Stunned by the good fortune of an election victory it never expected in 2017, thanks to Winston Peters, Labour promptly went into a state of almost hypnotic thrall for the next three years.
The time was not completely wasted; lacking any serious election policies, it set up numerous advisory groups that beavered away for years before releasing the discussion papers we are now all chewing over.
What a talkfest it is turning out to be. The He Puapua discussion document sets out to remedy 180 years of economic disparity between Pākehā and Māori by asking us to work out a system of co-governance – for example, a separate Māori Parliament or upper house. The Government has already moved to impose separate Māori wards on local bodies and demand the public service gives at least 5 per cent of its business to companies with at least 50 per cent Māori ownership.
These moves towards positive discrimination produced a scream of horror among a fair chunk of the Pākehā community and helped cause a sudden dip in support for Labour in opinion polls.
This effect will no doubt be compounded once the Government begins to elucidate its definition of hate speech under changes to laws covering that issue. The Prime Minister's previous effort of, "You'll know it when you see it", is not really an accurate classification of what constitutes hate speech.
Then there is the Three Waters move on drinking, waste and storm water, where control will be taken off local councils and put under four big regional water authorities run by boards. At the moment, the Government is talking about allowing local councils to opt out of its water-centralisation reforms– Whangārei District Council has already voted to do so – but then again, it may decide to make it compulsory once it has tested the, er, waters on this one. Of course, that would reduce most councils to just looking after rubbish collection, issuing building permits and mowing the parks.
Don't expect any reduction in your rates bill, however. The lesson of local-body amalgamation in Auckland in 2010 was that staff numbers, costs and rates actually increase as the main efficiency generated by the change was a more effective system of extracting cash from your pocket.
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All of which should spell doom for Labour at the polls in 2023, except for the fact that there is little effective opposition to it in Parliament. Act's David Seymour is doing a good impression of a one-man band, as he appears to have locked his backbenchers in a cupboard somewhere – probably a wise move. The overworked Seymour is quite effectively saying and doing what National should be to harness the growing opposition to Labour's reforms.
By contrast, National appears to be wallowing in its internal divisions. In an effort to shore up her eroding leadership position, Judith Collins is doing a fair impression of Sir Robert Muldoon in drag, culling caucus members who are showing signs of straying from the herd so as to "encourage the rest".
The ill-fated experiment of replacing Simon Bridges with Todd Muller will probably ensure Collins survives until the next election. National would have done better to leave Bridges in place, lose the 2020 election, then put in a new leader. Most will have come to the conclusion that it will be better to let Collins crash and burn in 2023 before, regretfully, turning her out and installing some new white hope for 2026.