Opinion: Good cop, bad cop, a Little bit of each

August 1, 2021

In any government, there are portfolios that cut across problematic issues. Andrew Little is one minister who has negotiated these challenges with some success – politically, at least.

As Treaty Settlement Minister he has breezed through rough – and still ongoing – disagreements within hapū and iwi.

Pike River re-entry, another Little portfolio, never worked out as hoped, but that fell by the wayside too.

Say what you will about him, Little has a likeability he employs to teflon effect.

It appears, however, nurses might be his stickiest challenge.

It’s not surprising: when you’ve spent hours pumping litres of saline through someone’s urethra, post-prostate resection – a long spell of delivering continuous bladder irrigation – then Little’s low-key charm isn’t quite so irresistible. Nurses have seen it all before, and they’re over being sweet-talked by politicians.

Little hasn’t helped himself much either, playing both good cop and bad cop after members rejected the latest DHB offer.

Firstly, he appeared on a video speaking directly to members via social media.

Little said it wasn’t acceptable that safe staffing tool care capacity demand management (CCDM) had not been rolled out to all DHBs by the deadline set in the last multi-employer collective agreement (MECA).

The rejected DHB offer included a ministerial review into why it had not been implemented, and what needed to be done to get it sorted “as quickly as possible”, he said.

There would be another $5 million to complete the rollout.

Little said there would be a recruitment campaign to fill the 1450 nurse vacancies across the country. He said it was too important to delay, and he would be “taking action”.

To show how seriously the Government took the problems, Little said the review would go ahead anyway. There would be investment (although it was not clear if it would be to the $5 million level of the offer) to complete the rollout and a recruitment campaign.

He said officials would look to promptly and fairly settle the ongoing pay equity claim, running alongside the MECA.

However, I still had a few questions after the video.

If they were going to offer the likes of a review into why half the 20 DHBs failed to meet the CCDM deadline, then it begs the question: why didn’t they just do the review in the first place?

At this stage I have a sinking feeling that any findings won’t even be relevant by the time they come out. After all, according to the Government’s own timeline, the 20 DHBs will be history by this time next year. They will be replaced by Health NZ, alongside a Māori Health Authority.

Perhaps instead of an inquiry into what happened in the past, they should be pouring resources into the transition unit to make sure CCDM is in place from day one for Health NZ.

After his charm offensive to nurses via video, Little then spoke to the rest of the country, via media, about what he claimed went down at the negotiating table.

Little said the NZNO itself went to the Government with the latest offer, subsequently rejected by its own members.

As NZNO negotiators themselves have pointed out: if they had the power to draft the DHB’s offer, then the whole MECA would have been sorted 14 months ago, and it would have been a lot better.

I don’t know how these negotiations will eventually play out, but I do know that it might cost Little, and this Government, a bit of their political capital.

Not least among members working in the midst of a nursing crisis.