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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington 26/8/2002

RICHARD PREBBLE'S
Letter from Wellington

Monday, 26 August 2002

Interesting Times

The new Parliament met today to elect the Speaker. Tomorrow the Governor-General will deliver the speech from the throne, setting out the government's programme, and on Wednesday we'll hear from the other parties. It's going to be interesting.

The Speaker

ACT's Ken Shirley challenged Jonathan Hunt for the Speaker's job. While Hunt has been one of the better Speakers, Labour's decision to seek not only the Speakership but also the Deputy and Assistant Speakers' jobs is outrageous. Labour doesn't have a majority in the House.

A strong Parliament, which is a check on the executive, needs a strong Speaker's office, independent from the executive.

Ken Shirley is a popular MP and well qualified for one of the Speaker's positions. Ken pointed out to Parliament that Jonathan Hunt is on record as saying that in an MMP Parliament it's vital that the Speakership be shared by the parties in Parliament.

The Speech from the Throne

The Letter understands the speech from the throne will demonstrate how Labour has run out of ideas and vision. Labour has no strategy to achieve 4% growth.

The government's plan is to push through the 100 or so bills left over from the last term. Ministers are frustrated that their pet bills have been held up by the Greens' refusal to grant urgency for routine legislation.

Most of the bills are poor quality. Some are awful - like the OSH amendment bill, with its $500,000 fines for employers who cause stress.

The Parties

United Future. The media, having exercised its muscle to promote United Future during the campaign - Peter Dunne was TVNZ's candidate - will now scrutinise what it elected. The irony is that United's procedural agreement makes it possible for legislation to be passed that United campaigned against.

National. The man in the hot seat is Don Brash. Being promoted to number three, he is being put up as National's new hope - a big challenge.

Greens. After a humbling defeat in Coromandel, Labour rejected them for a coalition deal and they now face being irrelevant. This was the Greens' election and they blew it.

NZ First. Peters' extreme statements won him votes but not power. He's the Le Pen of New Zealand politics.

ACT - has consolidated its position as the intellectual leader of the centre-right. The election campaign confirmed ACT's leadership on several issues: 1) the economy - ACT's advocacy of low taxes to stimulate growth and jobs; 2) education - ACT is the only party opposed to the politically-correct NCEA; 3) health - ACT's advocacy of using the private sector to cut waiting lists; 4) justice - ACT's advocacy of Truth in Sentencing, and a Zero Tolerance approach to crime; 5) the Treaty - all parties now support ACT's policy of a time limit for claims.

Air New Zealand

Having got into Air New Zealand, Labour finds it can't get out. Ministers are appalled by the airline's capital requirement - believed to be up to $3 billion over the next five years.

The Qantas deal appeals to Dr Cullen because it limits Air NZ to being a minor regional airline - needing less capital. The creation of a monopoly on domestic and trans-Tasman routes would guarantee good profits. The problem is, it would be at the expense of tourism, NZ's biggest employer and foreign exchange earner.

Air NZ is gambling that the public will accept narrower seats, less leg room, and cheese and biscuits. If they are wrong, and 20% more passengers don't appear, Dr Cullen will find his $1B to bail out Singapore Airlines and BIL was just a deposit.

Skyhawks/Aermacchi Sale

When Labour dismantled the air strike wing, the Air Force advised that a skeleton crew be retained to keep the planes airworthy for sale. Helen Clark, who knows nothing about aircraft, thought this was a ploy to keep the strike wing, so the government ordered all staff to be made redundant and the planes moth-balled.

The Letter has learned the government now has a buyer for the Aermacchi trainers. The purchaser wants the planes airworthy and flown to him for delivery. So the Civil Contractor is advertising for pilots, mechanics and electricians. A survey shows 17 of the 20 Aermacchi engines will have to be stripped down and rebuilt - and the cost? $15 million!

China's Nelson Mandela Visits

The chairman of the Overseas Chinese Democracy Movement - Wei Jingsheng is in New Zealand for a week. Mr Wei has spent nearly 20 years in jail in China. He wrote some of the more famous statements calling for democracy 10 years before the Tianamen Square protests.

Parliaments around the world have honoured Mr Wei for his principled stand for democracy. The Australian Parliament last week put on a function for him. Then he comes to Helengrad. Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff only agreed to meet him in his electorate office. Rodney Hide attended a function for Mr Wei on Saturday night at Auckland's Dynasty Restaurant, organised by the Auckland Chinese community. He was surprised to see Jonathan Hunt attending a Labour Party function in the next room.

"This is a stroke of good fortune," thought Rodney. "I'll introduce the Speaker to Mr Wei."

"I'd be honoured to meet him," Hunt said, "but at the appropriate time" - ie after China becomes a democracy.

The Speaker let Tu Wylie camp in Parliament but he won't meet the man whom millions of Chinese recognise as their "Nelson Mandela".

Clark Losing It

Helen Clark has been fighting the reality that she leads a minority government. Last week, Labour conceded that the Greens, United and National would chair select committees - but not ACT or NZ First. This week, Clark says she only wants to veto ACT. ACT is putting up Donna Awatere-Huata to chair the education select committee - a committee MPs agree she is well-qualified to chair. This is an interesting test of MMP.


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