Rodney Hide: Horse-trading is unwholesome

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

David Cunliffe's been making political hay labelling John Key "Trader John". He's got a point. The Prime Minister is clearly a great deal-maker. That's a handy thing in politics, where deals must be cut day in, day out.

There are other political parties to engage, your own party to manage, and every interest group under the sun wanting the moon and the stars. It takes a lot to manage and, yes, it takes a lot of deal-making. But do we want the Prime Minister cutting deals with business? I don't think so.

There's now a long list of hands-on deal making. We had Warner Bros in making The Hobbit trilogy, $1.2 billion for Chorus to roll out fibre, the consequent questioning of the Commerce Commission doing its job determining the price of copper, $30 million for Rio Tinto to stay a bit longer and the pokies-for-convention-centre deal with SkyCity.

Each of the deals has a logic. The benefits each time may well outweigh the costs. Each on their own possibly stacks up. But taken together they show a disturbing pattern of a Government willing not just to sit down with individual businesses but willing to talk turkey and strike very specific deals.

It means a readiness to use the state's fearsome power to assist particular businesses.

It's a bad look. What about all the many businesses that don't get in the door? And naturally it's the big and already successful businesses that have the ready political access. The struggling small businesses and one-man-bands don't get a look-in.

I am working with a bunch of guys who just want to get on and do what they do but are endlessly frustrated by stupid government rules and petty bureaucracy.

They have a bit to say about what needs to be done to ensure jobs and prosperity in their neck of the woods. But they don't make movies, they aren't an aluminium smelter, and they aren't promising a convention centre. So they don't get a look in.

And there you have it. It's deals for the few but not for the many. Every business could do with a bit of one-on-one political help from the Prime Minister but that's not possible. So why just help the big, fortunate few? Why not set a policy direction that's good for every business equally?

It is overall economic policy that matters for prosperity and for jobs, not individual deals with this or that business.

Such political deal-making also looks unwholesome. I have no doubt Key plays a straight bat. And the same with Helen Clark before him. But once politicians start doing business deals we can't help but wonder what is being negotiated and what has been promised. We don't need to be questioning Key's integrity to be concerned how it looks to have politicians in a back room using their power to cut a deal with business.

The deal-making also inures us to the very political behaviour that makes corruption possible if not inevitable. Our Parliament is a House of Representatives and not every parliamentarian proves saintly. We have, in recent times, had one MP convicted of fraud and another of bribery and corruption.

The offences were committed while the MPs were in Parliament and both served time in jail. New Zealand is not immune to the problems that have bedevilled politics ever since there was government.

I think it prudent to have our politicians stick to policy and to making rules that apply to all businesses equally.

Of course politicians should meet business leaders but it should be on matters of policy and government direction, not for particular deal-making with individual businesses.

So full strength to David Cunliffe's arm. There's more at stake here than just who wins the next election and which side of the political fence we happen to lie.

- Herald on Sunday

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