Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A massive gesture of contempt for the voters

It’s said that great minds think alike. Unfortunately the same is true, by definition, of conformist minds.

As an example, take the political news headlines of November 29. They were strikingly similar. Almost without exception, the mainstream media pounced on the new government’s decision to axe Labour’s ambitious (but possibly unworkable) plan to make New Zealand smokefree.

Not only did the major media outlets agree, as if by consensus, on what should be played up as the big story of the day. Even the wording of the headlines was often virtually identical.

And so we got Health experts furious over government’s plan to scrap smokefree measures (Newshub): Government’s smokefree law repeal ‘a massive step back’ – health orgs (1 News); Disbelief as a smokefree generation slips away (The Detail, RNZ); Top Pasifika doctor Collin Tukuitonga slams plans to repeal smokefree laws – says most vulnerable will suffer (NZ Herald); Government defending the indefensible in scrapping smokefree efforts – health leader (RNZ); Experts warn health system will bear burden of government abandoning smokefree regulations (Newshub again).

There was also a predictable anxiety attack over what the rest of the world might think. Smoking laws: what international media is [sic] saying about NZ’s scrapping (the Herald); Smokefree laws: what the world is saying about NZ’s ‘shock reversal’ (1 News); What the world’s media says [sic] about new government’s plan to scrap smokefree laws (Newshub). In other words some overseas media disapproved, therefore the governing coalition must have got it hideously wrong. How embarrassing for New Zealand; how shameful.

True, the BBC, Time magazine and America’s National Public Radio all took the line that the new government was foolishly (or callously) snuffing out progressive laws that had been passed by Jacinda Ardern’s enlightened administration - laws that were seen as a blueprint for the rest of the world, or so the journalists pronounced. How could anyone take such a retrograde step? That was the dominant tone of the overseas coverage. To be fair, though, the overseas stories were nuanced, balanced and contextualised in a way that was generally lacking locally. New Zealanders reading them would have been considerably better informed than by their own domestic media.

The following day, November 30, brought an even more striking example of media groupthink. A selection of headlines: Luxon honeymoon rained on by Peters and cigarettes (Toby Manhire, The Spinoff); Winston Peters killed Christopher Luxon’s honeymoon with anti-media antics (Jenna Lynch, Newshub); Christopher Luxon tries to get his plan and honeymoon back on track without Winston Peters butting in (Claire Trevett, the Herald); Winston Peters making it look like Chris Luxon has lost control (Tova O’Brien, Stuff); Winston Peters’ bad behaviour overshadowing Christopher Luxon, David Seymour (Audrey Young, the Herald); Christopher Luxon refuses to pull Winston Peters into line over anti-media comments, laughs it off (Jenna Lynch again, taking a second swipe).

This time two themes were competing for the excitable journalists’ attention. One was that Peters was hijacking Luxon’s moment in the spotlight; the other was that the deputy prime minister was defaming the media with false claims that they had been bribed by the previous government’s $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund, and Luxon was doing nothing to rein him in. Why wasn’t the PM defending the media, or at least telling Peters to pull his horns in? (As if ...)

How do we know Peters’ statements about the media were false? Because Jenna Lynch told us so, more than once. She didn’t explain how they were false; they just were. We were supposed to take her word for it.

The NZ media now automatically insert that word “false” in every story about Peters’ accusations about the PIJF, just as the US media inserted the word “false” in every story about Donald Trump complaining the 2020 presidential election had been stolen. (We can now be reasonably confident those claims were false after several courts ruled they were. But that wasn’t the case when the US media, almost without exception, began using the word. They took upon themselves the right to assert it as an established fact.)

A previous generation of journalists, both here and in the US, would have said the claims were alleged to be false or had been condemned as false. They would have explained who was alleging they were false and why, then left the public to make up its own mind. The court of public opinion was the ultimate arbiter.

Not anymore. The media decide what’s false and what can be regarded as credible. As with Lynch, we’re expected to take their word for it.

The claims about the PIJF may indeed be false, as was the case with Trump. But the media have taken a dangerous leap into new territory by acting as if contentious issues are definitively settled when in the public mind they may not be. In effect, they have assumed a mantle of omniscience.

Climate change is another case where the mainstream media have decreed there’s no room for dispute and that, accordingly, no contrary views will be given space or air time. I’ve been a journalist for 55 years and I can’t recall any previous issue on which the media arrogantly asserted the right to shut down all public debate on the basis that an issue was “settled”. But this is the new normal.

