Ministers busy strengthening relationships with China – but media attention is drawn to Kiri Allan’s office relationships, too
Much of the ministerial action deemed worthy of recording on the government’s official website over the past 24 hours took place in China.
This was reflected in extensive media reportage and commentary.
But there was significant media interest, too, in whatever might have happened in the office of Kiri Allan, Minister of Justice and Regional Development and Associate Minister of Finance and Transport.
But political journalists and the Wellington commentariat have become more fascinated by something that happened (or allegedly happened) not so recently.
According to Stuff’s Andrea Vance, a staffer seconded to work with Allan “chose to leave early” because of concerns about “working relationships” in the office.
This does not seem to be unduly remarkable. If a staffer is discontented in his or her job, it’s a good idea to leave.
But this was a ministerial staffer and Vance writes:
Problems in the Beehive office saw Department of Conservation chief executive Penny Nelson take her concerns to the Department of Internal Affairs, which manages Ministerial Services.
Stuff understands that other senior public servants – including from Emergency Management, and the Ministry of Business, innovation and Employment – have also voiced concerns about how staff were treated.
It comes as Allan is on leave from Parliament, because she is “struggling with mental health and wellbeing”.
But let’s get back to China, where the PM and some of his colleagues have been busy.
Their latest accomplishments are recorded here –
Latest from the Beehive
The Government has announced extra support to help remove sediment and debris for whenua Māori in Tairāwhiti and Hawke’s Bay, in the latest initiative to support communities recover from Cyclone Gabrielle.
New direct China to New Zealand airline routes will add significant capacity with thousands more seats available per month, supporting tourism, international education and trade.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang for their first bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing today.
New Zealand has taken steps to grow primary sector exports through agreement with China to boost agriculture and food safety cooperation,
But if you click on the link, you will be treated to news that Forestry Minister Peeni Henare and Guan Zhi’ou, Administrator of China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration, met in Beijing.
They discussed further cooperation through technical exchanges, for example on the role of forests in achieving improved environmental outcomes and the transition to a low-carbon bioeconomy, as well as “deepening our bilateral trade, including in value-added products”.
A significant figure in Henare’s statement is that New Zealand’s forestry exports form a large part of our bilateral trade with China – they are expected to top $6.5 billion in the year to 30 June 2023.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor meanwhile was meeting with China’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Tang Renjian. They signed an updated ‘Strategic Plan on Promoting Agricultural Cooperation’.
He bandied big numbers, too.
Since the signing of the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement and its upgrade in 2022, two-way trade has soared to more than $40 billion annually. This year primary exports were worth $19.2 billion.
The updated Strategic Plan, looking out to the next five years, “seeks to realign the agreement with a changing landscape in the food and fibre space, including new provisions on sustainability cooperation”.
“The plan recognises that both sides have knowledge and expertise to share to help us tackle common challenges, and the importance of reinforcing the sustainability credentials of our wider food system.”
A memorandum to restart the ‘China-New Zealand Food Safety Capacity Building Cooperation Programme’ between the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and China’s food safety regulator, the State Administration for Market Regulation, was signed too.
Damien O’Connor said the scholarship programme builds capability and people-to-people connections, and is a key part of maintaining “robust” regulatory food safety systems, and supporting and growing trade.
O’Connor highlighted other recent developments with China aimed at smoothing the flow of primary sector products into the market.
These include signing of a new phytosanitary Kiwifruit Export Plan that sets clear expectations for managing export biosecurity for this important trade, and agreement to cooperate on expanding paperless e-certification for New Zealand’s meat, seafood, and honey exports to China.
But wait – there’s more.
Henare and the PM announced new direct China to New Zealand airline routes will add significant capacity, making 7000 more seats available per month, supporting tourism, international education and trade.
The new China Southern routes include the reinstatement of the Guangzhou – Christchurch route and the introduction of three additional services between Guangzhou and Auckland.
