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Don't know where, don't know when | Sep 21, 2005 09:17

One of my favourite features in Private Eye is Poetry Corner.

It presents a touching little verse offering good wishes and a fond farewell to someone retired, deceased, fired, incarcerated or otherwise passing by one of life's great milestones.

It's always seemed a shame to me that we didn't have something of the same kind here, and so I thought I might inaugurate an example of the form right here on Public Address.

It's a standing offer: whenever anyone goes out in a blaze of glory, if you feel minded to contribute a little verse to mark their passing, I'll happily run it here. Good ones will get a copy of one of my books or a CD or some other kind of small treat. Judge's decision will be final, and the whole exercise will be conducted on an entirely arbitrary basis etc etc.

I mention this all now because an election inevitably has its casualties: unseated MPs, deposed leaders, heartfelt promises sacrificed on the altar of expedience, carefully burnished reputations trashed in a single petulant moment on national telly, and much more besides.

So what caught your eye this election? Who's gone overnight from rooster to feather duster, hero to zero, great white hope to wiped out punk on dope? Right leaning, left leaning, I'll happily run anything that fits the bill.

You can see proper examples of the form at Private Eye, but to give you an idea, this is the kind of style I'm looking for. It always begins with the immortal words" So. Farewell then". For example:

Dr. Brash

You had all
Your coalition
For breakfast but

Your caucus
Still hungry.

Barry says
It will be
Gerry for
Morning tea.

Don by lunchtime.

That kind of thing. You positively outdid yourselves with the Haiku contest, so feel free to be as colourful and brutal as you like. David Farrar, I draw this to your particular attention and warmly welcome your contributions.

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All The Pretty Voters | Sep 20, 2005 09:00

Here's a test for you: in all the First Past the Post elections since 1935, what was the lowest percentage of the vote required for a party to win office?

The answer is 35.05%. It was 1993. Come on down Jim Bolger and, yes, you might well say bugger the pollsters and perhaps mention Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley while you're at it.

The following election was the first MMP one. Not surprisingly, voters went giddy with opportunity and cast fully 40% of the votes on other parties. But not this time.

This time, the two major parties have collected, between them, a bigger share of the vote than they managed in various First Past the Post elections over the past seventy years.

What's more, although the closeness of the vote gives some support to the argument that we're a sharply divided little nation, the numbers over the past three quarters of a century tell you quite clearly that we have passed this way many times before.

Take a look at these figures. The winner in each election is listed first.

1935 Lab 46 .1 United/Reform 32.9 Democrat 7.8
1938 Lab 55.8 Nat 40.3
1943 Lab 47.6 Nat 42.8
1946 Lab 51.3 Nat 48.4
1949 Nat 51.9 Lab 45.8
1951 Nat 53.9 Lab 45.8
1954 Nat 44.3 Lab 44.1
1957 Lab 48.3 Nat 44.2
1960 Nat 47.6 Lab 43.4
1963 Nat 47.1 Lab 43.7
1966 Nat 43.6 Lab 41.4
1969 Nat 45.2 Lab 44.2
1972 Lab 48.4 Nat 41.5
1975 Nat 47.6 Lab 39.6
1978 Nat 39.8 Lab 40.4
1981 Nat 38.8 Lab 39.0 (Socred 20.6)
1984 Lab 43.0 Nat 35.9 (NZ Party 12)
1987 Lab 48.0 Nat 44.0
1990 Nat 47.8 Lab 35.1 (New Lab, Greens 11.9)
1993 Nat 35.05 Lab 34.6 (Allce 18.2, NZF 8.4)
1996 Nat 33.8 Lab 28.2
1999 Lab 38.7 Nat 30.5
2002 Lab 41.2 Nat 20.9

I was going to graph them but the raw numbers speak for themselves, and don't they have a lot to say?

For one thing, look at the period from 1949 through to 1972 when National acquired its mantle as the natural party of government. In many of these elections, it was only a percentage point or three ahead of Labour. In all but one Muldoon election, Labour actually scored a greater percentage of the popular vote. (Right wingers grumbling today about the gerrymander qualities they see in the Maori Party overhang might like to reflect on the karma that might be at work there.)

Secondly, look how rare it is for one party to get more than half the popular vote, even in an FPP system. The last time it happened was in 1951, and the country had just been through the waterfront strike. Before that, Labour was chalking up percentage victories in the low fifties in an era when a picture of the sainted Michael Joseph Savage hung on the walls of thousands of New Zealand homes.

