‘No worries’ seems to be John Key’s response to the Auditor-General’s office investigation into the Convention Centre tender process. However, as John Armstrong points out, this issue has one crucial factor that all of the Government’s other problems don’t have: ‘The convention centre is the Prime Minister's pet project. He is up to his neck in it. Even the mere hint of anything remotely dodgy will be a huge blow to his credibility - and quite possibly a lasting one.’ – see: Stakes higher with PM's reputation on the line. The ‘business is usual’ response is necessary to avoid appearing ‘defensive and besieged’ says Armstrong but he isn’t impressed with Key’s attitude to the Auditor-General’s decision: ‘The sight of politicians treating the office as little more than a nuisance is disturbing.’ Labour and the Greens have slammed the Government for pushing on with negotiations despite the investigation – see: Convention centre probe: Govt accused of arrogance. [Read more below]
Congratulations to the AG’s office are in order from the Herald Editorial Probe should clear air on SkyCity deal: “It cannot be easy, even for an office with statutory independence, to ignore the political climate and take a step such as this”. The editorial also highlights an important part of the deal that the row over pokie numbers has overshadowed – the extension of SkyCity’s exclusive casino licence in Auckland. A process that ‘would have invited a proper, full and open public review of this country's experience with casino gambling’ should not be ‘decided in private negotiation’. Given the renewal is the nearest thing to a licence to print money outside of the Reserve Bank, it will be fascinating to see how the Auditor-General’s office views that and the increased pokie numbers in the tendering process. SkyCity shareholders seem more concerned than the PM about the implications of the investigation – see: SkyCity Entertainment shares fall nearly 3.5%.
Tightening of gambling regulations is one of the examples opponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) use to warn about powers being given to multi-national corporations to sue governments. A leaked draft of the investment chapter justifies their concerns says Professor Jane Kelsey (see: Leaked draft of trade deal exposes risks – professor): ‘a section protecting investors against ''expropriate or indirect expropriation" could apply to a Government re-regulating the broadcasting market, for example, or cutting the number of pokie machines allowed in a casino.’
What has particularly incensed critics is that, while our government has apparently agreed, Australia has refused to agree to allow corporations to sue them in overseas courts. Trade Minister Tim Groser has dismissed the concerns as a ‘beat-up’ (see Groser rejects TPP concern) but the secrecy that surrounds the negotiations is likely to fuel increasing concern. Gordon Campbell certainly wasn’t convinced by Groser’s assurances – see: Leaks about the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The issue is likely to be tricky for Labour who have had an almost identical approach to National on trade agreements for many years. In contrast, the Greens have a very clear position that New Zealand should get out of the deal – see: Leaked TPP draft reveals concerns. If the issue gains traction, and it may well if tobacco companies follow through on their threats to sue over plain packaging laws, Labour may again find itself looking weak and indecisive compared to the Greens.
There’s plenty of comment on ACC but no-one seems to expect too much more blood on the floor in the meantime – although that hasn’t stopped Labour from trying for their biggest trophy yet - Judith Collins – see: Andrea Vance’s ACC turmoil focus shifts to Collins. But, as Jane Clifton writes, Labour and Andrew Little seem to have run out of vulnerable targets in the meantime – see: The Little dog that lost its bark. Still, a minister, a Board Chair, a CEO and two directors isn’t a bad tally. Vernon Small and Toby Manhire both reflect on John Key’s tough week – see: Accelerating ACC crisis demands attention and John Key’s worst week as PM.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* Josie Pagani and Chris Trotter are going tit-for-tat over the how much Labour should look to the likes of Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder, Barack Obama, Neil Kinnock and even Julia Gillard for inspiration - see: Trotter’s Despising The Working Class: A Reply To Josie Pagani and Pagani’s Chris Trotter doesn’t like modern social democracy. Jordan Carter is somewhere (or possibly nowhere) in the middle – see: Spats in Cyberspace: Pagani, Trotter & Labour.
* The private sector is failing to invest productively says Bernard Hickey – see: How will New Zealand break its investment drought? He asks ‘will the government have to step in as it did during the 1930s and 1940s?’
* Labour might hand the Greens another gift over deep sea drilling says Pattrick Smellie - see: Fish-hooks in EEZ governance.
* And Vaughan Milner, chief executive of Presbyterian Support Upper South Island says the focus on cathedrals and rugby stadiums is misplaced until the real issue is addressed – see: Housing people should take priority.