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Andrew Dickens: 2018 - the year of the trainee politician

Andrew Dickens,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 18 December 2018, 12:15p.m.
As we come to the end of this first year of this term, I feel we have a new generation of political leaders on all sides who are underdone. Photo / Getty Images

So this morning I listened to the Prime Minister’s last Tuesday morning slot with our breakfast show, today hosted by Mike Yardley. And I was under-impressed, to be honest. Now I know we’re all a little bit over it this week and it’s been a massive year for her, but I felt the fairy dust had fallen off. Princess Jacinda was absent. There was no echo of Jacindamania.

It wasn’t that anything she was saying was particularly wrong, it was more that, she was just saying nothing at all.

It started with questions about the Le Roux petition being presented to parliament. A petition complaining about overly lenient sentencing. Her answer was a long-winded conversation about the processes of lawmaking and how there needs to be an absence of political influence on the judicial system. It made me feel like she was talking to us like we were children.

At the time of the interview, 134,000 New Zealanders had expressed a very real concern about the sentencing and she didn’t talk to those people at all. She didn’t empathise with those concerns. She didn’t say she’d pass those concerns onto the judiciary, perhaps at her next meeting with the new Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann. It was the sound of a bureaucrat flapping her gums, offending no-one.

It reminded me of the strange ambivalence and lack of leadership she displayed through the Karol Sroubeck case. When the only person in the country supporting the bizarre decision was Richie Hardcore it would have been a simple step to say Iain Lees-Galloway screwed up so we’ll give the immigration job to someone else. In politics, it’s important to be seen to be doing something and she seemed inert.

This morning’s interview then careered into the Global Compact on Migration, due to be signed today. For some reason known only to the PM, she refuses to confirm or deny our signing. She pointed out how the compact is not legally binding and how she will not surrender sovereignty. She also pointed out that our current policy setting is already compliant with the compacts aims. Yet at the same time gave the impression that she doesn’t even know if we’re going to sign it or not.

How we yearned for a passionate statement that there is no way on Earth that the UN will ever dictate our migrant policy or numbers. If they do sign it the Prime Minister has shown no ability to lead us to an understanding or acceptance of the gesture.

The suspicion that she’s not in control extends to other areas of foreign policy. This year Winston Peters has railed against China and re-exerted our influence in the Pacific. In Georgetown, USA, this weekend he urged America to get more involved in the Pacific.

But when asked this week if the Foreign Minister’s speech indicates the Government is moving towards America, Jacinda Ardern said no. Absolutely not. It made people like Matthew Hooten wonder if she really knows what’s going on.

Now before you say this is a National Party hit job, I should add that I could say just the same about Simon Bridges, who has been saying some remarkable dog-whistle things that appeared designed to appeal to only a 60-year-old conservative.

As we come to the end of this first year of this term, I feel we have a new generation of political leaders on all sides who are underdone. Who have not got the trick yet of how to be grown ups and responsible and yet show clear and insightful leadership.

To be honest it feels like we have an entire House of Representatives that is still on training wheels.

ON AIR: Overnight Talk

12a.m. - 5a.m.