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The Letter

The Letter

The Haps

TVNZ continues to meltdown. Parliament restarts today. The Greens lose their best politician.

Free to air in free fall

Sky now has 640,000 households as subscribers. Many Sky viewers only watch the two old channels for the news. The management of TVNZ predicted this trend ten years ago and bought 25% of Sky. They then took the bold step of selling their Sky shares to finance the move to digital, only to have the move vetoed by the government. They were told to concentrate on public broadcasting i.e. code for making programs viewers will not watch. Since Labour's decision over a billion dollars of the asset value has been lost.

How to get viewers for news

After broadcasting opinion polls predicting that National would win, Rodney would lose Epsom and Labour would hang on in the Maori seats, it's a wonder that anyone watches TV1 News. (Can it be true that only blondes can read the news?)

The Future

It is only a matter of time before the now profitable Sky makes a serious bid for the news and current affairs slot. What is not clear is how State TV can recover.

How to win and lose

We think Chen & Palmer are right and that the new Employment Relations Act amendment means despite Susan Woods' 12 month contract she is legally in continuing employment, so the pay cut is not lawful. The real question is how did both sides so miscalculate as to allow the issue to get as far as a very public Employment Tribunal hearing?

Civil Service Tizz

The convention of joint cabinet responsibility is what enables civil servants to brief Ministers from other departments. To brief anyone else, including MPs from the government, requires pre- approval from their Minister. Departments can continue to brief the staff of Foreign Affairs officials but can those civil servants then brief their Minister who says he is not part of the government? Civil servants are tying themselves in knots trying to think how to rewrite the manuals. Don't laugh - it's a real problem.

The Select Committees

Select committees in the NZ Parliament are the most powerful in any Westminster type legislature. The Standing Orders require, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, legislation to go through a select committee. The Public Finance Act requires parliamentary approval of all spending and then select committees do a review of the effectiveness of that spending. Committees themselves can set up inquiries into the subject matter covered by their terms of reference. They can and do amend bills, criticise spending and set up inquiries whose findings can be explosive. Previous governments have had coalition agreements that gave some check on committees. This time Labour will be a minority in every select committee set up.

Like Rats from a sinking Ship

Labour's minority status is not a real problem now. Their problems will come when they fall in the polls. Politicians have a saying "Everyone will support me when I am right, my real friends support me when I am wrong." When Labour becomes unpopular over an issue what better way for NZ First and United to distance themselves than to vote for a select committee amendment to legislation, criticism of spending or what ministers fear most, the committee inquiry?

Opposition out thought

When the committee memberships and chairs are announced it will show that Michael Cullen is the master of MMP negotiation. The National Party's priority was getting Clem Simich as Deputy Speaker! Don Brash has made no attempt to get all the non-government parties working together. E.g., the government has offered the deputy chair of the Maori Affairs committee to Pita Sharples. Being new he does not realise the deputy chair has no power. As the Maori Party won a majority of the Maori seats it could have been argued that Sharples should be chairman.


Rod Donald was recognised by his fellow parliamentarians as a real tactician who thought up most of the Greens media stunts and the parliamentary strategy. They owe their survival to him. Their constitution requires a gender balanced leadership i.e. either Keith Locke or Nandor Tanczos as co-leader!

Apology to Hon Jim Sutton

Last week we said that Jim had bought a house in Waikanae, we were wrong, it is Wainuiomata. We can hear you saying, "no one retires to Wainuiomata", that's what we thought. It is a rural block near Wainuiomata. Mr Sutton now lives as far from parliament as is physically possible without qualifying for the Wellington living allowance. Imagine how upset you would be to lose your seat, be out of cabinet, your new house does not qualify for the Wellington allowance and then the Letter reminds you by saying if only you had bought in sunny Waikanae! His press secretary demanded we email you advising we had made "several unsubstantiated allegations" and we make a donation to the Timaru hospice, (not the sign of anything untoward we hope). We had no idea what she was on about. His lawyer then wrote saying Jim had not bought a house in Waikanae (but failed to mention his Wainuiomata purchase) and claimed Jim had made no announcement. Jim then said before boarding his plane to yet another trade meeting that he wanted an apology so we apologise for getting the suburb wrong. We think buying in Wellington is an announcement and it was Jim's political future, not his integrity that we questioned.

Our Poll

Good news for Alan Bollard, 90% of the Letter readers still have confidence in the Reserve Bank to get inflation down. This week "Is TV ONE News at six and Close Up, news and current affairs the way you want it"? We will send your answer to the Board. Vote at


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