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If the new government had a honeymoon period, it’s over. (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)
If the new government had a honeymoon period, it’s over. (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)

The BulletinApril 30, 2024

Poll serves government an unwelcome entrée to the Budget

If the new government had a honeymoon period, it’s over. (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)
If the new government had a honeymoon period, it’s over. (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)

Winston Peters might not give a ‘rat’s derriere’ about last night’s poll, but it revealed the unusual absence of a honeymoon period and little payoff for the government’s action plan approach, 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.

Poll: Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori could govern

Last night’s 1NewsVerian poll showed Labour could return to power if an election were held now. Support for National and Act has fallen, while NZ First has dropped below the 5% threshold. Labour is back up to 30% for the first time in nine months, and the Greens are on 14%. Te Pāti Māori is holding steady at 4%. They also hold six electorate seats, a position that would be pretty consequential at the next election should support for NZ First remain where it is (defying Peters’ comeback king form), and the party’s streak of not winning any electorate seat continues. The poll would give Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori 64 seats, while NZ First would be out. National and Act would have a total of 57 seats.

Peters right about rat’s bum, but result will still baffle government

As the Herald’s Claire Trevett notes (paywalled), an election is a long way off, and Winston Peters is probably right to say he couldn’t give a “rat’s derriere” about the poll. Trevett suggests the result will be a bit baffling for prime minister Christopher Luxon. As Trevett writes, “all those 100-day plans and three-month action plans appear to have got him precisely nowhere in the polls.” While Luxon received plaudits for his swift dispatch of underperforming ministers Melissa Lee and Penny Simmonds, RNZ’s Jo Moir notes he would have had trouble dealing with this so cleanly if it was an Act or New Zealand First minister at fault. Act leader David Seymour said yesterday morning that the prime minister “unilaterally” sacking an Act minister would breach the coalition agreement between the two parties, confirming that managing coalition government remains a delicate art.

Winter and economic gloom to blame — Seymour

Seymour pointed to the gloomy economic conditions and winter as the reason the government hadn’t done better. He might be somewhat right about that. While the rate of cost of living increases is slowing, yesterday’s household living-costs price index figures from Stats NZ show the cost of living still rose by 6.2% in the 12 months to the March 2024 quarter. Brad Olsen from Infometrics told RNZ’s Morning Report,  that inflation is not falling as quickly as economists expected and suggested interest rate cuts may not arrive until 2025. The average cost of a litre of 91 has risen by 26c this year. Public transport subsidies for many come to an end today.  Seymour will be hoping that any allusions to the winter of our discontent are read in the full context of the Richard III soliloquy and that sunnier days will be upon us and the government soon.  While Seymour said he was happy with Act’s poll result, given where the party has come from, 7% falls a bit short of the ambitious 20% he was talking about in June last year.

Unusual result for first term government

Gloomy winter aside, the poll results also suggest that if the government got any kind of post-election honeymoon phase, it’s now over. That’s a bit unusual. Previous governments have only experienced this kind of result in the months following an election in their third term. If you cast back to another comparably gloomy economic time in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, National was still riding high after its 2008 election win, on 57% in an April 2009 poll. More recent history suggests something of an incumbency curse may be at play. As Henry Cooke writes, the “last few years have been a terrible time for serving governments the world over”, and Luxon may have caught “something of the incumbency curse himself.” With a month to Budget day, there’s plenty of expectation about what it will deliver for New Zealanders, and now a bit more pressure on its role in turning sentiment towards the government around. At the same time, as this interview with The Post’s Luke Malpass yesterday demonstrates, finance minister Nicola Willis is also clearly managing expectations about how much can be done and how long recovery might take.

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