Henare said international and domestic consumer awareness of environmental issues was increasing.
“It is vitally important that we continue preserving our natural environment as one of our key attractions as a world-class destination which is why the Government is supporting the Tourism Industry Transformation Plan, which addresses both workforce and environment challenges and opportunities for tourism to thrive in Aotearoa.”
Reconciling more flights from China with the government’s climate change targets is challenging. Henare didn’t attempt it.
Rather, he drew attention to this country’s heavy economic dependence on China:
“China represents nearly a quarter of all our exports, was our second largest source of tourists pre-COVID and is a significant source of international students, so it’s a critical part of our economic recovery.”
“Research shows that Chinese visitors tend to travel across the year and undertake a range of activities across the regions, this type of high-quality visitation sustainably supports the sector and communities across the motu.”
International visitors spent $3.2 billion into New Zealand in the first quarter of 2023, up from $1.8 billion in the December quarter.
International tourism is the second highest export this quarter behind dairy exports (milk powder, butter, and cheese – $5.2 billion).
The new services are set to begin in November 2023.
Then there was a statement from Chris Hipkins after his meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang.
His emphasis was on the economic relationship,too:
“In my meeting with Premier Li Qiang I reaffirmed New Zealand’s significant relationship with China, including our strong economic relationship which is helping boost New Zealand’s economic recovery”, Chris Hipkins said.
“Our trading relationship is worth over $40 billion annually, and as we continue to grow exports into new markets like the United Kingdom and European Union, it’s also important we reaffirm the important economic connections we have with China.
Premier Li and Prime Minister Hipkins took part in the signings of a range of cooperative arrangements in trade, agriculture, forestry, education, and science and innovation.
Having mentioned the extra flights, Hipkins said:
“Addressing the effects of climate change are priorities for both Governments, and it was important to highlight our ongoing commitment to cooperation in this area,” Chris Hipkins said.
Then he said it had been important to acknowledge “areas of difference, such as over human rights. We engaged on these as well, as we regularly do in a respectful but consistent way that is aligned with New Zealand’s independent interests and values.”
A range of regional and global issues was discussed, including the Indo-Pacific region, tensions in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.
“I talked about how important it is that engagement in the Pacific takes place in a manner which advances Pacific priorities and supports regional organisations – in particular the Pacific Islands Forum,” Chris Hipkins said.
The fundamental principles at stake in Ukraine were discussed, too,
“… and I urged China to use its influence to encourage Russia to act consistently with its international obligations and cease its illegal war in Ukraine.”
But if you would rather find out about Kiri Allan’s relationships with her staff, Bryce Edwards’s team at The Democracy Project can steer you to these reports:
RNZ: Minister Kiri Allan rejects claims of poor staff relationships
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub): Many will think ‘the wheels are falling off this Government’ after Kiri Allan office concerns, political commentator says
Jo Moir (Newsroom): Political skeleton rattles PM’s Beijing day
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Chris Hipkins tries to sell NZ, but must now keep an eye on the Kiri Allan situation
Luke Malpass (Post): Domestic dramas chase Chris Hipkins to Beijing (paywalled)
Jane Patterson (RNZ): Déjà vu for prime minister abroad as ministerial trouble brews back home
Claire Trevett and Michael Neilson (Herald): PM Chris Hipkins, Minister Kiri Allan respond to ‘concerns’ about Allan’s ministerial office
Andrea Vance (Stuff): DoC boss raised concern about Kiri Allan after staffer quit Minister’s office
Michael Neilson (Herald): Labour Minister Kiri Allan on mental health leave over ‘personal circumstances’
Felix Desmarais (1News): More than one public service head aware of Kiri Allan office issues
RNZ: DOC boss confirms poor relationships in Minister Kiri Allan’s office
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Staffer chose to leave Kiri Allan’s office amid concerns about ‘working relationships’, minister on leave after ‘struggling with mental health’
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton