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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington 13/5/2002

RICHARD PREBBLE'S Letter from Wellington

Monday, 13 May 2002

Budget Spend-Up

A rural commodity boom for the past three years has given the Labour government strong tax revenue. Dr Cullen is now following an old PR formula - lower expectations with talk of a boring Budget, while spraying the electorate with money. Double the effect by announcing the spending twice.

So each day, sometimes twice a day, we have Ministers announcing extra spending. In the case of health, some announcements will be made three times, and then made to seem more by announcing the extra spending over four years.

Why do they do it? Because bribing voters with their own money is a vote-winner.


Labour's number one election promise was to lower hospital waiting lists. This has been the coalition's most spectacular failure. The number of people waiting for operations is at an all-time record high, yet Health Minister Annette King has told Parliament that hospital waiting lists are down. How can she do this? By cheating.

Now, you have to wait to get on a hospital waiting list. The waiting list just to see a specialist can be over six months. These numbers are not recorded. Then, to get on a waiting list, a patient must be awarded a certain number of points. If the waiting list is too long, the number of points needed is simply increased. Patients thrown off the waiting list are referred back to their GP.

Hospital managers say they regularly see people with conditions such as untreated hernias, complaining because of the delay, and they know the patient will die before getting an operation.

It's impossible to find out the number of New Zealanders who need an operation, who are on the "referred" list. It's the best-kept secret of politics because no hospital keeps such a list.

Most people in this position are uncomplaining Labour voters who will read again that the government has increased the health budget. In fact, in real terms, health spending is down. All health boards have received instructions to end deficit spending. For some boards - such as Auckland and Hawke's Bay - this means savage cuts. But this won't be apparent until next year.

The answer to exploding health costs is to use more of the private sector's resources and put more emphasis on prevention - more personal responsibility.

Why Mallard Can't Settle

The teachers' strike is starting to hurt students' performance. It's also starting to hurt the government. Trevor Mallard would love to settle but he can't because of a silly election promise - pay parity (paying primary teachers the same as secondary). Secondary school teaching, with its discipline problems, is far more challenging than primary. How many five-year-olds are suspended? We are short of qualified science and maths teachers. But we can't pay them more because any pay rise to the PPTA flows on to primary teachers.

More Industrial Action

Major nurses' awards come up for re-negotiation over the winter. Health boards have told the Letter that under their budget restraints, they can't even offer nurses the rate of inflation. Strikes seem inevitable - another reason an early election must seem attractive to Labour.

Snap Election on Hold

There will be no election until the police investigation into Helen Clark's art fraud is completed. It wouldn't look good to have the PM in court during an election campaign.

It is not easy for the police. The facts, which Clark has admitted, are an open and shut case of producing a false document for pecuniary gain - even if it was for charity.

It is not for the police to judge, but the court. Even a conviction and discharge has an unfortunate side effect - any MP convicted of an indictable (serious) offence is automatically out of Parliament. So the stakes are high. Of course, if charged, Helen Clark could plead not guilty and ask for a jury trial. No jury with Labour voters on it, knowing the penalty, would convict her.

So there is hope for the PM. Crown Law may form the view that because no jury would convict, that is grounds not to prosecute. But a jury of 12 ACT voters would say seven years' jail is not enough!

A Warning to Willie

In the interests of public safety, here is a health warning to Willie Jackson, the MP who is telling the media he wants to box Bill English. St Pat's Silverstream, Bill's old school, has a boxing tradition. Bill won his weight division every year at school and is, we are told, a good boxer.

MPs who have played with him in the "world champion" New Zealand Parliamentary rugby team say Bill is tough. They predict he would knock out Willie.

A Straw in the Wind

ACT's new book, 'Old Values, New Ideas', is in its second edition after only a month in the book shops. We note that 'Helen', which was for sale at $45 at Christmas, is now discounted to $19 in the bookshops.

The Ten Dollar Bank

The Letter notes a continual stream of uplifting press statements from Jim Anderton about how well our taxpayer-funded $84 million Kiwibank is doing. We hate to rain on Jim's parade, but Kiwibank has only 60 percent of the customers its business plan predicted. More worrying is that the average Kiwibank branch is doing only 20 over-the-counter transactions a day - compared with the predicted 100.

Franchisees' only income is a fee per transaction. So a franchisee is expected to train staff and lose a third of their retail space, for just $10 a day in transaction commissions. The taxpayers' $84 million investment is not looking good.

ARA - Runaway Trains

The ARA is raiding Infrastructure Auckland's $800 million for its rail project. (Why is there no subsidy for ferries?) The Letter understands that Stagecoach is prepared to offer an alternative service for free, and Tranz Rail could also offer a cheaper option. A report leaked to the Letter says ARA-owned and operated trains will cost each ratepayer $500 a year.


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