Ardern in hospital, Peters acting Prime Minister

Winston Peters is now acting Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern has gone into hospital so all going will will have her baby today or possibly tomorrow. A night time admission suggests natural labour has begun. I wish Ardern, her baby and her partner Gayford well.

The PM and party leaders don’t usually attend Parliament on Thursdays,. It will be interesting to see whether Peters is there – there is likely to be some sort of mention, depending on when the baby arrives.

There will be a question time (Oral Questions) today.

I am sure media will make a lot of announcements in the meantime.

RNZ: Winston Peters is in charge: His duties explained

The Prime Minister’s Office is on the ninth floor of the Beehive, where her staff will remain. Mr Peters is currently on the seventh floor and that’s where he and his staff will stay during the six weeks, working in close contact with the PMO.

She however will not be completely removing herself from the role, and will continue to receive all Cabinet papers and Cabinet committee papers, which means she can keep an eye on everything getting signed off at the highest level.

Ms Ardern wrote formally to Mr Peters last month outlining her expectations of their respective roles.

In the event of something of “significant political, strategic or public interest, or national security”, Ms Ardern would be consulted and involved in major decisions that might be needed.

Mr Peters will run the “day to day” business of the government, that includes the prime minister’s media and public engagements, chairing Cabinet and fronting Parliament’s question time.

He will be limited by decisions made by the Labour dominated Cabinet and then of course Parliament, which has to vote for any matter requiring legislative change.

Under these arrangements he will not have the ability to make any significant decision not already on the government’s agenda – if something urgent or significant comes up Ms Ardern will have some involvement.

The Cabinet Manual deals with the responsibilities of an acting Prime Minister in two short paragraphs:

“If the Prime Minister is unavailable or unable to exercise the statutory or constitutional functions and powers of the office, the deputy prime minister can, if necessary, exercise those powers and functions.

“As acting prime minister, the deputy prime minister may exercise other prime ministerial functions and powers, in consultation (where appropriate and practicable) with the prime minister.”

Peters is also Minister of Foreign Affairs. If he is out of the country Labour’s deputy leader Kelvin Davis will become acting Prime Minister.

Ardern on conversations and journeys and one term Government

Some interesting comments from Jacinda Ardern in the weekend on what is necessary to avoid being a one term Government – but talking about having a conversation and bringing people on a journey probably things that aren’t going to resonate with a lot of voters.

Newshub: Jacinda Ardern mulls how to avoid being a one-term PM

On the Government on prisons and crime:

Though the Labour-NZ First coalition (with support from the Greens) has kept its nose ahead in the polls, the public doesn’t appear to be so keen on the Government’s plan to reduce the prison population. A poll earlier this month found two-thirds of voters back the three-strikes law, including a majority of NZ First and Labour voters.

Ms Ardern acknowledged the Government may be getting ahead of public opinion on this issue.

“The biggest obstacle we have at the moment is making sure that we bring the New Zealand public with us. You know, this is a conversation we need to have together.

How about having a conversation on how to go with the public rather than trying to bring them with you?

And she wants the public on-side with any changes the Government does implement.

“If you end up being a one-term Government as a consequence of changes you’ve made, you probably haven’t brought people on that journey, and the pitch that we’re making, the conversation we need to have, is to – with New Zealand, is when we have a static crime rate – one actually that we want to bring down – but when we have a static crime rate but an ever increasing prison population, is that the kind of country we want to be?”

I think that people are looking more for leadership than having ‘conversations’ (listening to Ardern prattling), and they want the Government to do what they want rather than getting the people to tottle along on some sort of journey with a conversing PM.

Ardern started off with promise of engaging on a new level, but the longer she has been PM the more she seems to have drifted towards beltway babble and political palaver.

Ardern was thrown in the political deep end and will have had to get help from the political class (politicians and state servants), but is sounding more of a remote insider.

If she really wants conversations she should learn to speak our language.


