Lost the moral high ground and the high horse she rode in on has gone lame

Jacinda Ardern has lost the moral high ground and the high horse she rode in on has gone lame.

Hamish Rutherford explains: Quote:

There’s a saying in debating, that it doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong, as long as you’re sure.

It can feel the same way in politics, even though it shouldn’t be that way.

For all the power held by bureaucrats to frustrate decision-making with inconvenient advice or warnings of unintended consequences, sometimes a very small group of people simply decide something will happen, and that is that.

So it turns out to be the case with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decision to end new offshore oil exploration in New Zealand.

Since Ardern led a group of Cabinet colleagues into the Beehive theatrette to announce the move on April 12, there has been mounting speculation about just how little detailed analysis was undertaken behind the move.

It had already become clear that key agencies (Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) had provided no advice.? ?

Officials at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had been openly grumbling to the industry that they were being side-lined.

National leader Simon Bridges said he had been told by officials that they were explicitly being asked not to provide advice on the decision (something the Government denies).

But only on Tuesday did New Zealand learn that whatever advice was provided, it ultimately meant nothing.

This was not an agreement made around the Cabinet table, by New Zealand’s most powerful body, acting in the best interests of New Zealand, bound by collective responsibility.

It was a political deal, struck after intense lobbying between the leaders of political parties, who agreed what was going to happen. The Cabinet was informed after the fact.?End quote.

That is why it is likely to get challenged in the courts. Ministers who have acted unilaterally in the past have had their decisions over-turned in courts.?Quote:

Cabinet is the room where many political promises ultimately die because bright minds convince the body that the consequences are too great or the outcomes will be different to what politicians hoped they would be.

It is little wonder that Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones made such petulant showing when the announcement was made: dragging his feet, covering his eyes and grabbing the lectern as if it was a brace.

For all we know, Jones heard about the decision when Energy Minister Megan Woods informed the Cabinet that a deal had already been cut.

In fact, it appears that the deal was the subject of exhaustive meetings and discussions, amid warnings from the Beehive that from time to time, this is how decisions will be made in this coalition.

But this is not how Government should be done.?En d quote.

New Zealand has long lectured Fiji about decrees, In Fiji at least the decrees when promulgated by the President have actually been through cabinet.?Quote:

But process matters and this is a major decision, which could impact New Zealand’s energy security in years to come.

The Cabinet manual states that matters which are significant in policy terms, are “controversial matters” or could impact the government’s financial position, must be submitted to the Cabinet.

This decision is all of those things.

While Woods has made it clear that eventually the matter will go through the Cabinet process, the executive branch of Government is in an impossible position.

What happens if when a Cabinet paper is submitted, it contains some awkward truths?

Perhaps it will say that enacting the plan will lead to coal being imported, because New Zealand will run out of gas sooner than expected.

The Cabinet will be forced to go ahead with it anyway, because of how silly it will all look if it backed down, irrespective of the consequences.

If the Cabinet is to be constrained in this way, what is the point of having one??End quote.

Indeed…and then we have a dictatorship, with decisions being made on the PR-worthiness to the prime minister offshore.?Quote:

There are famous examples of the Cabinet ignoring official advice and history eventually showing it was right to do so. Treasury warned that Kiwibank would never be financially viable and the Government of the time went ahead and did it anyway, creating a company which helped lower bank fees across the industry.

In this case, Cabinet ministers are reduced to functionaries, carrying out the bidding of the party leaders.

The Government’s supporters have been quick to point at examples where National did similar things.

Sir John Key’s decision, made when he was Opposition leader, to override the decision-making processes of Pharmac in promising to fund breast cancer drug Herceptin is a perfect example that every Government is the same in the end.

Politicians ultimately the reserve the right to shortcut the decision-making process to come to the conclusion they want to.

But for a Government which proclaims its values and promises openness and transparency, it is on a fast track to losing any moral high ground.’ End quote.

I well remember the opposition castigating John Key for politicising Pharmac. But like most politicians hypocrisy is a handy quality to have.