Blithely seeing lemonade where others see lemons

ABOUT THE HOUSE - JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012

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OPINION: In a reversal of the old advice that if life presents lemons one should make lemonade, Housing and Energy Minister Phil Heatley has been claiming credit for lemonade despite evidence of distinctly unprocessed citrus fruit.

On Wednesday, he trumpeted the Government's achievement of a bumper electricity-generation season - glossing over the also-bumper price to householders, and the fact that it was lots of rain rather than governmental fiat that yielded the extra generation.

Yesterday, he appeared to be on a stickier wicket as Labour's Annette King continued to berate him for the revoltingly mouldy condition of some state housing. S

he produced blown-up photographs of some insalubrious interiors, and then related how in a particular dwelling, a new piece of lino had at long last been installed in a hallway only because it was realised that the minister was shortly to visit.

Rather than look embarrassed, Mr Heatley glowed. “I always thought I was a very effective minister!” he said, adding he bet Ms King never got “the red carpet treatment” like that.

Ms King asked if he would announce a second visit so the poor tenants could have “another new piece of lino”. She held up a photo of some unpromising beige-coloured floor-covering, but Mr Heatley beamed happily, as though his work there was done.

It was a day for ministers brazening out awkward questions.

Amy Adams, answering questions on behalf of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, seemed rather irritated that the Opposition would not take her word for it that there was no automatic link between the fact that the Government had asked for a list of Christchurch City Council's assets, and that it had told the council it expected it to “pay its share” of the region's rebuild.

The Opposition tried everything under the sun to get her to admit that the Government wanted the council to consider selling assets.

But Mrs Adams said the Government wanted the council to “consider all of its options” for funding its share of the rebuild. Wild horses could not get her to concede that “its options” included asset sales.

And Finance Minister Bill English said it was “defeatist” to dwell on new statistics showing every single provincial area was suffering population drain - or as Labour's David Parker preferred “being hollowed out by young people leaving for Australia”.

“You can't isolate the impact,” Mr English said - despite the fact that Mr Parker produced figures that did just that. But Mr English said it was pointless to consider the figures regionally. “It doesn't matter whether you count them regionally or nationally, you get the same result.”

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New Zealand needed to “get on with competing with Australia, instead of standing around counting everything”.

The most daring “There there!” head-patting strategy came from Trade Minister Tim Groser, examined by Green MP Kennedy Graham about the Foreign Affairs Ministry's failure to tender for some expensive consultancy work.

Mr Groser said there was nothing to be concerned about. “The type of consultant I'm aware of, most of whom I know personally over many years, are people of great international standing, of unrivalled expertise and of great integrity.”

Dr Graham did not subside gratefully to his bench exclaiming, “Oh, well, that's all right then.”

- The Dominion Post

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