Lessening loose lips

After the last week, the slogan-ridden government might want to look for new ways to accentuate the positive.

Installing some United States World War 2 "Loose Lips Sink Ships" posters in the Cabinet room would be an inexpensive start. It might act as a deterrent to those who have been fluffing their lines or undermining the government’s message by badly-timed attention-seeking comments.

On Monday, the double-act of Corrections Minister Mark Mitchell and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon made a pig’s ear out of what should have been a straightforward announcement about $1.9 billion prison spending.

The transcript of the post-Cabinet press conference reads like a script for a satirical political skit. Still, embarrassing as it was for Messrs Luxon and Mitchell, perhaps it meant the focus was more on the farce than on the fact adding 810 beds to Waikeria Prison will make it the biggest in the country, by a long shot. It will have 1865 beds, if all of them come to fruition.

It is difficult to understand how effective any rehabilitation programmes will be in an isolated mega prison divorced from the communities prisoners might be returning to, and how such an enormous facility will avoid being a gang recruiting agency.

Questions remain about how realistic the government’s plans are to increase staffing, even with the carrot of increased pay. Existing prisons are still under-staffed, and with repeated concerns from the Ombudsman about treatment of inmates, it is hard to see how adding hundreds more beds will change that.

Act Party leader David Seymour. PHOTO: NZME
Act Party leader David Seymour. PHOTO: NZME
This announcement was rushed and lacking detail, as was the news from Associate Education Minister David Seymour about school lunches later in the week.

During the election campaign he labelled the school lunches programme almost criminal in a cost-of-living crisis and he wanted it scrapped.

That big talk has had to be walked back, no doubt to accommodate the rest of the coalition and public concerns, culminating in the announcement current arrangements would continue for this year but some cost-cutting will be coming next year.

But the programme will be extended to 10,000 2 to 5-year-olds attending low-equity, not-for-profit community-based early learning services, funded using cost savings from the school lunch programme.

Mr Seymour could not resist making nonsensical headline-grabbing remarks about removing foods he called "woke" such as quinoa, couscous, hummus and sushi, suggesting they will be replaced by sandwiches and fruit for those in year 7 and above when their part of the programme is revamped next year.

We are unaware these foods he finds so unacceptable were a huge part of the programme.

Mr Luxon was clearly miffed to be asked about the "woke" foods because it distracted from the positive news. Instead of being grumpy at journalists, doing some straight talking to Mr Seymour about his undermining behaviour might be better use of his time.

There is no detail about what will be in the bulk-bought food for the year 7 and above pupils from next year, who will pay for the food to be compiled once on-site, how reducing the cost from more than $8 a meal to $3 will not compromise nutrition, and what impact this move might have on schools and their communities.

It has been suggested the bulk food buying set-up might be similar to that controversially introduced into the public hospital system some years ago. Readers who remember the protests here about the changes to the excellent food previously prepared in-house at Dunedin Hospital will be able to relate to the nervousness many schools and their communities have about the plans.

By rushing announcements without proper background information, the government leaves a vacuum for criticism to whoosh into.

Adding "hasten slowly", "be prepared" and "say what you mean and mean what you say" to the coalition mantra lexicon before future announcements might help avoid that.