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Peter Dunne says making the case for an early resumption of Parliament after the lockdown ends should be a no-brainer for the National Party

Peter Dunne says making the case for an early resumption of Parliament after the lockdown ends should be a no-brainer for the National Party
A COSY CHAT: Peter Dunne says Simon Bridges has done well in his chairing of the committee looking at the Covid-19 response - but now it's all starting to look a bit cosy.

By Peter Dunne*

A leading pollster suggested earlier this week that the National Party may be best placed to win this year's election if it just stays quiet and lets the government wear all the criticism for the inevitable rising unemployment, business failures and massive personal dislocation brought on by the Covid-19 outbreak and its aftermath.

Whether that musing is any way true or even likely of course remains to be seen. But in the meantime, the National Party seems to have taken the advice to heart and gone to sleep early, just in case.

In part, this is because the government’s initial way of responding to the Covid-19 outbreak was to effectively shut the National Party out of any role whatsoever.

When the Leader of the Opposition reacted to this in Parliament – in the days when we still had a functioning Parliament – his response was widely criticised as churlish and striking completely the wrong tone.

He clearly took the criticisms to heart, quickly ordering his MPs and candidates to suspend all overt political activity for the duration of the crisis. At the same time, he accepted a government offer to chair a special select committee reviewing the Covid-19 response. He has done so extremely well and showed cross-party co-operation in a time of national need at its best.

But, arguably, he has been too successful, seeming at times to be a stauncher defender of the government’s approach than the government itself.

Witness the way he led the government to a stronger line on imposing border controls, for example. However, the weekly committee meetings, asking questions to which there are seldom crisp and clear answers, and never any decisions made, are beginning to look just a little too cosy.

It all begins to beg the question of whether he has been politically snookered by the government – cleverly backed into a corner of support from which he cannot readily escape, while allowing it to get on with its job, without too much critical scrutiny.

With Parliament in indefinite abeyance there is little scope for it to currently be any other way. Parliament is the Opposition’s primary forum for holding the government to account and making its alternative case to the public.

Given both the current situation, and the massive challenges that lie ahead as we move out of Alert Level 4 and beyond, let alone the huge period of economic and social reconstruction ahead of us, the early resumption of Parliament is hardly in the government’s interests.

Even though there are many questions to be answered and numerous uncertainties to be understood, then resolved, the early return of parliament does not even appear to be on the government’s horizon at all. After all, why give the Opposition an open forum for criticism when the country faces such dire times?

Previously, whenever there has been a national crisis – invariably of a much lesser significance and threat than the Covid-19 crisis – the Opposition of the day, National or Labour, has always been quick to call for the immediate recall of Parliament to discuss the situation and, if need be, the official actions being taken in response.

There have also been times when the government of the day has felt it necessary to have Parliament endorse its response to adverse circumstances that have arisen. For example, Parliament was recalled specifically to debate New Zealand’s response to the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991, and has previously set aside time to debate what needed to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, and last year’s Christchurch mosque killings.

There has always been the view that Parliament as the House of Representatives needs to be brought into the response to such issues.

Covid-19 is by and far away the biggest of all these crises.

It is therefore puzzling, disturbing, and plain out of step with our long tradition, that apart from the initial debate in early February when the breadth of what was happening was not then fully appreciated here or around the world, the government has not seen fit to recall Parliament – albeit by videoconference – both to formally update it on its response, and seek its support for the steps being taken.

Even more surprising and certainly more disturbing has been that the Opposition does not seem to have considered this a priority either. Yet the day to day lives of New Zealanders, in their homes, neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools are being impacted upon to a greater extent than even in wartime, when Parliament was in frequent session.

However, the crossroads are looming for the National Party. Assuming the election proceeds on 19 September, as seems reasonable given the Prime Minister’s recent assurances, National’s continuing to play the loyal back-up to the government will hand the coalition a huge advantage. Where is the case for change, if both sides of politics seem to agree on the current direction being taken?

Yet by September, life will not have returned to normal, however that is to be defined from now on. Indeed, it will be anything but. Thousands of businesses will have closed; tens of thousands of jobs will have been lost or put on the shelf; household debt will have soared.

While New Zealanders’ resilience will be enabling them to get by, long term confidence in theirs and their children’s futures will have taken a severe hammering, and many future dreams and aspirations will have been permanently shattered. People may well be looking for a viable alternative to support, to restore hope. For that reason alone, if not the grander one of upholding democratic principles, National needs to be starting to distance itself, slowly but surely, from the government and its response. It needs to be showing itself as the party of the future, leaving Labour as the party of the crisis. But it needs the forum of Parliament to be seen to be doing that, which is why the government will not acquiesce.

