Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search - 30 March 2007 - 30 March 2007

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

A Smacking for the Government

It started as a debate on a Green private Member’s Bill regarding the use of smacking as a form of discipline. But it has now moved a long way from there. And while there may well be plenty of room for differing but legitimate views to be genuinely held on S59 of the Crimes Act, there is little room for debate about the legitimacy of the procedural path the Government is now on. The Clark Government is intent on thumbing its nose at overwhelming and strongly held public sentiment. And it is prepared to engage in whatever procedural contortions are necessary to avoid accountability to the electorate.

The polls carry a message that is unusually unanimous: around 80% of the public are opposed to the Bradford Bill. Clark, Cullen and co argue that the public are misinformed. The same case could as validly be made against those who have voted Labour in recent elections. But the people are always right. It’s called democracy. What governments cannot persuade the people will be good for them, they cannot have.

Faced with overwhelming opposition, the Clark Government this week sought refuge from the public they were elected to serve. The prospect of Parliamentary urgency was floated as a means of allowing the Bill to be pushed through all stages this week. When it was clear that the numbers for such a manoeuvre were soft, the attention moved to adopting the measure as a Government Bill. By ensuring that it could be dealt with in Government time (as opposed to private Members time) the whole matter could be disposed of next week, prior to a three week pre-Budget recess. And wouldn’t that send a clear message: 80% of the public are opposed to a private Member’s Bill so Clark and Cullen officially adopt it as a Government Bill. The greatest two-fingered salute in modern political history.

Ultimately, Labour’s smaller political support parties will make the calls. The Maori Party, reportedly, has plans to consult its constituency over the coming three week recess. Any Clark/Cullen manoeuvre to conclude the debate early would thwart those plans but potentially place those four Maori Party votes (currently in favour of the Bill) at risk. And Winston Peters, who returns to the country over the next few days, will have a very clear understanding of the damage being done to the NZ First support base by two of his MPs supporting the Bradford line. A Government attempt to curtail the debate by adopting the Bill could see all those votes come into play.

Clark and Cullen have seriously miscalculated the public mood thus far. And having dug a fairly sizeable political hole, they have to decide whether to employ some efficient but very noticeable heavy earthmoving equipment to complete the process. If they do so, they may well be mistaking a public that is uninterested in arcane Parliamentary procedure for one that is indifferent to a Government clearly exceeding its mandate. The damage will be deep and lasting.

Defeat Looms on Therapeutic Goods

Behind in the polls and taking a hammering over the Bradford Bill, further trouble looms on the Clark/Cullen political horizon with the growing certainty that the Trans Tasman Therapeutic Goods (TTTG) Bill will be defeated. And Helen Clark can only blame herself for the one monumentally foolish decision that has led to this state of affairs: the decision, faced with clear evidence that she was driving the process onto the rocks, to re-appoint Annette King to manage the Bill.

The National Party has a presumption of bi-partisanship in relation to trade issues generally, and specifically in relation to CER matters. But there is a reciprocal obligation of consultation and engagement. And a lack of consultation saw a seriously flawed TTTG Treaty signed on New Zealand’s behalf by King, without bothering to check the numbers in the Parliament. Rejection of the Treaty by a select committee, with parties staking out positions in a series of minority reports failed to ring alarm bells. Repeated warnings that consultation and changes would be required went unheeded. And King brought the Bill to Parliament, scraping the necessary numbers together for a first reading with the grudging support of NZ First and United Future.

Even that thin majority disappeared when the newly independent Taito Phillip Field announced he would oppose the Bill. And unless Messrs Peters and Dunne have recently developed political suicide tendencies not previously evident, they are unlikely to offer to support for the Bill to go further. So King and her TTTG Bill are sunk. And by a large Parliamentary margin.

So what special talent does it take to snatch such decisive defeat from the jaws of such an easy victory. Well, no talent at all, is the answer. Just the same breathe-taking arrogance that now sees the Government fly in the face of 80% of New Zealand over the Bradford Bill. A belief that the Labour Party knows what is best for New Zealanders, and that sooner or later they must come to their senses and realise that. And a pathological aversion to consultation, engagement, and even listening. All of the above, folks, are sure signs of a government that is well past its use-by date.

Terrorism Bill Introduced

The Suppression of Terrorism Amendment Bill received a first reading in Parliament this Thursday, and will now be considered by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Readers of last week’s distilled wisdom from the worldwide headquarters of will know that most of what is proposed amounts to sensible tidying up of an unworkable 2002 Act, cobbled together in the wake of September 11. The National Party supported the introduction and committed to working in the committee to speedily deliver a significantly improved anti-terrorism toolkit to the Parliament. So far, so good.

The next challenge is to find a government, and specifically a Prime Minister, that is prepared to use it. Because Helen Clark won’t.

The measure now before Parliament will ensure the New Zealand authorities have the legislative backing to deal with Taliban-related terrorists, identified by the UN Security Council. But other terrorist threats need to be designated, under the new Bill as under the existing Act, by the Prime Minister.

Armed with similar legislation in Australia, the Howard Government has designated 88 terrorist entities. In Canada, over 50 have been designated. In New Zealand none. That’s right: NONE.

So outfits like Hezbollah, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Abu Nidal organisation, the Tamil Tigers and the Real IRA have been designated as terrorist entities in Australia, where their authorities are thereby licensed to employ the full weight of their anti-terrorism machinery, they suffer no such impediments to operating in this country. Which should be a major worry for New Zealanders. And given our relatively open borders, a major worry for Australians.

So while Parliament will play its part by delivering improved anti-terrorism machinery over the coming months, the New Zealand public will need to complete the picture in the latter part of next year by electing a government and a Prime Minister that is prepared to actually use it.

Humble Pie for Health Boards

Fresh from their mauling by the High Court judgment over a botched $560 million lab services contract, the three Auckland region DHBs yesterday announced they had rolled over arrangements with the existing contractor (DML, the one they had previously fired) for a further 18 months. No particular negotiating skill required for that. DML had offered such an arrangement in the Court many weeks ago. Now that services have been secured the Health Minister, Pete Hodgson, must answer the question he has been ducking since the Court decision: does he have confidence in the DHB directors responsible for the botched contract?

Interesting questions will obviously arise about the future of LabTest. And, given the criticisms of the DHBs in the High Court judgment, whether LabTest seeks damages to help recoup many millions of dollars in losses.

Questions in Parliament will focus on when the Minister knew of the serious conflict of interest allegations and whether he took sufficient steps to discharge his obligations. Both he and the Prime Minister claim the Ministry of Health advice allayed any concerns they raised. But given the risks, and the scale of the contract, those concerns should have been very large. So won’t it be interesting to see what comes out in the wash.


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