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Nurses’ strike puts Govt on back foot


After a week of watching its main rival squirm, the Government starts this week facing the uncomfortable scenario of a nurses’ strike.

Ministers could be excused for enjoying seeing National leader Judith Collins having to react to two unwanted situations — the abrupt retirement of Nick Smith and the behaviour revealed of former candidate Jake Bezzant which saw him dismissed from the party.

The longest-serving MP in Parliament, Smith suddenly called it quits and will leave the House on Thursday. The background is that he has been the subject of a verbal complaint from a staffer. Smith apologised at the time and publicly apologised as part of his resignation announcement, over what has been described as a shouting match in his office which led to an investigation by Parliamentary Services.

Collins was aware of the situation, which occurred months ago. After losing his seat of Nelson, Smith was already expected to resign at the end of this term or even sooner.

But the actions of Bezzant, once a rising star in the party, towards his former girlfriend required a strong rebuke from Collins. It was the latest in a string of bad behaviour by National MPs and candidates, all of them young males.

It also came at a time when National had some real opportunity to get into the Government over its infrastructure programme, including a second Auckland harbour bridge for just cyclists and pedestrians. National has come out quickly against the $785 million project, which the Government justifies by the fact the next harbour crossing is expected to be a tunnel, so will be unsuitable for walkers and cyclists.

The cost of the infrastructure programme announced 17 months ago has risen from $6.8 billion to $12.8 billion, and some projects have had to be dropped or changed. National accuses the Government of being unable to deliver.

So it could be Collin’s turn to watch the Government squirm, at least at the start of this week.

If there is one group that enjoys huge public support it is nurses.

Stories from experienced nurses that nurses are overworked, underpaid and leaving the profession in large numbers alarms the public, which sees the Government as being ultimately to blame. Hauora Tairawhiti chief executive Jim Green has an unenviable job as the spokesman for the district health boards.

As the old saying goes, a week is a long time in politics but the Government is starting this one on the back foot.