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

Claire Trevett: PM turns dead snapper into red herring

Labour Party leader David Shearer with two snapper. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour Party leader David Shearer with two snapper. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It is one of the most absurd political juxtapositions in history, this bizarre contest between snapper and the spooks.

It began with the Prime Minister himself who announced more people were concerned about proposals to reduce the snapper take than by the GCSB Bill.

It was admittedly rather glib. It was also very clever politically.

It sparked indignant outrage on the left, which was of no bother to the Prime Minister. What he meant, probably with some truth, is that he only really cared about voters concerned about the snapper because those who were more concerned about the GCSB Bill were highly unlikely to vote National anyway.

Those particularly fevered about it are, naturally, the opponents of the GCSB Bill.

Little do they seem to suspect they are now playing into Key's hands. As a result of the outrage, the snapper proposal continues to be controversial long after it would normally have subsided - which was at National conference when every minister in Cabinet, including Key, spat on it from a great height.

And the longer the snapper proposal remains controversial, the better that is for Key. Of those on his side, only Nathan Guy (who is responsible for the snapper proposal) appears to have missed the point, saying he did not believe it was that controversial at all.

Meanwhile his boss has been busily ramping up the controversy level by mentioning it again and again for two obvious reasons. The first is that the more attention there is on snapper, the less there is on the GCSB.

The second is that he knows full well that any proposal to cut the maximum catch of recreational fishers will eventually be ditched, leaving fishers everywhere contentedly baiting their hooks with the warm, fuzzy feeling of having been listened to. The same cannot be said for the controversial aspects of the GCSB Bill.

The snapper comparison also set a lovely trap for Labour leader David Shearer, who obliged by falling into it. Apparently worried Key was right all along, and snapper was a better burley for attracting voters than opposing the GCSB, he drove home his advocacy for fisherpeople everywhere by turning up to Parliament this week waving two dead snapper about. It was a spectacular own-goal, and all Key needed to do to ensure that goal went in, hitting nothing but net, was mention two words: "dead fish."

Shearer quickly followed this up with another own-goal. He accused Key in Parliament of failing to talk to Labour about the GCSB Bill. In response, Key narked on Shearer by revealing the pair had had a private meeting on the bill in his office, but Shearer had told him not to tell anyone. He went on to say the pair had waited until Green co-leader Russel Norman was out of sight before they slunk off to the back staircase on the way to the cosy illicit engagement.

It rather blunted the shot Shearer did manage to get in. That came after Key said those opposed to the bill would be the first to "run for the hills" in the event of a terrorist attack. He didn't say what he would do but his recent talk about al-Qaeda and other unsavouries in New Zealand might explain his fitness regime along the Tinakori Hill trails since moving into Premier House. Shearer sniffed the blood of a chicken, and quickly twisted its neck by pointing out that when he was faced with a real terrorist attack in Iraq, he ran towards it to help others.

But there was a serious side to it all. Key's ability to hold the voters' trust has always been his biggest asset. He has relied on it time and time again, for issues both big and small. He relied on it when he turned on the media over the teapot tapes. He relied on it to get National's asset sales proposals from pipe dream to a reality without alienating the voters in 2011.

It is likely it was that power that prompted his decision to go on Campbell Live himself - if people heard it directly from him they would be more inclined to be reassured that the bill would not turn New Zealand into a film set of Big Brother. But the voters were beginning to get a bit sceptical and the trust in him starting to look a tad fragile.

So by the time the bill appeared for its final stages this week, Key was taking it very seriously. He was taking it so seriously, in fact, that he pulled the resignation card for only the second time in his political history. The first time related to the retirement age. He has subsequently been rather hamstrung by that and has never made the same pledge again. That was until this week, when he said he would resign if the GCSB conducted mass surveillance.

Nonetheless, Key probably was not too upset that the snapper turned the GCSB debate from a dissection of the bill's contents to a numbers battle as the bill's opponents tried to prove their numbers were greater than the snapper crowd. The only number that really mattered when the bill passed yesterday was one - United Future leader Peter Dunne, whose vote got it over the line. However the numbers added up, Key was rather proud of himself for it for managing to disguise the fact that the snapper was actually a red herring.

- NZ Herald

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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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