John Armstrong: Jacinda Ardern looked like she was no longer in control during Labour's week from hell

Forget about modelling for any more Vogue-style fashion shoots. Forget about being willing fodder for the cameras of Australian-produced current affairs shows which are anything but.

Forget about being forever labelled as New Zealand's "rock-star prime minister".

Source: 1 NEWS

It is high time that the music stopped. It is time Jacinda Ardern stopped selling herself short by fulfilling every request of those keen to exploit the hottest political property to emerge from the Southern Hemisphere since Nelson Mandela strutted the international stage with similar poise and ease.

Ardern will not have the enjoyment of being categorised as hot prop for much longer.

The international media will decamp for elsewhere in the hunt for things out of the ordinary with which to feed the appetites of their readers and viewers.

New Zealand's Prime Minister can once more concentrate exclusively on looking and behaving like one.

That is very good news for Labour. And right now that party is in somewhat desperate need of that commodity.

It is little more than a month ago that Ardern was carrying all before her. Waitangi Day was her zenith - a triumph which she made look effortless in its achievement.

Nigel Haworth spoke alongside Jacinda Ardern today after allegations of sexual assault from the youth camp emerged. Source: 1 NEWS

In politics, however, things can change in an instant. And change they have.

This has been the week from hell for Labour and its leader. For the first time since taking on the latter role last August, she has been less than convincing in her handling of the mayhem.

She should be banging a few heads together both within the Labour Party and the wider governing arrangement which she heads.

Andrew Kirton said an external person may be brought in to review the alleged assaults. Source: Breakfast

Her trademark grin needs to switch to grimace. Her tendency to give errant colleagues and allies only mild tickings-off when they are at fault should be replaced by the expectation they will be on the receiving end of severe tellings-off if not in public then in private at the very least.

So bad have things got that something which would be normally regarded as highly damaging has been completely overshadowed.

Jenny Salesa's first achievement as a Cabinet minister has been to run up $30,000-plus in taxpayer-funded domestic travel and accommodation expenses during her first three months in the job.

That sum is larger than what more than half of those who live in her socially-deprived South Auckland electorate get in income in a year. But Salesa was in luck — and not solely because her boss kept making excuses for her.

Jacinda Ardern said it was unacceptable alcohol was accessible at a Labour Party camp where a group of 16-year-olds were allegedly assaulted. Source: Breakfast

Salesa's apparent ignorance of the expense she was incurring had no hope of competing news wise with the revelation of alleged sexual assaults at a summer camp run by Labour's youth wing.

In its inept handling of this dreadful episode, Labour justifiably stands accused of putting self-interest and political convenience ahead of the welfare of the victims of the alleged assaults.

Just how big a price Labour ends up paying for its shoddy behaviour is hard to assess. Such incidents make a big splash then fade from the public's memory.

Wintson Peters' injudicious Russia remarks

If that was not enough on her plate, Ardern finds herself lumbered with a foreign minister crooning the theme tune of From Russia With Love.

Winston Peters' injudicious remarks of recent days have made it look like New Zealand is siding with Russia at the very time the regime in Moscow is being accorded pariah status by the rest of the civilised world.

His assertion that there is "no evidence" that Russia was responsible for the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine back in 2014 is something you might expect to hear at a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

Well, here are the facts. A painstaking criminal investigation conducted by Dutch authorities at the request of Ukraine found that metal fragments in the bodies of the airliner's flight crew were consistent with materials contained in a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missiles.

Moreover, while the missile was fired from a field in Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russian rebels, the missile carrier had been transported across the border from Russia on the day of the crash and then returned to Russia soon after the missile was launched.

Russia may not have pushed the launch button. But the conclusion that Russia was complicit in bringing down the aircraft is inescapable.

To justify his stance, Peters needs to provide a cogent answer to the following question: If Russia was not responsible for the downing of the aircraft, why did that country exercise its veto to block a draft United Nations resolution which would have seen the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate the crash?

That obtaining satisfactory answers from Peters is politics' version of Waiting for Godot will cut no ice in London.

New Zealand will be expected to fall in line with Britain

Britain has embarked on a massive diplomatic push to get maximum level condemnation of Russia as being responsible for the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

New Zealand will be expected to fall into line and join such a chorus. So far, however, Peters' condemnation of the attack has avoided making any reference or connection to Russia.

Up to now, Ardern has tried to variously rationalise or downplay Peters' often contradictory perambulations around the foreign policy paddock.

That has only succeeded in making her look defensive. It has made her look weak.

Unless Peters shifts his stance, she is going to have to pull rank and go over his head. If she ducks the matter to avoid destabilising relations with Labour's coalition partner, she will be jeopardising New Zealand's chances of securing separate, but equally vital post-Brexit free trade agreements with Britain and the European Union.

