COMMENT:

Jacinda Ardern's predilection for making "captain's calls" is in full swing.

There's no other way to describe a raft of announcements she has fronted.

First the fuel companies were accused of "fleecing consumers" as her Government moved to legislate new powers to direct the Commerce Commission to pursue market investigations.

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The unfortunate upshot is that Ardern has prejudged the investigation outcome before commission chair Mark Berry has even drawn up terms of reference.

This is not smart. As media companies can attest, Berry is definitely his own man.

The supermarkets were next to have Ardern's sword of suspicion waved at them.

And this week she reversed course on regional fuel taxes.

Rather than face down consumer wrath over rising prices, Ardern
has opted for quick political backdowns.

But if she has learned one thing from her first year in office, it is not to glorify such decision-making by labelling them "captain's calls".

Nothing upsets Cabinet colleagues as much as learning from a press conference or in Parliament that their Prime Minister doesn't consider him or herself first among equals, but a cut above them.

The problem is that Ardern has now set up an expectation that if sectoral groups — or for that matter consumers — bleat loudly enough, the Prime Minister will back down rather than stay the course.

No matter which way the Government fronts it — and Cabinet Ministers Phil Twyford and Shane Jones have been spinning merrily this week — it is obvious that not a great deal of consultation went on before the Prime Minister ruled out more regional fuel taxes.

As Ardern said to Parliament: "I can give this guarantee to this house and consumers there will be no other regional fuel taxes while I am Prime Minister which at the moment feels like it might be for a while."

Probably best then that Ardern doesn't take a look at the NZ Transport Agency's website, which clearly suggests more regional fuel taxes remain a given.

The NZTA website sports the usual blurb about the Auckland regional fuel tax scheme: Kicked in 1 July 2018, at a rate of 10 cents per litre (plus GST), on petrol, diesel and their
bio-variants and designed to support transport projects that would otherwise be delayed or not funded.

It says further regions may submit proposals to establish regional fuel tax schemes from 1 January 2021 — which would be in Ardern's second term as Prime Minister assuming Labour leads the next coalition Government.

Other regional authorities have good reason to be angered by the Prime Minister's call.

The Auckland tax was expected to raise $150 million a year, or $1.5 billion over the next decade.

Crucially, it paved the way for other developers and the Government to tip in more funds, increasing additional transport infrastructure funding to more than $4b by 2028.

Councils have been lining up for a piece of the action.

In 2017, Ardern revealed it was her own "captain's call" not to rule out introducing a capital gains tax on rental properties or second homes should Labour take office after the election.

The electorate did not buy this high-handedness and she had to back down.

The phrase "captain's call" became popularised in Australasia when former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott started bypassing colleagues to make unilateral calls — reintroducing knights and dames (even Prince Philip was gonged on Australia Day), bringing in an expensive paid parental leave system, and rejecting advice on forestry policy.

So many of them, in fact, that Australian news media had great sport publishing lists of Abbott's most disastrous calls.

The upshot was that the Macquarie Dictionary announced "captain's call" had been chosen by its committee as the Word of the Year for 2015.

The habit may be ingrained. Just this week, Australian PM Scott Morrison courted a backlash when it became known that the decision to consider moving Australia's Israel embassy to Jerusalem was a rushed captain's call by him.

Let's leave it to the Urban Dictionary for the final note.

It contains three definitions for "captain's call".

First, a decision made unilaterally by a team leader without consulting colleagues — "often a massive cluster+*$!"

Second, a clueless or embarrassing decision by an incompetent political leader (aka Abbott).

Third, extraneous exercise of authority.

Ardern has essentially exercised her "captain's call" on three separate issues.

Time will tell which if any of her decisions come within the Urban Dictionary's definitions.