Ministers rated, too soon to judge Government performance

While it’s possible to make an early assessment of early assessments of the performance of Ministers – Andrew Little and David Parker have stood out as competent achievers – it’s too soon to judge the overall performance of the Government, as I suggested in this post yesterday: The Government graded.

More media and journalists followed Newsroom and gave the Government a 6 month report card, but have focussed on the out the performance of Ministers.

Newshub – Six months in: The new Government’s report card

Jacinda Ardern 

On the global stage, Ardern shines.

But back at home, her Government has faced a series of scandals. There were the poorly handled Young Labour sexual assault claims, a Deputy Prime Minister who keeps making Kremlin-adjacent comments and there was the weird case of Carol Hirschfeld’s resignation from RNZ after meeting with Cabinet Minister Clare Curran.

But has her team been cracking on and transforming New Zealand?

…For almost everything else, it’s hard to say how transformative this Government will be, because most issues have been relegated to reviews and working groups.

Parker and Little rated well, while Clare Curran and Kelvin Davis were put at the bottom of the class.

Stuff: How has Cabinet scored?

  • Andrew Little – 9
    Little has a lot of portfolios, which is indicative of how competent he is, and he has really hit the ground running.
  • Jacinda Ardern – 8 (generous if substance and Cabinet management are taken into account)
    The Prime Minister has had a big start to the toughest gig in town.
  • David Parker – 8
    Parker had an early win getting the CPTPP signed and also pulled off a ban on foreign buyers purchasing existing homes.
  • Shane Jones – 8 (very generous)
    If he was being measured on headlines and sound bites Jones would be well in the lead.
  • Winston Peters – 7 (generous)
    The deputy prime minister has a mixed score card.
  • Grant Robertson – 7 (premature)
    It’s been a good six months for the Finance Minister (but the May budget is his big test).
  • James Shaw, Julie Anne Genter – 7
    Shaw and Genter have had a solid start and have clocked up some big wins for the Greens in the first six months.
  • Megan Woods, Iain Lees-Galloway, Damien O’Connor, Stuart Nash – 6
    All four ministers have their heads down and are getting the work done without causing too much of a stir.
  • Phil Twyford – 5
    Twyford has made some bold moves with transport – not all have been well received – but on housing it’s a bit of a slow grind.
  • David Clark – 5
    He’s got a lot of work on his hands and has some serious questions to answer over issues at Middlemore Hospital.
  • Ron Mark, Tracey Martin – 5
    The NZ First ministers have had a pretty low profile.
  • Nanaia Mahuta, Jenny Salesa, Carmel Sepuloni – 3
    The invisible trio.
  • Kelvin Davis – 2
    His stints as acting prime minister haven’t gone too well and he hasn’t really stamped his mark on the Corrections portfolio at this point.
  • Clare Curran – 1
    The Broadcasting Minister has had a terrible run of late and looks to be struggling to bounce back from it.

Stuff have an online poll: How do you rate the Government’s first six months?

  • Fantastic – 10%
  • Good – 25%
  • Average – 25%
  • Poor 24%
  • Horrible 16%

That’s a fairly balanced result, not surprising given that it is early in the term with a lot of policies deferred to committees. I’d give them an ‘Average’ at this stage.

Barry Soper gives an overall assessment: The successes and failures of Labour’s first six months

The fails:

  • the drunken Youth Labour camp revelations where Ardern was kept in the dark,
  • the embarrassing blunders of their Broadcasting Minister Claire Curran,
  • allowing themselves to be the blind eye of the Five Eyes countries when it came to condemning the misdeeds of Russia
  • the cancellation, without consultation, of all future offshore oil and gas exploration even though it’ll cost billions and do nothing for climate change other than sending production offshore.

The successes:

  • paid parental leave extension,
  • the families package instead of tax cuts,
  • lower winter power bills for the elderly,
  • the inquiry into historic child abuse
  • multiple handouts to students.

The fors and againsts tend to balance each other out, but the real tests are to come, starting with the Budget next month.

An RNZ also says Budget the real test of new government

Six months into the new government and the real test will be May 17th – the Budget.

Labour and its governing partners have been laying the groundwork for a Budget that will signal new priorities for spending, after building the case for significant increases to public sector funding.

Under the self imposed deadline of its own 100 day plan the government launched into an ambitious programme to implement, or start the ball rolling, on key policies and initiatives.