In Peters' case, Ardern is well-primed to expect trouble. She got no such forewarning that the seedy behaviour at a Labour summer camp was about to hit the newswires.

Ardern looked like she was no longer in control

The party's officials kept her and others in the dark on the grounds that was the advice of experts in the handling of alleged sexual abuse. Those officials thus argued they were acting in the best interests of the victims who did not want others to be made aware of their hurt and humiliation.

Keeping everyone in the dark also suited Labour's best interests. Keeping Ardern in the dark came at a price, however.

Her inability to provide answers to the questions fired at her during Monday's press conference made it look like she was no longer in control.

What is truly mind-boggling is the stupidity exhibited by the party organisation in thinking that what occurred at the summer camp could be hushed up.

Given the current unrelenting focus on sexual harassment and the exposure of institutions where such behaviour has long been endemic, the Labour Party was deluding only itself if it thought it was somehow exempt from scrutiny.

It was only a matter of time before the media were tipped-off.

The question lingering in the wake of this fiasco is what does this all mean for Labour's honeymoon with voters.

The answer is that the grizzling has begun but not in a manner anyone would have predicted.

The grizzling has centred on Ardern handing out big dollars in aid and state pension rights during her meetings in Samoa, Tonga, Niue and the Cook Islands while Nelson region apple growers struck by flash floods have been ignored.

The Prime Minister need look no further than her Canadian counterpart for worrying evidence of how quickly things can change.

It is not so long ago that Justin Trudeau was enjoying sky-high approval ratings.

They have plummeted in recent months. He was deemed untouchable. No longer, however.

Ardern is deemed as untouchable. But for how much longer?

Jacinda Ardern has denied news of the sexual assault allegation were intentionally kept from her by Labour. Source: 1 NEWS

Young NZ fur seal found with fishing line round neck is treated at Auckland Zoo

A young New Zealand fur seal is being treated for infection at Auckland Zoo after being found slumped on a rock ledge at Piha with discarded fishing line around its neck.

A young woman had spotted the injured seal and Department of Conservation rangers responded, DOC ranger Gabrielle Goodin told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

"Literally when we got out there I saw the seal and it was over this little rock ledge and I thought it was dead," Ms Goodin said.

Auckland Zoo vet Lydia Uddstrom said the fishing line has no give, so as the seal grows with it around the neck, the line cuts deeper and deeper.

"It's not a simple matter of cut the nylon off and just chuck him back out and good luck to you. It's really that follow up and making sure that we can control any infection," Ms Uddstrom said.

The vets work in silence, trying to keep the young seal as calm as possible while treating it at the zoo.

The case is a reminder of how a little piece of human waste can cause such pain to an innocent victim.

Fur seals are a conservation success story, with their numbers up.

But so is human interaction with them.

"We have a high population in Auckland, so it's managing that success. How can we make sure we still see a lot of seals, people are interacting with them properly and we can keep them from being injured from things like fishing lines," Ms Goodin said. 

Things are looking good for the young fur seal which has been showing improvement.

"We are hopeful that if we can get on top of this infection and everything else that's going on, he should be able to get out there where he belongs," Ms Uddstrom said.

Seven Sharp’s Lucas de Jong visited the mammal at the zoo. Source: Seven Sharp


John Armstrong's opinion: As Labour fast loses the plot, Sunday's moment of coalition unity was priceless

There’s no show without punch, and although Winston Peters did not say much, he said enough. Unlike the Prime Minister who was something of a disappointment.

Last Sunday’s carefully stage-managed display of unity by Jacinda Ardern and her deputy was not so much a case of fake news as one of fabricated news.

It was somehow befitting of the barmy politics emanating daily from the Government benches in Parliament that the coalition Government should half-celebrate its 12-month birthday having been in the job for just on 11 months.

A carefully-chosen audience was corralled on Auckland’s AUT campus to hear — or rather endure — Ardern taking close to half-an-hour to spell out her Government’s 12 priorities.

1 NEWS' Jessica Mutch and Benedict Collins give their opinions of the Acting Prime Minister who ran the country during Jacinda Ardern’s maternity leave.
Winston Peters. Source: 1 NEWS

Admittedly, it is difficult to inject excitement into a discussion of the virtues of intended alterations to the structure of the various Cabinet committees which meet weekly in the Beehive.

But one further priority would be finding a new speech writer for the Prime Minister before someone falls asleep and drowns in the verbiage. Or simply dies of boredom.

The said wordsmith's job is probably safe, however. The strict instruction from upon high would have been not to include the merest morsel of anything that those listening might find interesting — and which would detract from the whole purpose of the occasion, specifically the need for the Government to project an image as rock solid unified.

