Privileges Cttee makes little progress

August 18, 2008

Ignorance of the law is not accepted as a defence but Winston Peters is trying the “I know nothing” approach with the privileges committee.

 He and his lawyer Brian Henry say Peters hasn’t broken the law about declaring donations because no bills were sent.

The pair appeared before Parliament’s privileges committee over allegations Mr Peters broke Parliament’s rules by failing to declare a $100,000 donation from expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn which was used towards Mr Peters’ legal fees.

He repeatedly denied reports NZ First received a donation from Mr Glenn, who had been lobbying to be made an honorary consul in Monaco…

Mr Henry said Mr Glenn may have “aligned the fact he was paying for the Tauranga electoral petition with the political party whose leader ran it”.

Costs of $40,000 awarded to Mr Clarkson were paid out of Mr Henry’s pocket – something the lawyer said Mr Peters would not have known until this evening.

Mr Henry, who said a description of his relationship with Mr Peters of being blood brothers was apt, never sent bills via a solicitor for legal work for Mr Peters. That meant there was no debt.

“The position is I have not rendered a fee note to the solicitor for the work done and that solicitor has not rendered a bill to Winston. Until my instructing solicitor renders a bill to Winston, there is no debt owed by Winston.”

Parliament’s rules state that MPs must disclose any gift or payment of their debts, with a value of over $500, by another person.

Mr Henry told MPs he had long employed the practice of fund-raising to pay Mr Peters’ debt and not tell him about doing this in order to protect him.

Mr Peters read a letter he wrote to Speaker Margaret Wilson outlining his arguments that there was no debt or gift to declare.

“We have always operated under an agreed system of Mr Henry not disclosing the source of fund-raising and myself not asking. . . there is no debt to be paid or discharged.”

National’s Gerry Brownlee asked Mr Peters about a comment Mr Peters made, saying Mr Glenn had helped pay his bill.

“When you were saying this is a donation to you, you were accepting that there was a donation to you personally?”

“No it was a donation to the legal cost of a petition.”

The hearing is continuing.

Strange how a supposedly intelligent man can’t understand what is so clear to the rest of us: whether or not you see or know about the money, if it’s used to pay your debts it’s a donation to you.

Peters in favourite position

August 18, 2008

Audrey Young previews this evening’s privileges committee hearing and compares it to the Wine Box inquiry.

Mr Peters is about to take the witness stand and National has to be very careful how it treats him. Mr Peters v The Rest is his favourite position.

No, it’s not about the privileges committee hearing that begins tonight into a $100,000 donation to Peters by billionaire Owen Glenn.

It’s what I wrote in June 1996 on the eve of Peters’ appearance at the Winebox inquiry in Auckland.

Peters and hearings go together all too easily and I’ve witnessed many of them.

To any other politician such hearings would be a traumatic event. To Peters they present a platform, an opportunity to attack, though it doesn’t always work out the way he plans it…

Regardless of what the committee determines there is no doubt that Peters will be in his element with public and media attention on him.

Youthful ideals meet father’s logic

August 18, 2008

The Southland Times followed up the Electoral Commission’s strategy to encourage young people to enrol by visiting the Southland Institute of Technology.

One of the interviewees was SIT student representative Erica Donovan who said:

A universal student allowance is one policy on her list, but she also has an eye on policies that will affect her and her friends who aren’t studying, once she graduates.

“We talk about poverty in Africa, but there’s poverty here in Invercargill. There’s people that really need money from the Government,” she says.

That reminded me of this story which arrived in an email from a friend:

A young woman was about to finish her first year at university. She considered herself to be a Labour supporter and very liberal. Among her liberal ideals was support for higher taxes to support more government programmes, in other words redistribution of wealth.

She was deeply ashamed of her father who was a staunch National Party member.


The lectures she attended and the occasional chat with a professor convinced her that her father had for years, harboured an evil selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes for the rich and the need for more government programmes. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing at university.

he  answered rather haughtily that she had passes in four subjects, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn’t even have time for a boyfriend, and didn’t really have many varsity friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, ‘How is your friend Clarrisa doing?’

She replied, ‘Clarrisa is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies and she has only two passes. But she is ever so popular on campus; varsity for her is a blast. She’s always invited to all the parties and lots of times she doesn’t even show up for classes because she’s too hung over.’

