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21st of October 2018

Politics



Fran O'Sullivan: Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern - It's time for a conversation

COMMENT:

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters... (please) get into a room and sort out your policy differences away from the daily news cycle.

The reason business has lost confidence is frankly due to the uncertainty coming out of the Beehive.

The Coalition — there I have said it — needs to knuckle down and get some concerted runs on the board... fast.

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Neither of you are helping matters at this point.

There will be much riding on Ardern's strategic speech tomorrow where she will endeavour to bring together the objectives of all the disparate policies and working groups into a semblance of coherence.

But it is not too late for Ardern and Peters to present a united front as happened when the "Labour-led Coalition Government" was announced following the post-election coalition negotiations.

An obvious peace pact — even if contrived — would be useful symbolism right now, together with a demonstration of purposeful leadership from both political leaders.

Headlines over the past fortnight suggest the Government is bickering over what, in some cases, are really mere sideshows such as the refugee quota.

With all due respect, such a matter is not way up the hierarchy of concerns that Labour and NZ First pledged to address.

Nearly one year on from the 2017 election, New Zealanders are still looking to the Government to address the major social deficit that National bequeathed after its nine years in power.

The big issues: Housing New Zealanders, dealing with poverty and the homeless, getting a focus on infrastructure, reducing net immigration, improving health and education, and preparing for the future of work are critical.

But they are getting lost in the detritus of Government.

Internationally, how New Zealand forges its way, in an environment of increasing protectionism, and ensures our companies enjoy the best possible regulatory environment to help them thrive, should also be centre stage.

Instead, the Government has outsourced too much to working groups and is in danger of falling prone to "paralysis by analysis".

Even the Tax Working Group's draft report is still sitting in front of Cabinet.

It has been left to chairman Sir Michael Cullen to announce that it has (so far) not recommended a capital gains tax.

This report should have been published by now so that Sir Michael and his team can go into the next round of consultation and produce independent recommendations that have not been "schooled" by Labour's own policy objectives.

The failure to publish the report does not augur well for the outcomes of all the other working groups.

Also the failure of the senior members of the Government to listen to feedback on crucial policies that affect business — including the Employment Relations Amendment bill — upsets those that hold the belief that a Government should act in the interests of all New Zealanders. Not just Labour's paymaster and apparent ultimate controller — the union movement.

Let me stress, the headlines over the past week pointing to differences over what, in the grand scheme of things, should simply be agreed around the Cabinet table is self-defeating.

Sure, it helps Peters' position with NZ First as a moderating influence on Labour's worst excesses.

And when it comes to the employment legislation, small business will thank NZ First if it does moderate changes that smaller businesses find difficult to absorb.

But if the Government does not listen to business feedback on major policies that affect their revenues, it will result in some constraining their operations and shelving investment plans.

It did listen when it came to moderating the ban on foreigners investing in New Zealand residential housing.

But it is a pity that NZ First's moderating influence did not happen before the oil and gas "ban" was unilaterally imposed earlier in the year.

I have frequently described the Government as "Labour-led", thinking that Ardern would have the upper hand in any policy wrangle with Peters.

He has firmly disabused journalists of that notion.

The Government is not Labour-led. It is a Coalition.

This is not the time for ideology.

But pragmatism.

A "reset" is needed.

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