Andrew Little has looked subdued and perhaps uncomfortable in Parliament this week. He is operating in the shadow of Winston Peters, who is at his best/worst at stirring up the House. This winds up John Key into full flight, and it’s not something that Little enjoys by the look of him yesterday.
Question Time was led by Peters, who again tested David Carter’s patience and was again threatened with ejection. NZ First colleague Ron Mark also joined the fray, fraying the patience of the Speaker.
Key revelled in the heated atmosphere, perhaps it is a release valve from his perpetual pressures as Prime Minister. It doesn’t look pretty at times.
After a patsy question it was Little’s turn to be ridiculed, and that happened at Key’s first opportunity. Not surprisingly Little didn’t seem to like it.
[Sitting date: 01 April 2015. Volume:704;Page:4. Text is subject to correction.]
3. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that “falling off a high horse in Northland can force ACC levies up”; if so, is that why the Government has set work and earners levies above the levels recommended by ACC?
Mr SPEAKER : Order!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : —yes and no.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! It is that sort of start to the answer that does not help the order of this House.
But the point had been made – earlier in the week Little tried to talk up his status as ‘Leader of the Opposition’ but after handing over everything to Peters in Northland he is also being overshadowed substantially by Peters in Parliament.
The exchange ended with a a weakly asked question from Little, responded to very strongly by Key.
Little has a double challenge – trying to assert some sort of ascendancy over Peters, and if he manages that trying to go toe to toe with Key.
At least with Russel Norman bowing out of leadership last year’s dominant Opposition leader Little doesn’t have to compete there as well. For now.
But trying to better Peters and equal Key will be difficult, especially since rolling over to Peters in Northland. Parliament now has a three week recess (politicians get a long Easter), giving Little and his strategy team to think of a way of standing tall.
In Parliament yesterday he looked stooped.
The rest of Question 3 transcript:
Andrew Little : Is his concern about horses in Northland really about high horses, or well-run thoroughbreds?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : All I know is that in 2014, like in 2011 and 2008, we went off to the races and we won big time.
Andrew Little : Given that ACC itself has recommended against the $350 million overcharge, why is National forcing Kiwi businesses and workers to pay excess ACC levies that even ACC says it does not want or need?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I would remind the member, firstly, that the ACC board often makes a range of recommendations. In 2010-11 the Government actually increased ACC levies by $1.137 billion less than what was recommended by ACC. Today, actually, I read an interesting quote that said the following: “The Employers’ levy remains the same at an average of 90 cents per $100 of payroll. Although ACC recommended a reduced levy rate of 85 cents, the government decided there was a need to give employers more stability in levy rates from year to year, as well as building up reserves.” That was from Lianne Dalziel, Labour’s ACC Minister in 2002-03.
Andrew Little : Moving on 13 years to this year, is it in the public interest, particularly the interests of levy payers, for ACC to take more in levies than it needs and more than it wants when its work and earners accounts are already overflowing; if so, how?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I take it from the member that he is thinking that we should do as he says, not as Labour has done. That seems to be the subtext of his question. I go back to the point I made earlier. Over time the ACC board has made a series of recommendations. The Government adopts what it thinks is right. It is on track to do that. As you know, from 1 April—today—there have been further cuts. There will be more on 1 July, I think from memory. It is on track for about $1.5 billion worth of cuts in the last 12 to 18 months alone.
Andrew Little : Given his failure to end his ACC rip-off this year, will he now commit to cutting next year’s ACC levies by at least $350 million in the coming Budget; if not, why on earth not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : What the Government will do is get a further set of recommendations, as is required by law, from the ACC board and consider those in context. But I would make a couple of points, and that is that if one looks at ACC and the factors that drive its levy recommendations, one sees that there are a number of moving factors in there, including the discount rate. So the member just better be a little bit careful what he wishes for, because the ACC board may well come out with a recommendation he does not like.
Andrew Little : Why did he fail to tell New Zealanders that most of his ACC reductions were just reversing his Government’s earlier levy hikes, put in place because of Nick Smith’s creative and fake crisis as the smokescreen for privatisation? Why does he not reverse those? Tell the truth.
Mr SPEAKER : Order!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : It is true that this Government put up ACC levies when we first came into office. [Interruption] Interestingly enough, the member says “unnecessarily”. The recommendation from the board, which, by the way, he wants us to adopt this year, was to put them up by $1.3 billion, and the reason the board wanted them to go up by so much was that Labour left ACC unfunded and broke. What a disgrace from the Labour Opposition. What a disgrace.