NZ First versus Air NZ

The war of words between Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Air New Zealand over the cutting of regional flights continues. Jones is in tricky territory as a minister trying to bully a company with commercial interests.

Stuff: Shane Jones continues war of words with Air NZ as chairman hits back

Air New Zealand has hit back at Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones’ criticisms of the company saying it would “always act independently of the Crown”.

The strongly worded statement from Air NZ chairman Tony Carter is in response to Jones warning the company they needed to stop cutting regional flights and his attack that Kiwis got better treatment from second hand car dealers than the country’s national airline.

Jones delivered a blunt warning to Air NZ’s regional affairs manager, Ian Collier, at the Bay of Islands Airport near Kerikeri on Friday.

Jones told Collier: “don’t keep closing down regional air links. And take that message to your supervisors”.

Jones is furious about the announcement earlier this month that the airline is ending flights to the Kāpiti Coast, which comes after flights to Kaitaia were axed in 2015.

Jones’ comments to Collier were made at an event where the Government announced $1.75 million towards the $4.75m cost of building a new terminal near Jones’ Kerikeri home.

Earlier on Tuesday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended Jones’ comments and said, “ministers, particularly with a regional focus, will have an opinion”.

“That doesn’t mean that we have any ability or intent to take away the independent decision-making of a business like Air New Zealand,” she said.

Trying to defend NZ First ministers has become a bit of a task for Ardern. Last week she tried to defend Winston Peters over his stance on Russia.

Jones is encouraging mayoral leaders to approach the government with “solutions” and he wants to see a policy that ensures flight connectivity in the regions continues.

“The immediate solution lies with (Air NZ). They’ve taken a strategy to increase profit by downgrading provinces and you can’t tell me that they haven’t done that.”

He said former prime minister Sir John Key was on the Air NZ board and was in a position to “change the strategy and priorities”.

Air NZ should “put their money where their mouth is” when it comes to supporting provincial providers, Jones said.

Jones’ apparent understanding of how a commercial airline should operate raises questions over his decision making in dishing out billions of dollars to regions.

Jones said regional NZ got better treatment from second-hand car dealers than Air NZ.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said there wasn’t the same “political oversight” for Air NZ as other state-owned enterprises because it’s 49 per cent privately owned.

“The people on the board were put there by the previous Government and you’d think they’d be looking at New Zealand’s total interests across the country, including the regions.”

Ardern said the decision to cut flights was for Air NZ and it remains their decision, Jones was just expressing an opinion.

“I don’t think it would have come as any surprise to hear that from Minister Jones at all.”

She said the government had a role to play in some of the infrastructure projects in the regions but it’s “not for us to make decisions that are ultimately commercial ones for Air NZ, whilst we may of course have the opinion that we want things to improve, not get worse,” she said

Once again Ardern is distracted trying to deal with and defend statements and attempted coercion of her coalition partner.

The Government has to leave Air NZ to make commercial decisions as the company sees fit, or buy all the privately owned shares and then dictate what the airline should do as a government run service.


Was New Zealand’s election rigged by foreign powers?

There are big and concerning questions about the use of Facebook to gather hundreds of millions of personality profiles, and then to target those people with “rumour, disinformation and fake news” to influence elections – with Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in the US, the UK’s Brexit vote, and others. What about the UK general election? France? Germany? Canada?

See Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the data war.

What about New Zealand? Our election last year was probably mostly influenced by a chain of events, locally derived.

It was always going to be difficult for National to hold on for a fourth term in power, especially given the lack of support parties – a situation that had been evolving for many years.

It would be far fetched to think that Metiria Turei was brainwashed to self destruct and nearly drag the greens down with her.

It would be far fetched to think that Andrew Little was brainwashed to step down as Labour leader less than two months before the election..

It would be far fetched to think that Jacinda Ardern and her sudden rise were influenced by foreign powers – she and her media managers have been working on being ready for an opportunity for some time.

