Reshuffles take a back seat to Hipkins’ big clean-out

Rachel Brooking chairs her first finance and expenditure select committee meeting. PHOTO: PARLIAMENT
Rachel Brooking chairs her first finance and expenditure select committee meeting. PHOTO: PARLIAMENT
As you may recall, Labour and National did some cleaning over the summer break and neatly rearranged their front benches for the new parliamentary year.

While those reshuffles hogged the headlines, this week’s much less prominent changing of desks was arguably more interesting.

On Wednesday, Parliament’s business committee — of which National Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse is a member — released its first "determination" of the year.

While creating a mental image of MPs battling through appalling weather with gritted teeth, the business committee’s more prosaic task is for party House managers to meet Speaker Adrian Rurawhe to determine the nuts and bolts matters of how Parliament works. This includes things such as rosters for oral questions and the rules for special debates.

It also confirms the placement of MPs on select committees, and this week brought news of 29 changes, some induced by Labour’s reshuffle having claimed former backbenchers to be Cabinet ministers and others by those they replaced needing to be found new jobs, while National’s recently elected Hamilton West MP Tama Potaka also needed to find gainful employment.

While there is no ranking of importance for select committees, finance and expenditure is fairly universally regarded as the committee any MP on the way up wants to be on.

Dunedin Labour list MP Rachel Brooking not only made it on to the committee but was elected chairwoman, a role which is usually a harbinger of future success: new ministers Barbara Edmonds, Deborah Russell and Duncan Webb were the last MPs to have presided over it.

Although just two years into her political career, Ms Brooking has impressed with her enthusiastic approach to select committee work and willingness to take some of the more complex and arcane parliamentary work head-on.

She has already been a deputy on two committees and with that experience took to her new role with little hesitation.

Having familiar faces around the table might have helped: Ms Brooking’s deputy is her Labour colleague and Taieri MP Ingrid Leary, and outgoing Dunedin Labour MP David Clark has just been added to the committee.

For good measure, Mr Woodhouse was subbing in for National’s otherwise occupied finance spokeswoman Nicola Willis, something he is expected to do more often due to the anticipate heavy demands on the time of the party’s deputy leader.

Notable presenters to the committee this week included the Guardians of the Super Fund, which sounds like an obscure Marvel comic but is actually the group that manages investments made by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

Given the new, heavily southern leaning of the committee, questions about how to fund a managed retreat from climate change in places such as South Dunedin were greeted with knowing nods.

While Ms Leary might have wished she was chairing proceedings, she was pleased at having been given a seat on the complementary economic development, science and innovation committee.

Joseph Mooney at the Gore A&P Show. PHOTO: FACEBOOK
Joseph Mooney at the Gore A&P Show. PHOTO: FACEBOOK
Although no longer on foreign affairs, as a former diplomat Ms Leary retains a close interest in the field and remains on a range of cross parliamentary committees dealing with international affairs.

Ms Leary will be joined on economic development by Mr Woodhouse, who departs government and administration.

Invercargill list MP Liz Craig rejoins the petitions committee while, as predicted, Joseph Mooney will leave Maori Affairs once Mr Potaka is sworn in and will join primary production.

Later on Wednesday, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins set about reducing the workload of the newly reconstituted select committees somewhat by scrapping a range of government policies, some of which were already under consideration.

Pitched as refocusing the government’s attention on the cost of living crisis, the changes as announced will have almost zero impact in percentage terms on reducing the multibillion-dollar New Zealand Budget.

However, this may well provide a measurable percentage increase in Labour’s re-election chances: this was all about trying to nullify National and Act New Zealand’s attack lines, rather than putting pennies in people’s pockets.

Mr Hipkins will have calculated that dropping things such as proposed hate speech laws and scrapping the RNZ-TVNZ merger might attract wavering middle ground voters back to the Labour cause, while not being so extreme as to drive hardcore Labour support elsewhere.

Some of those tribal followers might find themselves humming the Monty Python song Brave Sir Robin — "When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled" — as they contemplate the events of this week.

While the usually pugnacious Mr Hipkins might baulk at claims he had gallantly chickened out, there can be little argument, given that in the few weeks he has been Labour’s leader he has indeed swiftly taken to his feet and beat a very brave retreat from policies his party has fought elections on.

The challenge Labour now faces is, having ditched this set of initiatives and with promises that a second load of scrap — which will likely include elements of Three Waters— to come, is showing voters what a Hipkins administration actually stands for.

Because at the moment it seems to stand for not being beaten by the Opposition, which is hardly a ringing statement to campaign on come October.

Axe man

A&P shows are a hardy perennial for politicians, and Southland MP Joseph Mooney had a fine time at this year’s Gore show.

He even showed off a new skill — axe throwing — highlighting a near bullseye on social media.

No details of how many takes those nine seconds required though.