The first was the fees free tertiary policy, in the first year for those who had not studied before.

The jury is still out on whether that will actually achieve better access to tertiary study as intended; what is clear is that at $2.8 billion over four years it does not come cheap and is a commitment that will limit what the government can do in its first term.

Other big ticket items like the Provincial Growth Fund and the Kiwibuild Programme will also take up a fair amount of room in Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s first Budget.

Political management is another test of the government and most of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Domestically, it has been a rough couple of months – on the whole it has been up to Ms Ardern to defend the failings of some of her ministers, and balance the interests of Labour against those of its coalition partner New Zealand First, and of the Greens.

Labour also had to deal with the damaging headlines of sexual assault claims at a party camp, a story only halted by the announcement of the inevitable review.

Inquiries into mental health, abuse in state care, Hit and Run allegations and effectively into a possible Pike River re-entry have put off the need for any immediate action on complex and sensitive issues Labour made a lot of noise about in opposition.

Ms Ardern is a ‘girly swot’ in her own words and easily handles questions about policy detail. But is she exhibiting the steel voters look for in a Prime Minister?

Ms Ardern will be judged on how she handles ministerial misdemeanours and while a new Cabinet will initially be given a bit of latitude as they settle into their roles, that time is past.

All in all she has weathered a stormy few months and has come out relatively unscathed. Rounding off the six months with a high profile overseas trip making progress on crucial trade deals for New Zealand has not been unhelpful.

The next big challenge will be to demonstrate the Government has the economic chops to deliver on the promises made to voters, while sticking to the budget principles it insists it will not abandon.

It’s the economy that makes the most difference, and how the Government wants to influence that will become known in three weeks when their first budget is announced.

The Government graded

Newsroom has had a go at Grading the Government

  • Economy: B
    GDP growth is on track for around three percent in 2018 and positive signs for businesses’ own activities have kept the economy on an even keel.

I think it’s too soon to call on the Government’s effect on the economy.

  • Budget: B
    The Government inherited a Budget and an economy benefiting from strong income tax and GST receipts.
    …it also uncovered through the 2018 Budget round that it had inherited health and education budgets stretched by years of restrained capital spending and very fast population growth.

What they inherited is fortuitous. Stretched health and education budgets should have been obvious before the election when they made spending promises. Their rushed and large tertiary education spend seems to have had little effect but commit to a large increase in spending to limit other spending increases. Their budgeting can’t be judged until at least their first budget, due next month.

  • Open government and transparency: F
    Perhaps its biggest failure.

So far, yes, one of it’s biggest failures. OIA abuse is disgraceful, and Minister of Open Government Clare Curran has had an awful and opposite start.

  • Immigration: D
    The annual net migration numbers remain close to those assailed in opposition as disastrous and uncontrolled. 

Labour and NZ First talked big on slashing immigration and have changed little. Last year net immigration peaked at about 72,000, the most recent figure was 68,000, nowhere near the promised 30,000 (Labour) and far less promised by NZ First.

  • Foreign Affairs: C
    It’s difficult to get a sense of Winston Peters’ guiding principles when it comes to New Zealand’s foreign policy.

C is generous. One of the few things Peters has not been vague about is his promotion of Russian trade. And Ardern seems to have poor communication with Peters.

  • Trade: B
    An early trade test for Ardern and company came in the form of the Trans Pacific Partnership, but political veteran David Parker… has handled the portfolio largely well. The bizarre Russia FTA proposal is now off the table, although not before causing some damage.

So Parker good, Peters bad on trade.

  • Environment: B
    The Prime Minister made headlines across the world with the announcement there’d be no new oil and gas exploration permits.  A more substantial move was setting up an interim climate change commission to advise on the shape of a Zero Carbon Act to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

The oil and gas permit announcement was poorly managed and seemed poorly prepared for – see No cost analysis, no consultation, no idea on oil and gas ban.

James Shaw has started quietly but confidently on net zero emissions by 2050 but it’s far too soon to tell what the reality of this target will mean.

  • Education: B+
    Chris Hipkins is a capable minister…While still early days, his ambitious plan to review and overhaul the entire school system should be applauded. Suggestions the introduction of a fees-free first year of tertiary education has had little impact on student enrolments will be worrying for the Government.