It wouldn’t be so far fetched to think that New Zealand journalists have been targeted and influenced, given their embrace of social media like Twitter and Facebook.

It wouldn’t be so far fetched that Winston Peters has been influenced to suddenly promote a trade agreement with Russia when has been generally strongly opposed to trade agreements.

The personality profile targeting of mass voters seems feasible, and worrying.

It would be far simpler to personality profile individual politicians and to target them.

Of course I don’t think I have been influenced by profilers and manipulators at all [- that’s just something that everyone else could be susceptible to.

Ardern on the Nation

Ardern was conspicuous by her absence from the first two programmes of The Nation this year, and also from the first Q&A.

She fronts up today on The Nation – possibly scheduled before her tough week at the Beehive office.

On why no one has been sacked over the summer camp mess.

“If everyone who ever made a mistake in their job was sacked, we wouldn’t be left with many people left, particularly in politics.”

Ardern keeps diverting from ‘political management’ to supporting the young people when asked why Minister Megan Woods and MP Liz Craig didn’t advise her about the problems.

Defending her MP Liz Craig, who was photographed at a table with Young Labour members drinking alcohol at the summer camp where the alleged sexual assaults took place. When asked if Ms Craig had met expectations: “I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest otherwise.”

Asked if the party intentionally insulated Ardern from the issue?

She disagrees. Strongly disagrees.

And then diverts back to ‘the young people’.

Asked again.

When asked if her party gave her “plausible deniability” by not telling her about the Labour summer camp allegations, replied: “Absolutely not. I push back on that very hard. That implies that our number-one concern here was political management. That’s not fair.”

And then diverts back to ‘the young people’.

How many other issues have been raised? She has seen one raised on social media.

Asked more specifically about any issues over the last ten years? She concedes some but only those reported in the media.

She was not asked to confirm that she knew nothing about the issue until Monday.

On Russia.

Ardern leaving the door open to a trade deal with Russia. “It is too early to say, under the current circumstances we find ourselves in with [the] Salisbury [nerve agent attack], to say if and when those negotiations and talks would restart.”

Four times now PM says too early to say if FTA talks with Russia will restart – no definitely ruling out.

On the proposed new prison.

The ‘out of control prison population’ is one of the biggest issues the Government has been grappling with.

They “should go back and have a look” at bail laws – a large part of the increase in prisoner numbers is as a result of changes to bail laws and an increase in the number of people on remand prior to trial.

On possible loosening of parole & bail laws: “We are not making justice-policy decisions based on bed capacity. We’re making decisions on what delivers the best outcomes in terms of safety for the community & reducing reoffending and improving rehab.”

She won’t say if they will build the prison or not. Still considering it.

“Do I want to build another prison? No. Do I want extra bed capacity? No. But am I being told that if we had an earthquake tomorrow, we wouldn’t have a place to put prisoners? Those are all things we’re having to grapple with”.

Believes consideration of a Waikeria Prison rebuild is not a betrayal of her commitment to Māori at Waitangi.

A lot on poverty policies, but little in definitive policy or commitments.

Staking her reputation on economic growth remaining stable after cutting immigration. “I don’t agree that that will be the consequences of our policies at all.

Says they don’t have any extra money specifically for child poverty in this budget – even though numbers of kids being raised from poverty revised downwards from 88,000 to 64,000

Working on a lot of things – except making commitments.

Not committing to implementing all recommendations from Climate Commission. She also won’t commit to ending oil and gas exploration permits. “I’m not going to pre-empt that decision, but we’re working on it.”

On Peters as acting Prime Minister – she ‘imagines’ she will stay in touch with him while on maternity leave.

She is adept at sounding strong and clear, but being vague.

“Let me be very clear about this. This is something we are working on and I can’t give you those answers at the moment.”


Ardern’s difficult week

Jacinda Ardern has experienced the highs of politics, rescuing the Labour Party from political oblivion and becoming Prime Minister are just a couple. She also revelled in attention at Waitangi for a week in early February, and spent last week being applauded and praised on a tour around the South Pacific.

