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Gerry In the House - 24 February 2006

24 February 2006
Gerry Brownlee
www.national.org.nz

Gerry In the House

When Parliament resumed on Tuesday there were still unanswered questions about who authorised the Labour Party expenditure of $446,000 on taxpayer-funded election pledge cards. $446,000 amounts to around 1,000 ear grommets for kids or 168 hip or knee replacements or several hundred cataract operations, so it’s hardly small change when it comes to accountability issues.

Don Brash began by asking the Prime Minister: Did she know that the money was coming from her Leader’s fund; did she approve it; and when did she first know the Chief Electoral Officer had concerns? The Prime Minister confessed that she did know about it, and that the Chief Electoral Officer had notified Labour as early as October 2005 that it would be classed as an election expense. Of course, this means that Labour knew it should have been included as an election expense BEFORE they put in their return.

Most New Zealanders would assume that Parliament would be able to investigate further, to get some straight answers from the Prime Minister. But the Labour Party isn’t interested in being accountable. This became crystal clear when Trevor Mallard was wheeled in to start waving standing orders all over the place.

In an extraordinary ruling from the Speaker, Helen Clark was deemed to be acting for the Labour Party rather than wearing her Prime Minsterial hat when these critical spending decisions were being made. In essence, it means she is trying to duck the responsibility she has to account for the taxpayer money misused on Labour’s re-election campaign.

This has profound implications. It means that the PM can use taxpayer funds any old way she likes, so long as she says that was a decision she made as Leader of the Labour Party. In my view that’s slippery and it’s wrong.

But despite Labour’s best attempts to dodge the bullet this time, this remains a live issue. I’m sure the police report will make for interesting reading.

Our very, very, very good friends
The parade of senior US military and political figures continued this week with Helen Clark meeting General John Abizaid, Head of the US Central Command, the body that is currently engaged in Iraq and the restoration work in Afghanistan.

This meeting was supposed to be secret, but unfortunately the Prime Minister let the cat out of the bag at a media conference after Cabinet last Monday. Within half an hour of the briefing her media minders were running around the Press Gallery frantically back peddling. Apparently the Prime Minister had inadvertently made the announcement and journalists were being asked not to report the matter, as it was an important security issue.

The question that immediately arises is how does a Prime Minister make such a mistake after a full Cabinet meeting and at a press conference? The next question is why on Earth would they want to keep such a meeting secret?

The General’s stopover comes after a visit of three senior senators in mid-January, as well as a visit from the Admiral in charge of the Pacific Naval Command at the end of January.

You can’t help but be left with the impression that the U.S is sending in some advanced scouts to find out just how friendly the next Secretary General of the United Nations might be.

Helen Clark has tried to stave off immediate rumours by dutifully saying she is not interested in the UN job. But it does seem too much of a coincidence that the US, which has previously been bypassing New Zealand, is suddenly sending in the heavy artillery. It is also interesting to have heard her proclaim so often in recent times that New Zealand is a very, very, very good friend of the US. How very convenient indeed.

Transport

Wednesday saw the long-awaited release of Transit’s 10-year plan for roading construction in New Zealand. This country is, we are told, currently at full economic growth capacity because we are in infrastructural deficit. Put simply, that means we haven’t got enough electricity, and we don’t have a roading network, particularly in main centres, that can keep the economy growing at the sort of level we need to stay competitive with Australia.

The document released on Wednesday was the third in a series that have been released since the middle of last year. Labour has made much in recent times about their commitment to improving roading, particularly around Auckland. You’ll be aware that every time you go to the pump you contribute directly to the funding of that roading.

Transit’s plan forecast massive cuts and delays on roading projects throughout the country. There were seven big projects planned for Christchurch, all supposed to be completed in the very near future. With one project pushed out beyond 2013, and all of the others beyond 2015, Labour has effectively stripped them from the ten-year plan.

Transport Minister, David Parker, was in full flight proclaiming the brilliance of the plan at midday when the report was released. But by 12:30pm, Associate Finance Minister Trevor Mallard, who recognised the political dynamite in the report, tossed it into the trash. Who paid for this glossy report that went straight into the garbage? The taxpayer of course!

The report also contained regional flyers, which interestingly, carried estimated start times and estimated costs that bore absolutely no similarity to the same projects listed inside the master plan.

The fact is that Labour has made an absolute hash of this. They have taken an enormous amount of revenue, supposedly for roading, and simply not spent it. It is fascinating that Mr Mallard, who has been part of the process all of the way through, could see the report released at midday and then within half an hour announce that he can miraculously find the $682m shortfall.

The question of trust arises again. Can these guys be believed when they say they have a commitment to improving this country’s infrastructure?

The break down (below) shows just how much you pay every time you put a litre of petrol in your tank.

Excise Duty Crown Bank Account 18.708 cents per litre
Excise Duty National Land Transport Management Fund 22.492 cents per litre
ACC Levy 5.78 cents per litre
Petroleum Fuels Monitoring Levy 0.025 cents per litre
Local Authorities tax 0.66 cents per litre
TOTAL 47.665 cents per litre

Gerry Brownlee
www.national.org.nz

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