Labour fundraising in private clubs

Labour tried to make a big deal about some National fundraising, but they seem to be doing the same sort of thing, and are looking like they have been caught with their hands in the biscuit jar.

Stuff in 2014: Does Cabinet Club buy influence?

Party funding is back under the spotlight after two ministers ran into trouble over their links with wealthy donors amid revelations National operates a ‘Cabinet Club’ offering access to top ministers in exchange for cash.

Last week National’s $1000-plus Cabinet Club dinners were in the gun, though there were counter-accusations, laced with claims of hypocrisy, that Labour offered chinwags with MPs for $1250 a pop.

The Greens have had a couple of stabs at greater transparency. The first, through Sue Kedgley’s Lobbyists Register Bill, has lapsed. Now the Greens are pressing for a ministerial disclosure regime. Co-leader Dr Russel Norman estimates John Key had raised more than $1 million from his “club” appearances.

“John Key claims the Cabinet Club is part of the normal political donations process. Cash for access to the inner circle of the Government is not normal,” Norman said. “It is democracy for sale.”

National MP Tau Henare says the Left is trying to curb National’s fundraising ability because it is jealous National can raise more. And National president Peter Goodfellow insists there is no quid pro quo for donations.

Newshub in April 2017: Labour launches exclusive ‘President’s Club’

The Labour Party has launched an exclusive secret society called The President’s Club for those who donate big bucks to the party.

It opened for business two weeks ago, with the primary role of luring in big cheques from wealthy Labour supporters.

It’s Labour’s version of National’s Cabinet Club, which sees exorbitantly-priced tickets sold for exclusive dinners attended by Cabinet ministers of the Crown.

Labour president Nigel Haworth says The President’s Club differs from Cabinet Club because Labour MPs aren’t involved, and aren’t used to lure in donations in exchange for access.

But Labour are charging big bucks, and using Ministers as an attraction. Stuff yesterday: Labour hosts business and lobbyists at $600-a-head dinners in exclusive private clubs

Finance Minister Grant Robertson gave a post-Budget speech at a $600-a-head Labour fundraiser at the exclusive Wellington Club, drawing comparisons to the previous National Government’s “Cabinet club” scandal.

According to several attendees, about 40 people, including party supporters, business figures and corporate lobbyists, attended the dinner hosted by Labour president Nigel Haworth on Wednesday, at which Robertson was the key

The Cabinet manual states: “holding ministerial office is regarded as a full-time occupation and is remunerated as such. Accordingly … accepting additional payment for doing anything that could be regarded as a ministerial function is not permissible”.

This means that if Robertson was attending in his ministerial capacity, rather than as an MP, Labour would be unable to use the event as a fundraiser.

Labour dance on the head of an MP pin…

…but get pinged for it.

Labour’s fiscal plan was never realistic

Labour campaigned with a fiscal plan last year, and it was the centre of a controversial claim by Steven Joyce that demonstrated an $11b fiscal ‘hole’.

The reality is that the fiscal plan was not a plan as it could never have been implemented – there was virtually no chance of Labour governing alone. And this is Labour’s excuse for budgeting $12b more than specified in their plan, the cost of governing arrangements with other parties.

This is an obvious reality of single party campaign policies in an MMP environment where single parties have never governed alone, so it may be more a problem of how parties (and media) portray campaign policies.

NZH: Labour’s first Budget vs its campaign plan: Does it match up?

A comparison of Labour’s campaign fiscal plan with its first Budget shows things are not tracking quite as Labour planned during the campaign, something it put down to its coalition agreements and higher costs than expected.

Analysis by NZ Herald data journalist Keith Ng shows total Crown spending is forecast to be almost $12.5 billion higher over the five years to 2021/22 than Labour forecast in the “fiscal plan” it campaigned on in the last election.

That takes it to $24 billion more than National had planned over that period.

Labour campaigned on its fiscal plan against criticism from National that it had not allowed enough to cover the costs of its policies as well as increases in Government spending such as wage increases.

The higher spending also indicates the cost of securing the support of NZ First and the Green Party was higher than Labour allowed for in its fiscal plan and some policies were costing more than expected.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Budget should not be compared to Labour’s fiscal plan because it was based on Labour Party policy while the Budget reflected the Government arrangement with NZ First and the Greens.

