Of ships and planes and land attacks

National is trying to eliminate some differences with Labour so it can better compete. It is also trying to sharpen some differences with Labour so it can better compete.

Divergence, it seems, is the better part of valour.

Nowhere is divergence more evident than in National’s muddle over Maori. Jenny Shipley, political child of placid mid-century provincialism, intoned slogans to her party’s conference on Saturday of the sort likely to whip white unease into a froth of ethnic resentment. Bill English, not long out of short pants when the Treaty of Waitangi renaissance began and seeking centrist reconciliation, says National must have Maori support to win long term and is heading out to marae and Maori “nation-building” hui.

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Can National remake itself for the 2000s?

Three years ago, when the National party last gathered in conference at the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Christchurch as it will this weekend, leadership change was in the air. Jenny Shipley was stalking Jim Bolger.

He fell to her knife two months later, judged by his MPs as not enough a “nineties” man, which was an irony since it had been his wont to proclaim the nineties as the “golden decade”.

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Take your partners for the foxtrot

This government is big on “partnership”. It wants one with local government, with business, with Maori – with nearly everyone who will play.

Steve Maharey even has a very PC committee beavering away to develop a “framework” to govern its partnerships with non-government organisations and the voluntary sector.

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A leftward lean towards free trade

Is free trade dead? Not yet. A new World Trade Organisation trade liberalisation round may be (temporarily?) stalled. But bilateral and regional initiatives abound – and that’s a bother for us.

New Zealand is small and distant. It scarcely registers on foreign capitals’ radars. Why should Korea, still less the United States, bother with us if they can talk turkey with Japan?

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Fixing up the public service

The Labour party swooped into office on the wings of anger at golden handshakes and public service profligacy. First it focused on values, ethics and standards. Now it is down the harder stuff.

Three big management issues face it:

how to get public servants out of their “silos” and cooperating across portfolios on priority programmes;
how to lift capability;
how to get more order into the higgledy-piggledy halfway-house agencies known as Crown entities.
The “silos” issue has bothered politicians since Jim Bolger in 1990 revived the web of interdepartmental officials committees that frayed during the revolutionary 1980s.

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A determined PM’s massive challenge

If it has escaped your notice so far, this Prime Minister is determined to get what she wants.

That includes the Minister of Maori Affairs she has set her mind on. Labour would be looking for a new leader if it bucked her choice, she said on Monday.

She made it sound matter-of-fact, so much so that I almost had to pinch myself to register she had issued an ultimatum – normally a sign of crisis politics.

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The local option for long-life government

Jim Soorley is a Marist priest turned businessman turned Labor Lord Mayor of Brisbane. He says in a globalised world nations are the past and cities are the future.

Mr Soorley was a star turn at the local government conference in Christchurch on Monday.

Now in his fourth term, Mr Soorley insists that it is the clean-green and socially cohesive cities (or localities) that will attract business in future. His administration has invested heavily in making Brisbane such a place.

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A new paradigm for local government?

Local Government Conference; Christchurch, 10 July 2000

Let’s start with subsidiarity. Only the French could have concocted such a barbaric word; only Anglo-Saxons could have adopted it with enthusiasm.

Subsidiarity means taking decisions and carrying out actions at the lowest practicable level of government. This concept is a reaction against the twentieth century centralisation of power and activity in the hands of sprawling central governments. New Zealand did not escape that centralising tendency: indeed, we made centralisation an art form. And now we are not escaping the decentralising reaction.

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The greater ‘gap’ facing Maori

Just which “gaps” is Helen Clark closing and why were they so important she had to dump Dover Samuels quickly?

The “gaps” she sealed with last week’s sacking were threatened breaches in the political dyke: she secured her authority, got herself off the moral skewer of supporting a minister with an inconvenient past and for good measure divided the opposition in Parliament.

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How to talk to the media

Successful governments use the megaphone, not the piccolo, to talk to the public. Put another way, it is the headlines, not the fine print, that count with voters.

Of course, the fine print is what the voters get. But they think they are or should be getting the headlines. In 1996 Winston Peters’ pre-election fine print was not to rule out coalition with Jim Bolger. But the headlines were all anti-National and that was the message most supporters took into the polling booth and the basis on which they punished him later.

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