Puffing and pandas at PM's press pow-wow

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Rob Hosking

Bill English once famously remarked about John Key “jumping from cloud to cloud."

It’s a fair bet the clouds won’t be of cigarette smoke. The Prime Minister’s post cabinet press conference yesterday, conducted just an hour after Corrections Minister Judith Collins had announced prisons would go smoke free, saw another going over of the issue.

Lest anyone think this is a case of some sort of empathy from fellow smokers, it should be said that the stereotypical chain-smoking journalist is a thing of the past. There are only about half a dozen smokers left in a press gallery of 40 plus journalists, and they form a small huddle outside the back entrance to Parliament from time to time.

But the move to stub out smoking in prisons is raw politics, of course. The idea seems to be to get the government attacked by those who would stick up for prisoners’ rights, and thus make the government look tough on crims.

There is nothing like being attacked by the Howard League for Penal Reform, or some other body made up largely of criminal lawyers, to make a politician look good.

Some prisoners might get “grizzly,” Mr Key said – a word he used several times, and one that conjures images of a great bear-like hulk tearing through the bars and demanding a nicotine fix.

They won't be panda bears tough. The press conference eventually got on to the move to import some cuddly pandas – much to the PM’s obvious pleasure, as people had started asking about the emissions trading scheme.

Mr Key conceded the ETS would add to household costs faster than to business costs but also said a tougher regime for business would have meant more households losing all their income due to job losses.

He also took a swipe at electricity firms putting up prices above the costs – Contact Energy was the only firm he named, and significantly it’s the only large firm not owned by the government.

Genesis, he pointed out, is the firm most affected by the ETS because it runs the coal-fired Huntly power station, and it is not putting up prices, yet, anyway.

But, quick! Let's talk about pandas. Cute pandas.

Nothing cloudy there. Nothing at all.

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