In one way that’s a fair claim by Robertson. Labour was never likely to govern alone.

But did Robertson make it clear that his fiscal plan was not a plan?

He could not know which parties Labour may combine with to form a Government. But he must have known his fiscal plan would never remain intact in an MMP government, and should have expressed it with that clear proviso.

Will this happen next election? It’s likely to be glossed over again, or at least Labour may try that, but having been in Government with two other parties it should be much harder to get away with.

Unless Labour campaigns with the expectation that NZ First and Greens will miss the cut and won’t impact on Labour’s fiscal plan.

 

 

 

Q&A – Robertson and Adams on the budget

Both the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson and the Opposition spokesperson in finance, Amy Adams, will be interviewed on Q&A this morning.

Robertson was competent on the Nation yesterday but could be pushed more by Corin Dann.

National seemed all over the place in their criticisms of a budget that was widely viewed as not much different to what a National budget might have been. It will be interesting to see Adams’ approach now.

Are you ditching neoliberalism? “…looking to transform the basis of our economy”.

The government isn’t going to get bigger. It’s going to get smarter.

Fiscal discipline emphasised by Robertson. Transforming in a deliberate and planned way, in contrast to the rapid reform in the 1980s.

What about dealing with the so called crises? Cites health rebuilding, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Child poverty? Robertson thinks they will make a big difference, citing $75 per week from the families package, due to kick in on 1 July.

Working poor? He only mentions help for families, not workers with no dependant children. No holding to account on this.

Budget “a ringing endorsement of the Defence Force from the Coalition Government”

It is notable that this refers to ‘Coalition Government’ – Greens are not a part of the coalition. While NZ First and Grant Robertson have tried to talk up the Defence budget it has been described as “money for a frigate upgrade cost overrun, some joint training and another 800 LSV trainees”.

Minister of Defence Ron Mark talked up the budget allocation for the Defence Force.

Enhancing Defence Force capability

New Zealand’s Defence Force can continue making meaningful contributions to global security and peacekeeping efforts, and respond effectively to events like natural disasters, as a result of Budget 2018 funding, says Defence Minister Ron Mark.

Budget 2018 provides a $367.7 million operating funding boost to the Defence and Veterans portfolios over the next four years, underpinned by an extra $324.1 million for the New Zealand Defence Forces’ operating budget. In addition, Budget 2018 provides $42.3 million in new capital funding for modernisation.

“The extra funding is going to go a long way towards helping the Defence Force meet increasing demand across a range of tasks,” Ron Mark says.

“The funding announced today is also a huge win for conservation, the environment and fisheries protection.

Alongside the increase of $324.1 million in the Defence Force operating budget, Budget 2018 also sees:

  • $41.3 million additional capital investment for the first tranche of investment under the Defence Estate Regeneration Programme Plan
  • an additional $22.6 million operating funding over the next four years and $1.0 million capital funding for the Defence Force to deliver the enhanced Limited Service Volunteer programme (supported by a related investment of $4.2 million over the next four years for the Ministry of Social Development to administer the programme)
  • as announced earlier, $1.1 million in grants to the Royal New Zealand Returned & Services Association (RSA) and No Duff Charitable Trust over the next four years to support the services they provide to veterans – $250,000 for the RSA and $25,000 for No Duff Charitable Trust annually (This initiative was announced before Budget Day.)
  • $6.3 million in 2018/19 for the repatriation of the remains of service personnel and their dependents for those buried overseas since 1955
  • $13.6 million over the next four years set aside for new capabilities.

“This is a ringing endorsement of the Defence Force from the Coalition Government. It recognises the value it provides New Zealand and its meaningful contributions to peace and security around the world,” says Ron Mark.

Defence got a few mentions in the budget speeches in parliament on Thursday.

Grant Robertson:

New Zealand’s Defence Force will be able to make more meaningful contributions to global security and peacekeeping, and better respond to natural disasters, with a $345 million operating funding boost to the Defence and Veterans portfolios over the next four years, including, in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development, funding to expand the Limited Service Volunteer programme for young people under 25.

