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Graham Adams: Chris Hipkins is fêted for… retreating?

British writer Samuel Johnson quipped: “When a man knows he is to be hanged… it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”


Eighteenth-century gallows humour is obviously just as apt in the twenty-first as we watch Chris Hipkins make a show of jettisoning many of Labour’s policies he apparently backed just a month ago.


The prospect of his party being hanged at October’s election has obviously concentrated our new Prime Minister’s mind to such a marked extent he has lost the sense of embarrassment most political leaders would feel about extravagantly ducking and diving to get away from what have clearly been highly effective Opposition attacks.


The hate-speech law that has already had its first reading has been side-lined by passing it on to the Law Commission for further (and, no doubt, painfully slow) review.


The RNZ / TVNZ merger — due to be legally established next month — has been dropped while Grant Robertson’s beloved income-insurance scheme has been put on ice. The Sustainable Biofuel Obligation Bill will not proceed.


And there are more policy defenestrations to come.


For its election slogan, the Labour Party might consider adapting Groucho Marx’s famous line to read: “If you don’t like our principles, don’t worry, we’ve got others (and any or all of them may be abandoned at short notice!)”


What must really be confounding to the Opposition is that Hipkins is being hailed as stunning and brave on account of his dramatic retreat while questions are being asked about his opponents’ performance — with Luxon in particular under fire.


Some in the media have seized on a handful of polls taken while Hipkins still enjoys the novelty factor of being the nation’s new Prime Minister and have decided that Luxon is a lacklustre leader and that National has lost direction.


This despite the fact Luxon — aided by David Seymour — has just seen off Jacinda Ardern, a celebrity politician who even a year ago was a very popular Prime Minister, and has forced her successor to retreat swiftly on several fronts.


Journalists seem to have fallen for Hipkins’ implausible impersonation of a new broom — which can only be said to be true inasmuch as he has lifted a corner of the Labour government’s tattered carpet and is busily sweeping as much contentious policy under it as possible so it is firmly out of sight before the election.


Generally, however, using “under new management” as a marketing slogan only works when the management team is actually new… not just old faces reshuffled around the table.


As National leader Christopher Luxon put it: “Chris Hipkins has been part of this Labour Government and been part of that engine room with Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson driving all of this agenda.


“It’s rather disingenuous — and some clever Jedi mind trick really — if you say, ‘I have got nothing to do with that and now I believe this… I actually think it could be all about the economy.’


“Well, where have you been for the last 15 months?”


Why would anyone imagine Hipkins is deeply dedicated to reforming Labour policy — especially co-governance — rather than superficially reacting to polls that had been plummeting?


And why would anyone imagine that the very same policies Hipkins is now jettisoning won’t be resuscitated if Labour finds itself in a position to form a government in October?


His true test in the Great Leap Backward will be how he handles the concept of co-governance — especially in Three Waters — and how much he is willing to backtrack on it.


The initial signs are not promising. He has — without a trace of embarrassment or awareness of public sentiment — suggested that rebranding co-governance as “mahi tahi” (“work as one”) might be helpful. In fact, he has been reported as saying he “loves the phrase mahi tahi”.


Does Hipkins really have such a low opinion of those opposing co-governance that he thinks that will do the trick? Does he have no idea how much resentment exists already to renaming government departments and government policy with Māori names?


Many are annoyed that, even after Māori have been given a dedicated health authority to serve them, the organisation representing the other 84 per cent of the population is routinely referred to in the media as Te Whatu Ora, despite the fact it has an English name — Health New Zealand.


In the run-up to Waitangi Day, Hipkins acknowledged the government could have better explained co-governance to the public, but then pointed the finger at Opposition parties as being responsible for creating “fear”.


Hipkins: “Those who seek to use misunderstanding around co-governance for political advantage need to reflect on their own behaviour.


“I certainly think the Opposition — National and Act — have used, as they have done in the past, uncertainty to try and stoke fear.”


For a Prime Minister to pass off widespread opposition to a reshaping of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements as fear-mongering should be beneath him.


It appears not to have crossed Hipkins’ mind that many New Zealanders object to co-governance because of fundamental concerns around the erosion of democracy.


Their “fear” is that principles of “one person, one vote, of equal value” — and policy being based on need not race — are being overturned in favour of a society where ancestry can confer rights denied to everyone else.


This is true of Three Waters, where iwi get to select half the members of the Regional Representative Groups, which set strategy, and in the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Act, in which the iwi can appoint two councillors with full voting rights.


Perhaps New Zealanders’ fierce attachment to democratic principles is something that Hipkins — like his immediate predecessor, Jacinda Ardern — simply doesn’t understand.


What is particularly hilarious is that Hipkins is pretending that once the public understand more about co-governance they will fall in love with it.


In fact, the real danger for Hipkins is that the mainstream media will actually do its job and voters will get to see clearly what the government has planned for them via the notion of “partnership” — and its offspring “co-governance” — which under this government has been intricately laced through official policy from health and education to Three Waters and the rejigged RMA legislation.