The call to move out of Alert Level 4 next week is perhaps a start, but without Parliament sitting the country is being kept in the dark about what that means.

Presumably National has clear intentions about how the threads of normal life should be picked up once again. The country needs to be hearing these alongside the government’s plans, so that it can assess the relative merits of both. For its part, the direction being proposed by National should appear positive, consistent, and clear. In that regard, making the case for the early resumption of a working Parliament to hold the government to proper account once more should be a no-brainer card for National to play well before the scheduled election

However, could it be that National was undoubtedly so badly scarred by the adverse public reaction to its leader’s early February comments that is has been spooked into a mode of quiescent support ever since, trying desperately to appear constructive while not rocking the boat too much. If so, medium term, this is not likely to be a winning strategy – unless, of course, National, ever mindful of being careful about what it wishes for, has concluded that in its own long term interests, the next election is now one it should not be trying too hard to win.


*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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56 Comments

14
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No-brainer and National Party.

A marriage made in heaven

Bridges is just sitting back enjoying a salary he would never hope to get anywhere else.

Get rid of him soon, as we need a stronger opposition leader; someone who knows what they are talking about, if thats possible.

Steve Tindall, please step up and help us out.

27
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Even if National keeps quite with their usual do nothing approach and even changes leadership, they'll still be corrupt and have only their one main policy that is to sell NZ off as quickly as possible to China.

Don't forget that National wants to remove the Foreign Buyers Ban and relax regulations including the Anti Money Laundering Rules.

24
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If our housing market starts falling this year, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see foreign buyers sell up and leave our market and not come back for a significant period of time. They've only been investing here as a tax free store of capital. If our housing market is soft, I doubt there would be much interest. I just don't get the mindless game of selling our assets to foreigners for unreal prices. It is absolutely insane.

Hi Indeendent_Observer, do you still feel IF our housing market starts falling.....

I agree that National was on the way to make NZ a colony of China but they did manage to a certain extend as now NZ survival depends on China money. Sad but True.

Well we share our secrets with the US, not China. But we sell our milk and houses to China.

If a conflict starts, it could get very messy for us. China may chose to not buy any of our commodities if we back the US - and would we ever not? Economically where would that leave us?

I think house prices will fall - if they don't they are being artificially inflated. Then the question becomes, how long can fiscal and monetary policy artifically inflated asset values before the concept of a market becomes a falsehood and work/money have little to no meaning?

15
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No secrets shared with China - I think you have forgotten about Jian Yang

A country without high-tech industry is a country without any secrets.

:-DDDDD

You forget Five Eyes, seemingly a big reason the SIS identified that Jian Yang needed to be excluded from secrets.

Might encourage U.S. to lift the trade barriers with us,

Commodities are traded on the world market. If China buys someone else's commodities then the people who would have bought that other country's commodities will buy ours.

I think it's likely that Labour will go to polls early knowing that they are riding high on the crisis response - support for govt always rises in times of 'war', and they can sell it as a quasi-referendum on their response or a desire to get rid of tainted NZF (serious fraud investigation) before the real pain of economic destruction starts to bite. The longer they wait the worse NZ will be suffering and the more certain their defeat becomes.

10
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"It is therefore puzzling, disturbing, and plain out of step with our long tradition, that apart from the initial debate in early February when the breadth of what was happening was not then fully appreciated here or around the world, the government has not seen fit to recall Parliament.."
I don't think it is at all. If you look at all the left wing, socialist govts globally they are all on the same playbook:
1) Keep lockdowns going for as long as possible in order to smash their economies (e.g. France, which is pressuring Germany to accept federal EU debt);
2) Next stage is massive govt nationalisations, welfare, etc, to be funded by endless MMT money printing and CBs buying up truckloads of govt debt.
Their mindset has always been about control and central planning, with people being subservient to the state.
The social and economic damage they are creating is criminal and it will backfire badly. Unfortunately, there will be major civil unrest and societal chaos on the way to something (hopefully) better. However, if they get their way, it will lead to war. There are very clear parallels here to 1933 for the few that have any knowledge of history.

China takes 30% of our exports. 5% of NZ population are Chinese. Trying to define solutions to NZ's current political and economic problems that somehow exclude China will be electorally very difficult and economically devastating.

What happens if the outcome of this is a global type conflict? Repeat of 1930's type situation. Rising power challenges the existing power.

NZ hasn't put itself in a good position for that - we're very two faced in that respect. No way do we share our secrets/intelligence with China - but economically could we live without them without our society changing from the way we're known in the recent past?