It didn’t rate a mention from Simon Bridges

Winston Peters:

Can I just say it was clear as daylight that the National Party had been hiding the costing—$20 billion, for example, when it comes to the Defence Force, was a fiscal risk. It wasn’t even budgeted for. Then he had a frigate that was overrun by, and costing, $148 million, and they kept it quiet from the public from July last year all the way to election day.

We’ve got, for example, the things that also matter in defence. That’s a substantial boost in a critical area, which means that our defence capacity in the Pacific—so desperately needed by so many Pacific Islands and by the Pacific itself—can now show up responsibly.

That’s it.

However on his ‘National Security’ blog Simon Ewing Jarvie is quite scathing.

Politics, Defence & Budget 2018

The political fate of New Zealand’s Defence rests in two simple questions. The first is how important defence is in the scheme of the current government’s political priorities and the second is how much influence the current Defence Minister has.

Take a look at past behaviour of Government parties as an indicator of the future. Labour’s choices have often seen a reduction in combat capability – think air combat force for example. NZ First talks tough but, when in coalition with National, vetoed the acquisition of the second two ANZAC frigates. At least the Greens are up front in their disarmament desires.

It is clear that Defence is not a high priority for this Government. That’s concerning because there are some important decisions to be made about platform replacement. Good ministers can get money for their portfolios. Putting aside this year’s abysmal budget result, how is Ron Mark placed in the machinery of Government?

First, the general view is that Ron, Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson aren’t exactly drinking buddies so there’s not likely to be any favours done for Defence in that department. The relationship between NZ First and Greens is toxic at the best of times and Defence is right in the middle of that.

I can’t see Ron Mark and Golriz Ghahraman (Green’s Defence Spokesperson) nutting out an accord over a herbal tea anytime soon.

So that brings it back to how Ron is able to leverage NZ First’s support for the Government. Unfortunately, Ron Mark’s star, within his own party, appears to be waning. Were it not, Peters wouldn’t have stood back and let Fletcher Tabuteau roll Mark as Deputy Leader. NZ First got heaps of concessions out of Labour in Budget 2018 but they weren’t going to die in a ditch for Ron Mark or Defence. It’s unlikely that anything is going to change there.

For all the bold election campaign statements by NZ First, Ron Mark got money for a frigate upgrade cost overrun, some joint training and another 800 LSV trainees.

He highlights a lowlight:

$148 million over four years is listed as a new initiative. It is actually the value of the cost overrun for the ANZAC frigate upgrade so it’s not generating any capability that wasn’t already signed up to.

Not only is this not new spending, it’s actually caused a degradation in other Defence capability development. That’s because as part of their ‘kiss and make up’ exercise, the MOD agreed to reduce the specs on the new littoral operations vessel from a purpose-built military specification to a commercially available hydrographic and dive support vessel to ‘save’ a similar amount of money. In December, Mark attacked the previous Government over the frigates saying “it means the lives of men and women were now being compromised”. How can he possibly reconcile that with sending sailors into threat zones in a vessel not designed for self-defence and survivability? You can’t paint it grey and call it a warship.

Grey lipstick on a war pig.

The bulk of the money allocated for acquisition to MOD is for the construction of the new maritime sustainment vessel, HMNZS Aotearoa. Apart from a few legacy projects, there is nothing for the big ticket items listed in the 2016 Defence White Paper.

Finally, but very important, is personnel costs. These are currently about $1b of the cost of running defence. Is there, in effect, a pay freeze? Or, will the operating funds have to be used to retain ‘he tangata’. NZ First campaigned on this and has delivered nothing.

Don’t forget, also, about the ‘drag’ that capital charge and depreciation is having on NZDF’s funds.

 

 

 

 

 

The Nation – Grant Robertson a financial asset

The Nation digs into the budget with an interview of Finance Minister Grant Robertson, plus ‘a closer look at the numbers’ with CTU Economist Bill Rosenberg.

(The nation is now officially called ‘Newshub Nation’, I’m not a fan of this because it’s supposed to be about the nation, not a media company) .

There seems to have been more criticism of the budget from the left than from the right, if you ignore Nationals fairly lame scatter gun attempts to sound like they oppose a budget that is barely any different to their past budgets.

