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www.mccully.co.nz - 11 April 2008


www.mccully.co.nz - 11 April 2008

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

It’s Off to Court We Go

Four months into Election Year there is only one certainty about the rules under which the 2008 election will be held: they are in a complete state of uncertainty. Day after day Parliamentary Question Time demonstrates that Ministers have no understanding of the law they bludgeoned through last year. And advice and rulings from the Electoral Commission, the Parliamentary Service Commission and Crown Law suggest that all of the above are, at best, confused.

There is a sense in which none of that matters. Because at the end of the day it is only the judgment delivered by a Court that will ultimately determine the meaning of the law. That is why the National Party is commencing proceedings to get some definitive rulings from the only place that really matters.

Two areas of utter confusion are now firmly headed for the Courts. First, Labour’s “We’re Making a Difference” brochure raises important questions about whether it needed, under Labour’s new laws, to carry an authorisation (it didn’t have one), and then whether it should count against their $2.4 million cap (Attorney-General Michael Cullen said it wouldn’t and Justice Minister Annette King said it would). The Electoral Commission has determined that the brochure should have carried an authorisation and that the Labour Party has committed an offence. But they have let Labour off, because……, well, because the authorities always let Labour off. But the question of what expenditure should count against the cap is important and needs to be resolved before the Labour Party engages in another pledge card-style rort.

Equally important is resolution of the ability of third parties (in the case of the EPMU a Labour Party affiliated trade union) to register and then spend $120,000 attacking the National Party. The plan here is to have most of the major unions carry out an Election Year assassination of Mr Key and his colleagues, while the National Party is restricted to spending under the legislated cap.

Astonishingly, the Electoral Commission has decided to allow unions to register as third parties for this purpose. And the basis for the decision is Crown Law advice that the new Act only restricts the actions of “persons”, and unions, or any other groups of people, are not “persons”. All of which has got some senior lawyers scratching their heads.

But never mind. No point in messing around debating the point. The only decision that matters is one made by the Courts. Then at least the Election can be conducted on a level playing field.

If the Court backs the Commission’s ruling, then the unions will be allowed to register and spend their $120,000. But so will any other groups (as opposed to individuals). So groups of National Party supporters will be able to get together, register, and spend $120,000 attacking our miserable, visionless, incompetent Government. Which will rather raise the question as to why the Labour Party spent so much time and effort passing a law restricting campaign expenditure when it would be so simple to get around it.
So, folks, wait for the word from the Courts. And in the meantime, put some thought into some appropriate third party names. But don’t bother with Citizens Opposed to the Loser Labour Government. Or Campaign Against the Clark Control Freaks. They have both already been taken.

Our Very Odd Minister of Foreign Affairs

Prize for the understatement of the week must go to National Party Leader John Key for his assessment that it must “look very odd” to other governments to have our very own Minister of Foreign Affairs opposing the single biggest foreign policy initiative in the term of the current Government – the Free Trade Agreement with China. And even odder that the same Minister of Foreign Affairs has publicly threatened to bag the deal in the course of his regular excursions around the globe.

But there Mr Key has let the matter rest. Mr Key is a former manager in the international financial markets. Mr Key can therefore count. A very reassuring characteristic in our next Prime Minister.

Former Labour Prime Minister Mike Moore was correct to point out that if you don’t like it, blame the system. Because this is MMP in action. Fortunately, this is one matter on which it is not possible to go to the usual default position and blame the politicians. A majority of the public voted for MMP. And then enough of them voted for New Zealand First to enable Mr Peters to bargain for his bauble.

So, very odd it may appear to be to the nations that we engage with around the world. But it is classic MMP. And at the end of the day the public get both the system, and the minor parties that they vote for.

State Services Commission Drama

The process to appoint the nation’s top public servant took an interesting turn this week with the announcement that Ministry of Economic Development head, Geoff Dangerfield had been appointed to the nation's top Transport role. Dangerfield was easily the most experienced of the contenders for the State Services Commissioner role, and leaves serious questions over the appointment process.

The State Services Commissioner appointment to replace Mark Prebble poses a number of challenges. The politicisation of the public service that has occurred in recent years was laid bare by the Setchell case, which also left serious and unanswered questions about Prebble’s role in the whole affair. The next commissioner will need to re-build both a sense of public service professionalism and public confidence in that professionalism.


National's Gerry Brownlee proposed a process for consultation over the appointment. With six months to run until the next election and the possibility of a change of government, he argued, surely the nation's top public servant, required to hire and fire other departmental heads, should have the comfort of knowing he or she enjoyed the confidence of both major political parties. The offer was swiftly rejected by State Services Minister David Parker. And now the process is starting to unravel. The interviews apparently commence next week.

The decision by Dangerfield to evacuate the process takes the only experienced departmental chief executive out of the running. Deputy SSC head Ian Rennie is well thought of around the traps but handicapped by a lack of experience in a CEO's role (something generally considered a prerequisite in the State Services Commissioner position), and by his role in the Setchell drama (although the word is that Rennie was completely dropped in it by Prebble).

Justice Secretary Belinda Clarke is apparently a contender and the name of deputy Police Commissioner (and former SSC staffer) Lynn Provost has been floating around Wellington. Neither, on the strength of their performance would attract the confidence of the National Party. Top CEOs like Foreign Affairs head Simon Murdoch have apparently made it clear they have no interest in such a poisoned chalice. All of which leaves the Minister with a dilemma.

Having foolishly rejected Brownlee's suggestion of consultation, Parker decided to attempt to buy himself protection by appointing former National Leader Jim Bolger to the interview panel. But that will buy him no cover at all. And in any case, there is no obligation on the Minister and the Prime Minister to follow the panel's recommendation when they take a nomination to the Cabinet.

So Mr Parker must by now have a sense of foreboding about the process ahead.
He needed an obviously acceptable candidate in the wings, or he needed to find a way of binding the Opposition into the process. Having neither, he must be wondering whether to invite Mr Brownlee out to dinner next week for a quiet chat.


ENDS

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