Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington 6/5/2002
Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington 06 May 2002
Letter from Wellington
Monday, 06 May 2002
A Mood Change
There's an old saying in politics that you win first in the House. The first sign a government is losing is when it can't win debates in Parliament. Labour has been on top in Parliament since about 1998, when National found it couldn't defend Tuku Morgan and its other coalition allies.
The last three weeks have been a nightmare for Labour in the House, with the PM's art forgeries, Anderton's party hopping and then Maori TV hiring a fraudster. National's performance has improved. It came up with the tactic of giving every question to Bill English, all on Helen Clark's forgery. Clark's method of answering tough questions is not to answer.
English had the opportunity to ask Clark 15 questions. Her replies changed from "every MP does it" to "I've been told an ex-MP may have done it once". While English is not a great Parliamentary performer, neither is Clark. She rarely speaks in Parliament. Her only reply to criticism is to refer to Labour's poll rating. It's a dangerous argument because those who live by polling, die by it.
By the end of three weeks, Labour strategists were shielding Clark by having her away at question time. In the jungle of politics, when the head of the pack can't beat off challengers, the whole pack is in trouble.
The Alliance split means Jim's team now only gets a question twice a week. The Opposition, by not directing questions at Anderton but instead forcing Labour to defend the indefensible, have made Anderton sit and listen. His silent misery is shown on TV most nights.
The Speaker has told Parliament that if Anderton has left the Alliance, then under the Electoral Integrity Act he is out. But the Speaker says he has received no official advice.
Is the Alliance website an official document? The website now states: "... Jim Anderton and his conservative faction (have) defected..." If the Speaker sees it, is it all over for Jim? Every MP knows that Anderton has broken the Electoral Integrity Act. A letter from Laila Harre would see him out of Parliament. The coalition has lost its moral authority.
A good "opinion poll" of Parliament is MPs' attendance in the House. Government backbenchers are now noticeable by their absence. Labour doesn't want six more months of verbal punishment - another reason Clark wants an early election.
Q & A on
At great expense, the Electoral Commission in March published a 19-page question and answer booklet on MMP. The Letter thinks it needs recalling and reprinting. We quote from page 16 - "Question: Are electorate MPs and list MPs able to change parties while staying in Parliament?" Answer: "A change of electoral law passed at the end of 2001 provides that the seat of an electorate MP (except one elected as an independent) or a list MP, becomes vacant if he or she ceases to be a member of the political party for which he or she was elected to Parliament. A by-election will be held to fill a vacant electorate seat, and a vacant list seat will be filled by a replacement from the party list."
National MPs are furious with Michelle Boag for leaking the party's list (known by insiders as "Michelle's whiteboard") and that list MPs Vernon, Hasler, Young, Neill, Tolley and Anae are ranked below former NZ First waka-jumper Tau Henare.
Within the National Party there is considerable sympathy for Brian Neeson. He has won a constituency for National in West Auckland, against the odds, for 12 years. His sacking was an outrageous manipulation of National's rules, which say there must be a panel of 60. If an electorate has 900 members, the locals select all the panel. Helensville has just 600 members, so the regional chairman picked 20 of the panel, bringing in delegates from North Shore and Epsom. All 20 ring-in delegates voted against Neeson and he was narrowly defeated.
Neeson has a legal opinion that his sacking was unconstitutional.
Clevedon MP Warren Kyd is in the same position as Neeson. Party members in his electorate overwhelmingly support him, but Clevedon also has only about 600 members. The Letter notes that National's leaked list has Judith Collins as selected for Clevedon. Kyd says if his selection is stacked, as Neeson's was, he will go to court.
A Billion Dollar
The Alliance may have fractured but the party is about to take control of the ASB Trust, which has about $1 billion of investments. The trustees are appointed by the Minister of Finance. There's been a convention to appoint trustees from both sides of the political spectrum, and some with commercial experience.
The Alliance has been targeting trustee appointments. Since 1999, seven new left-wing appointments have been made - none with experience of financial markets or investment, or directorship of a public company. The last directors with commercial experience - Judith Bassett and Hans Sorrenson - are about to be replaced.
This government's appointments have been highly political - Matt McCarten, Brian Lythe from the PM's LEC, and Patrick Snedden, an elected member of the District Health Board. Existing trustees recommended deputy-chairman Ross Finlayson for the chairman's job, but Labour's new appointees blocked it and are believed to support Snedden.
The trust has given out $300 million since 1988, in a non-political way, and has never been controversial. Last year, Jim Anderton's Ministry of Economic Development made a grab for funds to finance "partnerships".
As the Alliance has gained a disproportionate number of appointments on the trust board, from this month our discredited Deputy PM will have effective control over $1b of Auckland's assets. Every loony left-wing proposal is likely to be funded. And you thought Maori TV was a shambles.