One Question Quiz
Grant Robertson out, Barbara Edmonds in.
Grant Robertson out, Barbara Edmonds in.

The BulletinFebruary 21, 2024

What’s next for Labour now Robertson has signed off?

Grant Robertson out, Barbara Edmonds in.
Grant Robertson out, Barbara Edmonds in.

Grant Robertson’s resignation puts Barbara Edmonds, Labour’s new finance spokesperson, front and centre of Labour’s post-election reset efforts, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Farewelling ‘the most captivating debater of his political generation’

Grant Robertson’s resignation had been picked for a while. As Toby Manhire writes in a great overview of his qualities and career, “the only question around his departure from parliament was how soon.” After serving as an MP for 15 years and finance minister for six, he leaves at the end of March and will be remembered as “the most captivating debater of his political generation.” As a high profile politician, tributes and bids to sum up Roberton’s legacy aren’t hard to come by this morning. The Herald’s Derek Cheng writes that “while his value to Labour – not only as a policy wonk, but also as a polished political salesman – is unquestionable, his success as a politician is less black and white.”

More Robertson reading

Opponents offer thanks and a few brickbats

Prime minister Christopher Luxon and finance minister Nicola Willis demured from reflecting on a previous moniker they’d bestowed on Robertson when they called him the “worst finance minister of all time”. Instead, Luxon thanked him for his service to the public and Willis reflected on his role as her sparring partner in the house. Act leader David Seymour and NZ First leader Winston Peters were less complimentary. Seymour acknowledged his humour but said they could also rely on Robertson’s provision of “great opportunities to point out what the Labour Party was doing wrong. Grant Robertson’s legacy, unfortunately, is $100 billion worth of debt.” Peters also zoned in on the debt issue saying “I think he’s well fitted, he’s going off to a university that’s $100 million in debt, having left this country in debt, so he’s well practiced as to what he should be able to do now. But I wish him all the best.”

Robertson’s new gig in tertiary education

While politicking amid farewell might stick in a few people’s craws, Peters’s comments provide a segue into Robertson’s new reality. He is not choosing to go quietly into a quiet life and steps into his new role as vice chancellor of Otago University in July. Just yesterday, news broke that a Tertiary Education Commission briefing warns that some universities are at risk of running out of money to pay their bills this year. The University of Otago’s deficit is expected to rise to $29m this year. Robertson joins a couple of other former Labour ministers who have stepped into roles at the university. David Clark was appointed registrar at the university last year, and Clare Curran is a member of the University Council.

Where does this leave Labour?

Robertson also joins a number of former Labour and Green ministers who either did not contest the 2023 election, have left since or are leaving. Resignations after election defeats aren’t unusual, nor is talk of a decline in “bench strength” for parties that lose many senior MPs after an election. Casting back to November 2022 when Jacinda Ardern was prime minister (shockingly only 15 months ago), of the 26 people who held ministerial portfolios inside and outside cabinet (including Marama Davidson and Jame Shaw), 13 remain. As Stuff’s Bridie Witton reports this morning, Neale Jones, a former Labour chief of staff expects more changes before the next election with “new ideas, some rethinking and maybe some new faces”, but did not think this extended to changing the leader. Labour eschewed the traditional January caucus retreat and will meet in March. Former Labour minister Andrew Little thinks it’s time for the party to “hunker down” and sort out its priorities as it reorients from government to opposition.

Who is Barbara Edmonds?

Witton reports that those on the left see Labour’s new finance spokesperson, Barbara Edmonds, as a key part of that reorientation. As the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan writes, two hours after being appointed to the role, Edmonds was in Question Time responding to criticism of Labour’s Covid response from Willis. Edmonds is the first woman and first Pasifika person to hold the role and was elected in 2020 to the Mana seat. She is, by all accounts, highly regarded. A former tax lawyer, she was seconded from the IRD to work with Judith Collins in 2016. As Coughlan notes, “She is known by some in the tax world as a believer in the broad base, low rate orthodoxy that underpins New Zealand’s tax system.” As RNZ reports, she was named by Luxon as the one Labour MP he would like to have on his team. The Post’s Luke Malpass notes that she has only been an MP for one term. The departure of Aupito William Sio leaves Edmonds, alongside Carmel Sepuloni and Jenny Salesa, as one of three experienced Pasifika MPs carrying the weight of repair and rebuild with Pasifika voters after the election. As Mad Chapman wrote at the time, turnout was particularly bad in the strong Pacific electorates, suggesting Labour’s enduring bond with Pasifika voters is waning. Edmonds also has the honour of being the photographer behind the shirtless vaccination photo of Stuart Nash that has appeared too many times on The Spinoff and was brandished by Nash himself during his valedictory speech last year.

Keep going!