Generous. Hard to judge Hipkins ambitious plans that are subject to a review. Fees-free looks like it could have been a rushed and expensive commitment which was poorly thought through. No mention of Hipkins rush to scrap Partnership Schools with poor consultation.

  • Health: B+

I have no idea how a B+ is warranted. Most possible changes have been put to committees. Serious questions should be asked Minister David Clark over the Middlemore claims. If he doesn’t deliver on a promised new Dunedin hospital he will be in trouble down here (and decisions have been delayed despite his prior claims of urgency being required). And the Government has been running a softening up PR campaign blaming the last Minister for making budget decisions difficult.

  • Transport: B-
    There’s a lot to like in the Government’s transport policy, but its announcement and delivery was badly bungled and left people either scratching their heads or seriously brassed off.

There’s a lot many people are concerned about in what Ministers have been saying about transport, especially on higher fuel excise (claimed to be not a tax increase by Ardern) and the rush to shift people out of cars and into expensive to implement trains, and very contentious cycleways.

  • Political management: C+
    In the grading system used for the NCEA, the coalition Government has scored an ‘achieved’: one-sixth of the way through its first term and the cabinet and wider executive are intact. No one from New Zealand First has had to be jettisoned, no Labour or Greens ministers stood down or inquired into.

But is that good management? There are unanswered questions about Ardern’s political management, and Ministers working on related policies seem to have communicated poorly.

Effort on PR management: A
Implementation on political management: D

Ardern is at real risk of being exposed for a fixation with personality politics absent substance.

  • First 100 Days: A
    Sneaking in just two days before its self-imposed deadline, it’s hard to view the 100-day checklist of to-dos as anything but a resounding success.
    A year of free tertiary education – check. Ban foreign home buyers – success despite claims it couldn’t be done.

A success as a PR exercise perhaps, with many of their promises deferred to working groups and committees.

As sound policy it is much more questionable. Both free tertiary education and foreign home buyers now appear to have lacked effectiveness and have created problems.

  • Housing: B-
    Labour had a clear plan to launch Kiwibuild, ban foreign buying of homes and extend the two-year bright-line test to five years.

The foreign buyer ban has proved problematic, it’s too soon to tell what effect the extension to the bright-line test will have, and the ‘clear plan to launch Kiwibuild’ still looks a long way off any actual plan let alone results.

As with other policies the Government is finding implementation much harder than talk. Minister Phil Twyford is also looking less than solid.

  • Families Package/child poverty: B
    Axing National’s tax cuts in favour of a families package designed to lift children out of poverty was a key pre-election policy for Labour.
    More controversial is a winter energy payment to help people pay their heating bills.

They have delivered on promises, but it’s too soon to see whether this will have much effect on ‘poverty’ numbers. They have taken a political risk scrapping tax cuts for all low and medium paid people in favour of families and rich pensioners.

  • Strong regions: B
    The Provincial Growth Fund continues to surprise. Some of its investments – an expensive roundabout in Northland, the ‘Chardonnay Express’ in Gisborne, and the Cathedral restoration in Taranaki – seem to stretch the remit of provincial economic growth but the fund has yet to cause serious damage to Regional Development Minister Shane Jones’s reputation.

This could turn out to be a boost for regions and a boost for Jones’ and NZ First’s re-election chances, or it could be seen as a cynical slush fund. Too soon to call.

  • Workplace Relations: B-
    In its first tranche of employment law announcements in January, Minister Iain Lees-Galloway surprised many by softening, rather than abolishing, the often-criticised 90-day trial periods.
     A coalition concession means the minimum wage will rise rapidly to $20 by 2020.
    But generating the most talk are plans to introduce Fair Pay Agreements.

There have been warnings about the flow on effects and unintended consequences of rapidly increasing the minimum wage. Far too soon to call.

‘Fair Pay Agreements’ look like being a very contentious return to imposed union power.

Not mentioned are the wage claims and threats of industrial action in the expensive health and education sectors.

A first six months is scant time to sort out substance from PR and pre-election promises.

The Government has so far survived intact, but faces many challenges – a big one being getting next month’s budget right, or at least an acceptable and safe balance.

A big unknown looming is Ardern’s birth and baby break – the timing must be uncertain, as are possible complications (modern child bearing has relatively low risks but  they aren’t zero). And how Peters will perform as acting PM, currently planned for 6 weeks, could be interesting.

