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The Letter Monday 27 September 2004

The Letter Monday 27 September 2004

THE WEEK

As predicted by The Letter, Clark’s plan to do a cabinet reshuffle has been destabilising and the PM has had to insist she never intended dropping Ministers. After six years one would normally expect at least four ministerial retirements next election, but no minister has been willing to announce their retirement realising they would be axed in a December reshuffle.

SPOT FOR SPEAKER

Even Speaker Hunt is not willing to cooperate with a December timeline indicating to opposition MPs he intends staying on until February before resigning to go to London. Graham Kelly set the precedent collecting his pay as an MP until the last minute before going to Ottawa.

Both United and the Greens claim they have not been consulted about Clark’s proposal to install Burton as Speaker. National’s John Carter will put forward his name and thinks he has a real chance. If it was a free vote, Assistant Speaker Ross “Spot” Robertson would win. Spot has impressed MPs. Not only is he unfailingly courteous and a fair chairman but he has memorised the Speakers rulings and can cite their page and number.

This is all the more remarkable because Spot learnt the rulings over the summer only to find the Clerk’s office had put out a new edition requiring him to relearn it all. Appointing a new Minister of Defence a day before parliament opens is a real hospital pass. Burton won’t want to give up his ministerial post and appointing him a Minister without portfolio would be an outrage even for this government, so the simplest thing may be to vote Ross in.

ITS SICK

Urgent consideration is being given to an amendment to the new Holidays Act that became law in April. The new law inadvertently gives workers double time on double time for working statuary holidays.

The government has promised to amend this, welcomed by the employers and opposed by the CTU. Employers have said that other changes to the Holidays law made by the select committee and to which employers were never able to give evidence are having a devastating effect on shift work industries.

Holiday and sick pay has for 50 years been calculated on ordinary days’ pay. The new law requires sick and holiday pay to be calculated on relevant days’ pay, ie including all payments such as overtime, bonuses and even attendance money. Shift work industries report that workers are being paid more for not working than working. Heinz Watties gave an example of a worker who (they think genuinely) reported sick after receiving a production bonus.

He received $38 an hour for not working, over double what he would have earned if he had worked. Carter Holt Harvey said that on average their workers have over a 100 days’ sick pay. The incentive is now to take sick leave whenever the last four weeks’ pay has been high. The meat industry gave evidence that sick days have almost doubled with the cost almost quadrupling (comparing April/May 2004 with 2003) Absenteeism is so bad that chains have been unable to operate. On those days the workers who turned up lose the production bonus but those who stayed away still get it. The government is unmoved by the chaos. http://www.act.org.nz/holidays

GONE FISHING

With much self-congratulation the government passed the Maori Fisheries Bill to implement the Deed of Settlement 1992. The Maori negotiators have expanded the settlement way beyond that of 1992. Despite that the Maori tribal fishing companies will have quota worth hundreds of millions, the bill provides they will pay just 19.5% company tax.

Where is that in the treaty? Over time, other things being equal, non-Maori fishing companies won’t be able to compete. Directly contrary to Article 2 of the Treaty that gave Maori the right to sell their property is a clause preventing iwi from selling quota to their fellow NZers. What no one mentioned was the estimated 6000 Maori fishermen who lost their rights to fish when the quota system was introduced. They earned so little from fishing that MAF excluded them from receiving quota. The effect on subsistence families in Northland and East Cape is still devastating. And they are yet to be compensated.

PUBLIC FINANCE BILL

When parliament resumes it will debate the new Public Finance (State Sector Management) Bill. The Clerk of the House, David McGee, caused some comment when he gave evidence against the bill arguing that it took away parliament’s sole right to tax and determine spending. Officials have adopted all of the Clerk’s objections. The bill while superior to many countries’ public finance laws is nevertheless disappointing. It repeals the Fiscal Responsibility Act by incorporating its provisions into the new law. Since that law has been in place successive finance ministers from three different parties have been at pains to observe its requirements and the result has been over a decade of surpluses.

The political cost of breaking the provisions of the new law will be nothing like the cost of breaking the Fiscal Responsibility Act. The change was not needed and it seems like meanness on Cullen’s part to abolish Ruth Richardson’s legacy. The opportunity to put in place some meaningful requirement for the civil service to show taxpayers are getting value for money was rejected but instead more meaningless phrases requiring SOEs, statutory authorities and the government to be good employers has been inserted. For ACT’s minority report see http://www.act.org.nz/publicfinance

POLL

78% of people disagreed with the government's re-regulation of the energy sector, and 22% agreed. This week, who do you think is going to win the Aussie election, Howard or Latham? http://www.act.org.nz/poll We will publish the results in next week’s Letter.

This message has been brought to you from the ACT New Zealand Parliamentary Office

ENDS

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