John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Even the enemies are voters

Nick Smith. Photo / Greg Bowker
Nick Smith. Photo / Greg Bowker

It seemed just a slip of the tongue. Or was it? Nick Smith surely meant to talk of "co-operation", not "collaboration", in Parliament yesterday.

The Conservation Minister was out to quash any notion that this week's stoush with Fish & Game was a case of sheer heavy-handedness by a minister exceeding his authority.

Barely 24 hours on from threatening defamation action after accusations that he had bullied the organisation to drop its public campaign against intensive dairying, Smith was suddenly all sweetness and light. He said he believed "you make best progress on issues like freshwater quality through collaborative processes, rather than conflict".

One of the meanings of "collaborative" is to offer help and assistance to one's enemy. Are Smith and Fish & Game now enemies?

But Smith had decided - or the Prime Minister had decided for him - that it was wiser yesterday to turn the other cheek as he answered Opposition questions.

He went as far as blaming the falling-out on election season. It was a season of "exaggeration and misquotation" - an apparent reference to the July 18 meeting where Smith is alleged by some present to have made various threats about Fish & Game's future.

And he observed that after the meeting, one of his critics had written a blog saying "Smith delivered his opinions and thoughts as professionally as ever".

Smith was under huge pressure last year to explain why a 34-page report produced by his department on the Ruataniwha Dam project in central Hawkes Bay was whittled down to just two paragraphs.

Then there was his resignation after it was revealed he had, while ACC Minister, improperly intervened on behalf of his friend Bronwyn Pullar over her ACC claim.

As far as Labour leader David Cunliffe was concerned, the Fish & Game bickering meant it had to be three strikes and you're out for Smith. Enter the Prime Minister. John Key talked Smith out of taking legal action. Key then made soothing noises that any changes to Fish & Game would not be forced upon the wider environmental lobby.

After the fuss over snapper quota, the last thing Key needs is to get on the wrong side of thousands of anglers and hunters less than two months before an election.

• Read Armstrong's discussion of "gotcha politics" at

- NZ Herald

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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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