3 Dec 2023

'And so it begins': Inside Parliament during the uneasy transition of government

7:40 am on 3 December 2023

By Glenn McConnell of Stuff

Coalition agreement signing ceremony between Christopher Luxon, David Seymour and Winston Peters.

Winston Peters, Christopher Luxon and David Seymour at the coalition signing ceremony in the Beehive on 24 November. Photo: Phil Smith

"And so it begins," the former prime minister said, walking away from reporters after letting rip at the new government.

He had stood on the black and white tiles in Parliament, now just a short walk down the stairs from his new - smaller - office. While Labour leader Chris Hipkins was speaking, staffers pushing boxes between buildings had to navigate around the press conference.

It's been like that all week. Boxes, trolleys, and chairs moving back and forth as the new government, new MPs, and survivors from the old government transition into their new roles.

Some Labour-era survivors have found jobs in the Beehive, now working - mostly to help with the transition - for newly minted ministers who had campaigned against them. Some familiar faces have also arrived at Parliament over the past week.

Former political science lecturer and ex-NZ First chief of staff Jon Johansson was at the Beehive last week, as Winston Peters returned to the post of deputy prime minister. Johansson left his role as a politics lecturer at Victoria University to practice the craft as chief of staff for NZ First when it was last in Parliament.

That's a role that now needs filling again, as NZ First returns to the Beehive after one term in the wilderness.

Former prime minister Helen Clark was also on the precinct, checking in and boosting morale amongst the depleted ranks of the Labour Party as it started its new role as the Opposition.

With that being said, the energy of Labour's senior MPs seemed surprisingly upbeat.

Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins announcing the new opposition lineup, 30 November 2023.

Chris Hipkins announces the new opposition lineup on 30 November. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Hipkins pinned his energy on "the beautiful weather", but it must have been helped by the rough start for the new Christopher Luxon-led government. The new regime's first days made Hipkins' job pretty easy.

First, Luxon had to call for "decorum" beside a cantankerous deputy prime minister. Then he had to explain why the government wanted to kibosh the smokefree generation plan.

Luxon, after hosting his first post-Cabinet press conference on Wednesday, started to get moving after the rough start. It allowed him to release a 49-point, 100 day plan.

And by Friday, he looked the most comfortable he's been in some time as he spoke to reporters at Auckland's Manurewa Intermediate School. Having just sung his "favourite song", LunchMoney Lewis' "Bills", Luxon's first week as prime minister ended on something of a high.

It had been a week of intensive reading, Luxon said.

"All of our ministers, every day this week, have been in what we call 'ministerial induction'."

Induction, he said, involved 3.5 hour meetings each day with the chief executives and senior leaders of each department they had responsibility for.

Then there have been the "BIMs", briefings to incoming ministers, most of which were delivered by Monday evening. Those snapshots intend to give each minister an "all you need to know" rundown of their slice of government.

On Thursday, those ministers will need to be up to speed. That's when Parliament will hold its first question time of the new term, allowing the Opposition to quiz any minister about any issue under their remit.

Last week, following Luxon's first Cabinet meetings, Hipkins unveiled the new Labour front bench. Work is now underway in Labour to fill a few key backroom positions, including Chief of Staff. It's understood Chris Bramwell, a former RNZ journalist and press secretary to Grant Robertson, is likely to take that lead role.

In the Beehive, applications have closed for early expressions of interest to staff ministerial offices. National's chief of staff Cameron Burrows put a shout-out a month ago, with a heap of roles suddenly needing staff - from administrative, to policy, to public relations. Now there's a rush to quickly fill those newly created vacancies, as National, ACT and NZ First's senior MPs finally get their feet under the desks of the Beehive.

- This story was first published by Stuff.

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