Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: February 8

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters during his argument with anti-Government protester organiser Jonathan Elliot at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters during his argument with anti-Government protester organiser Jonathan Elliot at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Asset sales provided Labour with a big juicy target for the first day of Parliament, but it was Winston Peters hitting the mark yesterday. Peters is back where he's at his best - in Parliament, in Opposition, and attacking the Government over special initiatives directed at Maori. John Armstrong says that Peters used his one question in the House yesterday to hand out 'free lessons on how to be effective on the opposition benches' while Shearer's attack on Key was swatted away easily - see: Master gives the apprentice a lesson in opposition tactics.

Like any cunning predator, Peters knows to single out the weakest in the herd and he focused on the Maori Party and their flagship Whanau Ora policy, which he knows will play well to his target audience. Peters built his political career on precisely these types of issues and he can sniff out a political scandal from a mile away. In Whanau Ora 'a waste of money' John Hartevelt reports that the details of the whanau renunion grant were publicised in an official report, there for anyone to see, but only Peters saw the political potential.

He will hope that his instincts are shared by his own crop of newbie MPs. Joanne Carroll reports that Tracy Martin took to the hurly burly of opposition immediately and could be a potential successor - see: Peters' new kid plunges into fray.

Peters declared the Maori Party 'Missing in Action' yesterday when their three MPs failed to turn up. On the one hand the no-show was surely intended as a very public snub to National. On the other, it was a wasted opportunity for them to front-foot the debate, and their absence may reflect a lack of confidence to defend their position, particularly as Whanau Ora was under attack.

In contrast to the NZ First leader, David Shearer barely made an impact on the first day. He appears to be determined to 'play the long game' rather than seek headlines at every opportunity. It's an unusual political strategy and his extremely cautious and considered approach is not the type of Opposition leadership we are used to. It makes him vulnerable to being overshadowed by Peters, Norman and Harawira (and even his own Labour colleagues) who will compete to be the 'unofficial Leader of the Opposition'.
Outside the debating chamber David Shearer showed his vulnerability when answering questions about Maori ownership of water in New Zealand. Unlike the Prime Minister - who clearly articulated a line in favour of common ownership that will resonate with the vast majority of New Zealanders - Shearer equivocated. This is typical of his generally cautious approach, but it might also reflect divisions within Labour. Either way, Shearer looked like he was dithering, vague, and uncertain.

Although John Key didn't seem phased by Labour's asset sales attacks in Parliament, the Greens raised an issue that could be the next problem for the partial privatisation plan. Alex Tarrant reports that the Government has received legal advice on if it can restrict foreign purchasing of the shares but has refused to release it to date.

The Treaty obligations issue is far from being resolved and it now appears, as many suspected, that it may be used by the Maori Party as leverage for iwi to be given substantial shares in the partially privatised companies, as Tracy Watkins reports in Give us a share of SOEs, say Maori. This is probably not the 'elegant solution' John Key has in mind. Not only would it blow a large hole in the Government's accounts, it would be politically toxic to National's core support base. If that is the bottom line price for the Maori Party remaining in coalition, then John Key will almost certainly call their bluff.

Meanwhile the first of nine consultation hui start today in Rotorua and Hamilton. The Standard feels that Mana, Greens and NZ First are proving more effective than Labour on the asset sales issue and calls for Labour to build a broad coalition in opposition to the sales. It fears, however, that the Treaty dimension will scare off Labour strategists trying to win back conservative pakeha voters - see: Time for an anti-asset sales coalition.

Chris Trotter agrees, taking a broader historical view in A New Alliance To Reclaim Aotearoa. He directly compares the alienation of Maori land and resources in the 19th century, with the 'recolonisation' of New Zealand by foreign corporates and points to the Mana Party as a starting point for a 'natural alliance of non-elite Maori and Pakeha.'

The obituaries are still being written for public service television in New Zealand, with Russell Brown taking up the issue at Public Address and on Media7 this week, one of the programmes facing the axe - see: Television and the Public Good. William Mace gives a detailed analysis of the demise of Stratos TV and the refusal of New Zealand On Air to invest in pure public service programming - see: Civic value content lost in action.

Simon Collins' excellent series on inequality in Auckland continues today with an analysis of housing, showing that home ownership has fallen 16% since 1986. Collins points to tax advantages in 1992 for investors which meant they were willing to pay $25,000 more for a house than an owner-occupier - see: More become tenants in own city. Ownership peaked in 1986 which was the last year that families could capitalise their family benefit to pay for a deposit on a first home - see: One path to owning home gone forever.

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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