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The Week Ahead: Playing The Numbers

With five sitting days till the house rises the Beehive's best and brightest are engaged in a game they became well accustomed to last year as the government sat on a knife edge- counting the numbers.

The main object of their attention is Treasurer Bill English's latest round of proposed tax cuts - which would see the threshold for the top rate of tax of 33 cents in the dollar raised to $40,000.

Last week it was revealed in the Dominion that the government was engaged in talks with Mauri Pacific over the package with leaks indicating that Tau Henare and his four compatriots were pushing for either $15 million (Dominion) of $35 million (Radio New Zealand) in targeted spending in return for their support.

Since then however the plot has thickened with Tuariki Delamere and Christine Fletcher seemingly also playing hard to get, and Christian Heritage's Frank Grover, according to some, reassessing his options.

The numbers game is further complicated by Mike Moore's departure from Parliament having reduced opposition numbers by one.

Scoop understands the master of deal making himself, Sir William Birch is conducting the talks with Mauri Pacific and is close to a deal which means we can now get down to the details.

Scoops arithmetic on the numbers at this stage is:

AGAINST TAX CUTS

Labour 36
Alliance 12
NZ First 9.
Neil Kirton 1

Total 57

FOR TAX CUTS:

National 43 (without Christine Fletcher)
ACT 8
Mauri Pacific (assuming a deal is done) 5
Peter McCardle 1
Peter Dunne 1
Alamein Kopu 1

Total 59

IN THE WILDERNESS

Tuariki Delamere
Christine Fletcher
Frank Grover

If Frank Grover votes against the tax cuts then the tax cut opponents would have 58 votes leaving Christine Fletcher and Tuariki Delamere with the government effectively over a barrel.

Alternatively if they could be convinced not to vote against the tax cuts, and just abstain, then the government would still have the numbers by one. But if either decided to vote against it the government has a problem.

In the meantime the mathematicians in the Beehive can be expected to remain busy. It seems possible that similar deals to those done, or being done, with Mauri Pacific may also quieten Delamere and Fletcher.

In other business before the house this week the Producer Board Reform legislation is scheduled to be reported back today. However as the committee is expected to keep sitting till 10pm tonight it seems probable their report will not surface till tomorrow at the earliest.

Scoop understands that the government's intention is to push the Dairy, Kiwifruit and Apple and Pear board restructuring legislation through over the next five days, which in practice means the house is likely to go into urgency either tomorrow after question time or on Wednesday.

Also likely to raise a few hackles today is the report of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee into defence policy which is due to be unveiled this afternoon. The report is expected to be highly critical of the decision to lease 28 F-16s off the US Government.

The IRD select committee inquiry also continues tomorrow with members of the Finance and Expenditure Committee increasingly engaged in deciding what to do with their years travails given that this Parliament's days are now numbered in the high teens at the most.

Members of the committee have to decide how to treat their report back. Under normal rules the inquiry would be dissolved when Parliament rises but a motion to the house can allow it to continue after formation of the next government. In that event membership of the committee would likely be totally different.

Scoop understands committee chairman Peter Dunne is on the view they should provide an interim report and the next Parliament should then continue the inquiry next year.

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