This week was at the other end of the scale though.

It would have been very challenging for her, to say the least. As well as relatively minor  but embarrassing stories about Ministers – Jenny Salesa’s big spending on travel and Ron Mark’s use of Defence Force helicopters and planes as ministerial taxis – there have been major issues, the Young Labour summer camp fiasco, and dealing with Winston Peters and Russia.

Ardern has copped a lot of flak, but some of the media have still been easy on her while blasting others in Labour.

Stuff’s Below the Beltway: A week in politics


The Labour Party:The Labour Party undoubtedly dropped the ball in its handling of the alleged sexual assault incidents at last month’s Young Labour summer camp. Four 16-year-olds were allegedly sexually assaulted by a 20-year-old Young Labour supporter. There have since been further allegations of sexual assault and misconduct at past Young Labour events. As well as leaving Young Labour to run the camp, where alcohol was available to underage attendees, the party was then slow to deal with the incident, and to offer support to the victims. The prime minister, who was kept out of the loop until media uncovered the incident, admitted the party failed the victims, and has ordered an independent inquiry, and a full review of the party’s processes.

But Ardern hasn’t escaped criticism.

Tracy Watkins goes easy in Jacinda Ardern has political capital to burn but Labour shouldn’t squander it

Did Labour learn nothing from nine frustrating years in Opposition up against the hugely popular John Key?

If crisis management is how we judge our prime ministers Ardern’s handling of Labour’s Waihi camp scandal is text book.

She has apologised to the young people involved, acknowledged Labour’s failure of care and put a process in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But she has had to burn up some of her precious political capital making up for the party’s shambolic response to allegations that four young people were sexually assaulted during the boozy Young Labour event.

I wouldn’t call her handling text book at all. The story broke on Monday. Ardern didn’t front up on it until Wednesday, and she has given party officials a pass on their inept handling of it.

The bigger failing, of course, was letting down the young people in its care by its failure to act.

But there is a political price to pay for that, as well as a personal one.

Labour might think it can keep calling on the bank of Jacinda Ardern. But her political capital will not be limitless – and it wants to be careful it doesn’t squander it just because it can.

Despite Watkin’s tip toeing Ardern’s ‘political capital’ has taken a hit over this.

Duncan Garner: Labour president should walk the plank over ‘gobsmackingly incompetent’ handling of camp saga

It had to end some time. The golden glow and constant smile were never going to stretch through an alleged sex scandal involving young people and booze.

Honeymoons simply can’t go on forever, and Jacinda Ardern will surely be reflecting on that as she grabs an organic latte from Mt Albert’s local markets this weekend.

New prime ministers always hope their political honeymoon will stretch on and on, but in this business there’s always an idiot lurking around the corner. Most of the time he or she is in your camp.

Unbelievably … and somehow we have to believe this, no one told the PM. That needs to change in future. Information is power. Ardern needs to know everything. She looked like a startled possum in the headlights this week. Don’t surprise your prime minister with the cameras rolling.

And her condemnation of Labour was weak too.

But there is one crucial thing they really needed to do. Labour should have told the parents of the alleged victims. If I was the father I’d be furious. But apparently the victim has that right to privacy. The parents deserved to know to help make the best decision for their teenager.

The gloss came off the Labour Party this week.

And some of the gloss came off Ardern.

Audrey Young: A week Jacinda Ardern will want to forget

I disagree with the headline – if Ardern wants to learn from this week she needs to remember the mistakes.

The past week has been the worst for Jacinda Ardern since she became Prime Minister.

That may be more of a reflection of how many excellent weeks she has had than necessarily how terrible it has been.

It has not been a disaster, and there will definitely be worse to come. But it has been a mess.

She has had to deal with two very different and vexed issues of political management: the Labour Party’s handling of indecent assaults on young people at its summer camp, and her deputy and coalition partner beginning to flex his muscles as Foreign Minister.

