Peter Dunne picks up John Key's ticking timebomb

Peter Dunne has written a blog post offering commentary on the SkyCity and Hobbit deals. Thing is, surely he needs to answer the very questions he poses to the Prime Minister

Good old Peter Dunne, eh? Always easy to underestimate, he often is much sharper and, from a media perspective, a better performer than he's given credit for. And now it seems he's reading Pundit and absorbing our (ahem) wise words. Or perhaps he and I are just thinking alike... should I be worried?

Back on February 22, I wrote a post called 'Pokies & Smokies: When the means and ends don't meet'. In it I wrote that John Key was a politician who focused on outcomes, but was less interested in how he got there; he was an ends man and bugger the means. My concern is that in politics -- when you're responsible for the public purse, setting standards in your use of power and representing the good name of New Zealand --  means matter a heck of a lot. What works in business doesn't always translate to public office.

Nevertheless, Key has become incredibly popular as a non-political politician in a post-partisan era. Being the goofy businessman PM has worked a treat. But my point was that getting too fast and loose with power could yet bite him in the backside.

Well, guess what Key's own coalition partner, United Future, is warning the Prime Minister about in his latest post? Dunne praises Key for focusing on getting things done with his "cut through approach", but goes on to issue a sage political warning (well, I would say that, wouldn't i?):

There is a time-bomb warning to the government here. Support for the cut through approach will wither if it is seen to be a standard proxy for bending the rules or doing special deals to achieve the desired outcome. While the government is not immediately vulnerable on this issue, the clock has started ticking.

And it is worth remembering the adage, the ends do not justify the means.

It's a carefully calibrated warning, with all the requisite sucking up done in the post's first few paragraphs. But it's telling that it's coming from a coalition partner and minister, someone who has had to develop a very shrewd reading of public opinion to hang onto his very middle New Zealand seat, Ohariu.

Dunne is no friends of the unions, yet even he can look at the dodgy Hobbit deal and say "the government’s enthusiasm for the movies being made here did get in the way of the facts".

It seems Dunne's post isn't a way for him to prepare the ground to vote against the SkyCity deal. He says he still backs it in principle, even though it will mean hundreds of extra pokies and the majority of problem gamblers are pokie addicts. Even though the deal seems to be a prime example of "cut through" veering into favours.

Indeed, Dunne says the government played "very fast and loose" on that deal. To be precise:

"But as the Auditor-General’s report shows, while there has been no impropriety in the process followed by the government, it did play very fast and loose at times."

Which raises the question -- and here's the thing -- of Dunne's comfort with looseness and appetite for expediency. Because his vote could be vital on this. He doesn't just get to say this could be a "major problem" for the government when he's part of that government and his vote is essential to the deal being passed into law.

While the deal is very much Key's own, Dunne must take responsibility for his vote and his place in the power game. A coalition partner, Minister of Revenue and Associate Minister of Conservation and Health can't just offer commentary; he has to decide whether being "fast and loose" and at odds with the facts matter to him. Or not.

Why would Dunne, or anyone for that matter, back a "fast and loose" deal? Isn't "fast and loose" a sufficiently pejorative term that, by definition, it's something you'd walk away from? 

Perhaps Dunne should heed his own warning and recognise that the ends don't always justify the means. In the end, is he happy for the ends to justify the loose means? Or does he expect more? If he thinks the deal is "very fast and loose", maybe he should take the next logical step and say that's something he wouldn't support.

Otherwise the ticking timebomb might go off in his hands.