The Week in Politics: A week of surprises

7:32 pm on 13 November 2020

By Peter Wilson*

Analysis -Judith Collins splits the finance portfolio in her shadow cabinet, the Reserve Bank's Adrian Orr makes waves with a cheap money announcement and the government scrambles to deal with Covid-19 in Auckland.

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Judith Collins announcing her shadow cabinet with Andrew Bayly, right, appointed shadow treasurer. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Andrew who? Andrew Bayly, he's the second most important opposition MP in Parliament.

National's leader Judith Collins has appointed him shadow treasurer in her new caucus line-up. There isn't a treasurer to shadow but he's the front man who will take on Finance Minister Grant Robertson at question time.

He will work with Michael Woodhouse, the new finance spokesman. Bayly is ranked third in the caucus behind Collins and her deputy Shane Reti. Woodhouse is fourth.

While deputies are always ranked second on the opposition benches, as they are on the government's side, it's the finance spokesmen who make the noise. It's not yet clear which of the two will make the most noise.

They usually follow the Leader of the Opposition after questions to the prime minister, they're high-profile and they're expected to be a match for the minister.

Asked whether taking on Robertson was a daunting prospect, Bayly replied: "Grant's a very good operator…it's part of the job though, isn't it?"

He said he had no leadership ambitions whatsoever.

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Andrew Bayly is a chartered accountant and an adventurer; he climbs mountains, has dragged a sled to both poles, and served with the British Parachute Regiment. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Splitting the finance portfolio was the big surprise in Collins' announcement this week, apart from her choosing Bayly and sending him shooting up the rankings. He was previously 17th.

The split portfolio is routine in Australia but has only happened once before in New Zealand. In 1996, when the first MMP government was formed, New Zealand First's Winston Peters wanted to be finance minister in the coalition with National. The then prime minister, Jim Bolger, wanted Bill Birch to keep the job so they devised a way to get round that and Peters became treasurer. He was senior to Birch.

Collins didn't face that predicament. The former finance spokesman, Paul Goldsmith, lost the job because of the mistakes he made in his budget calculations during the campaign. She could appoint anyone she wanted to take over and she didn't have to split the portfolio.

Exactly why she did still isn't clear, but if it doesn't work out that doesn't really matter because opposition parties don't control the money. When National wins an election and forms a government it could continue with two or go back to one.

Speculation that former leader Simon Bridges was in line for the job was correct - until he reportedly turned it down because he didn't think the split would work.

Bayly, 58, is a third term MP in National's safe Port Waikato seat. He was revenue spokesman in the last Parliament and has been on the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee for the last six years.

Collins has said she intends running a constructive opposition, and not opposing just for the sake of it.

Bayly fits into that. Going on the way he conducted himself during committee hearings, he'll be seeking real answers on real issues rather than scorning the government and trying to tear holes in its policies.

He's an unusual man. Bayly is a chartered accountant and an adventurer, occupations which might not seem to fit together. He climbs mountains, he's dragged a sled to both poles, ridden a camel through the desert and served with the British Parachute Regiment.

Woodhouse, unlike Bayly, has ministerial experience. Collins said they would make a great team. To find out why, and what their responsibilities are, read RNZ's 'Collins defends Andrew Bayly's promotion to National's number three'.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking to media after the cabinet meeting. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked at her post-cabinet press conference this week whether she considered MPs ages when she appointed her new cabinet. She said she didn't, in fact she didn't know how old some of her ministers were.

The questioner was Stuff's Henry Cooke, who checked out all their ages and discovered the average age was 48.6 compared with 52.9 in the previous cabinet, so it's younger by about three-and-a-half years.

Ardern was the youngest in the previous cabinet, she was 37. Now she's 40 and the second youngest after 36-year-old Conservation Minister Kiri Allan.

The oldest cabinet minister is Damien O'Connor, 62. He wasn't the oldest in the previous cabinet because Winston Peters (75) was there and so was Ron Mark (66).

The oldest MP in the House is National's Ian McKelvie, 68, while the Green's Chloe Swarbrick, at 26, is the youngest.

There was another surprise announcement on Wednesday when Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr said a new lending programme would pump $28 billion into the economy over the next couple of years through cheap loans to retail banks.

He also said the Reserve Bank was considering bringing back loan-to-value ratios (LVRs), which make it more difficult to buy a house because a bigger deposit has to be raised before banks can issue mortgages.

Adrian Orr, Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Reporting this news, the Herald said the already red hot housing market could soar to unseen heights as buyers scrambled to beat the re-introduction of LVRs.

Finance Minister Robertson didn't find fault with Orr's intentions but ACT leader David Seymour did.

He described Orr as a risk-taking liability. "He is doing unconventional things that are actually quite perilous."

Orr told Morning Report the Reserve Bank's mandate was to ensure inflation remained between 1 and 3 per cent and also contribute to maximum sustainable employment. "That is exactly what we are doing."

Orr said the bank wasn't doing anything that other central banks weren't doing. "We're strictly ballroom, I would say."

At the end of the week the government was scrambling to deal with a new Covid-19 community case in Auckland and Chris Hipkins was fronting media briefings in his new role of Minister for Covid-19 Response.

Hipkins called a press conference on Thursday less than two hours after he was told the bad news, saying the government wanted maximum transparency. At the time he didn't have enough information to answer all the questions and called another press conference three hours later.

Most of the attention was focused on whether Auckland would again be put into lockdown. Ardern returned to Wellington, hoping she wouldn't have to make the announcement but ready for it if she did.

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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