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The Letter – Monday, 27 March 2006

The Letter – Monday, 27 March 2006

The Letter – Monday, 27 March 2006

The Letter Limited -

The Haps

Labour loses another minister. The economy is in recession. The dollar is in a nosedive. The PM is in another car incident.

Had to go

Commentators are struggling to understand why unpleasant second rate David Benson-Pope is still a minister and likeable talented David Parker is gone. The difference is that Benson-Pope has never admitted to any wrongdoing. Parker has admitted to knowingly filing a false report, an offence that carries a possible prison sentence. It took Labour a day to realise, the Companies Office must prosecute and conviction requires Parker's eviction from parliament. He had to go.

Big loss

Losing Parker is a heavy blow. He was handling three areas where Labour is in serious difficulty; rule of law, infrastructure and electricity. It is too early to say if he could have resolved the problems but industry leaders had been pleased with his grasp of the issues and he appeared to be willing to reject the ideological thinking of the bureaucrats.

Who now?

The Parker resignation was so sudden that Helen Clark has not decided about his replacement. There was momentary consideration of the appointment of Russell Fairbrother as Attorney-General. Before the election Fairbrother, who is something rare in Labour, a lawyer, was expected to be Attorney-General. Then he committed the unforgivable sin of losing Napier, a safe Labour seat. Clark has still not forgiven him. He may as well go back to law.


The most able Labour backbenchers are new MPs Shane Jones and Maryan Street. While the Labour caucus elects the cabinet Clark appoints replacements. Jones has some commercial experience. Street is one of the more successful party presidents. The portfolios require new ideas that overloaded senior ministers are unlikely to provide.

Above the law

Is a fundamental weakness in the Clark government a lack of respect for the rule of law? Geoffrey Palmer as Minister of Justice and Attorney-General was always insisting that ministers show respect for the law. Example, freedom of information requests. Palmer would insist that departments and ministers replied promptly. Under Clark freedom of information requests are routinely wrongfully denied and illegally delayed, as the Ombudsman reports each year. The decision of Chris Carter, Conservation Minister to override the Environment Court is yet another example of contempt for due process. The appointment of Cullen as Attorney-General, who has openly clashed with the judges, will do nothing to halt this government's contempt for the rule of law.

What really happened?

Cullen's first statement about Clark's traffic accident in Auckland before Christmas was to issue a highly misleading account. According to Cullen, the PM was being driven by VIP transport when the car was rear ended by the escorting Diplomatic Protection squad car. This caused the vehicle carrying the PM to rear-end the car in front. According to Cullen a Police officer stayed to see how the other car was and found the driver and passenger where not injured while the VIP car took the PM away for security reasons. The Letter has been told the story is not correct. First it is disputed whether it was a VIP car or the police car that rear-ended the PMs car. Secondly, the member of the public who was driving the car was injured. Thirdly, there was no security reason to justify driving the PM away. The law is clear; you are not permitted to leave an accident before rendering assistance. The PM was in charge, not the Diplomatic Squad. It is extraordinary that she should have agreed to leave a motor accident before discovering whether anyone was injured.

Power Shift

Next election will see new boundaries drawn and more Maori seats in parliament. The government is spending $4.5 million promoting the Maori Electoral role option. Labour used to believe that more Maori seats favoured them. Once the Maori seats were so safe for Labour many Maori opted for the General Roll where their vote might make a difference. With the Maori Party campaigning to win all the Maori seats the next election may be decided by the outcome in those electorates. If you are Maori the way to maximise your vote now is to opt for the Maori Roll. Just another 14,000 voters opting for the Maori roll is a new Maori seat. Everyone expects the number of Maori seats to increase to 8 but it could be 9. No party has formed an MMP government without some Maori seats. If the bill to reduce the size of parliament passes, 9 seats out of a 100 MP parliament looks like a permanent balance of power. While no one expects it, we would not be surprised if the result of the Maori option is 10 seats!

International comparison

In the US, Vice President Dick Cheney has been severely criticised for waiting 24 hours to give an explanation of a shooting accident. In NZ the PM leaves a car accident and we are told nothing until three months later. If Rodney Hide had not asked a question in parliament we would still not know. The result is that there are wild rumours. The Letter has even been told from "security sources" that Clark was not in a VIP car but her own self-drive. We cannot believe that to be the case. It would be too big a cover up wouldn't it? What we do know is that both the passenger and the driver in the car say the driver suffered whiplash injury and both the VIP and the Police car left the scene of the accident. This is a serious criminal offence. We have also been told that the Police took a long time to admit their VIP passenger was the PM. The occupants of the car have got the "message", reinforced by Cullen's claim that the accident was caused by their car stopping suddenly, that if they talk to the media it will affect their insurance claim and it might be them who are prosecuted. A real Attorney-General would stop issuing spin and would be ensuring those who left the scene are charged.

Successful Conference

ACT is pleased with its conference. Some of the speeches given at the conference can be found on ACT 's website Maori Party Co-Leader Tariana Turia was invited because the Maori Party and ACT enjoy a good working relationship and have many policy areas in common. She gave a sterling speech about how welfare dependency is destroying Maori.

Our Poll

65% of letter readers voted to reduce the size of parliament to 100 MPs. This week's poll: "Is the Prime Minister entitled to leave the scene of a car accident where injury has occurred?" Vote at We will send the result to the Solicitor General.


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