National hopelessness, conspiracy and paranoia

National is in a seemingly hopeless position in the polls, and they are understandably frustrated that this week’s Covid outbreak and lockdowns have stopped them from campaigning in person around the country, and has made it difficult for them compete for media coverage. It is a hopeless situation for them, with little they can do about it.

Unfortunately leader Judith Collins and her deputy and National’s campaign director Gerry Collins are making things worse with some of their policy promotion choices, and seem to be heading into conspiracy territory.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): The paranoid style in New Zealand politics

“We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”- Richard Hofstadter, ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, 1964

Nothing wrong with asking questions, is there? Where’s the harm in that? ‘They’ haven’t turned that into a crime as well, have they?

Such was the tone of the National Party’s press conference on new community cases of Covid-19, in an ill omen for the tenor of the campaign for our next election – whenever that proves to be.

National leader Judith Collins offered a small hint of her likely approach when news of the four South Auckland cases broke on Tuesday night, saying the return of the virus would “come as a shock to all New Zealanders who believed what we had been told – that we had got on top of this virus”.

If there were any reservations about going negative, they were not on display as Collins and her deputy leader Gerry Brownlee instead doubled down on Wednesday afternoon.

Asked about the Government’s timeline, Collins said she was “hearing a lot of rumours”.

Several minutes later, her deputy leader Gerry Brownlee outlined – unprompted – an allegedly suspicious series of events in recent weeks, as if joining the pieces of the puzzle with string on an overloaded pinboard.

“The messaging around a possible further outbreak of Covid-19 began … about 10 days ago; on top of that there was the issue of masks, we were encouraged to start purchasing masks to have them available in the emergency kit.

“Dr Bloomfield went a bit further, in one interview I saw suggested that people might wear a mask for one day a week, just to get used to the idea of wearing masks.

“Then you saw the Prime Minister’s visit to the mask factory … along with Dr Bloomfield, after 103 days of no community transmission having a test himself – all very interesting things to happen a matter of hours before there was a notification of the largest residential part of New Zealand going into Level 3 lockdown.”

Pressed on what exactly he was implying, Brownlee replied with a smirk: “I’m just outlining facts … it’s an interesting series of facts.”

Exactly what those facts were meant to prove was left unsaid – although leaving it to the vivid imaginations of tired and scared New Zealanders was perhaps the point.

Then, outlining her desire to delay the election to November or even next year, Collins appeared to borrow from Donald Trump’s playbook in casting aspersions on the trustworthiness of postal voting – despite the fact New Zealanders can already apply to cast a ballot by mail.

“This is a serious issue, it is not a laughing issue, it is not something to joke around, and it’s certainly not something to have just put in an envelope and sent off with no verification as to who anyone is.”

Jacinda Ardern certainly has a big publicity advantage over her campaign opponents, but heading into paranoia and conspiracy territory is a hapless and probably hopeless approach for Collins and Brownlee.

This is on top of tired old policy position announcements like getting tough on gangs and building more roads, as well as the very disappointing National caucus position opposing cannabis law reform.

The line of attack from Collins and Brownlee comes from a darker place, and it is hard to know which is worse – that they genuinely believe in some sort of grand cover-up, or are prepared to stoke such sentiment out of political expediency.

To be clear, there is plenty of ground for legitimate criticism of the Government’s response.

Information about the locations visited by the new positive cases has dribbled out slowly and inconsistently, leaving those who may have been a casual contact on edge.

Ardern’s refusal to engage in “hypotheticals” about the likely extension of Auckland’s lockdown, given the 14-day incubation period that we have all learned about, seems overly cautious and potentially counterproductive in preparing people for a long haul.

But making ominous references to “interesting facts” does nothing to address those concerns, and runs the risk of undermining public buy-in for a longer lockdown, should one be required.

These are very poor attempts to hold the Government to account.

And they are unlikely to be rewarded by voters.

Covid, politics and the election

The Government have been criticised for some time for using regular Covid media conferences to promote themselves leading up to the election.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fronted important announcements, which was a significant reason for widespread public support of the lockdown. She earned strong public support of Government actions.

She was helped by the very competent media skills of the Director-general of Health, Ashley Bloomfield.

But for a while Ardern continued to do the media gigs with little of importance to say but an update of the daily totals and reminders of care that needed to be taken to minimise the opportunity for Covid to spread.

