Audrey Young 's Opinion

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Cunliffe gets a bloody nose

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David Cunliffe. Photo / Marty Melville
David Cunliffe. Photo / Marty Melville

David Cunliffe called John Key's question stupid, Bill English called David Cunliffe's new state insurance company idea dumb, and Winston Peters called himself brilliant.

They couldn't all be right.

With the Speaker away running the New York marathon, Cunliffe still fizzing from his strident speech at the annual conference, and National anxious to puncture Labour's mood, there had to be a stoush in Parliament's Question Time yesterday.

Cunliffe started off well but came away with a bloody nose - the answer he gave to what he called Key's "stupid question" turned out to be wrong itself.

They were arguing about Labour's new policy to set up a state-owned insurance company, KiwiAssure, as a sister operation to Kiwibank within NZ Post.

Labour says it will reduce the dominance of overseas-owned insurers, keep profits in New Zealand, and bring competition, flexibility and choice to New Zealanders.

Cunliffe implied that National's opposition to the policy is because it received big donations from the insurance industry in 2005 and attempted to table the Hollow Men documentary on the Nicky Hager book. You could almost hear a sinister cello.

Finance Minister Bill English said the idea of a bank taking on more insurance risk "is about the dumbest proposal that could possibly be made in the light of events following the global financial crisis."

"We have already got the bill for $7 billion of Earthquake Commission risk. Why would we take on more?"

It was glorious day outside but English was having none of that. "Having low-income people working in the rain, paying their PAYE and underwriting financial risk is as dumb an idea was you can have in the 2020s."

KiwiAssure, if it came to pass, would also be New Zealand 97th insurance company.

Winston Peters main contribution to the debate was to remind the House of New Zealand First's own "brilliant policy" of a state-owned insurance company KiwiSure announced weeks ago and that imitation was the most sincere form of flattery.

Cunliffe called Key the "Kiwi-spoiler," someone who had beaten up on Kiwbank when it first started, KiwiSaver, KiwiRail and now KiwiAssure.

Key responded on KiwiBank. Yes it was a good little business.

"I might point out though this it has taken $860 million of taxpayers' money and it has never paid a dividend in 10 years."

He challenged Cunliffe to name another bank operating in New Zealand that had an insurance company, and offered insurance on the same property they were lending on.

"They do not do that."

Cunliffe: "Is he aware that ASB Bank own Tower Insurance? If he is, why is he asking such a stupid question."

Within minutes of Cunliffe's comment, National's research unit - or perhaps a few friends in the insurance industry - had got the message to Key that Cunliffe was wrong.

ASB did not own Tower. They sent the list of owners. Key tried to read through the list.

But the attempts by Key to rub Labour's nose in the Cunliffe's error failed at the hands of acting Speaker Eric Roy. He decided to deviate from years of established practice in allowing ministers to be questioned on advice they have received, any advice. Even advice about the ownership of Tower Insurance.

Eventually Labour's deputy, David Parker, and possibly the source of his leader's error, did the honourable thing and acknowledged the error by asking Key: "Has he received any advice that ASB in fact own Sovereign Assurance?"

Key: "Yes it does own Sovereign and let us get to the better bit...Sovereign provides life insurance, and the way [Cunliffe] is going, he will need life insurance."

The National crowd went wild at which point Peters made his final contribution to the debate, objecting to MPs who "just wantonly clap when their leader sits down."

- NZ Herald

Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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