Peter Dunne looks at the challenges Labour faces from being in coalition with NZ First suggesting the party needs to take a stand against a NZ First position on a drugs issue

Peter Dunne looks at the challenges Labour faces from being in coalition with NZ First suggesting the party needs to take a stand against a NZ First position on a drugs issue
Winston Peters by Jacky Carpenter.

By Peter Dunne*

Most of the time, the Labour Party bears the coarse New Zealand First millstone around its neck with patient equanimity. It appreciates that, however it might resent it, to do otherwise would quickly rend asunder the governing coalition, returning it unceremoniously to the Opposition benches for another, and potentially lengthy, fruitless spell in the wilderness.

Meanwhile, elements in the National Party, including the leader it seems, wistfully yearn for a possible reconciliation that would see New Zealand First emerge as its partner in government after the next election. But that is just not going to happen. National needs to wake up to the reality that as New Zealand First was founded principally on its leader’s sense of utu for having been expelled from National’s Caucus in 1991, it is never going to be its saviour. Despite having potentially greater policy compatibility with National, New Zealand First will always opt for Labour if it can, especially while its current leader is around. National can never hope to appease New Zealand First – its best way to deal with it is to seek to destroy it.

Although all this is to Labour’s short-term benefit, it probably does not want to be locked into the New Zealand First embrace for too long either. While it is, it cannot seriously hope to be able to deliver the progressive, left, government with the Greens it yearns for. The best it can hope for is a continuation of the stuttering current arrangement where it governs, not with the support of New Zealand First, but at its behest. Yet both Labour and New Zealand First understand that for the foreseeable future their fates are intertwined. Electoral mathematics alone make it clear that to retain government next year Labour will have to have New Zealand First, as well as the Greens, alongside it.

So, while Labour will continue to chafe under the New Zealand First yolk, it will never risk shirking it completely. That is why, for example, Shane Jones, whose Ministerial performance has been a failure in just about every aspect, is tolerated, and only ever so gently chastised (being sent away on holiday to read the Cabinet Manual after his egregious outburst to the forestry sector is the latest example) whenever he fails the standards of Ministerial conduct. And New Zealand First have already made it clear, through both Mr Peters and Mr Jones, that, rather than be chastened by the experience, it will become more aggressive and less mindful of Cabinet solidarity in the lead-up to next year’s election, as it fights for its survival. It knows full well Labour cannot really object all that much, because, for electoral purposes, the two are now increasingly joined at the hip.

What Labour strategists have to weigh up in all this is the point at which New Zealand First’s continued unchecked shenanigans start to damage Labour’s own brand, and whether, simply, it continues to be worth it. For their part, the Greens might also become less quiescent as the responsible partner in government if they sense their fate is being compromised by the association with New Zealand First.

One such issue that might bring all this to a head is the matter of drug law reform. The Greens clearly want to push this and move New Zealand towards a more realistic approach to the use of drugs, and Labour, while overtly less apparently enthusiastic, is of a similar persuasion. New Zealand First, on the other hand, is setting itself up to be the anti-drug party, committed to still fighting the discredited war on drugs that most countries, including New Zealand some years ago, have correctly abandoned, hoping to draw in the hardline anti-drug vote, ironically to boost the overall support of the current government.

This week’s flat rejection of the idea of drug-testing facilities being available at major summer music festivals, despite the high profile support of the Labour Minister of Police, is not just another example of the ritual humiliation Labour Ministers have to endure at the feet of New Zealand First in order to survive, but is also plain bad policy.

The point is simple. There are very few people who actively advocate for the use of drugs as beneficial. It is not the case – they are mind altering substances that are potentially dangerous to young people, in particular. The reality is, though, as hundreds of years of history has shown, they cannot be eliminated, so the question becomes one of regulating their use in a way that is safe and responsible. Enabling people with substances to test whether they are safe or not, is not an encouragement of their use and proliferation, but a valuable protection for often vulnerable young people. Labour, the Greens, and elements in the National Party, and the Police all understand that, and, until the blunt New Zealand First veto, there were cautious hopes that a solution could be arrived at for this year’s summer music season.

To date, Labour’s response seems to have been acquiescence, apparently judging the preservation of coalition unity to be a higher priority than the protection of the public health. But to retain any credibility it has as a party of compassion and tolerance, Labour cannot let this position stand – and nor can the Greens.

For both, the millstone may yet become too oppressive to continue to have to wear.


*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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Labor could entice the electorate enough to go it alone, but to do so they have to be radical with solutions to the major issues of concern - for me that is housing, immigration and environment.

Come election time they will just need to remind us of national's denial of housing, wrecking of enviro and cosying up to foreigners to scare many from going back just yet. National still haven't woken up.

"National still haven't woken up"

Thats because they still think they won the last election (huge similarity the Dems). Until they both realize where they went wrong and return to fundamentals, they will probably both stay in the wilderness.

Well NZF however unpalatable for some in Government, and members of the public, still represent a sector of the NZ voting public which makes their voice important, and a critical part of the MMP scene. Anyone who argues against this is essentially against democracy. We can at least be thankful that NZF is a minor coalition party, and not the prime party leading the Government (we are not America, and Winnie's first name is not Donald), otherwise corruption might be a little more evident here.