The political pantomime had one overriding objective — convincing an increasingly sceptical public that although Ardern and Peters might not always be on the same page, they are still capable of trading smiles on the same platform after 11 months of jostling one another.

While the Labour-New Zealand coalition has witnessed sporadic bouts of internal guerrilla warfare in recent times and principally on New Zealand First’s part, it is vastly over-dramatising things to suggest this so far occasional rebellion could become full-blown civil war.

So there was no chance of Peters going AWOL last Sunday. It would, however, have helped the coalition’s cause considerably had he uttered the immortal words "of course she's driving the car" during the earlier stages of the developing friction between the partners in Government. He was unwilling on Sunday to stretch the metaphor any further. But when it comes to back-seat driving or driving backwards, Peters is a master.

He has not taken on board any perceivable role as a back-room fixer for the coalition despite such a role having the capacity to alleviate some of the huge pressures weighing on Ardern’s shoulders.

He has instead exploited her inexperience as Labour’s leader and the fact that she spreads herself thin to bolster his party’s leverage within the coalition.

It is such game-play good that threatens the Government’s stability. It is not so much that the partners might clash over policy. As Ardern repeatedly notes, the coalition comprises three parties. There is always going to be disagreement over policy.

What matters is how such disputes are handled by the respective party leaderships - John Armstrong

What matters is how such disputes are handled by the respective party leaderships; whether, to use the parlance, they act on the basis of good faith and no surprises.

Ardern’s response to suggestions of disunity is to pretend there is none when she is so questioned. That is not credible.

She has now sought to brush off those claims made by her opponents by creating a distraction through repackaging her party’s priorities and relaunching them as a "coalition blueprint" under the title of Our Plan.

It would not have taken Labour’s spin-doctors long to dream up that title. It is the exact same one as used by National during the John Key-Bill English years in their similar quest to turn New Zealand into Utopia.

The only difference between Labour’s and National’s respective efforts was that Key was dismissive of such "vision documents". They might be useful in listing goals. They rarely provide detail of the means to be adopted to reach those goals. The day-to-day pressures of political life inevitably result in the prime minister of the day focusing heavily on short-term political management. Concentrating on the long-term can always be postponed to another day.

National’s various versions of vision have accordingly sunk without trace. That experience would have been a factor in Simon Bridges’ acidic observation that there was nothing in the long list of platitudes, banalities and truisms in Ardern’s blueprint which he would find hard to swallow. He isn’t wrong.

The producers of Ardern’s massive missive may have feared the same fate awaits their product as afflicted National’s equally turgid equivalent, creation.

That hurts. But Bridges is making the pertinent point that Ardern’s claim that her plan amounts to a "shared vision" of the three parties in her governing arrangement is utterly meaningless.

All it says is that the three-party grouping stretches so far across the political system that National can be accommodated with room to spare.

That makes it hard to keep the whole show on the road at the best of times.

With ministers falling like nine-pins, bureaucrats thinking nothing of splashing out $1.5 million on a justice policy summit and private consultants growing fat on the tidy sums to be made from servicing the plethora of working parties and task forces doing the work that career public servants are arguably better left to do, Labour is fast losing the plot.

But never mind. Ardern and her colleagues got what they wanted. That was a minute or two of coalition unity at the top of the six o’clock news. Given Labour’s growing malaise, that’s priceless.

The Prime Minister gave details of the Government plan during a speech in Auckland. Source: 1 NEWS


Man arrested after fatal stabbing in Upper Hutt

A man has been arrested following a man's death in Upper Hutt this afternoon after being stabbed.

Police have launched a homicide investigation.

Emergency services were called a scene on Golders Road in Upper Hutt shortly after 4:30pm and despite their best efforts to revive the victim, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police arrested a male nearby the scene of the assault and are currently speaking with him.

"There is not thought to be any risk to the public at this time, however the Police investigation into what happened continues," Detective Senior Sergeant Martin said.

Police car Source: 1 NEWS

The Hastings' Four Square that sold four winning first division Lotto tickets

Hastings was the lucky home to four winning first division Lotto tickets last night.

Flaxmere's Scott Drive Four Square was the winning shop and TVNZ1's Seven Sharp meet with the owner.

"We have five first division winners in Flaxmere, and we have got four of them," owner Becky Gee said.

"Usually one shop gets one but one shop got four, unbelievable."

Last night there were 40 first division winners, who each get $25,000.

Ms Gee says she doesn’t know who the winners were yet, but says hopefully she’ll find out soon.

"Hopefully it’ll go to people who need it, to pay a lot of bills."

Lotto confirmed that one person purchased four of the winning tickets, which means they take home $100,000.

It turns out Scott Drive Four Square is where to buy a winning ticket. Source: Seven Sharp