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Peters Tells Clark To Practise What You Preach

11:00 am Tuesday
25 July 2000

An Address by the Rt Hon Winston Peters MP, Leader of New Zealand First, to Warkworth & District Grey Power Association, Catholic Hall, Alnwick Street, Warkworth.


At the last General Election New Zealanders voted for change – not just a change of government and political parties – but a change in the nation’s politics.

Above all else, the public wanted:

- greater standards of political accountability
- more transparent government; AND the
- sharing of political power between 2 or more parties
- more public consultation
- more consistency
- less hypocrisy and double standards

Whether or not the current government is genuinely trying to provide a more transparent, open style of government – this transparency has not yet extended to issues of coalition management.

One of the most important lessons New Zealand First learned from our coalition experience is that the public want to see the differences between the coalition partners.

This is critical to the political survival of any governing party – and the preservation and safe guarding of its’ principles and philosophies.

This type of transparency advantages any political partner and that is perhaps why it is resisted – first by National and now Labour.

New Zealand First’s insistence, in the final months of our Coalition with National, to publicly explain the differences between the parties was strongly resisted by National’s leadership and ultimately broke up the Coalition.

Likewise, Labour has publicly expressed their intent to keep their differences with the Alliance behind closed doors.

That strategy has kept support for Labour - the major partner in the current government - at an all time high (even if on the decline now).

In contrast the Alliance - the minor partner - has lost significant popular support.

Jim Anderton’s comments that this is the inevitable result of the major partner’s popularity show a basic misunderstanding of MMP.

The extent to which one partner is able to preserve and enhance its public support should not be determined by the popularity of the other partner.

It should depend on the way a party is seen to differentiate itself from the other party and make its own positive contribution to the development and implementation of key policy initiatives.

That is the only way in which the public can fairly judge the extent of genuine political power sharing within the Coalition.

People voted MMP because they wanted to see a constructive and co-operative sharing of political power.

This is most crucial for a political partner – and also the most difficult to achieve.

Any political partner who thinks it can conduct business behind closed doors and just “re-brand” in Election Year is doomed to fail. The public don’t want to see another PR/selling job – they want to see a new, more transparent way of governing – from Day 1.

New Zealand First learned that lesson the hard way.

If the Alliance and Jim Anderton fail to learn that they will continue to lose what is left of their support.

Mr Anderton has said that MMP must survive.

But that survival – and a more mature understanding of the Mixed Member Proportional System – is dependent on a realistic and clear acceptance of the role of political parties within a coalition government.

Helen Clark has been reported as saying that MMP is very cruel to small parties.

This is not accurate. It is the fatal unwillingness of those who should know better to recognise and accept the need for public differences between coalition parties which in the end will drag all coalition parties down, as it did for both New Zealand First and National at the last election.

Sadly, we continue to see the same old misunderstandings of the MMP political system that plagued the last coalition government – with senior politicians and media commentators – misinterpreting any signs of difference between the governing parties as signs of instability.

However, on a more positive and encouraging note Dr Cullen’s comments, earlier this year, acknowledging Mr Anderton’s criticisms of the Reserve Bank were a refreshing change from that shown by New Zealand First’s former coalition partner.

National regarded any public differences between the parties as a sign of weakness on the part of the old partner – which had to be countered by intense “spin doctoring” to reassure the media – and the public – that the old partner was still “in charge”.

The most positive thing for MMP – and its survival – would be to see the entire Labour Party hierarchy following Dr Cullen’s example, and not that of the National Party, when dealing with differences between coalition partners.

That is, don’t shy away from the differences, and don’t hide what the public have a right to know and some already know.

The Government is also to be congratulated for sending the clear signal that Government Departments and or their Ministers will be held directly accountable for future disasters which are avoidable, such as the Cave Creek tragedy.

Already a number of Select Committee Inquiries into matters of national importance have been called – and the Government has indicated it will not rule out further inquiries into matters worthy of investigation.

This is an important change in New Zealand politics – and not one to be taken lightly.

Whereas, National consistently shut down any talk of investigations and inquiries – regardless of how much the matter warranted such action – Labour has shown an attitude of openness and frankness that has been lacking for over 15 years.

Even as Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister in the former National/New Zealand First Coalition Government I faced intense opposition by National, in the aftermath of the Winebox Case, in trying to get those responsible to be held accountable for their actions.

This contrasts significantly with the present Government’s attitude and, in particular, the Finance & Expenditure Select Committee Committee, chaired by Labour’s Mark Peck, seeking more information on outstanding matters relating to the Winebox and those responsible.

However, the issues of personal responsibility and political accountability have still not been adequately addressed – as they would have been long ago in any other Western democracy.

Whilst the commissioning of government and proper and appropriately empowered independent inquiries in the public’s interest are extremely encouraging – calling an inquiry is only the first step.

Only when New Zealanders see how the Government responds to the findings of those inquiries will they be able to assess the degree to which accountability standards have really been improved.

Only then will New Zealanders know with any certainty that the Government practises what it preaches – that it will back up the tough talk with tough action.

For in these matters actions speak louder than words. Take the Winebox case for example.

My Select Committee Paper on the Winebox was presented on 27 April of this year – almost three months ago now.

I have also written to the Attorney General on these matters but thus far I have had only an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter.

There have been prosecutions in other Western democracies for the same actions highlighted in the Winebox Case.

And if this Government is truly more accountable than its predecessor then it is long since past the time when it should have initiated further action – in line with that which has happened in other countries such as Canada and the UK.

