Wellington, September 17, 2018
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in Parliament. (Photo: VNP/Phil Smith)
As a piece of political art, it was close to perfection. As a reflection on the state of the government – there was nothing to see.
The Prime Minister’s speech launching the Coalition blueprint ticked all the boxes of a political playbook – a receptive happy audience, uplifting key messages, personality and politicians all talking about how great it is to be on the same team.
What it didn’t address was the issues that the Labour-led Government has been having over the last fortnight.
Simply changing it from being called the Labour-led government to the Coalition government didn’t address any of the differences that are emerging between the three parties.
There was no further detail on the Crown-Maori agency – an area of confused announcement in Cabinet. There wasn’t any clarity provided on the Chief Technology Officer role that lead to Clare Curran’s resignation. And the industrial relations and refugee issues are unresolved.
However, we may be overplaying how much these issues are affecting the progress of the government. This coalition government is unpredictable when it comes to how it will act when it comes to specific policy questions.
Six months ago, you would have thought that Winston Peter’s waka jumping bill would have been enough to drive the Greens support away.
However, despite the very public criticism of the former Green MPs and their own previous criticism, the current party saw a way to support it.
In any analysis of how the coalition is acting, it must be noted that this is not the Deputy Prime Minister’s first rodeo. In 1999, he was kicked out of Government by then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley for standing up against the sale of Wellington Airport shares.
Standing up for the views of his voters didn’t help him the first time and being the perfect team player certainly didn’t help the second time.
Walking the fine line
In this government, his experience in walking the fine line between the two appears to be paying off. Mr Peters is making it clear that he wants to stay in Government but will extract his price on his way through. The speech gave him the opportunity to get more money for the SuperGold card.
Whilst mostly overlooked in the high-level discussion, amongst the Prime Minister’s speech was a commitment to approximately $9 million for increasing the benefits to SuperGold cardholders. A smart move by Mr Peters – a key nod to his key supporters that he hasn’t forgotten them.
More moves like this can be expected as the election gets closer.
Coalitions are meant to be messy. One of the key reasons for the introduction of MMP was to avoid the situation where one party could just push through whatever policy they liked without any accountability to voters for another couple of years.
Coalition governments, and especially those in such a power balance like the current one, have to much more receptive to what voters are thinking now as it will greatly affect what they can achieve.
The Prime Minister’s launch of the Coalition Blueprint won’t have won over any new supporters for the coalition parties, but it wasn’t designed to. It was there is remind the voters of the Coalition parties why they voted for them twelve months ago- that as a Government they still believed in the same things.
It was about the politics, not about governing.
Brigitte Morten was a senior Ministerial Adviser for the previous National-led government. Prior to that she was an Adviser and Campaign Director for Liberal Party in Australia.