After Eddie dissed the usual beltway year in review style of column/post I was a little chary about doing this one. And then I realised the good thing about The Standard is we do real world and beltway issues. So here goes my once-over assessment of the 2012 cabinet performance and what it’s likely to mean for the future.
Policy: English’s hand’s off approach has been a total mess – high unemployment, low growth, growing debt. The petrol tax stunt at the end of the year to allow him to forecast a token and meaningless “surplus” shows his total lack of vision. However assessment of many political actions can be divided into “stupid” or “evil”. With regard to English’s policies the former analysis is the most charitable – he could simply be too stupid to see he’s trashing the economy (even though it’s his second time around). Those who favour the “evil” analysis may feel inclined to point out that almost every policy he has enacted has involved handing the very wealthy a greater chunk of the ever-diminishing pie. Depending on which goal English is striving for he’s either done very poorly this year, policy-wise, or very well.
Politics: He’s got away with a lot, mostly because the various economic debacles have been isolated political incidents – or rather they haven’t been tied together into a single strong narrative by the opposition. Dumping the petrol tax at the end of the year is a calculated risk – he’ll be hoping National has recouped some political capital by the time the tax kicks in. I think he’s miscalculated.
In terms of internal politics, English’s camp has grown this year but isn’t strong inside Cabinet. Losing Nick Smith was a blow but Smith has used the blue-greens as an organising tool – there are few new MP’s who are not in the English/Smith camp now. Their problem is that, with Power gone, they’ve got no viable candidate. That said, you don’t always need to be the leader to run the caucus.
Policy: What a disaster. Pretty much everything Brownlee touches turns to sh*t. With regard to his abysmal performance as the Emperor of Christchurch there’s simply not space to highlight even a small percentage of his failure but I think it’s worth pointing out that he’s terrified of the insurance industry as he seems to back them over the people of Christchurch every time.
Politics: Not a good year for Brownlee in that he goes from PR blunder to PR blunder. That said his job seems to be to soak up the political hits before they damage the Prime Minister so perhaps he’s not doing so badly at all. While he holds a fair bit of sway in Cabinet right now I can’t see him sticking around past next term. If he does he’ll need to be moved on or National will start to have the same problems every party does when it lets has-beens run the show.
Policy: A couple of years ago I pointed out that Joyce had this weird magic about him in that, although everything he touched turned into fiasco (ranging from the 2005 Exclusive Brethern debacle, to the Roads of National Significance) he still manages to bully his way through. In terms of his policy, MBIE, his biggest accomplishment so far may yet be his undoing…
Politics: Early this year Joyce was quietly positioning himself as the next leader of National – he had his flying monkeys out and about undermining Judith Collins hard out (including feeding the ACC debacle). However he appears to have bitten off more than he can chew with his play to be minister of everything – he’s had to take his eye off the internal politics ball and his leadership stocks have dropped. And, true to form, he seems to think he can bully his way through every one of his portfolios – which one of his little stouches will become his eastern front is yet to be determined. I think he’s in for a very interesting 2013.
Policy: A trail of destruction. Basically Collins’ M.O. seems to be to make a mess and then leave it to someone else to clean up. I may be wrong but I can’t think of one substantial policy she’s produced since she became a minister (Collins supporters feel free to correct me).
Politics: 2012 was the year Collin’s dropped the “crusher” moniker and decided to rebrand herself as a statesman. This is a work in progress as can be seen by her end of year Bain shenanigans. However she’s been courting the media well and has seen off Joyce well enough that she’s now considered the prime candidate to take over from Key. Her camp has grown somewhat (and there’s a lot of leg-work being done among backers) but the leadership stuff is still very much cold-war at the moment and she’s got a way to go before she’s a shoe-in. It’ll be interesting to watch her next moves in terms of brand development.
Policy: I’ve got to admit I haven’t followed health that much this year but it seems Ryall is quietly shifting money away from prevention and into more quantifiable areas. With an aging electorate this might be good politics or it might actually be an appropriate strategy. There’s very little to point either way.
Politics: I’ve been told Ryall does a really good job with his sector relations and it seems to show. People complain about Maryan Street not taking him to task in health but forget that Robertson had the portfolio before her and didn’t make any hits and even Kevin Hague (who knows the sector inside out) isn’t making any ground. As far as I know Ryall is still very much in English’s camp.
Policy: There’s already been screeds written on this.
Politics: and this.
Policy: Findlayson has worked hard to fairly settle some significant treaty claims and is clearly seen as a safe pair of hands having held both the Environment and Labour portfolios after Ministers resigned (he’s still got Labour).
Politics: The only time I can think of Findlayson playing dirty politics was during the Hobbit dispute when he released a very select line from Crown Law advice on collective bargaining for contractors (declaring it illegal). Despite repeated OIAs the full advice is still being withheld. It may come out this year.
In terms of his profile, Findlayson is little-known outside of the beltway and I think that’s just the way he likes it, my impression is he’s very much an outsider, even within his own caucus. It will be interesting to see if he keeps the Labour portfolio or if it’s passed on early in the New Year (perhaps to Simon Bridges). Personally I hope he keeps it.
Politics: Bennett doesn’t do policy. Every single “policy” move since she became a Minister has been primarily a political move, mostly to provide bene-bashing cover. That said, the attitude at WINZ has hardened as she’s changed the culture but with no Christine Rankin to rely on the job’s not been done as root and branch as it was in the 1990s.
