The year of the fiasco

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 29/12/2013

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Take your pick - lamb chops or steak Winston grinning at the sidelines The public deserves answers on spying Spy scandal impact on election far from certain Big tick for democracy Backlash now going in Key's favour? Team left out in Labour campaign Picking a government could get a bit hairy 'Moment of truth' - do believe the hype Bombshell or bomb from Dotcom?

The year between elections is supposed to be the time to get down to business - steady as she goes, don't rock the boat is the mantra. But someone must have thrown away the rule book when 2013 dawned. Rocky was the order of the day.

The Government Communications Security Bureau was rarely out of the headlines, which is clearly a bad thing for an agency that prides itself on being "shadowy".

Kim Dotcom went to Parliament and indulged in a contest of the proverbial sort with Prime Minister John Key but it ended in a draw.

A suspected botulism find at Fonterra sent the country into a tailspin but it later turned out to be nothing.

Ministers resigned, others were sacked, and some, like Education Minister Hekia Parata, survived against the odds.

For most of the year, meanwhile, Labour MPs swore their loyalty to David Shearer but by year's end they were swearing their loyalty to the bloke they had tried to keep out for the past two years, David Cunliffe.

There were also moments when our politicians rose above the fray - the passing of the gay marriage bill brought out the best in MPs many of us had never heard of.

But if 2013 should be known as anything, it is the year r of the fiasco - of which there were many.

Fonterra - Oops

Prime Minister John Key will be jetting to China on an unscheduled trip early next year to say sorry for Fonterra's infant formula debacle. Dairy products including infant formula were withdrawn in more than seven countries but, after blaming a dirty pipe, subsequent testing showed it was a false alarm.

Colin Craig - Get that man a Tui

Is Conservative Party leader Colin Craig missing the scepticism gene? No matter how outlandish the theory, it seems he's got an open mind. Chem trails? Maybe. Was man ever on the Moon? That's a tough one. Flying pigs? Not ruling it out.

National must be privately alarmed at the growing tally of Craig-isms, given that they coincided with John Key intentionally warming to the prospect of a National-Conservative Party coalition. The fact that Key's ardour seems to have cooled lately suggests National is experiencing morning after regrets. The equation its strategists will be weighing up over summer is whether buddying up with Colin Craig does its own vote more harm than good. The potential for a Conservative Party train wreck can't be ruled out once the full blowtorch of publicity is applied on the campaign trial. But given its paucity of options, National may not have a choice anyway.

David Shearer - Something smells fishy

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National's proposal to lower the snapper catch had the nation's anglers up in arms and seemed like a gift to Labour. But David Shearer's stunt holding up a dead fish in Parliament was a gift to his opponents instead. Once his Labour Party colleagues started muttering darkly about the rot setting in, Shearer's leadership was dead in the water.

Aaron Gilmore - I am legend

National backbencher Aaron Gilmore earned notoriety after calling his waiter a dickhead, throwing his weight around as an "important" person and demanding of wait staff "don't you know who I am" during a night out at Hanmer Springs. Gilmore's resignation as a self-confessed "dickhead" guaranteed that the whole country knew who he was before the week was out.

John Banks - In the dog box

With the exception of his stand against animal testing, John Banks' return to national politics has gone from bad to worse since he stepped up as ACT's reluctant leader after winning Epsom. Banks thought he had seen off the threat of prosecution over anonymous donations to his Auckland mayoral campaign but hadn't reckoned on serial litigant Graham McCready. The success of the Wellington man's private prosecution means Banks will be in the dock next year to explain why donations from German internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom were declared as anonymous, when Dotcom insists Banks knew exactly where the money came from.

The bad blood between Banks and Dotcom stems back to the big German's stint in prison, when Banks apparently did not want to know him. The moral of the story? When a rich powerful man who has showered you with money and hospitality phones for help, pick up.

Labour - Pie in the Sky

Labour made hay out of the Government doing a deal with SkyCity for a convention centre and seemed to have right on its side when the auditor-general tut-tutted as well. But there was some explaining to do when four of its MPs were sprung leaving the SkyCity corporate box after the rugby. At least none of them was brazen enough to claim they were there to change Sky's mind.

Asset sales - Slip, sliding away...

The sale of shares in the state-owned energy companies was supposed to be the jewel in National's fiscal crown. But with proceeds falling well short of even the bottom range of Finance Minister Bill English's best guess, National seems to have lost its appetite for further asset sales.

The GCSB - Spies who came in from the cold

As many as 88 people may have been illegally spied on by the agency, according to a report by Cabinet secretary Rebecca Kitteridge. The furore forced a law change which saw the GCSB and Security Intelligence Service summoned to a public hearing at Parliament for the first time. It also spawned a slew of inquiries. The Henry inquiry was set up to investigate who leaked a copy of the Kitteridge report to Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance, and resulted in the resignation of UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne as a minister after he refused to hand over emails.

Subsequent admissions that the Henry inquiry was given Vance's phone, record and swipe card records sparked another inquiry, by Parliament's privileges committee, and prompted the resignation of Parliamentary Service boss Geoff Thorn.

- Sunday Star Times

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