Week in Politics: Polls, pay rises and a Green MP in trouble

Analysis – An opinion poll broadcast on Monday night kicked off the week and got the media going.

The 1News Verian poll put National on 36 percent, down two points, and ACT down one point to 7 percent.

New Zealand First dropped two points to 4 percent – below the 5 percent threshold needed to keep it in Parliament.

That meant the coalition parties would not have the numbers to form a government.

Labour was up two points to 30 percent, the Greens were up two to 14 percent, and Te Pāti Māori was steady on 4 percent.

And that meant that, on the assumption Te Pāti Māori retained an electorate seat (it holds six), the left block would be able to form a government.

‘Coalition parties drop in shock poll result’ was the headline on RNZ’s report while the Herald saw it as ‘a bitter pill for Luxon’.

How could this happen just six months from the election?

Jo Moir, RNZ’s political editor, explained in her analysis: “It’s much too early in the term for the coalition to be truly worried about the latest poll, but it should also be much too early for the public to be considering turfing it out of power.”

She said part of the problem was that much of the government’s work so far had been cuts and repeals.

“It creates a negative framing of the work they’re doing and makes it hard to sell a positive story,” she said.

The Herald’s political editor, Claire Trevett, said it was far too early to give a ‘rat’s derriere’ about NZ First’s sub-5 percent result. She was quoting party leader Winston Peters, of course.

“But it will be disappointing for Prime Minister Christopher Luxon to discover National support has slipped and that parties on the left are doing better than the coalition,” she said.

“It would be fair if Luxon was baffled. There has been no major catastrophe. At times, the characters of the coalition parties have rattled their canastas at each other but there has been no great conflagration.”

Trevett thought part of the answer may be in the poll – the sharp spike in those who feel pessimistic about the economy, which was 26 percent.

“It could be worse: 36 percent were optimistic,” she said. “But it does drive home the ongoing strain on households, despite the easing in inflation.”

Peters scorned the result while Luxon told Morning Report he had no plans to shy away from the tough decisions needed to turn the economy around.

The Herald’s senior correspondent and former political editor, Audrey Young, said Peters had the most to complain about.

“He has trotted over half the globe meeting prime ministers, presidents and dignitaries in service to the national interest … and for what? A fall in the polls that would see NZ First out of Parliament again,” she said.

“It will only reinforce to Peters’ party advisers that there are no votes in statesmanship. The way to be remembered is not through lofty speeches but by low-level street fighting and attacking the media, wokeness, the Treaty and media wokeness over the Treaty.”

Stuff’s Henry Cook posed an interesting question in his article headed ‘Has Christopher Luxon caught the incumbency bug?’

“The last few years have been a terrible time for serving governments the world over,” he said.

“Ever since inflation started to pick up in late 2021, voters have punished those in power … in 2022 governments changed in Australia, Italy, and South Korea. And in 2023 New Zealand dumped Labour.

“Now, just six months into governing, Christopher Luxon seems to have caught something of the incumbency curse himself.”

Cook said the “wider bad vibe” was not contained in the single poll.

“Roy Morgan’s March survey found for the first time since the change of government more Kiwis thought the country was on the wrong track (54 percent) than the right track (35 percent). Consumer confidence has also fallen significantly.”

The key result in the poll was NZ First falling below the 5 percent threshold, which left National with only ACT as a partner and not enough seats to form a government.

Before the election NZ First hovered around the 5 percent mark and then managed to claw its way above it. The next poll 1News Verian poll could show it is still safe.

The day after the poll, details of another emerged which showed just that, according to a Newshub report.

Political editor Jenna Lynch said she had learned Labour’s latest internal poll taken by Talbot Mills showed NZ First on 6 percent.

It was, however, more bad news for the coalition, she said, because it showed Labour and National very close – Labour on 33 percent and National on 34 percent.

National, ACT and NZ First would have 59 seats, not enough to govern.

Labour does not publish its internal polls so this one did not attract nearly as much attention as the 1News Verian poll.

There’s some history behind NZ First’s fortunes while being in government, and Stuff’s Glenn McConnell picked it up.

“After entering coalition agreements, New Zealand First has always lost support at the subsequent election,” he said.

“In 2020, after working with the Jacinda Ardern government, NZ First was booted from Parliament, in 2008, after working with the Helen Clark government, NZ first lost seven seats.”

He said NZ First had never managed to return to power as an incumbent in a governing coalition.

All the political commentators made the point that not too much should be read into a single poll, but if a trend develops showing the government consistently losing support it would be an ominous indication that the public is far from happy about all the changes that are taking place to “get the country back on track”.


Politicians to get pay rise

The next big story was the release of the Independent Remuneration Authority’s decisions on MPs pay.

They were eagerly awaited, because they were a lose-lose event for MPs and can draw an angry backlash.

It decided, as expected, that they should get a rise.

“Politicians pay packets are about to get fatter thanks to a staggered 10 percent salary increase this term,” RNZ’s report said.

