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July 31, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Week in Politics

There are times when you connect the dots and you can see it isn’t going to be good news. It’s kind of like seeing a train approaching you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it (short of Toll shutting down the line… more on that later).

At the National Party Conference, Party Leader Don Brash was ready to concede on one policy…according to the New Zealand Herald, Brash was ready to make a more ‘centrist’ position (note that it isn’t a softening, but a centering) on treaty issues. Fast forward to the Tuesday and the vote on a Bill brought forward by Doug Woolerton (New Zealand First, List) to remove all references to the ‘Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi’ from all legislation was about to come up for it’s fi rst reading. Oh, and if you think you’ve heard this all already, that would be because last year, Winston Peters (New Zealand First, List) had an exactly identical bill defeated at it’s fi rst reading. At question time, Pita Paraone (New Zealand First, List) took time to soften up their government partner:

Paraone: to the Minister of Justice: Has he received any advice on the removal of references to the “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” from legislation and the impact this may have on the relevance of the Treaty of Waitangi to New Zealand?

Minister of Justice Mark Burton (Labour, Taupo): Yes, I have received advice… Paraone: Can the Minister confi rm that removing references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi from legislation will not remove all references to the Treaty of Waitangi from legislation, as the principles and the Treaty itself are clearly different?

Burton: …[is it] the case that the removal of references to the principles would have no effect. No, I cannot agree with that. Such a removal would amend several Treaty claim acts, in effect affecting the apologies given, and I am afraid that that in turn would undermine the good-faith relationship between the Crown and those it settled with.

Te Uraroa Flavell (Maori, Waiariki): Has he received any advice that “the [Labour] Maori Caucus is not in favour of it”…?

Burton: I can say to the member that the comments of the Minister are not at any odds with the views of his colleagues. The Labour caucus will honour its undertaking under the confi dence and supply agreement. That does not mean we will not engage in very full debate of the issues raised in the bill.

So, for those who have lost the plot right now, here is a quick breakdown. Labour doesn’t like the bill; particularly the Maori caucus and the PM, but they made a deal with New Zealand First to support it to the select committee, so it could be the next Government. It’s likely that they will vote against it come the second reading. It was expected that National, with their “more centrist line” would have voted against the bill and use the vote as a way to highlight its purex stance (soft, yet strong) on the Treaty, come election time.

Instead National flipped. Why the change? Surely they would have had a bigger victory if had they voted against it, and come the election attacked the Government’s harsher line on treaty issues. So much for ‘centering’ itself. Ironically enough, the party’s stance still has that one quality that good toilet paper should have… the ability to hold shit!

The Maori party, trying to rekindle some of that Foreshore disunity, attacked PM Helen Clark (Labour, Mt Albert) for “keeping her poodles [the Labour Maori caucus] behind her”. Of course, you don’t have to believe in party unity when there are only four of you and you already have a history for splitting on votes. I can understand if ‘party unity’ is not a popular phrase in the Maori party.

Speaking of which, sometime this week… the Maori party will know if all their efforts to boost the Maori role would have resulted in even one more Maori seat in Parliament. I’m looking forward to that.

Switching to Labour, David Cunliffe (Labour, New Lynn) has been the first Minister to get stung after Taito-Phillip Field’s “complete exoneration” (no report was ever going to completely reverse the damage that Field had created). Cunliffe was defl ecting a very serious attack from Lockwood Smith (National, Rodney) on his predecessor’s role in interfering in the visa applications of Thai tilers after talking to Field. Damien O’Connor (Labour, Tasman) should be thanking himself he is no longer the Minister of Immigration.

Toll Rail’s announcement of the closing of the last Auckland-Wellington rail route might be a sad story for trainspotters, foreign tourists, and nostalgic geriatrics who remember well the good ole’ days, but it is a reality of economics: it’s cheaper to take a bus or a plane in the off peak period. A statement by co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons (Greens, List) on their demand for maintaining the rail infrastructure foreshadowed: “I predict that as oil prices continue to rise further we will need the Overlander again…” Who says environmentalists don’t understand the economy? Probably those who think that the environmentalists’ are in a war against the human race (thanks Charlie Pedersen).

Finally, Jim Sutton (Labour, List) gave his valedictory speech in the House last week, pausing in his parting words, to lay a single parting shot at his now former boss:

“It is reckoned better to be in Government for a week than in Opposition for a year; but one does not have to be in this place for long to appreciate that it is better to be in Cabinet…six established ministers, planning to retire at the end of the term [in 1990], were invited by Geoffrey [Palmer, PM at the time] to resign their portfolios. It didn’t turn around the fortunes of that government…”

History never repeats?

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