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ACT's The Letter - Monday 9 February 2004

The Letter
Monday 9 February 2004


On Tuesday parliament reopens with Labour under pressure. The TV pictures from Waitangi showed the state of the country’s race relations. Pressure is on Helen Clark to produce a Prime Ministerial statement that has an answer to the growing gap between Maori aspirations and the rest of the nation. The real pressure on Helen Clark is that Don Brash’s speech was visionary: a New Zealand where race is not a factor. Clark is going to have to demonstrate that she too can do the vision thing.


The foreshore issue will dominate the parliamentary year. Ministers have said government did not introduce its legislative proposals for a new public domain, development rights and governance for Maori, because Labour did not want the issue to dominate the news over the break. The cabinet and caucus are still divided – the legislation is not drafted. Legislation may not be introduced until June. Cullen is hoping the Maori caucus will realize Labour cannot go any further. Clark’s bending of the constitutional convention of cabinet solidarity to accommodate Turiana puts great pressure on the other Maori MPs to also abstain. The maths is simple. On this issue the opposition is 58. Labour needs 59, it’s already down to 61. Tony Blair, on the recent vote on tertiary fees, let it be known if he lost that he would introduce a confidence vote and make university fees part of that vote. Clark has not yet said what she will do if the government is defeated.


Labour’s tracking polls show the government is in real trouble. Most Labour voters do not support Labour’s race-based policy approach and are saying that race relations are an important issue when voting.


The National caucus, which ended the year exhausted and depressed, is on a high. MPs can now see that Labour is beatable. MPs claim their recent caucus was the first not to be divided (no one supported Georgina Te Heu Heu partly because she was unable to articulate what part of Don Brash’s speech she disagreed with). The lift in morale should produce a better parliamentary performance.


MPs are a bit sceptical about the free dinner story but do not believe that Peters did not know his researcher was working for one of the fishing companies his select committee was investigating. National is gaining at NZ First’s expense.


United MPs are gutted to discover their polling is back to 2%. Dunne’s decision to back Labour’s foreshore legislation is not popular and United are not sure whether to change their stand. Their problem is more fundamental. Centre parties only grow when one of the traditional parties is weak.


In politics most great opportunities come with great risks. Don Brash (ACT’s 10th MP) brings the possibility of a Centre-right government that can implement many of ACT’s policies. The risk is that by taking ACT’s policies, Brash may also take ACT’s vote. ACT appears to have lost few votes and the party’s supporters have taken Brash’s speech as confirmation that they and ACT have been right all along. It is confirmation that voting for a party of fresh ideas is not wasted. Registrations for ACT’s annual conference in Christchurch (5, 6 & 7 March) are up. This may be due to the quality of the speakers (there is a lot of media interest in Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian, who is speaking on the Aussie/NZ relationship) or it may be Air NZ’s low fares. Register at


How Ross Armstrong and Donna Awatere Huata received so much money is going to be a subject of some tough parliamentary questioning. It appears that Ross Armstrong spent one million dollars as chairman of NZ Post. He told any one who questioned him that he was engaged in important business for the government and that he was a friend of Helen Clark. It appears that Ms Huata received two million dollars. How much did Ministers know about what Armstrong and Huata were receiving?


Tomorrow the high court will hear Donna Awatere Huata’s injunction to prevent parliament from expelling her. The MP has left ACT and has now voted against ACT more than six times. The electorate voted for nine ACT MPs and now ACT has eight. The Letter expects ACT to win and Kenneth Wang, 10th on ACT’s list, to be declared by the Speaker to be an MP, a good way to start the year.


Education is Auckland’s biggest industry and the number of Asian students has halved. New Zealand was always their second choice. The falling US dollar has made their first choice affordable and the rising Kiwi has made NZ expensive. Read a Chinese newspaper to see the number of businesses that serve the student market from apartments to entertainment. The student flat rents are already down 20%. The housing market continued to fall in January. It is going to have a big impact on Auckland.


Labour wants to cut off submissions on the anti-business Employment Relations Amendment bill by 27 February. ACT has an analysis of the bill, a model submission and how you can make a submission to the select committee on line


Do you support Don Brash’s call for one law for all? Go to to give your view. ACT will announce the result in the first debate.

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