Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Room for improvement in Parliament

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Between DoC restructuring, privacy breaches, and forgotten bank account the room for improvement grows.

John Key. Photo / APN
John Key. Photo / APN

By far the busiest room in Parliament is the Room for Improvement. The room is somewhat like a detention room and of late its revolving door has fanned the rest of Parliament's inhabitants to the point where maintenance has turned off the air conditioning.

The roll of attendance is revealed each Question Time, usually in the form of a minister conceding there is "always room for improvement" when asked about his or her department's actions.

The Ministry of Education is now a permanent tenant and this week the Prime Minister also dispatched the Earthquake Commission there after the privacy breach in which 83,000 records on repair claims for Christchurch homes were sent to an insurance advocate by mistake.

Meanwhile, the Opposition's motion detectors were quick to detect another footstep heading down the pathway to the Room for Improvement this week, after the Department of Conservation announced 140 jobs would vanish in the bid to save $8.7 million.

The Prime Minister defended it as a new "21st century approach".

But the Opposition smelled a rat in the sanctuary. Having spent the past two years arguing that New Zealand was not 100 per cent Pure at all thanks to the Government's foul deeds, the Opposition suddenly anointed the nation as 100 per cent Pure again so they could subsequently argue that it was only the 140 DoC workers whose jobs were at stake who had bravely held the flood of impurity at bay.

Labour dispatched Jacinda Ardern brandishing a stuffed black petrel she had borrowed from Forest and Bird, only for Conservation Minister Nick Smith to eye it and observe that Labour's leader, David Shearer, was just as stuffed.

Smith went on to try to allay Opposition concerns by saying it was not rangers or track builders who would go. In fact, there would be more rangers, although he did not add that this was because other jobs would be renamed "rangers". Instead, it seemed that those who should be concerned about their jobs should be those with less self-explanatory titles such as "middle managers" and "infrastructure planners".

"I do not think this House considers infrastructure planners as front-line," he scoffed. This House probably did not consider that, not least because it had no idea what an infrastructure planner was.

Under the new 21st century arrangement, Smith and DoC's CEO, Al Morrison, proposed the endangered species turn to volunteers and the loving bosom of the corporate world to take up the slack. Smith set out some examples of this "co-operation" at work, including sponsorships by Air New Zealand and Dulux Paints.

Disconcertingly, Smith pronounced Dulux similar to Durex, which does at least have a strong track record in protection.

Twitter was the harshest judge of this new 21st century conservation effort, quickly setting up a series of DoC slogan suggestions, including Alex Coleman's "Take photos, leave Cash" and David Fisher's "McZealand, I'm Lovin' It".

Unfortunately Labour's efforts on the EQC front were slightly punctured by Shearer's recent stay in the Room for Improvement himself, his ticket secured by his "oversight" in failing to disclose a United States bank account on his register of financial interests.

The real punishment for that was not one prescribed by law, but rather by politics and National has started to administer the lashes with vigour.

So when Shearer raised the EQC privacy breach, Key pointed to another instance in which an innocent mistake was made: Shearer and his bank account. Labour's pleas to the Speaker were unheeded.

In the next questions about jobs, Key revealed he was contemplating a new policy for all Government departments to hand their private information over to Shearer to protect, since he had such a good track record in keeping his own personal details out of the public eye.

Later, when Key was asked why Education Minister Hekia Parata had gone into Parliament at 9.45pm to correct her earlier claim that she was not consulted about Lesley Longstone's resignation as Education Secretary, all Key had to do was say that Shearer had also had to correct mistakes.

It wasn't until yesterday that Shearer managed to get a modicum of revenge. Shearer read out a transcript of Key at his least eloquent, talking about National's opposition to the bill to Mondayise Anzac Day and Waitangi Day.

"I know, I don't agree with that, I mean, I think in the end this is an issue which, you know, fair enough, we're opposed but we're not vehemently opposed," Mr Shearer quoted, as the Sultan of Brunei and the Speaker of the Burmese Parliament watched on from the gallery.

Meanwhile, there was one MP in Labour who had empathy with both DoC and EQC, having come close to extinction himself on several occasions and spent months in the Room for Improvement.

Shane Jones was last night celebrating his escape from the dreaded room by inviting people to his soiree to "drink to Lazarus".

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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