The Labour camp issue is highly embarrassing for Labour and for Ardern, but both should survive it – it is now in it’s tidy up phase.

But the Winston Peters issue is more problematic politically. This week Ardern was slow to respond on it as well.

The summer school episode was eventually contained. Dealing with the Peters problem is more difficult. Being in a second season as foreign minister under a Prime Minister who is not seasoned in Foreign Affairs, he is being less guarded in what he says than he was in the 2005 – 2008 under Clark.

He seems to have forgotten the maxim that the Prime Minister is always the real foreign minister and that together they have to present a seamless face to the world and to the public. There should not be an iota of difference between their intention, their messages and their tone.

But Peters has raised eyebrows not just domestically over comments on Newshub’s The Nation programme.

He criticised the EU when it is on the brink of launching free trade negotiations with New Zealand, showed empathy towards Donald Trump’s new tariffs on steel and aluminium, and showed sympathy to Russia over accusations of downing MH17.

His off-the-cuff comments on MH17 drew criticism from Australian Labor MP Penny Wong and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as well as the National opposition and an editorial in The Australian newspaper.

Ardern has been left this week having to defend what he said and what he meant, because his own clarifications have been anything but clarifying. Words matter, as Peters is fond of saying.

Ardern herself weighed into the backing-Britain issue on Friday with more appropriate criticism levelled towards Russia.

It was messy week but she finally got to where she needed to be – in control.

Eventually, sort of, in control, maybe.

The Russia problem is unlikely to go away quickly.

If Peters has conceded that a trade deal with Russia won’t be a big legacy achievement for him, will he be looking for something else to promote? Will that also clash with Government policies?

In a few months Ardern will take six weeks (corrected) maternity leave. A Government should be able to manage that without any problems.

If Helen Clark had had to take time out Michael Cullen would probably have stepped up virtually seamlessly.

John Key took permanent time out and Bill English stepped up without a hiccup, it was business as usual for the National led government.

But this week has shown a potential weakness in the current party power sharing arrangement. Ardern was slow but eventually stepped up and took over the Russian issue from Peters.

What if something crops up while Ardern is on leave and as acting PM Peters promotes his own agenda rather than the Government’s? Ardern will still be Prime Minister, but it will be far more noticeable if she needs to step out of the nursery and step in over the top of Peters again.

Peters always looked like one of the biggest risks for the Labour-NZ First-Green government. This week reinforced concerns about that.

The problem is not just a clash between what Peters wants and what the Government and country needs – Peters has done some damage to New Zealand internationally, which is bad enough.

What we are yet to see is how Peters will react if Ardern keeps overriding him.

How will he handle things as acting PM if a young mother puts the nappies down to tidy up another Peters botch-up?

The Labour camp issue is now in the hands of the police and nothing like that is likely to happen again.

The potential for Winston problems is ongoing, in a challenging time for Ardern, when she will be somewhat distracted.

An added problem is that Labour don’t have a 2IC ready to step up, Kelvin Davis looks nothing like a strong deputy leader. Grant Robertson is sidelined in Finance. It would raise eyebrows and likely cause friction if David Parker has to step in and clash with Peters.

This has been a difficult week for Ardern for sure, but every week is potentially difficult for a Prime Minister. There will be more to come, including while Peters is in charge.

Russian trade talks suspended indefinitely

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced – late on Friday – that the Government has suspended trade talks with Russia, and had she didn’t know when or if they would be started again. Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has agreed with the suspension.

Stuff – PM: ‘The situation has changed’ – trade talks with Russia put on ice

The Government has suspended efforts to restart negotiations for a free trade deal with Russia.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says “the situation has changed” and both her and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters were agreed that any trade talks that had restarted would now be suspended again.

Ardern said she didn’t know when, or if, the Government would be in a position to restart those talks.

The commitment towards an FTA with the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union is included in NZ First’s coalition agreement with Labour.

