Musical Cabinets #2: Peters, Goff and Foreign Affairs
Interesting to see Phil Goff appointed as Minister of Trade. He is expected to take over the Trade Negotations job when Jim Sutton retires.
When Winston Peters was first appointed to the Foreign Affairs job Clark said Peters would consult directly with her over his work in the portfolio, and there would be no Labour MP working as an associate to Peters. But Goff's new job as a Minister of Trade, seemingly a separate portfolio to Trade Negotiations, is an associate Foreign Affairs role in all but name.
Jim Bolger, in his book 'A view from the top' explains how he attempted to put a break on Peters during the coalition negotiations in 1996, when Peter's position of Treasurer was split off from the Finance portfolio.
"Winston Peters, as ever seeking maximum flexibility, was reluctant to agree to a clear division of responsibilities. Bill Birch with his clear insight into Peters knew that precise guidelines were needed if the new arrangments was to work. We therefore produced and published those guidelines."
Perhaps Clark would be wise to do something similar!
While I have previously argued that the principle of cabinet collective responsibility needs to be weakened further, the idea that Peters and Peter Dunne as Ministers outside cabinet are only bound by collective responsibility in their portfolio areas is simply bizarre.
Demarcation problems suggest themselves. Most immigration issues have foreign affairs implications, so given a choice between defending the humanitarian foreign policy of the government and bashing refugees, which way will the Italian suit sway? (I think we all know)
I fear these arrangements have been designed to accommodate the policy whims of personalities, rather than principled differences of opinion between parties. It would have been far better to use the existing arrangements allowing parties to 'differentiate' on matters of policy principles, and drop Clark's assumption these processes should only be used 'rarely'.
Peters will be in charge of overseas aid, and the thought fills me with dread. Peters the humanitarian? Tell that to the Tampa boat people. The Greens will not relish the fact Peters will oversee the increase in official development assistance, a policy the Greens negotiated out of Labour as part of their promise to abstain. Although Peters infamous "flying squad" immigration policy is absolutely ghastly, Frog may find one line useful.
"Become more creative in humanitarian efforts by increasing overseas aid budget as a more efficient means of meeting humanitarian obligations. Effectively targeted aid places less strain on our domestic infrastructure" (my emphasis).
Of course, being Peters, he wants to use aid as an excuse not to take refugees, but a promise to increase aid is there nonetheless, even if it is for entirely the wrong reasons. On Tuesday Peters said a major aim in his new role was to channel more aid to the South Pacific - "the neighborhood and theatre in which we live", which reflects NZFirst policy.
Goff and fellow right winger Clayton Cosgrove have both been appointed as associate finance ministers alongside Mallard. Apparently they are going to be a 'razor gang' looking for ways to cut government spending to pay for Peter's policies. I hope Helen uses this as a tactic to make the 'Gillette three' unpopular, they can suggest cuts, people will be upset, giving Clark the opportunity to come in and rule out the more ruthless of their proposals.
PS: Given Goff's inaction over the cricket tour to Zimbabwe, could he be our next ambassador to Harare?