Discussing all these stories and more will be our panel: Newshub’s Political Editor , Newsroom Pro Managing Editor , Sandra Grey from the Tertiary Education Union and former National Party General Manager Chris Simpson.

Tertiary education got little out of the budget, hence I presume the inclusion of Grey.


A good interview for Robertson I think he shows a lot of promise. He almost looks and sounds like a younger version of Steven Joyce.

He has had long enough in Parliament, first as a staffer and now nearly ten years as an MP, to build a lot of experience as a politician.

He has also had the benefit of being able to focus on the Finance portfolio since 2014. He showed in the interview an in depth knowledge of his portfolio and the decisions he and the Government have made.

He has started fairly cautiously and conservatively, with promises of transformation down the track. It all looks very sensible.

Prime Minister Ardern has attracted most of the media attention, but the critical work of the Government to date looks like having been done by Robertson. To me he comes across much better and more credibly than Ardern, but I tend to dislike celebrity/personality fluff.

I’m sure the interview will be dissected and Newshub will come up with a headline for the;r ‘news’ tonight, but my overall impression of Robertson is very good, he looks like he could be a very capable Minister of Finance for at least the next two years, and if Labour learns from and leans on his example they could easily stretch out for another term or two as well.

It’s still early days for Labour in power, but Robertson could turn out to be one of their biggest assets – and potentially, the country’s.

Newshub: Interview

Transcript: The Nation: Finance Minister Grant Robertson

 

A reasonable first budget for Labour

As Minister of Finance Grant Robertson was fortunate to inherit a healthy economy and a growing surplus to play with.

From what I’ve seen (I was busy yesterday and only caught bits of the budget details) it was a generally prudent and predictable budget. Big dollops of dosh had already been committed in last year’s ‘mini budget’, so this was more of an incremental addition.

Health and education  got reasonable increases, but nothing dramatic – National claim some increases are no more than they increased in their last budget. That isn’t a bad thing.

The budget has been described as ‘the first step in a plan for transformation’ – it is really only a beginning in most respects. Much will depend how the economy goes over the next couple of years and how the results of the many working groups and advisory committees pan out. There seems nothing revolutionary about the Government at this stage.

I’d like to see a bold reform of the whole tax and benefit system, and with healthy books it is a good time to do something, but it is probably too seen for the Government to get to grips with major changes – and the IRD computer system in particular couldn’t cope anyway until it is replaced.

Labour have been criticised for reneging on some of their promises – fair comments but no big deal.

While money has been spread around there is still a big miss – middle New Zealand, ordinary working people who don’t have dependant children. They have had their tax cuts whipped away from them and as far as I have seen will get little direct benefit.

Overall it seems to be an ok first budget. The degree of transformation won’t become apparent until next year’s budget, and the election year budget after that.

Media and some politicians try to make dramatics out of budgets but in the main they should be predictable and boring, so this one has been a success.

Budget highlights – foundation for the future

The budget is more of a preparatory budget rather than the claimed transformative budget – but Minister of Finance Grant Robertson acknowledges that. Here is his summary of the 2018 budget.


Foundations for the future

Health, education, housing and other critical public services receive overdue investments today, says Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

“Our public services have been underfunded for too long and there has been a failure to appropriately plan for the future. That changes today,” says Grant Robertson.

“Budget 2018 begins the economic and social transformation that must happen if New Zealanders are to have better lives in the decades to come.

“The Coalition Government is rebuilding the critical services Kiwis expect their government to provide – modern hospitals, classrooms kids can learn in, public housing for those who need it, efficient transport systems and safe communities.

“Budget 2018 makes responsible investments for the future, while delivering a surplus of more than $3 billion and taking a responsible approach to debt reduction.

“We are committed to living within our means and having a buffer to deal with the risks and shocks that a small country like New Zealand inevitably faces.

“The Government’s plan is fully funded within the operating and capital allowances we have set for this and future Budgets. We have been able to increase the allowances slightly because economic growth is forecast to be stronger than was expected before the election, by cracking down on tax avoidance, by reprioritising spending to reflect the Coalition Government’s priorities and with our more balanced debt track.

“We are committed to being responsible – not just fiscally but socially and environmentally. This Government is preparing our country for the future by making sure its foundations are strong and sustainable,” says Grant Robertson.

