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A Week Of It – Rumbles In The Jungle

The earth has replaced the wind as the major buffeter of the capital in the last fortnight, with recent midnight jolts reminding Wellingtonians they are sitting targets for the next big one.

Vibrating in sympathy with the troubled faultline, the coalition Government is also indulging in some minor plate-tectonic-like rumblings.

This Easter break Labour and the Alliance should be quietly plodding along, occupied with mundane select committee duties, and dutifully considering pending legislation.

But instead of business as usual, there have been a variety of minor tremors between Labour and the Alliance which, while they may not be indicative of a big quake, do not auger well for the more active weeks ahead in the House.

According to those in opposition, the main reason for all the geological activity seems to be the removal of an important stabilising force.

Behind the scenes Helen Clark has been always been effective at calming the furrowed firmament of the coalition, either with soothing gestures or stony stares. But since she’s been in Europe the normally smooth public face of the coalition has again started to crack.

The often repeated pace of the Government in moving legislation is also likely to be a contributing factor. While this need for speed has been effective in deflecting any major criticism from the opposition, it now seems to be irking Labour’s allies.

This pace seems to be behind this week’s spat over Maori broadcasting. Following the plans of its predecessor Labour decided to quickly progress with plans to auction off the broadcasting spectrum. All too quickly for aggrieved Alliance MP Willie Jackson.

Backed with a recent Waitangi Tribunal report highlighting the low level of Maori programmes on air, Jackson has argued certain broadcast frequencies should be set aside for Maori as part of Treaty obligations.

But instead of the freebie, the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard decided that while Maori would get a special first option to buy the broadcast frequencies, they would still have to pay like other private broadcasters.

For Jackson the deal was “peanuts” and he accused Mallard of pushing through the measures without the normal degree of consultation with Maori interest groups and MPs.

Imputing Jackson with a kind of Alamein Kopu-ism, Mallard retorted that Jackson had only attended a few of the meetings regarding the spectrum auction.

In an explosive mood on the Kim Hill show Jackson shot back that he and other Maori had decided to boycott the meetings when he had realised there was no room for debate on the issue. And it was not only the Alliance MPs who were angry. According to Jackson, Labour’s John Tamihere is also quietly steaming over way Labour bulldozed through the legislation. It’s likely we won’t find if there will be further ructions until next week when Parliament resumes sitting.

Another coalition row due is one over the merits of stiffer sentences versus criminal rehabilitation.

Alliance Corrections Minister Matt Robson has already made it obvious he is less than happy with Justice Minister Phil Goff’s “get-tough-on- crims” Bail bill.

Goff seems equally exasperated with Robson’s belief in rehabilitation over punishment. One minute he is cynical about the Alliance’s stance on crime, dismissing Robson’s opposition to the bill as an Alliance "branding" exercise. Outside the public eye he is purportedly less sure - in an off-the-cuff comment to a journalist recently in East Timor Goff speculated Robson had “too many principles” to be a politician. One would assume Mr Goff is not similarly disadvantaged.

Someone who has also had to leave her principles in the back-seat recently is Philida Bunkle. Having to back down to her own party on the issue of a compulsory Moratorium on Genetic Engineering has left the former Green MP in a foul mood according to insiders.

Bunkle's disapproval was made clear by her conspicuous absence from last week’s announcement of the Royal Inquiry's terms of reference. Jim Anderton, Technology Minister Pete Hodgson and the PM were left to explain the GE Inquiry to the press conference. Meanwhile the Greens and the opposition had a press release field-day over the coalition speed wobbles.

An angry Bunkle, who has shown her ability to stone-wall over green issues as Associate Environment Minister, may also be contributing to Marian Hobbs’s woes. As if the beleaguered Environment-Biosecurity-Broadcasting Minister didn’t have enough on her plate already.

Labour may also encounter some strife with the international Mayday 2k protests, set to roll down a street near you on Monday. Though if the quiet lead up protests are anything to go by, this world-wide demonstration against the excesses of Global capitalism and “free” trade is more likely to seen on television than on Queen Street or Courtenay Place.

If protesting political issues has become socially acceptable again overseas, New Zealand youth have still to recognise it. This fashion-lag should suit Labour fine as they have just been discussing free- trade agreements with Singapore and Turkey and don’t need an ideological awakening amongst the young to cramp their style.

Not so for the Alliance. If they are really serious about “branding” they will put their younger Members of Parliament on the streets in support of the protests. If not here, then why not in Washington. An angry Laila Harre being tear gassed by Washington cops would make a great pictures. But that’s more something Nandor Tanczos would do....

All this leads Scoop to expect that the next week will be, in the words of a Seattle protestor - “full-on”. We’ll be keeping our ears to the ground.

A week of it will return every Friday.

© Scoop Media

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