John Armstrong's opinion: 'Labour has been outsmarted and outmanoeuvred' by Winston Peters

Don’t listen to those who dismiss the current muscle-flexing by Winston Peters as nothing more than the standard fare of MMP politics.

It is anything but.

Were there a handbook covering the mechanics of forming and running a coalition government, the New Zealand First leader would currently be writing a new chapter—one which would be without a happy ending for Jacinda Ardern, her coalition managers and the rest of the Labour Party.

The latter should be worried — very worried.

It is the ongoing conundrum of multi-party governments that minor parties which behave themselves and keep their heads down have almost without exception have had their heads lopped off come election-time.

Peters seems to be experimenting with the notion that minor parties which are far less polite get noticed by voters rather than being suffocated.

Source: 1 NEWS

If that is not enough to give Labour grief, Peters appears to be engaged in trying to pull off what would amount to a massive shift in power within the coalition.

Forget cracks about cracks appearing in the coalition’s facade.

Peters, for one, will not be going anywhere.

The perception of him as some kind of human coalition wrecking ball does not quite fit the facts.

While Peters and some of his then MPs stormed out of their formal coalition with National back in 1998, that occurred as the result of severe provocation on the part of Jenny Shipley, the then National prime minister.

Peters now has the dream job of foreign minister. Yet, he also remains an absolutely pivotal figure in domestic politics.

With regard to the latter, it is obvious there been a major shift in New Zealand First strategy.

What began as an isolated case of New Zealand First thwarting Labour’s desire to eradicate a hardline law and order statute — namely the three-strikes law — has become what looks suspiciously like a carefully orchestrated campaign which has the junior partner in the coalition making ever more frequent raids deep into territory where Labour would insist it has the right to call the shots.

Labour can tolerate having to keep living with the three-strikes law. It can tolerate not being able to raise the annual refugee quota.

After all, prior to a National government-instigated rise in the quota which took effect this year, the quota had been held at 750 for the previous 30 years, believe it or not.

What Labour cannot accept is its coalition partner blocking its long-promised legislation rolling back some of National’s so-called “reforms” in the industrial relations arena.

If Labour is not seething over that, it should be. The dominant partner has to bite its tongue, however.

To react too strongly to New Zealand First’s intention to put up amendments to the Employment Relations Amendment Bill would be to pour petrol on a bonfire called “Coalition Tensions”.

Few things excite the media than the words “splits” and “divisions”.

Peters hardly needs to be told that.

Labour has been outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by him, however.

He has decreed that anything which is not included in the two parties’ coalition agreement, the Speech from the Throne, which sets out a government’s legislative programme, the Budget or Labour’s 100-day Action Plan is not Government policy.

It is —to use Peters’ term — a “work in progress’’.

New Zealand First is using these criteria, either as a means of blocking or amending Labour initiatives or as a bargaining chip at the Cabinet table.

The moot question is how long Labour can afford to put up with a partner causing such high levels of aggravation.

It is bizarre and not a little ridiculous that those who are giving Ardern the most grief are part of the governing arrangement.

Labour will regard Peters' injection of friction into his party’s relations with the former as him testing the limits of Labour’s patience.

National’s leader is having a field day labelling the Prime Minister as weak and indecisive in failing to rein in New Zealand First. - John Armstrong

While it will not please them, Labour’s coalition managers will also likely view New Zealand First’s sudden discovery of reasons to block Labour-initiated policies and legislation as a case of Peters engaging in a complicated coalition choreography.

There are two bottom-lines, however, which Labour cannot accept being breached.

First, Labour’s concern is that the winner in this power tussle will turn out not to be Peters or Arden, but Simon Bridges.

National’s leader is having a field day labelling the Prime Minister as weak and indecisive in failing to rein in New Zealand First.

Any harm done by Peters to Labour’s biggest electoral asset will be deemed as totally unacceptable.

Second, Labour will take a very dim view of New Zealand First if that party’s attack on what Labour calls its socially “progressive” policies sees Labour voters decamping to the Greens.

For those reasons alone, the Doomsday Clock gauging the likely longevity of the current governing arrangement is now ticking much closer to midnight.

The influence of Winston Peters is also believed to be putting the Prime Minister under pressure from rival MPs. Source: 1 NEWS


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1080 drop over Northland forest to go ahead in next few days

Conservationists are elated at the prospect of a long-awaited 1080 drop on Northland's imperilled Russell State Forest, but others in the community are feeling nervous.

DOC contractors have been dropping non-toxic bait over the forest this week to get pests used to the cereal pellets.

