Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Heather Roy coup, and the liquor vote

August 18th, 2010


Image & Audio: Hide Ducks Questions on ACT Leadership Coup

The entire Act caucus would fit comfortably into a small rowing boat. If Rodney Hide can’t manage an internal discussion among five people about the party’s leadership without throwing people overboard, what on earth is he doing trying to organise the biggest city in the country? If he can’t tolerate dissent within his own micro-party, what credentials does he bring to the table for managing the various communities of interests within the Supercity?

The more reticent Hide is about his reasons for dumping Roy, the less likely it is that her sins were major. Forget the whispers of her trying to ‘topple’ Hide. She can do the math. She knew her only ally was Sir Roger Douglas. That’s two. The other three were solid, and three can always outvote two. Her sin had been to voice concerns last November about a strategy based on populism when Hide had just been caught jaunting overseas with his girlfriend at taxpayer expense. Despite the later repayment and penitence, the damage has been indelible.

Then, in her now notorious speech in February, Roy warned against the party’s continued reliance on winning Epsom. In context – she was at a party conference and trying to motivate the troops – it seemed like a perfectly ordinary exhortation to the faithful to go out and evangelise for the cause, and not rest on their laurels. Only in the deep recesses of the reptilian brain of her leader could that speech be construed as mutiny. Was Hide being chaffed by his boardroom buddies for not keeping that young lady in line? Maybe the real reason Rodney Hide dumped Heather Roy was a fit of ‘roidal rage at her insolent inversion of his initials.

In the end though, it probably came down to the perks. In all likelihood, Hide was simply not willing to let Roy continue to receive her $204,000 Cabinet minister’s salary for the next fifteen months, and so engineered a way to give it to his ally, John Boscawen instead. Hang the impact on the party : these guys know they’re toast. Electorally speaking, can there possibly be a less attractive triumvirate than Rodney Hide, John Boscawen and David Garrett? They’re an interesting argument for the proposition that over time, you start to look like your own economic theories. Ugly, ugly, and bugly.

Roy by contrast, brought youth, gender diversity and genuine competence to her roles in consumer affairs and defence. Her fate will be a lasting indictment of the thugs who demanded her silence. After all, when by by comparison, you make Roger Douglas look like the fount of democracy and the free play of ideas, you’re really in trouble. No less than Hide, Roy now owes it to the saner members of the public who voted for her party to explain the reasons for her dumping. Silence only perpetuates the Stalinist aura surrounding around these events. She has done nothing wrong – and she would be doing a great deal that is right by speaking up.

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The liquor vote

Conscience votes, to misquote the Bard, can make cowards of us all. There is no useful connection to be made between raising the age for buying alcohol – on, or off, licensed premises – and the culture of binge drinking. Experts like Professor David Sellman of the National Addiction Centre believe that the plan to raise the off-license age to 20 is not dealing with the underlying problems of binge drinking.

“There is a key strategy on the part of the Government to label New Zealand’s drinking culture as a youth problem.”Professor Sellman said. 92 per cent of “problem drinkers” were over the age of 20 and this is where the Government needs to put its attention.

What this “conscience” vote will be is an exercise in tokenism, one that treats the young as politically useful scapegoats. The Keep it 18 grouping (made up of the youth wings of Labour, National, Act and the Greens) is absolutely right in urging MPs not to hop on this particular bandwagon.

Despite their efforts, Parliament is likely to favour the so called “ split” option – whereby people can drink on licensed premises at 18, but not buy alcohol from off-license liquor outlets until they are 20. True, this is a lesser evil than the utterly barmy idea of raising the purchase age to 20 right across the board. That route would have major repercussions for bars, music venues and a whole swathe of youth culture – again, for no genuine reason, beyond enabling the politicians to look as if they are doing something.

The response to binge drinking has to be managed across the entire community. Given the place alcohol has within the habits of many of the MPs exercising their ‘conscience’ vote, their consciences should be troubled by any moves to crack down on the young, especially if they aim to vote for denying the right to purchase alcohol to 18 and 19 year olds, on or off license.

There is an alternative. Keep it 18 in the meantime. Vote the funds to tackle this problem properly and – especially – be willing to curtail the way the liquor industry peddles its drugs to the community. A fairer, less unequal society where people didn’t feel impelled to drown their sorrows in alcohol would be a help, too.

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