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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington 18/2/2002

Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington

Richard Prebble's
Letter from Wellington
Monday, 18 February 2002

Innovation by Committee

Journalists feel conned after allowing themselves to be locked up to hear the government's innovation package. The only sensitive information in the package was the fact that there was no policy. To add to the insult, the government invited Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey to the lock up - and he asked questions that confused even Dr Cullen.

Back Bench Unhappy

The Labour caucus are also unhappy with the innovation package. They are asking: "are we supposed to campaign by saying the government will innovate by committee?"

Michael Cullen is telling MPs the package wasn't his idea. It came from Imperial Helen. Why? Because Labour's polling shows that while 60 percent of voters like the way the country is going, few give the government any credit.

Thinking people know it's due to the good terms of trade, devaluation of the dollar and good weather for farming. All the innovation package did was confirm that the government has no vision or policies to get NZ back into the top half of the OECD.

Growth Target

Michael Cullen revealed the government's target is to reach 4 percent growth sustainably in five years. The IMF, in its country reports, notes that NZ exceeded 4 percent growth in 1993, '94 and '95 - after Roger and Ruth. Then Winston became Treasurer. Growth under Cullen has averaged just over 2 percent. Treasury's forecast is for growth never to reach 4 percent under current policies.

But we could get to 4 percent with new policies. Lower taxes than Australia would be worth 1 percent; a free labour market 0.5 percent; a bonfire of regulations and red tape, another 0.5 percent. Add that to the current 2 percent growth and we've reached the target.

Greens Split

The Green caucus is seriously split over Maori policy. Fitzsimons, Bradford and Nandor want to campaign on Maori sovereignty. Donald, Ewen-Street and Kedgley say a radical Maori policy will scare off the party's middle NZ support. The swinging voter is Keith Locke. His interest is foreign policy. When Nandor tells him the Treaty is foreign policy - that of Imperial Britain - Keith thinks he's for Maori sovereignty.

The Greens have a credibility issue. The first Maori candidate on their list was number 19. The Greens can only get a Maori MP by moving current MPs down the list.

The Greens' existing Maori policy is extreme. They want to recognise two treaties - Waitangi and the 1830s treaty that Busby signed with the United Tribes. The Letter has noticed that the Greens' Maori policy is no longer on their website. We're sure this was just an oversight - so the Letter has posted the policy at

Rankin for Palmerston North?

The Letter understands the National Party has approached Christine Rankin to stand in Palmerston North - and she is interested. So Ms Rankin could be up against "I never said it" Steve Maharey.

Bank Investments are Best

Rodney Hide's announcement that he will open an account with Kiwibank has forced Michael Cullen and Jim Anderton to do the same - but not Helen Clark. The parties' perception of the risk can be seen by the size of the deposits. Rodney proposes $20 and Michael Cullen $100.

Jim Anderton put in $25,000. The Fast Forward Saver a/c offers 4.5% interest. After tax of 39% and allowing for 3% inflation, Jim's real return is a loss of $63.75. But perhaps he'll apply for a $500,000 loan at 6.1% to fund his New Alliance Party. (See

Shop Trading Bill

On Wednesday Parliament will debate Rodney Hide's shop trading bill. This will allow shop-keepers to decide themselves when to open. Labour/Alliance MPs were so hostile to the bill that the select committee refused to hear submissions. But the bill is popular in Tauranga where Margaret Wilson hopes to defeat Winston Peters. So Ms Wilson announced last year - having promised and failed to deliver her own shop trading bill - that the government would support ACT's bill, with amendments.

This has caused a huge row in Labour's caucus and Labour MPs will get a free vote. The Greens and the Alliance oppose the bill. National is also split - so the vote could be close.

Ms Wilson had thought the government could simply re-write the bill - but standing orders don't allow this. The government is under pressure to pass the bill by Easter. (See

An Imperial Tantrum

Helen Clark threw a tantrum when the board of Air NZ approved Ralph Norris - without advising the government. The PM was forced to publicly praise Ralph, having refused to invite him to the government's love-in with industry. Well, Helen, if you buy airlines you get bankers.

Phone Rage

National MP Katherine Rich, one of Parliament's true ladies, was astonished to get an abusive phone call from Broadcasting Minister Marian Hobbs, after she had criticised the Minister. Ms Hobbs, a former headmistress, apparently can't resist bullying young women. But the Letter is miffed. We've said Boo Boo should be in jail for fiddling her accommodation allowances - but we didn't even get an email in response, let alone an abusive call.

Campaign Coup

ACT has scored a coup by appointing Brian Nicolle as the party's election campaign manager. Brian is a legend. He recently managed John Banks' Auckland mayoral campaign.

ACT, with Graham Watson as party manager & Brian Nicolle as campaign manager, will again run the best election campaign - it's got to be worth an extra 2 percent to ACT.


It seems the Aussie media are coming to cover ACT's conference because Peter Reith, the former Australian Defence Minister, is speaking. Reith is in hot water over whether boat people really threw their children into the sea. This will be his first major speech since the election. It will be interesting to hear what he really thinks about the refugee issue.

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