Sunday, September 24, 2006

The election that wouldn't die...

I have tried, several times, to write on the recent political shenanigans that have plagued all of our houses over the past three weeks, three months, even three years. The most recent goes some way toward backgrounding one part – that of election funding – of what has become a quite disgraceful tossing of toys and knotting of knickers.

So, now I am sitting here listening to Fat Freddy’s Drop, trying once again to collect the thoughts and marshall them into something that might have meaning for an interested bystander or three.

To illustrate this, I can give a personal perspective. I read this past week a blogger who had just registered for voting in his new State. The State he had shifted from had required him to show an “affiliation” as part of his voting registration. That, to me, is totally foreign; it requires explanation; and if I can get back there I have a whole string of “dumb and dumber” questions to ask. So I can imagine that for another person looking in, the perigrinations behind NZ politics over the past while might need explanation. Please, it has gotten to the stage where there will probably be several books being published over the next few years making the analysis and giving explanations; please don’t expect me to write them here...

Who are the characters? Well it involves all of the usual suspects. Each of them could justify small books on their own, if not a lengthy chapter or three. As one should expect, the media players feature prominently, the major political parties must be there, along with their respective figureheads, and the rules of the game. But there are others involved as well, the referees, the points scored for and against (in the form of voters), and then there are those who stand in the shadows; the vested interests both individual and group.

So first to declare my own hand. I want to be non-partisan in this discussion. Where blame is due I will give it. Where praise is warranted likewise, not that there is much if any that would. I have little reason to support Auntie Helen; I gave my party vote to Labour primarily because I did not believe National’s tax cuts were the right thing to do, nor was it the time to give tax cuts. That topic remains closed for now – it is a few books of its own. I have little reason to support National; the reasons I have debated in past posts around the time of the elections, and recent events have confirmed that view.

In this morning’s Sunday Star Times, Chris Trotter opens his line on the situation with the comparison between two different reactions to the same situation – the difference between a quiet “I think you are wrong, mistaken even” and shouting “You’re a bloody liar”. Trotter also tracks the start of this most recent donnybrook to a speech that Brash Donnie gave to Christchurch Central Zonta Club...
”Corruption is not a word you use outside of Parliament without being very sure of your ground. But I feel very safe, if rather sad, in pointing out that Clark’s government is quite simply the most corrupt in New Zealand history”.

The reasoning behind Brash’s statement is quite simple. The Electoral Act, the “Rules” for this particular game, states that certain acts (like spending outside of the limits set by the Act) are “corrupt practices”. So, if Labour has stepped outside of the Rules it can be accused of “corrupt practice”, shortened as only politicans can to “corruption”.

The other side of the catfight goes back to the Election, and the interpretation of the Rules. I covered that in part in my earlier commentary.

One of the “events” of the last elections has been called, by none other than National Party MP Katherine Rich in today’s SST, “the reason that National lost the election”. Towards the end of the campaign, a pamphlet was distributed over quite a large part of the country (I recall seeing it in my letterbox and in the outgoing recycling rubbish) calling for the defeat of the Labour and Green parties as "they represent a major danger to the country”. The pamphlet carried no party attribution, nor “notice of approval”. As such it is a direct parallel with the “Swift Boat Veterans” campaign against Kerry in the last US Presidential election. The absence of attribution or approval puts the cost of that pamphlet – now accepted as being in the vicinity of $1.2 million - outside of the limits imposed by the Rules.

Don’t worry, the Labour Party has its equivalent in the form of the labour Unions. Right from the formation of the party, there has been a very strong link between Unions and Party. The differences are that Party has always recorded the assistance from the Unions as part of their electoral “costs”, and the amounts involced are comparatively small – no more than $200,000 in total for the past elections.

To make matters even worse, the interim report on the elections (it is prepared following every election) from the Auditor General got leaked. By whom is still a mystery. As one would expect, an auditor’s report is a cold, bloodless, objective and emotionless thing. It lists, in bald cold numbers, the “over-spending” of each of the parties and the parts of the Rules that each has breached. In the normal course of events, the interim (draft) report is released to each of the parties for comment – that process is part of the NZ penchant for “fair play and natural justice” – prior to the formal report being presented to parliament. As I said earlier, that report is the basis for Brash Donnie’s accusation that “this government is the most corrupt...” because it lists Labour as having “overspent its limit” by some $420,000. That sum represents the cost of the “Pledge Card”, a feature of Labour’s campaign in each of the past three elections. Also in the first two of those elections, the Card and its cost fell within the Rules. Labour based its actions this last time around on the Rules being unchanged. Except that it seems they have not, there having been subtle changes made in 2003.

It gets even worse if we just follow the timeline of the election funding raruraru.

When the first pages of the AG’s report were leaked through the media, Auntie Helen’s response went through a series of different phases.

First, as one might expect, there was denial. Then, obviously after having read the report, that changed to anger directed at the premature release of the report. Then there was denial again – “Everything Labour has done has been in accordance with the Rules”. That became anger directed (very unwisely) at the AG – “He is wrong”. Then came her final crowning glory – “Simple – the Rule is wrong. We will change it. Retrospectively.”

