The ratings for TVNZ's Seven Sharp
may be going
through the floor with (older) viewers finding little
sustenance in the show's anaemic diet which mixes social
media-heavy with current affairs lite.
However, last Wednesday's programme truly captured the moment
in screening a punch-drunk Richard Prosser recoiling in
horror at finding himself trapped in a media maelstrom of his
own silly making. His eyes were almost popping out of his
head. His face wore the blank stare of someone who could not
quite comprehend what was happening to them. The NZ First MP
did not know where to look or which way to to turn as he was
relentlessly hounded by Seven Sharp's reporter. Mr
Prosser did not project the confident glow of someone who
once described himself as a ''freedom-loving, gonad-equipped,
The NZ First MP's body language was closer to his put-down of
small ''l'' liberals as ''namby-pamby, thumb-sucking, lefty
pinko fantasy-land morons''. Not since Act's David Garrett
incurred the wrath of Parliament for revealing he had once
stolen the identity of a dead baby to obtain a false passport
has an MP been deluged with such high volumes of verbal acid
and outright contempt as that which rained down on Mr Prosser
this week following his blundering blunderbuss discharge at
all things Muslim. Unlike Mr Garrett, who resigned from
Parliament, Mr Prosser appears to have survived and will
continue to pick up a backbencher's $145,000 salary for the
next two years at least. The many people now questioning Mr
Prosser's fitness to be an MP will be asking why that will be
The answer is pure and simple - politics. Mr Prosser has the
immense good fortune to be an MP in a party which can get
away with a lot before next year's election because it will
be a major factor in determining who governs afterwards. Mr
Garrett belonged to a party which, realistically, can only
back a National-led administration and which, at the time,
was seen as being on its death-bed.
Although there were widespread calls from outside Parliament
for Mr Prosser to quit (or be made to quit) his job as an MP,
the comparative silence on that score inside the institution
was a significant factor in saving him from a forced
resignation. Politicians from other parties were quick to
condemn Mr Prosser for his ravings against Muslims and accord
him pariah status.
But when reporters' questions turned to such pertinent
matters as whether those same politicians could still work
with NZ First if Mr Prosser remained a member of that party's
caucus, words suddenly deserted them. They would not comment
on the hypothetical. They said it was far too early in the
electoral cycle. What they were not saying was that both
Labour and National may well be locked in the Mother of All
Bidding Wars to get Winston Peters' signature on a coalition
or co-operation agreement following next year's election.
Neither John Key nor David Shearer are going to blot their
copybook with Mr Peters over something as relatively trivial
as Mr Prosser's indiscretions. The caution was evident in the
motion placed before Parliament to try to counter any
embarrassment New Zealand might have copped in other
This should have been a Government initiative. It was the
work of the Greens. It looked as if the motion had been
watered down to attract the widest possible support across
Parliament. It made no mention of Mr Prosser or NZ First. The
hardest-hitting statement came from Metiria Turei, the Greens
co-leader. But it really was not that hard-hitting at all.
She warned that if NZ First kept Mr Prosser on board ''there
will be costs of that to them''. She declined to say what
those costs would be.
The net result of this collective walking on eggshells was
the absence of pressure within Parliament for Mr Prosser's
Without that,Mr Peters could safely ignore outside calls for
Mr Prosser's resignation. The episode has highlighted the
importance the parties are giving to coalition manoeuvrings
even though the next election is some 20 months away. The
most visible sign of attempts to build ties is the
manufacturing inquiry sponsored by Labour, the Greens, NZ
First and the Mana Party. The inquiry has no official status
and National can ignore its findings.
The big question is how far consensus will stretch across the
range of other economic management issues to allow those
parties to produce a coherent and agreed alternative to
National's less hands-on approach. The exercise is all about
showing the parties can co-operate to a level which
demonstrates that a Labour-Greens-NZ First-Mana governing
arrangement would be stable. National will say such an
arrangement is inherently unstable.
A lot more, therefore, hangs on the results of the
manufacturing inquiry than might appear to be the case. The
inquiry also presents a challenge to Labour to come up with
an agreed policy prescription that makes it harder for Mr
Peters to do a deal with National after the election.
Just how tricky this is was highlighted by the latest Roy
Morgan poll which had Labour and the Greens rating
sufficiently highly to be able to govern without Mr Peters.
That would be ideal for both parties. but it is not very
realistic. Mr Peters is not going to tolerate being some
off-course substitute who only comes into play if his party
is needed to make up the numbers.
Labour may have to accept a pre-condition that he is part of
a Labour-led Government whatever happens seats-wise. His
party's presence may also be necessary for another reason.
For the first time since the introduction of MMP in 1996, the
party with the most votes may not end up governing. A
governing arrangement of also-rans will need as many of them
on board as possible to engender authority. Such are the
complexities exercising the minds of party leaders from here
on. In that light, Richard Prosser is an utter irrelevance.
- John Armstong is The New Zealand
Herald political correspondent.