Everyone is so preoccupied with the diversions of government formation that there’s little talk of the outcome and who might be in the new roles. The lack of informed speculation about the policy accommodations of both options is bizarre and the sight of a media crew waiting in the parliamentary complex lobbies to report on biscuits and cakes is, when you think about, downright odd. I’m going to take a punt. There will be a new government. It is going to be a Labour / Green / NZ First government for the positive reasons I outlined a couple of weeks ago. There’ll be plenty of fresh faces and new talent, the average age will go down and the government will look a lot more like New Zealand’s ethnic mix.
Lets consider the alternative. If it were a National NZ First Party government it will be pretty straightforward. It will be trying hard to be a continuity government. Gordon Campbell has just described it as a time when NZ First tries to hang on the gains it believed were part of the negotiations. Campbell says:
If Peters chooses National, it would be like a lapsed Catholic returning to the church on his political deathbed. The years of apostasy – the decade or two of dabbling with New Zealand First – would fall away, as Peters returned to the political party from which he first emerged. It would be hard not to see that as a concession, if not as a defeat.
There’ll be baubles but also National’s new but unannounced plans of which only increases to fuel taxes and special economic zones have been ferreted out through the judicious use of Official Information Act requests. Who knows whether these will have been part of the negotiations or how many others there are? There will be the dismal implementation of Social Investment with more trumpeting of savings and announcements of the lowering of future liabilities to support poor people. There will be more people whose supposed wrap-around care sees them both living and dying in cars. National’s governance is proof positive of market failure on many fronts and a brake on its miserable excesses is a gloomy prospect. Winston could return home but its a pact with the devil he knows.
I can’t help thinking that when the three way coalition is announced that there will be something of a collective sigh of relief, followed both by huge and overwhelming expectations of what a new government can provide. This will be coupled with constant attacks on credibility, micro analysis of new ideas in contrast with when major spending is proposed by National with no clarity on funding and it is treated as broad brush strokes with no hard questions asked. There will be attempts to find the points of possible fracture.
Notwithstanding I thought it would be fun to have some play with this other cabinet – the fantasy football cabinet of best imaginings – that nearly all the commentators are ignoring. The obsession with FPP thinking and perceptions of ‘moral authority’ rather than a discussion about policy options (see Bryce Edwards Signs of a National-NZ First government who lists a series of hard power reasons why the government will continue) is harmful to NZ’s democracy. Why not a potentially joyous amalgamation of new talent and ideas? Why are so few media commentators taking up the challenge on either side?
First things first. There is little Ministerial expertise in a red/green/black government and having new and untested in parliament people with relevant experience go straight to ministerial responsibility is likely to be essential. Luckily this route has had recent and successful precedents including in Canada.
To start at the top Winston will be Deputy PM & Foreign Affairs Minister where he did a superb job last time round. My money is on Julie-Ann Genter for Transport to lead the turn around needed there. She is clearly capable and a subject matter expert. The same applies to Labour’s Deborah Russell, a new MP who could easily be Minister of Revenue and lead the taxation review work. After all she has already written the definitive BWB text on the topic.
We need someone in trade who signals a sea-change from neo-liberalism and we could all breath a collective sigh of relief if Fletcher Tabuteau, who has been an effective voice against the worst aspects of the TPPA, were given the trade portfolio. David Parker has, when I have heard him speak on this topic, been economically dry & inadequately critical of the TPPA for my taste although there is no doubting his skill and capability. He should instead be leading the new Ministry of Climate Change and Energy with the role of setting up the Climate Commission and passing the Zero Carbon Act, implementing an effective carbon use regime and ensuring New Zealand meets the Paris Agreement 2 degree targets for NZ. The lucky man would have multiple billions of budget currently assigned to the dead purpose of buying overseas credits to use for this. I hope he seeks the support of Kennedy Graham as a special advisor. Graham has done sterling work in developing a non-partisan climate group in Parliament. It would be a second disaster if, having put a good emissions policy into place twice, it was again over-turned in the future by a government of a different stripe.
It’s a real shame that Barry Coates didn’t make the cut into Parliament. Like Kennedy he would have been an excellent pair of hands in areas like trade, climate change or to focus on either international or sustainable development goals and nurturing both the NZ United Nations relationship but also the latter’s modus operandi into a fit for purpose international organisation for the times of climate change and international risk. Perhaps he could be a special advisor to Winston.