The change of direction comes after months of Peters being clear on his plans to work towards a FTA with Russia.

Just yesterday via RNZ – Russia talks won’t hinder EU trade deal – Peters

Foreign Minister Winston Peters says he has had no indication that New Zealand’s pursuit of a free trade deal with Russia would hinder ongoing negotiations with the European Union.

Mr Peters said there was no indication from the European Union a deal with Russia would compromise the talks with the EU, which have been ongoing since 2015.

“And I would not expect them to make a comment like that, I know that we’ll taking up conversations with them in a matter of weeks.”

There was a conversation of “some length” with the the Russian foreign ministry about a trade deal at the East Asia Summit in the Philippines last November, Mr Peters said.

It was too early to say how the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, could affect the relationship between New Zealand and Russia, and any trade talks, he said.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said today there was “no alternative conclusion” than to believe Russia was “culpable” for the attempted murders.

The incident had “somewhat complicated” the issue of a trade deal, Mr Peters said.

“However, other past events saw the conversations continue so I don’t at this point in time see it as our number one priority.”

Complicated enough that a day later Ardern has ruled out any continuation of conversations with Russia on trade.


Government problem with Russia – Winston Peters

Appointing Winston Peters to the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs was always going to be a risk for the Jacinda Ardern led government. Problems are already emerging, over Peters’ and Russia.

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff (Opinion): Winston Peters’ Russian trade deal hopes could cost New Zealand elsewhere

Anyone who follows international events will not have been surprised when the British Government began calling for action this week over the poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter in London.

More than a week ago the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, stood in Parliament to warn of sanctions and punishment, suggesting that British officials may snub the upcoming football World Cup and that Russia was “a malign and disruptive force”.

So it was extremely strange that days later our own Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, an avowed Anglophile – he has called for a pan-Commonwealth free trade bloc – would go on television on Saturday and appear to question Russian involvement in other controversial events, the downing of a commercial jet over Ukraine and interference in the 2016 US election.

New Zealand, he said, was “deadly serious” about a free trade deal with Russia, accusing the European Union of “attacking” New Zealand agricultural markets.

That conflict between EU and Russian trade interests would have caused problems at any time, but now with the escalating problems between the UK and Russia especially so.

After calls from Britain, Peters has now condemned the nerve agent attack, which he acknowledged was “transported from Russia”.

But his position on Russia – both now and in the weeks following the formation of the Labour-led Government – has caused confusion within the diplomatic community.

Why on earth would he go there? What is driving a position which he must know is highly controversial for many of New Zealand’s trading partners? Does he represent the views of the New Zealand Government?

It is his job to represent the views of the New Zealand Government.

Ardern sort of defended Peters after his comments in the weekend: “It strikes me that a lot of the conversation the deputy prime minister was having was around … New Zealand being able to access trade agreements in a fair way, relative to other countries.”

But it must be tricky for Ardern to manage her Minister, who must consider himself her senior in every way but as deputy PM (and he will be acting PM when Ardern is on maternity leave).

Peters’ comments on Russia have now had to be managed by Ardern at least twice.

First when she assured the German president during a press conference in November that a trade deal with Europe was a much higher priority than one with Russia. Then again on Monday when she said Peters was simply responding to questions he was being asked.

Ardern has used a similar explanation when defending the fact that she repeatedly talked about New Zealand’s offer to take Manus Island refugees, raising tension with the Australians: she was just answering questions being asked of her.

As an excuse it makes both the Prime Minister and now the Foreign Minister seem rather helpless in the face of the media.

Anyone who has interviewed Peters, ever, knows he is capable of steering away from questions that do not interest him.

It also appears that Labour did not appreciate how controversial it would be to publicly state that as a Government it would seek a free trade deal with Russia.

While Ardern has now repeatedly reiterated that a trade deal with the EU is the top priority, the initial moves gave greater prominence to negotiating with Moscow.

Ardern seems to have a problem controlling Peters and his own agenda.

