Fran O'Sullivan on business
Business analysis and comment from Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan

Fran O'Sullivan: After the holiday, it'll be time to get busy

The Urewera Four trial should address some unanswered questions. Photo / Alan Gibson
The Urewera Four trial should address some unanswered questions. Photo / Alan Gibson

New Year is the time for pausing to reflect and set new goals, particularly for other people.

The start of 2012 is no exception. So in the spirit of New Year I'll be paying close attention to how John Key and David Shearer perform. First up, I wish each of them well. Good and visionary leadership is critical to New Zealand's future.

In Key's case, I want to see him return from Hawaii rested and sufficiently invigorated to quickly set a fast-moving agenda.

Key's "speech from the throne" got lost in translation in the post-election fallout. Most of us had already switched off by the time the Governor-General outlined the National-led Government's second-term agenda.

But the Prime Minister has the opportunity to restate his goals by making a state of the nation speech in late January. This is an important opportunity for Key to lift the country's overall sights, signal that his Government will address some major issues and add some all-important emotional context.

Key has scoffed at Shearer's request to make the ministerial committee on poverty a cross-parliament body. But my sense is that the country is looking for greater cohesion from all its politicians.

We were horrified at the violent sexual attack on a 5-year-old who was sleeping in her family's caravan at a holiday camp. And particularly horrified that the male accused is only 16. Detective Inspector Mark Loper says New Zealand society "needs to have a good look at itself". Loper is right.

But whose responsibility is it to focus the spotlight on how our society has deteriorated? The media can only do so much. Despite repeated media campaigns focusing on "our children" and perennial child abuse, there is little sign New Zealand is becoming a safer place for our young.

My hope is that a parliamentary committee has the guts to undertake its own inquiries into this vexed topic. It should hear evidence from a wide range of New Zealanders and come up with recommendations that politicians on all sides can take into account and implement.

It should also address Maori and gang violence and not sweep these very real issues under the carpet.

We also desperately need some unison on Christchurch. Key will return to work mid-month to find new recommendations on his desk.

More areas are marginal after the pre-Christmas swarm of earthquakes. Choices have to be made on which new areas should be red-zoned. Again, a cross-party committee could assist in building support for the difficult choices that have to be made.

All this on top of the major international issues that could yet disrupt the global economy.

Closer to home, some interesting court cases loom.

If police lay charges against Bradley Ambrose for allegedly bugging the Prime Minister's "cup of tea" with Act's John Banks, there will be ramifications for all news media, not just the freelance cameraman. Personally, I wish John Key would withdraw his complaint. I believe that Key - and particularly National's campaign chairman, Steven Joyce - hugely over-reacted to Ambrose's actions.

Let's face it; police did not lay charges against former Prime Minister Helen Clark's aides when Labour pillaged parliamentary funds for its 2005 campaign even though their investigation pointed to clear illegality.

Yet in the teacup saga, no news media even published the tape, putting ethical considerations above public interest. End of story surely?

In late January, I will turn up at the High Court at Wellington to see if I get selected for jury service for a two-week trial.

The chance to see the workings of the justice system from the inside instead of acting as the public's ears and eyes is attractive.

Unfortunately, journalists tend to be automatically challenged by the lawyers.

That means it is highly likely I will be free to sit in as a journalist on the trial of the "Urewera four" which is set down for February 13 in the High Court at Auckland.

I vividly recall the press conference at Police HQ in Wellington when Commissioner Howard Broad announced armed police had raided Tuhoe villages in the Ureweras in October 2007. It was claimed Tuhoe had been running guerrilla-style training camps.

But over the years the number of defendants has been whittled down to four from the original 18. Those four stand accused of participation in a criminal group and firearms offences.

Like many New Zealanders, I want to know if the terrorist training camps were for real, or whether police did over-reach themselves. This is important in a democracy.

Early 2012 will also bring the laying of fraud charges in relation to South Canterbury Finance, and civil proceedings brought against some directors involved with Hanover Finance.

The watchdogs still have some work ahead to finalise their investigations into the collapsed finance companies.

But it will be good to finally draw a line under this shameful era and concentrate on what makes good companies motor. Hopefully, we have all learned from this.

In the meantime, I wish all Herald readers an exciting and prosperous New Year. I'm taking a break. My column will return on January 21.

- NZ Herald

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