Jim Hopkins: MPs busy trying to make two wrongs look alright

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There are 20 Cabinet ministers in New Zealand or, more precisely, 20 ministers in Cabinet. We don't know their combined IQs but we do know their salaries. Together, these 20 ministers receive some $4,950,000 a year. Plus expenses. In total, during a Parliamentary term, they're paid more than $15,000,000.

One of the most important things our 20 ministers do is commission, consider, then present legislation to Parliament. The legislation addresses issues like terrorism and election funding.

Currently, Parliament is debating Cabinet legislation which will allow our elected representatives to keep on doing things like putting out pledge cards paid for with taxpayers funds.

Rather inconveniently, some time ago, the Auditor-General said this should never happen again, it was wrong. So our 20 ministers commissioned legislation to make the wrong thing right. Now they've commissioned new legislation to make the wrong thing right next year as well.

The legislation will allow MPs to spend their parliamentary allowances on anything that doesn't "explicitly" solicit votes. They'll be able to say, "We're fantastic!!! Our party's fantastic!!!" They just won't be able to add, "Vote for us!!!"

In this case, our 20 ministers have commissioned legislation that is very coherent, very comprehensible and very workable. It will certainly work very well for them.

Unfortunately, two years ago, our 20 ministers must've been having a bad hair day. They presented a bill (The Terrorism Suppression Act) which, according to the Solicitor-General, is "incoherent, incomprehensible" and "virtually unworkable." It seems our 20 ministers are very good at looking after themselves but not very good at looking after the people they're sworn to serve and protect.

But that's the prime duty of any government. A government that can't defend itself or protect its people when they are attacked by enemies - within or without - doesn't deserve the name.

To deal with terrorists - or a few harmless "nutters" who just happen, in their fun-loving way, to be planning assassinations, bombings, the destruction of infrastructure and other acts of violence so extreme we'd think al Qaeda was responsible - a Government needs vigilant forces, sophisticated equipment and good law.

What our 20 ministers gave the Solicitor-General was law he couldn't use. The first time we encounter a threat of the sort now common overseas, the Solicitor-General says: "There's nothing I can do."

This is the worst possible result for New Zealand. It is an absolute disaster. The Solicitor-General's professed impotence further undermines a police force already tainted by allegations of political partiality.

It corrupts their credibility. It confirms the view that police behaved like blundering bullies; oppressive stars in a paranoid comic opera that stopped being funny when Tuhoi "citizens" were traumatised by all the ninja nonsense. It makes martyrs of buffoons and, possibly, turns potential assassins into public victims.

Not that our 20 Cabinet ministers appear unduly concerned. They're too busy gerrymandering next year's election campaign - to benefit themselves, of course. So preoccupied are they with this that they haven't even asked the Solicitor-General to explain why he didn't share his negative opinions much sooner.

Because it appears he knew what was happening and what the police were doing. He was shown the evidence they'd gathered before their raids took place.

We must suppose he read The Terrorism Suppression Act. We must assume he checked to see if the evidence the police had breached the law the politicians had given him. That is what a Solicitor-General does.

A Solicitor-General has a duty of care to the people who pay his salary. He shouldn't allow the law to be seen as an ass. He shouldn't allow its architects to be seen as asses either - tempted though he may be.

So, we can presume he did his homework. And apparently had no qualms. He didn't advise Commissioner Broad the Terrorism Suppression Act was "incoherent" and "unworkable". Unless, of course, he did and the commissioner didn't listen. If so, our 20 ministers should tell Mr Broad he may like to consider a new career as a Subway sandwich maker because he's humiliated his own force and embarrassed the country.

For that is undoubtedly what has happened. And there's equally no doubt the Solicitor-General's decision has added to the humiliation and embarrassment and left us all even more vulnerable.

If he knew what the consequences would be if the Terrorism Suppression Act was invoked by the police to justify their raids on training camps and homes then he was obliged to say so. Before the disastrous event!

Perhaps he should consider doing what the State Services Commissioner's done and fine himself for being a naughty boy. Perhaps he should fine our 20 Cabinet ministers for producing silly law. Or perhaps they should start justifying their salaries by concentrating on giving real people real protection from real threats - instead of trying to rig elections!

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