Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Leaks and speculation

Labour Party MP David Cunliffe. Photo / NZ Herald
Labour Party MP David Cunliffe. Photo / NZ Herald

When parties and governments start leaking from within it is usually a bonanza for journalists and political commentators.

National will be worried that minutes from a recent top level board meeting appear to have been leaked widely. Of particularly interest is a report by senior whip Michael Woodhouse about a 'disturbing discussion that he has had with Simon Lusk that highlighted his motivations and a very negative agenda for the party'.

Lusk has worked as a campaign advisor for National and other rightwing local body candidates, has been linked to Don Brash's takeover of Act, and recently ran two National Party candidate schools with Cameron Slater - see: Duncan Garner's Secret minutes reveal split in National's ranks and Andrea Vance's Nats get niggly over the Right stuff.

The Standard speculates that the leak is a continuation of the Judith Collins vs Steven Joyce faction fight to succeed John Key - see: Nat Civil War: ceasefire breached. They also speculate that the Collins faction doesn't want a close relationship with the Conservative Party because that party inhabits the ideological terrain where Collins and co want to take National itself, preferring an Act-like coalition partner. The more socially-liberal Joyce faction is looking to work with the Conservatives, allowing National to retain a more liberal political position.

Trevor Mallard, who apparently also received the minutes, reveals that it was agreed at the Board meeting that Lusk 'represents a serious risk to the Party and this issue will be followed up with a further meeting between the President and the Whip' - see: Nat Board has a no Lusk policy.

The story is worth following up according to Scott Yorke, but he advises Mallard to leave it to journalists rather than reducing Labour to the status of muckrackers - see: Keeping It Clean. Meanwhile, David Farrar acknowledges that the leaking of the minutes is a serious issue and even suggests they should undertake secret tracking measures in future to identify the source - see: National Board documents.

Internal debate about Labour's leadership is not being aired in public at the moment but Chris Trotter still thinks Cunliffe is carefully positioning himself with the party faithful as the next Labour leader - see: Cunliffe primed for gorilla warfare. Cunliffe's manoeuvring is obvious according to John Moore, but says that Cunliffe's rebranding as a leftwing leader is 'tenuous and opportunistic', pointing to his previous support for Public Private Partnerships as evidence of his centrist political tendencies - see his blogpost, The Cunliffe Conspiracy.

Shearer's leadership has recently been supported by Fran O'Sullivan (Ditch Shearer now? You must be joking), John Roughan (The face of the next Government) and David Farrar (The Shearer defence), but as Robert Winter points out, friends like this won't actually consolidate Shearer's position within the Labour Party - see: David Shearer: the type of support you don't want.

Radio New Zealand's political judgement has been called into question by Chris Trotter in Right versus ... Centre Right?! where he questions their choice of Labour's Josie Pagani as the representative of the left.

National has opened a huge ideological can of worms by deciding to introduce free contraception for welfare beneficiaries. Talkback radio and public comments are in overdrive. Politicians, Churches, moral conservatives, family planning groups, feminists and welfare advocates are all having their say as well, but it's interesting that the battle lines are not strictly left and right. Colin Craig's Conservatives, Catholic Bishops, and libertarian Peter Creswell are siding with the Maori Party, Mana, Green Party, Labour, political commentator Morgan Godfery, Auckland Action Against Poverty, Christchurch's Beneficiary Advisory Service, Mangere Budgeting and Family Support Services and academic feminist Deborah Russell. Meanwhile, broadly in favour of the Government's policy are the New Zealand Herald (Contraception plan suffers by association), the Dominion Post (Contraceptive plan makes sense), Nelson Mail (An offensive jab? Well, not really), Family Planning, the Medical Association, Women's Health Action Trust, and the Auckland Single Parents Trust.

The two main issues are how the funding is targeted at just female beneficiaries and the involvement and potential power of WINZ case workers over what many see should be a strictly medical and personal issue. For more see: Kate Chapman and Shabnam Dastgheib's Beneficiary birth-control plan 'gives women choice', and Claire Trevett's Contraceptive plan criticised. Toby Manhire also surveys the strong responses to Colin Craig's 'promiscuous young women' remarks.

The Government gets some support today for its partial privatisation agenda - see: Fran O'Sullivan's The State goes capitalist, Rob Cameron's Why mixed ownership model matters, and Jamie Gray's Floats bring a new buoyancy. What is interesting is that the arguments largely ignore the main reason given by the Government for the sale: to reduce public debt, and instead focus on the benefits the sales will have for New Zealand's struggling capital markets.

While this may have appeal in the financial sector, selling government assets to boost private investment companies is likely to be seen as an example of corporate welfare, particularly given the suggestion that getting the highest possible price shouldn't be the Government's main priority. If the champions of free markets want to use public assets to pump up investment funds then maybe Treasury should investigate the corporate equivalent of an IUD to prevent future generations of state dependent investment bankers. The original reduction of debt argument has been challenged by economist Raf Manji at a Select Committee Heariing - see: Michael Berry's Partial privatisation numbers 'don't add up'.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* TVNZ7's end will be 'scarcely noticeable' according to the Press newspaper editorial, but Paul Norris (Saving TVNZ 7 is in public interest), Simon Cunliffe (Death of public service TV; ) and Peter Dunne (Minister's blistering attack on TVNZ) all disagree. David Farrar argues that the main problem with TVNZ7 was the 'TVNZ' bit, and that public service television needs to be completely separated from commercial operations - see: Throng on TVNZ7.

*The Urewera trials look like they may finally be over bar the sentencing - see: Edward Gay's Confirmed: No 'Urewera Four' retrial and Stuff's Urewera police focused on spying, says lawyer.

* John Key has said he thinks it is unlikely that the source of the latest embarrassing Mfat leak will ever be found, but the Government has launched an independent investigation anyway - see: John Hartevelt's Rebstock to investigate MFAT rejig leak.

* Pollsters are considering a code to improve understanding, interpretation and reporting political polls - see: Adam Bennett's Pollsters meet to decide on code, while Claire Trevett reports that the Electoral Commission is recommending that Maori voters may be allowed to swap rolls every election cycle.

* Matt Nolan argues that the issue raised by the Crafar Farms sale could be resolved through a land tax - see: Rethinking our stance on land sales.

* And finally, a new study by the University of Otago shows that, over time, household income varies greatly for many families but that many of the lowest income groups find it very difficult to improve their situation, particularly Maori and households with children - see: High income mobility but one in five households have chronic low income.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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