Heather Roy's Diary
Heather Roy's Diary
ACT has long maintained that less government is good government. On the hustings ACT candidates can always be heard commenting that the core role of government should be to provide necessities that cannot be provided by anyone else. The question frequently arises as to why government is in the business of running a television station. The sudden resignation of CEO Ian Fraser, amidst claims of political interference by the politically appointed board, and Susan Wood protesting a drop of $100,000 from her $450,000 pay packet should raise the question as to whether it would be better to sell TVNZ off. Publicly (and generously) paid news and sports presenters have in recent years become 'celebrities' - and with this comes the expectation of huge salary packages courtesy of the taxpayer. ACT is the only party proposing TVNZ's sale. A public auction to the highest bidder would be my personal preference, although there is the danger that with the recent negative publicity and dropping ratings it mightn't fetch much. If all else fails there is always Trade Me.
I suspect that there has never been a time in the history of parliamentary democracy that the opposition seats have been so fiercely sought. New Zealand First and United Future insisted that they were still in opposition despite the fact that their leaders are now Ministers of the Crown. The Greens argued, somewhat more plausibly, that they had only promised to abstain on a vote of "no confidence" and were bona fide opposition. If all parties had their way the debating chamber would have required significant alteration so that the 51 member Labour/Progressive coalition on the government side could face 70 opposition MPs.
It would seem however, that the Capital's shortage of carpenters is not to be worsened by a major movement of parliamentary seating. United Future and New Zealand First are to sit next to the Labour/ Progressive coalition on the government benches. On the opposition benches the National Party will be on the Speaker's left followed by ACT, the Maori Party and the Greens will be on the aisle.
There has been some surprise amongst the business community that Trade Minister, Jim Sutton, has been asked to move on at the end of the year. He has been seen as successful in the post and has given New Zealand the opportunity for a free trade agreement with China. He is to be replaced by Phil Goff, who in turn is making way for Winston Peters as Foreign Affairs Minister. Mr Sutton gets to stay on until Christmas to complete current negotiations.
Mr Sutton's crime was to lose the seat of Aoraki, which had been a safe Labour seat. What's more, the National party candidate, Jo Goodhew, won by a whopping majority of 6,900 votes. Aoraki was, of course, the electorate where the Prime Minister's convoy of cars was clocked speeding to get her to the rugby on time. New Zealand as a whole seems to have forgiven her but the people of Aoraki thought their lives were more valuable than to be endangered by a speeding Prime Minister, not known for her passion for rugby. And they won't forgive Mr Sutton for leaving the local police drivers to face the music as if it was their idea to race the Prime Minister through Canterbury on their own. The closure of local schools and Labour's plan to give the public access to waterways through private property were other issues that didn't help Mr Sutton.
A Minister in Opposition?
Foreign diplomats stationed in Wellington are having some difficulty explaining to their own governments how a Minister of Foreign Affairs can be outside cabinet and claim to be in Opposition. Internal New Zealand politics seldom gets a mention overseas but this arrangement is attracting much curiosity.
As Rare as …
The phrase "as rare as hen's teeth" will soon be replaced by "as rare as a Labour backbencher". The number of Ministers continues to expand and as Cabinet Ministers don't sit on select committees Labour risks losing its majority on them. It simply has too few backbenchers. To make up the numbers Ministers outside cabinet will sit on select committees.
Families Commission Golden Handshake
Annual reports are not often eagerly awaited but the Families Commission 2005 report has been for the simple reason that the previous Minister of Social Development, Steve Maharey, refused to say in parliament how much the former Families Commission CEO Claire Austen was paid as a golden handshake when she parted company with the Commission. Mr Maharey would only say that the figure would be published in due course in the Commission's Annual Report. For 3 months work and 1 months paid leave following an employment breakdown over governance and operation issues Ms Austen received a $50,000 golden handshake - not bad work if you can get it.
It is worth remembering that the current Prime Minister, when in Opposition, promised Labour would stop golden handshakes, saying: "I've had a gutful. I don't intend, if I'm Prime Minister, to have to sit there and suffer one humiliation after another because of a culture of extravagance, which has been allowed to grow in the public sector. Whatever is in there and hidden, we want out."