The 52nd Parliament of New Zealand will be dissolved in a few days time to clear the deck for the 19 September 2020 General Election. It has 3 more sitting days, during which time there will be valedictory speeches by outgoing Members of Parliament. The Government will attempt to tidy up what it can of the remaining legislative agenda. The dissolution is a public event that, weather permitting, happens in front of the Parliament steps.
But whilst we wait for Parliament to wind up, it is time for the triennial Parliamentary Report Card, where I examine the performance of the individual parties in the three years since the 23 September 2017 General election.
In a turbulent term where there was a mosque attack, a volcanic eruption and which currently has an out of control global pandemic, A.C.T. have been the surprise performer of the Parliamentary parties. This is not to say I want to see A.C.T.’s caucus grow at all since the party is almost completely contrary to everything I stand for, but credit where it is due. Mr Seymour has done good work on bringing legislation before Parliament on euthanasia. His support for decriminalizing abortion would have won him plaudits with female voters, and his libertarian approach to cannabis will give the base members something to cheer about. Mr Seymour cut a lonely figure when Parliament voted 119-1 to pass legislation restricting certain automatic firearms and has been the one Party to consistently resist work on climate change. For that his party looks like being reward in the polls with up to four more members joining him. GRADE: B+
The Greens however are polling poorly at this time. Their support has not been the same since Metiria Turei was ousted over her admission of lying to Work and Income about her finances. With current polling of only 5%, the Greens look set to lose a couple of Members of Parliament. Despite being in their first coalition Government and having seats around the Cabinet table a combination of poor tactical decisions, not being able to achieve all that they wanted to (which no party in a coalition government ever can!)and some unfortunate negativity in the media has seen them lacking some of the flair that has been in past versions of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Releasing their manifesto at a time when minimal media attention was being paid, has not helped either. GRADE: B-
Labour took office in 2017 having pulled off one of the most stunning turn arounds in New Zealand political history. From the pre-election doldrums of 2017, staring down the barrel of one of the biggest election thrashings in recent times, and having had four leaders in nine year prior Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it needed a miracle. Since Labour took office it has been a wild roller coaster ride largely driven by events out of Ms Ardern’s control – a terrorist attack killing 51 innocent beings; a volcanic eruption causing New Zealand’s first direct volcanic fatalities since the 1914 lahar on Whakaari and – as of March 2020 a global pandemic. With each even Ms Ardern has not only risen to the challenge but owned it, employing a now respected cocktail of empathy and kindness for the victims, coupled with guidance by the experts and a no-nonsense tack. Both the terrorist attack and the pandemic have generated widespread approving media coverage of the Government. Even the misdemeanours of Clare Curran, David Clark and Meka Whaitiri seem to pale somewhat when considering the magnitude of what the Government has been grappling with. With public support for Labour at an historic M.M.P. era high it is their election to lose. GRADE A
The largest party at the end of the 2017 election entered Parliament determined to make inroads on a Labour-led Government that among the usual hiccups that happen when a party is still trying to find its feet, many thought had tried to bite off too much. One thought that National might have quickly found its feet following the start of the new Parliament, but attacks were largely uncoordinated and the public were happy to give Labour a bit of time to find its feet. The 15 March 2019 terrorist attack was handled as graciously as National could, including the support offered to the Government. Leader Simon Bridges had realized it was not his moment, but he had to front with the Prime Minister to show empathy. An eruption followed as did the onset of the pandemic. But frustrations about National’s inability to contain an increasingly popular Prime Minister were growing. In May 2020 they boiled over, with the rolling of Mr Bridges. His successor lasted 53 days during which time National had a dizzying plunge in the polls. Worsening the crisis was the outing of M.P.’s Hamish Walker, Michael Woodhouse and an admission that former Party President Michelle Boag. Another coup followed with Judith Crusher Collins finally getting to lead the party whose Papakura electorate she has been in since 2005. But a lack of definitive policy other than roads and woefully out of touch Ms Collins mean a third coup is probable before the end of the year. Maybe before the election. GRADE: D
NEW ZEALAND FIRST
It is not that New Zealand First have been useless in this Government. When you look at the work that Mr Peters has done on foreign affairs, including suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong; the work of Minister of Defence Ron Mark which has seen two critical equipment purchases that National had delayed, get made; and the work of Tracey Martin on children’s affairs, the party has actually made a substantial contribution. However its conservative side has shown in several instances that may serve to harm the Government further down the road – Shane Jones’ unwillingness to control his mouth is a liability. The retirement of Clayton Mitchell removes an M.P. tarnished by out of Parliament goings on. But how much longer can the aura Winston Peters last? Can the Brexit boys really revive the party, or will they kill it? And there is also the lingering plume of smoky donations from an unannounced fire somewhere in the party. GRADE: C+