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Brownlee - the comparison

Big and booming, with almost as bad a haircut, National member of Parliament Gerry Brownlee was compared to the early David Lange when he was first elected to Parliament in 1996.

Tuesday, October 16th 2001, 3:22PM

Brownlee - from the Christchurch Ilam electorate (basically the old blue ribbon Fendalton with a few less wealthy areas thrown in) was one of the stars of that intake, aggressive and cheeky in debate, quick to pick up the rough-house element in the House and mixing it with the then Labour opposition.

An oft-heard comment among the other new intake of National MPs that year was that they had to "be more like Gerry".

Of course, shenanigans at question time seldom register with the wider public. Probably Brownlee's most publicised moment came at a National Party regional conference, when he threw a protester out and down some stairs. Footage of the incident was run lovingly on television for a couple of nights. It was a graphic illustration of his political approach - brash, upfront, but not too subtle.

Brownlee is also a Shipley supporter. He shares her background in the Canterbury-Westland division of the National Party, and is also a former teacher - in his case, woodwork.

The Lange comparison should not be taken too far - Brownlee may have the former PM's frame, and attention-grabbing voice, but he does not have the same sharp wit. His style is more the political bludgeon rather than the rapier. In rugby terms, he is a lock or a prop rather than a winger.

He knows his stuff in the House. He served as a whip in the latter days of the last term, and his other role, as shadow Leader of the House, will take up much of his time, as will his third political "hat" - ACC.

His appointment to the superannuation job should give cynics a bit of a field day. Brownlee's star has been seen as waning in some quarters of the party - the feeling is that, for all his promise, he failed, as education spokesman, to dent Minister of Education Trevor Mallard.

And because he has been given such a heavy workload, it does rather look as if new party leader Bill English has given Brownlee the sort of job that makes or breaks careers.

It is as if the new leader is saying "OK hotshot, let's see what you're really made of."

The fact that Brownlee is a Shipley supporter should also not go unnoticed.

The appointment does roll the superannuation job into one - previously it was split between English, who looked after policy for future retirees, and Lynda Scott, a first term MP from Kaikoura, who looked after issues relating to current retirees.

That led some to suspect that National planned to alter the entitlements of future retirees, while 'grandparenting' the current policy. English specifically denied this - constantly - and now seems highly unlikely to attempt anything so politically daring.

National has been burnt too many times by the issue, and is palpably gun-shy on the topic. If it were to alter entitlements, the party would announce these changes well in advance of any election, so as to get people used to the idea - similar to the approach Labour took with its 39% top tax rate, and also the re-nationalisation of ACC. That means no change at least until 2003 - next year's poll is too close.

Superannuation is at the core of a wider issue that English wants to address - the corrosive mistrust of politicians. National would reverse the government's current policy of a large fund for future retirees - the party believes the government will not have enough money in the next year to fund its other polices., let alone put aside $600 million from a surplus which will probably not exist by then - but otherwise believes the current payments are sustainable for the next generation.

In other words, the party will attack the Cullen Fund for the risks and the costs involved, while arguing that the current arrangement is affordable and does not need changing. Brownlee - who is good on attack - is an ideal spokesman on this.

« English sheds super roleAMP & Good Returns launch superannuation website »

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