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.