Politics: Paula looks after Paula and has ever since her student politics days. But like so many that run on blind ambition she seems incapable of taking a long-view. I suspect that at some stage she’ll outlive her usefulness and that’ll be it for her. I’ve neither seen or heard anything that suggests she’s got any organised political muscle of her own.
Policy: I’m drawing a blank here. A little help?
Politics: Well he’s gonna be the speaker…
Policy: Gordon Campbell puts it better than I could:
Then there were the McCully reforms at MFAT, which have thrown one of our most competent departments into total disarray in pursuit of illusory cost savings. (Again, if a centre-left government had disabled the foreign affairs arm of government so comprehensively, the wretch responsible would have faced calls of treason, and been drummed out of office months ago.)
Politics: Make no mistake, Phil Goff hasn’t been scoring points off McCully for any other reason than the MFAT ratbags have done his opposition research for him and handed him his lines. It says something about the “Machiavellian genius” of the National Party got his arse handed to him by a bunch of civil servants. Oh well, at least he had the world cup. Time for Murray to get his gold watch I’d say.
Policy: A very quiet year for Tolley. Other than capitalising on some of the PR opportunities set-up by the former minister she’s not done much.
Politics: Given Tolley’s lack of PR fiascos since she left Education I think it might be fair to say Parata’s not solely the author of her own demise. That said neither her nor Tolley are much chop really. One would assume she’s in the Collins camp but it probably doesn’t matter one way or another…
Policy: The cost cutting in defense, particularly the move to sack defense force personal and then hire them back as civilians with lower terms and conditions, puts a lie to the claims National has previously made about supporting the troops. And, although he probably has little influence in the decision making, the myriad of issues surrounding our continued involvement in Afghanistan are his responsibility.
Politics: Another Minister who has had a quiet year. The defense restructuring never really hit the headlines and John Key fronted on Afghanistan.
Policy: 2012 was the year Tim Groser made us look like dicks at DOHA. I’m reasonably sure he doesn’t agree with his own policy but that’s collective responsibility for you.
Politics: Groser has had nothing but bad PR this year. He was never a personality the NZ public would find that sympathetic but this won’t help. Interestingly Simon Bridges has answered for him quite a few times this year – whether that’s because Groser’s not been around or whether it was because he had difficulty shopping a line he disagreed with? Who knows. Nonetheless Bridges did an excellent job of standing up, running the lines, and then sitting down – he’ll go far.
Policy: In energy, Heatley has basically just done what Joyce and Gerry have told him to. Which is probably why all that oil and gas that was going to make us all as rich as teachers never eventuated. In housing Heatley is quietly working through selling houses in good suburbs and claiming more suitable houses are going to be built in more suitable locations but it seems there is very little public information about what’s actually going on.
Politics: Energy has been handled by Joyce. Housing? My impression is that Heatley’s got someone good in his office seeding politics-of-envy stories about beneficiaries living in million dollar state houses (they always seem to come from directed OIAs). Given housing is such a big issue for the opposition, Heatley seems to have had an easy ride.
Policy: Wilkinson was starting to do some good work in the labour portfolio particularly with regard to health and safety. So much so that many in the unions didn’t want her to stand down after the Pike report was released. In conservation she’s overseen “cost savings” in DoC that are already having negative environmental effects.
Politics: Wilkinson took responsibility for Pike that should have been sheeted home to Gerry Brownlee. It’s no secret that decisions made in the Labour portfolio (and indeed in her conservation portfolio) were driven by Brownlee when he was energy minister. She really does appear to care about conservation but doesn’t appear to be able to advocate for it – I suspect she’s excused quite a lot of bad publicity by a media and a sector that know she has little say in her own portfolio.
Policy: Very little has changed in immigration, probably as there’s not much worth changing right now.
Politics: The only significant immigration story of the year was Winston’s “highflyers scandal”. Which was fronted by Key and didn’t really seem to have any legs. Other than that, Guy seems to have been off the radar.
Policy: I’ve not really paid much attention. Anyone got any ideas?
Policy: Oversaw the demolition of the emissions trading scheme which means we’re going to see vast amounts of wealth transferred from the taxpayer to polluters over the next few years.
Politics: Adams hasn’t done well with environment. To be fair, she followed Nick Smith who was across the portfolio like nobody else in the last couple of decades but she seems to have be caught out several times by things that a more experienced minister would have taken in their stride whether they knew the portfolio well or not.
Politics: Well, where to start? Key started the year with the tea-tape hangover, then got hit with dot-com, he’s put his foot in his own mouth on several occasions, and is presiding over so many policy failures it is simply astounding he can do so well in the polls.
But he does. I think Key will make a big show of starting this year on the right foot possibly with a cheap but liberal policy such as food in low-decile schools or perhaps something environmental. I also think that the 2014 election campaign will begin this year and that the Nats will start putting the pressure on Labour after February.
And then there’s the reshuffle. That’ll be bad news for Parata but will probably bring Bridges in and Nick Smith back. That’ll appease the gallery as they love having their predictions come true but it won’t make a blind bit of difference to the policy settings or the internal power balance.
What will be interesting to see next year is the relationship between Key and his caucus. Especially if they don’t rally in the polls.