Thursday, September 21, 2006

Naughty Children

New Zealand’s politicians continue to go at each other like children, while the general public wishes they’d all just shut up and get on with it.

The soap opera began with a fight over election spending and has continued with increasing heat and volume.

Each election, the leaders of the parties in Parliament are entitled to spend taxpayer money to publicise their parties’ policies, though they’re supposed to avoid “electioneering,” an ill-defined rule that’s generally been taken to mean that parties can’t solicit votes, money or members. This difficult to define distinction is at the crux of the matter.

After the election, the auditor-general issued a preliminary report claiming all but one party had spent in violation of the rules and must pay back non-allowed spending. Parties have since been in discussions with the auditor-general about his findings, and the amount supposedly owed has been reduced for most of them.

The National Party launched into a crusade against Labour for having spent some $800,000 improperly, according to the preliminary report, $446,000 of it on a small card outlining Labour’s policy pledges. Labour refused to pay back the money, arguing that their spending followed the same rules used for years, and the pledge card itself was similar to material issued by National in the 2002 election.

As the stand-off continued, the National Party leader, Don Brash, its politicians and media commentators, began accusing the Labour Party of “corruption”. It would be easy to dismiss the use of the word as mere partisan hyperbole, except as they continued their campaign they began to say that Labour “stole” the 2005 election.

Yeah, right. Were it not for Labour’s Pledge Card, then of course New Zealand voters would have flocked to National. According to National, the several hundred thousand dollars spent on National’s behalf by a secretive fundamentalist Christian sect had no effect and was irrelevant. How gullible does National think we are?

When the allegations of Don Brash’s extra-marital affair became public, Brash was quick to blame Labour. One Labour MP in particular heckled Brash in the House, alluding to the affair, and that’s what Brash was pinning the blame on.

However, the rumours about Brash had been around for years, unreported. The outbursts in Parliament, inappropriate as they were, didn’t change anything until rebel National MPs leaked news of caucus proceedings to the media and allegations of Brash’s latest adultery—still not denied—entered the public domain.

Then, this past Sunday, a national newspaper published a story denying that Prime Minister Helen Clark’s husband, Peter Davis, is gay, this in response to an implication in a rightwing magazine that was due to be published the next day. Labour blamed National for the “smear”, which National said was not its doing.

A few days after that, the Green Party announced that it would pay back funds “ultimately” found to have been spent in violation of the rules. They’re still in discussions with the auditor-general. Greens Co-Leader Jeannette Fitzsimons took issue with the auditor-general’s “inconsistent new interpretation of the rules, and there could be further legal challenge to his findings,” she said.

Clark then said that Brash is a “corrosive and cancerous person”. Brash said Clark should “get out of the gutter” and said she was a hypocrite.

And the soap opera continues. Pardon me while I reach for the remote to change the channel. This one’s boring.

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