Consensus government or an awful mess?

It’s certainly been a messy week for the Government. Is it a sign of a bigger, awful mess?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tried to paper over some of this weeks cracks by claiming it was consensus government in action, but there were worrying suggestions it was the opposite – both Labour and NZ First ministers look like they are pushing their own agendas with poor or non-existent communication between them.

There are worrying signs of a lack of overall leadership, and this is at a very tricky time, with Ardern distracted by having a baby and due to go on maternity leave as soon as her baby is born (actually as soon as she goes into Labour and goes into hospital).

The big unknown is whether things will spiral more out of control with Winston Peters in charge.

The media have observed this weeks mess and many have commented on it.

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Three ring circus with one ringmaster at the centre – buckle in for a wild ride

Consensus government in action, or a bloody awful mess?

It’s difficult to characterise the past week as anything but the latter and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may be worried about whether she’ll have a Government to come back to when she returns from maternity leave.

Her MPs don’t exactly make it easy for her.

And if this week has illustrated anything it’s what lies at the beating heart of any coalition-related controversy – Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has been at the centre of everything.

I don’t think he has. He had nothing to do with the David Clark revelations. And nothing to do with the Green uprising over granting water bottling rights.

And nothing to do with Stuart Nash telling a parliamentary committee he didn’t bother reading advice on what effect increasing poluice numbers might have, and would have ignored the advice if he had read it.

Peters  wasn’t directly involved in Kelvin Davis announcing a new prison that will rely on double bunking to cater for growing prisoner numbers – and Davis went as far as saying they could resort to mattresses on the floor. Peters didn’t directly cause that brain fart, but Labour are limited in becoming more lenient on imprisonment when they require NZ First votes to do any law changes.

But Peters dumped Little in a big mess over 3 strikes.

It began with a hastily-arranged press conference by Justice Minister Andrew Little, to reveal that his grand plan to repeal the three strikes legislation had been shot out of the sky.

He’d spent the previous week giving interviews about his plans to take it to Cabinet and push forward – the only issue was, he did not have the numbers to do so. More embarrassingly for Little, Peters decided to wait until the 11th hour to let him know.

Total humiliation  awaits any member of Cabinet who threatens to step outside the bounds of MMP and attempt a “first past the post”-style power play to get ahead of public opinion – that’s what Little got and really, he should have expected it.

That was in part self inflicted, but Peters played Little then dumped on him big time.

Never one to play second fiddle, Peters also took a starring role in a different drama. Days out from assuming the seat at the head of the Cabinet table was the moment he chose to file papers in the High Court, suing the Government and top officials over their handling of his private superannuation details.

Ardern’s assertions rang out more as pleas, that his actions were a totally private matter. Presiding over a Cabinet that may be liable for an eventual payout to Peters is awkward at best, and a clear conflict at worst – a matter that is most certainly in the public interest.

Peters’ court action looks debatable, but he has made Ardern look weak – or more accurately, Ardern has made herself look weak, just as she is about to hand over most of her power to Peters.

Meanwhile, as sources across multiple polls have suggested NZ First has well and truly settled below the 5 per cent MMP threshold, Shane Jones has pulled out the megaphone to tear strips off Fonterra. A total overstep many might say, of a Minister of the Crown. However, Ardern is adamant these comments were made in a private capacity, despite Jones as good as repeating them in the House.

This again makes Ardern look weak if not impotent in her own Government.

And she is now sidelined, leaving Peters and Jones to take on board this week’s signals and likely do as they please to raise their profile, putting the government at risk.

And Labour’s ministers look increasingly arrogant, uncoordinated and messy.

The Government looks like a bunch of headless chooks, with the fox about to take over the hen house.


Targeting more asset seizures from criminals

The Minister of Police and the Police are targeting an increase in asset seizures from criminals.  The Government is already promoting this revenue as a means of paying for policy implementation.

