Yelling aplenty, and there is more to come

Finance Minister Nicola Willis delivers the Budget Policy Statement. PHOTO: RNZ
Finance Minister Nicola Willis delivers the Budget Policy Statement. PHOTO: RNZ
During World War 2 there was a period called the "phoney war", where the Western Front stood idle for months before the fighting really started.

The week before Budget day is — usually — a little bit like that in Parliament. Everyone goes through the motions of yelling at each other, in full knowledge that next week is when the volume really gets ratcheted up.

Things have been a bit different in the House this week though, as the new government continues to outrage the former occupants of the Treasury benches by pulling apart the renovations they did when they were in charge: the repeal of section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act and the plan to hold referendums on Maori local government wards meant that the volume remained cranked up to 11.

Lighting the touch paper on Tuesday was Waitaki National MP Miles Anderson. The craggy farmer is an unlikely agitator, but he was cast as one in Finance Minister Nicola Willis’ latest needling of the Labour Party.

Like every other newly-installed minister ever, Ms Willis is enthusiastic about sheeting home the blame for everything that goes wrong to the former tenants. Labour has been much tetchier than they ought to be about this — they never stopped blaming National for its "nine long years of neglect" when they were in office — and it has had some effect, moving Speaker Gerry Brownlee to try to stamp out the more blatant digs.

Ms Willis, as you would expect from a former champion debater, is wily enough to work her way around that though, and did so on Tuesday with Mr Anderson’s assistance.

His seemingly benign inquiry "What announcements has she made about the operating allowance for Budget 2024?" allowed Ms Willis a gentle cuff at Labour in her reply that it would be less than $3.5 billion, and that that figure just happened to be less than that set by the previous government.

Mr Anderson then, in all innocence naturally, asked what the operating allowance covered, giving Ms Willis another chance to stress it being under $3.5b.

And with that Mr Anderson lobbed a final fast ball across the plate for Ms Willis to hit out of the park: "How does a less than $3.5b operating allowance compare to those in recent years?"

That allowed Ms Willis to point out not only that in Budget 2022 it was $5.9b and that inflation was at 7.3%, but that her forthcoming Budget 2024 "is a lot more fiscally responsible than those delivered in the last few irresponsible Budgets", to howls from the other side of the House, before quickly sitting down and avoiding reprimand by the Speaker.

Mr Anderson was back later in the afternoon for a more melancholy task — opening the annual review debate on Vote Agriculture. The chairman of the primary production select committee would normally do that job, but that is Act New Zealand MP Mark Cameron, understandably absent due to death of his son.

The debate passed with few fireworks, although it did give New Zealand First Taieri list MP, and Associate Agriculture Minister, Mark Patterson, the chance to praise his own work in trying to boost the wool sector.

Mr Anderson’s neighbour, Southland National MP Joseph Mooney, had a bumpier Tuesday though.

He also got to ask a PQ — unusually in the area of law and order, a field in which he has seldom figured despite his background as a lawyer.

But in the evening Mr Mooney took calls — and catcalls — defending the 7AA repeal Bill. The Southland MP had a rugged childhood and this is a subject he takes personally — not that any of that stopped him being yelled at for most of his speech.

"Every child deserves the same level of care and protection — every child", he said.

"The focus on their individual needs and their safety and wellbeing needs to be put first. Culture, whakapapa, whānau, te ao Māori connection — critical. Absolutely critical — I don't disagree with that.

"While this Bill repeals references to cultural consideration in section 7AA, it does not remove existing provisions in other parts of the Act which require decision makers to consider cultural factors in care decisions. So they will still be required to consider cultural factors in care decisions."

Meet the new boss

Former Dunedin National list MP Michael Woodhouse has a new job, and a new home town. The proud Otago man has crossed the Waitaki and is now chief executive of the Forte Health private hospital in Christchurch.

The move, career-wise at least, is a natural one for Mr Woodhouse: he is a former CEO of Mercy Hospital in Dunedin, and a past president of the Private Hospitals Association.

The idea of him pulling on a red-and-black striped shirt is much more unnatural though.