We do not live in such times today, and yet, heroically, Don Brash set his sights on a mandate of those proportions.

To be fair, he many not necessarily have been shooting for 50%. Under the right circumstances, 45% of the vote, with most of the minor parties falling below the threshold, could have delivered him a bare majority. Some of his remarks on the campaign seemed to suggest he was punting for that outcome. But that was pretty high-risk stuff, and even though the special votes might yet carry the game his way, you'd have to say it looks the least likely result.

The fact that New Zealanders have quite consistently been split fairly evenly between left and right was masked by the nature of FPP. You might have a margin of just a few percentage points on your main rival, but end up with as many ten or fifteen more seats in the house.

Labour, for example beat National by 4% in 1987, but won 17 more seats. Even landslides weren't quite as profound as you might think. Muldoon's win in 1975 won him a margin of 23 seats with 10% more of the vote than Labour.

These figures all come from the site, and there's much more to pore over if you're in the mood.

One other interesting number-crunching point. Look at the trend in the minor party vote. Provisionally, the vote for the minors this time around sums to about 20%. It was near 40% on our first dance with MMP.

1996 NZF 13.5 Allce 10.1 ACT 6.1 Chrst 4.3
1999 Allce 7.7 ACT 7 Green 5.1 NZF 4.2
2002 NZF 10.3 ACT 7.1 Green 7 UF 6.6

So God has spoken. I wonder if the Exclusive Brethren are wondering whether they might need to get themselves on the electoral roll next time.

If they're fretting about the godless types who might now wield power over this sinful land, I think they can relax a little. This is looking a lot like bridled power, and there's a lot to be said for that.

First Past the Post was a system that encouraged two main competing parties to destroy each other's credibility. The hope for MMP was that you might move from an adversary style to a more cooperative one. So far, not so good, you might say. In this most recent MMP election, they were still going at it as good as ever. But Helen Clark isn't wrong to maintain that she has spent six years running stable minority governments under this new system. It can be done, and she demonstrably knows how to do it. It was, after all, Winston Peters she turned to get the Foreshore and Seabed legislation passed.

Anyone who feels inclined to bemoan the prescription we've written ourselves might like to cast their mind back a little. The Muldoon government was as good an example of any of the shortcomings of concentrating too much power in too few hands. He didn't even have to go to Parliament to get much of his work done. He could simply write a regulation, which he was entitled to do under the Economic Stabilisation act. Blank cheques all the way. He ran up quite a bill.

If he did need an act of parliament, that wasn't especially tricky, either. Legislation could pass its happy way through parliaments with very little scrutiny, and we acquired something of a reputation as the fastest lawmakers in the west.

That's all but impossible today. Select committees have teeth, the government is subject to far more transparency and scrutiny, and the nature of MMP means that no one party is likely to be able to make all the running. The possible configurations that Helen Clark is trying to assemble now are undeniably constrained, but that doesn't necessarily mean that our democracy is the worse for that.

For all that Don Brash wanted us to accept that there is one approved way of looking at the world that the majority of right-thinking New Zealanders (otherwise known as mainstream) subscribe to, it is surely not, nor ever was, the case. If it were, why do we never see a figure of say 80 or 90 per cent in that table of results?

The plain reality is that we are diverse, we are plural and we are growing more so. We need to be able to consult and find ways to compromise and work together in some tolerable degree of harmony. That's not easy when you have many differing points of view to accommodate, but neither is it impossible. A system of bridled power has a good chance of achieving that.

The drawback is that it becomes harder for anyone to implement a grand plan. Roger Douglas managed one, the 1935 Labour government managed one. You might say that could never happen under this kind of system. You might also say that was a good thing. Given comparable pressing circumstances, though, it's not inconceivable that you could do the same under MMP.

What I really hope this new government will try to do is take advantage of the reprieve we've had from the simplistic response the National party put on offer to the so called "Treaty issues". They picked an issue that resonated with substantial strands of the electorate, and it resonated in large part because the policy developments of the past thirty years had been undertaken in an absence of consultation with the voters.

The government needs to find a way to summarise what has been done, explain why it has happened, and make a case for re-setting the policy on a basis that is acceptable to all the interested parties. That might be easy to say, and altogether harder to do, but it's simply not possible to do nothing.

