By Alex Tarrant
If we needed any more evidence that Winston Peters advocated strongly to have oversight over regional economic development policy, Prime Minister Elect Jacinda Ardern delivered that Friday.
Ardern seems confident that where this interacts with Labour's and the Greens’ focus on climate change, that Peters and the rural community will come out happy.
The Labour-led government is looking to introduce a Zero Carbon Act, establish an independent Climate Commission and have an all-sectors, all-gases pricing mechanism for carbon, Ardern said Friday. Whether that mechanism remains the current Emissions Trading Scheme was a tad murky.
Ardern made the comments during a press conference announcing which members of Labour’s caucus would become Ministers in her Cabinet. A brief note on that - swearing in is expected next Thursday, with portfolios set to be allocated sometime next week (see the names below).
In another sign that concessions were given to New Zealand First, and possibly the Greens, over certain policy areas, Ardern said she might split existing Ministerial positions to allow for more refined responsibility for aspects of some roles.
One example - and sticking with the regions - was Primary Industries, which might at least have forestry split from that portfolio. While Labour ran on a strong forestry platform, it was also a feature for New Zealand First during the campaign.
Ardern also hinted that Transport might be divided along the lines of different modes. Perhaps the old Minister for Railways is coming back for Winston Peters, I asked, to which she effectively replied, ‘wait and see’. Ardern said she's still working on the specifics.
In other comments, Ardern said NZ First and the Greens had agreed to row back on National's tax cut package in favour of Labour's superior families package (both had voted for it). Immigration policy would be focussed on getting the settings right, she said. Ardern also touched upon Peters' comments on capitalism, saying the Labour-led government would be proactive, and not be hands-off.
Agreement that climate action is needed
Ardern was asked whether the government would bring in a Climate Act and Climate Commission, and whether agriculture would be included in any emissions trading scheme.
“Yes, I do anticipate that we will be a government, as I said during the campaign, that will be absolutely focussed on the challenge of climate change,” she said.
“That will include a Zero Carbon Act, that will include an independent Climate Commission, that will include making sure that we have an all-gasses, all-sectors Emissions Trading Scheme.”
Asked whether Winston Peters had given the all-clear for this, Ardern said some of the elements of “Mr Peters’ advocacy on behalf of the regions reflected in our agreements.” She said she’d like to wait until those agreements were released early next week.
Again asked if Peters was okay with Labour’s policy to include agriculture under the ETS, but being exempt from 90% of the full costs, she said: “I’d like to leave it until those agreements are released for people to see where that advocacy has been strongest. But, we have absolutely stuck to our goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a Zero Carbon Act and an independent Climate Commission.”
Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First shared “an absolute commitment to addressing climate change,” she said. Asked whether that meant the ETS was staying: “We all agree as well, the need for having a tool to reach our goals, and that includes a price on carbon.”
On whether she expected push-back from the farming community on climate change policy, she said it “would only be fair for me to reflect that there was advocacy from New Zealand First around making sure there is support for the regions, and that will be reflected strongly in our agreement with them.”
‘Spoilt for choice’
Ardern said she had been spoilt for choice when it came to making the selection of who would make up the Labour Cabinet team. See their names below.
She’ll allocate portfolios over the weekend. This will include New Zealand First’s final allocation of portfolios for Ministers inside of Cabinet. The Greens had already had a discussion and a process that had been signed off around allocation of members for them, Ardern said – the positions had already been through the Green Party special meeting last night.
On whether she might split existing roles – say Minister for Primary Industries – Arder said that was something she’ll be giving some consideration to. “There is, of course, an extraordinary amount of interest in beefing up the amount of work that we do in the forestry portfolio, and of course Labour has a position that we would locate the forestry service within the regions – within Rotorua.”
Asked whether this would be done to please or placate Peters at all? “No, it was our policy originally, of course, to split out Forestry from where it current sits, because our current view is it was underdelivering,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ardern said she intended to have a role in the Children’s portfolio, and would also take responsibility for the Security Services – as previous PMs had done. She indicated she wouldn’t be taking on the Minister for Children role itself, saying it would be unwise for her to be working across areas that related to individual CYFs cases, but that she could focus on the operational side the portfolio.
Minister for Women outside Cabinet? For the Greens perhaps?
