National's new Rangitata MP James Meager making his maiden speech yesterday

Probably not since 1975 have we seen a government take office up against such a wall of protest and complaint.

That was highlighted yesterday, the day that the new Parliament was sworn in, with news that King Tuheitia has called a national hui for late January to develop a strategy to oppose the Government’s various Treaty and Maori policies.

As if to underline what he was talking about, Public Service Minister Nicola Willis announced yesterday that public servants would no longer be able to negotiate an allowance for speaking Te Reo.

Yet there are hints that there may be a more subtle view of race relations among National’s new MPs.

That seemed evident in a remarkable maiden speech from the new Rangitata MP, James Meager when he seconded the Address in Reply.

Meager’s father is Ngai Tahu; his mother, Pakeha and his speech was a truly bicultural affair with a substantial use of Te Reo at the start which he translated as he went.

“Perhaps to some I am a walking contradiction; a part-Māori boy raised in a state house by a single parent on the benefit, now a proud National Party MP in a deeply rural farming electorate in the middle of the South Island,” he said.

“But there is no contradiction there.

“Members opposite do not own Māori; members opposite do not own the poor; members opposite do not own the workers.

“No party and no ideology has a right to claim ownership over anything or anyone.


“We on this side of the House are a broad church—town and country, liberal and conservative, old and young, professionals and workers.

“What unites us is our fundamental belief that it’s the individual family unit that knows what’s best for their family, not the state, not the government, and not us.”

But anyone looking for that sort of rhetoric in the Speech from the Throne (which is written by the Prime Minister’s office) would have had to go back to a previous speech, in 2008, when John Key became Prime Minister.

“My Government will aim to raise New Zealanders’ sights and encourage them to set their aspirations higher – for themselves and for their country,” that speech said.

“In going for growth, my Government will be acutely conscious of the fact that it is in the interests of no New Zealanders, and to the detriment of us all, to allow an underclass to develop in New Zealand.

“It will take seriously its duty to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

“It will take seriously the importance of the obligations and ties we each, as citizens and as communities, have to each other.

“Most importantly, it will seek to give all New Zealanders the confidence that this is a country where you can get ahead – and that the State, through its agencies and through this Parliament, should reward rather than discourage effort.”

The speech read yesterday by Dame Cindy Kiro did not approach either those lofty heights or the heights that Meager would scale with his speech later.

Instead, it ticked off legislative detail after detail and ended with a prosaic nod to the Government’s ultimate hopes and aspirations.

“Perhaps New Zealand’s strong sporting traditions help New Zealanders to be generous in defeat and humble in victory,” the Governor General said.

“Whatever the reasons, few countries in the world change governments as smoothly as New Zealand does. It is something of which New Zealand, as a nation, can be justifiably proud.

“It has put the Government in a good position to start on its 100-day plan of action.

“The 100-day plan is a forerunner of three years of action because New Zealanders voted for change, and the Government will be tireless in executing it.”

There were few surprises in the speech itself, but there were a number of references to policies without the details to understand how they might be implemented.

Interestingly, the speech did go further on the pledge to restore discipline to government spending and commits to reducing government expenditure as a share of GDP.

However, that may already be happening.

The Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU) forecasts (under Labour’s spending settings) that core Crown expenses will fall from their current year 33.5 per cent of GDP to 32.2 per cent in 2026 when the government must face an election.

There is the campaign commitment to use Emissions Trading Scheme revenue to help fund the proposed tax cuts. That is budgeted to start in the 2024-25 tax year, which is probably just as well because the fourth ETS units auction for the year returned no bids meaning the scheme has earned $0 in the calendar year 2023.

In a commentary on yesterday’s auction failure, ANZ economist Susan Kilsby said: “The newly formed Government has advised they will abolish the current review of the Emissions Trading Scheme. The review has resulted in a high degree of uncertainty for the carbon market; however, simply stopping the review doesn’t necessarily provide all the answers the market is looking for.”

There is a hint of those other answers in the Speech from the Throne, where there is a commitment to limiting “the conversion of productive farmland to forestry for carbon farming purposes.”

That could limit the number of ETS units in circulation, which would have an upward pressure on ETS unit prices.

The Speech is also unclear about what will happen with farm greenhouse gas emissions.

It promises “a fair and sustainable pricing system for on-farm agricultural emissions”, but what might be is not explained.

The same lack of clarity is evident in the promise to repeal the Natural and Built Environment and Spatial Planning Acts and replace them “with genuine reform that will make it easier to build.”

However, Resource Management Reform Minister  Chris Bishop said on Sunday on “Q+A” that the replacement legislation would be a longer-term process.

“The aim is to have that into law by the end of the three years, but we need to do some quite heavy, heavy policy lifting on that and do a lot of consultation on that,” he said.

“So that will be a more medium to long-term project.”

It is also unclear how “Pharmac will be required to take the voice of patients into account in making decisions” and how its funding model might be reformed., all of which was promised in the Speech.

Otherwise, the speech covered familiar territory; the Reserve Bank, tax cuts, gangs, education reforms, the health workforce, infrastructure and a vague section on foreign policy which made no mention of the phrase “independent foreign policy” butt hen it also didn’t mention the proposed India Free Trade Agreement either.

It is the role of the Leader of the Opposition to present a counter view to the Speech, and Opposition Leader, Chris Hipkins most certainly did.

“This could well be the most shambolic beginning of any government in New Zealand’s history,” he declared.

“I listened very carefully, hoping to see some shred of vision, some shred of hope for the future for New Zealanders.

“But what we heard was a plan to take New Zealand backwards with the repeated use of words like stop, repeal, replace, reverse disestablished; not a plan to go backwards; not a plan to take New Zealand forward.”

Perhaps inspired by Meager or provoked by Hipkins, National Leader Christopher Luxon, gave one of his most spirited performances in the House with the kind of aspirational rhetoric so demonstrably missing from the Speech from the Throne.

“New Zealanders can be positive about the future,” he said.

“Change won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, because Labour has left us a lot to repair and to rebuild, and the books are not in good shape.

“But I tell you there’s nothing that can’t be done by a Government that actually knows what it’s doing.

“There’s nothing that can’t be done when we put New Zealanders first. That’s what this is about.”