Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 26 May 2006 26 May 2006

(#248) A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

Unflattering A-G’s Report for DOC

The Conservation Department manages over 8.5 million hectares of land - about a third of the entire country. And judging by the sort of land grab going on with high country station purchases and the tenure review process, it wants to own over half of it. So you would expect that DOC might have a bit of expertise in the business of buying, selling, and managing land. But judging by a report issued by the Auditor-General (A-G) this week, such is not the case.

In the carefully chosen words for which the A-G is well known, some truly disturbing revelations are made about the nation’s largest land owner. First, DOC has failed to comply with many of the statutory requirements laid down for its operation. A series of statutory management plans and strategies are stipulated in the Conservation Act and the National Parks Act. The A-G lists a slew of statutory requirements that DOC has simply ignored.

Second, our nation’s largest land owner has no central record of what bits of land it owns, or where or why it acquired them. Which is pretty astonishing. The A-G tells DOC to remedy these rather basic deficiencies, by establishing a proper database.

Third, DOC appears to routinely break its own rules for the buying or selling of land. The A-G provides some horrific examples of both, and tells them to follow their own rule book in future.

And fourth, it has no national strategic plan for the land it manages. This is a central criticism of the A-G’s report, which, in more lofty words, points out that if no-one knows where they are going, then any road will get them there.

All in all, the A-G’s report identifies the most fundamental failings in the government agency which is our largest land owner, in the nicest possible way. Time, it appears, for a major shake-up for the folks over at DOC.

Budget Blues

There is always one certainty as Opposition strategists sit down to plan the political year - put a large ring around the month of May and accept that it will belong to the Government. The Budget in May always provides the opportunity for a two week build-up of pre-Budget announcements, photo-ops or even old fashioned leaks. The Budget itself dominates a whole parliamentary week. And the week of post-Budget briefings and announcements completes a whole month of domination of the political stage. But this year it didn’t quite happen that way.

The leak of the Budget centre-piece - the Telecom unbundling - didn’t help. Giving slippery answers about leak enquiries doesn’t have quite the political pulling power of a lofty multi-million dollar Budget initiative. But that was merely incidental to the real problem. The 2006 Budget shone a huge spotlight on what is becoming an increasingly terminal problem for the Clark Government: its fixation with wealth re-distribution rather than wealth creation. New Zealanders had just witnessed an Australian Budget that provided a huge wake-up call for this country. And our Government’s response was to keep right on sleep-walking.

Your average Kiwi may not be fully across the gap in relative net average after tax wages between Australia and New Zealand (where Australia is now 33% ahead) but they sure as hell notice when their children and grandchildren decide to move to the Gold Coast. The lower taxes announced across the ditch, on top of the already superior growth rate (3% plus, compared with our 1%) will only increase the flow.

The Labour tactic of attempting to brand National Leader Don Brash as unpatriotic for highlighting the trans-Tasman contrast backfired badly. It simply provided a vehicle to keep the focus on the Government’s failure to meet the Australian challenge. New Zealanders have a clear sense of the sort of strategy that is required: a rapid infrastructure building programme, streamlining of the RMA to make such a programme possible, a re-vamp in education/science/technology, and, of course, tax cuts to get the incentives right. The Budget’s failure to advance any of the above (even the roading initiatives will be strangled by the RMA) just couldn’t be clearer to an increasingly anxious New Zealand public.

So Parliament has slipped into the post-Budget recess with the Government devoid of Budget momentum. The worst fears of Opposition planners (that they would face a two month struggle to wrest back control of the agenda) have not been realised. And for Labour, it’s starting to look like a very long two years ahead until the next election.

Scalps in the Offing

The brief David Parker departure from the Cabinet room brought about a most interesting revelation. As gallery hacks commenced the search for potential replacements, it suddenly dawned on them that there were none - no talent at all in the Labour caucus fit for executive office. Well, that’s what you get when you allow the unions to stack the caucus with their own. So, since the election, it has been blindingly obvious that the knackers yard beckons for half a dozen of Labour’s talentless list Members.

Frustrated by the hostile response to the Budget, the Ninth Floor decided the time was right for the cull to commence. And what better way to commence the conversation than a front page story in a Sunday newspaper, based on the predictions of former Labour staffer, now a director of PR firm Senate Communications, Mark Blackham.

Clark, of course, was quick to deny the story. But Senate is, on several fronts, well connected into the current Government. And Blackham has good links into the Labour ranks. So the message for the likes of Diane Yates, Dover Samuels, Ann Hartley, Russell Fairbrother and Jill Pettis is pretty simple: now would be a very good time to identify the next career opportunity. Perhaps as High Commissioner to Niue, Kiribati, or the Solomon Islands.

Because even a posting to Timor is going to look pretty attractive by comparison with anything else on offer from the Ninth Floor.


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