Friday 2 December 2022


A group get together for their regular poker game.

Before dealing the cards, they agree on the rules.

Anything within the game, following the rules, is fair play. Bluffing and misleading each other is all part of the game. 

But if one of them, after looking at her cards, snuck through a change to the rules making Queens wild, and nobody noticed the rule change until after the next round of betting - that just wouldn't be on. 

Constitutions are sets of rules and conventions about how rules are made. They're the metarules of the game. 

Bluffing, misleading, and sharp play are all expected in in-period politics. 

But lying about constitutional changes snuck through under urgency is the kind of thing that threatens the constitutional order.

There are no edifying explanations for last week's shenanigans, only varying degrees of badness.

In the least bad potential version of what happened, Minister Mahuta failed to understand the importance of Eugenie Sage's SOP that would entrench parts of the Three Waters legislation. She then failed to convey to Caucus the importance of what was at play, and nobody in Caucus read Sage's SOP.

This isn't completely implausible. It is very bad, and the reasons for it are bad. Ardern has an army of policy staffers at DPMC and DIA whose whole job is making sure this kind of thing does not happen. The only way that this could happen is when the system is overwhelmed because Ardern decided to try and rush thirty pieces of legislation through Parliament under urgency in the couple of weeks before Christmas. 

If I ran over a dozen kids crossing the street because I'd slept in, was driving at triple the speed limit to make it in on time, and was distracted while trying to do three different conference calls at the same time, it wouldn't be like I was trying to run over all those kids. It would be reckless disregard and manslaughter. 

This kind of reckless disregard is the least bad explanation for what happened. If this is what happened, then Ardern should immediately have fired Mahuta for failing to make caucus aware of what was going on in her area of policy responsibility. Either Mahuta never understood it, or managed to fail to explain it to her colleagues.

Either way, the result was a cast Labour vote for entrenching a piece of policy. The Minister must be fired.

The worse version would be if Ardern did understand. In that case the Prime Minister would have at least tacitly supported this kind of play. It is difficult to consider a government legitimate that engages in this kind of play. 

Would you keep at the poker table people who made a habit of scribbling changes to the rules onto the rule-sheet while nobody was looking? Or would politely ask them to leave the table and have a think?


  1. The reason for this is so that the 5 Waters foreshore rule won’t be noticed when the Government pulls the 60% rule

  2. Of course it could have been the other way round, the 5 Waters got all the attention letting the entrenchment rule through.
    Either way National/ACT have to get rid of the whole mess