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Marc My Words: Indigestion biting hand that feeds

Marc My Words… 6 October 2006
Political comment
Marc Alexander
Indigestion from biting the hand that feeds…

The Labour government seems to see nothing wrong with power so long as only they are the ones exercising it. That may be true for any administration that sets itself up as the sole arbiter of a nation's destiny but we do need to have robust safeguards. When governments go off the rails or become prone to corrupt practices, civil society demands that we have the ability to protect ourselves.

I suppose all politicians are liable to indulge in shady activities but it always appears worse with centre-left politicians. They are already half-way there if only because their ideology is predicated on being paid for by those who whose interests they don't serve. In other words there is a presumption of superiority in identifying what the country needs in spite of what particular voter's want - especially the ones who drive the economic engine of a nation. The temptation to meddle is greater because instead of offering growth, productive employment, and delivering higher standards of income (as only the private sector can), centre-left politicians inspire mediocrity by concentrating on wealth distribution not creation.

There are other forces at work too. The longer a particular political elite occupies the levers of state power, the more disconnected they become. This again is all the more acute with the centre left because such personnel have mostly been culled from the closeted confines of academia, trade unions, and socialist inspired community groups. Few have experienced the real life dramas of the average workplace dependant on customer satisfaction rather than government grants or union levies. Being an employer or starting a business only to negotiate a minefield of bureaucracy, labour laws, and to risk all is generally outside their experience. This lack in knowledge and understanding in personal sacrifice underpins their natural antipathy for those that run the engine of our economy. It also explains why Labour prefers to support and defend the mediocrity from which they arise.

It also explains why, for the sake of political survival, they will often attempt to 'bend' the integrity of institutions which identify, rectify and resist corrupt practices like the police for example.

There have been many allegations leveled at Helen Clark's government - some clearly spurious. But some have met the prima facie standard yet have not proceeded. Part of the problem I suspect is that it's hard for the police, whose minister is part of the executive, to investigate and charge impartially the very authority on whom your budget depends. We could comment on the Taito Phillip Field case (which, after a severely restricted and constrained inquiry, is finally in police hands), but perhaps it might be best to focus on the single most serious allegation leveled at Labour: the election overspend.

Putting aside the merits of the case for the moment, the fact that the Auditor-General found Labour in breach yet the police failed to act. Not once but three times. Firstly, the police failed to take Crown Law advice. The police then failed to deal with the concerns expressed by the former Chief Electoral Officer David Henry. And finally, given the prima facie evidence, the police failed to follow through and prosecute Labour. The upshot is that unwittingly or not, police inaction has meant that the time limit for prosecution under the Electoral Act has now lapsed. Lack of Police interest protected the Helen Clark government. The question is how this can happen and, more importantly, why?

When National Party Leader Don Brash asked the question in a written letter to the police, the Minister of police, Annette King, slammed him for taking New Zealand on a dangerous path "down the road of a police state." She had the temerity to accuse him of trying to intimidate the police!

Isn't it the other way around? The police didn't prosecute because that would have meant going after their political paymasters: the very people they go cap in hand to for budgetary and legislative help.

Then, in a curious own goal, Annette King asks why the police did not prosecute National over 'its' election overspend? But here there's actually a difference: in contrast to the $800,000 Labour could be liable for, National overspent by $10,000 and promptly paid it back.

It's Labour that's doing the bullying but it doesn't end there: it's been reported that Auditor-General Kevin Brady has been 'lobbied' [code for intimidated] to soften his draft findings.

What's at stake here is not only the corruption of our election process, the misappropriation of $447,000 of tax money for the pledge cards that Labour Minister Pete Hodgeson now openly accepts was electioneering, and a further $360,000 of public money wrongly used for campaigning, but the maligning of police integrity.

Apart from the obvious issues raised by Labour's election overspend, and its effect on the result, the real problem here is how to protect the police from being threatened and coerced by the government in the future. One answer would be to separate the prosecution function from police in much the same way as the district attorney's office does in the United States. Keeping them at arms length from the police and political involvement (and giving them a secure funding stream), would avoid much of the criticisms now being leveled. It would also help police avoid contentions of partisan manipulation and allow them to get on with the core function of protecting the public rather than their political masters.

No one should be above the law. Especially the law-makers.


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