And Labour’s deputy Kelvin Davis has failed to step up so far so is a possible weak line.

But this will be judged later – like many of the Government’s policies and ambitions, some of which will be difficult to judge for years.

Ardern – different style, but out of her depth?

Since the highs last year of a stellar riser to Labour leadership, and later to Prime Minister, and a PR friendly start to the year – the annual Ratana ritual, a full week getting positive coverage at Waitangi, and then a cruise through Pacific islands – the realities of being in charge have exposed Jacinda Ardern to some testing situations.

The Young Labour camp scandal, Russian trade and undeclared spies, Curran/Hirschfeld and RNZ, and the odd NZ First/Jenny Marcroft approach to Mark Mitchell have created a succession of awkward situations to deal with. None of them are over, except perhaps the Marcroft muddle.

This has raised real concerns over the competence of Ardern and her government (and the Peters problem).

Illustration / Guy Body

Ardern will be learning from this, or she should be. It is a real test of her character as leader, and a test of the coalition with NZ First and the confidence and supply agreement with the quirky Greens.

Questions are being asked, as they should be.

Duncan Garner: Government’s Easter report a B minus and increasingly worrying

Jacinda delivered on her genuine promise last year and it was a pleasure having her leading this country.

But in recent weeks she has struggled to stay on top of things and her usually sharp radar is not what it was  –  have you noticed?

But Ms Ardern impressed us greatly at the end of last December. She led the pack. She was by far the best and most articulate among the place.

But since then things have got loose.

The prime minister needs a short chocolate break then she should return and read the riot act to her caucus and kick their butts. Then she should send Grant Robertson and H2 (Heather Simpson) over to NZ First and the Greens and remind them what usually happens when they cause trouble for a PM.

Heather du Plessis-Allan: The buck stops with Jacinda Ardern

You have to question the Prime Minister’s judgment. How good is she at running this ship? It’s now impossible not to ask that question.

The Government has had three weeks of car crash problems and Jacinda Ardern dropped the ball virtually every time.

The list of cock-ups in three weeks is astounding. International headlines over the PM’s refusal to kick out Russian spies. National headlines over the Radio New Zealand snafu. Allegations of blackmail threats over regional slush fund money. The PM’s mixed messages on the future of oil and gas exploration. The Labour Summer Camp stuff up.

The impression is the new Government is at best naive, at worst (in at least one situation) potentially corrupt. Every crisis has created the sense Government MPs are still trying to figure out how to be in Government, still acting like they’re in Opposition.

At times like these it’s easy to blame those who give the PM advice. Her officials, her media people, Winston Peters. But again, the buck stops with the PM. She must take advice, then decide the right course.


Audrey Young: Ardern Govt not on the ropes yet but not match fit after just one round

Today marks the end of the first quarter of the political year, or the end of Round One if you like, and the red and black team of Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters are not as match fit as they looked just three months ago.

They look relieved to have the respite that Easter offers.

Ardern has lost her smile in the past few weeks because of the burden of events she is dealing with on a daily basis, most recently around the Russians and Clare Curran respectively.

It looks set to get worse before it gets better.

Some of these problems will fade away, but Winston Peters won’t.

But it is Winston Peters’ ambivalence towards Russia – as evidenced in the coalition agreement to a free trade deal with Russia- which has left the Government exposed to accusations of being ambivalent towards old allies.

There is no great public clamour to show solidarity, or expel a Russian.

But amid the heat on the issue, the Government has lost the narrative because the simple perception is that it has been soft on the Russians because of Peters.

What has gone unnoticed is that in a few short months, any notion of bipartisanship between Labour and National on issues of foreign relations and intelligence matters has been shattered.

Labour and New Zealand First are reaping what they sowed on that score.

They are not quite on the ropes but they will need to show some improvement for Round Two.

Stacey Kirk: Government comedy of errors belies serious questions of credibility

There was always a risk of NZ First-induced migraines when the Prime Minister signed on the dotted line to form a Government with Winston Peters.

And political soothsayers have all had short odds on Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran being one of the weaker links within Labour’s own ranks.

In a triple bill of unnecessary political dramas this week, Jacinda Ardern has been forced to battle two fires that go to the heart of her Government’s transparency and one that has left New Zealand the butt of international jokes. They’ve likely exacted a toll in the currency of Ardern’s political capital.


