Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: Labour's 'lollies' win no love

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Labour got lucky this week when Sue Moroney's private member's bill providing for six months' paid parental leave was drawn out of the ballot.

Whatever you think of the idea, it is an opportunity for serious political mischief well into next year.

Bill English moved immediately to put the kibosh on any possibility that such paid leave would happen. He said even if the bill passed the Government would veto it.

I had no idea New Zealand governments had such a power. They do, apparently, if they believe the legislation threatens the country's finances - but for the life of me I can recall no such action of such magnitude ever being taken as that which he's proposing.

There is the possibility that with the support the bill already seems to have in Parliament it could face a third reading next year, just a year out from the presumed next election - giving Labour the opportunity to make National look anti-women and children, or the Grinch who stole Christmas, as Claire Trevett put it in this newspaper this week.

But I doubt it.

You only have to look at the overwhelming support for English's threatened action in the Herald online poll this week. I know these polls are unscientific, but I always think that if you get an overwhelming swing one way or another you can feel pretty safe with them.

In the end, people are realistic. They hear the numbers and they know what's realistic and what's not. People are happy that we can afford $150 million annually for 14 weeks' paid parental leave, but they believe English when he talks about the destabilising effect of a paid parental leave bill rising suddenly to half a billion dollars a year.

We know that any dramatic increase in paid parental leave from 14 weeks to six months would be paid for by borrowings.

Meaning more debt. English is confident that argument will win through.

Labour will emphasise the value of mother being at home with baby for as long as possible.

And this is a good argument which no one seriously dismisses, but even Helen Clark was firm with Leila Harre, the champion of paid parental leave, that you can't have nirvana overnight. Especially now that the country is in the doldrums economically.

The other fine argument, one advanced by the Prime Minister's science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, is that if we reprioritise and spend the money now it'll get better results than spending it on youth mental health later on.

English may be thinking upside down, in other words.

But, politically, he has already countered well by saying that Moroney's proposal is typical of Labour.

"Labour specialises in trying to get the political benefit straight up without the resulting cost. The Labour Party don't appear to have learned anything, they think that handing out lollies is how you get political favours," he said.

And he touches an acute nerve there. He's reflecting a lingering perception which Labour is going to have to be careful about for a long time to come.

I think English is perfectly safe on this one. But now is now. Next year is next year.

Of course, this was the week of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the White Star Line's Titanic.

What is the magic, the eternal capacity of that event, that causes such awe for most of us to love hearing the story time and again, when so many thousands of ships have sunk over the years?

The speed of it, for one thing. The ship was "unsinkable", yet it took a mere two hours from its impact with the gigantic iceberg to its break-up and disappearance under a still, black frigid sea to a grave miles below.

Just like that, the world's unsinkable ship was gone. On its maiden voyage.

This kind of thing didn't happen, not to the flagship of a great ocean liner. The ship was already legendary for its luxury, and that night it was carrying a few of the richest people in the world.

There was skulduggery and cowardice, and there was sacrifice and heroism.

And there is something eternally terrifying about the picture of a great liner with its bow already below the water, lights blazing on a calm and freezing night in the north Atlantic, all hope beginning to be lost.

So, as you can imagine, our MySky is loaded up with Titanic programme recordings at the moment. In one, which you may not have seen not being the Titanic junkie your columnist is, an American navy accident inspector conducts his own investigation right from the top. He examines the role of various individuals. He can hold no one responsible.

But he notes that during construction, the riveting machine was unable to get to the lower bow section so the riveting had to be done by hand. To make the work easier a slightly softer rivet was used. When the Titanic hit the iceberg the hull received about 9000kg of pressure. The rivets he made could take less than 2200kg of pressure.

End of story. Maybe.

- NZ Herald

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