Moving from ‘contract’ to ‘relationship’

What is the most important thing a government must do in its first 100 days? Change the tone.

Helen Clark and Jim Anderton beamed self-congratulations at journalists and colleagues yesterday over coffee and biscuits. That in itself is a change of tone. Can you imagine Jim Bolger and Winston Peters doing an arm-in-arm act three years ago?

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Flinty Clark fronts her fiscal test

Greg Sheridan, the Australian newspaper’s foreign editor was wrong on at least one count in his miasma of accusations about the new defence policy. The Prime Minister is decidedly not flakey.

Flinty would be nearer the mark. In her first three years as Labour leader Helen Clark weathered a hail of personal abuse and white-anting that would have filleted many a supposedly stronger male politician.

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A radical defence change

In 1941 New Zealand troops on Crete were minced up by German forces backed by air supremacy. Thereafter in the second world war Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser insisted the army would not fight without air cover.

He woke up a bit late. Two decades earlier Labour’s hero of the left, John A Lee, who lost an arm in the first world war, had argued the same point. Cannon fodder in Lee’s war, our troops met the same fate initially in Fraser’s war after defence spending was heavily cut in the 1930s.

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The new government’s defence policy

Colin James for Defence Quarterly, March issue

Foreign Minister Phil Goff says cancelling the F16 contract is just “reprioritising expenditure”. Actually, it marks a strategic shift.

Few on the left like the armed forces, which most of their persuasion associate with militarism, the instrument of aggression and oppression. They dismiss any military threat and so don’t feel they need even to see the forces as guard dogs. They are most comfortable with the armed forces as rescuers, through peacekeeping and peacemaking, a role which transforms militarism into humanitarianism.

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Partnership: Labour’s new watchword

Fresh from her venture to Sydney this week, Helen Clark will journey into the interior next Tuesday. She is on the hunt for local partners to build the economy and rebuild social services.

Keeping yet another pre-election promise, Ms Clark will co-chair the first partnership-seeking central/local government forum with Local Government New Zealand president Louise Rosson.

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Our voice in Canberra: Helen Clark’s mission

Very soon after they were elected Prime Ministers within a week of each other in 1972, Norman Kirk and Gough Whitlam made contact. That marked a new era in trans-Tasman relations after decades of distance.

Malcolm Fraser and Sir Robert Muldoon, who followed those Labour giants, disliked each other but practised mutual toleration in the interests of a by-then necessary neighbourliness. The same went for David Lange and Bob Hawke.

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The issues

NZ Politics Research Group election conference: 18 Februrary 2000

The issues

“Issues” is a slippery topic. Allegedly, voters decide elections on “issues” and surveys are conducted to find out what they were. Until the official programme arrived I had thought my topic was “policies”, which would have been much less challenging – a scan of what the parties said, when campaigning, they would do if in or sharing power.

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What will happen when the honeymoon ends?

Two months in and the government’s honeymoon is still in full glow, the rosiest for decades. Why?

One reason is that the change of government was not just a switch of parties after nine years of National. It was also a switch of policy tone after 15 years of free-market governments. That has intensified voters’ sense of change.

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From lofty republicanism to small tinkerings

Here is a tale of the ingenuous and the disingenuous, of a defeated Prime Minister and one in youthful bloom.

Jenny Shipley accused Helen Clark of an ill-considered diplomatic affront to Britain in raising the republic issue on Waitangi weekend.

Excuse me, but there was not a skerrick of ill-consideration, since we became fully independent in 1947 on Britain’s initiative 14 years earlier and in any case it will not be Britain’s monarchy we abolish.

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Colin James’s piece on F16s for Herald news

Australian authorities are likely to respond to a decision to cancel the F16 fighter contract with “exact correctness”, Centre for Strategic Studies director David Dickens has found.

This will mask deeper reactions which could affect relations between the two countries on other fronts, especially if it is not accompanied by a commitment to replace the Skyhawks eventually – though if instead New Zealand committed to some new equivalent expenditure, such as attack helicopters, Australia would be “sympathetic”.

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