Fran O'Sullivan on business

Business analysis and comment from Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan

Fran O'Sullivan: Plenty of areas to mine for Cunliffe

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Labour leader said to have singled out economy, inequality gap, environment and strengthening national identity.

Labour leader David Cunliffe should hold the Government's feet to the fire on issues such as the Christchurch rebuild. Photo / APN
Labour leader David Cunliffe should hold the Government's feet to the fire on issues such as the Christchurch rebuild. Photo / APN

In his debut appearance in Parliament as Labour's leader, David Cunliffe leveraged the so-called "Axe the Copper Tax" campaign as the basis for a foray against Prime Minister John Key on corporate welfarism.

Yesterday, Cunliffe settled for a question to the Prime Minister asking if he stood by his statement regarding first-home buyers when Key said: "I don't want to see tools implemented that lock them out of the market."

The Axe the Copper Tax campaign had surprisingly fallen from view despite yet another report from the Covec consultants, this time arguing that the tax would cost Kiwi households and businesses about $1 billion if "demands by monopolist Chorus are accepted".

It's not as if claims of crony capitalism have suddenly been dropped from Labour's parliamentary arsenal. After all, shadow finance minister David Parker kept the Tiwai Point $30 million subsidy issue bubbling over from last week to this.

But it's a moot point when Cunliffe - who awarded himself the communications technology shadow portfolio in his caucus line-up - will pick up the campaign of the Coalition for Fair Internet Pricing again.

The coalition's PR adviser, Matthew Hooton, has spent the last two days making allegations about the Labour leader because he included helping with the formation of Fonterra among a list of areas he worked on in his pre-politics career, while he was a Boston Consulting Group consultant.

It was a fatuous allegation as there was, indeed, considerable work done by a range of consultants from BCG and McKinsey over the late 1990s leading up to the decisions to merge the various players into what ultimately was named Fonterra, with many people helping on the dairy giant's formation.

Cunliffe simply used the word "help". He did not use words like "ran" or "orchestrated". There is a difference.

Hooton's allegations were run - not just on National Radio, where inexplicably host Kathryn Ryan did not switch Hooton's microphone off after he repeated the allegation - but also on Twitter, RadioLive and various blogs.

Cunliffe should be smart enough not to pick up the phone to the Coalition funders and say "call your dog off if you want me to bark for you". That would just be leaked to a right-wing blog. But he will surely be tempted to sweat Hooton's PR company in return.

He is an experienced player and knows Hooton will have claimed that his own question in Parliament was simply a result of his (not Cunliffe's) innate genius and his (not Cunliffe's) capacity to pull strings.

The reality is that Labour's new leader cannot afford to be shot from behind when he has (so far) just been carrying the bag for only one side of this very serious debate.

Cunliffe was a communications minister in Helen Clark's government and is ideally positioned to drive debate.

But he'd be better advised to turn to the party's own research unit, and get them to do the hard yards and produce original material on weighty commercial issues for him and others of his front-bench line-up to run with, rather than pick up a commercial lobbyist's made-to-order campaign.

His new shadow Cabinet sports a particularly strong front bench heavily weighted towards economic issues and employment.

The two other leadership contenders are highly ranked: Grant Robertson (third) and Shane Jones (fifth) with employment and economic development respectively.

It is an area that's rich for mining as far as business is concerned.

He has been smart enough to ensure attack dogs Clayton Cosgrove and Chris Hipkins are on his front bench and has sensibly catapulted Annette King to fourth place as the highest-ranked woman.

Cunliffe was reported as singling out his key priorities as the economy, closing the inequality gap, protecting the environment and "strengthening our national identity".

These areas present a Labour opposition with plenty to mine.

But the business sector will be more enthused if he adds "economic growth" to those priorities.

There are areas where the Government is vulnerable such as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery.

But Cunliffe has left this to be addressed by an unranked MP, this time Ruth Dyson (Lianne Dalziel held the shadow portfolio before resigning from Parliament).

Fletcher Building chief executive Mark Adamson has repeatedly emphasised the overall tardiness in getting the main Christchurch CBD rebuilt and the negative effect this is having on supply lines.

But the message is not getting through.

These are the type of issues which Labour should be holding the Government's feet to the fire on.

- NZ Herald

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