You can make a good case for much of what has been done, and you can say with hindsight that other aspects could have been differently or better. But you absolutely cannot make the case that it should all be undone, and that in essence is the assimilation impulse behind the platform Brash mounted.

The new government may well have no more than three years to get it right, because there is every chance that unless it finds a way to bring the country to some accord on this issue, the National Party will be campaigning louder and longer on the same platform next time. You can bet that Gerry Brownlee will be carefully noting down every single radical proposition Hone Harawera has to make and building it into a potent platform of campaign outrage. If that can win them more than 50%, it won't be pretty.

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All your seat are belong to National | Sep 15, 2005 11:47

Bob Jones was on Nine to Noon this morning saying he could smell a National Party landslide. If I were the trembling type, I might take a lesson from history.

Successive days' headlines in a Paris gazette carried the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba. When the story first broke, the headline spoke of the "Corsican Monster." Two days later, they were calling him the "pretender". The next day he was simply "Bonaparte."

And finally a headline appeared announcing:
"His Imperial Majesty Will Be In Paris Tomorrow."

Let's try out a little due deference to the coming new leadership, then:

Prime Minister Brash should hold firm. The protest marches and the court actions are the work of a noisy minority. Abolishing the Maori seats and removing all references to the Treaty in legislation is a good start, and we can do much more yet to ensure the satisfaction of mainstream New Zealanders. We urge him to go the whole hog and declare the Treaty of no effect from February 6 2006 onwards. Disgruntled Maori should shut up and get on with it.


The blow-out in prison costs should not discourage the Prime Minister from holding the line on his parole policy. The streets are free of crime, and mainstream New Zealanders appreciate that. Carping critics of the policy should shut up and get on with it.


The revised tax cut policy is inspired. It never made sense to pour tax cuts into the pockets of working drones. It is far wiser to direct the cuts towards high earners who invariably put their spare income into productive investment. Families who complain that they are finding it harder than ever to live on the average wage should shut up and get on with it.


The spiralling cost of housing for the poor should not discourage the Prime Minister from maintaining the new housing policy. People complaining about the number of families paying more than half their income on rent should shut up and get on with it.


Prime Minister Brash continues to show decisiveness by sacking his sixth minister in four months. A cabinet that cannot agree is a cabinet divided. Ministers who have reservations about Dr Brash's principles for good government should shut up and get on with it.


The Prime Minister's remarks at his press conference with George Bush and John Howard concluded a splendid lunchtime for New Zealand. Our long adolescent nightmare is over as we return to the grown-ups table and take our global policy instructions from those who know best about these things. Peaceniks who fret about our elevated security risk should shut up and get on with it.

Go on - try to say all that out loud. Can you do it with feeling yet?

Maybe you need to start with something easier. One expression that will presumably be unacceptable once Prime Minister Brash has his shoes under the desk will be the altogether unseemly "testicles."

If you should find yourself in conversation with the good Doctor, and feel unsure how else you might refer to those vital anatomical items, you might like to refer to the Sex Dictionary. Just plucking a couple from the long list of possibilities, you could, for instance call them "baby-makers" or "back-wheels". If rhyming slang is your thang, you could try "fun-and-frolics" or the thoroughly highbrow: "orchestra-stalls".

So much for an uncouth lefty to learn!

Of course Bob Jones might be wrong. He's made some pretty wild propositions in his time. Centrebet odds remain all square at 1.85 each with two days and three polls to go, and of course the small matter of Labour taking an almighty kick in the fun-and-frolics.

I just hope we don't get the outcome no-one could surely want: deadlocked at 60-60. That could bring us to a second election, and I get tired just thinking about it.

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Touching up the poll | Sep 13, 2005 14:39

There would appear to be only one thing more capable of inspiring the creativity of our readers than a photo of an election candidate grasping a beer and a couple of attractive young women.

That would be a photo of his campaign manager grasping an even greater number of young women in Hooters T-shirts.

Just to jog your memory, these are the photos in question.

The challenge I offered was to create a response in haiku form to these pictures. I wrote: If the viewing of these images brings forth some aspect of spirituality and provokes an emotional response within you, then do by all means compose three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively and just hit the old reply button.

