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Top Political Stories For 2009

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Fuseworks Media
Top Political Stories For 2009

Wellington, Dec 29 NZPA - The top political stories for 2009.

THE ECONOMY

The year dawned under the cloud of a global financial crisis. The economy and recession dominated the year in politics, seeing numbers on the unemployment benefits soar to around 60,000 and bleak Crown accounts threaten New Zealand's credit rating. Finance Minister Bill English presented a grim budget and forewarned of further tightening as the Government tried to manage its borrowing, which was expected to double by 2014 to $40 billion. A job summit between business, unions and government showed how serious everyone took the situation. The year closed with a small but significant GDP rise of 0.2 percent.

EMISSIONS TRADING SCHEME (ETS).

Following consideration by a parliamentary committee the Government passed its own ETS legislation -- a modified version of the one passed by the previous Labour Government just before last year's election.

The Maori Party came to the rescue as attempts at a bipartisan approach fell over. For their efforts they secured gains for iwi.

The new version was easier on big polluters and meant smaller energy and petrol price increases than under the former scheme.

The ETS will eventually bring all sectors of the economy under a regime designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a carbon trading scheme.

ACC

ACC Minister Nick Smith laid the ground for cutbacks and increased levies, saying the insurer was insolvent.

He said its liabilities were $22 billion compared to assets worth $10 billion with costs more than doubling since 2000. ACC issued its recommended levy increases, which saw protests around the country from motorcyclists and other groups before the Government agreed to lower the proposed increases. Labour accused it of scaremongering. Some entitlements were dropped and others made more difficult to access as ACC sought to save $2b. Legislation was passed after the Maori Party and ACT agreed to support it.

MPS' EXPENSES

Responding to outrage in Britain over politicians' extravagant spending, Prime Minister John Key encouraged Speaker Lockwood Smith to lift the secrecy here. While there were no bills for moat cleaning, Finance Minister Bill English came in for a lot of unwanted attention over changes to ownership arrangements which allowed him to draw a larger allowance for living in his home than he would otherwise. At a time when the Government was telling the country's citizens to tighten their belts it was a little hard to swallow.

ACT leader Rodney Hide didn't cover himself in glory either, forgetting his perk-busting past and taking partner Louise Crome on an expensive international trip. Other MPs in the gun over expenses included ACT's Sir Roger Douglas and Labour's Chris Carter. Mr English paid all the money back and said he wouldn't apply for any more, while Mr Hide apologised and refunded as well.

RICHARD WORTH

The only minister to have to resign this year. Dr Worth quit his internal affairs portfolio on June 2 after Prime Minister John Key said he no longer had his confidence and just over a week later left Parliament altogether.

He was at the centre of two scandals; one an allegation of a sexual nature against a Korean woman who complained to police. Having completed their investigation police closed the file without charging him.

The scandal involved a Labour Party woman Neelam Choudhary who said he harassed her with inappropriate texts and phone calls. Labour leader Phil Goff was tainted by the scandal because he didn't reveal she was a Labour activist when talking to journalists about her allegations.

Mr Key never made public his reason for losing confidence in Dr Worth.

HONE HARAWIRA

Maori MP Hone Harawira came under fire after skipping off during a work trip to Brussels to see the sights in Paris with his wife Hilda. He batted back criticisms, saying he was only answerable to his electorate and when a party supporter Buddy Mikaere emailed to ask him what the story was he blew his top. He accused Mr Mikaere of buying into "white man's bullshit" and he described pakeha as "white motherf...ers". The nation was outraged and Mr Harawira delivered an apology but it was so conditional the rift was not healed and the party leadership suggested he might be happier as an independent. After a few weeks in his electorate it was decided he could stay on but skipped the last couple of weeks in Parliament so he could have a fresh start next year.

SMACKING

The Government stuck to its guns and refused to change child discipline laws after a citizen's initiated referendum overwhelmingly called for change.

A subsequent review report by Police Commissioner Howard Broad, Social Development Ministry chief executive Peter Hughes and clinical psychologist Nigel Latta found no evidence police or welfare staff were reacting inappropriately.

The law as it stands bans smacking for the purposes of correction, but police have the discretion not to prosecute for inconsequential smacks. The law was seen as interference in family life by many and this year several protests drew large crowds.

SUPER CITY

The reform of local governance for Auckland City was a massive task. It was led by Local Government Minister Rodney Hide, who faced several controversies including anger at the lack of Maori representation on the final council and concern that boundaries would divide communities.

The Local Government Commission last month (eds: November) revealed its plan for boundaries, local boards and the council itself.

Labour have pledged to fight the boundaries and structure saying they favour the wealthier communities.

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