Monday , August 2 2021

Recess a chance for National to catch his breath post-Jami-Lee Ross

OPINION: It's clear Jami-Lee Ross has inflicted some damage on National. Quite how much is unclear.

Nevertheless, I doubt anybody within the party's Caucus would deny its armor has been dented by the Fiasco.

But assuming nothing else emerges, National seems ready to take the Lessons on board and move on. For the most part, the media seems to have become aware of the dangerous territory whose coverage was veering into. The fact Parliament is in recess provides additional breathing space for Simon Bridges while the whole affair, he must hope, will continue to fade.

Parliamentary recesses are also, of course, an opportunity for government ministers to seize the initiative and set the agenda with positive news. Announcements can be made in a time-free environment question. It's kind of like a free hit in Twenty20 Cricket.

* Simon Bridges describes MP colleague as 'f … ing useless' in recorded conversation
* Ardern remains indispensable to Labor's image
* 'We're going in' – Government unveils decision to re-enter Pike River Mine


National leader Simon Bridges discusses potential Crown Apology to the Pike River families.

During the last National Government, for example, there was an expectation that something significant would be announced at least every other day during a recess period. At least. It was something Ministerial Advisors built up to.

Interestingly, it's not something the Ardern ministry has been able to replicate.

Probably the biggest news last week was Andrew Little confirming that the Government would press on with its plans to re-enter the Pike River mine, which was sealed after that terrible explosion in 2010. All things being equal, it looks like re-entry will begin in February.

This confirmation will be gratifying for many of the families of the deceased Miners, of course. And it reaffirms a longstanding commitment to re-entry on the part of the Labor Party.

New details were also announced in relation to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Historical Abuse of Children. Its remit has been expanded to include religious institutions and the commission has been re-named accordingly. The timeframe for the inquiry, which looks to be the most expensive in our history, has also been extended to reflect that wider Mandate.

Nevertheless, the point at which announcing developments in reviews, reports and consultations could be touted as political Achievements for this Government is well and truly in the rear-vision mirror.

Looking through the Government's Announcements, it looks like it has joined in on an international declaration on biodiversity, agreed upon a shared commitment with Australia for enhanced cyber-security in the Pacific and determined farmers are making more and better use of the National Animal Identification and Tracing Scheme. All very good and worthy things, of course. None of them, however, is the type of thing that penetrates the public consciousness or puts the opposition off-balance.

On the first anniversary of the Ardern ministry's foundation, I made a radio interview on her Achievements to date. One of the things I had to credit to was the achievement of internal stability. Plenty of people had predicted that a Labor – NZ First – Greens Government was bound to fall Apart. But while there have been some wobbles from time to time, the arrangements are looking pretty rock-solid.

For all their stability, of course, the rocks do not tend to be Agile. If the Coalition has managed to overcome its internal contradictions by resolving to Concentrate on reviews and international meetings then it will present a rather slow-moving target for the Opposition.

National enjoys few natural advantages over this government in an MMP environment. One tailwind it does, however, is that if you do not count ACT, which few people seem to do these days, it is really the singular voice of opposition.

That gives it a lot of freedom in crafting an alternative agenda while the Government is weighted down by the need for a three-way agreement on anything significant.

On its own, the policy rarely wins elections – and rightly so. However, if you're going to square up against a popular leader and the head of a first-term government, then the right alternative vision is essential. National needs to set out an agenda that is simple, responsibly populist and, ideally, something Government parties can not plausibly seek to replicate.

Seeing a Government limited in its ability to do much more than it is already doing, the Temptation for National might be trying to steal a march on it now. That may be a mistake.

The next election is still almost two years away and, with its alternative vision being one of the few things it can control, National should not Rush how it crafts it. The uncoordinated nature of the governing troika is not going to change Anytime soon.

In the meantime, there is one other thing that National does control: internal Discipline. The recent troubles appear to have been non-Fatal. MPs would be wise to ensure the party did not put it to the test again.

Liam Hehir is a lawyer and political columnist based in Manawatū.

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