Skip­ping across the mine­field


It is early days yet to iden­tify the sig­na­ture style of the Ardern ad­min­is­tra­tion. Yet so far, the way it has gone about en­act­ing change has been con­cil­ia­tory and con­sul­ta­tive – whether that be in its pur­suit of its goals on trade at APEC, in fi­ness­ing the changes to the Re­serve Bank’s gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ples, or in scrap­ping the so­called ‘‘hob­bit law.’’ So far, the par­ties likely to be af­fected by change have been brought into the tent, and in­vited to make their case.

True, a few pol­icy changes have been made uni­lat­er­ally. Paid parental leave has been ex­tended. No new min­ing will be al­lowed on con­ser­va­tion land. So­cial ser­vice providers such as Women’s Refuge will no longer be ex­pected to hand over the per­sonal de­tails of their clients, as a con­di­tion of re­ceiv­ing gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

The in­tru­sive ‘‘so­cial in­vest­ment’’ ap­proach of us­ing Big Data (and the risk assess­ment tools of the in­sur­ance in­dus­try) to ‘‘pre­dict’’ which fam­i­lies are prone to wel­fare de­pen­dency will be re­viewed.

The new gov­ern­ment has also moved to scrap the leg­is­la­tion passed by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment in or­der to stop any fu­ture pay eq­uity claims be­ing taken along the same lines that aged care work­ers had ar­gued so suc­cess­fully.

On the pay eq­uity is­sue, how­ever, a con­sul­ta­tive ap­proach has been taken to find­ing a work­able re­place­ment. Julie Anne Gen­ter, the new Min­is­ter for Women, has in­di­cated that the new pay eq­uity law will ad­here to prin­ci­ples agreed on by the Joint Pay Eq­uity Work­ing Group – a panel made up of busi­ness, union and gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

On thornier ground, Work­place Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Ian Lees-Gal­loway has also been con­sult­ing with film pro­duc­ers about the gov­ern­ment’s in­ten­tion to over­turn the ‘‘hob­bit law’’ that de­nies or­di­nary work­place pro­tec­tions to peo­ple em­ployed by the film in­dus­try.

Noth­ing rad­i­cal is en­vis­aged. In essence, the gov­ern­ment will be seek­ing to re-af­firm the Supreme Court’s 2005 rul­ing that had awarded these pro­tec­tions to the work­ers con­cerned. Rou­tinely, Hol­ly­wood en­gages in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing with the Screen Ac­tors Guild and other unions around the world. Surely, the sky would not fall in if it was re­quired to do the same in New Zealand.

By and large, it is the ex­tent of the tax breaks and other fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives on of­fer that will de­ter­mine whether ma­jor film projects con­tinue to be shot in New Zealand. Those in­cen­tives are likely to en­dure. So far, the Ardern gov­ern­ment has shown no in­ter­est in chang­ing the rules of the Large Bud­get Screen Pro­duc­tion Grant Scheme.

On the world stage, the new gov­ern­ment put sig­nif­i­cant ef­fort into its at­tempts to se­cure changes in the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade pact. Canada, Viet­nam and Malaysia have also had their own mis­giv­ings about the so-called ‘‘TPP 11’’ ver­sion of the deal. As late com­ers to the ne­go­ti­a­tions, Ardern and her Trade Min­is­ter David Parker were al­ways go­ing to strug­gle to get their full agenda across the line.

At some point, the new gov­ern­ment’s readi­ness to con­sult will run into in­grained re­sis­tance. Only then will its met­tle be tested.

For now, Ardern is achiev­ing con­sid­er­able change by a com­bi­na­tion of charm and de­ci­sive­ness - with­out the need to re­sort to raw power.

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