On Wednesday the Government announced New addiction treatment facilities for Auckland City Mission

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced Government funding to increase the number of beds available in Auckland for drug and alcohol detoxification by 50 per cent.

Currently there are a total of 20 detox beds funded in the Auckland region, which will be moved to Mission HomeGround once it is complete in two years’ time. All up it will house 30 studio units (15 medical detox beds and 15 social detox beds) – allowing for an increase of ten beds.

The $16.7 million will be drawn from money recovered under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act.

“This development will help turn lives around. I can’t think of a better use of the funds recovered from the proceeds of crime than that,” Jacinda Ardern said.

This is a welcome increase in drug addiction facilities.

I didn’t realise that proceeds of seized assets went into a special pot that could be then applied to specific purposes.

A day later stuff reported: Police aim to seize millions from gangs, new cabinet paper reveals

A new police target aiming to seize $500 million from gangs may only serve to further marginalise a hard-to-reach community, those on the inside say.

A Cabinet paper seen by Stuff shows Police Minister Stuart Nash and Police Commissioner Mike Bush have set four new “high-level outcome targets”, while also retaining most of the previous government’s nine performance targets at an operational level.

The targets include $500m in cash and assets seized from gangs and criminals by 2021.

Nash said a small number of key targets would help focus police on priority areas, and since taking on the job, he has been clear about his plan to focus on gang-related crime.

The Government’s aim of confiscating $500m in cash and assets from gangs is an extension of the former National government’s target – $400m by 2021.

It’s a significant increase on the previous target, but not a huge amount. And it must amount to guessing, similar to claims made for a long time from Governments about how much tax evasion they will recover money from.

Last week, Nash told RNZ it was unrealistic to say police would wipe out all gangs.

“What we want to do is go incredibly hard against the gang leaders responsible for these meth rings, or drug rings,” he said.

But Nash refused to talk to Stuff about this issue.

The RNZ article: Insight: Future of Gangs

Police Minister Stuart Nash said it was unrealistic to try to eliminate all gangs, but he wants to “go incredibly hard” against gang leaders who are running drug operations.

He said about 700 police staff would go into the organised crime squad, something he described as “a massive increase in resource.”

An increase in asset seizures is likely to mean an increase in arrests and probably convictions , and an increase in imprisonments – and the Government will need much more than an extra $100 million over four years house the increasing prisoner numbers.

Peters successfully played to support base over 3 strikes

While Andrew Little has taken a hit after his back down on repealing the 3 strikes legislation, Winston Peters will be feeling quite happy with himself – and many NZ First supporters and potential voters will also be happy.

But Ardern’s leadership of Government has also taken a hit.

Peters has played Little and won handsomely. And the timing of the Peters power play is smart (or fortuitous) too, just before Peters takes over as acting Prime Minister

Tracey Watkins (Stuff): Three strikes lesson – Winston won’t be a token prime minister

Little has been dealt a short, sharp and brutal lesson in real politik by the master of MMP, Peters.

In doing so, Peters has reinforced NZ First’s credentials with its supporters as a vital handbrake on Labour and the Greens, especially when they get too far ahead of public opinion, particularly on touch-stone issues like law and order.

Some valuable credibility for peters and NZ First.

And he has given warning that Peters will be far from a token prime minister whenArdern hands over the reins sometime in the next week or so to give birth.

It has been Peters’ bug bear for years that the big parties still act like first past the post governments under MMP.

…Little fell right into the same hole when he publicly announced two weeks ago he was taking a paper to Cabinet proposing to repeal the law, when he hadn’t even bothered to consult NZ First.

It should have been as obvious to Little as everyone else that repealing the three strikes law was anathema to a law and order party like NZ First.

Little’s face has copped the egg this time, but ‘everyone else’ includes Ardern and her office too. It must have been obvious to them that Little was heading for an embarrassing back down.

