Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search - 18 April 2008 - 18 April 2008

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

“A Contest About Power”

For several weeks now all Government guns have been trained on John Key. Forgotten, apparently, is the fact that a majority of the Labour caucus have ministerial warrants, small empires of flunkies, chauffeur- driven limos and handsome ministerial houses – all for the purpose of providing good government. Yet all they can talk about is what John Key might do or might say. And the levels of vitriol have increased by the day.

The explanation from Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said it all:
“This is a contest about power in New Zealand.” The sentiment was reinforced by Clark herself at Question Time, when asked by Key whether any of her ministers had any intention of addressing the real questions troubling New Zealanders rather than merely engaging in “low grade personal attacks” on him. “Diddums” was her most un-Prime Ministerial response. And to reinforce the point both major television channels proceeded to provide endless re-runs of an entirely foolish and even more tuneless Labour Party conference skit in which four Labour wimmin (three of them Ministers of the Crown) sang a version of “The Gambler” re-written as another Key attack.

At a time of rollicking economic confidence it would have been a marginal call. At a time when vast numbers of New Zealand families are worried about the cost of the mortgage, a tank full of gas and the groceries, a more ill-judged expedition by a bunch of overpaid and underworked politicians would be hard to contemplate.

So Michael Cullen and his colleagues have done us all a huge favour. There is no longer any pretence about being there for the service of the public. This is nothing more nor less than “a contest about power in New Zealand.” A contest they will apparently do absolutely anything to win. The public, unless we miss our guess, have their unique ways of rewarding governments with a massive sense of entitlement like that.

Seismic Re-engineering or Election Year Swagger?

This week’s announcement of a $621 million boost to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade budget leaves an important question to be answered. The funding package is essentially the same proposition put on the table last year and deferred for further study. Even in the healthier economic climate of 2007 the bid raised eyebrows over its scale and questionable justification. In the straitening economic times of 2008, with middle New Zealand households under pressure to meet increased mortgage, petrol, and food costs, new government expenditure on such a scale, especially on bureaucrats, will be a hard sell.

Papers released relating to last year’s bid make it clear that both the Treasury and the State Services Commission had serious doubts about the proposals and opposed the expenditure. So the question that now needs to be answered is just what sort of case was presented by the Minister and his Ministry to win Dr Cullen’s approval? Did they furnish detailed reports showing clear evidence of New Zealand’s trade or security interests being compromised by a lack of resources, and present such a compelling case that Dr Cullen simply couldn’t say no? Or did Mr Peters simply tell Dr Cullen that approving the bid in order to provide the material for a bit of Election Year swagger was part of the price of doing coalition business?

The proof, of course, will lie in the paperwork, all of which will now be required to be disclosed to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee when it examines the estimates immediately following the May 22 Budget. National Leader John Key has made it clear that an incoming National Government will cap the number of bureaucrats at the current 36,000 with any increases in any department being met by reductions in another. It is against that background that the MFAT increases will be examined. And what might have looked like effective ministerial advocacy last year could appear more like insensitive and unjustified empire-building this year. The paperwork will tell the story.

Our Investment in “Science”

The Government’s gimmicky “Fast Forward Fund” science announcement has placed the Election Year spotlight on the whole area of science research and development. There will now be greater interest in the National Party’s response closer to the election. But what a pity that more focus has not been given to ensuring that we get value for money out of the existing budget.

The word ‘science’ will no doubt conjure up pictures of pasty-looking individuals in white coats shuffling around laboratories with Bunsen burners and test tubes. But a quick look at some of the projects currently being funded out of the Science/Research budget suggests that such is not the case.

Take, for example, a $96,000 grant for a study of Boganology. No, this is apparently not a poorly selected term for some exciting new microbial organism. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a study of bogans. That will really get our export industries humming.

Then there’s the interesting little number entitled “More than Bricks and Mortar,” a study of social networks amongst homeless people. All of that for a modest $795,000 (no, no typographical error - $795,000 out of the SCIENCE fund).

And how about a study of “The impact of economic shocks on the well-being of New Zealanders”. A snip at $600,000. All to ascertain the previously unknown and obviously elusive truth that economic shocks are bad for people’s well-being.

But for studies into the blindingly obvious the prize would have to be awarded to the report “How do positive events lead to greater happiness and wellbeing?” A modest $600,000 experiment that clearly involved giving someone a $600,000 grant and checking that he or she was very very happy indeed.

There is, of course, the usual display of rampant political correctness: a $427,000 grant for a “Dictionary of Loanwords in the Maori Language Newspapers”. A $495,000 study of “The Impact of Sound Change on the Rhythm of Maori”. And a $955,000 study “Ecosystem Services Benefits in Terrestrial Ecosystems for Iwi”, a report that will obviously shoot New Zealand immediately to the international forefront in this critical area of scientific endeavour.

That’s right folks. This is cash out of the SCIENCE budget we are talking about here. Cash that has been confiscated from taxpayers under the pretence of investing it in maintaining world leadership in our primary industries. Makes you yearn for a few more test tubes and Bunsen burners, doesn’t it?


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