Disagreeing with Colin

It seems to be my day for disagreeing with gallery journalists. Of course nothing wrong with disagreements. Colin Espiner has blogged on why this is a good week for Labour:

I can just visualise and Michael Cullen doing a little jig in their Beehive offices this morning. A further lowering in the OCR is just what the doctor so desperately wanted. And the more aggressive stance that Bollard seems to be taking to cutting hopefully means more money in homeowners’ pockets before the election.

Agree this is good for the Government, even if bad for NZ.

There are a couple of other reasons why Clark is smiling at the moment. National confirmed its industrial relations policy this morning, which changes little except for introducing a 90-day trial period for workers, cleverly dubbed “fire at will” by Labour. I think this will haunt National during the campaign, and for little political upside. If employers won’t be unscrupulous and sack people after the three-month trial is up, then why have one at all?

I guess Colin has not been an employer. Sacking someone not up to the job is not being unscrupulous. Employers generally want to retain staff. But if a staff member is costing them money rather than earning them money, then a small business has to do what is necessary. And the reality is that a small business has great difficulty in sacking someone just because they are incompetent. They do have have the resources larger firms do.

Colin is right that Labour wil try and scare people off with this policy. But National’s job is to make sure people realise it applies to small businesses only and just for 90 days.

The other reason, curiously, is the Winston Peters donation scandal. I’m not so sure this is bothering Clark terribly much. Why do I think this? Well, for one thing, when junior partners in a coalition or confidence and supply arrangement get into trouble, it’s almost always the smaller party that suffers – the Alliance, for example, in 2002.

I think Colin is very wrong here. First of all he overlooks that every day the headlines are about the Foreign Minister’s secret donations, they are not about stories that are more favourable to the Government. They face weeks and weeks where the main political news is Winston.

Secondly Colin should look back to 1996 and 1997 and Tuku’s Undiegate. Yes NZ First lost support, but so did National – greatly so.

The second reason is that the irony of the donor scandal is that it once again raises the whole issue of anonymous rich people trying to buy elections. And while the heat is currently on Peters, I wonder how long before it will again turn back to the National Party, which has more experience with secret trusts hiding large corporate donors than any other party.

There is a risk there, but the key difference is National has not spent 15 years condemning such trusts and demanding they be ended. Also the latest revelation from Bob Jones suggests a level of secrecy well beyond anything National has done – at least their trusts are known about, commented on, and declare their donations to National. The Spencer Trust appears to pays bills off secretly on behalf of NZ First.

It also limits National’s ability to go quite so hard on the in future. Granted the law is complicated, virtually unworkable, and probably unfair. But it does limit the ability of parties to slip donations under the carpet in the way NZ First is being accused of doing, and as National (and Labour) have done in the past.

I don’t think it does. While the EFA does have better provisions relating to donations (and I am on record support some of them) this is showing the false confidence one can gain from such a regime.

Secret donations to MPs and/or their expenses are allowed under the EFA.

Secret donations to trusts associated with a party are allowed with the EFA.

Donations from different family members and companies associated with them are not discloseable under the EFA so long as each is under $10,000 and each family member and associated company is not proven to make the donation on behalf of someone else.

One can still donate $66,000 in a year without disclosing your identity.

One could donate $250,000 over a year through anonymous $1,000 donations a day if the party doesn’t know they are from the same source.

So don’t think the EFA solves all this.

And National knows it can’t go after Peters too hard in case it needs him after the election. The temptation must be there, though, given if it did manage to finish Peters off an early election would be in its favour. The fear, however, is that if the attempt backfired and Peters survives, National can kiss goodbye to any post-election deal with NZ First.

Indeed. But both Clark and Key will be wondering how long a post-election deal would last, if there are more revelations like this week to emerge, and if Peters is never going to retreat from his stance of never admitting any fault at all, and blaming the media for exposing his secret donations.

So provided Peters doesn’t completely throw his toys and march out of the government, therefore prompting an early election, I don’t think this week has done Labour any harm at all.

Which is why the Prime Minister is still smiling.

The PM will be happy with the cash rate announcement. I don’t think she is at all smiling over the antics of her Foreign Minister.

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