Ardern was asked whether the Minister for Women role would be held by a senior government member. She said that she had great ambitions to make great gains as a government on issues like equal pay, making sure women were supported in any role they chose to take – work, or carer roles – was at the heart of what the government does.
The role might not be inside Cabinet, but it would be held by someone who is passionate for the work they do, she said.
That last comment might be of interest – the only Labour woman who will hold a Ministerial position outside Cabinet will be Meka Whaitiri, who didn’t hold the portfolio in Opposition. Meanwhile, the Greens are likely to have two women in their three slots outside Cabinet.
Ardern was asked whether Winston Peters had yet taken up the offer of Deputy Prime Minister. She said they’d spoken today to go through logistical matters, and that there would be ongoing discussions. But she wasn’t placing any pressure on him over the timing, she said.
MBIE split? Regional development emphasis
Ardern was asked whether MBIE should be broken up – it incorporates the old Ministry for Economic Development, Department of Labour, Building & Housing and Science and Innovation – and whether there would be an Economic Development Minister?
She said the interest in Economic Development and Regional Economic Development in this Labour-led government was “immense.” There was a strong view that the regions had been neglected, she said. There would be a strong emphasis on infrastructure, growth and development in the regions, in particular.
“You’ll see, in the line-up of Ministers, and the way that we divide our portfolios, a real emphasis on that area,” Ardern said. She still needed a bit of time to make sure that there was alignment between those portfolios.
“I don’t want to split things beyond what they make sense,” Ardern said. In some areas, she’ll look to bring thing together. “But I also want to make sure we put emphasis on the areas that are of great importance to this government.”
Asked about the Transport portfolio – with a focus on regional and urban transport policies during the campaign – Ardern said any split here would make more sense along the lines of modes of transport. This was again something she’d be working through over the coming days.
“Of course, there are competing transport needs. But I’m going to be very, very cautious to make…sure that I don’t break up those portfolios beyond what makes sense.”
Meanwhile, Ardern said Labour’s 100-day plan was largely in-tact, with one policy added and one taken away at this stage. “But otherwise it will essentially stay the same.”
Tax package, immigration, hands-on govt
She also said Labour would still be rowing back National’s tax cut package that NZ First and the Greens both voted for, in favour of Labour’s own families package which was “substantially more generous to low and middle-income families.”
On Friday’s net migration figures, which showed a dip from the last few months’ record highs above 71,000 a year, Ardern was asked, if that kept falling, would Labour’s stance change?
She replied that the policy – which she indicated yesterday was agreed to by New Zealand First – was very much focussed on getting the settings right, more broadly, for New Zealand. Labour’s view was that it needed to be made sure that labour market tests were tighter to prove genuine skills shortages, and that people would not be exploited through temporary work visas and export education. Dips would not change that the settings needed to be corrected.
She was also asked about Peters comments on capitalism Thursday night, and where she stood on them. “The sentiment that was captured in those comments was very clear,” she said. “That, when you are a hands-off government, where you simply allow markets to decide the fate of your people, then that does not serve a country or its people well. That is what I think we’ve seen over the last nine years.”
People will see a proactive government led by Labour, she said. “One that ensures that we are investing in our regions, that we are investing in infrastructure, that we’re investing directly in areas that will lead to job creation and to growth. That we want us to be a productive economy, so we will invest in skills, and trade training, we’ll invest in innovation. We will be a very proactive government.”
See the list of Labour caucus members who will be given Ministerial posts next week, below:
Today caucus has elected the 21 Labour Ministers of the Crown who will serve in the new government’s executive, says Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern.
“Across the board these members have the experience, expertise and drive I want in our team so we can make the right decisions to tackle the challenges our country faces. The well-being of all New Zealanders will be at the heart of our work as we seek to build a better, fairer New Zealand.
“I will announce the portfolios of Ministers next week, including the New Zealand First and Green Party Ministers.
“New Zealand First will hold four positions inside Cabinet, and the Green Party will hold three positions outside of Cabinet. In total the Executive will contain 28 members, in line with past governments.
“Early next week, there will also be an official signing of agreements with New Zealand First and the Green Party that will form the foundation of a strong and durable government.
“I have been very heartened by the level of support I have received since last night’s announcement and look forward to ushering in a new era for New Zealand when the Labour-led Government is sworn in next Thursday,” says Jacinda Ardern.
Cabinet Ministers (alphabetical order)
Ministers outside Cabinet (alphabetical order)
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