CGT, but that she showed no sign of leadership in trying to make it happen.

…the reality is that neither Ardern nor Finance Minister Grant Robertson has made a concerted effort to go over the head of Labour’s coalition partner and make a case to the public to support the introduction of a broad capital gains tax regime.

Ardern claimed that it was “time to accept that not only has a Government that reflects the majority of New Zealanders not been able to find support for this proposal, feedback suggests there is also a lack of mandate among New Zealanders for such a tax also.”

She added that in short, “we have tried to build a mandate, but ultimately been unsuccessful.” This is disingenuous.

Capital gains tax regimes have been at the heart of Labour’s policy thinking for at least a decade now. Ardern could have built a mandate from among her own party’s supporters.

But the only mandate that she appears to have sought was that of New Zealand First.

James Shaw has indicated that she virtually ignored the Greens over the CGT.

In fact, there were options. The capital gains tax could have been set at a significantly lower rate than the top personal income tax rate, and carveouts made for businesses and farms under a certain threshold as had been advocated in prior Labour policy. The bright line test could also have been extended for investment properties.

This would have demonstrated a commitment to at least moving towards establishing equity in New Zealand’s tax system.

Instead, Ardern has made yet another of her captain’s calls on tax.

Her captain’s calls on tax have been somewhat flip-flop-flippy, with no sign of leadership.

In her first flush as Labour leader during the 2017 election campaign, Ardern put them back again, saying it was a captain’s call. But ultimately she took capital gains tax off the table again after Labour lost support in the polls.

She promised not to introduce such a tax in Labour’s first term in Government. Instead, a working group would be tasked with framing options; the Government would introduce empowering legislation. The capital gains taxes would not, however, take effect until 2021.

The upshot is that Labour would have sought its public mandate at next year’s election.

That’s what Ardern promised, but she has now promised to not try anything at all, not just for next year’s election, not just in Labour policy, but forever while she remains leader. This must dismay those in Labour who think that policy is decided by the party, by the members.

It is simplistic to blame New Zealand First for this defeat.

New Zealand First did not rule out a capital gains tax within the Coalition Agreement.

But neither did Labour specifically require New Zealand First to commit to empowering legislation by making it a confidence matter.

The lesson from this is that major parties which get into bed with more muscular junior parties to form Coalition Governments better make sure their own signature policies will be supported.

What we don’t know, but can now suspect more than ever, is that the discussion document that supported the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement ruled out any support from NZ First for a CGT.

Ardern also promised to run the most open and transparent government ever, but she has never lived up to that. Being open and transparent about her family life to women’s magazines isn’t enough.

RNZ (4 December 2017):  Jacinda Ardern on ‘secret’ documents

Ms Ardern and deputy PM Winston Peters have been defending the decision not to make the 33 pages of notes from their coalition negotiations public, with National claiming they now look like they have something to hide.

She said the documents have no directives to ministers, despite Mr Peters initially saying it did, and said she would not describe it as a “document of precision”, as Mr Peters had.

Ms Ardern said the documents were more a record of some of the coalition discussions, and any policy details that had been discussed had already been released.

“When something becomes an official part of our work programme, then that’s the point at which, absolutely, we have to be transparent about that. But when it comes to documents that sit behind a negotiation, that aren’t necessarily going to be pursued, as soon as you release it, that gives an expectation that it is a hard and fast policy, when it might not be at all.”

She said the government was still dedicated to greater transparency.

That’s a classic ‘yeah, right’ statement.

Did keeping this document secret hide an agreement between Ardern and Peters on CGT?

Did it hide a secret  agreement on who was actually in charge, despite the official Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister designations?

One could say that Labour, with Grant Robertson as Minister of Finance holding the purse strings, was in charge of what mattered the most, but Ardern and Robertson gave Peters a substantial foreign affairs budget boost, and have Shane Jones NZ First a $1 billion per year open cheque, while pressuring Labour and Green ministers to reduce their financial demands, on things like child poverty, mental health, climate change, nurse and teacher salaries.

Effective leadership means saying the right things, which Ardern seems adept at when thrust into challenging situations.