Criticism of her promoting herself and her Government and her party started to grow. Some of the news was not so good as new cases started to add up and a number of people escaped from isolation. Coincidentally or not she removed herself from the Covid front line most of the time.

At the same time Ardern replaced the inept Minister of Health David Clark with the far more competent and media savvy Chris Hipkins, who has been the regular Government Covid spokesperson since the beginning of July, along with Megan Woods.

It can be difficult to differentiate between dealing with Covid and competent government, but there is no doubt Labour’s election chances have been substantially enhanced by both their handling of Covid and their frequent public performances.

The major Government party has always had a significant advantage in election campaigns. They have far more media exposure – even more so during the Covid pandemic – and they have money to dish out to appear generous too voters – and there is a lot more of that at the moment dealing with Covid and the economic impact.

So Labour are benefiting, and are no doubt milking it a bit with the election in mind. It has been suggested that there won’t be any Pacific Island bubble until after the election so as to not risk adverse publicity during the campaign. This may be a bit cynical but is fairly normal politics, albeit in abnormal times.

Polls show that Labour has benefited from Ardern’s popularity and the relative success of keeping control of Covid – and the publicity for doing that.

This has put Labours main opponent, National, in a difficult situation (made quite a bit more difficult by their leadership changes and MPs behaving badly). It has been hard for them to criticise the Covid response, and hard for them to promote anything better as an alternative.

National have been effectively been sidelined by circumstances, self inflicted wounds and by Ardern in particular doing so well in the eyes of most of us.

Judith Collins has had a mixed start as leader. She is better than Bridges and much better than Muller, but those were low bars.

She is much better handling media – but she is far from perfect with that. Both her occasional flippancy and trying to appear to be tough don’t come across very well.

And she hasn’t been helped by a bit of bumbling by her deputy, Gerry Brownlee. While the Government Covid response is inextricably linked with politics, Opposition politicising of it has major risks for National.

Covid is too important and poses too many risks political point scoring.

Today’s ODT editorial warns both Labour and National: Leave health response to experts

The ongoing public health response to the global pandemic must not become fodder for the election campaign. It is far too important for that.

Clarity and certainty are paramount as our communities meet the Covid-19 threat. Mixed messages from all and sundry may make us vulnerable.

The election campaign has started. Now, we should expect to get all the information we need about the Covid-19 health response from the public servants managing it.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield, unsullied by the need to seek re-election, remains the primary source of key health messages. He is the most qualified to explain where-to next.

So particularly now the campaign proper has kicked off politicians should butt out unless something out of the ordinary needs to be addressed.

National Party Covid-19 border response spokesman Gerry Brownlee cast a light on the potential for mixing messages with his latest foray into the practical response.

Yesterday, he pondered the Ministry of Health’s latest guidance urging people to have masks ready in case the country has to return to Level 2.

The announcement came out of the blue and he had ‘‘seen very little evidence that would back up the reason for it’’, he said.

‘‘Why is it now when we have 94 days now with no community transmission and apparently secure borders that they’re suddenly wanting to bring this up,’’ he asked.

‘‘I think it’s a bit of a squirrel running up a tree so that we’re not looking at the teetering employment situation.’’

That and other things Brownlee has said don’t help Collins or National’s cause. National could learn from Labour, who mostly keep deputy Kelvin Davis out of the spotlight.

Dr Bloomfield this week warned community transmission was inevitable — our border may eventually be breached — and people should not be complacent. Epidemiologists continue to say the same thing. This all meant the guidance had to change, eventually.

Such readily available information helped explain the ‘‘why now’’ of the announcement, but if it caused distraction, it was generated by politicians.

Not just by politicians. Political axe grinders have claimed Bloomfield and particularly the Government are ‘scaremongering’ and trying to raise fear in the public for political purposes.

Our health advisers are apolitical public servants. It is a very serious thing to suggest they would issue an important health advisory to benefit the Government.

But in this case, health advisers were not left alone in the advising. As has been the case since lockdown, a senior minister shared the daily announcement spotlight. Minister of Health Chris Hipkins amplified the advice, in a simple act that some considered enough to infer a political motivation.

Whether it was right or wrong to do so — though we suggest it was wrong — is almost beside the point. The point is, politicians must opt for absolute care during the election campaign.

They must spend the next few weeks letting health officials make and restate official health announcements. They should defer to them, and let them explain the need for masks, sanitiser and quarantine.