It’s an attitude that flows from the emergence of a new priestly caste of university-educated journalists who reject the idea of objectivity, contemptuously dismissing it as “bothsidesism”. Former generations of journalists were trained to present both sides of a story, but to the priestly journalistic caste now in control, this risks giving an aura of legitimacy to opinions and ideas they fear and despise. They have therefore taken upon themselves the right to determine what the public can safely be allowed to read or hear, and thus to proscribe modern heresies such as climate change scepticism or Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy.

Journalists seem to think that simply by baldly asserting that statements they disagree with are false, they will convince the public. Certainly some of the public, such as RNZ’s steadily diminishing number of rusted-on devotees, will need little persuading. However it’s more likely the media will simply get a lot of people’s backs up. What many journalists don’t grasp is that most of the public no longer trust them and wonder, quite reasonably, why they should believe them – a state of affairs made worse by the media’s rush to sign up to the Ardern government’s Public Interest Journalism Fund, which brings us back to Peters’ claims of bribery.

Was it “bribery” to accept government money in return for a commitment to a highly politicised interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi, as Peters says? At worst, his use of the word could be described as hyperbole. But the indignant chorus of howls from the media can’t disguise the fact that by taking the money, they laid themselves open to the accusation that the government had bought their support. 

Even if some media outlets convinced themselves they were behaving honourably, the mere acceptance of government money created a very damaging public perception. I don’t think media bosses gave sufficient thought to the harm that would be done to their credibility, especially in a febrile political climate highly charged by divisive identity politics and dissent over such issues as the vaccine mandate. And their image wasn’t helped by the perception that the media were giving Ardern’s government a conspicuously easy ride.

That the PIJF was at heart a propaganda exercise (I called it the Pravda Project) is not in any doubt. Raewyn Rasch, who ran the fund on behalf of NZ on Air – and who, for the fund’s duration, became one of the most powerful figures in the New Zealand media – admitted as much on RNZ’s Mediawatch. In an interview with Colin Peacock after the first funding round in 2021, she said NZ on Air wanted to encourage conversations about the Treaty, but those conversations had to “come from an understanding of what the Treaty is about”. And who decided what the correct “understanding” was? Why, Rasch and NZ on Air, that's who.

Rasch argued that this didn’t preclude anyone from taking a critical view of Treaty issues – but if you’re dictating how the Treaty is to be interpreted, and therefore limiting the parameters of the “conversation”, to use Rasch’s cute term, you’re choking off the scope for legitimate debate and automatically excluding most, if not all, dissenting opinion.

Some of what Rasch said in that interview was nonsensical and contradictory. She said the fund didn’t dictate how applicants should cover Treaty issues, but then almost immediately and quite unabashedly told of a PIJF-funded documentary about the South Island Alpine Fault that fell short of the fund’s expectations because it included no Maori input. Rasch’s team “went back and had a chat” – how chilling those words can sound – with the documentary makers, as a result of which they then “engaged” with Ngai Tahu. Even Peacock, an apologist for the Pravda Project, seemed surprised that a documentary about seismology had to pay homage to NZ on Air’s idea of the Treaty principles. But oh, yes: “Te Tiriti comes into everything,” Rasch declared. So there you are.

Now, back to that remarkable media consensus on the story of the day. On November 29, it was the scrapping of Labour’s idealistic but impractical anti-smoking legislation; on November 30, the focus was on Peters’ attacks on the media, and the implied weakness of Luxon for not silencing him.

The election of any new government almost invariably precipitates an avalanche of news – this one more so than most because it brought together three parties which, despite often incompatible ideologies, agreed on an ambitious programme of change.

There were 49 items on the 100-day plan announced by the government on November 29. The media latched onto one – the smokefree reversal – and almost ignored the other 48. Why? 

The same uniformity was notable the following day in the coverage of Peters’ bribery claims - a story of importance primarily to self-absorbed, hyper-sensitive journalists. 

I wonder, do parliamentary press gallery reporters confer among themselves to decide which subjects to cover and what line to take? The homogenous tone of the coverage suggests so, but I doubt it. Conspiracy is too strong a word, implying some sort of secret agreement. However it surely says something that so many journalists come away from an announcement and all spin it the same way. If that doesn’t suggest groupthink, I don’t know what does.

Fortunately there remain a few thoughtful, independently minded press gallery journalists who don’t hunt with the pack and who develop their own angles. I won’t put them in a difficult position by naming them.