So the weekend opinion pieces are highlighting a number of warning signs.

There will no doubt be some positives and wins, but there is a danger that Ardern may get bogged down by the growing number of negatives.

Ardern has shown some competence at times, but there are growing concerns her main strength is  PR posing – see Ardern does more homely interviews. That worked for a while, but there is a risk of a glaring gap growing between celebrity style superficiality and decisiveness and strength as a Prime Minister.

Ardern has time to turn things around – she can’t prevent Ministers mucking up but she needs to be seen to be dealing with their messes much better.

She has obvious strengths, but her weaknesses or winning at the moment.


More on the media and murky lobbying in politics

Bryce Edwards has continued to question the relationships between paid lobbyists and politicians, but also points out that relationships between lobbyists and media mean it isn unlikely ton get much exposure.

Political Roundup:  Lifting the lid on lobbying in politics

Recent revelations that a lobbying firm owner and director was recruited to work over summer as Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister, with the expectation he would then immediately return to lobbying, barely raised a mention in our media.

What should have been a major political scandal, was the subject of a must-read investigative report last week on The Spinoff website – see Asher Emanuel’s Conflict of interest concerns over lobbyist turned chief of Jacinda Ardern’s staff. Emanuel’s article is important because it raises unanswered questions about ethics and procedures in the hiring of lobbyists to work for the government.

One explanation for this extraordinary situation going largely unreported, is that Wellington political insiders often operate as a “political class” who are careful not to step on each other’s toes. For the media, in particular, a symbiotic relationship can make it problematic to report on powerful individuals who they depend on for stories and access.

Danyl Mclauchlan earlier this week pointed to a second, very important, factor in why so little public scrutiny had been applied to this lobbyist. He writes, “a jaw-dropping conflict of interest” such as this could have been massive: “If such a thing happened during the Key government there would have been a huge outcry: protests, online petitions, Twitter hashtags, Radio New Zealand flooded with academics lamenting the death of our democracy. Instead there was an indifferent silence” – see: Simon Bridges and the opposition vacuum.

Partly, Mclauchlan attributes this to partisan bias. But, crucially, he suggests that another important component of New Zealand’s “political class” – Parliament’s Opposition – decided not to make the issue a scandal. He says “Most government scandals need opposition leaders asking questions in the house, crafting lines so that the voters can understand what’s happening, providing optics for the TV news, and having their research units breaking new angles to keep the story live. If none of these things happen then there’s no scandal.”

The Opposition is supposed to be a check on Executive power – it’s their job to expose the government’s ethical transgressions such as any misuse of power or willingness to allow conflicts of interest to occur at high levels. So why didn’t National push the issue? According to Mclauchlan: “National has no interest in progressing such a story because they in many ways spent the last nine years acting as a vertically integrated lobbying and fundraising operation, and their former chief of staff is now a consulting partner with the same lobbying firm as Labour’s former chief of staff.”

More here from Edwards:

But with the primary means of holding power to account – the media and the Opposition – both complicit it is unlikely this will be given much scrutiny.

Good on Edwards for having a crack at it. He could be putting his media access at risk.

German government to be formed after nearly six months

Germany held a national election at about the same time New Zealand did last September. After four weeks complaining about Winston Peters holding the country to ransom and playing to his ego an agreement was reached here to form a government.

It has taken five and a half months to reach a coalition agreement in Germany, and a fourth term Merkel led Government should be up and running in a couple of weeks.

Deutsche Welle: Germany’s SPD members approve coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives

More than five months after Germans went to polls in the September 24 national election, Germany will be getting a new government. The final hurdle was cleared when the Social Democratic Party (SPD) rank-and-file sanctioned the coalition deal that party leaders had negotiated with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

Sixty-six percent of party members who voted supported a continuation of the grand coalition, while 34 percent opposed it — a clearer margin than many in the party had expected.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for the SPD,” said acting party Chairman Olaf Scholz. “In the discussion [about the deal], we’ve come closer together. That gives us the strength for the process of renewal we are embarking upon.”

The coalition agreement can now be signed, and the Bundestag will elect Merkel chancellor of Germany for the 19th legislative period. It’s thought the vote will take place on March 14. It will be the third grand coalition in Merkel’s 13 years as German leader, but it only came about after efforts to form a coalition with the Greens and center-right Free Democrats (FDP) failed.