But it also requires managing ministers and managing governing parties and reaching consensus on important policies. Ardern has got a lot to prove on that still. So far the indications are weak leadership, if she is in fact leader in reality.


  1. Labour 2020: Let’s not do this.

  2. David Slack: God will continue to defend our taxpayers and property ‘investors’ after CGT decision

    But wait, what’s this? A new government. Could this be it? Has our moment come at last? Will the transformational government which plans to transform New Zealand be bold and innovative and fair and do what needs to be done?

    The transformational government which plans to transform New Zealand steps forward, clears its throat taps the microphone, looks around, and says “yeah, nah, not gonna do that”.

    The answer to the question “how different is this outfit from the Clark one” is now apparent: not that much really. Transformational with a small t. Plenty of good intentions, but good luck seeing them made real if there’s any risk of outrunning the public mood.

    • Pink David

       /  21st April 2019

      “If we want our kids to have a decent chance, if we want our economy to flourish, we owe it to ourselves to to put an end to the property myopia. A capital gains tax on every single property could have been the lever to do that.”

      So, why has a capital gains tax not worked to achieve this anywhere else in the world? What about a New Zealand capital gains tax was going to succeed here when no other has?

      “In 1975, this country had a superannuation fund getting underway that could have been worth hundreds of billions today. ”

      David Slack is getting the word ‘could’ to do a huge amount of work in his writing.

      • Blazer

         /  21st April 2019

        hey we ‘could’ be on the cusp of something…special’!

  3. David

     /  21st April 2019

    Ardern couldnt sell a CGT, every time she is questioned on fiscal or tax matters she is shown as being unable to grasp the detail or explain her position. At the moment she is walking on water so why would she risk exposing herself when she knows she would be woeful at selling the CGT.
    She has in all her time in parliament never shown that she could work hard to get her head around complex or detailed issues and work to a solution and this is demonstrative in the pretty poor delivery performance of her government.
    She is a great communicator blah blah blah but only on subjects that suit her and are superficial, she can be very economical with the truth, secretive and quite practiced in the dark arts of politics.

    • Pink David

       /  21st April 2019

      “She is a great communicator blah blah blah but only on subjects that suit her and are superficial”

      Yeap. There are reasonable arguments for a CGT, but she could not even muster the ‘communication skills’ to put a decent case. How can she be lauded a ‘great leader’ when she cannot lead on one of the things she claims to passionately believe in?

      • David

         /  21st April 2019

        I think she saw Cunliffe and Goff get totally tied up in knots trying to explain a CGT and panicked.
        Its not unusual on the left to have these lofty ideals but no clue in how to implement anything, Ardern is following Trudeau and if I were her I would be off to the UN or a large NGO while her value is at its highest and before folk start seeing through her.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  21st April 2019

          It would have looked better if she had said that the people didn’t want it, so the government had listened etc etc etc.

          As it was, she came across as a pouty, whiny little girl.

          I can’t see that she’s a great leader.

  4. Blazer

     /  21st April 2019

    What ‘great’ leaders has NZ had in the last 50 years?

    • duperez

       /  21st April 2019

      Muldoon comes into the 50 years. I don’t know if his supporters at the time considered him a ‘great leader’ although I know they thought him be the leader we needed. They certainly thought he was an genius in things to do with finance and economics. And kept telling the world for years.
      Come to think of it they must’ve thought he was a great leader. They thought he was strong and powerful and didn’t tolerate fools (or anyone for that matter who didn’t agree with him) and summarily dealt with them. His stroppy wielding of power would certainly have them lauding him as a truly great leader. Mind you, some had “Mossie” Hines as a great leader.

      • Blazer

         /  21st April 2019

        I am one of probably few here who know who ‘Mossy’ is/was.
        His brother is very prison.

        Not sure if more than a handful of his ‘colleagues’ would regard him as a great leader.

    • David

       /  21st April 2019

      Roger Douglas. He transformed the NZ economy into what it is now followed by Ruth Richardson, we are the great country we are today thanks to their fearless leadership and unwavering drive to do what needed doing.
      We are still following their prescription so scream all you like but we are the greatest country in the world because every leader since has kept their reforms, left and right.

