Prime Minister desperate over mounting national concern about GM (2/9/2003)

"...she has taken to referring to herself as the Prime Minister - always a fatal sign - and now she regards herself as somehow above an appearance before a select committee of Parliament [investigating the Corngate allegations that the Government covered up GM contamination], even to answer questions on a matter that has left the head of her department, Mark Prebble, sorely embarrassed. Even "a popular and competent Prime Minister" [Clark's self-description] is supposed to be accountable under our system to a properly constituted inquiry by Parliament.

"If the Prime Minister is getting the idea that she is above such questions, she and her Government are indeed in trouble."

Editorial: PM starts to show perils of her office
New Zealand Herald, 3 September 2003
Greens: Clark desperate over GM
New Zealand Herald, 3 September 2003
By KEVIN TAYLOR political reporter
The Greens yesterday accused the Prime Minister of desperate attempts to divert attention from mounting national concern about genetic modification.

As the relationship between Labour and the Greens deteriorated further, the Greens' leadership said they would not relent in their fight against the release of genetically modified organisms.

Co-leaders Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald said Helen Clark was trying to create a distraction from the real issue - the end of the moratorium on commercial release of GM organisms on October 29.

"It's not over on the 29th ... That's the bad news for the Government," Ms Fitzsimons said. "The campaign goes on."

The Prime Minister said the attacks against her had got to the point where she could no longer stand back and accept her "enemies" calling her a liar. "Well, I don't lie."

Helen Clark fired the first shots on Monday, accusing Ms Fitzsimons of colluding with National MP Nick Smith on the Corngate inquiry committee she chairs to stir up dust before the moratorium ends.

Dr Smith has led Opposition attacks on Helen Clark's integrity by questioning how much she knew about the Government's management of the discovery in late 2000 of possible GM corn, citing memos kept secret before the last election by head of her department Dr Mark Prebble.

Author Nicky Hager alleged in Seeds of Distrust that the Government covered the issue up. The Prime Minister has denied detailed involvement, saying she was only "chair of the board".

Last week Ms Fitzsimons voted with Opposition MPs on the inquiry committee to call Helen Clark, a move Labour and United Future MPs defeated.

On Monday, Helen Clark flayed Ms Fitzsimons' handling of the inquiry and yesterday said that if Ms Fitzsimons could "keep the circus going" she would, and asked how her chairmanship could be fair when she had been prepared to pull a Labour Government down over GM in May last year.

Ms Fitzsimons said that was an "absurd statement".

 "They were the Prime Minister's words. What I said at the time was we will not support a government that allows that moratorium to lift." <P> Since the election the Greens have withheld confidence and supply support from the Government, working issue by issue, and Ms Fitzsimons said that position was unchanged.

The Greens would continue withholding support for the rest of this term. Any future coalition would depend entirely on the policy agreements reached.

Opposition MPs say Helen Clark's attack on Ms Fitzsimons is a diversion from the real issues.

Ms Hobbs defended the Government again in Parliament yesterday from the Opposition's claim - and a central allegation in Mr Hager's book - that a policy of tolerance to GM contamination was developed in late 2000 even though it was illegal.

She said the Government's policy continued to be zero tolerance, adding that some officials had been confused about "the notion of tolerance of contamination and tolerance of uncertainty".

 Helen Clark was grilled in the House about a letter written by a former policy adviser in the Prime Minister's Department, Ruth Wilkie, to Dr Prebble questioning his failure to release memos National claims may have altered the course of the election.

The letter noted that Mary Anne Thompson, head of the department's policy advisory group, had reported to both Ruth Wilkie and Dr Prebble that "the PM was prepared to have these notes released if necessary".

Helen Clark has denied knowing about Dr Prebble's decision, and yesterday she denied having a discussion which would have led Ruth Wilkie to write about such issues in the first place. The Prime Minister added that Dr Thompson had also confirmed no meeting took place with her.

Asked why an experienced civil servant would make a memo up about a meeting and discussion that never happened, Helen Clark said: "There was no meeting. Why officials wrote the memos they wrote is up to them to explain to others."

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