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Overshadowed by distractions

Opinion Piece

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lived up to her promise to hit the ground running, with major policy announcements in her first week back from maternity leave. She will have been disappointed, though, at the way events at least partly overshadowed her.

Ardern kicked off on Monday by announcing a year-long consultation process intended to improve public support for the pursuit of new international trade agreements.

She followed that with the release of the Government’s Mana in Mahi scheme that will subsidise employers who take on young unemployed people for apprenticeships. With 11 percent of 15-24 year olds not in employment, education or training this is an important programme.

The Government then topped it off with the announcement that it would ban single-use plastic bags by next July, a mostly popular move but one that will present challenges. E Tu union says it could cost hundreds of jobs.

It was disappointing for Ardern, then, that much of the media attention last week was focused on the former leader of National and Act Don Brash.

First Massey University ignited a free speech debate with the decision of vice chancellor Jan Thomas to ban him from speaking.

That focused extreme attention on a speech Brash actually got to make at Auckland University, an event which would have attracted no news coverage otherwise. A group of protesters helped Brash more than their cause by ensuring the debate got more of an airing.

Brash’s views on separatism are well known. It would normally have been a case of “nothing to see here, move on”.

A more serious and ongoing distraction for the Government is the Wally Haumaha affair, with QC Mary Scholtens appointed to head the inquiry into his appointment as deputy police commissioner.

One who will have been glad for the distractions is National’s Judith Collins who tweeted a link to a website which said the French government was condoning child rape. It was fake news, but Collins largely got away with it.