All this took place against a backdrop of wall-to-wall weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth over the election of a government that the priestly media caste doesn’t approve of. I can’t recall any new government being confronted with such intense, naked hostility from people whom the public expect to be fair, neutral and balanced. 

State-owned media are some of the worst offenders. Throughout last week, RNZ’s Morning Report featured a daily parade of the aggrieved and disaffected: renters, unionists, public transport lobbyists, climate activists, teachers, academics, health and disability advocates, Treaty crusaders and environmentalists, all beating their breasts in despair – egged on by sympathetic interviewers – at the depredations wrought by a government of barbarians. As Richard Prebble perceptively wrote in a column, “power and privilege are never surrendered voluntarily”.

TVNZ is no better, giving more air time to politicians the electorate rejected than to ones who were elected – and often needling the latter and trying to trap them with “Gotcha!” questions. The state TV network also makes space on its website for whiny opinion pieces by the nation’s Hand-Wringer in Chief, John Campbell. Make no mistake, the media will ensure that the coalition parties are punished for their electoral success.

Note too the deafening media silence over incendiary statements from Maori politicians – among them, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s allegations of “systemic genocide” and “state-sponsored terrorism”, which bordered on unhinged, and Willie Jackson’s threats of “war” and civil unrest “five times worse” than the 1981 Springbok tour, which were tantamount to an incitement to violence.

These intemperate verbal eruptions pass unremarked by the media high priests, as did the circus at the swearing-in of MPs yesterday when the Maori Party wilfully made a mockery of parliamentary procedure. Those same Maori MPs would not take it well – and neither should they – if visitors to a marae refused to honour protocol and tradition. Why do they not show the same respect for the institution to which they have been elected? And why do media commentators appear united in their determination not to denounce the debasement of the House of Representatives that sits at the heart of New Zealand’s system of government? 

All this follows six years during which the mainstream media gave a free pass to probably the most extremist government in New Zealand history. Time and again under Ardern, dodgy law changes went unreported and issues that reflected badly on the government were either treated as invisible or played down until exposure by online platforms made them impossible to ignore. Now journalists have suddenly and miraculously rediscovered the critical scrutiny mechanism that inexplicably lay dormant for two terms under Labour.

To finish, three points:

1. I didn’t vote for this government (I didn’t cast a party vote at all) so can’t be considered blindly loyal to any of the parties in the coalition. I did, however, welcome the ousting of the former government and believe that its successors, who were legitimately elected under the system the country voted for in 1993, are entitled to a fair shake.

2. Where are the boards of directors and CEOs of media organisations? Directors are rightly reluctant to interfere in editorial decisions, but the unprecedented media animosity toward an elected government is unhealthy for the body politic. Hubristic presenters and political journalists are out of control and intoxicated by their own imagined power. It has reached a point where more senior figures need to step in for the sake of democracy, to say nothing of their sagging corporate reputations. This is especially true of the state-owned media companies TVNZ and RNZ. If those boards allow things to continue as they are, they should be shown the door on the assumption they are hostile to the government that employs them. (The boards are politically appointed, of course, and we can't discount the possibility that at least some directors were chosen because they were on board with Labour's agenda.) I never imagined myself advocating boardroom intervention in newsroom decisions, still less political appointments to media organisations, but this is what we’ve come to.

3. Ultimately, it all comes down to democracy and respect for the will of the people. For six years New Zealand had a government the media approved of. Voters emphatically signalled on October 14 that they wanted a change, but the priestly media caste is tone-deaf to the public mood and can’t bring itself to accept the decision. The petulant media campaign of resistance against the coalition government is, above all, a massive gesture of contempt for the voters. Or should I say the deplorables?

Friday, December 1, 2023

What's behind the media’s low-key treatment of the mosque shootings inquest?

Has anyone else been struck by the extraordinarily low-key media coverage of the inquest into the Christchurch mosque massacres?

Day after day, major news outlets have, at best, played down the proceedings. At worst they have ignored the inquest altogether. The coverage has been so conspicuously subdued that I can only conclude it’s deliberate.

RNZ is an honourable exception, but even there the coverage has been relatively light. Television has reported the inquest only spasmodically and you have to search the Stuff and NZME websites for any reference to it.

This is perplexing. March 15, 2019 was one of the most traumatic days in New Zealand history – arguably more so than previous tragedies such as Pike River, Mt Erebus or the Wahine sinking, because it was the result of a deliberate act. Only the Aramoana massacre of 1990, in which 13 people were shot dead compared with the 51 in Christchurch, comes close.

