The week in politics: Oil, hacking and the polls

Watch Grant Walker debate the week in politics with NBR political editor Brent Edwards and political lobbyist Brigitte Morten.
The Week in Politics

The government continues to be attacked by the National Party over the budget leak and this week too it was criticised by Greenpeace for allowing ongoing oil exploration off the coast.

And there were the polls, two, showing quite different results but which still helped fuel more speculation about Simon Bridges' leadership of the National Party.

In the week in politics we turn first to what Greenpeace called an embarrassment for the government when an oil drill rig commissioned by OMV turned up ready to explore for oil in the Great South Basin and off the Taranaki coast.

Hasn’t the government banned new offshore oil and gas exploration? It has but companies are still free to search for oil under existing permits.

Energy Minister Megan Woods made that point strongly in response and said having an oil drill rig off the coast of New Zealand was not an embarrassment to the government given it had said it would honour existing exploration permits.

“Greenpeace needs to celebrate the fact that … we are one of the first countries in the world that have actually drawn time on the issuing of new exploration permits. That we’ve said we’ve got to actually be planning for a future that isn’t based on the use of fossil fuels.”

Lobbyist and former National government adviser Brigitte Morten said it was difficult for the coalition to have a clean narrative on this. On one hand moving it was saying it was moving away from fossil fuels, yet on the other hand there still appeared to be a booming exploration industry.

Green dilemma

“The problem here is probably for the Greens because the Greens have made a big show and dance about the fact that they got that ban last year and now they’re pushing out and saying that, actually, that ban is not good enough. So, for them they’re in a bit of quandary about, well, do they celebrate about their influence in government or do they get angry with the government about what they actually achieved. It’s a very strange place for the Greens to be.”

On the other hand, New Zealand First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is not in a such a strange place as he rejects demands from Simon Bridges that he apologise for accusing National of criminal hacking.

Peters is not about to back down, though, on his accusations over National accessing some budget material before budget day.

“I don’t regret calling him a hacker and I think he is and I don’t regret making the allegation that this is a crime under section 252 of the Crimes Act and section249, both of which are serious and there are now emerging legal opinions saying, yes, this is serious,” said Peters.

In Parliament this week Bridges and National’s finance spokesperson Amy Adams used all their parliamentary questions to quiz Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson on the alleged hack.

Short-term tactic

Morten said she understood National’s attack. Normally budget week was all about the government’s agenda but Bridges, by releasing some budget material, had pushed the government’s agenda to one side.

She said it was obviously a short-term tactic designed to make the government look disorganised, clumsy and as though it did not know what it was doing.

But were those political tactics resonating with the public?

“I completely agree that it’s not going to win any votes at the next election. But that’s not the point. The point right now is to push and hold the government to account on what they say they are the most transparent and open government. So, therefore that is the role of the opposition. I don’t think they’ll be continuing it on for weeks on end and they would be wrong if they did so,” Morten said.

She said the important thing out of the whole saga though was that the headlines were not about the wellbeing budget but about “the leaked budget, the mishandled budget.”

And Morten said while National focused on the budget leak during Question Time what the public was seeing were teachers on strike and those sorts of issues on education and health were cutting through.

Those polls

If it is not about votes, then what does National think of its latest poll results? In the 1News-Colmar Brunton poll it was back ahead of Labour but still comfortably behind the combined coalition vote. In the Newshub-Reid Research poll, though, its support fell below 40% and it was trailing Labour by a large margin.

Some commentators also made much of the fact that Judith Collins scored 6% support as the most preferred prime minister, just ahead of Bridges on 5%.

So, what did Collins, often touted as a potential challenger to Bridges, make of those numbers?

“It’s just a poll. That’s what I think and I think that the big focus has to be on getting ourselves into a position to be a credible force at the next election, so credible in fact that we can either win that or we can win enough so that we help form the next government,” Collins said.

She said the numbers did not influence her decisions and her main goal was to ensure the country had a National-led, not a Labour-led, government after the election.

Morten did not place much store in the polls and pointed out Collins was only one percentage point ahead of Bridges as preferred prime minister. She did not believe the latest polls would have much influence on the thinking within the National Party caucus.

Nor, she said, would the polls have much influence on the public, which tended to have little interest in them.

“It is something that we like to discuss here in the political nerd bubble that we live in and I think that’s where we have to be really careful that we don’t overemphasise how important these polls really are,” Morten said.

Political editor