Highlights of Budget 2018:

  • Health receives a huge boost with $3.2 billion more in operating funding over the next four years and $850 million new capital – including $750 million to tackle some of hospitals’ most urgent building problems, the biggest capital injection in health in at least the last decade.
  • This Budget commits to free doctors’ visits for everyone under the age of 14 – an extra 56,000 of our young people from the current policy. We are extending very low-cost general practitioner (GP) visits to all Community Services Card holders and extending the Card to all Housing New Zealand tenants and New Zealanders who receive an accommodation supplement or income-related rent subsidy. This will make going to the GP cheaper by up to $30 for the 540,000 people eligible for the Card.
  • Elective surgery, maternity services, air ambulances and the National Bowel Screening Programme are among the health services receiving extra funding.
  • New capital funding will build schools and hundreds of new classrooms. Operating funding for education over the next four years increases by $1.6 billion to address rising demand, fund 1,500 more teachers and raise teacher-aide funding. Early childhood education gets a $590.2 million operating boost over four years, benefiting over 200,000 children. A total of $284 million goes to Learning Support to allow every child with special education needs and learning difficulties to better participate in school life.
  • Housing is boosted by more than $634 million in operating funds. We will increase public housing by over 6,000 homes over the next four years, provide more transitional housing and help for the homeless and offer grants for insulation and heating.

“This Government is placing the wellbeing of people at the centre of all its work,” says Grant Robertson.

“We are also building strong foundations for a more productive and sustainable economy. Budget 2018 allocates $1 billion over four years to encourage business innovation through a research and development incentive. We are supporting and growing our regions through the $1 billion-per-year Provincial Growth Fund and investing $100 million into a Green Investment Fund to help our economy’s transition.

“We are promoting a progressive and inclusive trade agenda. Our tax system will be fairer and more balanced to encourage investment in the productive economy.

“This Government is looking ahead to the next 30 years. We are managing our economy responsibly and providing the critical public services we need to build foundations for our future,” says Grant Robertson.

Budget day

Grant Robertson will present the first Labour-NZ First-Green budget today. It is a big test for Robertson and Labour in particular.

All three parties have been playing the PR game in advance.

Most of the budget will be mundane business as usual.

Some things will probably be laudable. Some will be debatable. And critics will criticise.

And then we will have to wait months if not years to see what the effects are – some will be positive, some negative.

And for most of us life will go on regardless.

National debt on track to approach 100% of GDP by 2028

National debt is currently running at about 77% of Gross Domestic Product, and is on track to reach 100% of GDP in ten years. This, of course, is in the US.

Reuters: Republican tax cuts to fuel historic U.S. deficits

The deficit – the amount that Washington’s spending exceeds its revenues – will expand to $804 billion in fiscal 2018, which ends on Sept. 30, up from $665 billion in fiscal 2017, CBO said.

The national debt is on track to approach 100 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2028, said the nonpartisan CBO, which analyzes legislation for Congress.

“That amount is far greater than the debt in any year since just after World War II,” CBO said, adding that the debt is now about 77 percent of GDP, a measure of the size of the economy.

The Republican tax legislation, passed by Congress without Democratic support, along with a recent bipartisan $1.3 trillion spending package, are expected to drive economic growth faster than initially expected, CBO said.

The analysis “confirms that major damage was done” by the new tax law and the spending bill, said Michael Peterson, head of the nonpartisan Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

“This high and rising debt matters because it harms our economy,” said Peterson, whose group backs fiscal conservatism.

“During a time of low unemployment and economic expansion, we should be taking reasonable steps to put our debt on a sustainable path – but instead we are piling up trillions of bills,” he said.

The debt picture is quite quite different in New Zealand. For last year’s election campaign Labour made a commitment to continue reducing debt as a percentage of GDP to 20%, albeit taking two years longer than National’s promise.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has just re-confirmed this commitment.


Question No. 3—Finance

3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Is he committed to reducing core Crown net debt to 20 percent of GDP by 30 June 2022?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): This Government is committed to reducing core Crown net debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years of taking office, as indicated in the Speech from the Throne. In the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU), core Crown net debt is forecast to reach 19.3 percent of GDP by 30 June 2022.