Former SPD Chairman Martin Schulz initially ruled out another grand coalition and was forced to resign after he flip-flopped on the issue. Social Democratic leaders were persuaded to conclude another deal after winning key concessions from Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU), as well as earning consent on these posts from the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The SPD will have control of Germany’s powerful Finance Ministry, among other things.

The decision about whether to form a new partnership with the conservatives divided Social Democrats, many of whom blame the SPD’s participation in grand coalitions for the party’s slide to historic lows in opinion polls.

Minor parties in coalitions have problems retaining support under MMP in Germany too. Voters seem to have little tolerance for parties that are not in a dominant position and therefore can’t  implement many of their preferred policies, but that’s something that can’t be avoided in coalitions.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU)  sanctioned the coalition agreement last week at a party conference. And the chancellor was quick to express her pleasure at Sunday’s announcement.

“I congratulate the SPD  on this clear result and look forward to further cooperation for the welfare of our country,” the CDU tweeted in Merkel’s name.

In a statement, CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer welcomed the Social Democrats’ vote.

“This is a good decision by the SPD and especially for our country,” Kramp-Karrenbauer wrote. “With it, after the conservatives, Social Democrats have declared that they’ll willing to accept responsibility for the country in a joint government.”

There is probably some relief there. The alternative was probably going to the polls again.


Treasury warnings about minimum wage, youth rates

It isn’t surprising to see a warning from Treasury about possible adverse effects of pushing up the minimum wage too much, and of abolishing youth rates.

Stuff: Labour warned if economy turns, minimum wage plans will hit the young and unskilled

Treasury is urging the Government to ditch its plan to abolish the youth rate, warning that minimum wage pledges will hit the prospects of younger, unskilled workers if the economy cools.

Advice from Treasury officials released under the Official Information Act shows Treasury expressing concerns that a commitment to a substantial increase in the minimum could harming the prospects of the very people the rate was meant to protect.

While Treasury explicitly said it supported hiking the minimum wage by 75 cents an hour to $16.50 in April, as the economy and labour market would see little impact, officials warned the three-year plan to get the minimum wage to $20 could have a series of unintended consequences.

These ranged from hurting the local economy in already slow growth regions, the risk that once New Zealand’s minimum wage was on a par with Australia’s, fewer young, low-skilled worker would cross the Tasman for work and that higher minimum wages “has been shown” to attract young people to leave education to enter the workforce.

But the advice provided a key policy challenge for the Labour-led Government, warning that should the economy turn, a world-leading minimum wage would harm young people, so the youth rate, also known as the starting-out rate, should be maintained.

I would replace “should the economy turn” with an inevitable “when the economy turns”.

Treasury said that in economic downturns, employers tended to keep existing workers on without cutting wages, but cut costs by not hiring and employing new staff on lower pay rates.

“This concentrates the minimum wage impact on the groups entering the labour force, like young workers, and those with low skills. The higher proportion of young people on the minimum wage in New Zealand will exacerbate this effect and magnify its impact on youth unemployment.”

“Young workers with low skills are particularly hard hit, and this could impact on those ethnic groups with many young people with low qualifications like Maori and Pacific,” Treasury warned, noting that even during the current buoyant job market, unemployment for young people generally, and especially young Maori and Pacific people, was far higher than for the general population.

There is a problem when unskilled workers remain on low wages.

But many people get onto the employment ladder at minimum wages and youth rates and work their way up.

If those low wage starting opportunities are scrapped it can make it harder for young people and unskilled people to get a start.

Set at 80 per cent of the minimum wage, the youth rate can be paid to workers aged 16-19 in certain conditions including when they first enter the workforce, are coming off a benefit or are in industry training.

Treasury urged the Government to consider maintaining the system, saying it provided “a safety valve in weak economic conditions”.

“We are aware that the starting-out rate is currently not widely used by employers (so currently the consequences on young people of keeping it are low) but it provides a safety-valve of enabling increasing use in an economic downturn.”

Has the Government listened to these warnings?

While Labour has consistently promised that within 12 months of being elected that it would abolish the youth rate, on Saturday Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway was non-committal.

“It’s something that we will include in our policy development and we will work with our Government partners on.”

Or is this another case of walking a different walk to their campaign talk?


Is a list leaning Government an issue?

Does it matter that the Government has more list MPs that electorate MPs?


