The National Government continues to have plenty of challenges and controversies to deal with. Below are some of the recent items that discuss National's opportunities, successes, failures, and on-going difficulties.
National's future coalition partners and electoral boundaries
National's nurturing of its potential coalition partner the Conservative Party is the most important issue facing the National Party, and the outcome is fraught with both opportunities and dangers. The newly-announced electorate of Upper Harbour is an incredibly fortuitous opportunity for National. It might well make the difference in whether the party gets a third term in government - as explained in my previous column, National's future coalition with Colin Craig's Conservatives.
National faces some major decisions on how to ensure the Conservatives win an electorate seats. Should National gift Colin Craig the new seat of Upper Harbour or Murray McCully's East Coast Bays? The best items on this issue so far are TV3's Colin Craig eyes up East Coast Bays and Patrick Gower's Paula Bennett to seek Upper Harbour nomination. The problem for National is that the new Upper Harbour seat is more purple than blue - it contains just enough red-leaning communities to make it vulnerable to an upset. Therefore East Coast Bays would be a much more reliable seat to gift Colin Craig.
Critics of National will continue to focus their attacks on Colin Craig's Conservative Party as a way to get at National.
See, for instance, Chris Trotter's A Marriage Of Convenience: No love will be lost between National and the Conservatives - but power will be shared, and Gordon Campbell's The appeal of the Conservatives. And for the latest profile on the Conservative leader, see Rebecca Wright's 9-minute video on Colin Craig and the new Upper Harbour electorate: Who is Colin Craig?.
National also has a small challenge in dealing with Ian Lees-Galloway's private members bill that seeks to abolish the so-called MMP coat-tails provision. But as Liam Hehir points out in his column, Dishonour should not be default, there's possibly enough hypocrisy in the Labour bill for the public to dismiss it as simply another self-serving attempt to score points or game the system.
Asset sales: Air NZ and the referendum
Regardless of the economic and ideological rights and wrongs of National's asset sales programme, it's ended up being a political failure. Today Vernon Small declares that The party's over for asset sales. At this stage it seems the planned float of Genesis Energy might well be cancelled. Tamsyn Parker and Jamie Gray have a very informative article today, quoting Brian Gaynor on the likelihood of the next sale: 'Gaynor said he did not believe there was a "hope in hell" of the Government going ahead with the sale of Genesis Energy - the last asset left it its sales programme. "The earliest they could do that float is April, only six months out from the election. Unless things change dramatically for Mighty River Power and Meridian it won't happen."' - see Govt asset-sale shares drop. Tim Hunter describes angry and upset investors in Air NZ shares fall post selldown.
However, the sell-down of the Air New Zealand shares has not attracted the same level of political dissent as the energy company floats in the privatisation process. The more muted response is largely because the government's ownership of the airline is entirely different to that of the others, as is very well explained by Liam Dann in his column, Don't lump Air NZ with the rest. Fran O'Sullivan has also made some very interesting points in her column, Labour's sell-down alarm absurd. She reminds us that the last Labour Government also sold off part of Air New Zealand. See also, David Farrar's Labour's privatisation history with Air New Zealand.
Many newspaper editorials and commentaries have been positive about the Air New Zealand sell down - in particular, see the Herald's Right time to sell part of Govt's Air NZ shareholding and the Dominion Post's Air NZ sale moderate and sensible. For an opposing view, see Gordon Campbell's On the "mandate" for the Air New Zealand selldown.
The citizens-initiated referendum on asset sales is going to be more bad news for the government. But National has done well to manage the strong public feelings about asset sales by its actions in getting the Air NZ sale out of the road - fueling a public feeling of it all being a fait accompli - and then announcing that the asset sales programme won't continue anyhow. This is an argument put forward by John Armstrong in his column, Asset sale curve-ball for Opposition. Armstrong rightly says that there will be a lot of emphasis and interest in the level of turnout for the referendum. If it's lower than, say, 50%, it will probably be easily disregarded.
Pike River compensation
National has been accused of being heartless in deciding not to pay out compensation to the Pike River disaster victim's families. The most scathing verdict on this comes from Colin Espiner who says 'Key and his Cabinet look callous, petty, mean-spirited and uncaring' - see: Key fails on Pike River payout. Today's Herald editorial says much the same thing: Moral duty to compensate Pike families overlooked.
To read National's defence of its decision - see Audrey Young's Govt insists fairness at heart of Pike River compensation denial. There is further disquiet, however, due to the fact that government fund managers with links to the mining company also decided against making payments to the victims - see Peter Wilson's ACC and Super Fund voted against compo.