So did Ardern let Little walk into this? She and her advisers can’t have been blind to the obvious Peters position on this. otherwise it looks like a major oversight – incompetence.

Regardless of how this came about Peters heads into his role as acting PM with Little’s power pricked somewhat, with a clear warning to other Labour Ministers too.

Ardern is on RNZ now saying a 3 strikes repeal was ‘one small part’ of judicial reform. Trying to play down the debacle.

When pushed she concedes that the repeal is ‘off the table’, despite Little claiming yesterday he would still try to get NZ First support.

Ardern claims the public promotion of a policy that could never succeed ‘is simply democracy and MMP’. It’s a cock-up by Labour, and Ardern is as responsible for it as Little.

Ardern closes saying that the 3 strikes disaster speaks to the strength of the multi party Government. This isn’t a good example to promote.

Ardern staying close to home as birth date nears

The official due date for Jacinda Ardern’s baby is this weekend, June 17. Anyone who has been a parent will know that given dates are just a rough stab – my experience includes three 10-14 day ‘overdue’ babies.

Ardern has wisely chosen not to fly around the country any more, and will base herself in Auckland until the birth.

Stuff: Jacinda Ardern keeps permanent base in Auckland until after the birth of first child

The prime minister has restricted her flight schedule, keeping within driving distance of her home in Auckland as the due date for the birth of her child draws near.

At what was expected to be her final post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she would be based permanently within driving distance to Auckland.

She would continue to work primarily from Auckland, and still expected to attend Fieldays in Hamilton later in the week.

All appointments must be regarded as maybes over the next week or three.

Staying ‘within driving distance to Auckland’ could still be risky, given the state of Auckland traffic, but Ardern will only be travelling away from home for a small amount of the time.

The timing of many modern births is determined by medical intervention, either planned caesarean deliveries and inducements.

Many natural births begin at night. Stuff: What time of day are most babies born?

“Where nature is taking its course, infants are more likely to be born when it’s completely dark out,” said TJ Mathews, a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics.

Researchers think evolution may have something to do with making the middle of the night an optimal time for delivery. Say you were pregnant and part of a nomadic tribe; having your baby in the middle of the day could mean the rest of the tribe leaves you behind as they move from place to place. “You probably bled to death,” said Aaron Caughey, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Medicine.

But in the middle of the night, when you and your fellow tribe members are presumably hunkered down somewhere safe, if you had your baby and started to bleed, “there would be someone to defend you against the lion that smelled the blood,” Caughey said.

Night timing may also be advantageous for Ardern – there may not be as many journalists sniffing her every move outside her home. When media smells blood they are likely to go into a story feeding frenzy.

Ardern – “absolute given” no announcements before Cabinet discussion

Prime Minister Jacinda has said it is “an absolute given” no announcements should be made by Ministers before Cabinet discussion  – except when it is “normal decision making process”.

After Andrew Little had to scrap his plans to scrap the 3 strikes legislation when it became obvious NZ First wouldn’t support it, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it clear Ministers shouldn’t make announcements before discussing them in Cabinet.

From NZH:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters it was a “given” that ministers did not make announcements before discussing them at Cabinet.

“There’s always a given that we wouldn’t do that. It’s something that doesn’t really need requirement to be repeating. It’s an absolute given,” she said.

“Three strikes makes up only a very small part of a much wider agenda and we are continuing to pursue that agenda as a Government. None of these decisions are finalised until we have that discussion as Cabinet. All our ministers know that,” Ardern said.

Ardern is a bit liberal with her use of ‘absolute’, given her announcement (along with a Labour minister, a Green minister and an NZ First minister on oil and gas exploration permits without discussing it with Cabinet.

Stuff: No Cabinet paper written, no Cabinet decision made, in “political decision” to ban new oil exploration

Cabinet has made no decision on ending oil exploration, documents being released today will show, with April’s announcement made on the basis of a political agreement between the coalition parties.

