Fran OSullivan: Fog of Christmas settles over Beehive

OPINION:

The fog of Christmas has already settled over the Beehive as politicians start kicking critical decisions into 2022.

The Prime Minister has had a social media fail on her Facebook Live and looks plainly tuckered out. But even despite this, National’s new leader Christopher Luxon is not yet landing the body blows on her in Parliament that he earlier predicted.

Ardern’s command of the detail has served her well in their clashes in question time. He will have to be much better prepared in the New Year.

Their combined inability to fire is not surprising after a gruelling second year of Covid.

The Cabinet Ministers have simply run out of time to get business done.

But tellingly, they always manage to orchestrate a few controversial decisions for that last week at Parliament, knowing any pushback will get buried in the Christmas rush.

After that second year of “living with Covid”, there is now little runway left — or appetite — for serious debate. And little time left for Luxon’s new shadow ministers to make headway with just two sitting days in Parliament left before the MPs head out of Wellington.

The lack of appetite is also obvious frombusinessman Sir Ian Taylor’s inability to spark an appropriate response from Jacinda Ardern over his campaign for businesspeople to be allowed to come up withthe tools to manage self-isolation.

In the Herald, Taylor has raised multiple issues that are standing in the way of this happening. He has proposed solutions, including for the embarrassing and repeated tech fails experienced on government Covid-related sites. He commissioned EY for an independent report on his own experiences travelling offshore and isolating at home, utilising a raft of tools to measure if he was affected with Covid.

But the Government has been slow to react,simply telling Taylor they will respond.

Taylor tells me he will now be presenting to Sir Brian Roche’s independent expert advisory group on Tuesday.

The articles don’t appear to have sparked much follow-up either from Wellington-based political journalists.

Put bluntly, being in Wellington is like being bathed in a comfortable cocoon where politicians, journalists, parliamentary staffers and bureaucrats are sheltered from the prolonged stress that Aucklanders have felt since the city was put into lockdown in August.

Many were cheek by jowl at Tova O’Brien’s farewell bash earlier in the week. It was like the lockdown had never happened and the city was still in the old alert level 1.

O’Brien has left the Press Gallery: her big gig as Newshub’s political editor is behind her and her contribution will be missed.

The point of this anecdote is that Wellington might as well move now to the green light under the new Covid restriction framework.

This is not to say people aren’t checking their vaccine passes at bars and restaurants. Just that with no Covid cases in the capital city, there is a different appetite for risk.

But what is still missing within the Beltway is an appreciation of the Auckland viewpoint and temperament.

On Monday, Cabinet is set to make a call over which of three options for light rail in Auckland will be greenlighted.

The newly minted National leader will be poised to have a blast about the project “taking place in Labour’s heartland”. It is true the light rail project will traverse electorates held by Labour MPs and the projected costs have escalated.

It is also true that Luxon favours progressing the second harbour crossing first.

The National leader will no doubt have plenty to say — if he gets a chance.

Parliament is set to rise for the year on Wednesday evening.

Earlier indications to the transport sector were that the announcement would be made on either Thursday or Friday.

MPs will have indulged in bonhomie at the Press Gallery’s annual party on Wednesday and be wrapping up to depart Parliament.

The light rail announcement is just one of the three big transport infrastructure calls the Labour Government will make before the 2023 election. It has also embarked on what is known as the Three Waters reform, which will see the creation of four publicly-owned water entities to own the nation’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater networks.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta had planned to introduce legislation this year to create the four new water entities. But that has now been kicked into 2022.

These are difficult reforms and they will be fertile ground for Luxon, who opposes them.

He will still get his chance — but not untilnext year.

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