Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Mild-mannered Matt Robson, former Alliance MP, has been hauled before the Privileges Committee, which he once chaired, after a complaint was made by Peter Dunne. The Committee has told Mr Robson to apologise for suggesting in a Scoop column that the alcohol and tobacco industries supported Mr Dunne and he had "always faithfully delivered his vote for their interests."

What, you may ask, is going on? Is this be the same Peter Dunne, leader of the Sensible Party? Yes, it is. Older readers may remember that Peter Dunne did rather well in the 2002 General Election by stressing the virtues of common sense and moderation. The voters flocked to his side. Then they realised that he may be sensible but the rest of his party was barking.

To plagiarise myself, after he left the Labour Party, Peter Dunne formed Future New Zealand, which then merged with United to become United New Zealand. Then United New Zealand merged with another Future New Zealand, to become United Future New Zealand. The party went on to roam the political landscape absorbing other odd little parties, including Outdoor Recreation, who had guns.

For several years Peter Dunne was his party's sole MP but his success in the 2002 election gained him lots of List votes. It was the second Future New Zealand who formed much of the party caucus. Unbeknownst to most voters, they were once called the Christian Democrats. Their ranks included Paul Adams, who fasted to prevent the Civil Unions Bill passing, and 'Doctor' Bernie Ogilvy. Before entering Parliament, most of them seemed to have been youth workers, missionaries or pastors. They were very keen on The Family.

These were not the sort of people to approve of cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild, women. But their leader was different from them. Like the heroine of Wolf-Ferrari's opera, Susanna's Secret, he had a hidden vice. Whilst his caucus was fretting about Civil Unions and teenage mothers, he would sneak away to sate his desires. As any tobacco addict will tell you, once you have had one you immediately want another. The Dominion Post of 10th August 2002 recorded his transgressions:
Mr Dunne's record on smoking includes being the only MP to vote against the 1997 Smokefree Environments Amendment Bill [which included a proposal to raise the age of sale of tobacco to young people from 16 to 18]; attacking the removal of fines for young people buying tobacco, despite no evidence the fines worked; accusing the Government of "continuing to roll over to the insatiable demands of the [Health Ministry] health police; asking the speaker of the House to investigate ASH for contempt for implying he was under the control of the tobacco industry. The action was dropped when ASH apologised; voting against sending the Smokefree Environments Enhanced Protection Amendment Bill to the Health Select Committee; labelling tobacco control laws a failure.
Although Peter had good, clean-living friends in Caucus, by the 2005 election he was hanging around with a bad crowd. He had met the WIN Party and quickly formed an alliance with them. The WIN Party (optimistically named, since their chances of winning anything were very slim) was founded by disgruntled publicans to oppose the Government's ban on smoking in bars. Their aim was to create a patrons' revolution against the nanny state. Somehow, it never happened. Not only that, but Peter lost most of his fundy friends in the election and now is it just him, Gordon Copeland and Judy Turner in Parliament.

Mr Dunne's distaste for controls on smoking has earned him the nickname of Peter Dunhill in the smokefree rooms of Parliament. His activities have also attracted the attention of a medical professional: George Thomson of the Department of Public Health at the Wellington School of Medicine & Health Sciences has written on Peter Dunne and tobacco issues.

That is not all. While opposing restrictions on smoking, United Future is vehemently opposed to cannabis. The price of giving its support to the Government was a pledge that there would be no change to the laws on cannabis. This rather irked the Green Party, who had their revenge in Parliament on Wednesday, 15th October 2003.

As Scoop reported at the time, Jeanette Fitzsimmons was refused permission to table a letter in Parliament during question time, during a question to Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen from Peter Dunne about the Ministry of Health's funding of anti-tobacco legislation lobbying. The letter was from British American Tobacco in London and read as follows:
Dear Mr Dunne,

Paul Adams has asked me to send you the enclosed £100 to help pay for your "Awayday". I do hope you will enjoy yourselves.

If at all possible, I should be grateful if you could get receipts for your expenses and pass them on to the driver - even large companies have to account for their money!

Enjoy your visit to England.

Yours Sincerely,

Jean Macy
Secretary to Paul Adams
According to Scoop, Peter Dunne "promptly sought leave to make a personal explanation. He then explained that the letter dated back to 1994 and related to reimbursement of luncheon expenses incurred by himself and his family while on a private visit to the United Kingdom. United Party MP Paul Adams also sought leave to make a personal explanation to explain that the Paul Adams who signed the letter was not him."

Leaving aside the Mr Adams' obvious discomfort at being wrongly associated with a tobacco company, this letter raises some interesting questions. BAT were very generous with the lunch money. Admittedly, in The Old Country, an indifferent ploughman's lunch can cost you the best part of a tenner, even if you can find an indifferent ploughman; but a hundred quid would more than cover the costs, even with a couple of bags of pork scratchings, some cheese 'n' onion crisps and some tizer for the kids.

And what is an 'awayday?' British Rail used to offer awaydays, which were off-peak family tickets, but it seems Mr Dunne did not need to let the train take the strain because he had a driver. So it was not just lunch but also a car, supplied by British American Tobacco. Where did they go? What did they see? Did they buy souvenirs? I think we should be told.

I think we should also be asking why it is Mr Robson who is being censured by the Privileges Committee.


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Ashley Williams said...

Its really informative!! Thanks :)