But will they? Ardern focussed on the Covid response in her Adjournment Debate – Jacinda Ardern speech, and appears to be openly campaigning on Covid competence and control.

And all that leaves Collins and National is to try to attract attention with alternatives but without appearing too negative. They have a way to go to work that out, and a long way to go to suggest they deserve to run the government.

Otherwise Ardern and Labour will cruise to victory virtually untouchable, as they appear to be doing now.

Rogue polls versus statistics

It’s common for politicians to claim that unfavourable polls are inaccurate (and nearly as common for them to accept favourable polls as ok).

Gerry Brownlee went as far as claiming a Newshub/Reid Research poll published on Monday was ‘rogue’.

RNZ: Gerry Brownlee questions methodology used in latest Newshub Reid Research poll

The latest Newshub Reid Research poll, released last night, has put the Labour Party on 60.9 percent and National on 25.1 percent, as the election draws closer.

The National Party released a statement just one minute before the news of the poll, dismissing it as rogue.

“I don’t believe it at all, I think it’s entirely out of kilter, it’s absolutely opposite to what we’re hearing in the electorates. The poll itself doesn’t go anywhere near where our polling is, the polling itself is clearly wrong,” party leader Judith Collins said.

National’s election campaign chair and deputy leader Gerry Brownlee told Morning Report that he meant no disrespect to the people who participated or those at Reid Research, but questioned the methodology being used.

“[The methodology used] potentially could not be random. When they applied that methodology, you’re going through selecting people who meet certain criteria that you want to have inside your polls – age groups and diversity, but that doesn’t mean you are always getting a truly random sample of what people are thinking politically.”

He reiterated the same message he had from last night, that statistically one in 20 polls would be wrong and that this was that one.

The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percent, and was done between 16-24 July with 1000 people surveyed – the majority by phone and the remainder via an internet panel.

One of the problems with Brownlee’s claims is that while statistically a 1 in 20 poll may be outside the margin of error it is very likely to be 10% outside the margin of error. It would be much more likely to be just 0.1% outside the margin of error, or 1% outside.

According to statistical methods with the 95% confidence used is there is a 95% (19 in 20) the 25.1% result for National will be between 22.0% and 28.2%, and a 1 in 20 chance it will be outside this range. But the chances of it being 35% (or 15%) are very slim.

National leaked an internal poll result of 36% (but gave no details about polling period or sample size) – this means there is a 95% chance of it of actually being between 33% and 39%.

The 1 News/Colmar Brunton poll published on Thursday had a different polling period and a different result.

It was published as 32% with a margin of error of 3.1% (at 50%, it reduces the further you get from 50%). But that’s a rounded result, it could have been anywhere between 31.51% and 32.49%.

Accounting for the margin of error that’s a 95% confidence range somewhere between about 28.5% and 35.5%, with a 1 in 20 chance it is outside this.

Labour were published as 53%, but that’s a 95% confidence range somewhere between about 49.5% and 56.5%, still a big lead over National.

So any poll is quite approximate, despite how Newshub and 1 News try to portray their results.

Political news will affect who people think they may vote for. Sensationalised news of poll results is also likely to affect voter decisions.

And these poll results are already out of date. The Colmar Brunton poll published on Thursday:

  • Interviewing took place from Saturday 25 to Wednesday 29 July 2020.
  • Sunday (50% of sample size target was reached on this day).

So political news (including the Monday Reid Research poll) and social contact through the week would barely be reflected in the Colmar poll.

Brownlee making a fuss about a poor poll result drew more attention (some negative) to the result, but will probably only play a very small in the next poll.

Rogue MPs are a much bigger deal than rogue polls.

Polls are a useful but very approximate indicator of voter preferences in the past.

Covid isolation charges announced

The Government has announced that a small number of people will be charged for some of the costs of the 14 day Covid isolation required of everyone coming into the country – “$3100 per person in a room, $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing the room”.

$479 million has been budgeted for managed isolation until the end of the year, but in Parliament Minister Megan Woods said:

Indicative modelling shows that the scheme would generate between $2.2 million and $8.8 million a year at a cost of recouping that of $600,000″.

That works out to about $1 to $4 million until the end of the year out of the $479 million cost so you would have to wonder whether it is worth it.

At this stage it is impossible to tell how long isolation will be required – going by how Covid is increasing in many parts of the world including parts of Australia it could be some time.