It follows that the nation has a vital interest in knowing not just how and why the mosque killings happened and whether they could have been avoided, but also in establishing whether the response by police and emergency services was adequate.

A royal commission of inquiry in 2020 dealt with those first questions, but it falls to the inquest under deputy chief coroner Brigitte Windley to investigate the latter issue.

What has emerged in evidence so far is not encouraging. Witnesses have told of confused, chaotic, slapdash and even heartless responses to the shootings; of indecision, communication breakdowns and rigid adherence to health and safety rules that meant medical help for the surviving victims was delayed.

Until yesterday, perhaps the most disheartening revelations were that paramedics didn’t enter the Deans Avenue mosque until 30 minutes after the killer had left and that surviving victims were abandoned altogether for 10 minutes after reports came through of the second outbreak of shootings and police left the scene to rush to Linwood.

Now it has emerged that distraught relatives of the victims at Deans Avenue were told to leave the scene and even threatened with arrest when they wanted to comfort the wounded. An American police expert on terror attacks told of “heartbreaking” witness statements and gave his opinion that people who were already inside the mosque should have been allowed to stay unless they were interfering. Another overseas counter-terrorism expert said there was no excuse for leaving the shooting victims alone.

No doubt the inquest has also been told, or will be told, of acts of heroism and compassion by first responders, including the two courageous and quick-thinking police officers who apprehended the killer. It’s likely too that the coroner, in her findings, will make the point that this was an unprecedented event and that confusion and errors of judgment were probably inevitable.

That Brenton Tarrant was arrested only 19 minutes after the shooting began, and before he could continue his murderous rampage at Ashburton, was remarkable. Failings by police and ambulance staff should never be allowed to overshadow or diminish that fact.

But at the same time, the public is entitled to know where the system failed and how it might be improved. That’s what makes the news media’s apparent lack of interest so puzzling.

In past eras, an event such as the Christchurch inquest would have been given saturation coverage. Reporters would have been present throughout and filed blow-by-blow accounts of every witness statement.

That this hasn’t happened is partly an inevitable result of the hollowing-out of newsrooms and the shrinkage of newspaper space. But the level of coverage also reflects editorial priorities.

Not so very long ago, news editors would have regarded the inquest as an essential “running” story – one that automatically commanded daily prominence. Now it has to compete for space with such essential news as why you should avoid French and Italian wines on aircraft and the $100 million wedding of a woman even Stuff admits no one has heard of.

Clearly reporters are present at the inquest for at least some of the time, and equally clearly the stories emerging from the inquest are a compelling matter of public interest.  Yet far from being highlighted in news columns and bulletins, those stories are given surprisingly subdued treatment. Why?

For once, I’m not suggesting there’s any ideological or political factor involved. More likely it’s a simple matter of editorial judgment, in which case I think it’s badly flawed.

I can’t help wondering whether the national memory of March 15, 2019 is considered so painful that media decision-makers decided we should be spared any unnecessary reminders. Or are the shootings regarded as a stain on the nation’s reputation that has now been made worse by the shame and embarrassment of an inept response, and therefore something to be reported grudgingly and reluctantly – if at all?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The media's war on the new government

We are in an extraordinary situation where the mainstream media are openly at war with an elected government. This has never happened before in my lifetime, and to my knowledge never in New Zealand history.

Having adopted a nauseatingly sycophantic approach to the former government, consistently ignoring issues that showed it in a bad light and subjecting it to only the gentlest scrutiny while mercilessly savaging the opposition, the media are now in full-on attack mode.

The level of hostility toward the Luxon-led government is striking. All pretence of balance and neutrality has been abandoned.

The message is clear. The mainstream media are sulking because they think the voters elected the wrong government. They are angry and indignant that despite all their efforts, New Zealand swung right on October 14.

They are wilfully tone-deaf to the public mood because they think they know better. It means nothing to them that the voters had had enough of Labour’s ideological excesses. At best, the high priests of the media (or should I say high priestesses, since the worst offenders are female) are indifferent to democracy; at worst, they resent it because it gives power to the hoi-polloi – the deplorables, to use Hillary Clinton’s word.

In effect, the media are functioning as the opposition. A shattered and demoralised Labour Party has disappeared to lick its wounds, so the press gallery has loyally stepped into the vacuum.

War was declared on the day the coalition’s ministers were sworn in. The tone of the media coverage over the ensuing three days has been relentlessly carping, petty, quarrelsome and negative. We are seeing ministers baited and goaded in a way that never happened under Labour.