At a time when US President Donald Trump is introducing tariffs which could spark a global trade war, New Zealand could find itself on the wrong side of a battle between Russia and the rest of Europe if Peters continues to push for the deal.

Although Russia and its allies offer significant potential as a growth market, it seems foolish to risk the opportunity to strike a deal with the EU, or Britain.

Without the posioned spy scandal this would be a serious potential clash between Peters and the interest of the Government and New Zealand. With the escalation between the UK and Russia, more so.

Stuff – Russian spy scandal: Britain reaches out to New Zealand

British diplomats took the extraordinary step on Tuesday of briefing New Zealand media on the Salisbury spy attack after its prime minister Theresa May issued an ultimatum to Moscow over the poisoning.

The briefing looks to be part of a world wide effort by Britain to stir up condemnation of Moscow over the attack against a back drop of what May labelled a “a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression”.

Britain is looking to countries including New Zealand to join possible reprisals against Russia.

That would not help trade talks between NZ and Russia.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the New Zealand Government had grave concerns. “How this military grade nerve agent was transported from Russia and released abroad is the key issue here, and warrants urgent international investigation,” Peters said.

Peters said use of chemical weapons was “repugnant”.

“We share and support the concerns expressed by other nations about such use of chemical weapons,” he said.

Perhaps Theresa May will force Peters into line. Ardern seemed to be struggling to do so.

It was said the appointing him as Minister of Foreign Affairs would allow Peters to swan around the world with prestige and no pressure. That might have worked if there were no serious international issues to deal with, and if Peters didn’t have a Russian trade agenda.

It has become quite tricky, and the UK-Russia issue seems set to escalate.

It could become even trickier when Ardern goes on leave for three months and Peters becomes acting Prime Minister.

Ardern’s positive ‘Pacific reset’ tour

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters, have been on a tour of Pacific Islands this week. This is an annual tour, but this year Ardern says the aim is ‘a Pacific reset’.

As well as good PR for Ardern with a daily dose of ‘photo opportunities’, this looks like positive engagement with New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours.

RNZ (Monday):  PM’s Pacific tour begins ‘Pacific reset’

The government has kicked off what it calls the “Pacific reset”, with Jacinda Ardern beginning her first trip to the region as Prime Minister.

It comes after Foreign Minister Winston Peters promised to boost aid and embark on a new strategy with New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours.

Mr Peters will accompany Ms Ardern for the week-long trip, which will stop in Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

It will also give the Prime Minister a chance to meet the heads of the countries one-on-one before the Pacific Islands Forum later in the year.

This year’s annual Pacific Mission will focus on recovery and resilience, especially for Tonga, which was badly hit by Cyclone Gita last month.

The Council for International Development welcomed the so-called Pacific reset.

Director of the Council for International Development, Josie Pagani, said the move “signals a massive boost of energy for our work in the Pacific”.

“Improved conditions mean greater independence for the Pacific, and that’s the ultimate goal of any aid budget.”

Last year New Zealand committed over $4 million to solar panels in Niue, greatly increasing its renewable energy generation.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw, who will also be on the trip, said New Zealand would continue to invest in green initiatives like that.

“[Winston Peters] is taking the lead on the Pacific strategy, but climate change is a central part of that strategy that is emerging,” Mr Shaw said.

“I don’t want to say we did everything wrong [because] we have a pretty good track record, but we want to build on that, and to broaden it and deepen it.”

A small business delegation will also be on the Pacific Mission trip as well as other Ministers including Carmel Sepuloni, Aupito William Sio, Fletcher Tabuteau, and National MPs Gerry Brownlee and Alfred Ngaro.

It is normal for a cross-party delegation to do the tour.

RNZ (Friday): PM’s breakneck tour a hit with islands

Jacinda Ardern has completed a whirlwind trip of the Pacific Islands, stopping in Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

It was her first trip as Prime Minister, where she took the chance to meet with all the heads of the countries.