Also from Parliament:

Hon Gerry Brownlee: What is legally challenging about saying to New Zealanders who are coming back to this country, having been away for quite some time, that the costs of their managed isolation, the cost of their re-joining the team of 5 million, is a charge that they need to meet?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: This is a complex legal area and, I know, an easy political sound bite, but the advice that we have worked through in a lot of detail with Crown Law is about whether any charge to enter a public health managed isolation facility, a requirement of entry to your own country, that is placed on all New Zealanders, constitutes a barrier of entry to your country. 

I don’t know why some can be charged if it is supposed to be legally difficult to charge people. And Government legislation is supposed to make whatever they want legal.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Why has the Government not come to Parliament to introduce a law that would make legal the charges that she apparently says cannot be applied, so that the taxpayers of New Zealand can be relieved of some of this extraordinary burden for people who want to come back and join the team of 5 million?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Because this Government has come to this Parliament with a law that is not going to be legally overturned by the courts. What it does is it puts in place a regime that does not trample on the bill of rights and the rights of New Zealanders to return to their country. The member may like to look at the legislation that has been tabled this afternoon.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Where does the Minister think a law passed by the Parliament of New Zealand would be overturned by the courts?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: A thing called the bill of rights.

Not sure why the Bill of Rights stops them charging some but not others.

And I thought that checking legislation against the Bill of Rights was standard practice.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: So does her policy mean that a business person travelling offshore to gain new markets for New Zealand will pay for their managed quarantine when they come back but someone who had chosen to make a life offshore, perhaps for many years, will come back into this country to join the team of 5 million paying nothing?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The regime that we have outlined today would see anyone that was leaving for a holiday or for business pay for their isolation and factor that into the cost of their trip overseas. 

This may delay people going overseas to try to do business. It could cost me my job.

Legislation for managed isolation payments

Legislation to allow the Government to recover some of the costs for managed isolation and quarantine will be introduced to Parliament today, said Minister of Housing Megan Woods.

“The Bill will allow the government to charge for managed isolation and quarantine facilities. We have carefully considered how to design a system that is fair on arrivals and not a barrier for returning to New Zealand, especially for those who might already be experiencing financial stress,” said Megan Woods.

“We want to share the costs in a way that fairly reflects the benefits to both the New Zealand public of having such a robust system, and those who leave and enter the country. 

“As Minister I am proposing to only charge New Zealanders who enter temporarily, or who leave New Zealand after the regulations come into force. Temporary visa holders would have to pay unless they were ordinarily resident in New Zealand before the border closure, and left before the border closure. I intend to seek Cabinet agreement to a charging structure of $3100 per person in a room, $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing the room. There will also be mechanisms to allow charges to be waived in full or in part,” said Megan Woods.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill provides a legal framework to allow the Government to set payment terms, exempt groups of people and waive charges in cases of financial hardship. It will also ensure that recovered charges do not exceed the actual costs of managed isolation and quarantine.

“The legislation will be passed next week before the House rises for the parliamentary term, and will enable regulations to be developed. Further details of the charging scheme and when it will come into force, will be announced soon. Charges will not apply to anyone entering New Zealand and going into MIQ before regulations are in force.

It is forecast that more people will be travelling and arriving at the border. The Government has set aside a total of $479 million dollars to pay for the costs of Managed Isolation facilities until the end of the year.

Judith Collins launches herself as leader

National ended up settling their leadership very quickly, announcing that Judith Collins will take over from Todd Muller after Muller stepped down yesterday morning. Gerry Brownlee takes over from Nkiki Kay as deputy.

“I can’t wait to take the fight to the government. Our goal is to put in place a far better government focused on the people of this country and what they are going to need, particularly from an economic point of view.”

“Experience, toughness, the ability to make decisions. Jacinda Ardern is not someone we should ever underestimate. She is an adversary that I would absolutely respect, but I tell you what, our team is better than their team and we are going to take it back.”

According to Richard Harman – Why National finally called on Collins – Mark Mitchell also stood for the leadership, and Paul Goldsmith also stood for the deputy position.

This morning Collins is doing the media rounds, and she has started that showing her experience.

After her media interviews she will work out her shadow cabinet – she says she will only make a few changes, she said it is too close to the election to make major changes. Mostly the changes are those required by the change in responsibilities for her and Brownlee. Kaye will keep a significant role, and Muller is also likely to be included.

