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Back to business for Jacinda Ardern

Opinion Piece

It is back to the hot seat for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as her maternity leave ends and she faces a challenge on her return.

Winston Peters showed his long experience and filled in well for her, proving to be a safe pair of hands while avoiding leaving any messes.

But there are some things that need her personal attention immediately, particularly around building confidence in the coalition Government’s economic management.

Sir John Key lit a fuse last week at the National Party conference saying New Zealand was in the autumn of the economic cycle, and questioning the ability of the Government to manage the situation like he and Bill English did in 2008. National’s Amy Adams is poised to attack the Government on this at the earliest opportunity.

The initial problem for Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson is business confidence which is the lowest since the 2008 financial crisis, and the second lowest in the OECD. The risk is that this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Look to Ardern to move on this right from today. Before returning from Auckland she said she absolutely believed the Government’s agenda would grow the economy, ensuring businesses were in a position to prosper.

A major trade-related announcement is expected at her post-Cabinet conference today and she is also promising a significant speech on the economy within the month.

Ardern has another immediate problem in the primary teachers strike planned for August 15. At least there is time to work on that, but it is interesting that the country has now seen industrial action from two groups, the other being nurses, who would be thought to be sympathetic to the Government.

At least she starts back from a strong position. The latest One News Colmar Brunton poll saw Labour dip only slightly to 42 percent while their coalition partners NZ First and the Greens were at 5 and 6 percent respectively, more than enough to govern. National continues to hold firm at 45 percent, even though its leader Simon Bridges has made little impact. There is work to be done for both major party leaders.