Jolisa helpfully explained that what I was seeking might be more correctly categorised as senryu rather than haiku - "the former is a comic sentiment in the shape of a haiku, but the latter should properly have a seasonal reference in it (plum blossom, cicada, persimmon, snow, sort of thing)". Got it. Senryu joins Terzain Aporia in the list of literary forms hitherto unknown to me.

And that's all I'm saying about that. Let's move on to the funny lines. First, in the interests of being fair and balanced, here's one from Rhys Thorp:

Hi Public Address
I vote National for the chicks
Is that wrong to you?

And now, tilting a little the other way, this from blograde Tze Ming:

A party without
women? Feminists never
coalesce alone.

Jolisa had these to offer:

For now I am hotttt!
Free drinks pull the chicks my way.
Ah, election year.

I came for the tits,
but stayed for the votes, honest!
What's that hooting sound?

Andrew Llewellyn was as entertaining as he was prolific:

Cocktail waitress hour
Five girls for every boy
Buy four, get one free

I don't remember
What was I drinking? Thinking?
Who are these people?

Smile please for the man
another lame photo-op
At least I have beer

How do you both do?
I bring a fine job offer
Hooters coming soon

Wellington vision
Hooters bar we need so bad
Mark would like this place

Perfect holiday
Around the world Hooters tour
May never come home

Will we meet again?
You are my perfect women
Take the photo quick.

Dear Mum, at Hooters.
David. Farrar no longer.
Call me Hasselhoff

Hold me up my friends
I accept support from you
the stairwell looms close

Are you here often?
Heaven is a Hooters bar
Please take my picture

Ringo at keepleftnz also took time out from the hard work of fair and balanced online campaining to offer this:

Blumsky falls down stairs
Farar squeals, then poll reveals
Blumsky falls again

Scanning the list, I see that most of the contributors were in fact men. Here are some nice masculine contributions.

Tim Wright:

Blumsky standing up
supporters surrounding him
beware the staircase

Mark Russell:
We're here on tour,
It'll stay on tour I'm sure,
Let me embrace you.

Mark Easterbrook:
Brethren support earned
Brash knockers. His team now courts
sisterly support

Jason Dykes:

Desire is strong
I'm thinking seriously
Of buying a thong

Ian Mcdonald:

Grinning Nats cry out
"Look at the hooters on her"
ere the drunken fall

Brian Marsh:

No, it's for the owl,
No, really, it's not the breasts...
Hot chicks, though, eh...Beer?

Felix Marwick offered three nice contributions:

Black hairy eyebrows
Destroy the female beauty
That stand beside them

Scarey McHairy
Betwixt lithe feminine grace
I just lost my lunch

Who deserves my vote?
Hairy brow or buxom chest?
My poll says vote tits

David North apologised for his contribution, but it has a certain simple charm:

boobies! boobies! boobs!
boobies! boobies boobies! boobs! for Mark

A few explored the political dimension a little more expressly.

David von Dadelszen:

ex-mayor campaign
surrounded by scant nymphettes
politics I love thee


My eyebrows see you
Wrap long arms greedy fingers
Searching 'ectally

Reece Palmer:

keep yourself abreast
of electorate issues
the key to success

Matthew Andrews:
Blumsky with drink
Women with wary shy smiles
Future without seat

Farrar surrounded
Moulded shallow beauty all
Unable to connect

Splendid work one and all, but there can only be one winner, and in the end I decided I liked these three from Jen Hay most of all.

One copy of Civil War and Other Optimistic Predictions on its way to you, Jen, for bringing together political perception and literary grace with these delightful examples of the senryu form:

Hot campaign cunning,
touching pertinent issues,
fingering the pulse.

The flit of the gnats,
drip drip of darting eyed charm,
shiny cleaven smiles.

Cold nights: based on needs.
Down the tax, agog. A breast.
Touching up the poll.

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You wouldn't read about it | Sep 12, 2005 16:16

So who won last week's predict-the-Sunday-Star-Times-headline contest?

If you shared the point of view that Matthew Hooton offered last Tuesday morning on Nine to Noon, you'd have offered something that suggested the paper would fulfil its responsibilities as a patsy of the Labour party and offer up something scurrilous, sensational, and possibly even true, to discredit the National Party.

Bzzzt. Wrong answer.