Then they will review their policies and no doubt review their approach to the election campaign, but as Brownlee was managing their campaign that shouldn’t be difficult.

Collins has also said she will retain most of the Muller appointed staff in the leader’s office. At this stage before the election that’s another sensible decision.

“I respect the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and I believe she is a very good communicator. She has communicated very well during the Covid crisis.”

“Jacinda Ardern, I think she is a spot on excellent communicator…Communication’s one thing execution’s another and I haven’t seen that much coming out of the Government”

There’s a stream of opponents busy on social media dredging up whatever they can find about Collins’ past – her connection to Dirty Politics and to Cameron Slater is a common thread with even Nicky Hager having a go (Press advisory on Judith Collins and the book Dirty Politics), despite that coming to a head six years ago. There is no sign other than Collins keeping a big political distance from Slater since then.

Running dirty attacks in social media is how politics works (unfortunately), but it will be far more critical how Collins handles the media and political journalists, and she is generally very adept at this.

Time will tell how Collins and National do from here. They have a big challenge repair substantial damage so it won’t be easy, but for the good of a health democracy I hope they at least survive in a reasonable state. Their chances of succeeding this election are slim, but they need to become a sensible, strong opposition at least until the election and probably after it as well.

Collins should manage the initial media onslaught ok.

The first big test will be her ranking of her front bench and spokesperson roles. Collins has indicated that Paul Goldsmith will retain the Finance role. She is not committing on Michael Woodhouse until she ‘gets the facts’ today.

Some will demand ‘balance’, especially gender and ethnic. The latter could be tricky but she could promote Simon Bridges and in particular Shane Reti.

However every party doesn’t have to represent everyone, that’s a nonsense that keeps getting promoted. ACT doesn’t represent everyone, Greens don’t represent everyone, neither NZ First or the Maori Party or Labour.

Parties should represent their own constituencies and their own target demographics. But it’s far more important that they represent some semblance of competence and integrity than ticking every box insisted on by others.

Collins: “I’m the right person at this time for the caucus”.

She is going to target economic issues and is still trying to promote the ‘strong team’ theme.

“I know that this is a tough job but we can get it done”.

Collins leader, Brownlee deputy

Judith Collins is the new leader of the National Party.

I really think this was inevitable. She will have heaps of crap thrown at her by partisan opponents, such is the dirty game of politics. And she will be tested by media, as it should be.

And time will tell how this pans out, at this stage we can only guess but that would be pointless.

And they have gone to experience and stability with Gerry Brownlee at deputy. His biggest challenge is within the caucus, it will be his job to demand loyalty and teamwork, Failing that National’s outlook is dire.

For the good of the country this has to work, it is imperative we have a strong Opposition Party to hold the Government to account, and to be a next government in waiting, in 3 or 6 or 9 years or however long it takes.

 

Simon Bridges and National on the Christchurch mosque massacres

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has been the primary political focus in response to the Christchurch mosque massacres. She has done a very good job in many respects. She has been very good at communicating with the public generally in her media conferences, and she shows obvious empathy and rapport when dealing with those affected by the killings.

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has been far less visible, understandably.

He and other politicians travelled with Ardern on a visit to Christchurch on Saturday, in a show of political solidarity.

There have been two official National party statements.

Friday:  Opposition Leader condemns Christchurch attack

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has condemned the Christchurch attacks and expresses condolences to the people of Canterbury.

“Details are still emerging but the attacks are shocking.

“We stand with and support the New Zealand Islamic community.  No one in this country should live in fear, no matter their race or religion, their politics or their beliefs.

“My thoughts, and the thoughts of the National Party are with the victims of today’s attacks, along with their families and friends. My heart goes out to all of you.”

Saturday:  Opposition Leader visits Christchurch

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has today visited Christchurch alongside the Prime Minister and other Party Leaders and met with the Islamic community, some of the affected families and emergency responders.

“Now is not a time for politics. The National Party stands in solidarity with the Prime Minister and the Government in condemning the horrific and violent terrorist attack in Christchurch yesterday.

“My deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers go to all those directly affected by yesterday’s events, but also to the wider Canterbury community.

“This is not something that has happened to just the Islamic community, or just to Christchurch. It has happened to all New Zealanders.

“It is foreign to everything that makes us Kiwis, our beliefs, our values, our tolerance, how we live and get along with one another.

