PM unveils dynamic strategy as NZ First undercuts Labour

3:56 pm on 4 October 2018

Analysis - The Respecting New Zealand Values Bill is probably a dead duck that will never get the chance to quack.

PM Jacinda Ardern and Deputy PM Winston Peters

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell's bill, requiring immigrants to sign up to Kiwi values or ship out, hadn't even got through his own caucus.

As a member's bill it still had to win the lottery of being drawn from the ballot and then gain sufficient votes to pass through Parliament. Normally the early death of a creature with such a short life expectancy would pass silently like the fallen tree in the empty forest.

But for two things. Firstly, it will be divisive to send people packing if they're judged not to embrace 'our values'. Especially when "Pakistan, Indians and some Asian-type of attitudes" are singled out, as NZ First party supporter Roger Melville ensured they were.

Secondly, the bill had the support of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. It's this point that makes Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's decision to kill off the fledging much more interesting. In doing so she showed us a new development in her coalition strategy.

The New Zealand First playbook has worked so far: wait for the right moment and then undercut Labour with a position guaranteed to grab maximum attention.

Ms Ardern was in New York extolling the virtues of kindness and openness. "Our isolation has not made us insular," she told the UN General Assembly. Her embrace of free trade may surprise some who thought Labour genuinely opposed the TPP, but she struck an undeniably open stance.

Globalisation had brought unprecedented growth, but also dislocation and insecurity for some. "We can use that environment to blame nameless, faceless 'other' to feed the sense of insecurity, to retreat into greater levels of isolationism or we can acknowledge the problems we have and seek to fix them."

Back at the New Zealand conference in Tauranga, New Zealand First was planning a fix of its own.

Immigrants and refugees would pledge allegiance to New Zealand values, whatever they may be, or go home, however difficult, or even life-threatening, that may be.

Labour, in supporting the waka jumping legislation and ditching its promise to scrap the three strikes law, has swallowed some dead rats recently.

With unusual candour Ms Ardern told Morning Report Labour would not support Mitchell's bill.

It's a safe issue for Ms Ardern to flex her muscles with New Zealand First on. Mr Peters won't die on a hill for this and may even be relieved it won't face the disinfectant of sunlight.

Mr Peters will remember how badly things can end when you try to quantify and police something as nebulous as values.

When in coalition with National, between 1996 and 1998, New Zealand First attempted to establish The Code of Social and Family Responsibility.

It was an effort to force reciprocal obligations on people relying on state assistance. Inevitably politicians were accused of hypocrisy and faced the challenge of whether their own families could meet the standards they were setting for others. That, coupled with a reflexive repugnance for Nanny State, saw The Code abandoned.

There's another reason Mr Peters might be quietly relieved at the early demise of the values bill. Perhaps the most consistent refrain from New Zealand First over 25 years has been to limit immigration. In the 2017 campaign, Mr Peters wanted to reduce immigration from 70,000 to 10,000. He's been able to extract almost anything he likes out of Labour but oddly enough not that one.

Would he rather talk about it than do it? This is the fourth government Mr Peters has been a minister in, yet he hasn't instigated any major changes to limit immigration.

If his chosen path is talking rather than doing then he's had a win here too, given the strong media interest in the issue. His supporters will be happy about that and unlikely to notice that the newly hatched bill never produced a quack or even a waddle.

Labour's supporters would certainly have noticed if Ms Ardern had backed Mr Peters on this one and will be pleased she's killed it off.

We're no closer to defining what New Zealand values actually are but Ms Ardern may have learned the value of pushing back against New Zealand First.

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