Forest and Bird's Northland advocate Dean Baigent-Mercer was smiling from ear to ear when RNZ caught up with him, high in the Puhipuhi hills on Wednesday.

It was a sight he'd wondered if he'd ever see: one he said signalled a last-minute reprieve for a condemned forest.

Overhead, two choppers clattered back and forth, swinging green bait buckets beneath them, while ground staff tracked their progress by GPS from a laptop in the back of a ute.

"This is step one: the pre-feed to teach the rats and possums to eat the baits, then in a few days they'll get the poison ones and hopefully we'll knock them down," he said.

Dean Baigent-Mercer's campaign to save the ngahere began in earnest three years ago when he released graphic drone footage of the grey and dying canopy.

The video went viral and the long process of securing funding and community buy-in began.

When a forest this big and rugged was this close to death, a 1080 drop was the only practical way to pull it back from the brink, Mr Baigent-Mercer said.

"We already knew that between 1979 and 1993, 80 percent of the kereru or kukupa as they're called up here, had disappeared from this forest so it's been crying out for help for such a long time."

Nine marae surround the Russell State Forest, and over the past 18 months, the hapu involved have thrashed out a 20 year plan to restore it to health.

When kaumatua Kara George was a boy it teemed with life.

"Our old people knew all the plants and they knew how to use them. There were no possums back then. There were flocks of kukupa... the old people knew all the manu (birds) and they would tell us when it was ok to take from the forest and when not to," he said.

"That matauranga (specialist knowledge) is not used now because we can't use the forest the way we used to and we older ones need to pass it on before we go. "

DOC staff who spent a week in Russell forest monitoring pest numbers in the lead-up to the 1080 drop, heard one tui, and one grey warbler in that time.

But they saw lots of pigs, and residual trap catches, used to gauge possum numbers, were at an unheard of 100 percent. For rats, it was 80 percent.

Kara George said anti-1080 sentiment stopped a poison drop on the forest 20 years ago, and even now it had not been easy convincing people that drastic action was needed.

"They feel they need the pigs left in the forest so they can go chase them so I have said 'Are you pig-farming or are we saving a forest?' And then they want the ranger work, which they think could be a drawn-out possum operation so I have said 'Well, are you possum-farming? Because the possums will just catch you up.'"

Some whanau were worried about the risk to dogs from poisoned possum carcasses floating downstream, hapu members said.

'Aunty' Thelma Connor said what worried a lot of people was the prospect of 1080 pellets washing into waterways.

"We had a meeting with DOC, Ngāti Hau did, and we reluctantly had to say yes to them. As long as we didn't have to deliver the 1080; they have to take responsibility if anything happens in the future," she said.

But DOC and NIWA say in years of monitoring, 1080 has never been found in drinking water and scientists have only ever found minute traces, briefly, in a stream.

Mr Baigent-Mercer said despite the recent clamour of protest about 1080 he had no concerns about the toxin, which was bio-degradable

"I've used 1080 myself and I found it really hard to use because as soon as it comes into contact with water it starts to lose toxicity. So you really need three clear days and nights for those animals to eat the baits and get it into them, " he said.

Dr Belinda Cridge who lectures in toxicology at Otago University says the 1080 toxin fluoroacetate was found in nature, in some plants.

In soil or water it broke down into fluoride and glycolic acid, which was not unlike vinegar, she said.

"The 1080 molecule is toxic when the fluoride molecule is attached to what we call the carbon structure. Once you break that apart, it's not got the power to do any damage anymore."

Dr Cridge said she would feel quite comfortable for her family to drink from a stream after a 1080 drop.

"It would take large amounts of bait going into a stream to be even detectable and in four to eight hours it would all be gone anyway," she said.

DOC said operators were maintaining buffer zones around waterways and the coastline.

It expected the 1080 drop over Russell forest to go ahead sometime in the next few days - weather permitting.

The Northland Regional Council said private landowners around the forest had been largely supportive of the drop, and some had asked for tracts of bush on their farms to be treated at the same time.

The surrounding farmlands would be part of the ongoing trapping operations to prevent re-invasion of the forest, a council spokesman said.

- By Lois Williams

rnz.co.nz

Looking towards Russell State Forest from Puhipuhi Hills. Source: rnz.co.nz


New vaccine to protect Kiwis from rheumatic fever could save hundreds of lives

Work towards a new vaccine to protect against rheumatic fever has been given a funding boost by the Heart Foundation.

New Zealand is one of the few developed countries to still struggle with high rates of the debilitating disease and the vaccine could save hundreds of lives.