“We offer our support in any way we can. We are with you today and tomorrow.”

Monday: Simon Bridges on RNZ on firearm laws

Change is needed, I understand that.

I am open to any and all changes.

Be very clear, I am up for change.

The National Party will be constructive.

Do you want military style semi-automatic weapons available?

He kept responding in general terms, that he is up for any and all change.

There is a Prime Minister and a Government we are supporting on this.

He says he is now waiting until the Prime Minister comes back with proposals on law changes. It sounds like bridges may have some sort of understanding with Ardern about how to proceed on this.

He could be more definitive, but in general I think it’s fair enough to see what the Government proposes. Once that is announced, Bridges will need to be more clear.

 

 

Winston Peters’ claims of migration compact misinformation misinformation

Winston Peters has been accusing others of spreading misinformation about the UN Migration Compact that New Zealand voted in favour of this week, but he has been misinforming a bit himself, by implication at least.

Newstalk ZB (Wednesday) – Winston Peters: Misinformation around the UN migration compact is wrong

Peters says that they sought legal advice as there had been a lot of misinformation spread about the compact.

He says that Crown Law found that the seven major criticisms of the agreement were fundamentally wrong.

Peters says that in their statement to the United Nations tomorrow morning our time, they will be making it clear how New Zealand is interpreting the compact.

National Party Simon Bridges has vowed to pull out of the deal if his party gets into Government.

However, Peters says they initially signed up to the deal back in 2016.

“They won’t [pull out], because they were the ones that started this.”

National didn’t ‘start this’ – they just signed up to an agreement to develop an agreement.

On Friday, Gerry Brownlee said signing up the agreement wasn’t a good move.

He said to “hand over your immigration policy to scrutiny to other UN countries if you don’t do what is required – which is pretty much open borders – I think’s the wrong thing to do.”

The decision to develop a compact was first made by UN Member States, including New Zealand, in September 2016. The process towards it began in April 2017, stewarded by representatives from Mexico and Switzerland.

After months of negotiations, the final draft of the agreement was decided upon in July.

“In the end, New Zealand will be voting for a cooperation framework that was clearly set out at the start of the Compact’s negotiations process in 2016 when the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was unanimously adopted by all UN member states, including New Zealand under the previous government,” said Mr Peters.

This is misinformation by Peters. The National led Government was a part of the process, but they didn’t decide on the finaal details of the compact.

Newshub on Friday:  New Zealand First slams ’emotional debate’ over UN Migration Compact

In an email on Friday, NZ First responded saying its “political adversaries” will be “telling everybody that they’re going to ‘overturn’ the UN Migration Compact and make various inflammatory claims that the ‘Compact’ is going to permit mass migration into New Zealand”.

The NZ First email, with the subject line “they are not telling the truth”.

But Peters is being somewhat flexible with ‘the truth’.

Committing to develop a Compact is a long way from voting for the final form.

Peters is reported as saying (about national) ‘they initially signed up to the deal back in 2016’. That’s clearly misinformation. It is nonsense to claim New Zealand signed up to a Compact before negotiations had begun.

Government appointed Speakers are always contentious, but Mallard…

…is the one currently in the gun for being tough on National MPs, and particularly struggling to tolerate Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges. And National are getting more vocal (reckless) in criticising Mallard’s protection on Government MPs, particularly Jacinda Ardern.

Bridges and Gerry Brownlee were turfed out of Parliament by Mallard yesterday – see Bridges, Brownlee ordered out of Parliament – which shows that the intolerance and antagonism is unlikely to diminish.

Why would Ardern need paternalistic protection of the Speaker? From what I’ve seen she is capable of standing up for herself quite adequately in Parliament.

Audrey Young (NZH): Bridges punishment was fair but Mallard’s intolerance is an ongoing problem

Parliament’s Speaker, Trevor Mallard, has an inbuilt bias against National Party leader Simon Bridges and a soft spot for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

That much has been clear since Mallard took the chair just over a year ago. Bridges gets under his skin.

But what is also clear is that Bridges crossed a line in the House today and cannot credibly object to having been thrown out by Mallard.

No one is complaining that Bridges and Brownlee got turfed out yesterday – least of all Bridges. He has used the additional publicity to voice his accusation that Mallard protects Ardern.

It was during questions to the Government about the Karel Sroubek case that Bridges accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of “ducking and diving”.