The sheer aggression is likely to rattle Luxon and his National ministers, none of whom have previously shown much spine in standing up for themselves against media hit-jobs. They will need to harden up fast.

David Seymour will cope far better and Winston Peters, of course, will revel in the combat. Peters is a graduate of the Robert Muldoon School of Media Relations and a lightning rod for the media's antagonism.

Government ministers and MPs must understand that they don’t need to ingratiate themselves with their press gallery tormentors. They should remind themselves that having been elected, they have a moral legitimacy the media can never enjoy. No one voted for the members of the press gallery and they are accountable to no one.

They are not even well-liked. I suspect that an opinion poll taken today would show that respect for the media has slumped to a new low, which would be quite some achievement. If their purpose is to hasten the mainstream media's descent into irrelevance and ultimate oblivion, they are going about it in exactly the right way.


Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The left-wing media needed a line of attack, and they found one

The left-wing media pack wasted no time identifying the new government’s weakest point.

Seething over an election result that they didn’t like, they have searched for a convenient line of attack and found one in the proposed repeal of Labour’s extremist smokefree legislation.

This has been a running story for the past two days. The media have collectively decided to frame the government’s proposal as an attack on the poor to benefit the rich. Even the BBC picked up on it.

National obligingly played into their hands when Nicola Willis acknowledged on Newshub Nation that money saved by scrapping the laws, and therefore restoring $1 billion worth of government revenue from tobacco sales, will go toward tax cuts that National previously hoped to fund with a tax on wealthy overseas home buyers – a plan vetoed by New Zealand First.

It will have been a sharp lesson for the inexperienced and possibly over-confident new Minister of Finance. Never give the media pack an opening.

Predictably conspicuous by its absence from the media furore is any consideration of the flaws in Labour’s legislative package, which would cut the number of tobacco outlets from 6000 to 600, ban sales to anyone born after 2008 and cut the amount of nicotine allowed in tobacco.

Retailers breaching the law would face fines of up to $150,000 and a lifetime ban. Regardless of your personal attitude toward tobacco, which I regard as a pernicious addiction, it’s a piece of legislation that uses the pretext of good intentions to justify authoritarian overkill. As C S Lewis wrote, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”

Who decides which corner dairies will be allowed to sell cigarettes and which won’t, and on what basis? What will be the impact on local communities if store owners, deprived of vital revenue from tobacco sales, go out of business? What are the risks of even more ram raids, given that tobacco will become an even more precious commodity? And how did Labour propose to counter the black market, doubtless controlled by gangs, that would inevitably flourish?

Obviously these are minor technicalities that must not be allowed to intrude on the dreamy idealistic vision of a tobacco-free New Zealand. Neither should they get in the way of the media’s determination to portray the new government as unfeeling and regressive.

Monday, November 27, 2023

A few random thoughts post-election

■ My friend and former boss Robin Bromby, long domiciled in Australia but still a keen observer of New Zealand affairs, makes an interesting point in an email.

He asks, “When has a Wellington MP led his party to an election win? The last Wellington area MP to become PM after an election was Walter Nash in 1957. But the job now seems to be taken mainly by Aucklanders.”

Robin’s right, of course. Auckland dominance of politics used to be a point of controversy; now it seems to be accepted as the natural order of things. Jim Bolger was the last elected PM not from Auckland.

Chris Hipkins is from the Hutt, but he wasn’t elected as prime minister. Bill English – Wellington-based, though originally from Southland – is another who became prime minister as a result of his predecessor’s resignation. The same was true of Jenny Shipley, another South Islander.

Metropolitan dominance continues in the newly formed government. Shane Reti (Whangarei) and Louise Upston (Taupo) are the only senior ministers from outside Auckland and Wellington. The days of political heavy hitters from the provinces such as Norm Kirk and Keith Holyoake are long gone.

■ On Morning Report this morning, RNZ deputy political editor Craig McCulloch described the new coalition government as “a much more right-wing government than New Zealand has seen for some time”.

It was a revealing choice of terminology. Technically it’s accurate – but who can recall RNZ political reporters (or any mainstream media journalists for that matter) referring to the former government as "left-wing", still less noting that it was arguably the most left-wing in the country’s history? 

In recent years the media have tended to favour the polite term “centre-right” for the National Party. Perhaps the inclusion of ACT and New Zealand First in the coalition means journalists will now feel justified in using “right-wing”, which carries unmistakeable connotations of disapproval. But why wasn’t the same labelling criterion applied to Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party? Is it, to paraphrase George Orwell, a case of left-wing good, right-wing bad?

