The Little dog that lost its bark

Andrew Little
Andrew Little

There is one thing worse for an Opposition MP than getting knocked back on an application for a snap debate in Parliament on a subject embarrassing to the Government - and that is being granted a snap debate when you are not expecting it and suddenly having little to say.

That was the fate yesterday of Labour's Andrew Little, who must have felt like the dog that chases cars, but cannot think what on earth to do on the day one obligingly stops and surrenders. He had to get up and speak about the Government's ACC woes for 15 long minutes, and by the time he had lamented the running down of the corporation, upbraided the Government for being beastly to claimant Bronwyn Pullar and her friend Michelle Boag, and demanded ACC Minister Judith Collins be sacked, he had started to repeat himself rather forlornly.

Not normally given to flowery language, he had little choice but to give it a go - for as National's Paula Bennett kept meanly pointing out, he still had lots of time left. ACC had become a "corporate behemoth", he railed, "the plaything of ministers". It was victim to "tawdry, nasty, filthy little strategies" to "fleece" injured New Zealanders in their time of need.

Then he hit on the idea of helping the Government pick the next ACC minister. So it was that humble backbencher Jonathan Young, who happened to be sitting opposite Mr Little, was startled to be allocated the job. "This is so not a leadership bid, this speech!" interjected Ms Bennett. She, too, got offered ACC by Mr Little.

But, in time, the fabled Labour machine swung into action. Frontbencher David Parker took out a pad and started scribbling large-print notes, which he passed behind him to Trevor Mallard, who appeared to proof-read them, before passing them on to Mr Little, who quickly glanced down at each sheet of paper and, without missing a beat, introduced a new aspect of the Government's perfidy. Socialism in action.

When finally his ordeal was over - no-one was mean enough to move an extension of time - Ms Collins, who has seen off four senior ACC figures this week and had the air of looking around for more prey, rose to wield her power-smirk like a blunt instrument.

"[Labour leader] David Shearer is very safe. That member [Mr Little] is supposed to be a lawyer, I understand," she said with theatrical scepticism. "Hard to believe. I'm actually getting a little tired of having to correct him."

She proceeded to speak about ACC blithely, as though the wholesale political carnage inside it was such an everyday event, it was scarcely worth refreshing one's lipstick afterwards.

At least she made a point of finishing off her prey quickly, and making sure they were quite dead - in this case by giving fulsome praise to the recently departed directors and chief executive, whose valuable reforms she said she had backed.

"By sacking them!" several Opposition MPs observed. And a new definition of the term "tough love" was born.

The Dominion Post