Such a description is not unusual in the cut and thrust of politics, and barely raised anybody’s eyebrow – except Mallard’s.

Mallard stood up to object – we don’t know whether he was about to make Bridges withdraw and apologise and put him on a final warning.

But before he could mete out punishment, Bridges said: “Here comes the protection.”

That was the offending phrase and that got him ejected from the House – and for that there can be no objection.

It crossed a line. It can be easily argued that Mallard was too quick to leap to the defence of Ardern after she was accused of ducking and diving – not that she requires any help from Mallard in the chamber.

Mallard crossed a line the day before.

Mallard’s intolerance was on display yesterday when he referred to Bridges’ questions as “smart-arse” which is also an appalling lapse by a Speaker to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mallard did apologise for that remark.

And during an exchange with Brownlee, he basically agreed that tighter standards apply to Opposition questions than to answers by Government Ministers.

He can’t stand a bit of cross-house banter and he seemed personally offended when MPs interject in the second person.

The sadness of Mallard’s speakership is that he had hopes of inserting himself less into Question Time than other Speakers, but he is doing the exact opposite.

On Newshub this week, Winston Peters tried to suggest that Mallard was not behaving like a Labour MP, but that is not true. It is impossible to take the politics out of the politician.

It would be difficult for Mallard – a Labour Party member since 1972, a Labour MP since 1984 (with a one term break when he lost his seat in 1990), a member of the Labour-led Cabinet from 1999 to 2008, and a parliamentary colleague t of Ardern’s in Pa – to  become totally impartial.

On a good day, when he is in a good mood and does not expect perfection, when he is in a mood to help the Opposition hold the Government to account, Mallard is the best of Speakers.

His stewardship of the House as the Opposition sought answers from the Government over its decision to exempt Te Arai Development from the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill was exemplary.

The stakes were high. He bent over backwards to be fair to all. It was the House at its best because Mallard was at his best.

Unfortunately, the good days don’t come often enough.

The last couple of days were not good for Mallard.

Today may be different – neither Ardern nor Bridges will be in Parliament today. But Brownlee may be.

 

Bridges, Brownlee ordered out of Parliament

Simon Bridges and Gerry Brownlee were turfed out of Parliament today by the Speaker, Trevor Mallard, in another sign of an ongoing battle between them.

Bridges was not getting the answers he wanted from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and when Mallard rose Bridges said “Oh, here comes the protection.”

An overreaction from Mallard?

An attention seeking stunt?

Whatever, it is unlikely to change much.

This is how it panned out.

Question No. 2—Prime Minister

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did she assert last week that Mr Sroubek’s estranged wife, quote, “changed her tune”, and that she is, quote, “the National Party’s informant”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I assume the member is referring to responses made on my behalf. To answer the question, the Deputy Prime Minister, at the time, was making reference to information that I believe at that time was already raised in the public domain. Certainly, the first I knew of that information was when it was raised with me by the media.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the claim by Mr Sroubek’s estranged wife and family that her Government’s statements have been beyond appalling, and have caused immense stress and feelings of utter hopelessness in the estranged wife?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, the first I knew of some of those issues was when they were raised with me by the media, and I have seen some reports since then. My expectation would be that if we had information brought to us that raised concerns around her safety, we act appropriately on that. When that issue was first raised with me, I told the Minister directly about that issue, and I understood he followed that up. My understanding is that is what has happened in each case that concerns have been raised with us directly.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can we be clear that she’s rightly distancing herself from statements made on her behalf that this woman was the National Party’s informant?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I’m pointing out is that—

Hon Simon Bridges: Oh, so you’re not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —my first knowledge of some of these issues was when they were already brought into the public domain, and that whenever we’ve had issues—

Hon Simon Bridges: What’s that got to do with anything? Do you stand by the statements or not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —of concern raised, we acted appropriately—

SPEAKER: I don’t know how many times I have to tell the Leader of the Opposition: when he interjects, he is not to do it in the second person.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think that tarnishing a victim’s reputation by inferring they were politically motivated, and pushing her to feel utterly hopeless, aligns with her kinder, more compassionate style of Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The first time I heard any such connection was actually in a media report—I think, my recollection is, on Radio New Zealand. That was the first time I heard that statement. I’d have to say, if there’s genuine concern about protecting that individual’s privacy, we would not be having this question in the House right now.