Tracey Martin will make an excellent Minister of Education and has been an effective opponent in Parliament on this issue. This would release both the Labour possible candidates Chris Hipkins and Kelvin Davis for other things. Chris would be a good Tertiary Education Minister. The grumpy but good hearted Trevor Mallard will make one of the best speakers of modern times and certainly an equal to Margaret Wilson and Lockwood Smith.
James Shaw would make a good Minister of Business and Innovation with his background in green business and social enterprise although I hope the new government separates out the employment portfolio and with it some of the overly joined up nature of that Ministry. It would be nice if the interests of business and labour were the same but they are far from it. At least in the political regimes we have had to date.
Grant Robertson will be an effective Finance Minister where he will also want to push forward the issues identified by the Future of Work Commission and changes to the Reserve Bank Act to take account of (un)emplyment levels. He could also take a look at the Productivity Commission and task it with actual productivity like the Australian version rather than being a regulations reduction task force as it is at the moment. It sounds as if Jacinda would want the children’s part of the Social Development portfolio but this is a huge role for a Prime Minster and there are excellent support options with either or both of Carmel Sepuloni or Marama Davidson in Social Development roles. I’m not sure I’ve heard any of those three talk about the corrosive effects of big data and so-called Social Investment (and therefore what would replace it the Social Investment Unit) as I would like.
For this reason I hope Clare Curran retains a role in open government looking at for example the use of algorithms, big data and putting in some realistic protections for people in this area. She has done the hard yards for three terms and is really well informed on a wide range of topics related to ICT. She should also have the broadcasting role to implement Labour’s exciting media policy.
There is an embarrassment of riches for a potential Māori Affairs minister across all three parties and having Māori Ministers in Police and Justice when Māori are the largest audiences for those portfolios seems right despite the interesting opportunity to have Greg O’Connor appear in the form of tough but compassionate liberal rather than gun-toting armed police advocate. Kelvin Davis for Justice would keep him in a role where he has made a mark and outlined the need for greater humanity and lower levels of incarceration.
Phil Twyford is the obvious candidate for Auckland issues and the monster housing portfolio and Megan Woods for the Science, Technology and Environment portfolios would be a good fit. David Clark having held the shadow role in the Health portfolio effectively against Jonathan Coleman since Annette King stood down from that role and he can make an assured move into it.
Primary Industries could be a great opportunity for a move from the pale, male and stale options in this area and it could be an opportunity for Meka Whaitiri or Poto Williams to shine leaving Damien O’Connor the roles of food safety and biosecurity. The current government’s biosecurity record has been abysmal notwithstanding how the additional threats of mass tourism and climate change have made to increasing the risks. Food safety has become horribly lop-sided in this government and is more focused on the big players ability to trade in the wake of poisoning and food contamination threats rather than public safety or supporting small companies ability to comply with top heavy rules. These issues – securing the boarders against harmful biomaterial and safe food with additional diversity in specialist food production – need a better legislative regime and are dollar for dollar better initiatives than supporting bulk products with all the environmental downsides.
There needs to be someone who is a firm negotiator and able to reset the balance in the area of the GCSB and SIS areas of security and surveillance and Andrew Little with his existing exposure here might be the right person to ensure the protections suggested, but to date ignored, in the Cullen-Reddy report are enacted into security law.
New Zealand needs refreshment in the area of immigration, and refugees and the opportunity to use Golriz Ghahraman in this area and into a ministerial role immediately. Similarly Priyanca Radhakrishnan’s professional experience over a decade could see her become be the Minister of Ethnic Affairs. Michael Wood is talented and has been a successful MP in a highly multicultural area of Auckland with this shadow portfolio but there is no substitute for someone whose lived experience is in the area they represent. That he seems well able to work in the shadow role he holds in consumer affairs and possibly something else as well demonstrates something of the wealth of talent that the new government has at its command.
That’s enough. It’s 11th hour and these issues have likely already been decided. But I remain curious and worried about the lack of crystal ball gazing by experienced and qualified commentators along these lines over the past weeks.
What are your thoughts about how this has played out and who could be in these roles?