Joe Hendren

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Big Business: Helen's real coalition partner

Fran O'Sullivan in the NZ Herald (Hat tip Cathy) alleges that Helen Clark and senior ministers sought the advice of senior business CEOs on the makeup of her new cabinet and a more pro-business direction for her third term in office.

"While television journalists traipsed about the Beehive after self-important minor party leaders as coalition negotiations deepened, Clark was carrying out parallel "coalition" negotiations with an arguably more important constituency: NZ business."

Clark is understood to have invited:

"Ann Sherry (Westpac CEO and chairwoman of the Government's Innovation Advisory Group); Theresa Gattung (Telecom CEO and GIAB member); Mark Weldon (NZX CEO), Fonterra chiefs, Craig Norgate (Rural Portfolio Investments managing director and GIAB member); NZ Institute CEO David Skilling, Rob Fenwick (Council for Business Sustainability); Michael Barnett (CEO Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce); and a group of energy sector players convened by Wellington lawyer Mai Chen."
... "The CEOs were whisked to her ninth-floor office for individual consultations with Clark, her chief of staff, Heather Simpson, and Finance Minister Michael Cullen. Other ministers from Clark's inner circle such as Pete Hodgson and Trevor Mallard were brought in as required."

I wonder if there were any similar meetings with trade union representatives, poverty campaigners, environmentalists or community groups? Surely it would have been more appropriate to hold such a meeting prior to the election, or subsequent to the formation of the government? Or are we leading to a situation where dosh leads our democracy?

Now I have no problem with business leaders meeting with the Government to discuss policy issues, so long as their level of access to Ministers is no different to that offered to any other individual or other group in New Zealand. But I believe it is highly inappropriate for big business to have a say in the formation of a government. This should be the exclusive domain of voters and those they elected to be their representatives, with 'apolitical' public servants providing constitutional advice where necessary. Even inviting business leaders into such a meeting gives them the impression they have more power than they are entitled to.

What is Helen scared of?

Does this help explain why the Green party attempted to improve relations with the business community with a well intentioned, but ultimately ill fated meeting? Was it your idea Helen?

Now what would have happened if I, or any other voter rang Clark's office and requested a meeting to discuss the formation of a the new government. "Hi Helen, could I give you some advice on who you should put in your cabinet?" I would expect to be told to noddy off until the politicians had completed their negotiations.

Fran also talks to business leaders "speaking on background" who take delight in Clark appointing more pragmatic (read right-wing) ministers into economic portfolios and report they expect Clark to be "'much more pragmatic' about economic reality". Yet they give no grounding to their metaphysical speculations, leading me only to recall the words of David Hume about 'sophistry and illusion'.

It seems the third term of this Labour-led government will be driven by a greater sense of cash consciousness.

PS: Now I admit I do take anything written by Fran O'Sullivan with a touch of salt, given her history of strong "advocacy" journalism on issues such as free trade with the US, joining NAFTA and taking trips abroad "courtesy" of the free trade lobby. It may not directly influence her writing, but its not a good look. I get the impression Fran is no fan of Helen's either.

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