Hon Simon Bridges: How did Immigration New Zealand get the home address of Mr Sroubek’s estranged wife, given there was a police safety plan in place—facts known only to the police?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I obviously have absolutely no involvement with Immigration New Zealand’s following up on issues or concerns or, indeed, interviews or questioning. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to have that knowledge or that level of involvement.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with her police Minister on this, who did have a view, that, quote, “There are some people who just need to be kept safe, and there is no way that anyone apart from police should know where that is.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think there’s appropriateness to the statements the police Minister was making. In fact, my understanding is that when he’s been informed of issues, he’s dealt with that entirely appropriately.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it OK that two police detectives and Immigration New Zealand turned up at the estranged wife’s home address, unannounced, to obtain a changed statement from her, leaving her feeling “extremely vulnerable, exposed, and under threat.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I wouldn’t have knowledge of some of the level of detail that the Leader of the Opposition is raising. My advice would be that if these are issues that have indeed occurred, it would be appropriate, I think, for the Minister of Police to put them to the police and have them follow up independently of him. It is an operational issue; it is appropriate for them to respond. There’s also an independent police complaints process if there has been anything that’s occurred that has been questionable or should be followed up on.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will she answer whether it’s OK that two police detectives and Immigration New Zealand turned up at the estranged woman’s home address, unannounced, to obtain a changed statement from her, leaving her feeling “extremely vulnerable, exposed, and under threat.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said, I simply cannot know exactly what’s happened in this scenario. What I am laying out are all of the appropriate channels that are available for the member to ensure that this is looked into appropriately, because that is not something I will have detail on. I also want to point out that if this individual is feeling vulnerable, they should be supported, and canvassing these issues openly, here in this House, I don’t think is one way of doing that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the system let down the estranged wife of Sroubek?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would have to be intimately involved in every level of detail in order to know that. What we do need to make sure is that if there are complaints there that need to be made, they are followed up on appropriately, and I’m sure Ministers will ensure that that is the case if the member brings those complaints directly to them.

Hon Simon Bridges: When will the Opposition get the representations made to the Government on Sroubek’s behalf?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, this is a case that is still potentially subject to legal challenge. The Minister of Immigration has put out the information that is available at this point, but at the same time there is a process still to be gone through.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know personally any of the people who have made these representations?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am not privy to the representations in the case that have been made, and nor would it be appropriate for me to be privy to the representations or the process that immigration independently conducts in these situations.

Hon Simon Bridges: When will career criminal Karel Sroubek leave this country?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: When this process is complete. Obviously, the Minister of Immigration has made public his decision.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she anticipate it will now take years, given the court case that will ensue?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am not going to answer a hypothetical on this case. The Minister has issued his decision; now there’s a process to be run.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has she entirely washed her hands of anything to do with the Sroubek fiasco, and is she ducking and diving to get out of its way? [Speaker stands] Oh, here comes the protection.

SPEAKER: No—the Leader of the Opposition will leave the House.

Hon Simon Bridges withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Struck a raw nerve.

SPEAKER: He will be followed by the shadow Leader of the House.

Hon Gerry Brownlee withdrew from the Chamber.

This was followed by National MPs walk out of debating chamber (RNZ):

A large number of National Party MPs have walked out of Parliament this afternoon during question time.

And Parliament continued without them.

Stuff: National leader Simon Bridges kicked out of the House after questioning PM on Sroubek

Fronting media after his expulsion, Bridges doubled down on his accusation the Speaker was protecting the Prime Minister from scrutiny.

“I was trying to ask the Prime Minister serious questions about the Sroubek fiasco. She wouldn’t answer and the speaker leaped to protect her – I called him on it. I said ‘here comes the protection,’ ” Bridges admitted.

Criticising the Speaker in such a way is a fairly serious breach of the parliamentary rule-book. But Bridges said it was in the public interest to break the rules in this instance.

“What I’ve seen is a Prime Minister who hasn’t answered serious questions. Here, we’re talking about a victim, we’re talking about very serious matters there should be answers to that she knows about or should know about as Prime Minister.”

Bridges said the walkout was not planned or coordinated.

“No, certainly none of this was my intention. My intention today has been to ask serious questions about Sroubek, about the estranged wife who feels like she has been targeted, that she is a victim of being called by Winston Peters effectively a National Party informant.”

Mallard said he had been reflecting on the supplementary question when he rose and it was out of order on at least two counts.

“As I rose, he questioned my impartiality.”