The headline, "Brash survives Brethren fiasco" was not, you would have to say, the most vicious smear you've ever seen of the leader of the Opposition, and all the less so, given that the story was supported - as Russell notes - by polling data that possibly had the benefit of the butcher's thumb on the scales.

In short, no-one guessed correctly, so I have decided to choose the winner on the basis of the contributions that made me laugh the most. The runners up, firstly, are Mr G Reid, writer, of Auckland, who offered:

Public Address blogger flees in fear of swing to Nats

I also enjoyed:

Early edition: "Key denies rift, offers Brash 'full support'."
Late edition: "Brash offers Key 'full support' after midnight coup."

Thank you Simon Garner, for those, and thank you to Hamish Mack for offering the headline that almost was, with:

Brash Admits: "An Evil twin has run my election campaign"

But as much as I enjoyed those ones, the award for capturing the mood of the week goes to Jason Dykes. A copy of Civil War and Other Optimistic Predictions (Slack, Penguin, all good bookstores etc) to you, Jason, for:

Irate Brownlee eats Brethren seven

Truly, this has been an election like no other. Only in this election could a National Enquirer headline sound like one that might actually come to pass. Keep an eye on this space; and if you're prudent, don't take your eyes off Gerry. Except, perhaps, on Sundays at about 10.30 pm to watch The Pretender on TV3.

I imagined this thing would have had much more media coverage than it has, and so it turns out, did its producer, Phil Smith, who I rang today to ask if he'd mind if I put up a few short clips from last night's episode.

He very kindly said he'd be happy for us to do that, so here with pleasure are three clips of New Zealand politics' very own David Brent, the National Party candidate for "Wakatipu South", Dennis Plant. Dennis has big plans for himself and so it would seem, does Phil. Give this thing the ratings push it deserves, and you might just get to see Dennis in Wellington.

Each of these clips is about 10 megs, and you'll probably find it best to right-click and save 'em. If broadband's a problem, don't fret. We'll leave them up there until well after the election, when, if Labour are as good as their word, there'll be broadband in every household and a chicken in every pot. Not that I'm saying they'll win. Predicting headlines is a tricky business.

The Pretender - Clip 1

The Pretender - Clip 2

The Pretender - Clip 3

Coming Tomorrow: The best of the haiku contest entries. You people have outdone yourselves! It's not too late to enter - just scroll down one post for all the details.

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Who can you trust? | Sep 10, 2005 15:19

This is the week my Dad didn't have a stroke.

Say what you like about this nanny state, our family is grateful that he had to get a medical check-up to keep his driver's licence once he turned 80, we're grateful that his GP noticed that his left carotid artery was almost completely occluded and we're grateful that in the space of just a few weeks, the health system was able to assess him, operate successfully and send him home in perfect shape.

Turns out it was in the nick of time. He'd had symptoms - but stoically said nothing about them in the week preceding his scheduled procedure - which proved to have been mini-strokes. You can read here about the imminent risk he was dicing with.

They operated on Wednesday. There's a five per cent risk of stroke while you're on the table for this procedure so we had a few tense hours, but as anxious waits in hospitals go, you can do much worse.

All of this took place in the shiny new Auckland Hospital, and it was my first visit to the place. What a shambles. Nothing works, you can't find your way around, staff are unhelpful and surly and the overwhelming sense you get is of barely controlled chaos. As if. You could usefully apply aspects of that description to your typical Westfield mall, but from what I saw, you can't attach any of it to Auckland Hospital. It's a huge enterprise and it all functions with an efficiency and capability that is quite impressive.

I don't doubt that other people will have stories of frustration and exasperation to tell you about their encounters with the health system, but my family really can't offer you any. My experience years ago with coronary care was all good, Dad's treatment this week couldn't have been better, and my sister probably has Wellington Hospital to thank for still being here today after her first rocky experience of childbirth and a too-close encounter with meningitis.

It would be wrong to offer any kind of Pollyanna assessment of the health system on the basis of this anecdotal experience, but equally, it's worth bearing in mind that anecdotal evidence about the failings of the health system doesn't necessarily prove that a system is in disarray.

Of course, even if it's not in any form of disarray, that's not to say there might not be problems of a different character besetting the health system. Don Brash has made much of the proposition that Labour has lifted annual health spending from $6.1 billion to $9.7 billion over the past six years, but that the number of operations has barely increased during that time.

