In today's email we catch up with Bill English as he returns from his Pacific trip, and has to warn another minister about the dangers of complacency.
1. 'Confident, but paranoid'
Newsroom Co-Editor Tim Murphy travelled last week to the Pacific with Prime Minister Bill English and a delegation of political, business and community leaders on the RNZAF 757.
He interviewed English on the plane about the upcoming election and beyond, and he found the Prime Minister “a little bit paranoid about the need to get people out to vote."
English acknowledged the Government could still lose from its current strong polling position (around 46 percent), despite strong economic growth.
He was wary of relying too much on the strong polls at the moment.
“There’s a reasonable level of support because the country’s in pretty good shape and the government has consistently delivered practical progress for people – their public services, their businesses, their household incomes," he said.
"But they bank all that pretty quickly and the test this election is about the programme looking forward over the next four or five years and we will be approaching that in a very positive and energetic way."
Asked if Governments can lose when economies are strong, he said: "Oh they can do, particularly in our system because the margins of winning are so small."
"I think we approach the election as confident, but a bit paranoid about the need to get people to understand that they have to get out and vote if they want to continue the direction – and putting a positive case," he said.
English confirmed he would contest the 2020 election for a fifth National term if he won on September 23.
2. Relations with Winston
Tim also focused on English's interactions with Winston Peters, who was also on the trip.
English may need to negotiate a deal with Peters after the election and one of John Key's comments after resigning was that he thought Peters might work better with English.
Peters wouldn't be involved in any group photos with English, but Tim reports English and Peters circled each other convivially on the trip.
English gave Peters face on more than one occasion, acknowledging him at the Cooks’ House of Ariki before mentioning foreign minister Gerry Brownlee and Pacific minister Alfred Ngaro.
It seemed a shrewd if none-too-subtle play to Peters’ vanity and status, Tim reports.
“We’ve had the odd chat. Look Winston Peters knows his way around the Pacific and I’ve been quite happy to acknowledge his presence in places where his status and seniority is recognised. But I’ve actually been very proud of the whole delegation – we’ve got MPs from all parties and they’ve been sort of coherently representing NZ rather than carrying our own politics outside," English said.
3. Dangers of complacency
One of the issues that could trip up the Government over the next 90 days or so is complacency and any signs of arrogance.
Alfred Ngaro's threats to the Governments critics were an example last month. He was reprimanded by English and had to apologise repeatedly.
Over the weekend Disability Issues Minister Nicky Wagner triggered a social media backlash after she tweeted the following with a picture of Auckland harbour on Thursday:
Nicky Wagner: "Busy with Disability meetings in Auckland- rather be out on the harbour!
She initially tried to downplay the comments by saying "we all would have rather had the meetings out on the harbour."
That didn't calm the situation and she eventually had to apologise. "I apologise for any offence I have caused to the disability community. That was not my intention," she tweeted yesterday.
English said over the weekend Wagner had not intended to offend and the mistake had been fixed. He described the incident as a "storm in a teacup." This morning he was forced to express confidence in Wagner as a minister.
4. A new pay equity claim
In the wake of April's $2 billion deal to settle a pay equity claim by aged care workers, the PSA and E tu unions announced this morning they would lodge an equal pay claim on behalf of mental health support workers with the Employment Relations Authority later today.
"It’s completely unfair that mental health support workers receive unequal pay and are undervalued just because we work in a traditionally female-dominated industry," said Pollyanna Alo, PSA claimant and mental health committee member.
The unions said workers were leaving the industry in droves because of stress caused by under-staffing, and were also leaving for higher wages in other caring professions.
"We’ve had so many people leave our organisation for other disability providers and we’re exhausted doing the extra work. It’s a struggle to fill the rosters and everyone is knackered," said E Tu member and claimant Vicki Harmon.
E Tu said it was seeking urgency from the Authority because the July 1 pay increases for other support workers would cause a crisis in the community mental health workforce.
5. US FTA 'years away'
Trade Minister Todd McClay said over the weekend after meeting US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer that a US trade agreement was up for grabs, but would not happen any time soon.
McClay told Newsroom's Foreign Affairs and Trade Editor Sam Sachdeva that Ross had told him the US was open to a bilateral FTA with New Zealand “when the time is right."
“Look that’s going to be a few years away, they're going to have a lot on the negotiating agenda, including some of the world’s largest economies, but I think that’s quite positive," McClay said.
"For them to raise it in they way they did suggests to me there is some thinking going into what they do after they get through the NAFTAs and so on.”
McClay said Ross was particularly interested in New Zealand's ongoing investigation of allegations of steel dumping by China.
"It’s very clear though that they are quite focused on a number of industries in the US, and steel is one of them. He didn’t elaborate too much on what their thinking is there, but it’s obvious to me that they’re putting a lot of thought into the steel sector, both production, exports and imports to the US," McClay said.
6. Numbers and quotes from Friday:
58.5 - The level of the BusinessNZ BNZ Performance of Manufacturing Index (PMI) in May. This was up 1.6 points from April and the index's highest level since January. Any level over 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing.
150,000 - The amount being donated by the E Tu union to the Opposition parties ($120,000 to Labour and $30,000 to Green).
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman commenting via Fairfax on the future of Ministry of Health director-general Chai Chuah after health officials mistakenly allocated $38 million of Budget funding to the wrong District Health Boards:
"He hasn't offered a resignation, but he agrees with me it's unacceptable, that they should have got this right and Minister's have to absolutely be able to rely on the figures. This can never happen again."
7. Coming up...
Prime Minister Bill English is scheduled to hold his weekly post-cabinet news conference this afternoon.
Parliament resumes for a three-week sitting session on Tuesday. The Parliamentary caucus meetings will meet in Parliament on Tuesday morning.
The Reserve Bank is scheduled to announce its next Official Cash Rate decision on Thursday morning at 9 am. Economists expect it to leave the OCR on hold at 1.75 percent and to leave its neutral stance from its May monetary policy statement unchanged. The bank will only issue a short statement with the decision, which is an 'in-between' one before its next full MPS on August 10.
8. One or two fun things
Tweet of the weekend had to go to Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame. He tweeted on news that President Donald Trump had appointed his son's wedding planner to head up the US Government's housing operations in New York and New Jersey:
"New Zealand only has 4 million people and we wouldn't even put our leader's wedding planner in charge of housing. I think."
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made some fun of President Donald Trump at an apparently off-the-record dinner speech for journalists in Canberra last week. He joked about Trump's view on online polls, and then said this: "I have this Russian guy. Believe me, it's true; it is true."