John Armstrong: More than a touch of irony if Andrew Little becomes Jacinda Ardern's Mr Fixit

It would surely be more than a touch of irony were Andrew Little to become Jacinda Ardern's Mr Fixit.

This week's somewhat shambolic announcement of the Government's decision not to grant any further offshore oil and gas exploration permits had Labour's former leader unwittingly auditioning for such a role, however.

No matter what shade the Administration, sooner or later a prime Minister finds himself or herself relying on a Mr Fixit or Ms Fixit to put things back together when the wheels fall off part of the government machine.

Jim Bolger had Sir William Birch. Helen Clark had Sir Michael Cullen and Sir John Key had Steven Joyce.

In the case of Ardern's three-party Administration, the safe money is on the sooner when it comes to finding her Mr Fixit - the sooner the better for her sake.

As much as she might wish to try, Ardern cannot do everything. She has been handicapped by the dismal failure of Kelvin Davis to step up as Labour's deputy leader and take some of the ever accumulating pressure off her shoulders.

Ardern carries many burdens. She carries those which prime ministers have always had to carry. Likewise the burdens of being the leader of a major political party. She carries the burden of running the most complicated governing arrangement in the country's history. She carries the burden of having to deal with a politician who takes pride in being difficult. She carries the burden of being a conviction politician who is in a big hurry to get things done. She carries the huge expectations of voters that things do get done. 

The upshot is that the day-to-day management of the myriads of issues that come across the Prime Minister's desk do not get the priority they demand.

In politics you can get 100 big things right, only to find yourself being crucified for getting one tiny thing wrong.

Thursday morning's announcement of the halt in deep water exploration was testimony to the holes in the Government's political management strategy.

Jacinda Ardern spoke to a huge rally on climate change in Wellington today, after launching her historic oil exploration ban. Source: 1 NEWS

Making such a "feelgood" declaration to a lecture theatre at Wellington's Victoria University filled with applauding students was political imagery of the most potent kind.

Not so clever was the Government's absence from the place where the announcement really mattered.

By Thursday afternoon, the flak was flying in New Plymouth, New Zealand's oil capital. Ardern dispatched Little to Taranaki post-haste. That she chose a minister whose portfolios have zero connection to the world of oil and gas exploration - rather than Energy Minister Megan Woods - was a tacit admission of her need to have someone to call on when the going gets rough.

Little has the authority that comes through being a Cabinet minister.

He enjoys the respect that comes from having long worked the back rooms where a major political party makes its decisions. 

He possesses the mediation skills and problem-solving experience that comes from a long career at the front-line of employee and employer relations. 

It is unlikely that Ardern gave a moment's thought to calling on the person she effectively deposed as Labour's leader to front for her.

Little would not have hesitated for a moment in helping out.

His riding instructions were very clear. He was not being sent to Taranaki to pacify the ire of locals. He was being sent to underline the absolute intransigence of the Government's position.

The lady was most definitely not for turning. There was still a whiff of panic surrounding Little's trip, however. That is not surprising. The difference between Labour being in government or not being in government comes down to how well the party performs in the provinces.

Ardern deserves credit for sticking to her principles and delivering something of real substance in the struggle to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

She also deserves praise for managing to forge an agreement with Labour's partners in government which produced compromise on all sides and a meaningful end result.

In that regard, the episode has witnessed some real maturity on New Zealand First's part. Winston Peters and his party have a tradition of having been consistent. They have consistently refused to admit to compromise in government mainly, it would seem, for fear of that being regarded as weak.

Shane Jones' willingness to admit in public that while his party did not agree with a permanent ban on the issuing of new exploration permits, it had acceded to the wishes of Labour and the Greens, ought to be regarded as a sign of strength.

His being upfront about the stance New Zealand First had ended up taking probably saw him get far more media exposure than the Greens managed to scrape together. Clever man.

What we don't know is whether Peters was accepting of this stance.

Jones claimed his leader had gone to great lengths to ensure existing permits remained intact. Their cancellation was never on the table, however.

To have wiped them would have exposed the Government to hugely-expensive breach-of-contract litigation which it would have lost.

We also don't know whether New Zealand First has extracted any compensating concession from Labour or the Greens which has the latter pairing agreeing not to block some matter which is precious to Peters.

The obvious candidate is the legislation currently before a parliamentary select committee which will result in MPs who indulge in party hopping being thrown out of Parliament.

The Greens are vehemently opposed to this measure. If they were forced to choose between doing something which tackles the most pressing matter of our times or blocking legislation which may theoretically pose a threat to freedom of speech, however, there is really only one choice. 

We will likely have to wait a while before being able to assess whether Peters is really on the losing end of the decision to halt future deep sea oil and gas exploration. 

It is easier to cast judgement on Labour, however.

There appears to have been little or no consultation with the oil and gas sector. The Government might have had no inclination to change its mind, but it should have displayed a willingness to talk about it.

The industry appears not to have been given the courtesy of advance notice of the announcement and its contents.

The reluctance to talk will have further eroded the limited trust business has in the Ardern Government. It will increase business suspicion of an Administration whose direction the commercial world is struggling to come to grips with.

Of particular concern is the failure of the Government to address a crucial aspect of the ban on offshore exploration. How does the role of gas as a "transition fuel" in the shift to a low carbon emissions economy square with New Zealand's depleting gas reserves?

When it came to providing answers to the really big questions, however, Ardern and her Administration were too busy basking in the glow of self-satisfaction when preaching to the converted.

