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Richard Prebble’s Letter From Wellington


Richard Prebble’s Letter From Wellington

Second term blues

Parliament has adjourned for two weeks much to Labour’s relief. The problems of operating as a minority government are much more time consuming than commentators appreciate. Labour has not been able to take the initiative and nothing of significance has been introduced or passed.

The leaky building problem has ministers floundering. The government, having refused a commission of inquiry, does not know the size of the problem. George Hawkins is struggling and has single-handedly revived National’s confidence.

The strongly growing economy is not helping Labour as they can take no credit for it. (Even Cullen draws the line at claiming responsibility for the Australian drought, the worst since 1901, which is driving up meat and wool prices.)

Bali

Helen Clark’s credibility took collateral damage from the Bali bombing. She now regrets boasting to parliament that this country is a member of “the best intelligence club of the world”. It was a great shock to the PM to learn that the USA, UK and Australia were not willing to share intelligence that Bali could be a terrorist target. Our traditional allies will not share ‘military’ intelligence and the distinction between ‘military’ and ‘terrorist’ intelligence is artificial. Defence has been receiving full military intelligence in only one area – Afghanistan – to assist the SAS. This has lead our defence chiefs to realise how valuable the intelligence we do not get is.

Intelligence review

ACT leader Richard Prebble has written to Peter Dunne, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, requesting a parliamentary inquiry into NZ’s intelligence services. After Bali, it would appear that Foreign Affairs travel advisories are worthless. As Australia is reviewing its intelligence capability, it’s hard to see how parliament can ignore the issue. The proposed terms of reference are at http:// http://www.act.org.nz/intelligence

For or against

After 11 September, President Bush announced that in future US relationships would be governed by a nation’s conduct. Those who support the USA are friends, those that don’t, are not. NZ was one of the first beneficiaries of this doctrine. Labour’s decision to commit troops to Afghanistan saw Helen Clark invited to the White House, NZ described as a “very, very good friend” and renewed talk of a free trade agreement.

Relations are now refreezing to the coldest ever.

The US based its response to Afghanistan on the international legal right of self-defence. As an ANZUS ally NZ could have also done so. Instead, NZ claims to be in Afghanistan under a UN mandate. USA also knows that Helen Clark’s first response was not to assist. She was persuaded by Labour party public opinion polls – not principles.

The cost

There is a view inside the Labour government that anti-Americanism is cost free. When the Lange government barred US warships, a number of US agencies refused to alter their very friendly relationships, the most important being the US Treasury. Treasury believed Roger Douglas’ economic reforms were important and so determined that no trade or economic sanction should be applied; hence the myth that the USA never links foreign policy to trade.

Today more US agencies are lowering the status of their relationship with NZ.

Helen Clark was clearly embarrassed and surprised when at the recent dinner for Mike Moore, the chairman of the US/NZ Trade Association (a real friend of this country) spelt it out. Unless we fix the nuclear ships issue, there will never be a free trade agreement with the USA. Ministers have been forced to painfully acknowledge the real possibility of the ultimate trade disaster – Australia alone gets a free trade agreement.

More Anti-Americanism

Last week in the United Nations, NZ participated in a major diplomatic defeat for the USA. America had been seeking a single Security Council resolution authorising the weapons inspectors to return and the use of force in the event of Iraqi non-compliance. Now America has had to say it will seek a second resolution in the event of Iraqi defiance. This is the first time in NZ history we have taken such an anti-American stance. The government has not seen fit to explain its anti-American position to parliament or the country.

NZ has joined with Iraq’s friends and the USA’s enemies in opposing the single resolution. In one quick move Helen Clark has taken us from the “best…club in the world” to being paid up members of a club no New Zealanders would want to join.

New Zealand’s speech at the Security Council is at http://www.act.org.nz/securitycouncil .

Feeding from the public purse

Helen Clark has expanded the number of Ministers to an all time record. The Letter’s research shows that of the 52 Labour MPs, 42 are receiving extra cash. Besides the PM and deputy PM, 17 are cabinet Ministers earning $162,600 plus expenses. Six are Ministers outside cabinet earning $143,900 plus expenses. Two are parliamentary under-secretaries on $112,400 plus expenses. Three are Speakers (Speaker on $162,600, Deputy Speaker, $116,600 and an Assistant Speaker $98,200 plus expenses). The senior government Whip earns $124,950 and the junior Whip, $102,900. Then there are 11 Labour MPs chairing select committees getting $98,700 each (i.e. $8,200 extra to the ordinary MP salary).

The losers

There are four women MPs (second term or longer) who have missed out completely: Jill Pettis, Janet Mackey, Nanaia Mahuta and Winnie Laban. Jill Pettis, Associate Speaker in the last parliament, expected to be deputy speaker but was dumped in favour of Ann Hartley, who has demonstrated she knows no standing orders. Janet Mackey lost her committee chairmanship and Nanaia and Winnie have just been passed over. Why? It couldn’t be that they’re women could it?

What about the workers?

Figures from the parliamentary library show that average net weekly ordinary time earnings with Labour have remained static. In May 1999 the weekly figure was $553.20 and in May 2002, $554.71 (an increase of just $1.51).

By contrast under National, in addition to tax cuts, wages were rising strongly from August 1996 - $501.87 to February 1999 - $548.92 (an increase of $47.05).

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