With really just 12 weeks before the election campaign begins, National’s new leader is promising a total rewrite of the party’s policies.
Todd Muller yesterday confirmed that Amy Adams would not retire but instead would be ranked Number Three in the caucus with the formal title of spokesperson on the Covid-19 recovery but the real role of running the policy rewrite.
Muller said the fundamentals such as the pledge not to increase taxes would stay, but everything beyond those key points was up for grabs.
Beyond the tax pledge, the key points themselves are vague.
National would be “responsible managers of the economy’ and focus on growing it for all and would invest in core public services like health and education and would create “more jobs and opportunities for New Zealanders.”
Muller said Adams’ job would be to lead National’s policy work on Covid-19 recovery “and to coordinate the teams responsible for developing and delivering our plans.”
What this suggests is that National’s spokespeople will not necessarily be masters of their policy destinies.
And Muller seemed to reinforce that by appointing associate spokespeople to some key portfolio areas. These would form the basis of the teams.
Thus Paul Goldsmith, Finance spokesperson, who has been moved down the caucus rankings from three to five has had appointed with him two associate spokespeople, Michael Woodhouse and Andrew Bayly.
Bayly who was an investment banker before entering Parliament is a member of Finance and Expenditure Committee and last month the author of an economic policy proposal paper which he was refused permission by the-then party leadership to publish.
It has a different slant on policy to that preferred by the ultra-dry Finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, who only a fortnight ago was still not ruling out income tax cuts under a National Government.
In his paper, Bayly asked whether they were the best way to deliver a stimulus to the economy.
“My personal view is that circumstances have changed,” he said.
“Tax cuts only favour those still working and are only realised progressively through PAYE reductions during the course of a year.
“And once in place, they cannot easily be changed.”
What Muller made clear was that Adams, a former Finance spokesperson, would be driving the economic policy review.
“Our whole economic response needs to be looked at now through the lens of what New Zealand needs to recover, what those communities in New Zealand need to recover, what those small businesses, need to recover,” he said.
“And I’ve asked Amy and of course, my wider team to make sure that we bring the very best plan possible for New Zealand.
“And that’s what our focus is.”
So did that mean tax cuts were still on the table?
“All of those options are on the table,” he said.
“This is the point of bringing Amy back.
“The scale of the change required for this country is enormous, and I’ve turned to Amy and said you’re one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever worked with.
“You’ve got a tremendous capacity to look at this through a whole of government response, and in particular, how that can interface with the private sector.
“And that’s the work that she will be doing, bringing the best out of our team of 55.”
Interestingly Adams has been given her own associate minister, Nick Smith, who up until now has been heading National’s policy process.
Adams joined Muller and deputy leader Nikki Kaye in the Legislative Council Chamber yesterday for the media launch of National’s new line up, and the trio is clearly the new face of National.
Otherwise, Muller’s caucus reshuffle was a conservative one; there were few dramatic moves apart from Adams and the escalation of Nicola Willis from 52 to 14.
Given her role in the leadership change on Friday, a promotion like that was to be expected since she is a list MP and only a rank that high guarantees she can return to Parliament at current polling levels.
The other surprise was the presence of the former deputy leader, Paula Bennett at 13 as the spokesperson for drug reform and women.
That move appeared to be as much about having her inside the tent rather than outside, as anything else.
Meanwhile, the former leader, Simon Bridges, who Muller said had exhibited an “extraordinary” level of professionalism through the weekend, was soon showing his head.
He had already frustrated some members of Muller’s team with a refusal to shift out of his office over the weekend.
The press release announcing the caucus lineup suggested Bridges might be considering retirement.
“Former leader Simon Bridges has asked for time to reflect on his future,” it said.
“Should he wish to continue serving as an MP he would be in Shadow Cabinet.”
Bridges responded via text to some media: “Just to be clear after the reshuffle today, I am not considering my future. Just having a small amount of time out to take stock after the loss on Friday. I am candidate for Tauranga and intend to stand and help National obtain an historic win!”
National was keen to draw attention to the fact that four of the top eight positions in their lineup were held by women and eight women are in their Shadow Cabinet. In contrast, Labour has only three on the front bench and six altogether in Cabinet.
But what National didn’t say was that with the overthrow of Bridges and Bennett they would have no Maori on the front bench and only two (Bennett and Reti) in the shadow Cabinet.
Bridges position has not been finalised, but apart from him there are only three other Maori in the caucus; Jo Hayes, the spokesperson for Maori Development (the Ministry headed by Nanaia Mahuta) (37), Harete Hipango (39) and Dan Bidois (46).
In another sign of the diminished presence of Maori in National, the link to the website of the party’s Maori interest group, Kahurangi Nationals is dead.
Former National Minister, Tau Henare tweeted: “Well, that’s a #NO from me, I’m definitely not voting for a crew that can‘t find room for some Brown Faces on the front bench. Shit at least Winston’s got a few.”
But for the meantime, Muller’s focus is on economic recovery.
And Adams, sounding like all she was missing was a whiteboard, was ready to get into the detail.
”What we want to do is ensure that every part of our team and every part of our process is grouped into the core components of what recovery is going to involve,” she said.
“And every single one of those people on those teams is focused on comprehensive and integrated planning and delivery of that plan for New Zealand.
“So we’re going to structure our teams into a range of probably seven issues which are focussed not around Wellington and the public service and the bureaucracy but actually around the things that we are going to do to get the economy and country moving.”
Adams doesn’t have much time — the election is in 116 days — advance voting opens on September 5 so she will need her new policies ready to go before then.
In that sense, by undertaking a comprehensive policy review, National’s last-minute leadership change is much more ambitious than Labour’s in 2017.
But Muller hinted yesterday that he and Adams had been thinking about this for a while.
“Over the last few weeks I have been reflecting with Amy on the challenge that sits in front of us as a country and the opportunity to be able to serve New Zealand and in particular, a government that I lead in a very critical role of covid recovery,” he said.
“She is a woman of remarkable talent.
“I’m sure all of this room would agree.
“And I thought that (her retirement) was too great a loss for this country, not just the National Party.”
After she lost her own leadership bid in February 2018, Adams was National’s finance spokesperson but lost that role last June to Paul Goldsmith.
As of today she is ranked three in the caucus in what looks a leadership triumvirate and is clearly the loudest voice on economic policy.