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PM Makes Displeasure At TVNZ Very Clear

Today's post cabinet press conference by the Prime Minister Helen Clark was dominated - unsurprisingly - by the escalating war of words between the government and the TVNZ board.

Ms Clark said Finance Minister Michael Cullen and Marion Hobbs would be meeting the TVNZ board at 4.30pm after which the board will have to run a media gauntlet who have been invited for a stand-up with Cullen following the meeting. We can expect to see some long faces on at least TV3 tonight it seems.

At the press conference the Prime Minister went through a series of questions that Hobbs and Cullen will be asking the board to answer.

These included at what level did people know about the Hawkesby contract and whether there was a remuneration sub-committee and if so what it was doing.

The Prime Minister did not mince her words and described the TVNZ board as "a shambles" and said she did not accept claims made by the board last week of a clean bill of health.

She said she was "unimpressed" with TVNZ rolling out its newsreaders for soft stories in the Sunday Star Times at the weekend. This was a reference to a front-page story reporting that Judy Bailey was unhappy about incorrect reports on how much she was being paid appearing in the media.

Ms Clark told the press conference her understanding was that the whole affair started with TVNZ "enticing" Hawkesby away from TV3 where he had a five year contract - hence the decision to contract him to TVNZ for six years.

Asked if she had any comment on NZ First leader Winston Peter's offer to drive Paul Holmes to the airport if he wants to leave, she responded somewhat caustically, she wouldn't mind as long as he didn't use a Parliamentary taxi chit, she said.

Ms Clark also made it very clear she thought heads were about to role saying there was no point on discussing the future direction of TVNZ with this board as it would not be existing in toto in the near future.

Asked whether more than three would be replaced - there are presently three vacancies on the board - Ms Clark said it depended on the answers the board members gave Mr Cullen and Ms Hobbs this afternoon.

Also in the press conference:

The Prime minister announced a wide ranging WINZ inquiry to be headed by former State Services Commissioner Don Hunn. The inquiry will examine the structure and culture of the organisation among other things.

The PM said the Employment Relations Bill - containing reforms to the Employment Contracts Act - would be introduced "before recess".

She said talks on the MMP Select Committee review were ongoing. There was broad based support for the nature of the inquiry with debate continuing on the role of the chair. She said Parliament was bound to have a Select Committee inquiry - as opposed to an inquiry with independent people on it - by the law.

On the question of whether there would be any more Knights and Dames she said she would be bringing back a paper to Cabinet following on from the comment in news reports at weekend.


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