A Curate’s Egg Cabinet: Much of it is bad, parts of it are excellent.

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JACINDA ARDERN has constructed a Curate’s Egg* Cabinet: parts of it are excellent. Overall, however, this new Labour government is an unaccountably bad production. People who deserved and should have been given/retained key portfolios didn’t get them. Others, who should never have been allowed anywhere near such important jobs have been promoted well beyond their merits. (And, one suspects, their competencies!) Clearly, the Prime Minister has been more concerned to keep the peace within her vastly expanded caucus, than she has to match the right people with the right positions. This is not a good start – and only promises to get worse.

Ardern’s key prime-ministerial decision was to appoint Grant Robertson her Deputy. Could she have done anything else? Would Robertson and his closest allies have tolerated Kelvin Davis, as Deputy-Leader of the Labour Party, stepping into the No. 2 position formerly occupied by Winston Peters?

It is certainly difficult to imagine Ardern being willing to test her closest political ally’s patience in such a fashion. She would have needed no instruction in how lowly Davis’s colleagues rated him. Nor would she have been minded to make the case that they were mistaken in their assessment. Davis’s peculiar behaviour on Election Night more-or-less sealed his fate. After that, it was simply a matter of smoothing the pillow of a dying career.

Not that Willie Jackson, the Labour Maori Caucus’ consummate “fixer”, was slow to exploit the “optics” of a Pakeha replacing a Maori in the Deputy-PM slot. Ardern would have been told that any decision to ease Davis out, if it was not to cause an embarrassing ruckus at the worst possible time, would have to be sweetened with the sugar of multiple (let’s say five) seats for Maori at (or very near) the Cabinet Table.

Ardern understood the message perfectly. As Minister for Maori Development, Jackson will have far too much on his plate to contemplate “ruckuses” of any kind for quite a while. The same, one suspects, goes for the new holder of the Defence and Whanau Ora portfolios, Peeni Henare.

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Horse-trading is an old and honourable political tradition – but there are limits. No amount of fluffing-up the elevation of Nanaia Mahuta to Minister of Foreign Affairs – “the first woman in our nation’s history appointed to hold the portfolio” – can disguise the sheer awfulness and irresponsibility of Ardern’s decision.

The job should have gone to David Parker: not only because he has earned it many times over, but also because, in the years between now and the next election, New Zealand is going to need a truly outstanding Foreign Minister. Regardless of who wins the 3 November presidential election, the conflict between the USA and China is going to ramp-up into something with the potential to inflict huge damage on this country and its economy. New Zealand needs a Foreign Minister of vision, courage, verbal felicity and real, on-the-ground, experience. Mahuta, sadly, has not distinguished herself as a person over-endowed with any of these qualities.

Another portfolio requiring a person of proven sensitivity and professional experience is Justice. That Andrew Little has been shunted aside from this portfolio to drive through Heather Simpson’s mad plans for the New Zealand health system, and replaced by the unremarkable and, frankly, under-qualified, Kris Faafoi, is, once again, a decision as irresponsible as it is awful.

Some very big and very thorny issues are raising their heads in Justice, not the least of which is a Human Rights Commission which clearly sees itself as being on a mission from God (or is it Allah?) to extirpate “Hate Speech” from Aotearoa’s green and pleasant land. Is Faafoi equal to the task of making – and selling – the arguments necessary to facilitate such a significant modification of New Zealanders’ current understanding of what the Bill of Rights Act’s guarantee of Freedom of Expression vouchsafes to them?

Nothing in his career to date suggests that he is capable of handling this portfolio successfully. Labour’s greatest Justice Minister and Attorney-General, Dr Martyn Findlay (1972-75) would have struggled to prevent the Free Speech/Hate Speech issue from inflicting serious damage on Ardern’s government, and whatever else Kris Faafoi may be, he ain’t no Martyn Findlay!

If Ardern is serious about wanting to govern for “all New Zealanders”, then this Cabinet doesn’t offer much in the way of help. Portfolios like Foreign Affairs and Justice are critical to explaining important changes in the level of security New Zealanders can expect to enjoy both at home and abroad. The people she has made responsible for these crucial communications are simply not up to it.

Why then has she done it? Does she believe that neither Mahuta nor Faafoi need to be up to the job because, when it comes to selling Government policy, nobody does it better than the Prime Minister herself? It is to be hoped not. “Change that sticks” requires more than rhetoric, it requires Ministers who not only know what they’re doing, but believe in it with all their hearts. Wellington isn’t Versailles, Prime Minister. L’Etat ce n’est pas toiJacinda!

If the state belongs to anybody in these dying days of the neoliberal paradigm, it belongs to Treasury. With the Finance portfolio still safely in his possession, and the crucial Infrastructure portfolio newly acquired, Grant Robertson has become the Lord of Paying-Out as well as the Lord of Gathering-In. It is to him, more than any other, that the task of “building back better” has been entrusted.

