Editorial: Labour energy better directed to the Budget

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Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Getty Images
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Getty Images

Last week it was his police protection, this week Premier House. The week before, it was the Prime Minister's use of air force travel, before that, the limousine fleet replacement. Labour seems to think the public begrudges John Key the usual trappings of office.

Not that police protection is one of the trappings. Labour's claim that anyone would enjoy or invite the company of a security squad was silly beyond words. The Prime Minister was right that it did not deserve the dignity of a response, and it would not be receiving attention here now except that yesterday's criticism of some maintenance work on Premier House suggests it is part of a serial the Opposition is running.

Premier House in Wellington, where Prime Ministers can live and entertain, is being repainted and recarpeted at a cost of $275,000. Mr Key says it had not been repainted for 11 years. He says he is happy to accept any scrutiny he is put under but wonders why Labour is raising such trivial issues.

He is not alone.

The Budget is just 10 days away and Labour probably expects the Government to preach austerity for the year ahead, and to make one or two savings in social services. So the Opposition has scoured the accounts of the Prime Minister's office for expenses it might label hypocritical.

Against a Prime Minister whose popularity is on the wane, this sort of pitch might work. But against one as popular as Helen Clark was for six years, and John Key is now, people must wonder why their opponents appeal to envy. It is only likely to rebound on the Opposition, showing it to be miserable, mean-spirited and out of tune with the country's mood.

The public remembers that Labour's last Prime Minister made use of Premier House, that her police protection was accommodated in a house beside her own in Auckland and that she used the air force or chauffeured limousines when it suited her. It is odd that one of her senior Cabinet ministers, Pete Hodgson, should be leading these lame attacks on her successor.

He should be among the last to question, for example, whether a Prime Minister needs security accompanying him inside Parliament buildings sometimes. Helen Clark asked for it when members of the Exclusive Brethren sect used to try to speak to her on her walk to the chamber.

Mr Hodgson has never had much luck digging for dirt on Mr Key. As Labour's strategist at the last election he thought he had struck gold with the so called H-Fee for sham foreign exchange transactions 20 years earlier. The "H-bomb" blew up in Labour's face when it was discovered the party president had taken time out from the campaign to spend days in Melbourne looking for a cheque signature that turned out not to be Mr Key's.

Mr Hodgson, who is retiring this year, was a serious and effective minister and should have lost the taste for the scurrilous tasks of opposition. But last year he took the political scalp of Pansy Wong over her husband's business use of her parliamentary travel perk. Perhaps that has encouraged a revival of his attempts to undermine Mr Key.

Labour's leader should call him off. Most of the public finds this focus on the Prime Minister's office trite and desperate. In the days leading up to a Budget, the Opposition should be promoting its own view of the state of the economy and what it would do about it. If it needs to criticise Mr Key, his risk-aversion gives Labour plenty of grounds. He has ruled out increasing the pension age, a levy for Christchurch and capital gains tax. He needs to do more than he may find palatable if more private investment is to flow into productive ventures.

Normal expenses of state are nickels and dimes beside the decisions the country needs.

- NZ Herald

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