15 Dec 2023

Peters defies opposition as repeals and rollbacks roll on

From Focus on Politics, 7:00 pm on 15 December 2023
Focus on Politics: Composite of Winston Peters in the foreground with the debating chamber behind him

Photo: RNZ

"The adults are back in charge and New Zealanders say to the last lot good riddance" - Nicola Willis

A host of Labour's policies have been tipped on the scrap heap this week as the new coalition starts passing laws at pace. 

The financial fisticuffs have begun opening bouts too ahead of next week's mini-Budget, with the Interislander ferry upgrade in dire straits and new figures pointing to a gloomy economy. 

The week began with a bang: Winston Peters in the hot seat as Acting Prime Minister, with Christopher Luxon in Australia for his daughter's graduation.

Opposition MPs tried to trip up the wily Deputy PM, using his previous policies and utterances against him after his switch from supporting Labour in 2017 to National six years later. He once defended the oil and gas ban and the Reserve Bank's dual mandate - now both on the chopping block. 

They also tested his knowledge on things like the current minimum wage, and challenged his new political partnership with ACT's David Seymour - who had said Peters was "just a muppet" and yesterday's man, who could not be trusted. 

Some of the attacks were more effective than others, but none of it seemed to rattle Peters, who eagerly returned fire, proving he will continue to be a provocation to the opposition and his coalition partners alike.

Stuff's political editor Luke Malpass told RNZ's Morning Report it was a good reminder that Peters is one of the great parliamentary debaters in New Zealand's history, and showed his party's determination to berate the left. 

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It set the stage for a colourful week in the House, sitting under urgency with a major repeal job: dismantling the former government's legacy piece by piece. The dual mandate was first to go, followed by Fair Pay Agreements and the Clean Car Discount as the next items crossed off National's to-don't list. 

The coalition has made no apology for sweeping aside Labour's laws - as promised ahead of the election - but it has faced criticism for its processes after a leaked document showed this would not be subject to the usual scrutiny of Regulatory Impact Statements. It turned out a draft RIS had already been prepared on the scrapping of the so-called ute tax, but the minister has refused to release that for now. 

Protests against the government's direction have continued too, with unions rallying on Wednesday for FPAs and hundreds more calling for the generational ban on tobacco to remain the same day. Environmental issues have also been prominent, NZ First's Shane Jones' dismissive language at odds with the efforts of Climate Minister Simon Watts' efforts to push for a somewhat stronger stance on fossil fuels at the COP28 conference in Dubai. 

Public backlash has been an uncomfortable backdrop for National at times - though NZ First has seemed to relish it. 

Finance Minister Nicola Willis took some time to do some scene-setting of her own: cutting off the prospect of further funding to upgrade the ageing Cook Strait ferries owned by KiwiRail. The asking price had blown out to $3 billion, she said, putting the blame on her predecessor in the role, Labour's Grant Robertson. He in turn holds KiwiRail responsible, its board meets next week to consider options.

Expect the fiscal fracas to reach fever pitch on Wednesday as Willis unveils her mini-Budget alongside Treasury's half-year opening of the government books - charting a path to the promised tax cuts.

The rollback rolls on next week, with a return to the old RMA rather than Labour's reforms - and 90-day trials making a full comeback for all employers. 

In this week's Focus on Politics, Deputy Political Editor Craig McCulloch breaks down the week at Parliament where the Coalition is cracking on with its roll-back and repeal job.

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