But, build back better according to whose blueprint? That is the question. Has Robertson got the chops to tell Treasury what it must do to fulfil Labour’s mission? Or, does he see his job as telling Ardern’s government what Treasury is prepared to let them spend?

New Zealanders used their votes to get rid of Winston Peters’ handbrake. Eliminating Treasury’s handbrake will require a Finance Minister with a clear plan for rebuilding the New Zealand economy, and the courage to fund it. Here’s hoping we have one.

What, then, are the good parts of this poor Curate’s egg?

Jan Tinetti has a good heart and a solid record of working alongside some of the poorest New Zealanders. With the Internal Affairs and Women’s portfolios she has been given a chance to prove whether she is, on her own, equal to pushing on past the gains of her immediate predecessors, NZ First’s Tracey Martin, and the Greens’ Julie Anne Genter.

The appointment of Ayesha Verrall to the portfolios of Food safety and Seniors, as well as to the Associate Health Minister position, ranks as easily the most exciting of Ardern’s decisions. Verrall is a prodigiously talented health scientist and Labour is very lucky to have persuaded her to join the team. Talent like hers, however, tends to make enemies in politics. Having raised her up so quickly, it is now the Prime Ministers’ duty to watch her back.

Finally, there’s the elevation of Michael Wood to Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety. This, the old Labour portfolio, will provide the most important test of the Sixth Labour Government’s willingness to live up to it name.

The legislation to introduce Fair Pay Agreements is already drafted and, with a minimum of 74 centre-left votes available to send it flying through the House, it could be law in less than six months. There is little doubt that Woods would be happy to oblige the working-class New Zealanders who made him the Member of Parliament for Mt Roskill. The question is: will his Prime Minister; will his colleagues; allow him to serve Labour’s most loyal voters? Or, will Ardern’s alarming sensitivity to the prejudices of the former National Party voters who crowned her New Zealand’s Queen of Kindness and Stability, act as a handbrake on Wood’s Labour instincts?

And, will that be the story of the next three years?

* In 1895, the satirical periodical Punch published a cartoon in which a timid Anglican Curate, having being told by his overbearing Bishop that he’s been served a bad egg for his breakfast, replies bravely: “Oh no, My Lord, I assure you, parts of it are excellent.”

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. It’s difficult to be at all enthusiastic when we are led by a bunch of business-as-usual devotees at a time when business-as-usual is falling apart and the global environment is collapsing. And those devotees of BAU already have established records of failure.

    That is particularly true when we know that our so-called leaders won’t give ANY attention to anything that really matters, and will try to tinker when drastic action is required.

    For instance:

    Daily CO2
    Nov. 1, 2020: 412.16 ppm
    Nov. 1, 2019: 410.83 ppm

    The Philippines has just been hit by yet another monstrous storm….and this just the beginning of absolutely devastating climate chaos caused by overuse of fossil fuels..

    Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice continues to track at a record low level portending even faster destabilisation of climate.

    On the economic front, the ONLY thing supporting financial markets is the continuous injection of ‘stimulus’ by central banks -particularly the Fed. None of this digital money reaches the people who are suffering, but goes straight to the sociopaths at the top of the financial pyramid. The social consequences of continuous impoverishment of the masses -particularly in America- can only be mayhem.

    So, as usual, the leadership of NZ will do what it always does: squander energy and resources; raise the concentration of atmospheric CO2, orchestrate further population overshoot, particularly in the larger cities, which are already far beyond the carrying capacity of the land and utterly dependent on the importation of humungous quantities of resource from elsewhere; ignore everything that matters in order to promote consumerism -which has no future anyway.

    As I said, it’s hard to be at all enthusiastic.

    • A further sign of the desperation that characterises the times: 0.1% (after which come zero and then negative?)

      The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has cut its cash rate to just 0.1% from 0.25% and announced a series of other measures aimed at supporting job creation and the recovery of the Australian economy from the COVID-19 pandemic.

      The RBA’s actions, including quantitative easing through the purchase of up to A$100 billion of federal and state government bonds, include;

      a reduction in the cash rate target to 0.1%
      a reduction in the target for the yield on the 3-year Australian Government bond to around 0.1%
      a reduction in the interest rate on new drawings under the Term Funding Facility for banks to 0.1%
      a reduction in the interest rate on Exchange Settlement balances to zero
      the purchase of $100 billion of government bonds of maturities of around 5 to 10 years over the next six months.’

      https://www.interest.co.nz/news/107796/reserve-bank-australia-committed-doing-what-it-can-support-creation-jobs-cuts-cash-rate

    • I must say, as the descendant of borderers, I enjoy in my marrow this present pleasure no matter how short.

      The lack of addressing, what is it, 15 or 20 years til genocidal reality, would make me commit ritual seppuku if I was imaginative, or ‘spiritual’. Present Tosh rules over later batshit.

