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Richard Prebble’s The Letter

Richard Prebble’s The Letter

LABOUR’S MAORI CAUCUS SPLIT The daily humiliation for Labour as Parekura Horomia demonstrates his total unfitness for the office, exposes a deep split in Labour’s Maori caucus. As the ninth floor claims Parekura’s job is safe, his Maori ministerial colleagues leak details of the Minister of Maori Affairs’ poor health and John Tamihere makes a proxy attack on Maori’s traditional leadership.

RATANA WAS ANTI-TRIBAL The Labour Party captured the Maori seats with an alliance with the Ratana movement. It is a core Ratana belief that tribalism holds back Maori, and Ratana is a pan-Maori movement. Ratana set out to represent the Morehu – the landless ones. Just as a few Maori are descendents of chiefs, many more are descendents of slaves or low caste Maori whose chiefs sold their land. Labour’s Minister of Maori Affairs in the Lange government, Koro Wetere, was the first high class Maori Labour MP and as the Maori Queen’s advisor, believed in tribalism and his tribe. Wetere made treaty settlements tribal and tribal leaders wealthy. The treaty settlements have done nothing for Morehu or “urban Maori”.

LABOUR HAS LOST The Morehu versus the “aristocrats” has hit Labour’s Maori seats before. Winston Peters, in his 2002 pre-election speech said, “The Treaty Industry has brought the mass majority of Maori nothing. Not a snapper, not an inch of land, not a dollar in value.” Helen Clark is very conscious that she is the first Labour leader to lose a Maori seat, and fears she will do so again. Tamihere is an anathema to tribal Maori – so Clark feels she cannot replace Parekura with him.

ACROSS THE TASMAN Consumer confidence is at a ten-year high, despite the drought, SARS, the Iraq war etc. John Howard is at record popularity and Labor has just had a damaging leadership challenge. Interest rates are at historic lows. There is a school of thought that says government popularity is more affected by people’s mortgages than any other factor. The Liberal government in Australia and the Labour government in NZ have taken diametrically different stances on Iraq. Both countries have been hit by drought (serious in Australia) and SARS. But in both countries tens of thousands of homeowners have received letters from their banks saying their interest rates have been lowered, giving in effect a tax-free pay rise. The fact that rates are lower because both Reserve Banks see harder times is ignored. People feel better which is the real explanation for both government’s high polling.

RAIL Toll Holdings has demonstrated why NZ companies fail in Australia, and vice versa – they do not understand the culture. Michael Cullen thought he had an agreement with Toll only to see Toll stand in the market against the NZ government. Clearly Toll’s Paul Little thinks that NZ is a state like Tasmania and can be easily beaten. But Dr Cullen has many more weapons – the government writes the rules. He has said if Toll wins – the government won’t subsidise the track. And Toll is going to need overseas investment commission approval. Then there is the Commerce Commission, which has for years wanted to have a crack at rail’s control of the interisland ferries. Labour can blow Toll’s offer out of the water at any time it likes. Paul Little is about to discover that Australia and NZ are not the same.

RAIL REGULATIONS VITAL It’s not possible to run a railway without government co-operation. Three government decisions hit Tranz Rail. First, cabotage – the ability of foreign ships to pick up local cargo. Rail lost the Comalco contract – vital South to North cargo. Second, the speed restrictions in the Marlborough Sounds – lowered the ferry’s profitability and rail delivery times. And then the king hit – speed restrictions when it was hot – played havoc with rail timetables. (The buckling of lines has never been a problem in NZ – an equivalent ruling would be that because heavy trucks can aquaplane in rain, when it’s raining truck speed be limited to 40 km.) Any government safety inspector could stop rail at any time just by citing “safety” at the hundreds of uncontrolled level crossings.

PROSTITUTION BILL The Prostitution Reform Bill is parliament at its worst - a private members bill and a free vote. The Bill is poorly drafted; even worse are the amendments. Even the Bill’s founder, Tim Barnett, is alarmed by the result. The Bill was misnamed from the outset. Prostitution in NZ is not illegal and never has been. What is illegal is soliciting, pimping and brothel keeping. Parliament realises that massage parlours are brothels and the Massage Parlours Act already sets stringent rules. The police and local bodies said in evidence that they have no significant problems with parlours, only street prostitution. The Bill seeks to regulate prostitution and introduce the OSH Act into brothels but by legalising soliciting the Bill encourages prostitution on to the more dangerous street scene. The Bill’s protagonists have so misstated the legislation’s reality that some liberals are for the fire.

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