Bridges vs Adams on the home straight; Russell McVeagh's place on Govt panel safe for now; Govt adds small teeth to Bill of Rights

In this morning's email we caught up with the latest news from in and around Parliament.

1. It's Bridges or Adams...possibly

There. I've covered all the bases.

On the eve of this morning's National leadership vote, Simon Bridges and Amy Adams are thought to have just over 20 votes each, with team Bridges thinking he is only a couple short of the 29 threshold needed for victory.

But anything could happen in the caucus room once the candidates start getting whittled down and the second and third preferences start flowing. Some think Steven Joyce and Mark Mitchell still have a chance if those preferences flow to them. Judith Collins is the only one seen as very unlikely to win, and she seemed to acknowledge that yesterday when she said could be deputy leader.

We'll be reporting the results live through the morning and into the afternoon. National is scheduled to announced the winner at 12.45 pm.

But as Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva writes in his analysis published last night on Newsroom Pro, whoever wins is guaranteed of a nigh-impossible task in dethroning Jacinda Ardern and her coalition government.

As he points out, New Zealand has not had a one-term government in 43 years, and even that required the death of the sitting prime minister Norman Kirk. Every Government elected since the advent of MMP in 1996 has served out three terms or nine years.

2. Russell McVeagh's Government work safe for now

Meanwhile, the Russell McVeagh sexual misconduct story continues to roll on.

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw reported last night the Government has shied away from reviewing law firm Russell McVeagh’s public contracts in the wake of serious allegations against some of their staff.

But Justice Minister Andrew Little has criticised the firm’s decision to appoint its own reviewer and also the Law Society for its apparent inaction after eventually learning of the allegations.

Earlier this month Newsroom revealed claims of sexual harassment and sexual assaults against summer clerks at the firm’s Wellington office two years ago.

Last week Russell McVeagh attempted to draw a line under the situation and intense media coverage by announcing an ‘external’ review by a person to be appointed by the firm.

See Shane's full article on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first last night.

3. Judges vs politicians over the law

Should the courts be able to over-rule the will of the people as expressed through Parliament? Should New Zealand have a much more formal constitution that is interpreted by the courts? Or should we carry on with our unwritten set of conventions that mean our unicameral Parliament can be dominated by the executive in between elections?

These were the fundamental questions addressed in yesterday afternoon's announcement in the Beehive Theatrette by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Attorney-General David Parker and Justice Minister Andrew Little on what should happen when the courts rule a law conflicts with our Bill of Rights.

Currently, it's unclear what should happen when the courts say a law conflicts with the Bill of Rights. The father of the Bill of Rights, Geoffrey Palmer, has always hoped that New Zealand would eventually move to a US-style system where the courts would gain supremacy over Parliament when interpreting the Bill of Rights. Others, including the current Government and Opposition, would prefer the current supremacy of Parliament is maintained, although the current Government hopes its announcement will put in place an extra check and balance on an executive-dominated Parliament writing laws that conflict with the Bill of Rights.

Newsroom's Constitutional Affairs Editor Thomas Coughlan (I just made this title up but it suits him for this story) wrote an excellent piece last night on whether this latest plan to beef up the power the courts a bit actually takes us any closer to a tougher set of constitutional arrangements.

He talks to Geoffrey Palmer and Chris Finlayson about the changes and found Palmer is still hopeful of an evolution to a US-style system and Finlayson thinks the latest changes may have cauterised any bleeding towards a US-style system.

The jury is still out (see what I did there?).

I'd highly recommend anyone with an interest in our pseudo-constitutional arrangements read Thomas' piece, which I edited and published last night on Newsroom Pro first. I learned a lot about the powers of our Government and the nature of how we are governed. And it's fantastic to see Palmer and Finlayson debating these things at such a high level (I'd pay to see them go at each other over this MMA-style).

I can see the pros and cons of both the US (and Australian) style constitution-driven system, and the UK-style unconstitutional system. On balance, I prefer our current system, particularly since the advent of MMP, which has limited the 'elected dictatorship' tendencies of of our executive-dominated single-chamber Parliament.

4. Wellington. We have a creaky building problem

Newsroom's South Island reporter Dave Williams has a cracking story this morning on how many Wellington building owners will fail to meet a deadline to ensure their structures can cope with an earthquake.