      Am I wrong to look down on Jacinda and Grant? But their alternative, what would it be on the Left side?

  2. I think Mahuta is more than capable of doing the Foreign Affairs role she will have to do some hard mahi now. I am not sure whether Faafoi is the right man for immigration and Justice as he has already proven he is a bit of a soft touch (pushover) and we have all these people that want to come here. I also wonder how he (Faaafoi) will go with our racist justice system I would have preferred Little to stay in this role. I believe many Pakeha NZders didn’t want Davis to be our Deputy PM and he knew it. But Davis has his hands full with the rotten OT and Corrections two poisonous areas. Its hard to make change within our state services when the rotten culture is so deeply entrenched and embedded into such organisations. And who can you trusts, its also not that easy to get rid of some of the people that need to go.

  3. Except for the GP co-leaders outside of cabinet, any of these ministerial positions can change at any time. Barring scandals, the present holders probably have until at least after the budget to preform in their roles. But also unlikely that we’ll get all the way to 2023 without any changes in the cast.

    I can’t say that I fancy Parker for the Foreign Minister part, he’s a pretty uninspiring public speaker anyway. Even if he is thorough and diligent, not so much a people person. Many of the Foreign Ministers performances will have to be via video conferencing during the pandemic, and Mahuta does have a distinctive face for that. Is it unusual that Sio, the associate Foreign Minister, is out of cabinet?

  4. Winston was the only one who was willing to stand up to China and call out their appalling behavior. How he was sent off from parliament after all his years service was a joke. Now that hes out of the way, watch how New Zealand is slowly sold off to the elite. Mark my words, our country is under attack and the citizens dont even realize because they’re all asleep.

    • on the money there Jacob. And this bunch of muppets (mostly) haven’t a clue what is happening those who do just take the money and run.

    • The problem with Winston Peters was that he only tried to rumble with China when he got his orders from another insidious ‘world power’ and probably a call from the US sheriff of the Pacific, Australia. His greatest international triumph as Foreign Minister was chatting up Condoleezza – good for his ego but did bugger all for NZ. Peters as sure as hell never called out Trump on his appalling behaviour – left that for the PM to do and kept quiet about the worst human rights abuses outside of China. For all his flag waving, he never stopped the sell-off of anything and despite his assurances and sure didn’t make a dent in the control of the neoliberal parasites who have raped and pillaged the country as he promised prior to becoming part of Adern’s Government. Hopefully, his replacement will do the work instead of grandstanding in her quiet but determined way.

  5. On another comment thread here, I criticised Mahuta’s appointment; that was before I’d read this piece.

    “The job should have gone to David Parker…”

    Yes. It should have. In such an important portfolio, merit and experience should trump horse-trading. I cannot quite believe the sheer stupidity of this decision. It bespeaks – what? Arrogance perhaps? Has the PM come to believe her own publicity, as the saying goes?

    I agree with the rest of your critique above of the PM’s appointments.

    There’s no doubt that Kelvin Davis couldn’t have been considered for the Deputy PM position. And that’s not just for his election night pratfall, but also for the pig’s ear he made of the acting PM role, back at the beginning of the government’s term.

    “….any decision to ease Davis out, if it was not to cause an embarrassing ruckus at the worst possible time, would have to be sweetened with the sugar of multiple (let’s say five) seats for Maori at (or very near) the Cabinet Table.”

    Oh dear god….in that other comment thread, I characterised Mahuta’s appointment as tokenism. Looks like I was right. I’d hoped that we as a country were past that. Has the PM learned nothing from her years in parliament?

    “…..Human Rights Commission which clearly sees itself as being on a mission from God (or is it Allah?) to extirpate “Hate Speech” from Aotearoa’s green and pleasant land.”

    And this: one of the many reasons that I didn’t vote for the current government at this election, despite having been a Labour voter for most of my longish life.

    The thought of Faafoi dealing with this potentially explosive issue, instead of Little, fills me with dread. I cannot see it ending well.

    “New Zealanders used their votes to get rid of Winston Peters’ handbrake.”

    This election was about fear: voters have had the shit scared out of them by reportage about that damned virus from overseas, and by the propaganda-style approach taken by the government. There’s been a circling of the wagons around the Labour party, because pretty much all of the publicity has been fronted by the PM herself.

    The rural party vote in particular looks to have been an attempt to ensure that the Greens would be impotent. In which endeavour, they appear to have been successful, god bless them.

    I cannot agree about the appointments of Jan Tinetti (of whom I’d never heard) and Ayesha Verrall. In general, appointing first-termers to ministerial posts is unwise: it almost never turns out well.

    I’m reminded of Keith Holyoke’s sage advice to newbies: breathe through your nose for your first term. The PM would have done well to remember it, even if her advisors didn’t.

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