I don't think people are against democracy, they're against the tail (nzf) the dog (Labour). Unfortunate side effect of MMP, when the minority forces the majority's hand.
End of the day, Winnie is a political genius who has the elderly votes locked up

We ran, as a Nation, with such a millstone for some years.

It was called United Future, and it had no mandate to be as influential as it governmentmakeringly was.

That millstone (as I learned at a lecture yesterday) was backed by a very slewed cohort indeed. Unfortunately, as per NZF, their assumptions were based on the false assumption of infinite growth.

Interesting to note the Helen Clark Foundation getting stuck into the avoiding/sidelining issue of cannabis too. Presumably poth Parties see the need to divert the narraticve, come election-time. Shouldn't be too hard - our media resemble blotting-paper.

was backed by a very slewed cohort indeed.

What slewed cohort would that be?

I'm expecting the Greens to pick up in polling on the back of the recent climate 'strikes' and Greta etc.

As we currently have a Labour - NZFirst coalition with Greens on the outer, on the basis that NZFirst got more MPs, after the next election it may be the opposite, a Labour - Greens coalition, with NZFirst on the outer.

I'm expecting the Greens to pick up from Labour based on the sexual assault scandal. Regarding the climate strikes, I think they'll do more for the right than the left.

PGF and the port move to northland push have the ability to keep NZF in the game for another election.
I would expect WP and party to pick up the pace of project and funding announcements for the region over the next 12 months to retain their voter share.

maybe just maybe Labour should look to National on this issue and say -- will you either vote with us or abstain to get the legislation -- or this part of it through --

it could only be seen as a positive - ie if the issue is right -- we don't care who walks through the lobby with us -- as long as its the right outcome for the country -

that would sideline NZ first in a very real way !

A simple conscience vote.....

On the cannabis issue I prefer the referendum. So, for that, we have NZF to thank.

You talk about the drug issue as if it is settled opinion. It's not. Of course enabling the testing of drugs is at best normalising it, at worst encouraging its use. And of course NZF would be against that. Yet again you attack NZF for being consistent with their policies. It's pretty clear by now that it's you who has some utu to be dished out.
I sincerely hope that after 'discrediting' the war on drugs, you don't then go onto discredit the war on all crime, using the over-simplified explanation that crime still exists and therefore we should just give up.

Well put B-Rocker. The idea that legalisation isn't going to increase drug use in NZ because this hasn't been the experience overseas ( I'm anticipating this reply ), even if true in some jurisdictions, is a big call indeed for this country. Watch the gangs quickly move on to harder, still illegal drugs to keep their point of difference in the market place. Meanwhile the numbers needing treatment will always exceed the dollars provided. So good luck to all those voting for legalisation. Just remember that if you make the wrong call you can't put the genie back in the bottle, which is presumable why our PM seems to be taking no position on the matter.

is this an attempt by peter dunne to shift the blame of the inadequacies in drug legislation, that he promoted, to NZF and winston in particular.

The new power policy might do a lot to divide NZF and Labour. It’s a jab at the financially responsible - and will particularly affect the retired.

Excuse my ignorance if I am wrong, but wasn't it Peter Dunne ill-considered efforts at creating a new tax milking cow "synthetic drugs market" through regulation and it's failer which has led to the miserable deaths at the hands of synthetic drugs.

Could he write an article clearly laying out his role in what is such a killer health crisis with synthetics.

Has the author much moral authority to be telling anyone else about "drugs"?

It does seem extremely perverse to legalise synthetic/chemical concoctions ahead of a plant based product.

This article should be published with a disclaimer about the vested interests of Mr Dunnes family.

How significant will NZ First's support be for Labour for the next election?
They are a dying party, who have struggled to achieve what they electioneered on

Winnie's a shrewd & seasoned poly & I think next year will be worth watching just to see how it all plays out.
The unholy Lab/NZF/Greens alliance is an exercise in 21st Century MMP politics of pragmatics, & if we look abroad (to the future) all I can see is further divisions & less stable democracies (Spain, Austria, Italy, UK, a lot of South America, even Germany). What to do? A Benevolent Dictatorship was once suggested as being one of the most cost effective options, & not so many years ago. Perhaps the Donald will be looking for a gig in 2021. After all, he has recent form! Oh, I forgot, we already have a trade deal with the Chinese.

Get yer hand off it Peter, your performance as a Minister was hardly benchmark stuff either, brought any synnies lately? You should have regulated that whole thing the minute it reared its ugly head...why didn't you?

Peter Dunn can hardly claim any credible authority on this topic. He was the minister who championed synthetic cannabis, only to embarrassingly eat his words and climb down under the continuous onslaught each night on TV of the terrible harm that these drugs were causing. It will be no different if natural cannabis is fully legalised.

I dont know why he bothers,his parliamentary pension for a long serving MP and minister plus his national super should have made him worry-free financially.he needs to let it go.

Utu is New Zealand version of Lobbying. Only here the politicians deliver first and then ask for the fees. Theoritically, at least. Is my understanding correct ?
Pay as you get....

Utu is New Zealand version of Lobbying. Only here the politicians deliver first and then ask for the fees. Theoritically, at least. Is my understanding correct ?
Pay as you get....