This is despite he and Jacinda Ardern sounding alarm at a number of apparently sudden crises claiming underfunding of ‘core services’. Instead of borrowing at near record low interest rates to fund urgent infrastructure repairs and rebuilding Labour will steadfastly lower New Zealand

Hon Amy Adams: So to maintain his debt-to-GDP anchor, why won’t he tell New Zealand which of the Government’s stated commitments and expectations he has raised around teachers’ and nurses’ pay will now have to be dialled back because he’s now simply realised that he’s already run out of money?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member will just have to wait until 17 May, but what I can be absolutely clear about is that this Government understands the importance of a balance between a prudent fiscal approach and making the investments we need to undo the social and infrastructure deficits left to us by the previous Government.

Hon Amy Adams: Can he confirm that the additional Government revenue available to him for the current year alone, tracked from the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update projections to the Crown accounts to the end of February, is in fact an additional $700 million?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member has been paying attention to the monthly statements from Treasury. The final forecasts are still to be done. What’s important to remember, though, is it’s not so much about how much extra revenue might be available to this Government; it’s about what the last Government didn’t do with the revenue that it had.

Hon Amy Adams: Can he also confirm that the HYEFU shows additional tax revenue over the next four years from that which was predicted in the pre-election update is $6.6 billion more?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There is indeed money available to be spent, and this Government will invest that wisely in making sure that we invest in health and education and housing, not the priorities of the previous Government, which were tax cuts slanted towards the most wealthy.


So debt levels are relatively low, interest rates are very low, Ardern and Robertson have started claiming there are a number of suddenly discovered crises due to lack of funding of core services and infrastructure, but the need is not urgent enough to relax their debt lowering targets at all.

There seems to be confusing signals here.

Newsroom: Labour’s budget rules are holding it back

It’s a very strange political alignment when the trade union movement and Matthew Hooton are in agreement. But that’s what has happened over the past week, with both the Council of Trade Unions and the right-wing political commentator speaking out against the government’s continued insistence on adhering to its Budget Responsibility Rules.

These rules are a self-imposed agreement between Labour and the Greens – signed before the election – to reduce core government expenditure to below 30 per cent of GDP, and to reduce government debt to 20 per cent of GDP by 2022. The upshot of this is the Labour-led government has largely adopted the National Party’s fiscal policies, embracing an austerity-style approach to spending. It means they can’t afford to fund adequately housing, healthcare, workers in the state sector, and public infrastructure in general.

The CTU has been unusually outspoken in criticising Labour’s continued adherence to these austerity rules. President Richard Wagstaff questioned whether the government would be able to deal with the crumbling state of public assets, and whether state servants’ need for pay increases would be properly met.

Although some will write off such criticism simply because it comes from the union movement, it’s worth noting that Matthew Hooton also thinks adherence to the conservative fiscal policy is unnecessary and will cause Labour problems. He’s written a column in the NZ Herald suggesting the Prime Minister and her Finance Minister should “more confidently own Labour’s commitment to higher spending and begin the process of gently stretching out the debt reduction target.”

Labour are being questioned quite widely on their current stance.

Stronger leadership required from Ardern as Government wobbles

It has been a wobbly few weeks for the Government, with problems and embarrassments involving all parties, Labour, NZ First and the Greens. A common factor is what looks like weak leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has supported her own faltering MPs and dismissed problems from her support party ministers, saying mistakes will be made and they just need to be learnt from.

RNZ: Govt ‘will try to weed out mistakes’ – Ardern

Jacinda Ardern said mistakes will happen from time to time.

“With all of these cases they are, within context, issues that easily occur when you have an extraordinary amount of workflow coming through”.

“We will try to weed out mistakes wherever they may occur and prevent them from happening.”

“Ministers of all stripes make mistakes we’ve just got to make sure we correct them quickly.”

To an extent she is right, mistakes will happen and they need to be corrected – but too many mistakes are surfacing in a short period of time. The Government (and Ardern) risk an air of incompetence taking hold.

The most prominent mistake maker recently has been Clare Curran, who has featured in a lot of news for two weeks now. And it may not be the end of it yet, if RNZ’s Richard Griffin is forced to hand over a phone call recording.

