Jacinda Ardern has taken control of the political agenda by choosing her first post-Easter Cabinet meeting to approve a transformative land transport package.

The package has a strong focus on public transport where funding will be boosted by 46 per cent. Rapid Transit - particularly the proposed Auckland light rail project - will be funded to the tune of $4 billion. There is also a long overdue focus on safety; a subject which after a long weekend on the nation's roads looms large in the mind of any driver who has to dodge far too many fools who take far too many chances with other people's lives.

This package - currently described as a policy statement - will inevitably form part of Finance Minister Grant Robertson's upcoming maiden Budget which will be announced to Parliament on Thursday May 17.

Finance Ministers tend to allow their colleagues to drip feed key decisions well ahead of the actual Budget day.


But using the Prime Minister's post-Cabinet press conference to unveil the transport package makes sense: firstly, because the Government really does need to get the approvals process under way if it has to have a chance of making substantive progress before the next election, and, secondly, because it has to put itself back into the driver's seat when it comes to delivering on its election promises.

After the Easter media 'pile on' - that's the one where the commentariat (including this columnist) basically rose as one and questioned her prime ministerial abilities - it was reassuring that Ardern appears to have got her Cabinet organised.

If she had not begun this week with a game plan to set the agenda, rather than react to it, she would have just been opening herself up to more questioning over the extent of her prime ministerial control.

That's because once stories of ministerial incompetence, and (in some cases) obvious arrogance, take hold, they have a tendency to keep on piling up unless corrective action is taken.

Three weeks of negative headlines will also have concentrated the minds of Ardern's Cabinet colleagues. But it remains critical that she strengthens her private office to assist her to maintain control of her Cabinet. Not just her own Labour colleagues - but also NZ First colleagues who are subject to the dictates of Cabinet collective responsibility.

Helen Clark - ably assisted by her chief of staff Heather Simpson - made an art form out of this. Sir John Key also relied on his highly developed corporate management skills to underscore his own prime ministerial style as effectively as that of a CEO. There has been little in Ardern's own track record to suggest she has acquired any experience in horizontal management.

But in a Westminster-style Cabinet - where she is expected to be "first among equals" - this is a necessary skill for her to develop. Refreshingly, both the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleague David Parker also chose yesterday to speak openly about the potential trade war between the United Stated and China, describing the Chinese response as "measured".

Both parties acknowledged that as a small trading nation New Zealand risked being caught up if things worsened.


As Ardern put it:

"Any kind of trade war has an effect on New Zealand in the sense that we rely on international rules and regulations to enable us, as a small country, to access fair trade. That's the flow-on impact for us."

There was more too of a welcome substantive bent about the Middlemore hospital debacle.

On February 3, both Labour and NZ First MPs executed a minor victory roll as they celebrated the "outstanding" success of their first 100 days in office.

Historian David Greenberg - who is a sceptic when it comes to the "first hundred days" syndrome - argues that too much attention is placed by both public and pundits on what political leaders - in this case US Presidents - do in their early days.

In a Wall St Journal article, "The Folly of the First Hundred Days", Greenberg argued: "New presidents tend to be clueless about governing. Even running a large state can't prepare them for the responsibilities, attention or demands to act quickly - just as they need to find their footing.

"Sizing up presidents based on their hundred days is like judging a rookie from his first cuts in spring training."

In other words give Ardern time.

IMD professor Michael Watkins, who wrote about the 100 days syndrome in the Harvard Business Review, said, "the first hundred days mark is not the end of the story, it's the end of the beginning. Leaders entering new roles can stumble badly and still recover".

"But it's a whole lot easier if they don't stumble in the first place. And that's why the transition period matters so much."

The next few weeks leading up to the Budget will be critical.

It's too soon to start beating the drum about another "winter of discontent" as some in the business community are doing.

The better option is for Ardern and her Government to regain focus.

Yesterday, was a necessary first step.