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

New rules allow ministers' nannies to travel on the taxpayer, but PM will cover Clarke Gayford's US trip

New rules for ministers with babies who are travelling overseas allow them to to take a nanny or carer paid for by taxpayers. 

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she does not expect the taxpayer to pay for both her partner, Clarke Gayford, and a carer for their baby Neve, NZ Herald reports.

Ms Ardern and Mr Gayford, along with their baby, are travelling to New York today for Leaders' Week for the UN General Assembly.

The prime minister says that she will be paying for her partner's flights, since there are not many engagements for partners.

"There is no spousal programme for this, so we just made a judgment call that we would cover his travel for this trip. He will be going to some things, but he's primarily travelling to care for Neve."

After Ms Ardern became prime minister, the guidelines for ministers' overseas travel were reviewed and changed, reports the Herald.

Now, a minister with young infants is allowed to take someone, other than a partner, to care for that child or for a minister with a disability to take a support person if needed.

Ms Ardern said she never sought for the change and did not intend to use the entitlement for herself, and would only allow it for ministers in "exceptional circumstances."

The prime minister signs off on all ministerial travel overseas, other than to Australia, including deciding whether partners can travel with ministers and who pays for them.

Other ministers with young babies currently include the Green Party's Julie Anne Genter and Education Minister Chris Hipkins, whose partner had a second child this week.

Ms Ardern told the Herald she did not expect to have travel with more than one person, but if there was a situation which required both Mr Gayford and another carer for Neve, she would pay for that extra person out of her own pocket.

"We are playing it by ear. There is no set plan, it's just whether or not she's getting enough sleep, where I am for feeds. They might be with us a lot, they might just be in the hotel,” she said.

In New York, Ms Ardern is also staying in apartment-type accommodation rather than the usual hotel because kitchen facilities were needed for Neve.

Ms Ardern said she had made sure it did not cost more than was usual.

Jacinda Ardern, Clarke Gayford and baby Neve. Source: 1 NEWS


Sunday preview: What is the future for whitebait?

Saturday morning at the market. I bite the bullet, line up and buy one. It's a delicious, piping-hot, wee taste of home, but boy do I feel guilty. Not guilty enough to stop at one, though. I go back for a second. Then a third.

I've read the headlines. Read the entire stories. Whitebait are being wiped out because of people like me. They could soon be gone forever - and it's my fault. Or is it?

According to a Department of Conservation report released last year, three of the five whitebait species are "at risk/declining" and one species is "threatened".

Everyone agrees humans are having a huge impact on whitebait habitat, but people don't agree on how much of an impact fishing has on these species.

To help protect these native fish Forest and Bird are calling for recreational catch limits and a complete commercial ban on whitebaiting.

"Here is a species that are in trouble and there's no limit at all to the amount that you can catch" says Forest and Bird's Kevin Hague.

But Dr Mike Hickford, a marine ecologist at the University of Canterbury says fears of wiping out whitebait are grossly overblown. "I don't think we will ever wipe out whitebait" he says.

Hickford says a distinction needs to be made between adult and the post-larvae fish. "There's no doubt that the adult stage of these fish are in trouble, but it doesn't translate to the whitebait".

Hickford says there's no evidence to suggest at this stage that whitebaiting affects the threatened adult population, which spawn in such huge numbers.

"The majority of those whitebaits that are coming back in to the river, they're going to die anyway, they always have died and they still will die in the future no matter what we do".

Despite a lack of clear evidence, Kevin Hague says restrictions on how we catch whitebait, how much we can catch and the sale of whitebait should be introduced before the start of next 3-month long season (Sept-Nov).

"We don't want to interfere with someone's ability to go and get a feed for their family, but we just think there should be some tools that we use to actually reduce the pressure on these species".

Cascade Whitebait, one of New Zealand's biggest commercial whitebaiters, fish each season on the isolated Cascade river, just south of Haast.

Nan Brown, whose parents helped set up the operation 70 years ago, says their records don't show any decline in whitebait catch.   She wants to hold on to their fishery and says, "It would be unfair to let the guillotine drop on something you don't know enough about.” 

Watch the full story tomorrow night AT 7.30pm on SUNDAY TVNZ1 or TVNZOnDemand

Whitebait are being wiped out but people can’t agree on how much of an impact fishing has on these species Source: Sunday


Man in serious condition following assault near Christchurch mall

A 41-year-old man is in a serious but stable condition in a Christchurch hospital, following an attack in the early hours this morning.

Police have cordoned off an area beside the Hornby Mall, on Shands Road, for a scene examination.

It is expected to be cleared by midday today.

Police are continuing to investigate the scene to establish what occurred.

File image of an Ambulance outside a hospital. Source: 1 NEWS

Police in stand-off with man barricaded in Huntly house

Police are currently involved in an ongoing stand-off in Huntly, which started around 2am this morning.

The eight-hour stand off began when police were called to a home on Harris St, where a man and woman had been fighting.

Upon arriving at the scene, police found the man had locked himself inside and was refusing to come out. 

At 9am, he was still refusing to come out of the home and police negotiators are currently on site, Waikato police Senior Sergeant Charles Burgess told Stuff.

"He's barricaded himself in the house and is threatening to harm himself," Senior Sergeant Burgess said.

He's not known to have access to any guns, Burgess said but does have access to knives and other items inside the home. 

"A police negotiation team are trying to speak to the man so we can bring an end to this event."

A section of the road has been cordoned off and detours are in place.

No one else is inside the home and no one has been injured.

Police emergency scene
Police emergency scene Source: 1 NEWS