National keeping to the centre

7:38 am on 3 October 2014

You might have forgotten - but the National Party won the general election on 20 September.

John Key on election night.

A jubilant John Key after National won 48 percent of the vote on election night. Photo: AFP

While the media attention is focused almost solely on the Labour Party's leadership woes since its comprehensive drubbing on election day, National has quietly gone about forming its third term government.

Prime Minister John Key says there will be no lurch to the Right under his government as he seeks to reassure voters that he remains the centrist leader they voted for.

But Mr Key will continue National's gradual and determined push to give free market principles greater influence in how the country is run.

Employment law and the RMA

Employment and planning laws will be changed to make life easier for business. As well, the ACT Party's charter school programme will be expanded.

Under employment law changes, the balance of power in the employment relationship will be tilted even further in favour of employers. There will be greater flexibility around meal and tea breaks, and collective bargaining will be weakened further, making life even tougher trade unions, whose membership is falling.

National says this is not an attack on workers' rights, but simply a move to make employment relationships more flexible.

In employment law, however, flexibility goes just one way. The changes come at a time when there is increasing evidence that despite rising productivity that has not been reflected in higher wages for workers.

In tandem with employment law changes, the National-led Government now also has the numbers to push through changes to the Resource Management Act.

It had to put those plans on hold before the election because it could not win the support of United Future and the Maori Party. Now it no longer needs those two parties, although Mr Key says there will be continued negotiations in an attempt to broaden support for the law change.

The primary disagreement has been around Sections 6 and 7 of the legislation, with opponents saying the principles of the Bill give too much weight to development and not enough to environmental protection.

National says it is interested in balancing economic growth with protecting the environment but instinctively where there is a clash it tends to fall on the side of business interests. It is particularly keen to remove roadblocks to economic developments it believes will lift growth and create wealth.

Peter Dunne and John Key.

United Future leader Peter Dunne, left and John Key. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

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While charter schools are not a National Party initiative, John Key is happy to give the ACT Party more scope to push the proposal. Again, it fits with National's free market view of giving parents choice.

For National the policy has particular political appeal - because if it fails, the Government can blame ACT, rather than have to shoulder too much responsibility itself.

Act MP David Seymour

David Seymour. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

ACT's new MP David Seymour, in Parliament courtesy of National's patronage in Epsom, has been appointed under-secretary to the Minister of Education and been given the responsibility of increasing the number of charter schools.

If Mr Seymour proves his worth, he will be made a minister before the end of this term.

In the case of United Future, Ohariu MP Peter Dunne has again been made Minister of Internal Affairs and Associate Minister of Health and Conservation in return for his single vote.

A deal is still to be announced with the Maori Party, but it is inevitable that co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell will also join the executive.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

On one hand, those appointments lend credence to Mr Key's exhortation that National, despite winning a majority in its own right, should not be arrogant.

On the other, it raises questions about how parties which won so little support - in United Future's case just 4500 party votes - should be able to hold ministerial posts in the new government.

For the moment, though, there is little political opposition to the National-led Government's tilt to the Right.

Labour has just announced its timetable for electing a new leader and until the middle of November its MPs and members are more likely to be focused on their problems than National's policy agenda.

Just how successful that process is will determine how effective Labour will be in Opposition over the next three years.

If Labour is unable to put its leadership disunity behind it the party will again struggle over the next three years, leaving plenty of room for the Green Party and New Zealand First to jostle to lead the real opposition.

It would also make it increasingly difficult for John Key to counsel against arrogance and to hold back those in his party who want to see National speed up its gradualist move to the Right.

Follow Brent Edwards on Twitter @rnzgallerybrent

View our full Election 2014 coverage

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