The Prime Minister says it’s an important step in addressing climate change. Source: 1 NEWS


Search continues overnight for crew member missing from Sealord vessel off Wairarapa coast

The search for a crew member missing from a Sealord vessel  off the Wairarapa coast is continuing through the night. 

The company says mid-morning this morning crew onboard the Otakou became aware a crew member did not report for duty.

A full muster was conducted to confirm this, and a search was immediately commenced and authorities notified, Sealord said.

The four vessels involved in the search will search overnight, and will review the situation after sunrise tomorrow.

The two helicopters searching were stood down at nightfall.

Weather conditions in the area are fair but are predicted to deteriorate tomorrow.

Source: NZ Topo Map

Sealord said it is making all effort to notify next of kin. 

It said the crew member was not on active duty at the time of disappearance and the reason for the disappearance is not known at this stage.

All other crew are accounted for, however, they are very concerned for the safety of their team member, the company said. 

Sealord is taking this situation very seriously and is providing support to all staff, it said.

The company is also cooperating with all search and rescue instructions, it said.

Earlier tonight Vince Cholewa of the Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre said the centre was advised of the crew member overboard around 11.30am. 

At that time the person had been in the water for 50 minutes or less, he told 1 NEWS. 

Mr Cholewa said there were four vessels and two helicopters involved in the search - Otakou, two other fishing vessels, the police launch Lady Elizabeth IV, a LifeFlight helicopter and an Air Force NH90. 

The estimated location is 11km east of Glendhu Rocks.

Sealord's Otakou
Sealord's Otakou Source: Sealord



Bittersweet moment for sons of Christchurch rich-lister as they prepare his incredible car collection for auction

A rare Auburn 1920s speedster is being taken out for one last spin as a final farewell for the sons of a man who lived for his cars.

"That'll be the last time I probably drive her before she goes," Gary McVicar's son said.

Forestry magnate Gary McVicar left behind a fleet of rare cars after he died four years ago, and now his family are putting them up for sale.

The car, which could fetch over $400,000 at auction, is one of 29 classic cars going under the hammer this Saturday.

Another vehicle up on the auction block is a 1927 Stutz limousine – the last of its kind in the world.

"These cars are like an occasion, you know? Go back in time when you get in them and drive them," Rodney McVicar said.

Also up for grabs is the Clenet, a 1970s showpiece which took 55 years to put together.

"When they came out, they were 10 times the price of an average car in America, so they were built of the elite - perhaps the Hollywood people, things like that," Turners auctioneer Ian Curry said.

He hopes McVicar's much-loved cars will hit the road soon after going under the hammer.

"I imagine this car will end up back on the road very, very, very quickly with the top down," he said.

"We'd rather see them go out to other people that are going to use them rather than just sitting here, because old cars like this need to be driven," Rodney said.

Gary McVicar died four years ago, and now his family are putting his incredibly rare fleet up for sale. Source: 1 NEWS


The West Auckland home that's a 1980s masterpiece - 'You get a buzz out of it, a bit of excitement'

It's stood staunchly on this ridge of Auckland's Waitakere Ranges for almost 40 years, and now Seven Sharp's had a sneak peek at the 1980s masterpiece surrounded by nature.

Homeowner John Hatchman says, "When you look at the house, it just grabs you. The cantilevered decks, the lovely cedar, the big windows - it just blows you away when you first see it".

"It's just unique. I've never seen a place quite like it."

Designed by architect Chris Meikle, its post-modern focus was on place-making and despite the era, Mr Hatchman says it never gets old.

"The place has retained a lot of the 80s flavour. It's very original. If you took that away, it would destroy the whole thought and concept behind it. It wouldn't be the house that it is."

For both the architect and the owner, the standout feature is something not part of it at all.

"Living up here, you're in touch with nature. All the surroundings are glass, you can see the city, the trees.

"You get a buzz out of it, a bit of excitement. You think, 'What's at the end of the driveway?' And then boof, there it is - it's brilliant."

While he's loved his 80s hideaway and being close to nature, Mr Hatchman is now putting his home on the market so he can move to Europe.

"It's brilliant – a brilliant place."

The Chris Meikle-designed home in the Waitakere Ranges has a post-modern focus and is delightfully date-stamped. Source: Seven Sharp

Family history much more likely than diet to cause gout - research

Gout is much more likely to be brought on by genetics than a poor diet which has long been thought of as the primary cause of the joint disease, new research suggests.

Gout can can cause extreme pain and swelling but scientists at Keele University in Staffordshire, UK, say people with the condition can be reluctant to get treatment because of the social stigma associated with having a poor diet.

The study, which was carried out here in New Zealand by a research team at the University of Otago, counters "these harmful but well-established views and practices, and provides an opportunity to address these serious barriers to reducing the burden of this common and easily treatable condition".

The Press Association reports researchers used data from more than 16,000 American men and women of European ancestry to reach its conclusions.

Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood, which can form crystals that collect around joints.

Consuming beer, wine, spirits, potatoes and meat can raise the risk of getting gout while cheese, eggs, peanuts and brown bread can lower it.

However, each of these foods or drinks is responsible for less than a one per cent variation in levels of the acid, the study found.

And a comparison of healthy and unhealthy diets showed there was only a 0.3 per cent variation in levels of the acid.

But almost a quarter of the variation could be explained by genetic factors.

Gout is most common in men 40 or older.

Long-held theories gout only affected old men with poor diets could be quashed. Source: 1 NEWS