The tone for the Pacific Mission was set by foreign minister Winston Peter’s speech last week, when he said a “Pacific reset” was needed.

Jacinda Ardern referred to this ‘reset’ several times on the trip and said it was about shifting from a donor-aid relationship to a partnership.

Money was given to Samoa and Tonga for cyclone recovery, more help is on its way for Niue’s renewable energy projects, and there’s been a shift in pension rules for Niueans and Cook Islanders.

But in the words of Mr Peters, these islands are now “attracting an increasing number of external actors and interests”.

That could mean many more trips of the like to ensure New Zealand keeps up its presence in the Pacific Islands.

Peter Dunne Speaks:

Every year the Prime Minister leads a delegation of senior politicians from all parties and business leaders on a Pacific Islands tour. This week’s Prime Ministerial visit to Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands is the 2018 version. Inevitably, there will be those who will dismiss such tours as little more than a junket, a description which is unfair.

Having taken part in a number of them over the years, I can confirm that they are a valuable way of strengthening our relationships with the various Pacific Island states, as well as creating mutual business and trade opportunities.

However, this year’s visits have the potential to break the mould, especially if the Government’s rhetoric of the “Pacific Reset” is to be believed.  Such a reset is certainly overdue.

The goodwill towards New Zealand, and the close bonds of connection are strong, right across the Pacific. For its part, New Zealand needs to be seen to be working closely with its Pacific partners to achieve mutual social and economic progress. New Zealand’s response to the threat climate change poses to low-lying islands and their peoples will be an early test. But, so far, the first signs from this week’s visit are that the Pacific Reset is going to be positive all round.

Newsroom (Friday): Pacific trip provides shape of challenges to come

A trip to the Pacific must be a political propagandist’s dream.

The colourful clothing, beautiful backdrops and warmth of the locals meant Jacinda Ardern’s five-day visit was almost guaranteed to be a success before she landed.

That is not to do her a disservice: Ardern made the most of her stay, greeting as many locals as she could, speaking in the native language where possible and offering both aid and assurances about the region’s importance to New Zealand.

(As a side note, those carping about a waste of taxpayer money should note both John Key and Bill English made regular trips to the Pacific and partook in their fair share of photo opportunities.)

Ardern’s deputy and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says the region is his top priority, and laid out plans for more political engagement, greater funding and a closer relationship during a “Pacific reset” speech.

Speaking to media on the final day of her visit, Ardern expressed contentment with what she and her ministers had achieved.

“I’d rate this mission highly, off the back of the fact that so many of the leaders have remarked on the repositioning that this government has focused on in the Pacific that was set out by the Minister of Foreign Affairs which says, ‘Look, actually we do a lot of work across the globe but actually our relationships here in the Pacific are key, they’re increasingly important, we need to move to a partnership’, and that has been incredibly well received wherever we’ve gone.”

Peters was even more effusive: “The Prime Minister’s being extremely modest about this trip because she’s leading it, but I’ve been on a lot of Pacific trips, this has been the most successful by a long long way.”

Talk of a partnership of equals has been well received, with good reason: as Ardern pointed out, many of the Pacific nations are longstanding democracies with sophisticated leaders, some approaching developed nation status.

Writing for the Samoa Planet, Lani Wendt Young said Ardern’s remarks about the Pacific “joining” New Zealand in this generation’s nuclear-free moment were “a tad bit condescending, considering how long Pacific Island nations and advocacy groups have been championing this issue on the world stage and in the region”.

It’s always going to be difficult to get the right balance, but Ardern should learn from this – as one of a number of leaders in the region she is not going to create a revolution on her own.

The warmth of the Pacific welcome will stay with Ardern for some time, but genuine progress may prove a higher hurdle.

It always will be, but Ardern has got off to a promising start in the Pacific.



