Richard Prebble's Letter From Wellington #40
Richard Prebble's Letter From Wellington #40
Letter from Wellington
Monday, 27 November 2000
The spat between the Greens and Labour is serious. The Green MPs feel, with some justification, that they have not been consulted on issues. The Greens learnt from the media of tariff removals for 48 countries and have not been consulted on major bills like the Health and Disability Bill. The Greens want to replace the Alliance as junior coalition partner next election and they believe their opposition to free trade will be a defining issue.
Christmas Polling Woes
Government fortunes always rise in spring as the weather brightens and the economy has its Christmas lift-off. That's why we have November elections. However, the Letter predicts polling woes for Labour as voters realise they can't afford the level of purchases they made during last year's holidays. This year's real drop in living standards has been the biggest ever. The WestpacTrust Household saving survey shows the average householder's wealth has dropped $5.25 a day. This has fallen hardest on Labour households. Low and medium Auckland house values have fallen and a $60,000 mortgage now costs an extra $21 a week. If you smoke, as a disproportionate number of Labour voters do, your income was whacked. New car prices are up, the second hand car market has plummeted and petrol only cost 80 cents a litre last year. The constant wealth loss and purchasing power reduction combines to over $10 a day. The gaps have never widened so fast.
Will The Health Legislation Pass?
The Health and Disability bill that introduces 21 new health bureaucracies will dominate Parliament this week. Among other things, the bill reintroduces elected health boards, a measure the select committee discovered is not popular with the public. Nobody wants another massive upheaval. There is real doubt as to whether the coalition has the votes to pass the bill as the Greens may use this unpopular bill to remind the government of their strategic importance. Waiting lists are not getting shorter. Health is the coalition's achilles heel.
Taxpayers Rights Bill
Last week Rodney Hide had his private members bill drawn form the ballot. Rodney's Access to Official Information Bill enables taxpayers to see their own tax file. Under the Official Information Act and the Privacy Act you are entitled to see every file the government has on you including your police file. However your IRD file can be refused to you. This anomaly means there is no way to check for incorrect information. The Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner both believe you should be able to see your IRD file. The government won't be able to play politics with this bill.
The Widening Gaps
The coalition's gaps policy is in trouble. A year ago in the Speech from the Throne, narrowing the gaps between Maori and non Maori was a cornerstone policy. Over $900 million was committed in the budget. However press statements in October have seen the government try to redefine the policy as closing the gaps between all low income New Zealanders and the rest. But as yet no official instructions seem to have been issued. This resulted in Employment Minister Steve Maharey appearing on state radio denying that closing the gaps meant only Maori and Pacific Islanders, yet when his own officials appeared before a select committee they said the policy is just for Maori and Pacific Islanders. The closing the gaps cabinet committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, has been a shambles. Ministers and officials are at odds on what the policy is, what the targets are or how they will be measured. Helen Clark, on the advice of her polling company, is trying to distance herself from a policy she took personal charge of twelve months ago. The opposition smell blood. It does not appear the Maori caucus will allow a policy change.
Maori MPs Concerned
There is real concern in the Labour Maori caucus. They cannot deliver to their voters. Maori incomes have fallen, Maori unemployment is growing, the Treaty settlement process is stalled, and Helen Clark sacked their choice of Minister. Some commentators are suggesting that if Winston was to actively woo Maori voters the seats could again be his.
Dr Cullen took a big hit last week when Treasury released revised figures on his super scheme. At its peak the scheme will only contribute 14 per cent of superannuation costs. Cullen showed his contempt for the press gallery's economic literacy by outrageously stating that it's really 25 per cent because the fund pays tax. As Treasury points out, every dollar in the fund would have otherwise been spent or saved, meaning tax would have been paid anyway. This means the fund is tax neutral. Gallery journalists told the Letter that Michael Cullen got away with talking nonsense because tax neutral is too hard a concept to sell to readers. Of course the market knows Dr Cullen is talking rubbish, yet he wonders why he has no credibility. The real scary thought though is what if he doesn't know he's talking rubbish?
ACT MP's private members bills are dominating members day. Ken Shirley's foreign doctors registration bill past its first reading. The government was initially opposed until polling revealed defending closed shops was not a vote winner. Owen Jennings' bill to amend the Resource Management Act split the coalition. Marian Hobbs told parliament that property owners have no more rights than trampers or hunters. Despite Dover Samuels' support and the Greens splitting four to three the bill was narrowly defeated. RMA reform is a key ACT issue. Stephen Franks' parole bill has the government worried. While Justice Minister Phil Goff attacked the bill, all MPs know parole is not working. The government has already voted down ACT's Truth in Sentencing bill, voting against Stephen's bill will prove its contempt for the 92 per cent of New Zealanders who voted for Norm Withers' referendum.
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