Aug 28, 2008

Final Dispatch

For Prime Minister Rudd From Dauth

Prime Minister

This message supplements my formal valedictory sent yesterday.

I am deeply honoured to be heading off today for my new assignment as High Commissioner in London, and I am looking forward to the new job enormously. However I have to say that I am regretting leaving New Zealand at this most fascinating of times. I wish that I could have remained here until the election, an election which might come sooner than we have been forecasting.

There are some in New Zealand who talk about the country slipping from first world status to third world. They normally talk about such a shift in the context of the the economy. But the last two days have seen New Zealand politics transform into something closer to the farce I witnessed in Kuala Lumpur than what we would expect from a country of our supposed type. While in Kuala Lumpur I witnessed the Government fabricate charges against Anwar to remove him from politics, here we have a Government trying to prop up a corrupt and increasingly pathetic Minister with tactics and excuses that are by the minute losing credibility.

Corruption is one of the sadder things to witness as an outside observer. And I have witnessed the last two days successive corruptions of the New Zealand political process. First the Government supported Winston Peters by misusing standing orders to shut down a question about Peters accepting bribes. Then yesterday when more damning news came about about a political donation, a donation which shows Winston Peters up as the pathetic liar he is, the Government tried to shut the political process down completely by insisting on a debate on Police use of tasers. Hardly an issue of great importance.

The Clark/Simpson Government has been able to get away with having Winston Peters in Government up until now as opposition to Peters had been largely restricted to the ACT and Green parties. The National Party has been consistently weak kneed with regard to Peters because there was always the prospect that post election Peters might hold the balance of power.
That changed yesterday when the National Party finally showed courage and leadership by stating that it would not have Peters in a National led Government. In this one gesture National has neutered Peters as a political force. Peters thrives on being the centre of attention and his role as king maker. He played this role as recently as the last couple of days over climate change legislation. Now the electorate knows that a vote for Labour is potentially a vote for New Zealand First, a vote for New Zealand First is also potentially a vote for Labour. This puts the National Party in a strong position and greatly weakens Labour's position. This is a growing concern to many in the Labour cabinet.

My own view is that Helen Clark will be forced to cut ties with Peters lest she too is seen by the electorate to be corrupt, or at least, accepting of corruption and dishonesty in her senior Ministers. I am frankly surprised that she has not yet fired Peters. She needed his votes for her climate change legislation, and earlier for the final confidence vote in Parliament, but wouldn't she have received greater support if she had taken the moral high ground and fired Peters for lying? It may be she needs to pass this climate change legislation to bolster her CV with a view to her post Parliamentary career, but the cost to her Party is potentially enormous. I sense a major shift in opinion occurring with the last vestiges of support for Labour disappearing from the various elites with which we interact. Reading the major newspapers today I could not find one sign of support for the Prime Minister's actions in keeping Peters in his job.

While my formal message yesterday was suggesting that Labour still had a slight chance of governing post election, I now think that chances of a fourth term for Helen Clark have all but disappeared. The electorate is embarrassed by what they are witnessing and they know what to do to change things. John Key is now looking as if he is heading for a convincing victory. While the Prime Minister might not be able to bring herself to end the Winston Peters era in New Zealand politics I feel the electorate will. And New Zealand will be a much better place without him.

I wish my colleagues at the High Commission well. They are in for a interesting few weeks. I will be monitoring developments from Canberra then London with great interest.

I look forward to calling on you and your colleagues in Canberra over the next couple of weeks.