Q&A – Peters, Bridges, Fletchers

Interviews on NZ Q&A today:

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters

As China increases its influence in the Pacific, Foreign Minister Winston has announced a “reset” in our Pacific policy, saying New Zealand must do more to maintain its leadership in the region.

He’ll explain why to Corin Dann in his first major TV interview since the election.

The panel also discuss what Peters wouldn’t – the future of NZ First.

New National leader Simon Bridges…

…talks about his new job on Q+A on Sunday morning – how will he change the National Party?

Is Bridges wearing a green tie significant?

He’s coming across ok in his answers, thoughtful and giving some insight into how he ticks politicvaally. He could grow into the job.

And Fletcher Building:

Fletcher Building is pulling back on new projects after major losses. Whena Owen talks to industry insiders who are concerned about the future.

Winston Peters hasn’t dropped legal action against National Party

Conflicting reports this morning on whether Winston Peters has dropped legal action against the National Party and National MPs.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters hasn’t dropped legal action against National Party

NZ First leader Winston Peters has agreed to drop his legal action and pay costs to former National Party leader Bill English and other former ministers over the leak of his superannuation overpayments.

Peters was taking legal action against English, Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce and Anne Tolley as well as two staff members while trying to uncover who leaked details of his superannuation overpayments to the media before last year’s election.

It is understood Peters has now agreed to withdraw the legal action and pay some of the legal costs for the National Party MPs and staff – believed to be about $10,000.

The National side had said they would take further action on costs if a settlement was not reached.

But Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry has just been on RNZ and has stated that this is incorrect.

He said that the first legal action was over – on behalf of Peters he had sought documents, and as is normal when that happens, costs needed to be paid. he wouldn’t confirm or deny the amount of costs.

The defendants will be identified when the next legal claim is lodged. Bill English, Paula Bennett, Anne Tolley, former ministerial staff Wayne Eagleson and Clark Hennessy, and journalists Lloyd Burr and Tim Murphy were included in the first action.

Henry would only say that action has been dropped against the two journalists. He says that they were never intended to be a part of the eventual legal action.

But he refused to say which of the MPs and staff might be still subject to future legal action.

Henry said no statement of claim has been lodged, and would not say when that was likely to happen – he said that these things take time.

New deputy predicted for NZ First

There has never been any doubt who will lead NZ First while Winston Peters remains an MP, but the deputy spot is less secure. In 2015 Ron Mark got the numbers to oust Tracey Martin, but it looks like the knives are out for Mark, with the position up for a caucus vote next week.

Martin and Shane Jones appear to be too busy to consider going for it, so it looks like the way is open to Fletcher Tabuteau to take on some more responsibility.

Stuff: NZ First deputy leader Ron Mark looks set to be rolled at caucus on Tuesday

They say what goes around comes around and in Ron Mark’s case he’ll be hoping that’s not the case.

Mark rose to be NZ First’s deputy leader in 2015 after he challenged Tracey Martin and got enough support in the caucus to roll her.

But the party’s deputy leadership is up for grabs again on Tuesday and it’s understood the job is NZ First MP Fletcher Tabuteau’s – if he wants it.

Tabuteau was fourth on the NZ First list last election, behind Peters, Mark and Martin (Jones was 8th).

Mark need not worry about Martin, whose popularity amongst colleagues exceeds his, as it’s understood she’s not interested in the job due to her heavy ministerial workload.

NZ First new-comer but old-timer in terms of political experience, Shane Jones, has long been touted to take over the leadership from Winston Peters if he ever decided to throw it all in and head to Whananaki to retire.

But he’s not interested in the job either – he says he’s got one billion trees to plant and a $1 billion regional economic fund to spend, which would keep him far too busy for anything else.

So it looks like a contest between Mark and Tabuteau, if Mark doesn’t read the writing on the wall and say he’s too busy being a minister.

While he (Jones) says it’s not a “priority” for him to be deputy leader and in the short term he has a “hell of a role” he possibly also doesn’t see the deputy job as any sort of assumed stepping stone to the leadership.