HARD NEWS 17/11/00 - A Vote of Confidence
Subject: HARD NEWS 17/11/00 - A Vote of Confidence
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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... export growth is rampant, retail sales robust. The balance of payments, so long in the red, is heading for recovery, and business confidence will, at worst, be neutral in the months to come. How nice of Bill English to give the economy such a great review on the eve of the Labour Party's victory conference.
Yes, it was better than the dope seeds in the Green Party dunny - an internal communique for the National MPs left behind at Parliament's Copperfields Café.
One of National's strengths this year has been consistency of message - something some individuals in the governing parties have, to put it mildly, struggled to achieve. Whether the message is true or fair is beside the point. If everybody is drilled to declare that the government is bringing race relations into crisis, for example, it will eventually be perceived as fact.
Another key Opposition message - emphasising price rises and family budgets over the positive impacts of the lower dollar - is set to be ramped up, according to Bill English's memo, which came as a covering note to an upbeat assessment of the economy by Jenny Shipley's economic adviser, Bevan Graham.
Graham shared something that National would never have said in public: that the business confidence surveys which have so dominated and determined debate this year are "more a political poll than a true reflection of the economic outlook." English added that business interests felt they had had their say and were now "getting on with doing business."
But the government may yet have cause to thank National and its allies for the business cold war, because that war, phoney or not, has forced the government it into a posture it might never have otherwise struck.
Labour will at this weekend's conference highlight the seven credit-card promises it made in last year's election campaign and say "we did that". But it will also be saying: "We're doing this."
The scramble to communicate with the business sector has seen a risky - but apparently successful - effort to anoint some new, more pragmatic leaders in that sector. It has also obliged the government to highlight a commitment to e-government, e-business and e-everything else that is both very real and a light year or two ahead of Maurice Williamson's PowerPoint presentations.
If the TVNZ-Telstra Saturn deal on digital TV comes off as proposed this week, government agencies will have access to interactive set-top boxes for service delivery.
TVNZ will have almost everything it had in the plan controversially scotched earlier this year by the government - with the notable exception of a quarter of a billion dollars worth of financial risk.
It's a startlingly good deal for everyone - except perhaps Sky TV, whose CEO Nate Smith, who resigned for "personal reasons" the day after the plan was announced. Could it be that TVNZ has done to Sky what Sky used to delight in doing to TVNZ - negotiated in bad faith and then walked off with the goodies? Oh dear.
Helen Clark's foray to Brunei for Apec this week is more of the same. Even though a number of its individual party branches have opposed the consummation of the closer economic relations pact with Singapore, the government could not afford this week to be anything less than gung-ho about trade liberalisation. But, given the way globalisation has become so very unhip this year, it could not either be seen to be backing the forces of global darkness.
What it has done is thoroughly intriguing. Clark announced at Apec that from July 1 next year. New Zealand will scrap tariffs on imports from the world's 48 poorest countries. We will no longer clobber the likes of Bangladesh and Somalia with a 16% tax at the border.
The Greens and the two big trade union groups have reacted with alarm; claiming it's a death knell for the domestic clothing footwear industries. 10,000 jobs to go, apparently.
This is to ignore two salient facts. One is that the government has already frozen the madcap blanket tariff reduction programme it inherited. Domestic industries are still way ahead of where they would have been under National. The other is that imports from those 48 destitute countries last year were $21 million, less than one tenth of one per cent of the total of $30 billion. Get over it.
Greens co-leader Rod Donald fretted that this move would encourage multinational companies to move into these poor countries, running the risk of, er, creating jobs ...
One of the chief complaints about trade liberalisation is that it is always stacked against small, poor countries and in favour of the large and the rich. Here is a practical, symbolic and low-cost initiative to swing the balance the other way.
Would debt relief help poor countries still more? Absolutely. But a nation with our kind of external debt can hardly do much more than stand in the queue and lobby for that.
Not everything is tickety-boo, of course. Attorney general Margaret Wilson's fondness for devising legislative sledgehammers to crack social nuts is reaching its zenith with the Property Relations Bill, which had its second reading this week. I wanted protection for de facto couples - one of which I am the grateful and loving half - and same-sex couples. I don't want twentysomethings who've been sharing a bed for three years taking each other to court, which is what I fear will happen when this becomes law.
Certain government MPs - and ministers in particular - continue to demonstrate some mad-eyed political judgement too. Michael Cullen, the leader of the House, churlishly denied leave for Parliament to extend its best wishes to David Tua in his heavyweight title bout last week. The government was saved from the embarrassment of being subsequently unable to congratulate Tua by the fact that Tua was so comprehensively outclassed by Lennox Lewis that most of us just wanted to forget about it afterwards. Still, it was a good day out at the King's Arms for the coverage.
And it was a bloody good night out at the APRA Silver Scroll Awards on Monday night. It just does it for me every year. Every year, I swear I'm going to take it easy. And every year it's 1am and I'm blathering away to Greg Johnson in the foyer. Actually, it wasn't Greg Johnson, it was Simon Grigg. Who, if he's listening, I would like to remind that he's going to mail me a copy of 'Room Service'. And Trevor Reekie, you're going to send me the CD from Antenna Records new band, Pluto - who stole the show, by the way. Who'd have thought you could make an Eye TV song sound cool by turning it into 'Heroin' by the Velvet Underground?
But what really made it was that Chris Knox won the Silver Scroll itself for 'My Only Friend'. What a rare privilege it is to be able to express one's love for one's life partner with such a beautiful song as that. And there's nothing to shore up domestic bliss like a cheque for $3000, either.
Anyway, buy the DLT album and I'll see you at the Grey Lynn Park Festival. But not, unfortunately, for Hard News next week or the one after. If all goes to plan I will be watching the All Blacks play in Italy next weekend. It's a dirty, filthy, ugly job but someone's gotta do it ... G'bye!