To his credit, though, McCulloch made a point of highlighting the fact that seven of the 20 ministers in the new cabinet are of Maori descent – more than under Jacinda Ardern.

■ Later on the same show, Corin Dann interviewed James Shaw about the Green Party’s opposition to the proposed lifting of the ban on oil and gas exploration. The questioning could be described as friendly, gentle and polite. Shaw was allowed to speak virtually uninterrupted, as should be the case if you accept that the primary purpose of an interview is for the subject to get his or her points across.

That was followed by Ingrid Hipkiss interviewing oil and gas industry spokesman John Carnegie on the same issue. The tone was markedly different: more interruptions and generally more interrogative. Of course that may simply mean Hipkiss has a different interviewing style, but the contrast was noticeable.

Next up was the new prime minister, and this time Corin Dann adopted a much more adversarial approach than with Shaw – not hostile, exactly, but certainly a lot more aggressive, and with frequent interruptions. At times, especially on the subject of tobacco sales to minors, it was hard to avoid the impression that the rather excitable Dann was pushing a line of questioning driven by personal feelings.

At what point does an interview cross the line between being searching but neutral and one where personal opinion seems to get in the way? There’s no definitive answer to that question, but it’s worth recalling that Geoff Robinson spent nearly 40 years as host of Morning Report and never found it necessary to adopt a hectoring approach. He was never less than calm and polite and no one ever had a clue what his own feelings were. Were his listeners any less informed? I don’t think so.

More to the point, however: was Jacinda Ardern, in her regular appearances on Morning Report, subjected to the same robust treatment as Luxon this morning? I don’t recall it happening, but no doubt that’s my faulty memory.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Kim Hill's exit interview

Kim Hill signed off yesterday. Her legion of fans will be bereft.

I am not one of them. Hill is ferociously intelligent and can be an incisive interviewer. The problem is that she used her skills very selectively – purring with approval for people she liked, but occasionally eviscerating those she didn’t. Don Brash comes to mind.

Hill has a long memory. During the last segment of her final show, my name came up. (I didn’t hear this; a friend told me.)

The following is from RNZ’s account of Hill's exit interview with her colleague Bryan Crump:

"Her punchy and penetrating interviewing style has not been without critics, she says.

"The British writer Tony Parsons, who hung up on Kim during an interview before saying 'You've got your head up your arse' [I think that should have been after saying 'You've got your head up your arse'] and New Zealand journalist Karl du Fresne, who once called her [a] 'dominatrix', come to mind.

"'[du Fresne] hated me because I hadn't given a very nice interview with [former Australian prime minister] John Howard and also I say 'filum' [an Irish pronunciation of 'film'] ... Because he criticised me saying 'filum', I've never been able to stop in case he thinks he's won. So I do it all the time now.'"

I’m sure she didn’t mean to be taken literally when she said I hated her. Just for the record, I don’t hate anyone. But I think it says something about Hill that she still remembers something I wrote 13 years ago. I’ll take that as a back-handed compliment.

For what it's worth, my column about that 2010 Howard interview is here.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

There's no reason why this government shouldn't go the distance

Notwithstanding everything pessimistic that I’ve said over the past few weeks, I rather like the look of this new government.

At first glance, there are some extremely encouraging policy commitments (enough for my wife and me to punch the air several times while watching the news last night) and some promising ministerial appointments.

It’s especially pleasing to see ACT’s Nicole McKee in cabinet and Karen Chhour with a significant responsibility (children and family violence), albeit outside cabinet. Andrew Hoggard, too, should bring some useful real-world experience and insight to agriculture, although his responsibilities are narrow.

The solution to the deputy prime minister conundrum was, as Peter Dunne put it, elegant. David Seymour will be able to spend the first 18 months getting to grips with his ministerial priorities and Winston Peters, the Great Tuatara of New Zealand politics, will be able to wind down in the latter half of the triennium, perhaps with a view to retirement. (Ha! We shall see.)

The three parties have found enough in common to agree on a way forward. It’s reasonable to conclude that between them, ACT and New Zealand First have stiffened National’s spine and given Christopher Luxon’s party the moral courage it previously lacked to confront pernicious ideological issues.

The crucial thing now is for the three coalition partners to set egos aside and focus relentlessly on the imperative that brought them together: namely, the urgent need to undo the damage of the past six years. If they can do that - and I realise I'm eating my own words saying this - there’s no reason why this government shouldn’t go the distance.