Matthew Hooton thinks it’s time for Nick Smith to go.
The baffling value Mr Key has placed on the UN has now created a threat to the durability of the quarter-century old Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, the stability of the government and the National Party’s long-term project to prise the Maori vote from Labour.
With Mr Key keen to have something headline-grabbing to talk about at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly last October, the government’s chief energiser bunny, Environment Minister Nick Smith, popped up with a 620,000 square kilometre marine sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands. As Mr Key then boasted to the UN, the sanctuary would be one of the world’s largest, twice the size of New Zealand’s land mass.
The problem is that, in his enthusiasm to please his boss, Dr Smith forgot about the interests of those holding fishing quota, including that granted to iwi under the historic 1992 Sealord deal which kicked off the treaty settlement process, and about the government’s relationship with the Maori Party. Even the iwi most directly affected were told about the announcement just hours in advance, with Dr Smith calling them with what he thought they would consider good news.
Dr Smith, who entered parliament at the tender age of 25 having first stood for the Rangiora District Council as a schoolboy, seems unable to comprehend that Maori have commercial interests and aspirations beyond, in this case, kai moana swimming happily through the reefs. Similarly, in an issue my PR company was involved in last year, Dr Smith was unable to comprehend that Auckland’s Ngati Whatua’s interest was not his cyclical political problem but protecting the value of its historic treaty settlement and maximising the value of its property portfolio in the long-term interests of its people.
He seems to have the same problem understanding the perspective of other Auckland land owners in his frantic and failed attempts to address the so-called housing crisis.
His pronouncements have been utterly ineffective and rather ham-fisted.
We shouldn’t be surprised by his lack of commercial acumen. After all, he became involved in the National Party in the 1980s not because he believed in things like property rights and free markets but because he opposed the Lange-Douglas government’s reforms.
As climate change minister back in 2009, he convinced his colleagues the world was about to reach an historic agreement at Copenhagen based around emissions trading schemes (ETS). He even went so far as to try to stop efforts by his associate, Tim Groser, to launch the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, which turned out to be the only substantial outcome from the conference, on the grounds it would distract from the ETS.
As environment minister, he has failed to fix the Resource Management Act. In 2012, he was forced to resign as ACC minister over the Bronwyn Pullar affair. He lasted just weeks as National’s deputy leader in 2003.
The same year, it was Dr Smith who had first claimed falsely that Pakeha risked being banned from the beach after the foreshore and seabed decision. His lack of understanding that brown people can also have property rights and economic interests means that, on the Kermadecs, he has once again managed to unify Act and the Maori Party against National.
While Mr Key will be able to sort all this out when he returns to New Zealand from the UN, the truth is that everything Dr Smith touches is a disaster. He has survived in politics this long only because of Finance Minister Bill English’s misplaced sense of loyalty to his friend from the 1990 parliamentary intake. Twenty-seven years later, it’s time for Dr Smith to try something else.
Don’t forget his frequent melt-downs and his involvement in the Bronwyn Pullar ACC scandal.
With a legacy of failure like that he’d be a shoe-in to replace Andrew Little as Labour’s leader.