As Audrey Young wrote in the NZ Herald last week with reference to a new book about the Treaty by historian Claudia Orange: “She notes there has been a marked shift of focus within government agencies. Since 2019, the Cabinet Office has required the public service to consider the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi in all policy development and implementation.”


Orange also remarked there is little knowledge of what is happening with regard to co-governance and co-management agreements: “I think the general public is not aware that we are going through huge revolutionary changes in the country and, in fact, we have taken that such a long way, there is no going back.”


Hipkins will be hoping fervently the public doesn’t suddenly grasp the scale of the revolutionary changes that have taken place under the government he has served in for five years — and that have been imposed without any specific public mandate.


If they do, their fury will see Labour crushed in October — no matter how much Hipkins likes to posture as the fresh-faced new boy suddenly dedicated to “bread-and-butter” issues.


Graham Adams is a freelance editor, journalist and columnist. He lives on Auckland’s North Shore. This column was first published at The Platform

3,885 views103 comments

103 Comments


When are the people of New Zealand going to wake up, the Treaty of Waitangi was only an agreement between Queen Victoria and the tangata Maori where the tangata Maori gave up their governments and in return, became British Subjects with the same rights as the people of England. No more, no less!

Our true Founding Documents and first Constitution that referred to all the peope of New Zealand under one flag and one flag was Queen Victoria's Royal Charter/Letters Patent dated 16 November 1840.

See: http://onenzfoundation.co.nz/queen-victorias-two-royal-charters-letters-patent/


There is other document in our history that come anywhere near to a Foundinging Document than Queen Victoria's 1840 Royal Charter, but it seems Claudia Orange has never heard of it!

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Cameron Hunter
Cameron Hunter
Feb 20, 2023

I've known a fair few cynics in my time but Graham Adams takes the sponge cake. Of course Government's priorities have changed; two cyclones in as many months with the devastation these have caused is a powerful incentive for focus. If the PM had maintained progress on TVNZ/RNZ merger and hate speech restraint, I suspect Mr. Adams would have been even more cynical?

Talk about being damned if you do and damned if you dont?

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gadams1000
gadams1000
Feb 22, 2023
Replying to

You obviously need to study a calendar more closely. Cyclone Gabrielle hit Northland on February 12 and tracked down the east coast thereafter; Hipkins announced his retreat on four fronts on February 8. You should also reread news reports from late last year when Ardern said she had asked ministers to consider over the summer what policies they could jettison. Hipkins' retreat was in hand before this month and hardly in response to floods. Facts can be annoying but you could at least make an effort to understand the sequence of events before you comment.

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dewhurst987
dewhurst987
Feb 19, 2023

Sent to me

"GISBORNE & HAWKES BAY CRIPPLED We are getting reports MSM are ignoring the worst stories. There are 5,600 registered as missing. Hawkes Bay residents are saying: "Dead animals are building up and rotting & Napier residents have been without power, hot water, internet & phone signal since Mon night/Tues morning." "A lot of people have lost their houses, everything." "We were totally cut off from Napier in Hastings with many people being turned away from the only crossing available even though they were essential." "Looting, shooting, stabbing, killing, stealing, and hostage situations are going on. Gangs are out of control, holding people hostage and at gun point for their supplies." "The devastation has all but destroyed from…

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winder44
winder44
Feb 20, 2023
Replying to

God save New Zealand. It's obvious that nobody else will!

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sharenmm1
sharenmm1
Feb 19, 2023

New Zealand, like the USA, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia et al, are all led by governing bodys who have almost perfected the art of deceit and lies. Further, they really show the way when it comes to falsely accusing opposition parties of doing exactly what they themselves are doing, thus attempting to deflect the populace from their anti-democratic agendas. I, like many (and the ghastliness of what is really going on is becoming apparent to more and more previously head-in-the-sand deniers) have never ever bought into any of it, be it ToW, wuflu, whatever else. Adern and her scummy team did not win that first term. Our corrupted electoral system, with extended voting times and mail-in voting, enabled it.…


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vic alborn
vic alborn
Feb 18, 2023

QUOTE: "...one person, one vote of equal value...”. "Of equal value" is a very important aspect to the one person, one vote concept. Why? Because some argue that a person of Maori linage voting from the Maori role has only one vote. However, a closer look shows that vote has a greater proportional value than one from the General role.

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vic alborn
vic alborn
Feb 23, 2023
Replying to

Sorry. I missed an important reference:-

The Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) bill sought to ignore the foundational principle of democracy that every vote is worth the same. With 21,700 people in the proposed Māori ward and 55,600 in the proposed general ward each ward would elect three councillors. In effect, the general ward would get a normalised 58% of the representation that the population in the Māori ward would get.

The General and Maori electorates have similar roll numbers.

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