ODT editorial: Fuller explanation needed from Curran

Ms Curran had nine years of Opposition in which to formulate her strategy in her much-beloved broadcasting and communications roles. Her role in open government and transparency was expected to pave the way for easier access to official information.

However, this has not been the case.

Ms Curran has survived in her job, despite at first not owning up to what was a planned, rather than casual, meeting.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accepted Ms Curran’s explanation she was not seeking to undermine the RNZ chairman Richard Griffin, a National Party appointee, or chief executive Paul Thompson.

New Zealanders are still in the dark about exactly what Ms Curran was planning.

It behoves Ms Curran to  set the full record straight. She seems to be hiding details, and a senior RNZ executive has resigned. Ms Ardern has been tolerant and could well have made an example of Ms Curran.

Unless she takes some firm action before she takes maternity leave, the situation may become even worse when NZ First leader Winston Peters takes over as prime minister in her absence.

The ODT also points out other problems:

Ms Ardern is being badly let down by those around her. Apart from Ms Curran, New Zealand First ministers Shane Jones and Ron Mark have been called to account for their comments or actions. The Green Party Minister for Women, Julie Ann Genter called for old white men to make way in boardrooms. And the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Dr Alan Freeth was called before a select committee to talk about his interactions with Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

More from Stuff’s Below the beltway: The week in politics

Down

Clare Curran

The Prime Minister is maintaining she is still confident in Curran, and to Curran’s credit she’s continued to front the media to discuss the ongoing RNZ saga. But calling board chair Richard Griffin – even if the call was as innocent as she claims – about his select committee appearance smacks of political interference. It was also a great way to give legs to a story that was beginning to die out.

Phil Twyford

Twyford is one of the more reliable ministers to deliver wins, but his big transport re-alignment was badly signalled and badly managed. By announcing the excise tax increase as “10c over three years” – instead of “3c a year for three years, just continuing what the last guys were doing” – he handed the opposition an easy attack line. Combining this news with the ambitious transport plan just meant the actual transport plan got lost in the conversation.

Eugenie Sage

Sage is another minister one doesn’t expect to see in trouble very often. But emailing the head of the crown entity a critical opinion piece about their chief scientist with the subject line “great article” is a good way to get yourself into trouble, especially if the opposition found out. Giving Nick Smith a chance to look good attacking you is quite an achievement.

Add to that the Young Labour camp sexual harassment allegations – any inquiry into that may be reported on while Ardern is off-duty, with it being likely the Party management will try to handle outside of the parliamentary wing.

So there are a lot of mistakes to be corrected – and there is no clear sign that that is happening. Ardern is increasingly looking like more talk than action.

As has been mentioned, she is planning on stepping aside in June for six weeks when she has her baby. That’s just two months away, with her government’s first budget due out in later May. A lot will be riding on how that is presented and how their spending plans shape up.

And there is no guarantee that the baby will wait until June. Ardern has a busy life, which raises risks of stress, pregnancy complications and possibly an early birth.

One would hope that a Prime Minister could step aside for any reason and the Government would keep functioning without any problems, but it’s hard to have confidence this will be the case.

Winston Peters will take over as Acting Prime Minister. He has been a problem for Ardern over his odd motives over Russia. Three of his MPs have featured in the wobbles – Ron Mark, Jenny Marcroft and especially Shane Jones, plus an unnamed Minister (alleged to be involved in the Marcroft incident). Peters has been just trivialising these problems.

There are more weaknesses in Labour below Ardern. Kelvin Davis has been virtually anonymous as deputy since he made a mess of supporting Ardern during the campaign last year. He also has to make what is likely to be an unpopular decision soon on a new prison to cope with growing numbers locked up.

Robertson will be busy before and after his first budget, and is yet to prove himself.

The only Labour MP I can think of with sufficient experience and credibility to step up is David Parker, and as Minister of Trade he spends a lot of his time travelling around the world.

So Labour and the Government are looking weak, almost out of their depth in turbulent water, and especially given the ongoing revelations of mistakes they are vulnerable to falling from favour.

Ardern needs to show some stronger leadership, and hope that in her absence not too many mistakes are made.

We may get through this ok, but at the moment the Government wobbles are looking worrying, with a real risk wheels may fall off.