Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

8th October 1999 - Beware the Dick Fix

Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown

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a short bulletin for a shallow week.

In what was either a cunning plan or a complete cock-up, a background paper weighing up the cost of making the student loans scheme a little less punitive leaked out of Max Bradford's office.

The paper set out four loan repayment scenarios - including one based on the Labour policy of a moratorium on interest payments while students are actually in study. Having spent years insisting there's nothing wrong with its scheme, the government is plainly a little bit worried.

So student loans join the list of things that have become important to National now there's an election looming. Perhaps the tuberculosis boom in South Auckland and Northland might get a turn next.

But it was National's would-be coalition partner, Act, that got much of the attention this week. Wrenching his tongue away from the government's collective butt - where it got so much exercise during Apec - Richard Prebble started talking.

It was sad that in the week when Doug Graham - whose work on Treaty settlements will see him go down as one of the great New Zealand Parliamentarians - made his valedictory speech, Prebble should also have popped up with his banal promise to "Fix the Treaty".

Prebble tastelessly chose the top of One Tree Hill to launch Act's so-called policy on Treaty issues. He says Act will use its leverage in any coalition with National to push for a deadline of the end of next year for any outstanding Treaty claims - and the abolition of the Waitangi Tribunal altogether by 2005.

This, apparently, would "fix" the Treaty. Or, more likely, throw a relatively orderly process into chaos.

What this is really about is some research commissioned by Act at the beginning of this year, which told the party that if it wanted to increase its share of the vote, the only votes available were in the disgruntled moron sector. So, it's "fixing" the Treaty, slashing the number of MPs and throwing people in jail for longer. Act is basically looking to steal votes off Winston Peters.

It strikes me that while National scores steady low-level points by fanning public fear - misplaced or otherwise - of the Alliance part of a Labour-led coalition, Labour isn't making nearly enough of the fear of Act's influence on a new National government.

These people are horrible. When Derek Quigley leaves that party, he'll take almost all its intellectual integrity with him.

I used to respect Donna Awatere, but I don't know what she stands for any more. When I interviewed her when Act was launched, she was emphatic that Treaty claims had to be considered at the hapu level - the most protracted, messy and potentially open-ended way of settling Treaty grievances.

Now, she apparently subscribes to the idea that it can all be rammed through in the next year and adjudicated in the four years following. Never mind what happened to the Treaty as a living document, if you couldn't do that with the corporate approach to redress that the government has taken, you wouldn't even get near it if you were going to negotiate with individual hapu. Well, which is it, Donna?

Prebble was no doubt gratified to see the One New Zealand Foundation heartily endorse the policy, and to hear its national secretary declare that "it has been proved that there are no full-bloods Maoris left" and that the Waitangi Tribunal was dominated by Maori or "Maori sympathisers".

Whether she likes to admit it or not, Margaret Robertson, founder of the referendum petition on cutting the number of MPs - on which we will vote next month - is closely linked to One New Zealand, So, naturally, Prebble's on that tip too.

Anyone with an IQ above room temperature ought to be able to see that MMP just won't work with 100 MPs. That's 20 fewer seats. If you take them off the list, you won't have enough list seats left to get proportionality, and if you knock off electorate seats, country people can forget ever seeing their MPs.

You could see half to two thirds of MPs in the lead party in a coalition in the executive - leaving a backbench of stragglers, too few to populate select committees and keep Cabinet honest. The belief that cutting the number of MPs will somehow make for better government, or make MPs "behave themselves", is utterly misplaced.

But Prebble's hard to argue against, because he has no shame. He'll simply say anything he figures suits his purpose.

Speaking of which, ain't it strange how the people who usually mutter darkly about citizens' lobby groups who demand government help seem to think the Timberlands-supported Coastal Action Network is a fantastic expression of the people's voice?

Or to put it another way, when people from Auckland or Northland come to Parliament in pursuit of jobs and support from the government, they're a bunch of whingeing lefties. When they come from the West Coast, they're standing up for their families. I think I'd have sworn too, if I was Michael Cullen.

Anyway, a nod to John Banks, who also gave his valedictory address this week, and mightily amused the house in doing so. I've hurled plenty of abuse at Banks in the past - and let's be honest, he was a hopeless Cabinet minister - but it's impossible not to respect the way he has made a life out of such unpromising beginnings. I'd rather eat worms than listen to his radio show, but a little part of me is sad to see him go.

To touch briefly on the rugby well, maybe I'd better not. I warmly endorsed Carlos Spencer last week - and he promptly got his knee torn to bits at training, putting him out of all rugby for at least six months. So um good luck against England.

And hey kids if the news all gets too much, Dr Russ prescribes a solid course of therapy with Shihad's The General Electric. Guaranteed effective


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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