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Dunne: Leader's Letter October 16 2006

Dunne: Leader's Letter October 16 2006

The funny thing about history is how often it repeats itself. Or, as Karl Marx once famously put it, the thing to learn about history is that people don't. That is as true in politics as anywhere else, as a couple of recent examples show.

I was intrigued recently to learn that ACT had embarked upon an international mission to discover how it could become relevant in an MMP environment. The conclusions were breathtaking: work with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis where you have common ground. Now doesn't that all sound a little familiar? It is precisely the way in which United Future has operated since MMP came in a decade ago, and it is why we have been successful in that time, being a confidence and supply partner to the government of the day for seven of the last ten years, and achieving a number of policy successes along the way.

It is quite a contrast to ACT, which has never been near government in that time, pinning its colours solely to the National mast, and now falling out with it over the election spending issue. All the while they have periodically criticised United Future as expedient, political poodles, and even more lurid descriptions for seeking to work with the government of the day to make incremental policy gains.

Yet now ACT announces to the world that it has discovered this amazing new strategy of working with other parties on a policy compatibility basis. Good on them, I say. After all, they have finally discovered what United Future has known for ten years, that small parties are effective under MMP when they are able to work with larger parties to achieve common policy goals. Baying from the sidelines, hidebound by principle, may have some limited satisfaction but it is ultimately unrewarding and irrelevant.

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And then there is the ongoing tax cut debate. The very large government surplus announced last week means two things – the business tax reduction proposals I announced with Michael Cullen in the Business Tax Review in July will go ahead from April 2008, and they will be accompanied by personal tax adjustments as well, just as we foreshadowed.

These will be the first major tax cuts by either government since 1996. And what is the October 16, 2006 No. 10 common link? The answer is simple: United Future. We were in coalition with National and I was Minister of Revenue when the 1996 tax cuts were made, and now we are working with Labour and I am Minister of Revenue again when tax cuts are seriously on the agenda once more. That is why I said to our party conference last year, "Put United Future anywhere near government and taxes come down." History is repeating itself, and a small party is showing once again how it can play a constructive role under MMP. As you know, I have been very critical of the deterioration in political standards over the last months, describing the current political environment as the most toxic and bitter I have experienced in over 20 years in Parliament.

I was discussing this matter in London recently with the Commonwealth Secretary- General, Don McKinnon, who observed that this type of behaviour was sadly an increasing trend throughout the Commonwealth, and that scandal-mongering, corruption allegations and dirt-digging exercises on political opponents were now almost routine events.

Two things arise from this. First, if we continue to slide down this path then not only will the quality of political discourse continue to deteriorate, but so too will the calibre of people offering themselves for political office decline, as few will be prepared to submit to the level of scrutiny and prying into private lives we now seem to be embarking upon. The implications of that for long-term good governance are equally obvious.

Second, while a free press is in many cases the ultimate safeguard of democracy, it has also to be a responsible press. The sensational publication of unfounded allegations, the trivialisation of political debate to tabloid level, the unwillingness to even attempt to understand complex issues and the rationale behind them, and the twisting of comments to gain a headline, are all examples of where a free press is not a responsible press and contributes, not to the flourishing of democracy, but to its debasement. What we need are responsible political leaders who are prepared to step above the nasty fray we seem to be entering into, backed up by responsible media that will not allow itself to be dragged into the mindless pursuit of the sensation of the day approach to political reporting.

Internal democracy is alive and well within United Future, with party members voting over the next month for positions on the party's Board. Eight candidates are chasing five spots. Three of the candidates are sitting members whose terms have expired. President Graeme Reeves, Vice President Denise Krum and former chief executive Gina Woodfield have all made outstanding contributions to the Board and the party over the years, and my strong hope is that all will be re-elected to continue their work.


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