7 Nov 2022

Labour's to-do list and the question of lasting reform

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 7 November 2022

Labour's got less than a year to get its most important reforms through parliament this term - but will they last if there's a change of government?


We're less than a year out from the 2023 general election and after a term dominated by Covid-19, the government is putting the legislative pedal to the metal.

Fair pay agreements, the RNZ-TVNZ merger, Three Waters and health system reforms are all being - or have been - progressed by Labour in its second term in office.

But with current polling suggesting a much tighter race next year than in 2020, what could be on the chopping block if a National-led government comes to power?

The Detail talks to Newsroom political editor Jo Moir and Stuff political reporter Thomas Manch.

It seems like Labour's trying to get a lot through Parliament at the moment...

"I think there is a lot happening," Moir says.

"I think probably the obvious reason for that in the first instance is that we've come out of what has been two-and-a-half years of Covid and I guess brakes put on any ability to do anything in particular as the country somewhat ground to a halt there for a while.

"The government is in a situation now where it's playing a little bit of catch up probably in terms of what it came in in 2017 and then again in 2020 with its manifesto and the work that it wanted to do.

"But you're also starting to see some really big reform work come in as well."

For the first time under the MMP system, Labour has an absolute majority, which Moir says is a unique position to be in.

"It's an opportunity for them now to crack on with things, especially now that they've been released by that handbrake that was Covid, not to mention the handbrake previously that was NZ First in the last term of government.

"But there's also an election in a year's time and the polls are tightening and I think there's an element of, 'we want to get things done, because we don't know where we might be in a year's time'."

Fair pay agreements

Legislation to bring in fair pay agreements passed its third reading in parliament late last month, fulfilling one of Labour's 2017 election manifesto promises.

Manch says National has committed to repealing the legislation if it ends up in government.

"Obviously there's a bit of water to pass under the bridge until next year and there's reporting about the unions very keen to get some fair pay agreements across the line, hoping to sort of entrench the system, so it's harder for it to be repealed.

"You've got to wonder what the tolerance would be for National, in terms of ripping up these agreements, if there were to be one or more in place after 2023."

 Moir says it's classic Labour policy, so it would be "goneburger" under National.

"National has been very against it and has been quite vocal about that."

The RNZ-TVNZ merger

Legislation to create a new public media entity, merging RNZ and TVNZ, is before select committee. 

As it stands, the new entity would come into being in March, but Moir says there's been a lot of pushback from other media companies, like Stuff and Discovery.

"There's certainly been a lot of requests for changes, but it will be interesting to see the select committee report and what they actually recommend."

Moir says there are question marks about whether the new public media entity will go ahead, saying there is a lot going on at the moment and the plan is starting to cause some controversy and difficulty for the government.

"This is a bit of a 'why are you doing this, why are you spending money on this?' and the feeling from some seems to be that it may not go ahead and it might be an easy one for the government to put in the too hard basket."

Three Waters

The plan to overhaul and centralise the running of New Zealand's water infrastructure continues to cause headaches for the government, with widespread opposition to it from local authorities and the wider public - including questions about how a co-governance model will work.

In the past week, the mayors of Auckland and Christchurch have pitched their own changes to Three Waters, which Moir says is unsurprising.

"These are councils who have put a lot of money in and by all accounts have reasonable systems in place and they're saying 'we don't want our ratepayers to have to pay for the people who haven't managed things very well.

"Which is a little bit of a difficult argument because if you've got a small ratepayer base it's actually really difficult to maintain big infrastructure."

Manch says it's not clear what exactly National's plan is, but it's likely to be less centralised, with more local say. 

Moir says National appreciates there's an issue here.

"I don't think anyone can say the country's water infrastructure is good."

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