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Small Businesses Are Getting Hawkesbied - Prebble

Thursday 24th Jun 1999

Richard Prebble

Media Release -- Economy

In a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce at 1pm today, ACT Leader Richard Prebble will say that the matter of whether or not Mr Hawkesby has or is about to get (or now may never get) a million dollar payout from TVNZ is not primarily an accountability or privacy issue.

"The real issue is how our employment law got to the point that an individual can believe that he is entitled to $2 million compensation. I have little doubt that the figures bandied around are in the ballpark. Industry sources tell me that the ratings drop when Richard Long was replaced by Mr Hawkesby was the most disastrous in the history of NZ's media. Big advertisers contract with TVNZ to pay on the basis of tarps - the audience reached by the programme. The most conservative figure I've heard of TVNZ's loss of revenue caused by putting on Mr Hawkesby is $10 million and the highest is over $20 million.

"Nobody appears to be asking or concerned that state TV was so out of touch with its audience that it wasn't aware of how fond the audience was and is of Richard Long If we had a really accountable system Mr Hawkesby's contract would only be one of the ones being terminated.

"I have little sympathy for the Government. Small businesses have been faced with John Hawkesby type claims for the last 6 years. If you're a small business owner having to pay out $10,000 to someone you had to fire because they were doing comparable damage to your business to what Mr Hawkesby did to TVNZ, you will know this. But unlike the Government which can just pass the cost of their incompetence on to the rest of us, small business has had to pay out of their own pockets. There are literally hundreds of businesses that in the last 5 years have gone out of business because their Hawkesby-like payments have wiped them out.

"National has been promising business for over 5 years that they will legislate to curb this practice. And for 5 years they've failed to deliver. Now the problems have come and bitten them. If it causes the Government to act then it may be a good thing.

"This is why the Government is tied hand and foot over the tourism issue. As a lawyer I say that even though the payments to Messrs Mogridge and Wall are almost certainly illegal, I have no doubt that the present Employment Court - if it went to court -would not only uphold payments but would probably decide that they should get another $100,000 because the parties when they signed the agreement thought it was non taxable.

The shareholders in Brierlys got no sympathy from this Government in Parliament when their directors had to pay out. It's only when the Government is itself getting bitten that the reality of the world it has created is coming home to them.

"Labour and the Alliance who are making much political capital out of this, ought to be in the dock of public opinion along with the government. Part of the reason Parliament hasn't acted is because of the implacable opposition of he Alliance to any reasonable employment reform I remind Labour that when Helen Clark was Minister of Health, on one famous occasion she sacked the whole of the Auckland hospital board including her husband. If she was to do that today, the cost to the taxpayer would be at least $1 million. Then, Ms Clark said she's sacking them because she's accountable. What is she arguing today?

"This week in Parliament we've had the absurd suggestion that the Hawkesby, tourism board and NZQA affairs are all matters of Ministerial accountability when it's really about the fact that our employment law on dismissal is thundering our of control. The idea that a Labour Minister of Tourism or Education or Broadcasting could have somehow, by accountability, had a different result is nonsense."

Mr Prebble will address the Chamber of Commerce at 1pm in the Resolution Room at the James Cook Centra, Wellington. Media welcome.


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