Political diary

By John Armstrong

MONDAY

No sooner was it announced that Paula Bennett had been awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship than critics were accusing the Social Development Minister of taking an unscheduled and undeserved five-week holiday when she goes to the United States later this year to undertake her study programme. Sure, Bennett will no doubt be wined and dined in Washington and elsewhere by the movers-and-shakers that will be lined up to meet her. But that will be just part of what is likely to be an exhausting programme. This will be no junket. The fellowships are serious stuff and are not handed out willy-nilly. Anyone who doubts that need only look at the calibre of the board of trustees which runs the fellowships. Apart from a string of current and former presidents and vice-presidents of some of America's biggest companies like PepsiCo, ExxonMobil and Lockheed, the board's chairman is Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State. There are two "chairmen emeriti" - George Bush snr and Henry Kissinger, another former Secretary of State. And if that is not heavyweight enough, there is yet another former Secretary of State on the board in the form of Madeleine Albright.

TUESDAY

Was it something he said? Within a couple of minutes of Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee issuing a press statement on the roll-out of "smart" electricity meters, the lights and computer screens around Parliament go dead.

It turns out the afternoon power cut, which shut down much of central Wellington, was caused by a fault in an underground cable. Some power was quickly restored in the parliamentary complex thanks to emergency generators which in a remarkable piece of foresight - or possibly because of the previous weekend's tsunami alert - had been checked only days earlier.

WEDNESDAY

Over the years, large portions of the country's exotic pine forests have been felled to produce press statements for the Greens' campaign against Japan's whaling operations. We are exaggerating, of course. But you get the picture. So it has not gone unnoticed that the Greens have so far been silent in the wake of the major shift in New Zealand's position on the vexed issue. New Zealand now backs a return to strictly limited commercial whaling as a compromise to end the uncontrolled slaughter of the mammals for "scientific" purposes. It is not as if the Greens are asleep. This week they were making noises on subjects as diverse as the Government's reforms of the tertiary education sector, the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and new MP Gareth Hughes taking part in a "beach clean-up and cigarette butt count". As for the whales, not a whisper. When asked why the silence, a Green spokesman said it was a matter of resources. The story had broken over the weekend when the office was not staffed. By Monday, it was felt the Green viewpoint had been adequately expressed by Australian Green leader Bob Brown and others. We were assured that co-leader Metiria Turei would be addressing the matter when it was next raised. With the Greens struggling for profile, it seems an opportunity missed. Not by Labour, however, which was giving the Government stick big-time.

FRIDAY

The New Zealand International Arts Festival rolls into its final week. Among the virtuoso performances has been one by Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson, although we are not sure he was supposed to have been the one performing. However, his chairing of an Arts Talk session with esteemed Russian-born conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy had the tongues wagging. To say the minister was well-briefed was an understatement. He had prepared no less than 25 erudite and highly detailed questions to put to Ashkenazy. Here's one example. "Once former British Prime Minister Ted Heath, an accomplished conductor, was asked whether he preferred conducting orchestras or chairing cabinet meetings. He answered 'the former' because orchestras have a unity of purpose, the players work toward a common goal, the output is excellent and they accept the leadership of the conductor. You have never been stuck in a Cabinet meeting but, thinking of all the orchestras you have worked with, is what he said about working with an orchestra been your experience? Did you know Ted Heath? Is it true of Italian orchestras that they are impossible to conduct?" And that was just the first question.

- NZ Herald

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