The New Zealand Parliament rose this week, kick-starting a five week election campaign that will be much more interesting than many believed possible just a few weeks ago.
With Labour surging in the polls, the Greens imploding, and National desperately trying to steer a steady course amongst landmines such as United First’s political future and Maori Party allegiance, the only constant is a smiling Winston in the corner. Although one should always be quietly nervous in the face of his uncharacteristic silence.
The battle now moves from Parliament to the provinces.
Behind the scenes, last minute policy announcements are being finalised and a legion of staff are coordinating a cross-country marathon of military precision to get their leaders in front of as many New Zealanders as possible.
Expect an announcement a day, pretty much, from the major parties – some that have been in the pipeline for months, others devised hurriedly overnight to deflect and distract from the policies of their opponents.
This is not a time for any sector to misstep and raise any new issues of its own. There are hungry policy-makers circling the traps hoping to make your problem their solution.
The campaign trail is mostly a well-oiled machine fuelled by frenetic backroom activity attuned to every twist and turn of its enemies. The leaders will move from town to town daily, criss-crossing the North and South Islands. There will be multiple visits to key seats such as Auckland Central, and no ethnic group will be forgotten. There will be photo opportunities at popular crossroads like the Mangere market where harried advance staff will run alerts of opposing parties politicking in the same area. There will be selfies at dozens of shopping malls and the obligatory sea of ‘human hoardings’ as the parties’ youth wings line roads and carparks with a mass show of political colours.
And what does this mean for votes and sector groups like seafood?
Unless we misstep, not much. We must hunker down and watch the show. That will include the three-yearly infliction of paid political advertising which begins August 23. This year, National gets to spend around $1.2 million of taxpayer’s money and Labour just over a million to try to convince you to give them your vote. In theory, this avoids very rich parties and benefactors influencing the democratic process.
It is a somewhat comforting inevitability that most left/centrist or right/centrist parties, despite differing policies will, like water, always find its own level. And that will almost always be centrist, because that is where the vote is.
The seafood industry, despite deep frustration around lack of key detail around the introduction of the electronic monitoring project (IEMRS), is sailing a fairly smooth course in 2017 and it seems unlikely five weeks out from the general election that we will become a political target. Stocks are sustainable and well managed and the sector is a key contributor to the exports that fuel our employment, our communities and our economic well being.
That contribution by ordinary New Zealanders out there every day in all weathers catching and processing healthy seafood is emphasised in the current promise to do the right thing and protect the resource for future generations.
We admit to not always getting it right and the industry still has work to do on thorny matters such as discarding.
This year we have steadied the ship after some rough waters in 2016 but elections can be queer fish and who knows what unexpected issue might be thrown up?
Now the Aussies are weighing in over dual citizenship, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop particularly upset over the bombshell that her deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was a Kiwi.
There is a young Bishop in our Parliament. What if Julie has a secret Kiwi link and turns out to be his grandmother?
And our friend Russel Norman at Greenpeace is a dingo.
Heaven forbid, but if this goes on we might have to send him back.