If ever there was a call to corruption, it is there. But regrettably that is not the end of the sad tale...

Tuesday and Parliament opens its working week with “Question Time”. Now there was a time when this was taken fairly seriously, even by such monumental avoiders of Parliamentary responsibility as Rob Muldoon. “Comparatively” is a good word to use if you make the comparison with recent times. What is intended as a means for monitoring Ministerial responsibility has degenerated to a game. Questions have become statements and one-sided debate. Ministerial replies are now non-answers, avoidance of the point of the question, essentially mind games and playing with logic.

Ministerial responsibility to Parliament (and consequently to the electorate) is now non-existant. Taito Phillip Field is a case in point. There is a broad parallel from the Kirk government – was that 25 years ago? – with a Minister of Agriculture caught giving preferential treatment to family members and specifically to his son in law and daughter. Not only was he removed from office, he was removed from his seat – no more MP.

What makes this government even worse is that Field is not the first. Tennis=ball Benson Pope, John Tamihere both went through the hoops without the ultimate penalty. So too with David Parker.

Don’t get this wrong, this avoidance of Ministerial responsibility to the House is not just a failing of this current government. Jim Bolger’s lot were expert in the “non-answer” as well. It is just that Auntie Helen and the current government have taken it to new lows.

Now please, do not get the impression that I think Auntie Helen is blameless – far from it. There was a georgeous little cartoon recently – Auntie Helen and her glove puppet, Steve Maharey.

Let’s face it, hit someone frequently enough with abuse and they are going, eventually, to react – probably violently. I know. I have done it in response to continual references to “the kiwi sheep joke”. As I have said recently to Dave, my “right whinger” tag is a personal response to the continual use of “liberal” as a pejorative. Yes, there is a limit to my patience.

So has it been with the Labour Party as well. Promises of “dishing the dirt” in the House do nothing to improve the average Nzer’s opinion of our political representatives

The next step is to understand that quite apart from the formal Rules – the Statutes covering elections etc. – and the Rules that cover the proceedings of the House – Standing Orders, there are also the unwritten “rules”, the conventions of “polite behaviour” within the political system. Among those conventions is the prohibition of personal attack against the families of Members.

So when Maharey and Hodgson start heckling Brash Donnie in the House with promises of “dirt to come” in response to the continual use of the “c” word, they are truly running the brink. When it transpires that the “dirt” is a long rumoured but previously “unmentioned” extra-marital relationship between Brash Donnie and a leading business-woman, the fur truly starts to fly.

Again, this is all being done at arm’s length. It is the news media’s disgraceful part in this whole sordid business to publicise, to (as SST said in its exculpatory editorial today ) “sterilise with the light of day”, and to make money from the resulting sales and ratings. So the rumour of Brash Donnie’s affair gets a front page run in most of the major dailies. Obfuscation and prevarication follows, and the media publish the name of the woman involved after Brash takes time off to “attend to private matters”.

Then one of these small, nasty little weekly tabloids puts out that its next issue will have confirmation of rumours that have been circulating for a long while about people close to the PM. The SST (this was its last week issue, for which the “apology” followed today) broached the subject by revealing the intended revelation was that the PM’s husband is gay.

The basis for the accusation? A short video and series of photos of Mr Davis (who is NOT gay) being embraced by a supporter who definitely is gay. The source? News footage and photos taken the night of the last election!

Flashes out of the smoke and fire have revealed –

The source of the confirmation of Brash’s extra-marital activities was a private detective hired by an un-named Labour supporter. The PD has made it clear that while he can not for ethical reasons reveal who his contract was with it was not a leading or parliamentary member of the Labour Party.

The source of the little weekly tabloid’s story was a sad little man who has been a member of some six political parties, who looks like a sad little man, and who has for reasons only known to himself has several very large axes to grind. An example of his rationale (or is it rationality) from todays article in SST (I haven’t yet cancelled my subscription after last weeks article)
The first key date is 1981, when B’s marriage to a kiwi woman (nine years, two children) fell apart acrimoniously. “I was angry at everything”.

He visited his local member of parliament, a newly elected Labour MP called Helen Clark.... he remembers Clark’s response. “We had a bit of a row and she wasn’t very sympathetic... men are bad everything...”

At some point in the 90’s B’s concerns at the ill-treatment of men blurred with another anxiety: the threat of AIDS.

The connection is confusing... but in essence B believes that the Aids Foundation and Ministry of Health are more concerned with affirming homosexual lifestyles than protecting public health... A small minority of homosexuals are determining the country’s sexual health policy.

“Not all homosexuals are a problem”, says B. “Just the left wing ones.”

“I did a little research [ in 1995] and found the militant homosexuals and the militant feminists, many of them lesbian, work closely together. It was around that time that I switched my political allegiance [from Labour ] ... and became less liberal in regard to homosexuals.”

As was pointed out in a letter to the Editor of SST today, if two men – two women for that matter – hugging in public is a sure sign of homosexuality, then my son and I, my wife and daughter, and virtually every sportsman who has ever played in a winning team, we must all be homosexual...


Truly mind-boggling!

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