It explained that every MP would get a 2.8 percent pay rise, backdated to last October. That would be followed by another 2.9 percent increase from July, a further 2.4 percent next year and another 2 percent in 2026.

By the end of this parliamentary term, an ordinary MPs salary will be $181,200. The prime minister’s salary will be $520,000 and the deputy prime minister’s $369,800.

All the details are in RNZ’s report: ‘Pay bump for politicians: What you need to know’.

The media was interested in how they reacted.

The prime minister was quickly and smartly off the mark: He did not want it, did not need it and would donate it to charity.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said he already earned a good income and his focus was on the incomes of others.

“I think this would be less of an issue for politicians if the government of the day – in this case Christopher Luxon’s National-led government – were making sure other New Zealanders’ incomes were rising to the extent that MPs incomes are,” he said.

Others sought refuge in the authority’s independence and fudged the issue.

One did give a straight answer, ACT’s Simon Court. “I think it’s really important to keep this in context,” he said. “I’m willing to accept a pay rise of 2.8 percent. The cost of living has gone up by much, much more than that in the time I’ve been in Parliament.”

In fact MPs have not had an increase since 2017. Former prime minister Jacinda Ardern ordered a pay freeze and when that ended the pandemic held up the process.

MPs generally reacted cautiously, RNZ reported. They were keen to separate themselves from the decision-making process while also admitting their discomfort.

“I think probably there’s never a right time to give MPs a pay rise”, said Labour’s Rachel Brooking.

ACT leader David Seymour, speaking before the announcement, said discussions over whether they deserved it were a no-win.

“From the point of view of someone like me, you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, it’s just a process and law that you have to follow.”

He said it was not particularly great timing when the public was doing it tough.

The Herald’s Trevett described their predicament as “trial by pay rise” and said that in a political sense there was no good time for it to happen.

“Politicians can try to hide behind the independent decision-making of the Remuneration Authority all they like – there is no escaping that they are the ones who get it and hence the public face for something there is usually little public appetite for,” she said.

Trevett thought there were some redeeming features. Their pay had not increased since 2017, the yearly increases were lower than or near to expected inflation, and the authority had drawn attention to how miserably they were paid compared with CEOs in the public and private sector.

MP Julie Anne Genter stands over National's Matt Doocey in Parliament.

Green MP under fire – again

Tales were told in Parliament about the day a young Michael Cullen crossed the floor of the debating chamber and shook his fist under Rob Muldoon’s nose.

It was a long time ago and there were no similar incidents – until this week.

The Greens were usually among the best behaved MPs, although Marama Davidson can be a bit stroppy, but the culprit was one of their own.

Here was how RNZ saw it.

“As MPs were debating roading projects as part of the Annual Review – Transport on Wednesday night, Genter rose from her seat and walked across the chamber towards National’s Matt Doocey.

“She then waved a book in his face and repeatedly yelled: ‘Read the report’.”

Deputy Speaker Barbara Kuriger very correctly said it was “not appropriate to get out of one’s seat to go and have an argument with somebody on the other side”.

Actually it was highly inappropriate because it could lead to serious disorder in the House.

Scenes of fist fights in some Asian parliaments are seen on the news now and then, but it was not the way we behave.

National MPs raised stern objections to Genter’s behaviour, saying it was intimidation, and Speaker Gerry Brownlee was called back to deal with the matter.

Genter rose and apologised.

“It was the last thing I wanted to do, to intimidate anyone in this House,” she said.

“What has absolutely motivated me is a desire to share information that I believe would be of benefit to everyone in this House, and I’m sorry if in my passion to do so I was intimidating. That was not my intention.”

Brownlee said in his understated way that such incidents did not reflect well on Parliament.

He said it was up to National MPs to decide whether to lodge a formal complaint, and later confirmed that “multiple parties” had done so.

The Speaker decides whether a complaint should go to the Privileges Committee, Parliament’s court, and Brownlee will make his ruling early next week.

Green Party co-leaders said Genter’s behaviour was unacceptable and an internal disciplinary process would take place.

Winston Peters

Foreign Affairs Minister takes aim at former Australian minister

The week ended with Australia’s former foreign minister Bob Carr telling RNZ he would take legal action against Winston Peters because of remarks Peters made about him on Morning Report.

In the interview Peters criticised Carr’s views on the security partnership between the US, UK and Australia, known as AUKUS.

“RNZ has removed the comments from the interview online after Carr, who was Australia’s foreign minister from 2012 to 2013, told RNZ he considered the remarks to be ‘entirely defamatory’ and would commence legal action,” RNZ said in its report.

“A spokesperson for Peters told RNZ the minister would respond if he received formal notification of any such action.”

Labour leader Hipkins said Peters should be stood down, describing his remarks as “totally unacceptable”.

Luxon said he would not have made those comments but added: “I’m sure Bob Carr is a seasoned politician and understands the rough and tumble of politics.”

Late on Thursday night, RNZ reported that Carr had confirmed his lawyers had written to Peters informing him they intended launching legal action against him.

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament’s press gallery, 22 years as NZPA political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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