National's decision has allowed Labour to grab the initiative and show the Government up - see Vernon Small and Hamish Rutherford's Labour would pay full Pike River compo and John Armstrong' Cunliffe slices through moral fog. However, blogger Mark Hubbard asks why Labour won't be offering compensation for other tragic events - see: David Cunliffe & Pike Mine Compensation. Emotive Politics Again.
The Government's reaction to unaffordable housing might well end up being a central debate in next year's election campaign, with the main criticism being that it hasn't done enough. However, National is still trying new policy innovations, with the latest directed at state and social housing rules. The significance of the passage yesterday of the Government's Social Housing Reform Bill is explained by Tracy Watkins in her article, Law change ends lifetime right to state house. She says that 'A cornerstone of New Zealand's welfare system, the state house for life, has passed into history'. In an opinion piece, Watkins also marvels that such significant legislation can be passed without the 'raw emotion or anger' previously witnessed over housing reforms, or even strong Labour opposition to the changes - see: Barely a ripple this time over state house changes.
Radical ideas on housing are currently being put forward from the political right - see Adam Bennett's Taxpayers should cover development costs - report and TVNZ's Call to give back GST on new homes. These ideas get critiqued in Russell Brown's Housing: the Feudal Model and No Right Turn's Against subsidising developers.
Oil and mineral extraction issues have become highly sensitive for this government, so it will be hoping that the current conflicts over new oil exploration won't continue all summer. For a report on the current conflict, see TVNZ's 'We're trying to make it difficult for them' - protest ship.
For an indication of how important oil exploration might potentially be for the economy, see James Weir's: Hopes high for big new deep sea oil discoveries. Responding to such economic arguments, Gareth Morgan had blogged: Why New Zealanders Should Support the Protest against Deep Sea Oil.
Internationally, there are multiple challenges for the National Government - from trade, to controversial forums, through to defence alliances and spying. It's the international spying controversies that are currently threatening to cause trouble for National, due to New Zealand's involvement in the 'Five Eyes' alliance, which has been implicated in spying on Pacific nations - see Tracy Watkins' Australia's Indonesia spy woes may cross over.
As a longer term challenge, New Zealand also has to navigate the growing geopolitical rivalry between the US and China - see Robert Patman's Why it's not just US or them. But there will always be useful photo opportunities and interesting soft stories afforded by international events - such as this one: Monk tells Key of an eternal future at political helm.
This week, the Australian ABC TV programme Four Corners revealed allegations of a people smuggling ring promising to get asylum seekers to Australia and New Zealand - you can watch the 47-minute documentary: Trading Misery. The National Government has strongly denied the allegations - see: Black market in NZ entry.
Other policy concerns and criticism
Health issues have hardly impacted this government, or certainly not in the way they plagued previous ones. Partly this is because National produced a significant increase in elective surgery numbers. But is National still leaving many needy patients behind, and hiding the results? Olivia Carville has written a feature investigation on this issue - see: Waiting list 'double-speak'. The Southland Times has also written a very critical editorial: Suffering in soft focus.
One of National's weakest links during this term has been its education portfolio. The latest news on Education Minister Hekia Parata's attempts to close and merge a Christchurch school, is that nearly $100,000 has so far been spent on legal costs to defend the decision - see Jody O'Callaghan's Parata's blunt axe has costly handle. The article points out that the money comes on top of Parata's botched closure process for a Nelson school: 'Taxpayers fronted nearly $80,000 on the Salisbury court costs, plus the more than $190,000 it cost in Parata's botched consultation process'.
This week National has finally introduced legislation to lower the blood-alcohol limits for drivers - see TVNZ's Bill to lower drink-driving limit introduced. Recent articles have reinforced that drivers will still be able to consume small amounts of alcohol - see Michael Forbes and Olivia Wannan's New limit won't touch the sides. But not all are convinced by the logic of the law change - see Colin Espiner's Drink-drive change bows to popular view, Eric Crampton's .05, and Peter Cresswell's The New Puritanism of 0.05.
New Zealand's film industry has gone from being a prized asset of recent governments to being more of a dying sector, according to Geoff Cumming in his article, Cruel cut for NZ film industry. Minister of Economic Development, Steven Joyce, is now looking at ways to reverse the trend. See further discussion in Dave Armstrong's Look to Danes, not hobbits and Graeme Tuckett's Nothing but gains in a level playing field.
Industry and commentators await the Government's review of Chorus and the internet infrastructure but, it seems, the draft report will not be made public - see Tom Pullar-Strecker's Chorus review may lack transparency: Labour. For backgrounders on the whole affair, see Colin Espiner's Unbundling the Chorus saga and Greg Presland's Everything you wanted to know about the Chorus deal ....
Finally, for some visual reports on the state of the National Government and its challenges, see my blogposts, New images of state asset sales and Recent images of John Key and National.