The Watchdog

Keeping citizens in the loop

7 May 2011


“Elements of farce to Brash’s outsider status”


Very few people I spoke to recently, in the Remuera, Newmarket and Parnell shopping centres – were aware of the Auckland (‘Supercity’)  proposed 4.9% rate increase.

I was distributing a postcard, addressed to PM John Key, which people could sign, pledging to consider not paying this proposed 4.9% rate increase:

“Where are the ‘economies of scale’ resulting from abolishing our eight former councils and replacing them with this ‘corporate controlled organisation’?

National promised to ‘consult with Aucklanders one the findings of the Royal Commission were known:

You didn’t.  Citizens were denied our right to a ‘binding poll’ and now Auckland is being run ‘like a BIG business, by Big business, for BIG business’.

Bigger contract$ for fewer but bigger contractors?  Serving whose interests?

The ‘books’ are NOT open.

We don’t know the name of the consultants/contractors; the scope, term and value of these contracts.

WHO IS IN CHARGE? Where is the ‘due diligence’, ‘cost-benefit analysis’ and ‘transparency?

CUT rates by cutting out contractors and bring core Council services back ‘in-house’! ”

Penny Bright

Elements of farce to Brash’s outsider status

By John Armstrong

5:30 AM Saturday May 7, 2011

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Brash's case is another development in an ever-evolving system of minority government running smack into the Westminster tradition. Photo / Janna Dixon


Brash’s case is another development in an ever-evolving system of minority government running smack into the Westminster tradition. Photo / Janna Dixon

If the law is an ass, then the rules of Parliament are sometimes as stubborn and stupid as a pack of mules.

The inflexibility of the institution was amply demonstrated in farcical fashion on Tuesday when Don Brash held a press conference after chairing Act’s weekly caucus meeting for the first time.

Despite there being countless meeting rooms within the parliamentary complex, Brash and his media entourage had to decamp to the offices of the legal firm Chapman Tripp several blocks away.

The reason? Brash may well be the leader of a parliamentary party again but as far as the authorities are concerned he is not an MP and can’t use parliamentary resources.

Things become even sillier on discovery that Brash could have held court in front of the media in Act’s caucus room. There just happens to be an exemption for caucus rooms because non-MPs such as party presidents frequently attend caucus meetings.

In Act’s case, however, its room is far too small to cater for the hordes of media feasting on all things Brash. Rodney Hide’s office nearby would have been big enough – but that room comes under the ambit of ministerial services, another slow-to-adjust branch of the bureaucracy.

Things are even more inconsistent in Brash’s case because he is a former MP and is thus entitled to enter the parliamentary chamber and watch proceedings from special seats to the left of the Speaker.

Brash did just that this week and intends doing so on most Tuesdays when Parliament is sitting, no doubt as an in-your-face reminder to senior National MPs of Act’s intention to be much more aggressive in differentiating itself from its centre-right ally.

Brash’s pre-election position as a “leader outside Parliament” is not without precedent. The Greens’ Russel Norman did a two-year stint as such. However, with Act part of the current governing arrangement, Brash’s halfway-house status has got quite a few constitutional knickers in a twist.

Some happily so. Labour has raised breach of privilege questions with the Speaker about the acceptability of the Prime Minister “taking direction” on ministerial appointments from someone outside Parliament.

Lockwood Smith has yet to respond – a sign he does not consider this to be a matter of pressing importance.

All ministers ultimately serve at the Prime Minister’s pleasure. John Key long ago vetoed any prospect of Act’s Sir Roger Douglas joining his ministry. Neither was he willing to accept the inexperienced Hilary Calvert as part of the latest revolving-door round of changes to how Act fills its entitlement to two ministers outside the Cabinet.

Those conditions made something of a nonsense of Labour’s claim that Key was beholden to Brash. It may well be a breach of privilege for an outsider to “intimidate” an MP. Key may think a number of things of Brash. Feeling intimidated will not be one of them. Still, it was worth a try on Labour’s part.

When it comes to constitutional niceties, the more important question is whether Brash’s not being an MP weakens ministerial and parliamentary accountability. The buck still stops with the minister, however. If there was some catastrophe in an Act-held portfolio as a result of meddling by Brash, the Prime Minister could still only sack the relevant Act minister. But that is no different from current practice. Judgment on the leader would rest in the court of public opinion – as it does now.

What we have in Brash’s case is another development in an ever-evolving system of minority government running smack into the Westminster tradition.

As has been the case with other MMP-produced anomalies, New Zealand’s informal constitution will adapt.

The bigger headache is Act’s. Its leader is deprived of one of a leader’s normal platforms. The onus is on deputy leader John Boscawen as the party’s designated leader in Parliament to make sure Act does not look rudderless while Brash takes to the road to drum up support.

That such voter backing will largely have to come at National’s expense has seen the major party quietly downplay the chances of any resurrection of Act’s fortunes.

Current circumstances are seen as being very different from those that drove Brash’s remarkable turnaround in National’s fortunes in 2004 on the back of his Orewa speech on race.

Much of the anger provoked by Labour’s so-called political correctness has since dissipated. The foreshore and seabed imbroglio has been sorted. Brash’s economic prescription is seen as unsaleable.

National may be right. The polling that Brash commissioned to reinforce the grounds for his coup is understood to show that under his leadership Act would draw support at a level of around 5 to 6 per cent compared with the roughly 2 per cent willing to vote for a Hide-led party.

This puts Act above the 5 per cent threshold – but it falls a long way short of the 15 per cent Brash has talked of securing.

National’s polling is said to show Act’s basement-level support has not shifted one iota since Brash took the helm.

Brash’s answer to Key’s painting of him as an extremist is typically bold. His aim is to bust Act out of the niche party ghetto and attract a wider audience. His first step in looking more moderate is to stress he is only campaigning on much the same manifesto he did with National in 2005.

Act MPs and the party’s board will nut out a revised election strategy next weekend. As a minimum Act wants to win enough seats so that National has to rely on it to govern.

The first priority, however, is to smooth feathers within Act which were hugely ruffled by the brutal nature of Brash’s takeover.

The second priority is to fast-track John Banks’ selection as Act’s Epsom candidate. That is seen as necessary to give voters the confidence that a party vote for Act will not be a wasted vote. Only then will Act’s support start to climb.

At some point Brash will deliver what he will hope to be a big-bang, agenda-setting speech. Still, rolling Hide was easy. For Brash, the hard part begins now.

May 6, 2011 - Posted by | Fighting corruption in NZ, Fighting water privatisation in NZ, Transparency in Govt spending

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