Chauvel eyes his next challenge

GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 09:17 28/02/2013

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The Wellingtonian

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Labour MP Charles Chauvel leaves Parliament on March 11 for a job with the United Nations Development Programme.

For eight years, Chauvel has been a strong voice on poverty and climate change, and his exit leaves Labour with no obvious alternative as shadow Attorney- General.

Ask him for his main achievement though, and he'll cite a narrow defeat instead - namely, the voting down of his attempt to regulate the loan shark industry that preys upon the likes of Porirua and south Auckland.

The need for reform hasn't vanished. If anything, loan sharking has only got worse, he says, since his bill was defeated.

"The folk at the bottom of the heap have been hit much harder by the recession as it has deepened. But also, the [loan sharking] sector has got more sophisticated.

"Contracts are now being offered," he adds, "in full knowledge that repayments can't be met, so the new contracts have systematically set about increasing the trespass and seizure powers of the repo agents."

Doesn't that underline the impotence of an MP's job - where enormous effort must be expended, even to win only the smallest of victories?

"You've put your finger on a wider problem. There is a disconnect between what people expect their elected representatives to do and see as common sense and practical solutions, and what we're able to do."

In addition, officials always give ministers reasons not to act in certain areas.

"Even if I were a minister I couldn't say I'd be able to break the logjam on this [loan shark] issue."

Getting the bill drafted and getting a debate started in the media and community, he says, may be the best you can do.

Job satisfaction wasn't entirely absent, though.

"While I failed on the loan shark issue, I didn't on the [murder] provocation issue - the 'gay panic' defence...I drafted it, Lianne Dalziel moved it and there was such an outcry after a couple of horrific murders that the government was pressured to act."

Being an MP therefore, is not always an exercise in impotent good intentions.

"You just have to pick your battles and form your alliances as best you can."

Chauvel applies the same positive logic to Ohariu, where he cut a Peter Dunne majority of 8000 to only 1006.

Boundary changes may, he believes, help Labour next time.

"There's been so much new housing in Ohariu - particularly in the northern suburbs - that the western hills will probably go into the Hutt electorates and I'd say there's some chance that the Khandallah end might head towards Wellington Central."

Cause for cautious optimism, again.

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Chauvel may well need the same silver linings playbook in his new job, too.

He'll be helping to train officials in newly emerged democracies to establish the likes of an independent electoral commission and a free press in the wake of colonisers and dictators, who may have destroyed the normal foundation stones of civil society.

"To make democracy sustainable, you not only need officials who are freely and fairly elected, but who are committed to building and honouring the ideal of independence."

It sounds like an uphill struggle again, although with some grounds for hope.

Chauvel's first UN assignment is in Quito, Ecuador, on March 27.

- The Wellingtonian

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