Parliamentary Question Time: Winston's ego explosion
Winston Peters was standing to attention from the outset. His personal explanation to parliament is the most anticipated event this week. After mentioning the death of his mother Winston quickly rattled out the usual insults to the media and the "media ego explosion" surrounding the temerity of the press to inquire as to the nature of his web of slush funds. None was forthcoming. No surpises there - same old bluster. Ending with a final flourish of, "and that speaks volumes!" just to top off the string of non sequiturs. If anything was speaking volumes it was Rodney Hide's hideous yellow jacket. Dressed like a canary, Hide had more credibility than Winston could muster with his non "explanation".
Hide was left wondering how the brief statement consisting of media condemnation and insinuations was in any way a persoanal explanation: when granted leave for one "the custom is you make one." Cue threats from Winston about telling all on Hide. Rodney just laughs and shakes his head.
John Key then began his skirmishing. He kept asking the PM, repeatedly, about what Winston told her in their meeting. Clark reiterated that Winston's "behaviour has been lawful" because WInston had assured her. Every time Key mentioned the Spencer Trust and $25k from Bob Jones Clark came back with the Waitemata Trust and National's anonymous donors. Backwards and forwards.
Then Winston, bristling, attacked National backbencher Craig Foss for an undisclosed shareholding. He would do this again later. But this sort of dirt, revelation, lapse, call it what you will... allegation... met with no effect. His diversion tactics would not blunt the attack.
Clark had her shields up on full power. If anyone wanted to make something of it there were avenues to go down and authorities to ask - but not her.
When Key queried Clark's record and conceded that although Winston may have done nothing illegal she must act with "integrity" she reiterated that as an MP he is an honorable member and his word must be taken as correct. But she went further - she didn't have to, but she did - "I have never been led astray by him" she said. And as for the current issues he "declared it promptly."
At this stage Ron Mark's antics were becoming too much. Hide objected to the "threats" from Winston's barking protégé about declaring everything. Bouyed perhaps by his apprentice's carping, the master must have decided to give him a lesson in how to really counter-punch like a pro: he dredged up the case of a Green MP who had an affair with someone appearing before a select committee and had to excuse himself, before taunting Hide with a sexually themed: "why don't you tell the world what you['re ?] really like!?" That's how it's done, Ron. Multiple attacks on several parties and the innuendo of sleaze - all within a single outburst.
"We'll have none of that" the Speaker chastised. But of course we'll have more of exactly that in another ten minutes. The same sorts of warnings are issued during every question time I've ever heard.
With Key asking more supplimentaries to the PM along the hypocrisy line, Clark effectively turned the focus back to National's slush funds. Clark looked calm and business like, Key was a notch or three under how a forceful and commanding leader should sound. Key responded with a rehearsed line about her "high standards disapperaing like her poll ratings" prompting Clark's simmering bile to stream forth about his "slippery" nature and his weekend Agenda performance. This rarked things up. The pitch was now elevated. She called his MPs "dogs" and proclaimed "I've had a set of principles, he's never had one!" I note she spoke of her principles in the past tense.
The Speaker wasn't impressed where this was going and hit the most piercing of her legendary shrieks for order when her own rulings came under fire. I'm not alone in wondering how she copes with this circus.
Key had gotten under Clark's skin, at last. So Winston was happy now to use points of order to break up the assault and score some free hits: accusing Key of being a "bag man" for the Exclusive Brethren. But Key would persist: "integrity" he wondered was that still a principle she held? Her answer was a list of u-turns from Key about invading Iraq and that climate change was a hoax. But she chose to answer his question by saying she had "consistency"... rather than integrity? The two perhaps being the same thing in her mind.
Winston claimed that "Audrey finally got it right" that "the question was not raised in my company" - over the slush funds. I can't recall Winston ever apologising to a journo - only vindications for calling them liars. Today would be no different.
And after half an hour we got to change the subject with a question over Treasury's new forecasts. Bad. Cullen said there would be $3.5 billion deficits for the next few years - and a tax take $700 million below estimates. This makes any tax cut from National very tricky. Cullen's plans seem to be working.
Gerry Brownlee tried to draw David Parker into announcing the election date. Parker said that they were following constitutional conventions and not appointing people to boards within three months of an election. Therefore, Brownlee mused, the election must be on the 8th of November because of the timing of the last weeks deluge of appointments - including swathes of its Labour supporters. Parker didn't deny it, but curiously said that Brownlee "mis-states" the convention. (!?) Unhelpful.