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Gerry In The House: Wheels Fall Off Labour Bus

Gerry: In The House
13 May 2005

The wheels have fallen off Labour's bus

At a time when pre-Budget announcements usually shore up shaky backbench majorities, all we have seen this week have been labour's wheels well and truly falling off. The body language of Labour MPs says it all. And here's what's been causing it: the ongoing saga of 'Doonegate', continuation of issues with the Wananga, the release of two damning reports - NZQA and the 111 system - and the foot and mouth biosecurity scare.

Tuesday saw Helen Clark under considerable pressure in the House from questions put to her by Dr Brash. She spent the whole time skirting around the answers, which means the country is none the wiser about her involvement in the leak of misinformation into the public arena regarding the conduct of the former Police Commissioner Peter Doone. The question remains: Did Helen Clark lie to the Sunday Star-Times? And, after almost 40 questions put to her in the House, we still don't know. Instead of a nice simple "yes" or "no", we have heard, in true Helen Clark speak, "I don't know", "I can't remember", "I think I did", "I think I didn't", etc.

Her failure to accept responsibility is unfortunately what we have come to expect from her whenever she is under pressure. You just need to remember 'Paintergate', 'Corngate', Mr Yelash, the case of the Auckland surgeon, the Historic Places Trust payout, and the speeding motorcade to realise that.

It is alarming to think that someone who views herself to be blameless, and above reprimand, is in charge of this country.

It WAS also alarming to hear the Prime Minister in the House on Wednesday give herself sweeping new powers to leak confidential information to whomever she likes, whenever she likes. What is telling are the comparisons being made with her comment "by definition I cannot leak", and the statement made by former US President Richard Nixon who said "When the President does it that means it is not illegal".

And just when things were looking particularly dodgy, as if by pure luck, the foot and mouth scare materialised with almost perfect timing.

Helen Clark needs to front up and tell us the truth. Which is true? Her comments to the House over the past few weeks or the signed brief of evidence that she supplied to the court on 13 April 2005. (The court documents for 'Doonegate' can be found at )

Mallard's mess

But it's not only Helen Clark who has been having a challenging week - Trevor Mallard is probably looking forward to a relaxing weekend out of the firing line.

The report by the State Services Commission on the Scholarship review, out last Friday, is indicative of Mr Mallard's leadership of the Ministry of Education and NZQA. The report showed a saga of incompetence, complacency and arrogance that I find shocking. What is even more shocking is that Mallard sat on his hands despite regular warnings of huge troubles between the Ministry and NZQA.

He seems to have forgotten that, ultimately, the buck stops with him. He has been quick to point the finger at his officials and conveniently forgotten that he has overall responsibility for the mess.

To make matters worse for the Education Minister, on Wednesday he had to approve a $20 million loan to keep the embattled Te Wananga o Aotearoa afloat, no doubt hoping the problem will disappear. Labour has been throwing money at the Wananga for six years now but has asked nothing in return in terms of accountability.

According to official documents obtained by Bill English this week, Mallard has been so well briefed on the financial problems at the Wananga over the past few years that he probably knows more about the place than its own officials - he has been having weekly briefings since 2003.

On Monday night on Close-Up he had the cheek to suggest that it is all Nick Smith's fault that the Wananga is in the state it's in. This is a bald-faced lie because Nick, during his time as a Minister, has never had responsibility for tertiary education. Mallard should get his facts straight before making such accusations about another member of the House.

Obviously, he has been taking lessons from Helen Clark about taking responsibility.

Hide and seek with George Hawkins

George Hawkins spent most of the second half of the week ducking for cover after the release of the report into the police communications centre.

The report proves everything we said - police are unable to respond to calls, there is a complete lack of leadership, there is a complete lack of faith in the system, and the public and frontline police are at risk.

The public have been let down by one of the most incompetent Ministers that I can remember during my time in the House. They deserve accountability from Mr Hawkins but they are not getting it.

Hawkins, however has not been taking lessons from the Prime Minister when it comes to taking responsibility - because he's just not fronting at all. On Thursday, he was due to be in the House for question time, but at the 11th hour (and after he had seen the question sheet which saw four questions relating to his handling of the police), he was pulled out. He took an unscheduled trip to the communications centre in Auckland instead of fronting up in the House and answering the questions that the whole of New Zealand want to know the answers to.

The Police need a fresh start, and this country needs to be made safer. A change to a National Government at the election will do both these things.

And the gap widens further

This week saw the Australian Government announce a huge tax cut for all Australians. This will no doubt have a negative effect on the New Zealand economy.

For New Zealand to get a tax cut proportionally the same as Australia, it would need to be bigger than our $7 billion surplus.

While Michael Cullen has been raising taxes (most recently by the way of the carbon tax), people have been leaving to get the higher wages and lower taxes offered across the Tasman. Before this week there was a net migration loss of 330 people a week. And when New Zealanders earn on average $9000 less than those in Australia, who can blame them. I imagine the exodus of our brightest young people will now simply increase.

We can do better. A change to a National Government at the next election will see changes to the tax regime that will improve the living standards of us all.

Gerry Brownlee

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