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John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Government deals with scare

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Key dispatched Joyce, his Mr Fix-it, to bang management heads together at Fonterra's Auckland headquarters. Photo / Richard Robinson
Key dispatched Joyce, his Mr Fix-it, to bang management heads together at Fonterra's Auckland headquarters. Photo / Richard Robinson

Unlike its management of some ongoing and by comparison trivial matters of state - such as the accessing of Peter Dunne's emails - the Government's handling of the Fonterra infant formula contamination scare is difficult to fault ... so far.

That assessment may yet change when the various official inquiries start examining the regulatory role of the Ministry of Primary Industries in the dairy industry.

For now, however, John Key, Tim Groser, Steven Joyce and other Cabinet ministers have provided a textbook example of how to handle a crisis. Their competence has been further highlighted by Fonterra's gaffes and atrocious public relations.

The Government immediately realised the gravity of the situation, identifying the priorities for action and showing no compunction about exercising what in other circumstances might be deemed heavy-handed intervention.

The scare may not be in the same league as an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Instead, Fonterra is a case of foot-in-mouth disease, such has been its various accounts of what exactly has been going on and which products are affected.

No wonder Key dispatched Joyce, his Mr Fix-it, to bang management heads together at Fonterra's Auckland headquarters. In contrast, the relatively inexperienced Primary Industries Minister, Nathan Guy, has been confined to the fringes.

This particular crisis has occurred at the best possible time for National. It has shunted the palaver over legislation granting more powers to the Government Communications Security Bureau and the hullabaloo surrounding the trawling of a journalist's emails by parliamentary authorities into the background.

Labour has mounted a filibuster in Parliament to try to delay the GCSB bill being passed into law, a tactic that yesterday looked irrelevant given what else was happening.

When election day rolls around in November next year, National's ability to win enough seats to stay in power will hinge on voters' impressions of how it has handled the things that matter to the average punter - things like preserving our dairy export markets. Not Dunne's emails.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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