Several times a week fitness instructor Helene Kay helps people get their hearts pumping, but two years ago her own heart wasn't working so well.

After being diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease, she had major surgery to replace two valves.

"I thought I was quite invincible really, but yes, that diagnosis just threw me," she said.

Ms Kay had no idea she'd had rheumatic fever as a child, which caused the damage.

"Really surprising, I was in shock for ages...and that really impacted on how I felt...I was devastated."

Rheumatic fever is often found in developing countries, but last year there were 160 new cases in New Zealand, affecting mostly children and Māori and pacific communities.

However, now a new vaccine is being developed which mimics the bacterial infection which leads to the disease.

Dr Jacelyn Loh, a researcher at University of Auckland said, "by doing this we can prime the body without making it sick, to be ready for when a real infection comes along."

The vaccine targets a strain of the disease only found in the country, and although it won't be on the market for a few more years, it's already predicted to be life changing for Kiwis.

"We never want to see people affected by rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease...the ultimate would be that we would not have that in New Zealand," said Heath Foundation chairman Professor Rob Doughty.

The Heart Foundation is now funding further research to investigate the possibility that the vaccine could be in a liquid form and easily administered.

"Let's get out children vaccinated and get them on a good path so they don't have to end up like me," said Ms Kay.

Hope grows for Kiwis that the debilitating disease can finally be banished.

New Zealand is one of the few developed countries to still struggle with high rates of rheumatic fever, and the vaccine could save hundreds of lives. Source: 1 NEWS

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Thousands march through central Auckland celebrating Māori language week

Hīkoia te Kōrero was about celebrating and promoting the Māori language to all New Zealanders. Source: 1 NEWS

E hia mano tāngata i takahi i ngā ara o te pokapū o Tāmaki Makaurau ki te whai I te kaupapa ‘Hīkoia te kōrero’.

He mea whakatū te kaupapa nei ki te whakanui, ki te whakatenatena hoki i te kōrerotia o te reo i tēnei te wiki o te reo Māori, me te aha, ka tū anō he huihuinga āpōpō ki Manukau,

Inā te huhua o ngā kura o te rohe me ngā rōpū hapori o rāngai kē i whai wāhi atu ki te hikoi,

Kua kī taurangi ngā kaiwhakahaere ka whai wāhi atu ngā waka kawe tāngata hei te tau titoki.
 

Thousands of people paraded through central Auckland today as part of Hīkoia te Kōrero.

The event was set up to celebrate and encourage Māori language during Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, and it will be followed tomorrow with another event in Manukau.

Many schools from the Auckland region had a presence at the parade, as well as community groups from many sectors.

Organisers are promising that next year's event will incorporate vehicle floats as well.


Winston Peters admits he got it wrong over MP contract with $300k clause - ‘It was my memory’

Winston Peters says he got it all wrong when he told the public last month that all his MPs had signed a strict contract, now he says none of them have. 

While Mr Peters is blaming his memory for the mix up, but National is not buying it. 

Last month Mr Peters told 1 NEWS all of his MPs had signed a contract – in accordance with New Zealand First's constitution – making them liable for a $300,000 fine if they ceased to be a party member during the political term in which they were elected.

National’s Nick Smith appealed to Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard, questioning whether New Zealand First MPs then had an undisclosed financial interest in the outcome of the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill, also known as the waka jumping legislation. 

The Bill would mean MPs aren't able to quit a party and stay on as an independent MP.

Dr Smith released a letter today from Speaker Trevor Mallard over Dr Smith's allegations of financial interest of NZ First MPs in the Electoral Amendment Bill, that said he had received a response to the matter from Mr Peters. 

"That response states that no New Zealand First MP has signed a resignation obligation contract."

Dr Smith said "Mr Peters repeatedly told the public a month ago that all NZ First MPs had signed a $300,000 resignation obligation contract as required by their party's rules.

"He has now told Parliament’s Speaker that no NZ First MP has signed a resignation obligation contract so as to avoid a Privileges Committee hearing into a breach of Parliament’s rules over disclosure of financial interests."

He said it was "difficult to ascertain the truth over these contracts", and accused NZ First MPs of having a "personal financial interest" in the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill, also known as the waka jumping legislation. 

"The conduct paints a dangerous picture of Mr Peters and his MPs believing they are above the rule of law. This is deeply concerning for a party that is at the centre of New Zealand’s current Government.”

The loyalty contracts outraged National, who are now unimpressed Mr Peters has changed his story over who’d signed them. Source: 1 NEWS