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Ardern’s ‘Aotearoa Cabinet’ Readies For Daunting Recovery Job

Sam Sachdeva

Sam Sachdeva


Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom’s political editor, covering foreign affairs, trade, defence, and security issues.

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With the final election results in and the pomp and ceremony (almost) out of the way, it is time for Jacinda Ardern and her team to get down to business – and Judith Collins and hers to begin the painful process of regaining voters’ trust, Sam Sachdeva writes

It was a familiar setting, but an entirely different set of circumstances.

When Jacinda Ardern headed to Government House in 2017 to be formally sworn in as prime minister, it followed a somewhat unlikely election outcome and protracted series of negotiations.
This time around, Ardern made her way to Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy as an incumbent leader having steamrolled her way to a historic success.

Last term, Ardern was looking across the table at Deputy Prime Minister-to-be Winston Peters; this time, it was her long-time friend Grant Robertson taking on the role (Robertson has also assumed Peters’ racing portfolio, a moment of light relief for those in attendance).

Indeed, it was an overwhelmingly red crowd waiting to be sworn in, Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson the only exceptions down the far end of the hall.

Kris Faafoi and Willie Jackson nudged each other as they cracked jokes, while new ministers Kiri Allan and Jan Tinetti exchanged concealed fist bumps under the table.

“This group of people had been described in public in many different ways – I’d say simply that sitting at this table is Aotearoa New Zealand,” Ardern said.

“They collectively represent a range of different perspectives; they represent huge talent; they represent an enormous experience; and as you would expect in any time of crisis, as New Zealanders they have a huge commitment to serving this country.”

Ardern's 'Aotearoa Cabinet' Readies For Daunting Recovery Job
It was all smiles at the swearing on of new ministers. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

There is still one last blast of pomp and ceremony before they get down to that public service: Parliament will formally open on November 25, with the Governor-General’s Speech from the Throne taking place the following day.

Labour will enter the House of Representatives with one more MP amongst its already inflated ranks, thanks to a favourable result from special votes as the final election outcome was confirmed on Friday.

If there was any residual doubt about the scale of Labour’s victory – and National’s misery – it was wiped away with the analysis of the final numbers.

Special votes lifted Labour to 50.01 percent, the first time since 1951 a party has won the support of an outright majority of the voting population – and almost double National’s final result of 25.6 percent.

Labour bested National in even the bluest of places, beating it in the party vote for every electorate bar Epsom.

Even worse for Judith Collins, her already much diminished caucus has shrunk by a further two MPs, leaving a shallow talent pool as she readies for battle with Ardern in the House and at select committees.

Deposed Nelson MP Nick Smith may have clung onto a seat in Parliament, thanks to electorate losses for lower-ranked Matt King and Denise Lee, but fellow veteran Gerry Brownlee became one of the first members of the hierarchy to pay for the dreadful result.

Brownlee’s decision not to contest the deputy leadership at the next caucus meeting is hardly a surprise.

His ascension to the role was out of necessity as much as anything else, following the short-lived reign of Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye, and he is much more expendable than Collins as the caucus looks for a public sacrifice to show it has taken heed of voters’ message.

But it will take more than Brownlee’s figurative scalp, and it is not entirely clear National truly understands the internal deficiencies that led to the election result, even if there was a pandemic and other external factors which had put the party on the back foot.

There are no restraints this time around – but by the same token, no excuses.

The task facing Ardern is no less daunting, albeit one from the enviable position of power.

Steering the country through Covid-19 will be a treacherous act, as Ardern noted in a speech to the business crowd on Thursday.

New Zealand’s short-term economic metrics may be better than expected, but with second waves of infection hitting countries in Europe and the United States’ first wave seeming more like a tsunami by the day, longer-term pain for Kiwi exports and other industries is almost certain no matter how well we contain the virus at home.

Ardern’s prescription, in the short term at least, is an expansion of the small business loan scheme and the roll-out of its flexi-wage subsidy for employers willing to take on beneficiaries at risk of long-term unemployment.

More will be required, and she has acknowledged as much, but uncertainty still seems baked into the bigger global picture so the ability to think quickly and respond rapidly will remain vital.

Politically, the Government will be pressed on all sides: by National and ACT from the right, by the Greens and a Māori Party doubled in size on the left.

There are no restraints this time around – but by the same token, no excuses.

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