"Under Labour", he charges, a vast increase in new spending, but little increase in output, "is what can only be described as a collapse in productivity."

Could this be a real problem? Is health a black hole of spending? Where is all the money going?

It's an impossibly complex entity to analyse. You can come to persuasive conclusions both favourable and unfavourable, depending on your particular agenda.

What to do? Turn to experts in the field? Perhaps, but of course, they may not be without their agendas either.

Nevertheless, Ian Powell of the Salaried Medical Specialists Association made a contribution on the point this week that seems worth considering. He said that the figures might suggest that there's been little increase in output, but that's because Treasury productivity data only covers inpatient discharges, and that, he says, only picks up a part of what public hospitals do.

It does not include many hospital activities such as outpatient clinics, ongoing treatment of many chronic illnesses and community health initiatives. Much of the work done by physicians, paediatricians, psychiatrists, radiologists and pathologists is not picked up by this data.

And there's more: it also leaves out the work that GPs are now doing that was previously done by the public hospitals, thanks to the changes that have been made in primary care.

Feeling a bit less cheated now?

It's hard to ever come to firm conclusions over the conflicting arguments about the way we spend our health budget. It's vast: 20 cents in every tax dollar goes to health - that's as good as ten billion dollars, and you could take that rate up to 40 cents and there would still be people who would miss out, because that's the nature of the thing: there's always more you can do.

In the very simplest terms, we want to be sure we're doing as much as we can afford, and that we're being as efficient about it as we can possibly be. Because it's just about impossible to prove that categorically one way or the other, you can always have an argument about it.

The one thing I think you can say with confidence is that at a certain point, if you tighten the settings up too much, the cries of frustration will drown out all else, and towards the end of the 1990s, we seemed to be in that state. We don't seem to be there today.

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Haiku Too | Sep 08, 2005 17:13

Some entertaining entries already for the Sunday Star Time headline contest, thank you very much. I especially like: Helen Clark plants GM corn in own backyard, and the heroic: Don Brash caught in compromising position with Donkey- National leads polls still .

There's still time, if you have one to suggest. To recap: a copy of Civil War and Other Optimistic Predictions to the person who can most accurately predict this Sunday's front page headline in the Sunday Star Times.

Meanwhile, with a big tip of the hat to Sunnyo, here's another contest that just suggested itself, really.

I thought,
a haiku.

Another copy of the book to the best haiku in response to these pictures of the National Party's Wellington Central candidate and campaign manager both out and about and pressing the flesh.

If the viewing of these images brings forth some aspect of spirituality and provokes an emotional response within you, then do by all means compose three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively and just hit the old reply button.

And then a serious post tomorrow. Promise.

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More questions than answers (II) | Sep 07, 2005 07:31

1. Please read the following statement:

You need to be sloppy, soft and wet - i.e. open up the cheque book, as excruciating as this will feel. There is a large government surplus and the real result will be determined by who the public thinks is best to spend it. Soft centre voters are inherently self interested and will vote according to what they can get out of you. Election winning behaviour requires you to slosh those funds around and buy your way to the Treasury benches.

Does Bryan Sinclair have a future in:

A: hot and heavy erotic paperbacks?
B: a regulation-averse telco?
C: no further New Zealand political campaigns?
D: Melbourne?

2. Speaking of Melbourne, is there a Holden dealership in Caulfield, and if so, does it have a clever name?

3. For that matter, if you had a business halfway down Dominion Road, would you take the opportunity to give it a witty handle?

4. Was anyone there to hear Don Brash's speech in Whangarei last Monday? Did he deliver the speech as distributed, or did he correct this passage to sound less as though it was written by someone who knows a lot more about corporate culture than he does about recent Treaty issues?

And recently the Environment Court determined that Genesis Power can divert water from the Whanganui River, but only for the next 10 years instead of the 35 years it had sought to ensure security of supply. Environment Court Judge Gordon Whiting said in the decision: "To the Maori people, the severing of the headquarters of their rivers is a sacrilege resulting in the denigration of Maori values and beliefs affecting their self esteem."

5. Please compare these two photos:

One of these people is a virulent critic of Don Brash, the other is a cabinet minister. Which is which?

6. And finally, this one has a prize: a copy of Civil War and Other Optimistic Predictions by David Slack (Penguin, 28.00) to the person who can most accurately predict this Sunday's front page headline in the Sunday Star Times. The reply button's just below.

