David Cunliffe had one task and one task only in Parliament yesterday.

Facing the Prime Minister for the first time since the latter's return from Washington and his own self-inflicted body blows last week on the subject of political donations and Mr Donghua Liu, the Labour leader had to pick himself up off the floor.

Cunliffe succeeded - just. He had John Key near the ropes if not on them, albeit very briefly.

He then proceeded to undo his good work in the House by making a real hash outside of where Labour stood on oil exploration and saving the Maui's dolphin.


In Parliament, Cunliffe began with a whimper, but ended with a bang. He initially attempted to embarrass Key by asking him if he still stood by his statement that most New Zealanders judged how well the economy was doing on whether they could keep up with the cost of living. Cunliffe then quoted a host of statistics - only for Key to throw a lot of different figures back at him.

Cunliffe was getting nowhere slowly. Wisely, he changed tack completely to coat-tailing, asking Key if he was still considering doing a "shady deal" with Colin Craig's Conservative Party when four-out-of-five voters were opposed to such arrangements.

But Key threw the question back at Cunliffe. Would the latter rule out a deal with Internet-Mana, given that party would be seeking to bring MPs into Parliament on Hone Harawira's coat-tails?

Cunliffe countered by saying if Labour ruled out a deal with the Internet-Mana Party, would National rule out deals with the Conservatives, Act and United Future?

Key ducked the challenge. He had to. National has no choice but to embrace such deals to bolster its chances of remaining in power.

The Prime Minister instead turned his blowtorch on the Greens, accusing that party of talking mumbo-jumbo on the fate of the Maui's dolphin and damning Labour for seemingly backing the Greens' opposition to his Government's decision to tender for oil exploration permits in the West Coast North Island marine mammal sanctuary.

By late afternoon, Cunliffe had once more indulged in political acrobatics by trying to clarify Labour's position and somehow satisfy both environmentalists and the oil industry.