Govt tracking to hit its 100-day goals

10:15 am on 14 December 2017

Power Play - It has been far from smooth sailing for the new government in its first eight weeks in office, but it does appear to be largely on track to deliver its 100-day plan.

Inexperienced ministers trying to get to grips with their portfolios, a scramble to find ministerial staff and bedding in the coalition arrangements have all proved to be a challenge.

By all accounts Labour was completely taken by surprise when it was handed the reins of power by New Zealand First and so had done little in the way of preparation for staffing, procedures or the basic nuts and bolts of how to run a government.

Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand First leader and deputy leader Winston Peters and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sign the coalition documents. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

There has been a major scramble to get staff into key positions, made more complicated by ministerial positions being spread across three parties in a completely new arrangement.

The problems with the Greens are symptomatic of the difficulties they and Labour in particular have with the transition from opposition benches to ministerial offices.

This government has three key vulnerabilities: any major divisions between Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens, blunders from inexperienced new ministers, and the pressure to balance the books.

All vulnerabilities the fired up and still-wounded National Party will be looking to exploit to the fullest.

Grant Robertson giving his first major speech as Finance Minister. 1 December 2017.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The first shot back from Labour will be when the Finance Minister throws open the books today to show how the government will pay for its election promises, and the deals Labour struck with the Greens and New Zealand First.

There are some big ticket items - a year's free tertiary study for some students, the big families income package, a billion dollar regional fund and the list goes on.

That will be paid for in part by scrapping tax cuts that would have come into effect next year if National had still been in power.

The strategy of National so far this week has been to point out New Zealanders will be hundreds of dollars worse off as a result.

Labour will be banking on the fact the extra money thousands of people will get will blunt any disappointment about tax cuts.

National Party leader Bill English (centre) and Paula Bennett (2nd right).

National Party leader Bill English with deputy leader Paula Bennett. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Government ministers have also gone on the attack, accusing National of leaving major holes in the Budget, in defence and health, and of hiding unpleasant information such as a shortfall of 45,000 houses in Auckland.

The Briefings to Incoming Ministers are not doing National any favours, with many agencies warning a lack of money and recources has been making it hard for them to do their job.

The 100 day plan would have seemed like a good idea for Labour during the election campaign, a clear list of policies it would implement by February the 3rd next year, but making it all a reality is a daunting prospect.

Ministers have had no time to ease into their jobs, with legislation required for paid parental leave, the families package, a foreign buyers ban and medicinal cannabis all needing to be at least introduced to Parliament by the Christmas break.

There are still several other initiatives on the list that don't need legislation, like resuming Superfund contributions and increasing the minimum wage, and can be done with the stroke of a pen.

But the coalition arrangements also need careful management, especially in these early days, with all parties finding their way in terms of communications, and making sure they stay on message.

Very strong direction from the ninth floor is helping this process at the moment.

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New Zealand First MP Shane Jones Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

There has been the odd bump along the way so far, with New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones waxing lyrical about forcing young unemployed into work schemes, at the same time pushing the Greens into a corner when asked about supporting sanctions.

So far though nothing too serious.

The challenge will come when one of the parties has a strong push for a policy that in all good conscience one of the other partners can't support.

The intention is to manage the process at the early stages so any legislation without the numbers to pass would not see the light of day.

But there are bound to be issues that spring out of nowhere that will test the leadership and the relationships of all three governing parties, hard lessons learnt by governments past.

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