Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search - 30 September 2008 - 30 September 2008

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully

MP for East Coast Bays

End of an Era?

The division bells have rung for the last time. Speaker Margaret Wilson has shrieked “order” glaring balefully at the opposition benches, for the final time. Valedictory speeches have been given by the voluntary retirees. And many more MPs have departed knowing that involuntary retirement awaits them. The 48th Parliament of the New Zealand House of Representatives has adjourned. And there was an unmistakable sense that this could be the end of an era.

From May of this year it has been clear that Michael Cullen had delivered his last Budget. The Speaker of the House is retiring. A swag of other Labour MPs have retired or announced their retirements. Now Helen Clark is fudging on the question of whether she will complete the next Parliamentary term. Not the signs of a government undertaking orderly rejuvenation, but the signs of a government that has run its course.

The feature that most vividly characterises this term of the Clark administration is its utter paralysis. The number of economic refugees departing our shores has reached record proportions, but the Government has had no response. The world’s entire financial sector is slowly unraveling, with clear downstream consequences for this country, yet there has been not a single initiative in response from our government. The whole non-bank finance sector in this country has imploded, and the Government has done nothing. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has been caught red-handed misleading the House and the country, and the Prime Minister is powerless to dismiss him. This truly is a government suffering political paralysis on a terminal scale.

For nine long years the best international economic conditions of many decades have indulged the Clark Government’s fixation with income re-distribution at the expense of wealth creation. Bureaucracies have grown fat, bloated and unresponsive. Bracket creep has caused teachers, policemen and nurses to be taxed as if they were millionaires. And the ambitious, the educated and the skilled have headed, in increasing numbers, across the Tasman.

Now we are officially in a recession. And not just of the “technical” variety. Now we need decisions to be made, priorities to be set, policies of prudence and growth to be pursued. Decisions that are clearly too hard for a Clark Government that has survived, during the good times, on a staple diet of acronyms, slogans and committees. And there is an overwhelming sense out there that the public truly understand that.

The Privileges Committee

The Privileges Committee report adopted by the Parliament last week took the unusual step of formally censuring former Foreign Minister Winston Peters. Endorsed by the Greens, the Maori Party, United Future, ACT and National, it was blindingly obvious that, contrary to the protestations of Mr Peters, the only parties that were behaving in a partisan fashion were the Labour Party and NZ First.

In the end, those members of the Committee interested in the facts had little choice. Mr Glenn had appeared with a credible story backed by corroborating evidence. The alternative Peters / Clark line went something like: “It looks like a duck; it quacks like a duck; it swims like a duck, but it’s an elephant because Winston says so.” Behind all of the obfuscation and drama the actual events became abundantly clear:

On the morning of 14 December 2005 the Labour Party’s largest donor, billionaire Owen Glenn, had brunch with the Labour Party President Mike Williams in Sydney. Glenn states that the purpose of the lunch was to seek the reaction of Williams to a request that Glenn donate a substantial amount of cash to Winston Peters. Glenn later states that Williams approved of the proposal, designed to consolidate the Labour/ NZ First partnership.

At 1.26 pm phone records show that Glenn rang Winston Peters. Glenn says this call was to inform Peters of his intention to make the requested donation. Peters, and his lawyer Brian Henry, assert that this conversation must have been about something else.

At 1.33 pm phone records show that Winston Peters rang his lawyer Brian Henry.

At 1.40 pm Brian Henry sent an email to Glenn forwarding details of his firm’s bank account details, “further to your discussion with my client at 1.30.”

Despite the several differing accounts told by Peters and Henry, the Privileges Committee came to the blindingly obvious conclusion:

Peters, who had agreed to prop up the Clark Government had asked Labour’s largest donor for cash; Glenn had checked with the Labour Party President before agreeing, had phoned Peters to convey his agreement, and Peters had arranged for his lawyer to forward the necessary bank account details to receive payment.

The Labour Party and NZ First concluded that all of the other parties had rushed to judgment, leaving insufficient room for the fortuitous interventions of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy that they believed could plausibly have featured in this extraordinary saga of events.

It is to the eternal credit of the majority parties that they simply followed the facts and reached the blindingly obvious conclusions. It is to the eternal discredit of the Labour and NZ First parties that they opted for the Tooth Fairy defence. The Privileges Committee is often mocked for being cautious, and insufficiently robust in its judgments. On this occasion it has reached careful, yet very clear conclusions, based on substantial and uncontradicted evidence. The fact that the Labour Government and its NZ First support party opposed the majority verdict sends the clearest of signals about their contempt for both the Parliament and the public who elect it.


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