Her wise father asked his daughter, ‘Why don’t you go to the Chancellor’s office and ask him to deduct a pass off you and give it to your friend who only has two passes. That way you will both have three passes and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of passes’.

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father’s suggestion, angrily fired back, ‘That’s a crazy idea, and how would that be fair!  I’ve worked really hard for my grades!  I’ve invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Clarrisa has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my butt off!’

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, ‘Welcome to the National Party.’

Jane Clifton on line

August 18, 2008

Jane Clifton’s column is one of the reasons I buy the Listener. I’m delighted to discover (thanks to No Right Turn) that she’s now on line.

This week she looks at the blurring of the lines betweens politics, journalism and blogging then gets on to Winston Peters:

The other discordant note for voters has been that what investigative resource we do have has lately been trained on Winston Peters, to a degree that risks triggering the trusty Kiwi-underdog hormone. Although he’s probably fish food in his Tauranga seat, there’s a chance the glamour of martyrdom will lure enough voters to float him over the 5% oblivion threshold.

This would be an unspeakable injustice. Even if he’s done no wrong, his refusal to give the public intelligible explanations should be politically unforgiveable. It’s a tricky issue for the media, because, protected as he is by the Prime Minister’s determination to have an out-of-body experience every time New Zealand First Party business is mentioned, Winston is proving bullet-proof.

The allegations are so serious, no other minister could have gone this long without being suspended. No other politician could realistically hope for re-election till the matters were cleared up. But the normal rules don’t apply to Winston – and not just because he holds the balance of power and because we’re all blissfully distracted by the Olympics. By sheer force of personality, he is a sort of Bermuda Triangle for investigative journalists. We have assembled all the firepower and rocket fuel you could wish for to force this issue to speedy disclosure – yet we’re becalmed.

I cheerfully admit that I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the allegations, combined with his hauteur at having to answer them, would finish him off, sooner rather than later. Now, I feel like a fox terrier waiting eternally over a rathole, instinct overriding the clear evidence that the rat has no earthly need to come out.

So, are we now bullying Winston? It could look that way. After so many years of reporting his high-and-mighty pronouncements, and enduring his abuse and his remorseless cigarette-bumming, there is undeniable satisfaction for many journalists in administering to Winston a dose of his own medicine.

But more than that, it’s our job to put under the microscope those who hold themselves up as our exemplars, and to stay on their case even when the going gets tedious. Other people may want to muscle in on this territory these days, and good luck to them.

Please stay on the case Jane, tedious or not there must be answers to the many questions over Peters, his party and their donors and the rat will have to come out of the hole eventually – even if it’s just to bum a cigarette.

(P.S. In case the bean counters and advertisers are concerned, even though I’ve read my favourite part of the magazine on line I’ll still be buying a copy next time I’m in town).

Too clean and too dirty

August 18, 2008

Dunedin Hopsital is closed to visitors and all but emergency, mental health and maternity patients because of an outbreak of norovirus.

It’s only a couple of months since the gastric illness swept through Gore Hospital and other hopsitals, resthomes and schools have also had outbreaks.

Southland principals say one of the reasons the infection spreads is that people don’t stay at home when they are ill. I wonder if another cause is lowering standards of basic hygiene and an increase in practices which reduce immunity.

My mother was a nurse and when I was a child we weren’t allowed to come to the meal table until we had washed our hands – and washed them properly. Now people tend to graze rather than eat meals and from my observations few bother to wash their hands before eating.

But it’s not just pre-dining hygiene that’s lacking. A New Zealand Food Safety Authority  survey showed that only 7.8% of people followed the 20/20 rule for hand washing after going to the loo – 20 seconds washing with soap and hot water and 20 seconds drying with a clean towel. But worse nearly 10% of women and 20% of men didn’t bother washing their hands at all.

Then we have the other extreme where life is too clean.  We use antibacterial cleaning products which may lead to the development of superbugs from the .1% that aren’t zapped by the cleaner; children aren’t allowed to play in the mud or with animals; and we become so fastidious we’re not exposed to germs which help build our immunity.

Maybe we’d be healthier if we  stopped worrying about clean dirt and became more particular about the dirty dirt.

