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Gordon Campbell on Shane Jones reverting to type

Gordon Campbell on Shane Jones reverting to type, and a reply to Richard Prebble

by Gordon Campbell

Anyone who may have feeling twinges of remorse that it might have been a good idea for Shane Jones to have won the Labour Party leadership race last year should be thanking their lucky stars that Labour dodged a bullet on that one. Jones’ most recent attack on Gareth Hughes and the Green Party - this is the latest in a series of attacks, not a one-off - comes hard on the heels of Jones’ attack on the negative effect that international students are supposedly having on our tertiary education system.

Let's make it really simple for Mr Jones. Overseas students who pay fees to study in our tertiary sector not only help to offset the costs of providing quality education to New Zealand students, but they are a quid pro quo for this country’s extremely valuable export of our educational expertise to the rest of the world. And that’s even before you get into how international students who study here forge relationships with this country that are of lasting economic benefit to us. Politically, Jones’ outburst was a free gift to Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce, as evidence that Labour has no understanding of how our fifth biggest export earning industry actually works. Jones, however, is the gift that keeps on giving - to National. This week’s attack on Green MP Gareth Hughes (headline: “Greens Are Too Thin-Skinned”) went well beyond its supposed purpose, which was to criticise Hughes for “interfering” in an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency into an offshore mining proposal.

[Jones] accused Mr Hughes of undermining the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as it heard submissions on mining iron ore off the west coast of the North Island. Mr Hughes had urged the EPA to take into account all of the 4800 submissions, the vast majority of which were against iron ore extraction.

Telling Hughes not to urge the EPA to be even-handed was one thing. (Frankly, in the wake of the Ruataniwha dam scandal, I’m happy for the EPA to get a whole lot of urging to do its job properly.) Jones also accused Hughes of “carrying on like a mollyhawk” and added a bizarre comparison for good measure. When the Greens chief of staff Ken Spagnolo complained to his Labour counterpart about Jones’ comments, Jones compounded them by asking: "Is this the same Green Party that complains of Colin Craig being too thin-skinned?"

Again, let's keep it really simple for Jones: the Greens are going to be essential partners, if Jones and his collegues are ever going to be able to form a government. For that very reason, the Greens are bound to be the subject of a National Party scare campaign this year. Pre-emptively attacking them at this point in the election cycle is doing National‘s work for it. Oh, and when the Greens accuse a centre-right political enemy of being “thin-skinned” for suing them (at the likely cost of some $70,000 to mount a defence) this is a rather different thing from them complaining about personal abuse by their supposed centre-left friends. At this rate, Colin Craig will be calling Jones into court - on Craig’s side.

As I’ve indicated, the Shane Jones vs Gareth Hughes conflict goes back to 2012 at least and - in a further gift to National - Jones has now reminded everyone that this particular feud also involves political donations. Back in 2012, Hughes was attacked by Jones for tweeting approval of a Greenpeace satirical spoof of a Sealords advertisement. To Jones, indicating support for the Greenpeace parody was evidence of the Greens being duplicitous to Maori, and was the equivalent of economic vandalism:

"They love to cuddle up to us [Maori] when it's stopping mining in Te Kaha, but they want to shit all over us when it's a fishing company.....Their concerns are about some obscure ecosystem ... while New Zealanders are losing their jobs all over the place."

Later in a Q&A exchange, Jones described Hughes as “doing the bidding of the green priests, otherwise known as Greenpeace.” The credibility of Jones’ righteous outrage was eroded by the fact that Jones had worked for Sealords until 2005, and had left it to become an MP. Reportedly, Sealords donated $10,000 to Labour’s 2011 election campaign. This makes for rather thin ice for Jones to be standing on, as he sets out to criticise MPs for doing the bidding of others.

What is Labour to do about its loose cannon? One would love to have been a fly on the wall as Cunliffe’s new chief of staff Matt McCarten discussed this matter with Jones. McCarten might also have tried to keep it simple. He might have begun by pointing out that any talkback show votes that Jones garnered by slagging off those wimpy Greens would be more than offset by the damage done to Labour’s ability to look like a credible alternative government. That ability is entirely dependent, whether Jones likes it or not, on Labour’s capacity to work co-operatively with the Greens. If Labour’s front bench can’t grasp the simple political arithmetic involved, they don’t deserve to be in the election race.

Act Party, Redux
Always nice to hear from Richard Prebble and like a good scribe, I take direction from my political elders and betters. So when Richard P says about my last column - “He should ask instead is there a reason why Wellington Central and Epsom have returned ACT MPs. What have the electorates got in common?” - I’ll jump to it. Hmmm. No Richard, census data and oppressive levels of taxation are not the answers. The answer is that you got elected in 1996 because National Party leader/Prime Minister Jim Bolger told National voters to vote for you, and not for National’s hapless candidate, Mark Thomas, in order to get Act into Parliament.

Riddle me this, Richard: if oppressive taxation was the reason that Wellington Central voters turned to Act for blessed relief in 1996, why did they then turn around and turf you out after only one term? The answer is that by 1999, National had simply lost its power to sway the country, let alone the voters of Wellington Central. Epsom has voted Act for precisely the same gerrymandered reasons. And the potential for even more Act politicians to ride into Parliament on the coat-tails of this gerrymander is because National has ignored the findings of the MMP review that it had loudly called for and then shelved, once it realised they would damage its electoral interests. (You don’t mention the shelved MMP review, Richard. How come?) The gulf between the self image that Act peddles - that it is a band of electoral entrepreneurs succeeding on their merits, without benefit of privilege - is sadly contradicted by their political progress into Parliament. Sheesh. But are people on benefits ever publicly grateful?

ENDS

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