Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Minister of cocktails and cigarettes

In a world where John Bolton can become the US ambassador to the United Nations, having Winston Peters as New Zealand's foreign affairs minister makes perfect sense.

It's not that Peters is a xenophobe - he will say anything he thinks will shore up his support among his remaining aging and deluded base of fearful white males and their blue-rinsed wives.

He thinks it will give a statesman-like cast to the end of a noisy but undistinguished political career, but he is the same Winston we know and 6% of us love - an opportunist in built up shoes.

The rounds of diplomatic cocktail parties will fill in his evenings between his days at the racetrack and early mornings in Courtenay Place.

Maybe he should have sought an associate health job - minister of smoking and drinking. After all, Labour did have a minister of wine and cheese.

The racing portfolio will be interesting. Peters isn't cheap to maintain, and he has had a lot of support from that quarter, so expect a quick pay-off. The industry has been lobbying for the $26 million or so in gst on its betting to be ploughed back into larger stakes and more support for clubs.

It does leave the rest of the party sitting on the sideline watching Winston gobble the goodies. Doug Woollerton has woken up the the ride he has been taking on for enabling Peters for so long (to borrow language from the world of therapy) and members with a bit of self respect like Brian Donnelly and Ron Mark are going to find their self-respect challenged in the months to come.

Looking through the Labour-NZ First agreement, Labour has left itself plenty of wriggle room.

It only has to support giving a select committee a crack at Peters' bill on taking references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi out of legislation. Once there, the committee will probably conclude that the principles are now embedded in case law, and the references are merely helpful reminders to make sure agents of the state don't make expensive blunders which will see the Crown battling Maori in court all over again.

NZ First also wants a select committee to consider lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, either through a members bill or a government bill by the end of the term. Given Ron Mark's own history with under-age crime, the already high rate of imprisonment in New Zealand, the disproportionate number of Maori in the criminal justice system, it won't be good law but it will be a political bone for their reactionary base.

On the Treaty front, NZ first has asked for more resources for negotiations, the use of "expert external negotiators" and more direct negotiations, by-passing the Waitangi Tribunal claim process which it describes as "lengthy and expensive".

It also got Labour to agree to review the appropriateness of the chair of the Waitangi Tribunal also holding an appointment as a Maori Land court judge.

Brief points. Compared with the alternatives, the Waitangi Tribunal system is relatively inexpensive. The costs escalate around Office of Treaty Settlements and the bureaucracy the Crown has developed to fight every claim to the wire.

If OTS was competent, there would be no need for "expert external negotiators" - who in practice would turn out to be another bunch of expensive negotiators. For claims to be settled, there needs to be forceful engagement at the ministerial level at appropriate pints in the process, and a bureaucracy which is able to straddle the cultural divide. That cultural facility has been lacking.

As for splitting the tribunal and the court, Maori land law is an arcane but very necessary administrative system. The court's resources are an important part of settling any claim. However, the tribunal workload is larger than was originally envisaged when the tribunal was set up, and creating a separate tribunal head is not a bad idea.

What making the chief judge of the court also the chair of the Waitangi Tribunal does is establish a status benchmark within the legal system of the tribunal. Any change should not reduce that status. I would suggest requiring the chair of the tribunal rto also be a High Court judge.


Blogger osod said...

Hooray for the new Minister of FA.!

7:16 AM  
Blogger Rob Good said...

Winston will be fine in the JOB.

3:49 PM  
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