The owners of dozens of buildings, almost all in greater Wellington, are unlikely to meet a looming Government deadline for securing potentially dangerous facades and parapets. Some of the delay, at least, has been caused by engineers worried about their own professional risks, David reports for Newsroom.

A public safety issue raised by engineers in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquake has had its resolution delayed, ironically, by engineers.
Government regulations brought in a year ago to force some building owners to secure parapets and facades, or face fines of up to $200,000, followed two powerful engineering bodies writing to the Building Minister, fearing a repeat of Christchurch’s 2011 quake in greater Wellington.

The capital's engineering firms are already excessively busy and some have batted away what is seen to be risky and complex work. Ultra-cautious firms have been refusing to help building owners – who were given only 12 months to comply with the Government order – because of their own potential liability, should the worst happen.

Government documents released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act suggest dozens of buildings will not comply by next month’s deadline. And while some property-owning laggards, who are struggling to find engineers and builders to do the work, will almost certainly get a six-month extension, the documents show the Government wants councils to take a hard line.

A draft Cabinet paper provided to Building Minister Jenny Salesa by the Business Ministry, MBIE on December 1 says the way in which property owners are dealt with in this case will set the tone for the next round of regulations – mandated strengthening work on so-called earthquake-prone buildings.

“Where building owners refuse to comply, or take no steps to secure their building by the deadline, I expect affected councils to take enforcement action,” the draft says.

See David's full story here on Newsroom.

5. Briefly in the global political economy...

Emperor Xi - China's communist party effectively declared Xi Jingping as its leader for life late on Sunday by removing the two-term 10-year limit on every Chinese leader since Mao. Experts and activists condemned the move as another step towards tyranny. "What is going on here is that Xi Jinping is setting himself up to rule China as a strongman, a personalistic leader – I have no problem calling it a dictator – for life," said Susan Shirk, a China expert who was US deputy assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton. (Guardian)

"Xi Jinping is susceptible to making big mistakes because there are now almost no checks or balances,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who is the author of a 2015 biography of Mr. Xi. “Essentially, he has become emperor for life. (New York Times)

Seized - China's Government seized control of Anbang Insurance late on Friday, sending a warning to other highly indebted private companies to get their debt under control and stop using that money to go on multi-billion buying sprees overseas. (New York Times)

6. Coming up...

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is delivering a foreign policy speech in Wellington this morning. Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva will report on it.

The National caucus begin their meeting at 10.30 am today to choose their next leader. National is scheduled to announce the new leader in Parliament's legislative chamber at 12.45 pm today. Parliament resumes at 2pm today for the new leader's first question time. We'll report it live on Newsroom Pro and Newsroom.

Statistics NZ is scheduled to release its environmental economic accounts at 10.45 am today, along with merchandise trade figures for January. Migration and international travel figures for January are also scheduled to be released today at 10.45 am. Building consent figures are due on Friday.

ANZ is scheduled to release its monthly Business Outlook survey of business confidence at 1 pm tomorrow. ANZ is scheduled to release its monthly consumer confidence survey at 1 pm on Friday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is delivering a speech to Australian think-tank The Lowy Institute in Sydney on New Zealand's role in the Pacific on Thursday. Peters' speech precedes the arrival of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on that side of the Tasman.

Ardern will meet her Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney on Friday, before the pair take part in the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum with a delegation of ministers and business representatives in tow. Newsroom's foreign affairs and trade editor Sam Sachdeva is accompanying Ardern and will report on the events from over there.

7. A few fun things...

There was been plenty of manufactured outrage about the 60 minutes interview of Jacinda Ardern by Charles Wooley in the last day or two. Sadly for the headline writers, the Prime Minister was not one of those outraged by his questions about the date of conception or her attractiveness.

She told the post-cabinet news conference she wasn't fazed by the interview, although admitted the question about the conception date had thrown her a bit. Her comments just reinforced why Wooley went away charmed.

"It would be going a bit far to say I was somehow offended by it. I wasn't. It's one I think I put under the heading of too much information. Maybe I've lost all of my sensitivity, maybe it's just that I'm from Morrinsville, I don't know, but I just wasn't particularly phased by any of it."

Meanwhile, GCSB Intercepts was in good form: "If you’re wondering how to pronounce Charles Wooley’s surname, it rhymes with drooly."

8. This morning's political links

These are available in the morning subscriber email.