The Government is going to need all of its political management skills over the next week as it looks likely to have to defend two very unpopular decisions: the pokies deal with SkyCity and the Crafar Farms sale.
John Armstrong thinks that Cabinet ministers, except for Key, English and Joyce, aren't doing the hard yards promoting the Government's lines to lobby groups and the public. He argues that National's relatively easy ride in its first term has led them to think they can just 'tough it out' but that, in fact, they have 'lost control of issues such as the Crafar farms, part-sale of state assets and extending paid parental leave, to name a few' - see: Mismanagement makes easy work for Opposition.
With Key out of the country it certainly seems National is struggling to sell the SkyCity deal, as further evidence of the casino's cosy relationship with the Government comes to light. David Fisher and Isaac Davison report that the SkyCity chairman Rob McGeoch apparently boasted to shareholders about company's close ties to 'high ranking' Cabinet ministers in the days leading up to Key's invitation for the casino to put in a bid - see: SkyCity chairman reveals close links days before Key invitation.
SkyCity's interactions with the National - and all political parties - are under increased scrutiny - see: Adam Bennett and Isaac Davison's PM grilled on SkyCity connections. Duncan Garner highlights the particularly close relationship between Key's Chief of Staff Wayne Eagleson and casino lobbyist Mark Unsworth, who took a joint holiday in 2010 to - of all places - Las Vegas. Watch Garner's report on Frontline here, and see the original Matt Nipert report on the Vegas trip here: PM's adviser living it up in Sin City.
While Labour has ramped up its attack on the Government with a dedicated webpage (Show us your cards, John), criticism of the deal is still coming from non-politicians, with gambling experts rubbishing the casino's claim that Lotto is more harmful than pokies - see: Isaac Davison's Experts trash 'Lotto danger' claim. Former Gambling Commissioner Peter Chin says it's time to look at the role of pokies in the community: 'It is not only problem gamblers who are addicted to gambling - it is government and local communities' - see: David Fisher's Former gambling boss has concerns.
The deal is finally getting some support, though, with Heart of the City Chief Executive Alex Swney, the Tourism Industry Association and BusinessNZ Chief Exectuive Phil O'Reilly all arguing that New Zealand is missing out on large conventions and that the economic benefits far outweigh the downside - see: PM backed over Sky City pokies deal and Business backs Sky City convention centre deal. But University of Canterbury economist Eric Crampton is not so enamoured with the deal.
Responses to the new Christchurch Central Development Unit have been mostly positive, particularly from business leaders who are welcoming the emphasis on 'market forces'. The Press has a comprehensive report - see: Christchurch rebuild to be led by Govt. Mayor Bob Parker and most of the council have welcomed the new structure as a means of quickly implementing the council's draft central city plan.
Both the Press editorial (New unit for Christchurch must deliver) and Vernon Small (Too much peace and not enough progress) highlight the desire for speed. Small points out that the impact of the earthquake on the national economy means the Government has as much to gain from the benefits of the reconstruction as Christchurch does: 'though the Christchurch rebuild is a clear case of the Government coming to the help of the city, it has also become a time for the rebuild to come to the party for the Government'.
There does seem to be a consensus that the Council has been given a back seat in the rebuild, but as the Council hasn't been that popular, and there was significant business opposition to Part 2 of the draft council plan (which has effectively been set aside by yesterday's decisions) there are differing opinions on whether this is a good thing. Labour's Lianne Dalziel claims that Government's decision is 'undermining the last remaining democratic institution in Christchurch - our city council'. The Political Scientist predicts that the new blueprint to be produced in 100 days will be missing significant parts of the existing draft plan: 'Good luck with that "low rise", "green", "safe", "sustainable" city Christchurch. It's now only going to happen to the extent that "market forces" - heavily backed by a no-opposition-brooked, central government bulldozer - determine it will' - see: Devils, details, dark arts and Trojan horses.
Of course making everyone happy in such a major project is impossible but it seems that making it happen 'as quickly as possible' has become the priority, and that means a trade-off with further time for public consultation and input.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* What should be a good news story about Australian companies shifting jobs to New Zealand has turned into an argument as to whether New Zealand is becoming a low-skill, low-wage economy - see: TVNZ's NZ becoming 'Australia's Mexico' for jobs - Labour and John Hartevelt's Shearer, English at odds on Aussies.
* A new Otago University/Health Ministry report show that your chances of surviving cancer are improving - unless you are poor or Maori. While survival rates for cancer have improved 32 per cent between 1991 to 2004, the mortality rate for Maori remains 29 per cent higher, and 12 per cent higher for those with the lowest third of household incomes - see: Nicole Brennan-Tupara's Cancer rates 'institutionalised racism'.
* Alison McCulloch has an in-depth analysis of the 'Tauranga Model' of waterside work, which relies heavily on a casualised workforce - see: On the Tauranga Waterfront: Unpacking the casualising of how and when you work. McCulloch uses the analysis of Professor James Reveley, of the School of Management and Marketing at the University of Wollongong, who has been researching and writing about New Zealand port labour relations since 1990.
* For more on Gordon McLauchlan's new book on New Zealand society and politics, you can listen to his interview on Radio New Zealand here: The Passionless People Revisited.
* iPredict is currently trading two interesting and relevant political stocks: Deeply unpopular SKYCITY deal may involve 425 new pokies and Sale of Crafar Farms to Pengxin to be wrapped up next week. iPredict has also just launched stock on who will be the new Labour Party Chief of Staff (to replace departing Stuart Nash). Currently, the market says that the main possible contenders are: Alastair Cameron (15%), Marcus Ganley (12%), Jon Johansson (10%), Conor Roberts (5%), James Bews-Hair (5%), John Tamihere (4%), and Gordon Jon Thompson (4%).
* Finally there are a number of upcoming political events: The Electoral Commission is holding hearings for its review of MMP - see its Schedule of Hearings; The Writers Festival presents Tweeting the revolution, with Toby Manhire, Russell Brown and Vaughn Davis in Auckland; there's a Media regulation seminar in Auckland organised by the Legal Research Foundation; and Phil Goff presents a seminar on Policy and practice in opposition at the University of Auckland in which 'he will look back on his time as Leader of the Opposition, contrasting the roles of politicians on and off the Treasury benches'.By Bryce Edwards Email Bryce