Dalio has been implying that this type of situation could play out in the coming years.

It is so disgusting to politicise COVID19 outbreak.

No matter who gets elected this year, NZ will always be governed by a bunch without any visions, strategic planning ability but with amazing skills in spinning lies and empty promises.

12
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And the same supported and promoted by Communist party of China.

Sounded like he was describing the CCP, to be fair.

One question that China has to have a good answer for is why they shut down the internal borders of Hubei Province, in which Wuhan city is located, to internal Chinese travel but still allowed international air travel which is how a Chinese citizen first introduced the virus to the USA.
Also, because the Chinese Peoples Party is so secretive and authoritarian, it took far too long to admit to the rest of the world that the virus existed and was deadly. A democratic government would have revealed details of the virus a lot earlier.

"A democratic government would have revealed details of the virus a lot earlier."

US with other 4 eyes, the whole EU, UK with the herd immunity, India

Are you making fun of them?? Lol

xingmowang: you're putting into my mouth something I didn't say. But you do reveal the fallacious logic used by Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Well done!

I think only Trump has propaganda. Lol....

Guess that shows CCP indoctrination works on its victims...

If you have two eyes, I strongly suggest you look with both

That may well be, but we are all free to scrutinize, criticize, demonstrate if we think it's gone too far, and Vote for meaningful alternatives. We don't have:

  • Emperor-for-life-Xi
  • Demonstrations at which protesters are gunned down like rabbits
  • News media (multiple...) that are muzzled (well, self-muzzled, maybe - just look at the difference between Oz journalism and ours)
  • Unruly minorities that are imprisoned in concentration, no, sorry, Re-Education camps Universities
  • Constant lies about the most serious health crisis this century.

We have our version of Democracy, flawed and muddly though it may be. Socialist 'Utopias' have killed too many millions for us ever to countenance one here. We have a thoroughly mixed-basis economy (what's left of it) and we will climb out of this hole by individuals working together without compulsion, with mutual assistance, and relying on our Anzac spirit and Anglosphere friends.

And we're gonna Keep it this way.

Well said.

22
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Labour will win at a canter Mr Dunne.
Pop will rally to those showing authority and constant purpose.
By comparison to any other democracy it is bleeding obvious than NZ government has done better.

Yes hopefully we'll be free of the corona virus in the next few months. Also was pleased to read that Jacinda and her ministers are taking a 20 per cent pay cut for six months in solidarity with those affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

National have not just arrived on the crossroads. They have been sitting there, quite lonely, for a long time now waiting for a viable coalition partner to emerge from any one direction. You see since MMP no government has been able to gain power outright on its own. Not even those of Helen Clark and John Key at their respective popular peak, and this lot and their leader are pallid in comparison.

Currently polling at 51%, according to National's own polling company.

What if/when eradication policy fails? Slow rate of fall in new cases seems fated to make it ruinously expensive - at least 6-8 weeks of lockdown required to maybe eradicate, and freeing up to level 3 or 2 might see cases rising again - as they have in singapore. Govt haven't even done the obvious and cheap thing of requiring everyone to wear masks in public.

It's obvious from the content on the official site that they're expecting new cases to continue at levels 3 and 2. It looks like it's only when we get to 0 cases for a sustained period that we'll move to level 1.

Please, can you tell everyone where we get masks from???? I am now planning to return to work on Thursday next week, together with 9 of my staff at our factory, and I can't find any masks for love nor money!! I already had been told 3-4 weeks prior to lock down by 2 large safety gear suppliers in Auckland that they are rationing masks for their biggest accounts! Today, if you call or email anyone supplying masks for industry, they can't tell you when, and if they will have any stock available for anyone other than essential businesses and employees. How you people think a mandatory mask rule would work is beyond me. You seem to not know that there are still dire shortages of basic gear, an will stay so for the foreseeable future!

Parliament is our representative leadership and should be held to a higher standard. Risk comes with the job.

If that means they need to get back to Wellington, get in the chamber to debate the issues, then so be it. At Level 3 there is far less need to be cowering at home.

We need to restore full functioning of democracy ASAP.

I just don't see National displaying any political nous in the situation. In fact, under the current leadership, they have shown almost the complete opposite, the latest being mentioned in the article. I'm not sure who is currently advising them politically but they desperately need some political play maker smarts or they're dog tucker in September.

Doesn't matter whether National gets more votes than Labour and Greens combined, the only vote that matters is whether Winston chooses National or Labour to be government

Right now Labour is polling high enough to govern alone, or easily with Greens.

