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Frontlines - From Helen Clark’s Desk

Frontlines - This weekend the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will make one last effort to relaunch their failed government. National is struggling in the polls and has become erratic over its tax plans. It lacks any constructive ideas for creating jobs and sustainable growth.

The Treasurer now talks of relatively small tax reductions. This is a long
way from the bullish talk of a few months ago. Yet the latest fiscal data,
as Michael Cullen explained to the Labour caucus this week, shows there is
room for neither major tax cuts nor major spending increases. That of course
doesn't mean National won't try to bribe its way back into office with money
that isn't there.

While National engages in its game of economic roulette, ordinary New
Zealanders continue to struggle. Power is more expensive, not cheaper as Max
Bradford promised. ACC levies and the cost of registering vehicles have gone
up. The new driver's licences scheme is a costly shambles. Police and fire
services continue to be stripped down. Education and housing continue to
become less affordable and less accessible.

These are the issues people are worried about, not a tax-cut striptease
which has become meaningless and, quite frankly, irresponsible. The National
Party will demonstrate yet again this weekend just how out of touch it has
become with mainstream New Zealanders.

Labour MPs - a hive of activity

It is recess week in Parliament and Labour MPs have been using the time away
from Wellington to make portfolio-related visits to other electorates.
Activities this week have included Judith Tizard in New Plymouth talking
about local government reform and experiencing some of the arts and culture
delights of the city; Nanaia Mahuta has been with Tariana Turia in the
Wanganui area looking at some of the Maori education initiatives there;
Annette King has met with health groups and officials in Taura????3B Phil Goff
has been on justice business in the South Island.

Labour releases overseas aid policy

A Labour Government would focus its overseas aid and development budget on
measures to help the eradication of poverty. Overseas aid and development
spokesperson Graham Kelly released the policy this week to an audience of
aid sector workers in Wellington. He said all development projects will be
assessed against guiding principles for their impact on poverty, inequality
and human rights, and that Labour planned progressively to increase New
Zealand's commitment to overseas aid and development towards the
international target of 0.7% of GNP.

Modern apprenticeships coming

Labour is about to unveil plans for a modern apprenticeship system as part
of its industry training policy. The policy will be released at a
Wellington factory on Wednesday and is aimed at rebuilding workbased
training as the means to a full apprenticeship qualification.

About-face on food safety

The Government has finally seen sense and accepted Labour's argument that a
stand-alone agency is needed to oversee food safety issues. National
initially rejected the idea and wanted to place a new Food Assurance
Authority within the Ministry of Agriculture. But a select committee
revealed serious flaws in the Government's decision-making process. Now
National has joined Labour in supporting a stand-alone agency, directed to
protect the interests of consumers.

Labour's "excess" claims backed

A campaign by Labour health spokesperson Annette King against uncontrolled
spending at the Health Funding Authority was vindicated this week by an
independent audit. King called for an inquiry after criticising the HFA over
the $7.5 million cost and the tendering process used in its office
refurbishment. The report by Price Waterhouse found the HFA had no formal
tendering policies and its processes were deficient. It was especially
critical of the purchase of 500 imported American chairs. The $1000 a-pop
chairs have become a potent symbol of the way taxpayers' money has been
misused by the National Government. Unfortunately for the 110,000 people
still waiting for their first assessment from a specialist to decide if they
qualify for an operation, the HFA's lavish spend-up can't be undone.

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