Labour massages the message

When Prime Minister Helen Clark made her comment about New Zealand being in a "benign strategic environment" it now seems she was not referring to the international situation but the Ministry for the Environment.

And it appears as though the appointment of Labour activist Clare Curran was more than just "unwise," as Ms Clark called it.

Ponder this: not only is Ms Curran a Labour Party member - and now a possible MP. Not only was she recommended by Minister for Climate Change David Parker to Ministry for the Environment chief executive Hugh Logan.

And not only did this come after the previous minister for the environment, David Benson-Pope, heavied another communications professional, Madeleine Setchell, out of her job because of whom her partner worked for.

But climate change is also a keystone Labour policy plank for next year's election.

Last year Ms Curran wrote a long paper for the Labour Party regional conference in Otago-Southland called Language Matters. The thrust of the paper is that Labour needs to make greater effort to "capture the language" to further its political agenda.

The paper specifically mentions climate change only once, but where it does is revealing. "Also, watch this space around climate change. This debate is 'heating up' around the world. At stake is the right of big business to control the way it does business."

Ms Curran then criticised the establishment of the New Zealand Climate Change Science Coalition, saying it represented "vested interests that don't want to change."

And she noted increasing debate in the US and Australia "around alternatives to the Kyoto Protocol which involve 'clean development for industry,'" which, she said, was "code for development on business' terms."

Now, remember: the government put pressure on the Ministry for the Environment (which, shamefully, caved in to that pressure) to get rid of a communications professional not because of her political affiliations but because of whom her partner worked for, and "suggested" that the ministry hire Ms Curran for some related communications work.

And now that it's out in the open, ministers are maintaining there was nothing inappropriate about Ms Curran's appointment.

There might not have been, were it not for the depth of Ms Curran's commitment to Labour's political agenda - and, of course, were it not for the small matter of what happened to Ms Setchell.

Ms Curran's paper focuses at length on what she thinks Labour needs to do to "capture the language."

"For although a lot of work has already been done on this, it clearly hasn't been effective enough because the vast majority of New Zealanders don't really 'get it.' And until they do - the hearts and minds of many New Zealanders could be beyond Labour's grasp, possibly for many years."

Ms Curran also argued that "the media doesn't create the message, they run with it" and that the party needs to do more to get the media running in a way that favours Labour. The paper also argues Labour should position itself as being "of the people" and National as being about "politics" and "enemies of the people."

And the person who wrote all this and was recommended to the ministry by a minister is someone the government now argues was not a political appointee. Yeah, right.

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