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The Letter – Monday March 6, 2006

The Letter – Monday March 6, 2006

The Letter Limited -

The Haps

The brutal dismemberment of Benson-Pope. More evidence that the economy is slowing.

Dead man walking

Commentators are amazed that Helen Clark who fired Minister Dalziel for misleading the media has stood by Benson-Pope. As John Tamihere used to put it, Benson-Pope has fessed up that he lied to parliament, ("I could have handled it better" is how he put it but that's what it means). "An error of judgment" said the Prime Minister. (A new parliamentary euphemism for lying). The reason for Clark's decision to hang tough is simple. While the affair is ending Benson-Pope's career, it is not going to bring down the government. On the other hand, Clark financing Labour's pledge card with taxpayer money is theft. It is a scandal that has the ability to break the coalition, bring down the government and see the PM facing a criminal prosecution. Her strategy is working. Last week the Opposition asked her no questions about pledge card gate and the story dropped out of the media.


Many readers have expressed the view that Clark will escape facing a prosecution just as she has escaped forging paintings, speeding etc. Maybe they are right. Labour's response has been to organise complaints against every other party. The electoral officials have buckled and passed them all onto the Police. It does allow Labour to claim that "everyone was doing it" and to give the Police an excuse not to prosecute.

Next week

The Speaker, who can be asked written questions, has still not been asked whether she approves the PM spending taxpayers' money on Labour's campaign. Questions need to refocus the issue onto Benson-Pope's false statements to Parliament. As George Wigg, the Labour MP whose questions exposed Profumo used to say, the crime was not lying with prostitutes but lying to parliament. While the media are very interested in whether Mr Benson-Pope goes into girls' shower rooms, it is not relevant to his parliamentary performance. What is relevant is whether he has lied to parliament about it. It is unheard of for the PM to admit that a Minister has misled the House.

The Speaker losing credibility

Benson-Pope has put the Speaker in an impossible position. Once breaches of privilege were raised in the House, now they must be raised by letter to the Speaker with a copy to the person against whom the allegation is made. It is clear that when Rodney Hide sent his letter last year saying that ex-pupils contradicted Benson-Pope's claims, Benson-Pope must have written a letter refuting the allegations. Speaker Wilson accepted his word and dismissed the breach of privilege. No one except the Speaker has seen Benson-Pope's letter. A letter from a Minister to the Speaker which misleads the Speaker is itself a very serious breach of privilege. Most Speakers' would, now Benson-Pope has admitted that the tennis ball incident did happen, refer the matter to the Privileges Committee. The longer Wilson fails to act, the more the prestige of the Speakership falls. As Minister of a major department he will continue to be asked questions and then if his answer is another "an error of judgment"


Labour has been on the back foot since the session started. Don Brash has lifted his performance, the economy is slipping, the pledge card is causing headaches, and Benson-Pope's girls shower visits are indefensible. Labour's best defender has been Winston Peters and they are so grateful they have given him some of their own questions. The downside for Peters is that his support is so fawning he is losing his image as an independent. National has responded by giving ACT's Rodney Hide, who would normally have just one supplementary question each day, up to four extras. It is part of the reason the cross examination of Benson-Pope has been the most effective demolition of a Minister since Winston questioned Koro Wetere on the Hawaiian loan scandal. The challenge for ACT is, like NZ First, keeping an independent image.

Is he well?

Some speculate that Peters' willingness to defend even the indefensible is motivated by a hope that Labour will not put up a candidate next election in Tauranga. The media have attributed the mellower Winston to the new woman in his life. Peters looks yellow and he appears short of breath. His private conversations, even by his standards, are incoherent. Has his life style caught up with him? Did he refuse to join the cabinet just so he can avoid having to submit a medical examination to the PM?

The $7 billion deficit

We received a lot of reader feed back on the possible reasons for NZ's poor export performance. A reader drew our attention to a 2004 Waikato University study by Professor Vos which showed contrary to the claim that most small businesses fail, only 4% fail in their first year. Many stop trading but not because they failed. He found that 90% of small to medium business owners are "happy chappies" and have no desire to grow or export. See LINK

Best Speech

Gordon Copeland of United Future gave a masterly speech on the budget statement on the unsustainability of government's spending. He has done a lot of research. And the importance of the speech? He holds the swing vote on the Finance and Expenditure select committee that reviews government spending. See

Our Poll

99% of Letter readers voted for the Finance and Expenditure Committee to inquire into Labour's use of taxpayer money to finance their election. This week "Should the Speaker refer the Benson-Pope issue to the Privileges Committee?" Vote at

We will send your answer to the Speaker.


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Please Note: Formerly the column The Letter was circulated by the ACT Party. It no longer is.

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