Passing the buck, as IRD is trying to do, is simply repugnant.

Helen Clark’s tough talk has already come back to haunt her on other matters – exposing hypocrisy and double standards that New Zealanders have had enough of.

Whilst no one applauds the tactics of the ACT Party, they do not excuse a Member of the Government for being less than honest with his own Party and, most importantly, the New Zealand Public.

John Tamihere mislead both Parliament and the country and, in doing so, has exposed serious leadership weaknesses in his Leader.

The different treatment of Dover Samuels and John Tamihere cannot be disregarded and relates to Helen Clark’s adamant support for John Tamihere over union nominee Davis for the Hauraki Selection.

Less than 2 weeks ago, Ms Clark told TVNZ’s Face the Nation television programme, when questioned about the standard she was setting in her treatment of Dover Samuels, her former Minister of Maori Affairs “the standard is to be honest about your skeletons with your Leader”.

Further, when questioned about the difference between her treatment of Mr Samuels and that of Mr Tamihere the Prime Minister said that “John Tamihere disclosed completely and I commend him for that”.

In that same interview the Prime Minister said that Dennis Marshall should have gone on Day 1 of the Cave Creek affair but instead he was “carried by his Party”.

She said the same of Mr McCully and his Tourism Board fiasco.

Whilst there is no doubting the appalling accountability standards of the National Party, Ms Clark is “carrying” Mr Tamihere now.

Last night on TV 1 News Helen Clark reminded the media of a key principle in our system of justice -“innocent until proven guilty”.

Well at this point in time Dover Samuels has stood aside pending an investigation at his own request, has never had a trial and yet has been dismissed, is clearly innocent of the original allegations by ACT, and is now being “fitted up” in a whispering campaign in which the Prime Minister is involved - and the media know it. Who was it after all who first referred to matters other than the affair 14 years ago? – the Prime Minister.

Yet in the Tamihere case the Prime Minister’s list of excuses is endless – he didn’t mean to mislead, it wasn’t intentional, he got confused, “the response he gave in Parliament was to the best of his knowledge” and “this person has done a power of good for his people and on balance we believe he has a contribution to make”.

It’s the same old covering up for your mates that Helen Clark, just two weeks ago, was condemning.

And just as Richard Prebble’s tactics do not excuse what Mr Tamihere has done, nor does the work Mr Tamihere may or may not have done for the Maori People.

For anyone who thinks that the Waipareira Trust is a success story for Maoridom is incapable of reading the Trust’s books intelligently or understanding that when a trust’s money comes from social delivery applications, then hundreds of thousands left over for business ventures means that either the applications for social services delivery have been falsified or fulfilling commitments to deliver the social services simply did not occur. When you start from that point one is driven to an inevitable conclusion – the Trust’s books are simply not kosher.

And where, and under what social services delivery authority, did the hundreds of thousands of dollars come from to finance futile court actions against the Maori Fisheries Commission?

And whilst we are at it where in the western world would you see a barrister give evidence before a Select Committee of thirty cheque forgeries involving the trust concerning over $200,000, and months later remain the subject of no investigation whatsoever?

This issue is not even about Mr Tamihere’s past convictions – as bad as they may be. It is about the way that Mr Tamihere mislead his Party, Parliament and the country over those convictions.

That is what is so serious about the Tamihere Case.

On 6 July this year Mr Tamihere gave a personal explanation to the House on two communications to Parliament concerning different allegations. First – of forgery and fraud in a letter, and Second – by way of an anonymous fax. He said “a new standard has been set on the basis of responding to allegations and I seek to clear up this issue. (Hansard p. 3574, 6 July 2000)

The faxed allegations were about “three drunken driving convictions (all recent)”, “forging documents”, and being “unable to practice as a lawyer for two years by (the) Law Society”.

His personal explanation in the House, in his words, sought “to clear up this issue”.

I cannot as a lawyer discuss the Auckland District Law Society Case but Mr Tamihere can remove the Law Society’s suppression order now and clear up the issue, but the 1995 police prosecution on similar facts is illuminating. Mr Tamihere claimed that “the outcome of this case was that I was discharged without conviction”.

But is that the truth? Or is it not a fact that he pleaded guilty to two charges of forgery and two of uttering? Those are very serious crimes. It is not true to say, as Mr Tamihere said, “I am the only Member of this House to have undergone scrutiny to that extent, and I am the only Member of this House who can stand up with a certificate of fitness to be here”.

Did Helen Clark know of those confessions of forgeries and utterings? Did she know of over five drunk driving and traffic offence prosecutions? If she did she has discriminated harshly against Dover Samuels. If she didn’t know then, but now does, then in Tamihere’s case she is failing as a Leader by her own public statements.

Dover Samuels is a fisherman and self made businessman. John Tamihere was once admitted to the bar. Lawyers don’t forget their own court convictions or admissions of guilt and since my press statement on Mr Tamihere last November there is no way he could have forgotten.

And those media people who think Helen Clark’s handling of these issues bespeaks strength and leadership have got some mighty convoluted standards and have no idea what lurks around the next corner.

I remember the Labour and Media Campaign against New Zealand First which described the purchase of a pair of $89 underpants as sleazy politics.

This whole sorry saga falls far short of the standard Ms Clark promised the country in her television interview on 13 July she would be enforcing as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party.

Sadly, it reeks of the same hypocrisy and double standards New Zealanders had hoped to get rid of with the election of this new government.

A pandora’s box has been opened and this is clearly an issue on which there is much more space to be watched.


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