Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search - 7 December 2007 - 7 December 2007

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully, MP for East Coast Bays


The number of New Zealanders leaving permanently for Australia has risen to over 770 per week on average. All the signs are that it will continue to get worse. The ambitious, skilled New Zealanders upon whom our economic future depends are deserting in droves. Any government in its right mind would be deeply worried. With elections later in 2008, New Zealanders are likely to see little future for a government that sees no future for them.

So Parliament is headed to exceed its scheduled timetable, originally intended to drift to a close around next Wednesday. It may even spill into the following week. But in a style that has become symbolic of the Clark Government, it is not the future of the country that is the subject of their legislative preoccupations in the dying weeks of 2007: rather the political survival of the Labour Government. Placing the nation on a path to prosperity sounds a little like hard work. Much easier simply to silence and constrain those who might so inconveniently bring these troubling matters to the attention of the voting public.

So the Electoral Finance Bill (EFB) will be rammed through its final stages in the coming days. The support of the Greens for legislation that seeks to circumscribe the democratic freedoms of their fellow citizens – especially those who disagree with them – is no surprise. Much harder to justify or understand is the support of New Zealand First, who seem blissfully unaware of the political odium that now awaits them in election year. The petty, bureaucratic, Stalinist provisions of the legislation will target their support base more than most. Each encounter, accidental or by design, with a law that is both intrusive and uncertain will afford a harsh reminder.

So, the final days of the 2007 Parliament have proven deeply revealing. Exposed for all to see is a Clark Government that, in the absence of any positive policy plans for the country’s future, instead resorts to stifling opponents and silencing critics for the whole of election year. Exposed, too, are their political helpers in this shameful exercise, the Greens and NZ First. Most exposed of all has been new Justice Minister Annette King – given an easy media ride now for many years. Long on bluster and short on analysis, she has been well and truly found out during the EFB debate. And by the time Parliament finally gets to its Christmas break Clark, King and their colleagues will all be asking themselves whether it really was all worth it.

Mortal Blow for Public Service

The second tier to the Labour plan was simple: having tied the hands of their political opponents and silenced their critics through the EFB, the Labour Party planned to have a veritable election-year extravaganza of government departmental publicity. Hence the need to weed out those communications managers of independent and professional mindset, to be replaced by those with more reliable political motivations. But this week the appalling saga of the politicisation of the Ministry for the Environment just got worse. A whole lot worse.

It was always a foolish call by acting State Services Minister Trevor Mallard to cast a slur over the competence of Erin Leigh – the communications contractor who left the Ministry when she saw one of the previous Minister’s political mates being shipped in to superintend her work. If there were genuine issues about the quality of her work, they would be much more credibly conveyed by the State Services Commissioner in his report rather than by a clearly angry Minister already under scrutiny for over-vigorous conduct. Now, Environment Ministry head Hugh Logan has made it clear that Mallard’s assertions were wrong. And while Logan has apologised for his role, Mallard is refusing to do likewise. How can this be?

The statement this week by Hugh Logan describes work undertaken by Ms Leigh, on four separate contracts, as “professional and of good quality.” Three former colleagues of Ms Leigh’s are now on record as concurring with this view. Of the briefing note to Mallard, Logan says he “did not take it or intend it to reflect on Ms Leigh’s professional ability or her performance under contract to the Ministry.” Subsequent events showed that the note “could be, and was interpreted in this adverse way.”

So now we know that, in the eyes of the only people able to judge, Ms Leigh’s work record was good. We know the note that Mallard used as the basis for his attack in the House was not intended to convey anything different. Yet he chose to mount an attack on her performance that he has refused, when challenged, to repeat outside the House, where he might be sued. And now, despite the fact that the person responsible for the briefing note has told the nation that Mallard’s interpretation is wrong, he still refuses to apologise. And while Mallard made his attack as acting State Services Minister, he is, since the re-shuffle, Minister for the Environment – the very Ministry whose note he has misused to mount the attack that his chief executive has now been forced to admit to be wrong. The chemistry must be just wonderful.

Soon, the State Services Commissioner will present the results of his investigation. That would of course, be our old friend Dr Mark Prebble. The same Dr Prebble who had memory lapse issues of his own in the early stages of this saga. And who, having acted as judge and jury in his own case, found his actions to be wanting. But only a little.

To complicate the matter even further, the Minister for State Services, David Parker, was the Climate Change Minister whose actions are now the subject of investigation by the State Services Commissioner (SSC). Oh, but don’t worry, the SSC won’t be reporting to Mr Parker.

They will report to another Minister – in this case the Justice Minister Annette King. The same Mrs King who is doing such an excellent job ramming through the electoral finance legislation that she certainly doesn’t understand, and probably hasn’t read. Now wouldn’t she be just the perfect person to ensure that the interests of fairness and professionalism are fully adhered too.

Further evidence, ladies and gentlemen, that if this isn’t a government in terminal decline then we, at the worldwide headquarters of will be very much surprised.


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