Baubles, bribes – and pub­lic ben­e­fits

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Jonathan Milne

Bill English’s self­pro­claimed moral au­thor­ity is gone. Jacinda Ardern’s star dust has set­tled. And as the lead­ers fly into Welling­ton to be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions proper, it is Win­ston Peters’ day.

Peters says he and the NZ First board will not be swayed by per­sonal ac­ri­mony, vendet­tas and the baubles of of­fice. They will sim­ply con­sider which part­ner will al­low them to best de­liver on their key poli­cies. And they will lis­ten to good ad­vice.

‘‘They’ll be se­ri­ously in­flu­enced by how you feel about things,’’ Peters told me be­fore the elec­tion, a twin­kle in his eye.

Surely not, I replied. ‘‘Jonathan, on our board, they speak of noth­ing else,’’ Peters grinned. ‘‘They ask me ev­ery week­end, how is Jonathan, what’s he do­ing, what’s he writ­ing?’’

So be it, then. Here is some se­ri­ous ad­vice for Peters and his board as they em­bark on the enor­mous re­spon­si­bil­ity of ne­go­ti­at­ing a gov­ern­ment. Take your wins where you can get them. By all means ex­tend the Gold­card, re­store the Su­per age to 65, cut im­mi­gra­tion num­bers and shut down land sales to for­eign­ers. But be hon­est about what you con­cede. When – in­evitably – you back down on a ref­er­en­dum on the Maori seats or shift­ing Auck­land’s port to Whangarei, ac­knowl­edge that in coali­tion pol­i­tics, you can’t get ev­ery­thing you want.

Re­ject the so-called baubles of of­fice. This is not just about whether your part­ner ac­com­pa­nies you on over­seas trip as Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs. This is about turn­ing down Min­is­te­rial posts like rac­ing, forestry and fish­eries, where there might be any per­cep­tion that you could be com­pro­mised by friends or donors in those in­dus­tries.

Don’t let it get per­sonal. There are a few grudges, af­ter you ques­tioned English’s in­tegrity over your leaked su­per­an­nu­a­tion file. But as English and Ardern tread gin­gerly around you, lest they cause any of­fence, re­mem­ber the in­ter­ests of New Zealand out­weigh any per­sonal ac­ri­mony. Sound sen­si­ble? It should – those are your own words. Bring the pub­lic with you. Ig­nore the ex­citable con­sti­tu­tional lawyers look­ing for the lat­est in­no­va­tion in gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion. This is about pub­lic re­la­tions. If the de­ci­sion on who leads our next gov­ern­ment rests with you, the onus will be on you to clearly ex­plain your think­ing. This is no time for blus­ter.

It’s about sus­tain­abil­ity. Poli­cies and politi­cians come and go. Re­tire­ment age and taxes go up and down. But what New Zealan­ders de­mand is sta­ble gov­ern­ment that keeps the in­ter­ests of all New Zealan­ders at heart – not just our friends and neigh­bours, or the swing vot­ers, or the big po­lit­i­cal donors. We don’t need moral au­thor­ity. We don’t need star dust. We don’t ask the gov­ern­ment to solve all our prob­lems for us.

We just ask that the gov­ern­ment level the play­ing field and pro­vide us all with the same op­por­tu­ni­ties to solve our own prob­lems.

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