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Richard Preble's Letter From Wellington

RICHARD PREBBLE’S
Letter from Wellington
Monday, 14 August 2000

The Labour/Alliance Government suffered a major defeat in parliament over the weekend. After telling the media, and their own MPs that the Bill would be passed by Friday, and inviting all their trade union mates to a huge celebration on Tuesday, Parliament is now sitting on a Monday for only the second time since WWII.
A Monday meeting is an admission by a government that it has lost control of its legislative programme.
The last Monday sitting was for the ‘Mother of all Budgets’ in 1991. National determined never to call parliament again on a Monday.
That Monday was the turning point for the Bolger/Richardson government. In votes, National lost the 1993 election and Ruth Richardson lost her job.
The opposition has gained an ascendancy in the House. There is an old saying ‘first you win in the house, then you win in the country’. Once the opposition has got on top in the House, it will be hard for a government to win it back.

What’s Gone Wrong

A lot of things.
The Employment Relations Bill is very complex and radical law. It deserves careful scrutiny.
The select committee hearings were a farce. The coalition did not listen, so the amendments have to be revisited in Parliament.
Procedural Incompetence
The Government’s most experienced MP, Jonathan Hunt, who used to control parliament from opposition, is now the Speaker of the House. Government MPs used to make their airline bookings following his. When Hunt made his Christmas bookings, so did Parliament. The Senior government Whip, Rick Barker, is in-competent in comparison. Mr Barker’s failure to marshal government MPs is unprecedented, while his public prediction that debate on the Bill would finish on Friday after-noon speaks for itself!
Whenever Trevor Mallard and Michael Cullen left the Chamber – mistakes were made:
 The Greens voted against a procedural motion – so giving every MP the right to speak four times! Rod Donald said, “It was not a mistake. We just did not know what we were doing.” Hours were lost as the Government desperately tried to backtrack.
 Annette King broke into second reading to give a ministerial statement about the suspension of elective surgery at Whakatane Hospital. She did not know, as the ACT party did, that this is a debatable motion – the result; more lost time.
 In a non-controversial statement expressing the House’s sorrow over the death of an ANZAC soldier in East Timor, Alliance Matt Robson unfoundedly blamed Indonesia – result; an hour long debate.
 New Minister Parekura Horomia thought he would vote in Maori – result; hours lost translating votes.

The ACT Team

ACT has made a contribution to the House far above its weight. All of ACT’s MPs have bought intelligence and innovation to the debate. In the British House of Commons, MPs compete for the call (the right to speak). In New Zealand, under ‘first past the post’, only one MP called for the right to speak. ACT has reintroduced competing for the call. National has followed. This has had three effects:
1. It involves the whole team.
2. It has made it hard for the Chair to accept closure motions.
3. It makes great T.V.


How To Beat The ERB

ACT will be posting advice, and giving seminars on how to beat the ERB. Unfortunately, we cannot give any advice until we see the Act in its final form. That will be just 46 days before it becomes law. The minister has yet to decree her good faith codes so, with so little time to digest a 200 page Act and codes, businesses will find it almost impossible to avoid breaking the law.
The good news is that there are many loop holes

The Treaty in Health

The coalition’s decision to write the Treaty into the new health reforms has opened a Pandora’s box. How will it work?
The Letter has been advised that a number of hospitals have bought a programme so that computers can print out letters with Maori spelt with a bar over the “a”. The cost - $200 per licence. Each hospital has hundreds of computers.
The people in Whakatane who were told this week that surgery was can-celled will no doubt be pleased that Whakatane is now spelt in a culturally correct way.

Hospital Reform Shambles

As predicted by the Letter – we are always first – the hospital reform is a shambles. The new Hospital Boards have received a directive that there transitional plans must be presented to the Government by 1 September. The Boards will be appointed on 28 August – five months late. This means the new Boards will have just three days to write their plans. They should be grateful - the Ministry of Commerce only got three hours to consider the ERB.
Why the delay? A row over Maori representation, of course.

The Greens Dilemma

The Greens are not happy. Their staffers complain that the office has been inundated with letters, faxes, email and calls about the ERB. Many are from Coromandel business, and are overwhelmingly against the Bill.
The Green’s decision to back the Bill, will cost Jeanette Fitzsimons her electorate – something that does not worry Rod Donald.
The Green’s strategists aim to replace the Alliance as Labour’s coalition ally. The Greens and Alliance are in a dangerous branding game. Both want to prove they care more about the low paid. In reality both done a deal to sell out the `cleaners and low wage workers’. Like the Alliance, a vote for them appears futile.

Clark vs. Muldoon

Bill English says the difference between Muldoon and Clark was that Muldoon attacked his enemies!

Letter from Wellington is faxed and emailed weekly. To subscribe, or contribute, call 04 470 6624, Fax 04 473 3532, e-mail act@parliament.govt.nz
Post to: ACT Parliamentary Office, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

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