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Ultimate reins of power to stay with Ardern

Ultimate reins of power to stay with Ardern during maternity leave

By Pattrick Smellie

May 14 (BusinessDesk) - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will continue to receive official papers, be briefed and be in constant communication on the most important issues facing the government during her planned six weeks of maternity leave.

In a letter released today at a joint press conference with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who leads the government's coalition partner party, New Zealand First, Ardern made clear that Peters would be acting Prime Minister on the same basis as if she were travelling offshore.

"As Acting Prime Minister, you will exercise the functions and powers of the Prime Minister, in consultation with me where appropriate, particularly where matters of significant political, strategic or public interest, or national security arise," Ardern says in the letter, which she said Peters and she had jointly drafted and were releasing because of the high level of public interest in how the arrangement would work.

Speculation about the range and extent of Peters's powers, including whether he might be sworn in as Prime Minister during Ardern's absence, have been a staple source of gossip among political observers since she announced her pregnancy on Jan. 19. She plans to take six weeks' leave, with her baby due on June 17.

Peters reacted irritably to a question from journalists about whether he might "misbehave", seeking time at the end of the press conference to return to the subject.

"Can I just say one last thing because of the nature of the first question about me behaving myself," he said. "In the last six months that's exactly what I've done...and anyone who says otherwise is, in (former Labour Prime Minister Sir) Geoffrey Palmer's favourite phrase, spreading rumour with malice."

The letter says Ardern "will continue to receive Cabinet and Cabinet committee papers"

Peters "will manage the day-to-day business of the government, including chairing Cabinet and the Cabinet committees usually chaired by [Ardern] (Appointments and Honours Committee, Cabinet Business Committee and Cabinet Priorities Committee)".

"Agendas for the meetings will be managed between my office and the Cabinet Office in the usual way, engaging with and directing officials from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; overseeing the government’s policy programme; answering questions directed at the Prime Minister in the House and responding to media inquiries, Official Information Act requests and other correspondence; and attending official engagements".

Ardern said there were contingencies in place, should she require longer than a six-week break around the time of the birth.

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