Opposition met by Government swagger

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 08:21 09/03/2012

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OPINION: It's going to take more than a few hundred angry diplomats and the threat of a citizen's initiated referendum to knock this Government from its course.

Fresh from a third consecutive Question Time drubbing over MFAT cuts yesterday, two well-ranked cabinet ministers merrily stomped their way through the first reading of their asset sales legislation.

The energised opposition benches were up for this one.

This was "a desperate flailing attempt by a Government bereft of ideas of how to grow the economy," Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson began.

This was "a process arranged by the greedy for the greedy," NZ First leader Winston Peters continued.

Alongside the Greens, the CTU and Grey Power, Labour and NZ First are in a pact to try and collect enough signatures to spark a citizen's initiated referendum on partial asset sales.

It's a threat that has, apparently, little moved the Government.

Ministers and lower-ranked MPs have taken their lead from Prime Minister John Key and gleefully swept aside the allegation there is no popular mandate for partial asset sales.

"The Labour Party campaigning against the mixed ownership model delivered the worst result in Labour's history and by the way, the National Party, which campaigned for mixed ownership, went up," Mr Key boasted this week.

Such swagger born of electoral triumph helps explain why a seemingly relentless trail of second term stuff-ups, misjudgements and plainly unpopular headlines seem only to be met by shrugging indifference.

Everyone - Mr Key included - expected the Prime Minister's persistently muscular personal approval ratings would shrink a little second time around. But if a few points are shed now, there is ample time to recover before the next election, the thinking goes.

In fact, some sources were last night advancing a view that the public was in fact yearning for more from its Government.

Some voters had been a bit ticked off by the lack of a clear majority for the Government, it was felt, which would have opened the way for some serious action. Rather than being especially upset at a $26,000 charter flight or a proposed $900,000 swimming pool repair job at the Tokyo embassy, those voters are more interested in a Government doing things like welfare reform. They want more out of their Government.

More they shall get - or less, actually, to be precise.

Privately, there are pockets of determination that what is seen as fortress MFAT is made to take its medicine and fundamentally change its business. There is a view that those clever, immovable diplomats have seen off too many administrations past and that it's time they were dealt a shake-up that sticks.

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Even publicly, senior ministers are happy to fight the fire of persistent MFAT leaks with the return fire of angry rebukes. Barracking from the front bench yesterday, Paula Bennett said: "These people are meant to be holding the country's secrets and they are leaking to Phil Goff!"

It may or may not be misguided bravado, but at the very least it's confidence that begets action.

- Stuff

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