Ardern had a bad week, but Collins’ week was even worse

Opinion: It’s been a few weeks since Jacinda Ardern.

First, it impeded her government’s “weak” declaration by commenting on legitimate or illegitimate uses of urban tools. That sentiment is understandable—the recent deployment of Remuera tractors isn’t hard to find dimly—but prime ministers generally shouldn’t tell people that their legal use of their private property is or is illegal.

Ardern recognized as much, made rare Middle East and Africa neglect In the House a few days later under pressure from ACT’s David Seymour, saying she “could have been more explicit”.

The second fiasco was its absence from critical press posts about the latest Wellington Covid scare, almost all of which have been delegated to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hepkins. It is understood that Hipkins is doing most of the media heavy lifting on Covid-19. Ardern, after all, has a country to run. But important cabinet-level announcements about things like changes to the alert level should be up front with the prime minister.

Read more:
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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Judith Collins raises allegations of ‘separatism’ over low voter turnout

Ardern presides over the Cabinet, and if the Cabinet makes a decision (albeit justified) to infringe on some people’s civil liberties for the greater good, she should stand up to that decision at a regular after-cabinet press conference, rather than a short stand on her way home.

The fact that she spent part of the next day distributing soft toys to the children only strengthened the argument that she might not be setting her priorities correctly. Or, more accurately, there was a misalignment of her priorities as a leader and her priorities as a policy.

One suspects that she has learned from previous prime ministers to make sure her face is not close to failure when it does. She’s kept herself clear of canceling NZ upgrade projects (although she had her face front and center when the same routes were announced a year ago), and completely shy away from uncomfortable questions about introducing a KiwiBuild-speed vaccine.

The government says it’s going to get bigger – funny, Phil Twyford said that too.

Her third crime was two disastrous Newshub interviews about hate speech. The first, by her minister Chris Favoy, suggested that he did not know what was prohibiting, and the second, by Ardern herself, suggesting that she was unaware of what her government was trying to stop.

Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern.

Things

Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern.

There are good arguments for stricter rules around hate speech, but on a political level, the lack of detail and poor advertising planning suggest that Ardern and her government are not giving the cause the respect it deserves. Whether the proposals go too far, or not far enough, they will directly affect freedom of expression, a value and right so critical to a free and democratic society like ours.

The fact that no one at Cabinet level appears to have been properly briefed on exactly what they are doing suggests that they are not giving this very important question enough thought.

Rights can be weighed against others, they can be curtailed, perhaps withdrawn entirely, but whatever the government does that affects our rights, it owes us, to the people it governs, to take those actions with the respect they deserve – it is clearly lacking in respect this week.

Big fluctuations. Prime Ministers have almost every word they say recorded in one form or another. Those who are good at work—Ardern is one of them—know that they have to say exactly what they intend to say. Ardern and her government usually do a good job in this regard, but starting with announcing a disastrous public sector pay freeze earlier this year, standards are starting to fall.

The problem with National is that anything Ardern does could be worse.

The caucus does not trust itself, and seems to trust only its leader in the most strict and formal sense (and perhaps even that).

Leader Judith Collins attempted to claim that hate speech proposals are about “controlling the lives of New Zealanders”, creating a society “in which only approved opinions are allowed and it is criminal to question those opinions”.

But in making this argument, she has been undermined by some in her party, who have likened her particularly to Stalin for her recent purge of former leader Todd Mueller, who is widely understood to have been forced to retire from Parliament in the upcoming elections.

Although Stalin may have been able to teach the current government a thing or two about express delivery, he was not a prominent advocate of free speech.

And it doesn’t seem that Collins herself decided to stand up for free speech regardless of anything that hurt the feelings of returning MP Harriet Hebango.

This kind of thing matters. There’s an old Pablo Picasso quote that’s probably hanging in a toilet somewhere, “Inspiration is there, but it must find you working.”

National had moments last month to prove it might be a decent alternative government. Unfortunately, she spent her moment in the spotlight providing evidence to the contrary.

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