I have been surprised by how quickly the Ardern/Peters Government has descended into a shambles over the past month. Government Ministers and MPs are abusing their powers and becoming embroiled in scandal; while the new Prime Minister is being made to look ineffectual.
The month began with revelations of sexual offending at Labour’s Youth Camp, where Labour’s President, Ministers and MPs chose to cover up rather than tell parents and police. The hypocrisy was that the PM and Labour had been very vocal over the “Me Too” campaign in demanding others front up and take the issue of sexual abuse and harassment seriously. Former PM Helen Clark was damning of Labour’s management.
Last week saw the resignation of respected journalist Carol Hirschfeld, Head of Content of RNZ in a scandal with the new Labour Broadcasting Minister, Claire Curran. It is crucial in a fair and free democracy that Ministers do not interfere in RNZ’s content. The implication was that Ms Curran was offering millions of dollars of public money for sympathetic coverage of her Government. The problem was compounded by Ms Hirschfeld and Ms Curran lying about the meeting.
Power seems to have gone to the head of NZ First. It was corrupt of its MP Jenny Marcroft to tell the National MP for Rodney; Mark Mitchell, that he needed to end his involvement with a local trust advocating for the clean-up of the Matarangi River or it would not get Government funding. It was also wrong for Shane Jones to demand the resignation of the Chair and Chief Executive of Air NZ, a publicly listed company. He also made the PM look weak when he ignored her pleas to tone it down.
Murk also surrounds the sudden departure of the Chief Scientist at the independent Environmental Protection Authority. The Greens had repeatedly attacked the Chief Scientist in Opposition and Greens Minister Eugenie Sage raised the issue at her first meeting with the EPA, sent critical articles about the scientist to the Authority and within weeks the EPA got rid of the scientist. This interference is wrong and risks having politics rather than science drive the environmental decision making.
The Russian problem has also scarred the Ardern/Peters Government. Peters’ statements about the Salisbury chemical weapon attack in the UK were slow and weak. Twenty seven countries have expelled Russian spies, including Australia, Canada, the US and the UK whereas our PM is turning a blind eye. She naively believes there are none in New Zealand.
New Zealand has benefitted from more than a decade of stable Government. The wheels look to be falling off this Labour/NZ First/Greens governing only a few months into the job. The PM needs to take charge and show leadership.