Lord help us if the do govern on their own. Public protests like the have in France will attest

From the 35% of people currently polling for National? Can't see the cashed-up boomers getting out there on the picket line.

Winston is dog tucker this time. So is NZ First

Polling results from Curia, National's polling company:
48% Labour, 31% National, 9% Greens, 6% NZFirst, 5% Act

Supposedly this was replaced by a more up to date poll by the same company:
51% Labour, 34% National, 6% Greens, 2-3% Act, NZFirst unstated

https://twitter.com/bryce_edwards/status/1250500689907683328

Based on the comment section leanings on Interest I'm surprised that National features at all.

NZ will have to address its dependence on China the world will be very different coming out of this most countries will be addressing supply line vulnerabilities . China I hope will never be a compatible partner with nz so get over it and diversify your customers . Xi and co have displayed unbelievable arrogance in this crisis take note this is how nz will be regarded everytime you disagree with their propaganda . National needs to wake up to the fact their will be few votes in fauning on China as a saviour most voters would find this abhorrent they do not want nz sold off to China or anybody else.

Govts always get a huge boost during externally imposed crises. President GW Bush, post 9/11: https://news.gallup.com/poll/116500/presidential-approval-ratings-george... Margaret Thatcher during Falklands crisis: https://image.slidesharecdn.com/margaret-thatcher-poll-rating-trends-130... George H W Bush Gulf War: https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/234971/george-bush-retrospective....

Yip, and given our proximity to the election, it's very unlikely National will be in a position to govern. It was already going to be an uphill slog for them.

The questions is whether COVID-19 will be treated as a separate crisis to the economic crisis, which in part was caused by us going too hard and late

I don’t rate any party as being competent to lead us out of this in September. However, it will be interesting to see if the Jacinda love-fest is still in play in September with another 300-400k out of work and untold misery all around...
As much as the socialists think that the economy is just some evil capitalist construct, it will come back to front and centre of attention when people become destitute...

The COL has dug themselves into the biggest hole I have ever seen by a Government in my lifetime , and there is no way of climbing out as they dig deeper and deeper .

The economy will be a wreck very soon , and the populace will blame the Government when they are unemployed , broke , facing eviction or mortgagee sales

The so-called 'economy' has been a wreck-in-the-making for over a decade.

We levered our houses to lever our houses to lever our houses, to do nothing real......... but expected the levering to pay off the debt we happily spent.

That works until the last tulip.

Problem is, the alternative is electing folk who have nurtured and even celebrated the massive household debt problem that now threatens NZ's economic future.

No, they won't blame the government for eradicating COVID-19 while we continue to watch it ravage the rest of the world from the safety of Fortress New Zealand.

I will vote for National if they change policy about China!
Everyone should read this from University Of Canterbury Professor on China: https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/christchurch/canterbury-mornings-wit...

certainly an interesting time. Problem for National is that it is too inherently inflexible to cope with a state of flux. Post GFC, Euro Zone currency crisis, Chch quakes all needed highly ameliorable responses and nothing materialized because the Nats are run like the Baptist Church..don't you dare question our authority...most likely while we abuse you...

The Bluey team neoliberal view shall be preserved, quietly.. they only have one arse..nal to use when back in power to power up NZ GDP numbers again,... the CCP direct funds in to NZ rock star F.I.RE economy. Have to compete hard against OZ, UK, Canada, US... as their FIRE economy also need to be rescued.

I have considered the next election and given that Jacinda, Ximon and all the other options are dismal, I think the best option is to vote for the coronavirus.

It actually delivers on its promise to slash immigration and housing costs. It is uncorrupted by shady money from the Chinese Communists. In fact, Winne the Pooh called it "The Devil". That's the exactly kind of leader we need. It doesn't waste its time on identity politics or virtue signalling. It does not frown and look concerned for the cameras because it has no face. It doesn't try to flog off our country to its rich overseas mates. It sorts out the overloaded roads and schools and crowded supermarkets. It has a plan for dealing with the costs of an ageing population. It believes that New Zealand citizens should have much more leisure time. It has dealt with the pestilence of mass tourism and has done more for our environment than any other leader. It has a non discriminatory approach to decolonisation: One rule for All.

It has united the country and made it come to its senses, if only for a brief moment.

Coronavirus for Prime Minister.

Well, Simon has spoken on Facebook and that is that.
Let us not become Alice in Blunderland like the US. Also we are not in a race with the Aussies. We can be proud of the path we are breaking in these crisis times and the results are being applauded by the World. We are on the right track. Politics has no place in this. Thanks.

Days to the General Election: 25
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.