Now the real work begins for Ardern
OPINION: There might have been a party atmosphere for Jacinda Ardern’s first public outing in Auckland on Saturday – but by yesterday it was down to business.
Week one of the new Government starts now – and Ardern has a huge agenda to get through before Christmas. The most pressing is nailing down the shape of a ban on foreign house-buyers before Ardern leaves for the Apec leaders forum in Vietnam.
There have been so many ‘‘big tests’’ of Ardern’s leadership, it’s becoming almost a cliche. But Apec and the foreign buyers ban is big. Ardern will be seated at the table for the first time with other world leaders, including United States President Donald Trump.
One of the big issues will be the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a giant free trade deal. Labour has pegged its support for the TPP on successfully negotiating a clause allowing a ban on foreigners buying existing property in New Zealand.
While America’s exit from the TPP has gutted it of its original potency, there is still a will among the 11 remaining member nations, including the all-important Japan, to soldier on. So, as an economic boost, it is still hugely important for our exporters.
There had been hopes of reaching broad agreement on the fringes of this Apec – which is why Ardern is racing to finalise the shape of the foreign buyers ban before she leaves in two weeks.
It’s not just that she needs the mechanism for a ban nailed down before New Zealand can enter into further negotiations; it’s also important that Ardern makes one of her first big announcements to a domestic audience, rather than deliver it to an international audience first.
So expect Ardern to come out with an announcement, probably even before the speech from the throne next week, when she will outline her Government’s agenda for the next three years.
Ardern won’t be the only one working to get the detail right; her finance and trade ministers and officials will be working round the clock to agree on a mechanism that satisfies our negotiating partners.
Ardern’s rhetoric so far has made it clear she has no intention of walking away from the TPP or causing the negotiations to fall over as a result of the policy change.
She is clearly looking for a mechanism that will allow Labour to follow through on its promise to ban foreign speculators, while still ensuring our place at the TPP table.
It’s a reminder, if anyone needed it, that Ardern is a one-time student of the ultimate pragmatist, Helen Clark.
It would also be hugely symbolic if Ardern can successfully negotiate the change without threatening New Zealand’s place in the TPP. National claimed not just that the policy was loopy, but that it couldn’t be done.
National’s credibility would be hugely undermined if that turned out not to be true.
So there is a lot riding on this, for both sides.