Scrumming to get a quiet shout in PM's ear

RUSSELL HARDING
Last updated 10:25 12/02/2013
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JOSTLE, JOSTLE: Prime Minister John Key is led on to Te Tii Marae.

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Russell Harding

Rescuers from all directions The New Zealand elite are doing nicely, and now we know why Not-so-sweet dreams of slippery poles Choose carefully when airing your opinions Date with The Boss takes fans to promised land Move housing debate from grand to smart Rock star role feels like small change She may be old, but she's still a beauty Go-getters turn to trivia Leadership's all well and good, if it's on the right track

I flew back into Nelson airport yesterday. It is good to be home. Protesting up in Waitangi sure takes it out of you.

I was invited up to Waitangi by the Permanently Aggrieved Society. As their Top of the South delegate, I was given an opportunity to escort the Prime Minister on to the meeting house at Waitangi.

When I say "given an opportunity", I mean no-one stopped me.

And when I say "meeting house" I'm not talking about Te Tii Marae. I'm talking about the Grievances and Grumbles Marae - it's up the road a bit from Te Tii. We host the Prime Minister the day after Waitangi Day.

Sure, it's a lesser known meeting house than Te Tii Marae, but GG Marae has its place.

There was quite a scrum on the day, but I got my turn, taking the Prime Minister by the arm, and having a quiet shout in his ear. And he heard me all right. At least his left ear did. Someone was having a go in his right ear at the time.

It's always an early start on the day. At the entrance of GG Marae, lobbyists, union representatives and the permanently aggrieved stand shoulder to shoulder jockeying for the best spot. We are each ready to grab the Prime Minister by the arm, so he may walk a few steps in (and on top of) our shoes.

This year it took a while for the scrum of the aggrieved to set, but once it had word was given to the PM's minders.

The ministerial car stopped doing laps of the car park and the PM hopped out. He'd only been doing laps for 40 minutes.

The Prime Minister entered the pack and we lurched towards the arms that pull the levers of power. To be honest, when I finally got hold of one of these arms, I was disappointed. They were a little flabby.

The first person I saw grab our leader's left arm was a manufacturer's union rep.

"Prime Minister, it's getting worse. You've heard the news. 192 made redundant in Oamaru this time. The factory has been there for 130 years. They were the second biggest employer in the town. We've got to do something about the Kiwi dollar."

"Yes, yes. We will. We are. Bill's looking into it. He's from down there somewhere . . ."

But before he could finish, the man with his right arm was into his right ear.

"Prime Minister. We've got a real problem. It's about the live shipment of 7200 cows we sent from Timaru to China last week."

"Yes. They tell me it's the equivalent of nine large dairy farms. Quite a lot of intellectual property there. Makes the Crafar farms look small fry. I'll have Maurice look into it." The PM seemed well informed.

"No Prime Minister, it's about the ships. They're not big enough. We need to send more."

"Right, right. Bigger ships. I'll get Steven to call you."

"Prime Minister . . . First Homebuyers Association of Auckland rep here . . . "

"Good luck to you young man" the Prime Minister replied.

"It's about absentee landowners; they're stopping New Zealanders from getting their foot in the door . . . "

"Yes, you're right, every New Zealander should be able to buy a door, I'll get Phil . . . no, wait, I'll get Nick to look into the price of doors."

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"John, John, over here . . . "

"Ah Roger . . . "

"Look, we just need a little more time, the trickle-down is starting to trickle. The signs are everywhere; I've got some figures here to prove it."

"Send them through to my office Roger."

And then it was my turn. All that scrum practice last season with my son's under-12 team didn't go to waste.

"Prime Minister . . . Permanently Aggrieved Top of the South delegate . . . It's about the Novopay inquiry," I say.

"Yes, we've got two talented individuals looking into that."

"But $500,000 Prime Minister . . . I reckon . . ."

"Labour handed us a real pig . . . should have put a bell around its neck and a gay red top on it . . . the inquiry will prove it."

"I reckon I could do it for $450,000" I interrupt. "Tell me what to find, I'll find it. Tell me when you want me to find it, I'll release my findings then . . . On second thoughts, make it $400,000."

The Prime Minister smiled and he winked and then his arm was ripped from mine and replaced by another. And then he was gone.

Later I was told my place by the side of the Prime Minister was taken by a Belarusian shotputter.

Apparently the team at Seven Sharp had run a Facebook poll as to who should escort the PM on to the marae. Their producers had flown Nadzeya Ostapchuk into the country on Waitangi Day.

No wonder the last thing I heard the Prime Minister talking about was gold medals. But I guess gold medals and our national day of celebration go arm in arm.

- Nelson

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