COMMENT:

Where was the Health Minister this week?

If you'd watched the nurses' strike closely, you'd have noticed David Clark was MIA for a good period of it.

At the eleventh hour, as things got really tense, he disappeared. While DHBs and nurses eyeballed each other over a desk, sweating through negotiations, hoping to avoid the strike earlier this week, he was AWOL.

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David Clark was on holiday. In the three days leading up to the strike, he flew his family to Australia. It was a long-planned holiday. He says he cut it short and got back in time for the strike. Someone reported seeing him at Wellington airport after 9pm on the eve of the industrial action.

Did nobody in the Beehive think how that would look? Did no one demand he cancel his trip and stay in town? With the first nurses' strike in 30 years imminent, shouldn't the guy in charge of our health system be at his desk looking like he's doing everything he can to prevent it? Shouldn't he look like he cares?

Nothing says IDGAF like going on holiday.

It's such a rookie mistake. And just one example of how this Government fluffed its handling of the nurses' strike this week.

By the way, it's hard to stuff up a strike if you're in Government.

For a start, you know it's coming. It's not a surprise. Nurses gave this Government more than three months' notice. Which means there's heaps of time to run that holiday past people paid to make sure you look like you're doing your job.

Also, the public doesn't actually like a strike. It seems like a good idea until operations get cancelled and the two sides bicker in public. The mood quickly turns sour. No one likes a complainer or a shirker. Striking workers are both of those things. To plenty of hardworking Kiwis, the 9 per cent pay offer looks generous. It's more than they're getting.

Which means that if the Government had played things well, the nurses would've looked greedy pretty quickly.

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But the Government didn't play it well.

What the Government wanted us to hear is that the budget's tight. There just isn't any more money, said Acting PM Winston Peters. He said it with such conviction and compassion it almost began to sound true.

But if that's the key message, it pays to hide the money. Don't make a point of showing it off. Someone forgot to tell the Government that trick. Thus, it packed the week of the strike with spending announcements.

The most offensive spend of all was the $2.3 billion spent on buying four planes. War planes. Armed with missiles. Let's be honest with each other here. These are missiles New Zealand will probably never fire outside of training exercises. These are just toys for men who want to be GI Joe when they grow up. Sure, we definitely need the planes to replace our Vietnam-era aircraft, but the missiles seem like a luxury. They are the ultimate statement of frivolous spending.

The rest of this week's spending announcements were smaller. But they added to the narrative. There is money after all. It's being spent on everything but nurses this week. Millions for Radio New Zealand. Hundreds of thousands for Venture Taranaki to make up for cancelling oil and gas exploration.

Missiles or nurses? Journalists or nurses? A provincial organisation you've never heard of or nurses?

We'll always come down on the side of nurses. Which means that we're clearly not too angry with the nurses just yet.

Which also means we might just be OK with the Government giving the nurses a little bit more pay.

Which means the strike might have worked.

Which means the Government fluffed it.