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The Letter – Monday, 4 December 2006

The Letter – Monday, 4 December 2006



The Letter Limited - www.theletter.biz

The Haps

Parliament resumes after the recess with a new Leader of the Opposition. The Pacific continues to be anything but peaceful. More figures on our indebtedness. “Out of the Red” is a popular Christmas present.

Next Test

On Tuesday John Key will ask his first question of Helen Clark. His performance will be studied not just by the media but by the MPs.

His Role

As Leader he automatically has precedence over all other Opposition MPs. With the worst Speaker in living memory it is an advantage to have a leader who can put an issue of procedure clearly. Key rarely raises points of order so we suspect he has little knowledge of Standing Orders.

All at sea

In the present National caucus there is no one who is recognized as a master of Standing Orders. Michael Cullen’s knowledge is so clearly superior it gives Labour a clear advantage. Gerry Brownlee raises the most points of order but gives the impression that he has never read Speaker’s rulings.

Does it matter?

Yes it does! Clark has been able to ignore the House because the Opposition has been so weak. There is an old saying in politics “First you win in the House, and then you win in the country”. It reflects the reality that an Opposition that goes on to win the election, always wins in the House first. National’s ignorance of parliamentary procedure is extraordinary as there are less than 50 key rulings. Deputy Speaker Ross Robertson has memorized the whole of Speakers Rulings.

Some Advice

Clark’s style of answering questions is to give a non answer to a primary question. Don Brash would then proceed to his prepared supplementary only to have Clark point out that she had made no such answer. Key will find this different from asking Cullen questions, who gives substantive answers and relies on his intelligence and quick thinking to answer any supplementary. Key can think on his feet faster than Clark. His challenge is to force the PM to give substantive answers that can be exposed by supplementary questions. Our advice; when Clark gives a non answer just repeat the question. Even Labour MPs will wonder why she cannot answer.

Labour’s dilemma

Labour is not sure how to respond to Key. Trying to link him to the Exclusive Brethren is not credible. Labelling him an out of touch rich boy is not working. Calling him the “smiling assassin’ just tells the public that he is tough enough for a tough job. Clark believes that the government is going to have to try and force him to issue policy and then attack. So the Labour line is going to be that Key is all sizzle and no sausage.

New Whips

The media focused all their attention on Maurice Williamson moving one seat to the front bench, which he accurately said was not significant. What was important was the election of two new National whips.

The Whips Office

Anne Tolley the new Senior Whip, must have qualities she has kept hidden. Part of the reason for Labour’s success in an MMP parliament is that its Whips Office has been very good. The government Chief Whip Tim Barnett lives and sleeps politics. He has established very good relationships with the third parties and has been able to deliver the minority government a majority in the house. Labour’s internal discipline is a credit to their whips while National’s ineffective whips are part of the reason for that party’s poor performance. Key has not yet realized that it is critically important to get the whips right.

Anything but benign

NZ’s foreign policy objective is to have stable, democratic and prosperous neighbours. Despite having a large pacific population the government gives no sign of understanding what the issues are. Some of the problems are basic; rising populations and failed economies. What is needed is a fundamental review of NZ’s policies. Our policy often appears to be to play the good cop to Australia’s bad cop. This benevolence has allowed retired NZ politicians to get elected to a disproportion number of international positions relying on the Pacific block of votes. For a time NZ provided not just the Secretary of the Commonwealth but also the Secretary of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the WTO! It has meant that we have not asked questions such as whether our soft policies in the Pacific have made things worse or why does a country like Fiji have such a large army?

Growing Debt

BNZ economist, Craig Ebert, is reported by NZPA as saying that debt in relation to income has doubled. In March 2001 average debt was 7.8% of income and it is now 13.4% and rising. Home prices have also doubled. Disposable income has increased by just 23% in that time while household savings have by fallen $10 billion.

A correction has to come

Gross farm income has fallen in the same period from $4.5 billion to $2.9 billion. Debt to income ratios have doubled as have farm prices. With the rising Kiwi dollar farm incomes are likely to fall further. These asset levels are unsustainable. Asset prices are being held up by full employment but we think the adjustment could be triggered by a fall in farm prices.

Out of the Red

Readers continue to praise “Out of the Red”. “I am too busy to read books. I started to read yours and could not put it down. I am buying five for Christmas presents.” Purchase your copy for just $29.95, free post, or buy 5 for the price of 4 from www.richardprebble.com.


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