      • Blazer

         /  21st April 2019

        2 criminals imo…who wrecked the country.

        Australia did not follow their lead and the inequality gap between us turned into a…chasm.

        Douglas/Richardson enabled a few to become very wealthy at the expense of the many.

        NZ 4 Sale ,greed is good became the catch cry of these shallow imbeciles who never ever had an original..idea.

        • David

           /  21st April 2019

          Australia didnt get itself into the terrible situation Muldoon got NZ but they pretty much follow the same business model as we do as does most of the world.
          Sure it was rough at the time but tell me a better time to be alive or a better place to live.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  21st April 2019

            I know Roger Douglas (my late husband knew him well through ACT), and he’s a tough man, but a fair one. He never enabled the few to become rich at the expense of the many, that’s a distortion.Nor did Ruth Richardson.

  5. Duker

     /  21st April 2019

    “Peters and NZ First certainly wield significantly more power than the Green Party, despite having just 3 more seats in Parliament – 11 compared to (and only a third as many seats as Labour).”

    hello . Greens are NOT in government coalition . They are only supply and confidence partners. All the difference in the world.
    Key had more choices, he had 3 parties with C&S , and outside the cabinet room, and none had the final say. Sometimes 2 could block a major national policy like RMA. Somtimes like the Kermandec sanctuary the Maori party exercised a ‘papal veto’ no matter what others wanted. key chose government stability for his last 2 years over a signature policy

    • David

       /  21st April 2019

      In reference to your first paragraph Ardern has ruled out a CGT under her leadership ever and at current polling she will be in coalition with the Greens next time around and NZFirst gone so could easily have introduced one.
      So you are demonstratively wrong it was a NZFirst veto it was squarely Arderns and the 2nd paragraph is irrelevant nonsense.

      • It seems clear to have been a NZ First veto in the short term, but in the medium and longer term Ardern has ruled it out, unless she goes back on her word and does a captain’s flop again, or unless she doesn’t intend to stay leader for long, or if she doesn’t think Labour will get back into government next year.

        None of those possibilities indicate strong leadership.

        • Blazer

           /  21st April 2019

          you are yet to explain the criteria for ‘strong’ leadership and what it actually delivers.

          As an earlier poster mentioned,probably the most destructive politician of the last 50 years was National’s Muldoon…perceived/promoted as a ‘sound financial manager’ and the reality of course was ,he was a complete..dud.

          • It delivers something more to supporters than this sort of response: The left lambasts Labour’s CGT capitulation

            • Blazer

               /  21st April 2019

              you can’t please everyone all the time.

              You can’t usually get progressive legislation enacted in opposition.

            • Seems like you can’t get much enacted on government either, especially if you don’t try very hard, and give up easily.

            • Blazer

               /  21st April 2019

              ‘Seems like you can’t get much enacted on government either, especially if you don’t try very hard, and give up easily.’

              like National with 9 years to reform the RMA…you mean.

            • Yes, like National and the RMA – as well as like Ardern and the CGT.

            • Blazer

               /  21st April 2019

              CGT was just part of the tax working groups brief.

              Maybe if we allow 9 years instead of 18 months we can reassess the comparison.

        • David

           /  21st April 2019

          I think it was an Ardern veto because she doesnt want to burn any political capital, she is enjoying the post Mosque adulation after experiencing the discomfort of having to defend Kiwibuild prior.
          She likes a quiet life, she doesnt like conflict and I dont think she cares for economics or understands it all that much..she hasnt tried to sell her tax either during the election campaign or since the report was published.
          From a spin point of view, where she excels, NZFirst gets to be the veto hero and she gets to huff that she cant get her progressive policies implemented so not her fault despite all her efforts and the bonus is making the Greens look irrelevant and a wasted vote (which has always been Labours policy).

  6. duperez

     /  21st April 2019

    Concentrating on whether one is being a great leader or the legacy one is going to leave means not focussing on the job. It’s a bit like Richie McCaw spending his energy wondering about whether his hair is looking like not getting stuck into whatever needs to be done.

