The rest from the public eye is over for Jacinda Ardern and Christopher Luxon who will both make announcements from their caucus retreats in Napier on Thursday
Analysis: This time last year Labour’s caucus retreat was dominated by Covid while National’s Christopher Luxon was new in the job and busy mending a fractured caucus
Both National and Labour were focused on the then and now when MPs met a year ago, but in Napier today it will be the future, or more specifically the election, that is front and centre.
National spent 2022 rebuilding the party image and setting itself up to be a credible alternative to the Labour Government, which it achieved, with National and ACT able to govern alone based on political polling in the second half of the year.
It was July before Labour freed itself from Covid with the borders reopening, and the Government set about discarding any remaining mandates.
Taking the place of Covid was the cost-of-living crisis – an issue that has pummelled Labour while National has done its best to capitalise.
The summer break has been a wiping of the slate so to speak with both parties taking a solid month off and the leaders being spared from any press conferences.
When Luxon fronts media in Hawkes Bay later today it will be to announce his party’s reshuffle, which is expected to be more tweaking than a major overhaul.
While that may not generate too many questions, the future of one of his MPs, Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger, will.
It was after Parliament had risen for the year and Luxon had done his final media interviews that the full extent of Kuriger’s sustained conflict of interest was revealed.
Hundreds of pages of emails between Kuriger and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) revealed a pattern of personal attacks on officials in relation to animal mistreatment charges filed against her son Tony.
Correspondence obtained by Newsroom under the Official Information Act showed Kuriger used her Parliament email address in more than 50 emails with MPI where she pushed for a public official to be fired over the prosecution of her son and accused Fonterra of “corruption”.
Luxon and Kuriger took the summer to read the full report after KC Mike Heron reviewed MPI’s conduct in the case of Tony Kuriger, which cleared the ministry of any wrongdoing.
The Opposition leader will have consulted with his closest advisors on how best to deal with the situation in the new year.
While Luxon made it clear last year that Kuriger wouldn’t hold the agriculture portfolio again, and strongly indicated she wouldn’t be a minister in his Cabinet, latest developments may be enough for him to suggest to the party it would be unwise for her to seek re-election at all.
Luxon will have to answer all those questions on Thursday and more.
There won’t be any policy announcements at the caucus retreat, which is set to focus more on the direction the party is heading and the strategy that will be used.
It will be next month when Luxon makes the leader’s annual state of the nation speech in Auckland that the public can expect some new policy.
Luxon heads into his second caucus retreat as leader with a comfortable position in the polls for the party, and a realisation that it’s his personal favourability that needs work this year.
Down the road in Napier, Jacinda Ardern, who has faced her fair share of challenges, will have spent her rare break from Parliament working out what policies aren’t working for her party and who the right people are to change the current course.
Ardern’s expected to make an announcement in Napier on Thursday afternoon, which could be a reshuffle to indicate the new team for the year ahead, or alternatively a new policy to give voters a sense of Labour’s priorities.
Some of the Government’s work programmes will be scrapped this year but if Ardern was to make any announcements around that she would want to bury it under something new.
The election date is also due to be announced in the coming weeks, but a more logical occasion for that would be Ardern’s first post-Cabinet press conference on Wednesday, when she is back in Parliament and addressing the media with her prime ministerial hat on.
It was also her first post-Cabinet appearance in January 2020 when she announced that year’s election date.
Ardern also has her annual pilgrimage to Ratana on Tuesday and a five-day stretch at Waitangi in the Far North in early February to make more policy announcements and flesh out Labour’s strategy leading up to the election.
One of the biggest let-downs for Ardern at Waitangi will be a decision to can the people’s barbecue after the dawn service, which has become tradition under her prime ministership.
Security was a difficult issue in 2022 with an increasing intensity to the threats made against not only Ardern, but more of her government colleagues.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Newsroom in September that the popular mall walkabouts and street meetings that have been used in elections for years gone by were under threat as the risk factor became heightened.
Labour hasn’t made any final decisions on how it will change its campaign as a result, but in the meantime Ardern’s security has made the call to cancel the Waitangi BBQ, which draws hundreds for a bacon butty, because it’s too hard to manage the crowd and keep MPs safe.