On April 12, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led a group of ministerial colleagues into the Beehive theatrette to confirm news that the Government had decided it would offer no new offshore permits for oil and gas exploration, with onshore permits offered in Taranaki for as little as three years.

Although the news was delivered by ministers affected by the decision and in a forum usually used to discuss decisions made by Cabinet, politicians made the decision in their roles as party leaders.

Today the Government will release a series of documents generated in the making of the oil and gas exploration decision, but it has already confirmed to Stuff that no Cabinet paper was created and that Cabinet has not voted on the matter.

“There was no Cabinet decision,” a spokesman for Energy Minister Megan Woods said.

In a statement, Ardern defended the handling of the decision, but said it was not how most decisions would be made.

“The decision on future oil and gas block offers was a political decision made by the government parties. It was consulted on and agreed between the parties and taken to Cabinet for confirmation,” a spokesman for Ardern said.

“This is a normal decision making process when it comes to coalition wide matters, but does tend to be the exception rather than the rule.”

An “absolute given”that ministers did not make announcements before discussing them at Cabinet except when it was part of the  “normal decision making process” that is “the exception rather than the rule”.



Michael Wood talks up Labour’s Northcote result

Michael Wood won the Mt Roskill by-election in 2016 after Phil Goff resigned so he could take over as mayor of Auckland.

He has tweeted his thoughts on the Northcote by-election (@michaelwoodnz):

What can we say the morning after the Northcote by-election? The first is to congratulate new MP . He seems like a nice guy, ran a clean campaign, and should be proud of his result.

The second is to acknowledge @shananhalbert for a superb campaign. I had the pleasure of being his Campaign Chair and saw 1st hand the huge effort he put in and the qualities of the man. Built up an incredible team. Will be a great MP one day.

Then to the numbers. Labour’s vote increased by 10% from 34% to 44%. This is a significant result in a seat Labour has not held in 13 years.

This represents a swing to Labour of 4%. Swings *to the government* hardly ever happen in by-elections.

What he doesn’t say is that Bidois got 50.98% of the votes (on election night numbers), just 1.29% less than MP for 12 years and Minister in Cabinet for 7 years Jonathan Coleman in last year’s general election.

While National was in government they faced 6 general electorate by-elections:

  • In Roskill 2016 a 24.5% swing to the oppstn
  • In Albert 2017 no govt candidate
  • In Chch East 12 a 25 % swing to oppstn
  • In Mana 2010 a .5% swing to govt
  • In Botany 11 a 5% swing to oppstn
  • In Albert 09 a 19.5% swing to oppstn

And while I have not checked the numbers I am pretty sure that all by-elections in the 1990s and 1980s saw swings to the opposition.

So, the swing of 4% to the government candidate in the Northcote by-election is unprecedented in recent electoral history.

Politicians are good at picking statistics that suit their narrative.

The ‘swing’ to Labour was mostly due to a slump in the Green candidate support (6.73% to 2.9%), and no NZ First candidate who got 3.73% in 2017 (they stood as an independent getting 0.47%).

The ‘swing’ from Government parties to National was negligible.

Finally, here is what John Key said when National reduced the Mana Labour majority from around 6000 to around 1400 (very similar to Northcote) in that by-election:

“John Key said “I never thought coming second in politics would feel so good….Sometimes losing is winning and this is one of them where we have had a tremendous result here. In all probability, the swing should have gone against National because that’s what happens when you are the Government campaigning in a very safe Labour seat and he has been thrashed. When this campaign began, Phil Goff said this by-election would be referendum on the Government’s policies. Well he was right!”

Jacinda Ardern seems to have a good feeling about coming second in Northcote.

Newshub: ‘Very good outcome’ in Northcote despite the loss – Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she’s proud of the party’s efforts in the Northcote by-election, despite coming up slightly short of victory.

“There was a lot of eyes on this, and you did us proud, Shanan,” she told the runner-up. “You were an excellent candidate, you spoke about the things that mattered.”

She said it was a “very good outcome” for a sitting Government’s candidate to improve on his vote so much.

“We’re really proud of that. We certainly expected it to be close, and of course you go into every election race hoping for a win. We couldn’t have had better in Shanan and the team that ran the campaign here.”

She said it alarm bells would be ringing for National, despite their win.

“When you compare other by-elections when you’ve been in Government, this is a very good outcome for us.”

She doesn’t mention the collapse in the Green candidate Rebekah Jaung’s vote, despite her seeking votes for herself, and there was no attempt by Greens to promote tactical voting for the Labour candidate.

Labour without the Greens would be a problem for Ardern, especially with National’s support overall support (like their support in Northcote) remaining above Labour’s.


Q+A – interview with Jacinda Ardern

Ardern says they ‘will be’ the transformative government they promised.

It’s mostly a fairly general discussion with little of note revealed.

Ardern says that if a Labour Minister scandal comes up while Peters is acting PM she will handle any own party discipline.

Looking back at Northcote party polling

Claims were made by Labour, and National in response, about ‘party polling’ leading into the voting period for the Northcote by-election.

NZH: Simon Wilson’s Northcote Notebook: Labour closes gap in Northcote byelection

Labour Party polling for the Northcote byelection puts candidate Shanan Halbert just 2.1% behind National’s Dan Bidois. Sources close to the party confirmed that, in a poll conducted last week, Halbert was preferred by 46.3 per cent of those asked, and Bidois by 48.4 per cent.

That’s a change from a poll conducted by Labour in early May, which had Bidois leading Halbert by a more comfortable margin, 50.8 per cent vs 44.4 per cent.

National Party sources dispute these numbers. They say their polling shows a gap of about 8 per cent.

In the days before election day Labour candidate Shanan Halbert and leader Jacinda Ardern both said the election would go ‘down to the wire’. as did a party press release: It’s down to the wire in Northcote by-election

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern and Northcote Labour candidate Shanan Halbert campaigned together today in Northcote, emphasising how important it was that people get out and vote for a strong local voice before 7 pm Saturday.

Shanan said “It was a pleasure hosting Jacinda in the Northcote shops today. We spent time encouraging locals to ensure their voice is heard by joining the thousands of others who have already voted in the by-election.”

“We know from the polling that this race is down to the wire. If everyone who voted for me in the 2017 General Election votes for me again in this by-election, Northcote will have a strong local voice in Government come June 10th.”

if everyone who voted for the National candidate in the general election voted National again Halbert wouldn’t have a chance.

It’s normal for parties to talk up their chances going in to an election, but quoting party polls without giving any details should be viewed with scepticism.

Halbert was running against a nine year MP and Cabinet Minister in the general election, while he was up against a virtual unknown from out of the electorate in the by-election.

Election night results for the National and Labour candidates in the Northcote by-election:

  • Dan Bidois (National) 10,147 – 50.98% (general election 52.27%)
  • Shanan Halbert (Labour) 8,785 – 44.14% (general election 35.25%)

Election night majority 1,362 – difference 6.84%.

So that is nowhere near the 2% claimed by Labour. It is quite close to what National claimed.

There could be a number of explanations, like – Labour support faded late in the campaign. or more Labour supporters didn’t get out and vote.

It could also be that Labour bullshitted about their polling to try to talk up a close contest.

Or Labour’s polling is crap.

For all we know Labour’s poll asked something like “Will you vote for the local candidate SHANAN HALBERT, or the unknown out of electorate candidate with a foreign sounding name?”

Or the polling was done by Labour’s door knockers.

Whatever the reason it emphasises that caution should be taken about any polls – they are an approximate measure in the past, not a prediction of the future despite what media try to say.

And one-off party polling claimed during an election campaign, with no details given and no history of polls showing trends, should not be promoted by media as news, and should not be taken to seriously.