Mallard's mad Moa blurt

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 05/07/2014
Trevor Mallard

BIG BIRDS: While admitting it’s a bit of a stretch, Trevor Mallard wants to investigate the possibility of moa one day striding again through the bush.

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OPINION: Labour needed Trevor Mallard this week like it needed a hole in the head.

Mallard's blurt about bringing Moa back from the dead was a gift to National who gloried in the treasure trove of one-liners about dinosaurs and extinction.

Ironically, Mallard's grand Moa plan coincided with a morning tea shout to mark him and Annette King celebrating three decades in Parliament.

Even Mallard's Labour colleagues couldn't resist the Jurassic Park comparisons.

Bizarrely, there was also a school of thought that Mallard might actually be a genius because people were finally talking about Labour.

That must surely be the definition of clutching at straws, but it is symptomatic of the trough Labour has found itself in that generating any sort of chatter round the water cooler - even when it invites ridicule - is an improvement.

As the party gathers for its election-year congress in Wellington this weekend, it is desperately in need of a game-changer.

Leader David Cunliffe's keynote speech on Sunday will target middle New Zealand with its focus on schools and children. In the leadup to that speech, Labour is also expected to roll out a plan to equip children with computer tablets.

Earlier in the week, Labour announced its plan to scrap "voluntary" school donations - another attempt to reach into middle and low-income New Zealand where meeting the cost of school fees and the other expenses imposed on parents by schools is a struggle for many households.

But none of it will be enough on its own to change the election-year narrative.

The creeping fear for Labour must be that voters feel like the election is a done deal. That would mean that voters have already tuned out of the debate and Labour risks looking like it is only going through the motions.

Labour certainly can't be blamed for going into the election without a plan to put to voters.

Its economic strategy is far-reaching, including a capital gains tax to smooth out the peaks and troughs in housing, monetary policy reform to address currency pressures, raising the pension age to address the long-term sustainability of government finances, and compulsory KiwiSaver to mimic Australia's hugely successful scheme.

The policy has been deliberately crafted to show that Labour is capable of making some tough choices and to underscore its fiscal credentials.

But National has done such a number on Labour's economic credibility that many voters still don't trust it with taxpayer money.

Labour doesn't help itself when it tries to attack National as spendthrift for running up debt and deficits.

Given that the global financial crisis and Canterbury earthquakes are still fresh in everyone's minds Labour 's attack lines just come across as sly and dishonest.

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Amid the frenzy over a Malaysian diplomat whipped home after being accused of attempted rape, the performance of Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer has been a revelation.

Shearer has been forceful and effective.

His colleagues must be wondering whether body-snatchers were at play during Shearer's stint as leader and replaced him with an inarticulate doppelganger.

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Cunliffe will be under huge pressure at this weekend's Congress to show he's capable of turning around his poor poll ratings and public image. Privately some of his colleagues must be wondering if they should have held their nerve on Shearer and given him time to grow into the role.

Shearer has turned his sights on Foreign Minister Murray McCully over the diplomat debacle.

Malaysia's offer to return the diplomat to face charges after previously invoking diplomatic immunity has taken heat off the minister for now, but that doesn't shorten the trail of questions for McCully and Ministry of Foreign Affairs boss John Allen.

Allen's ministry seems to be so dysfunctional its officials did not even think to inform him that a diplomatic incident with potentially serious ramifications for New Zealand's international relations happened on his turf.

Yet McCully's office was alerted the day after the incident, though it then inexplicably failed to keep a watching brief on proceedings.

To what extent was the failure to inform Allen, while keeping McCully in the loop, symptomatic of McCully's micro-management of the department?

The trail of blunders points to systemic failures that go beyond the mid-level Mfat manager who McCully and Prime Minister John Key have already lined up to take the fall.

Veteran Mfat watchers, meanwhile, are shaking their heads over chickens coming home to roost after the department was gutted of much of its experience and institutional knowledge during Allen's restructuring.

But it speaks volumes about the long-standing culture within Mfat that no one was surprised when it transpired that documents purporting to show New Zealand unequivocally opposed the diplomat's departure told only part of the story.

Amid all the butt covering, the Malaysian government's decision to return the diplomat to face the charges shone through as about the only action that acknowledged the rights of the alleged victim at the heart of the story.

Similarly, an acknowledgement of their own failings from McCully and Allen might ring more true than the cursory apologies they offered her through the TV cameras.


- Stuff

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