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ACT's The Letter May 16 2005

ACT's The Letter May 16 2005


Labour had another bad week. The last time the government got a report as damning as the 111-call centre report was Justice Mahon’s report into the Erebus crash. Benson-Pope put his future on the line. Cullen is to deliver his budget on Thursday, then into an election?


The report reveals serious flaws in the 111 system caused not by technology or lack of resources but by lack of leadership (the Minister’s responsibility) and failures of management (the Commissioner’s). Police in reporting response time have only been recording the time taken to answer the phone. Not included are unanswered emergency calls that are automatically diverted by Telecom to other regional call centres. Response times are so poor it is a threat to the safety of the public and staff.

Hawkins has strongly denied allegations that Police traffic patrols have ignored 111 calls. The report says not just traffic but other Police patrol cars make themselves unavailable for emergency calls. It is worth reading.


The 111 Report was scheduled to be released on 10 May. Then the foot and mouth scare occurred so the release was brought forward. It is a political technique to release bad news on a day when it will be buried by a bigger story.


Putting the story out early backfired. The government had arranged for Hawkins to be out of town when the report was released but on Wednesday he was in Parliament. Then to the horror of the government Speaker Wilson granted an urgent debate. Hawkins was terrible, making inane statements like “the Police get it right 98% of the time.”

In a comedy of errors Hawkins was sent north to open a Civil Defence facility, only to have the weather not cooperate and close the airport. Rather than risk having him answer questions his minders sent him to observe a call centre (about 5 years too late).


Phil Goff, who was the government on Thursday with Cullen, Clark and Hawkins absent, told the house Hawkins was out of town on long arranged Ministerial business. Brownlee promptly produced the electronic advisory of Ministerial engagements showing that the Minister of Police’s engagement was not listed. From today the electronic message of ministerial engagements for the week will not be sent. In future the media will receive advisories in writing and the press gallery who rely on them for planning are protesting.


Tory Minister Profumo’s crime was not sleeping with prostitutes but lying about it to the House of Commons. Most MPs who were caned at school and had dusters thrown at them by teachers are not too worried to learn that Benson-Pope was a flogger and a tennis ball thrower. It’s just a minor tease for the Education Minister who is now so PC he is launching anti bullying campaigns.

Had he said he was the tennis coach and thus thrown tennis balls, the Minister could have laughed it off. But Benson-Pope has chosen the high-risk strategy of saying “all allegations are false.” He better be right.


Most Labour MPs think Clark will call an early election. Labour MPs at select committees discussing the agenda for August try to indicate they are serious but their body language says they do not expect it to happen. On Wednesday Winston Peters asked for the debate on his Treaty Principles Bill to be delayed.

With the country’s attention on the foot and month scare from Labour’s view point Wednesday was an ideal time for the debate, but Cullen agreed to an adjournment clearly believing he has delayed the bill until after the election. Janet Mackey who is retiring was heard to say she was not unhappy to have only five more weeks of parliament; that’s last week, this week, the one week recess then the three week budget debate and an election on 16 July. As Clark says, that is exactly three years so how is it early?


We think Clark has not decided but the slowing economy and Labour’s poor performance in parliament makes September look risky. Labour’s Aussie advisors are urging an early poll saying in Australia going early does not hurt. Once Labour was scared that a cold wet day would keep voters at home. Today virtually everyone has access to a car and Labour fears a fine hot election day when voters go to the beach and forget to vote.


Finance Ministers always lower expectations and Cullen is no exception but the budget will reveal a record $7 billion surplus. While Cullen will continue with his absurd claim that the cash available is just a billion, he has scope for real tax relief. Treasury is urging the Minister to adjust the tax brackets as wage inflation has put 12% of taxpayers into the 39% tax bracket and the last time the 33% bracket was adjusted was 1998.

The Liberals in Australia based their successful re election on a budget adjustment of the tax brackets in election year. So it must be tempting to cut taxes and off to the polls. Such a move would leave National with no room to promise tax cuts. It would not affect ACT, who has not signed up to the Cullen super fund.


Polls show National gaining but their leader falling to just 15%. Not a tolerable situation. NZ First find themselves in the opposite situation, their level of support is static but their leader is rising. Neither party has any idea how to solve their respective problems.


Last week we asked how you feel about the economy. 93% percent of our readers believe the country is going in the wrong direction. More reason to go early. This week, “Should Police Minister Hawkins resign?” We will send the result to PM Clark. Vote


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