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Be careful what you wish for | Sep 05, 2005 08:18

Can we take it from the latest poll result that 46% of New Zealanders number themselves in the mainstream? Maybe.

It would be astonishing if National could pull off an MMP election victory by campaigning as though it were still working under First Past the Post conditions, but remarkably, it's not far off achieving it on the basis of this poll. If Peters loses and NZ first fails to get the threshold, then that poll result is enough to give National all but two of the seats it needs to govern outright. Peter Dunne, come on DOWN.

Gordon King might yet get his perfect storm. We'll see. Centrebet still gives it to Labour at $1.55 against $2.25. That's a big change from a week ago, but still some distance from the $1.85 opening odds they posted for both parties. They say at Centrebet that the big punters wait until every possible event in the campaign has worked its way through the system, and then the big money goes on.

They also say that they frame their odds with a couple of factors weighing quite strongly: on the one hand, countries with an MMP electoral system tend to produce centre left coalitions more than centre right ones. On the other hand, they're mindful that all governments expire over time and that the odds of achieving a third term are always a bit longer.

The guy I spoke to at Centrebet about all this seemed especially interested in the possibility that one or the other party still has a big shot or two left to fire off. He was hugely impressed by the way Howard held fire on their logging policy until the very last, then went in and mowed down Labour. I think he's convinced something like that will happen here. We'll see.

So: maybe a change of government, maybe not. What is undeniably clear is that a party that was being prodded for signs of life after its election drubbing three years ago is back with a vengeance, and now might be as good a time as any to ask: is this is a government-in-waiting or a bunch of politicians singing along to a marketing campaign that recites a list of focus group grievances? Is National ready for prime time?

If you click over to their website, your impression at first blush might be that there is a substantial body of policy locked and loaded. First hundred days, here we come. But when you start fossicking around the news releases and speeches, you might become a little perturbed at a recurring theme. There is a sameness to many of the policy speeches, (with the odd exception, such as Bill English's more substantial work on education), and that sameness is this:
Express outrage and frustration, typically by fixating upon exceptional and marginal aspects of an issue (Taniwha in road construction for example).
Give the political correctness gone mad horn a blast.
Wave the that's not in the interests of mainstream New Zealanders flag a bit.
Then promise that when you're in office, things will be different.Very different.
How different? Well, er, we'll review it.

Take health: money has been wasted, they say. Too many bureaucrats and administrative bodies they say. That has to change, but it must not change much, lest we cause disruption. So we'll REVIEW THINGS.

Or take the RMA. It's a mess, and they'll fix it by...REVIEWING IT.

Well, no actually, that's a bit of a misrepresentation. They do have some specific measures in mind for that. For example, they'll strip out references to the Treaty and obligations to consult Maori.

That goes down a treat in the focus groups, no doubt, but it ignores some important historical lessons. The design of the Resource Management Act was influenced by tribunal decisions such as Motonui which had shown quite clearly that there were aspects of the environment that were very important to Maori. You don't run a sewerage outfall onto their traditional fishing grounds. You don't go developing on top of sacred burial grounds. You should make due allowance for the cultural values of the iwi who signed the treaty. It makes good common sense to talk to them and find out that whatever you're doing does no harm of that kind.

But the focus groups have spoken, so out she goes.

Speech after speech, more of the same: this is bad, and we will..REVIEW IT

What about economic policy? It seems to reduce to a pretty simple nostrum: bureaucrats bad, private enterprise good.

I don't doubt the sincere motivation of Dr Brash and his team to try to do what's best for us all, but from where I sit, the government in waiting appears to be offering itself for office on too flimsy a basis: too many simple solutions to complex problems, too little evidence of carefully prepared, detailed policy.

Why? In part because the leader's CEO style has left the caucus unable to resolve policy positions on crucial matters such as welfare, and in part because this leader is as entranced by the notion of a hands-off government as much as every other right-leaning Nat has been from Williamson and Luxton through to Shipley and Richardson. They love the idea of market signals and simple magic bullets, and no doubt they have boundless faith in the market to deliver us to the promised land.

It all sounds very nice but if you look across the Pacific to their ideological fellow traveller and the mess he's dealing with in - oh let's just pick two: - Iraq and Louisiana, you wonder whether we might just want to be careful what we wish for.

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