    The quality of Ardern’s leadership as an academic exercise is as pointless as the talk in 2010/2011 about the legacy John Key would leave. Mind you, one leading the pack on that was to be writing a biography of the man so had a vested interest in fostering the chat.

  7. peralka

     /  21st April 2019

    “Peters and NZ First certainly wield significantly more power than the Green Party, despite having just 3 more seats in Parliament – 11 compared to (and only a third as many seats as Labour).”

    NZF DO NOT have 11 seats in Parliament, – three more seats than the Green Party. The Green Party have eight (8) seats, and NZF only one more at nine (9) seats.

    A fairly basic fact, especially half way into the three year term of this current Parliament.

    As Duker also said upstream, the “Greens are NOT in government coalition. They are only supply and confidence partners. All the difference in the world.”

    As a little aside, two thirds (6) of the nine NZF members have some Maori ethnicity – Winston Peters, Shane Jones, Ron Mark, Tracey Martin, Fletcher Tabuteau, and Jenny Marcroft. The remaining three NZF MPs are Darrock Ball, Clayton Mitchell and Mark Patterson.

    • Yes, I was wrong on the seats. Sometimes my multi-tasking and lack of sufficient care results in basic errors. I looked it up to check but Wikipedia had an annoying habit of displaying the number of seats won in the previous election first and more prominently.

      That makes the imbalance of power between Peters and Ardern look worse than I stated, and also the imbalance between NZ First and Greens (which Greens conceded by being left out of coalition and Cabinet).

      I have corrected the post.

    • PDB

       /  21st April 2019

      peralka: “As Duker also said upstream, the “Greens are NOT in government coalition. They are only supply and confidence partners. All the difference in the world.”

      Again the fact they were in a similar position to Winston before the govt was formed & chose to not be in govt & settle for hardly any policy concessions is down to their complete ineptness. To then use that as an excuse for them having bugger all power now isn’t an argument.

    • Than

       /  23rd April 2019

      The raw number of seats really doesn’t matter much when it comes to bargaining power. Whether its one seat or twenty, what matters is A) do you have enough seats to put the vote over the line, and B) are you willing to use those votes.

      The Greens let themselves down badly on B. Their total refusal to deal with National and their refusal to stand up to Labour (for example, over the waka-jumping bill) means they have effectively no leverage – Labour can just take their votes for granted.

  8. PDB

     /  21st April 2019

    There is little doubt that Ardern has chosen the opportunity of political longevity over her own political beliefs and that of her supporters regarding the CGT – NZL First is simply the convenient excuse to rule the policy out. I see some comparisons being made to John Key’s political ambitions but unlike Ardern he was willing to take a wildly unpopular policy such as partial asset sales into an election and risk any chance of a long stint as PM. He also ruled out before an election to form a govt with NZL First whilst in comparison it appears Labour sold everything (including the kitchen sink) to Winston in order to become the govt.

    As pointed out above there is no reason for Ardern to rule out all forms of a CGT beyond the current 3-year term. Not only does Ardern look weak & somewhat selfish in valuing her personal legacy more than delivering for supporters but James Shaw is shown to be a leader happy in life to be given the odd food scrap from the top table (& an occasional good kicking whilst lying on his back under the table) whilst his co-leader runs around the countryside scaring off the more reasoned of their supporter base. The ‘battered woman syndrome-like’ NZL First supporters will now consider casting their votes again for Winston next election as he finally delivers in shafting the left-wing govt & showing who’s really running the show.

    “Let’s do this!” has become much like Kiwibuild – a sad election joke for those left-wing supporters who actually thought major governmental change was coming. The rest are just happy to be in govt regardless of the fact little change is happening except for greatly increased govt spending for less end results – whether in the health & education sectors or in taxpayer money being thrown away by NZL First. Gareth Morgan is not often right but describing Ardern becoming Labour Party leader as ‘lipstick on a pig’ has proved entirely correct.

  9. Reginald

     /  22nd April 2019

    “Effective leadership means saying the right things.”

    Yeah, nah. I’ve been lead, I’ve led teams, and saying the right things ain’t nowhere enough, nohow. The best leaders I’ve ever followed have said very little – and sometimes were wrong – but their example set the standards & the goal-lines.