Interesting, but does it matter?

NZ Govt consists of 34 List MP’s & 29 electorate MPs.

Opposition consists 15 List MP’s & 42 electorate MPs.

All MPs have equal voting status within the parliament.

I don’t think that in general that proportion – more list MPS in government than electorate MPs – should matter.

Many people, I think, look upon electorate MPs as real MPs representing an electorate and List MPs as second class. But in honesty, with whips/party discipline, all MPs put their Party first.

I think of more interest is Government has two list only parties. There is potentially a democratic issue with them, if each of NZ First and Green MPs tend to engage within their party bubbles, dealing with a narrow range of political views and preferences.

Electorate MPs,  having to deal with constituents from across the political spectrum through electorate office inquiries and public engagements, are more likely to be in touch with a more diverse range of people.

I don’t know if this is an issue of concern or not. It depends on how the list MPs work and engage.

A nine year Government?

Some people seem confident that we have the beginnings of another nine year Government. I presume this is based on the MMP record of two nine year Governments, one led by Helen Clark and Labour, the other led by John Key and Bill English and National.

That doesn’t automatically mean the pattern will be repeated. Many factors, some we know and many we don’t, will come into play with the current government.

It should be remembered that while Labour ‘won’ a second term easily in 2002 (National under English collapsed), but  Labour came very close to losing in 2005 after a controversial campaign.

And National got a second term reasonably comfortably they only just had the numbers to form a third term government. After the loss of the Northland by-election in the third term they relied on the support of all of ACT, NZ First and the Maori Party to complete the term.

What are the chances that Labour will lead Government until 2026? Of course it’s possible, but there will be many challenges.

Partner parties

It is generally accepted that governments lose elections. So much will depend on how Labour performs, and importantly, how NZ First and the Greens perform.

There’s a real chance that NZ First could miss the threshold, they are currently polling under it. There’s also the big question about whether Winston Peters will keep leadingh the party or not, and if he doesn’t who will replace him.

The Greens have their own challenges. They just survived a threshold scare in last year’s election. They have already annoyed some voters for u-turning in some policies to prop up Labour-NZ First. And they have a leadership contest to deal with over the next few months.

While Labour might still be prominent at the next two elections there are big question marks over their partner parties.

The economy

It is also accepted that a sound or booming economy makes it less likely a governing part will be replaced. The economy is currently in very good shape after a solid recovery from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. This means the current government has money available to fulfil some of their promises at least – for now.

The odds are that in the five or so years before the next two elections the world economy will turn to custard, as periodically happens. This will impact on New Zealand and the Government.

Labour last governed for nine years through boom times, apart from the Dot Com crash early on, with the GFC right at the end of their third term. National started with major financial challenges but gradually improved things throughout their term.

The odds must be that the economy will hiccup some time within the next eight and a half years.

Jacinda Ardern

Ardern is the Government’s biggest asset, along with the adulating media. The challenges of leading the country will be enough on their own to put pressure on Ardern continuing at the top, but this is complicated somewhat by her pregnancy.

Ardern may well deal with giving birth and becoming a mother with the aplomb she has shown since becoming leader. Many women transition to motherhood with ease and  manage to continue in their careers.

But having a first child is life changing for mothers, to varying degrees. Ardern my manage fine for a while, but at some stage may choose to put family first.

She will be under huge pressure due to the media and public attention being given to her pregnancy, and that is likely to increase once she has a baby.

If Ardern steps down at some stage Labour may continue leading the government seamlessly under a new leader, but that could also break a bubble of positive support.


National not only have to rebuild, they also need to choose a new leader. It will be some time before we see how this pans out.

If the economy goes well and Ardern does well and Labour doesn’t stuff up too much and the coalition and support party partners hold together, then National may have to twiddle their fingers waiting for their turn.

If the current Government hiccups then National will need to look ready to step in again.

How National manages the transition to a new generation leadership will matter. It’s obviously too soon to tell.

The unpredictable

There is a lot that’s unpredictable, as well as Ardern’s situation.

Will Peters resign? Will his health hold out? He will be 75 years old in 2020 when the second term election is due, and 78 years old when the 2023 third term election is due.

Any number of current MPs could resign – or lose their seats in 2020.  There are new MPs this term that may become leadership contenders next term.