If  Mum was here she’d recommend we get back to the basics of housekeeping with hot, soapy water and elbow grease; wash our hands more thoroughly and more often; and stay at home when we’re ill so we keep our bugs to ourselves.

We’re having more babies

August 18, 2008

Our birth rate rose to 2.2 per woman in the year to June, up from 2.1 in the previous 12 months.

That’s back to the 1991 level of fertility but still well below the peak of 4.3 births which we had in 1961.

More than half the total of 64,140 live births were boys – 32,860 compared with 31,280 girls.

This is the highest number of births since the June 1972 year when 64,510 live births were registered. The highest number of births registered in any June year was 66,110 in 1962. At that time New Zealand’s population numbered just 2.5 million, compared with 4.3 million in 2008.

In the June 2008 year, women aged 30–34 years had the highest fertility rate (126 births per 1,000 women aged 30–34 years). Forty years ago, in 1968, women aged 20–24 years had the highest fertility rate (218 per 1,000), almost three times their 2008 rate (77 per 1,000).

On average, New Zealand women now have children about five years later than their counterparts in the mid-1960s. The median age (half are younger, and half older, than this age) of New Zealand women giving birth is now 30 years, compared with 25 years in 1968. The median age of women giving birth to their first child was 28 years in the year ended June 2008.

When I was attending ante-natal classes before my first baby was born nearly 24 years ago I was 28 and one of the few “older” expectant mothers. There was one woman a little bit older than me, another my age and one a couple of years younger but the other 12 or so in the class were early 20s or younger.

However, delaying pregnancy can make it more difficult to conceive. Publicity about this and the number of couples experiencing fertility problems when they start trying to become pregnant in their mid to late 30s might be beginning to persuade would-be parents to start their families earlier.

Will Peters be held to account?

August 18, 2008

A Fairfax Media Neilson poll shows that the public is already holding Winston Peters to account.

The poll findings come as Mr Peters and his lawyer Brian Henry prepare to front up to a privileges hearing tonight into allegations surrounding a $100,000 donation from billionaire Owen Glenn to Mr Peters’ legal fund.

Mr Peters also faces questions over the secretive Spencer Trust, the existence of which only came to light after The Dominion Post revealed a $25,000 cheque from millionaire Sir Robert Jones was deposited in the trust and never declared.

Today’s poll for The Dominion Post suggests that the affair has dented Mr Peters’ credibility, with 48 per cent of voters believing Prime Minister Helen Clark should stand him down from his ministerial positions over questions surrounding donations to NZ First.

Thirty-seven per cent of voters disagreed, and 15 per cent had no opinion. The findings are more damning when it comes to voters’ views on whether NZ First should be involved in discussions after the election about the formation of the next government – just 39 per cent of voters think Labour should do another deal with NZ First, compared with 52 per cent who say no. The result was similar when it came to NZ First doing a deal with National – just 36 per cent said yes, and 54 per cent said no.

The polls leave no doubt about what people think but as the Herald editorial  points out he doesn’t need a lot of support.

Ultimately, of course, Mr Peters’ fate rests on the court of public opinion. But MMP allows him to be acquitted on the verdict of a tiny minority, one voter in 20 to be precise. He can survive with the support of just 5 per cent of voters nationwide. And even that pitiful support could enable him to decide which of the two main parties forms the next government. Hence, neither of them has tried to question his financial arrangements too closely.

Labour and National members dominate the privileges committee and there, too, they might not press him for answers. It is a worry that the committee has not bothered to contact Mr Glenn, who thought his donation went to NZ First. Like the Prime Minister, it might prefer to accept Mr Peters’ assurances that nothing untoward has been done.

We would all like to accept those assurances, if only to cease handing Mr Peters more attention, but somebody has to hold him to account, as he likes to hold others. If his peers cannot do it, who will?

It’s up to the voters. If NZ First passes the 5% threshold and holds the balance of power both Labour and National may be forced to seek their support.

Keeping Stock wants John Key to make it clear Peters won’t be welcome in a National-led government. But neither Key nor Clark can afford to write him off, just in case the voters deliver a result which forces them to negotiate with him.

The only way to ensure Peters isn’t in government (or a Minister outside cabinet or whatever other all care-no responsiblity role he’s able to negotiate) is to ensure NZ First doesn’t pass the 5% threshold and none of its MPs win a seat.

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