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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington

Richard Prebble's
Letter from Wellington
Monday, 17 December 2001

Top Secret

Don't pass this on to the Taleban (what's left of them) or to the Alliance Party (what's left of it). Our SAS troops haven't left New Zealand. They're on stand-by but the Americans have no hole in their military that 30 men could plug. It's enough that NZ offered support. The only NZ casualties from the war will be in the Alliance Party.

The Next Election

Labour would love to call a snap election but has no excuse to do so. It's already clear that health, education and crime will be the main issues. If the economy slips, then issues such as tax will also be prominent.

Neither of the old parties have any new ideas. Both will campaign with promises to spend more. The only significant point of difference is Cullen's super scheme. The idea of investing up to $2b a year overseas is not popular.

National will offer to spend the $2b on health and education. Neither party wants to mention the fact that the $2b will be borrowed. The Alliance seems to be history and Winston could lose Tauranga to National. The Greens are today's fad but Jeanette Fitzsimons faces defeat in Coromandel and the Greens' will find GM is not an election issue.

ACT will be the only party offering fresh, new ideas and workable solutions to old problems. The answer to health is to use the resources of the private sector. In education, we need standards, choice and a determination that no child will be left behind. Neither of the old parties has a solution to the student debt mountain. ACT does, and it involves a reform of the tax system. ACT appears to be the only party proposing lower taxes. We must have lower tax rates than Australia.

Green Party Predictions

Why has no media commentator pointed out that the Greens - who hope to be Labour's coalition ally - told the country that Afghanistan would be another Vietnam? Most Green Party predictions - from global warming to the economy - are over the top and wrong.

Green Foreign Affairs spokesman Keith Locke supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but opposes US-led efforts to hunt down terrorists. Once again, the Greens were on the wrong side of the argument. They're wacky and government Ministers grow day by day more exasperated by them.

Where Was National?

Remember when National claimed to be the party of freedom? Last Wednesday, Rodney Hide won a victory for freedom when his private member's Bill to allow shop-owners to open whenever they like (except ANZAC morning) made it through to the committee stage of the House. Labour, the Alliance and the Greens had spent two years bagging the Bill as it wound its way through the system. It was not expected to pass. Indeed, on Thursday, no newspaper recorded the vote on this significant Bill.

Every Labour MP who spoke, opposed the Bill but just before the vote Labour switched to support it. National, whose strategy is to be all things to all people, was caught by surprise. Twenty National MPs voted for freedom and 19 went with the hard Left for central government to regulate when shops can open.

The Shop Trading Bill has now gone forward to a committee of the whole House. (A copy of the bill is at . The Letter predicts more parliamentary gymnastics by National and Labour over this Bill.

A Margaret Wilson Brainwave

It was Margaret Wilson's idea to vote for Rodney Hide's Bill. She's been promising shop-keepers in Rotorua and Tauranga a Bill to fix up anomalies in the law, and has not delivered.

The Letter understands Ms Wilson failed to inform the union movement or get approval from caucus for supporting the Bill. Tomorrow's caucus meeting is going to be hot.

It's the Polls

Opinion polls by all parties show health is voters' number one concern - hence Labour's claim to be increasing health spending. Crime is also of growing concern - hence National's adoption of Stephen Franks' idea that courts should be able to say "life is life" in certain cases.

It's the Economy

The economy is the issue that will really determine the government's fortunes. Most National supporters feel optimistic about the economy, which explains why Bill English is finding it hard to gain traction. In fact, much of the current economic success is due to factors outside the government's control, and to the low value of the NZ dollar.

Christmas retail spending seems to be starting late this year but given consumer optimism and low interest rates, there's no reason why retailers should not have a good Christmas. Don Brash's interest rate cut should stimulate the economy throughout next year, helping the housing market to pick up. The government's significant increase in immigration quotas should also kick along the Auckland housing market.

The success of interest rate cuts depends on keeping wage rises in check, to keep a lid on inflation. The Higher Salaries Commission's decision to give MPs a 5 percent pay rise, on top of an increase just four months ago - a total of 9.8 percent - may turn out to be expensive. Teachers have not yet voted to accept their 2 percent pay increase. And prison officers look set to strike.

Politically Correct

What is the issue most tearing the Greens apart? Afghanistan? GM? Global warming? None of the above. Green activists are asking, "How is it that a party that supports the Treaty as being Aotearoa New Zealand's founding document, has no Maori MPs? Why is the Greens' leadership shared by gender but not by race? Why is the party's biculturalism not reflected in the MP list?"

Surely the Greens should have some Maori candidates - near the top of the list. The trouble is that no Green MP is willing to move down the list to accommodate this. The Greens are petrified that the media will point out that they're an all-white party. It's a difficult dilemma because Maori, as property owners, have substantial differences with the Greens' socialist agenda.

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