There is far too much that’s unpredictable to have any idea whether Labour will lead a one term, two term, three term or four term government. And it’s even more unpredictable whether NZ First or Greens will last the distance with them.

How long the current government will last is purely guesswork, and a stab in the dark at that.

Those who assume a three term government with the same party composition are wishful thinkers. There is nothing of substance to support or guarantee a nine year claim.

Labour spin 100 day achievements

Slight irony here, but journalist Lloyd Burr (Newshub) is annoyed about Labour’s 100-day embellishment

It’s not a revelation that politicians embellish their achievements. It’s less usual to see journalists criticising rather than repeating their PR.

An email arrived into my inbox a few days ago with the subject line “We did this!”. It was from Labour, about its 100-day plan.


The email claimed the plan had been completed. And it mostly has. Mostly.

But the subject line didn’t read ‘We mostly did this!’. It shouted from the rooftop how Labour had proven itself in government.

It talked about how it had done what it had promised to do. It used words like “delivered”, “achieved” and “commitment”.

That’s called spin. It has massaged the truth. Massaged its promises. Embellished what has really happened in 100 days.

Burr details What Labour Has Not Achieved:

1. “Ban overseas speculators from buying existing houses”

It hasn’t banned them yet. It has just introduced a Bill that will ban them, but that Bill is months off from becoming law.

2. “Introduce legislation to make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain”

It has introduced changes to the law regarding medicinal cannabis, but those changes are minor and conservative. It won’t make products available to terminally ill and chronically ill patients. It will just prevent them from being prosecuted. The Prime Minister admits she would’ve liked more changes – but New Zealand First’s conservatism meant she couldn’t change the law properly.

3. “Hold a Clean Waters Summit on cleaning up our rivers and lakes”

This never happened. Winston Peters vetoed it.

4. “Set the zero carbon emissions goal and begin setting up the independent Climate Commission”

The target has not been set and it hasn’t begun setting up the independent Climate Commission. All that’s been announced is a period of public consultation on what the target should be and how the commission would be structured.

Other claimed ‘achievements’ are also debatable – the Government has set up inquiries and commissions as listed in  Taking action in our 100 day plan:

  • Begin work to establish the Affordable Housing Authority and begin the KiwiBuild programme
  • Set up a Ministerial Inquiry in order to fix our mental health crisis
  • Establish the Tax Working Group
  • Establish the Pike River Recovery Agency and assign a responsible Minister
  • Set up an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care

The Government has done what they said what they would do, but these are only starting points and there is no guarantee they will achieve much if anything in this term of government.

Some of those issues were promoted as needing urgent attention when Labour was in opposition. Now they have to wait until the Authority/Inquiry/Working Group/Agency report back to the Government, then the Government needs to decide what they will do, then they have to do it (if they can get it through Parliament).

Nine of the seventeen pledges are either not achieved or far from being achieved.


Treasury admits ‘child poverty’ forecast error

Quantifying the number of children in poverty has always been contentious, with a variety of measures being made. There have been political claims of both overstating and trying to ignore the problem.

Now Treasury admits blunder over child poverty

The number of children to be lifted out of poverty by the Government’s Families Package is likely to be less than previously forecast because of an embarrassing blunder by Treasury.

The Treasury had projected that 88,000 fewer children would be in poverty by 2021 using the a particular poverty measure (defined as living in a household with an income less than 50 per cent of median equivalised household income before deducting housing costs).

But owing to a coding error, it no longer stands by that projection.

However it will not have a new projection until the second half of February, Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf said.

“This is a deeply regrettable mistake and I apologise for it on behalf of the Treasury,” he said.

“The Treasury holds itself to high standards and I’m disappointed to have not me those standards here.”

He also said that the error applied equally to comparisons with the previous Government’s Family Incomes Package and so the estimated relative impact of the two packages was essentially the same.

The Treasury had projected that National’s package would have lifted 49,000 children out of poverty by the same measure by the same time.

“The error likely led to an overstatement of the projected impact both packages would have on the reduction of child poverty, Makhlouf said.

The Government was told about the error on Monday.

The revelation comes just two weeks before the introduction of child poverty reduction legislation, the flagship bill of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction.

It won’t affect the bill itself which will require Governments to set and monitor poverty measures – but it will almost certainly affect debate around it.

I doubt this will change much if anything of Government aims and intentions, but it shows how difficult it can be to measure real levels of hardship.