Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

A New Ministry at Last



Like most people, I was getting heartily sick of all the time being wasted over the coalition negotiations. During the first three weeks Winston grinned like a Cheshire cat, certain he'd be needed; Chris Luxon wasted time in lifting the phone to Winston and, still in campaign mode, visited the Chelsea Sugar Works rather than cementing his numbers in place. Even in the weeks after the final results it took time before the leading trio seemed to be in purposeful mode.

But then came the announcement on Friday 24 November, forty days after the election. A credible ministry with one or two over-burdened ministers, and two separate agreements, one with ACT, the other with New Zealand First, each of them is worthy of careful analysis. The first and obvious conclusion is that the agreements reflect genuine give-and-take. ACT which deserved the Deputy Prime Ministership agreed to share the position, but made some significant gains, with support from the other two, to reduce regulations, pare back the public service that was allowed to grow at a crazy rate under Ardern and Hipkins, narrow the Reserve Bank's remit to focusing on price stability, and to repeal the clumsy Spatial Planning and Natural and Built Environment Acts. In the areas of RMA reform, tenancy law, agriculture, natural resources, education and health, ACT's influence is obvious. New Zealand First's clout is more evident in their insistence on tackling school truancy and their overly generous policies towards seniors like keeping the superannuation age at 65 when it could quite sensibly be lifted in small steps to 68 or higher with little adverse effect. There is already provision for early retirement for those with special needs. Both ACT and New Zealand First favour abolition of the separatist Maori Health Authority, an end to co-governance, and a careful review of the out-of-control industry currently pushing He Puapua and expanding the "principles" of the Treaty of Waitangi.

This was our tenth MMP election and it's the first ministry to have put together what looks like a fairly carefully balanced template for government. As the disciples of Roger Douglas, ACT is more concerned about economic growth and removing the complex and multi-layered impediments put in its way by the Ardern-Hipkins Labour government. National seems to have shown flexibility in negotiations over productivity, government spending and over lifting levels of law and order. The new cabinet make-up distributes jobs reasonably fairly with a reservation about a seemingly overloaded Nicola Willis who has responsibility both for Finance and the grotesquely under-performing Public Service. Simeon Brown and Paul Goldsmith are carrying large burdens as well, while one or two junior ministers seem to have little work.

But having said that, I think the agreements look sound and the ministry as good as could be expected from the new Parliament. The public reaction hasn't been entirely positive and doesn't suggest an easy ride for Chris Luxon. Setting aside some snide remarks from the hopelessly discredited Labour Party (the party of Micky Savage, Peter Fraser and Helen Clark that managed only to scrape up 26% of the party vote) there have been discordant notes being amplified by the two television stations. Radio New Zealand has found air time for them too. All of them played Labour's games for so long that their political journalists came to believe Labour's policies were theirs to protect. Right now, mischief is being brewed by the Maori Party and the Greens who have become latter day devotees of the now unlamented former Soviet Union with their economic policies, and outright racists with their social policies. As the new ministry goes about improving our economic performance and legislating equal rights for all New Zealanders, those who favour special privileges for themselves and anyone with a Maori ancestor will try a variety of tactics from breaking parliamentary protocols to marching in the streets. There have already been threats of violence.

This will be the new ministry's first test. Equal rights for all and special privileges for no one on the basis of ancestry. New Zealand's once proud reputation for being a liberal democracy needs to be re-asserted. Chris Luxon, David Seymour and Winston Peters we are relying on you to stay strong in defence of the package you have put together.