Chauvel eyes next chal­lenge


Labour MP Charles Chauvel leaves Par­lia­ment on March 11 for a job with the United Na­tions Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme.

For eight years, Chauvel has been a strong voice on poverty and cli­mate change, and his exit leaves Labour with no ob­vi­ous alternative as shadow at­tor­neygen­eral. Ask him for his main achieve­ment though and he’ll cite a nar­row de­feat in­stead – namely, the vot­ing down of his at­tempt to reg­u­late the loan shark in­dus­try that preys upon the likes of Porirua and South Auck­land peo­ple.

The need for re­form hasn’t van­ished. If any­thing, loan shark­ing has only got worse, he said, since his bill was de­feated.

‘‘The folk at the bot­tom of the heap have been hit much harder by the re­ces­sion as it has deep­ened. But also, the [ loan shark­ing] sec­tor has got more so­phis­ti­cated.

‘‘ Con­tracts are now be­ing of­fered,’’ he said, ‘‘in full knowl­edge that re­pay­ments can’t be met, so the new con­tracts have sys­tem­at­i­cally set about in­creas­ing the tres­pass and seizure pow­ers of the repo agents.’’

Does that not un­der­line the im­po­tence of an MP’s job – where huge ef­fort is ap­plied even to win only the small­est of vic­to­ries?

‘‘You’ve put your fin­ger on a wider prob­lem. There is a dis­con­nec­tion be­tween what peo­ple ex­pect their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives to do and see as com­mon sense and prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions, and what we’re able to do.’’

Also, of­fi­cials al­ways give min­is­ters rea­sons not to act.

‘‘Even if I were a min­is­ter I couldn’t say I’d be able to break the log jam on this [loan shark] is­sue.’’

Get­ting the bill drafted and a de­bate started in the me­dia and com­mu­nity, he said, may be the best you can do.

Job sat­is­fac­tion wasn’t en­tirely ab­sent, though.

‘‘ While I failed on the loan shark is­sue, I didn’t on the [mur­der] provo­ca­tion is­sue – the ‘gay panic’ de­fence. I drafted it, Lianne Dalziel moved it and there was such an out­cry af­ter a cou­ple of hor­rific mur­ders that the Government was pres­sured to act.’’

Be­ing an MP there­fore, is not al­ways an ex­er­cise in im­po­tent good in­ten­tions.

‘‘You just have to pick your bat­tles and form your al­liances as best you can.’’

Chauvel ap­plies the same pos­i­tive logic to Ohariu, where he re­duced a Peter Dunne ma­jor­ity of 8000 to only 1006 at present.

Boundary changes may, he be­lieves, help Labour next time.

‘‘ There’s been so much new hous­ing in Ohariu – par­tic­u­larly in the north­ern sub­urbs – that the west­ern hills will prob­a­bly go into the Hutt elec­torates and I’d say there’s some chance that the Khan­dal­lah end might head to­wards Welling­ton Cen­tral.’’

Cause for cau­tious op­ti­mism, again.

Chauvel may well need the same sil­ver lin­ings playbook in his new job, too. He’ll be help­ing to train of­fi­cials in newly emerged democ­ra­cies to es­tab­lish the likes of an in­de­pen­dent elec­toral com­mis­sion and a free press in the wake of colonis­ers and dic­ta­tors who may have de­stroyed the nor­mal foun­da­tion of civil so­ci­ety.

‘‘To make democ­racy sus­tain­able, you not only need of­fi­cials who are freely and fairly elected but who are com­mit­ted to build­ing and hon­our­ing the ideal of in­de­pen­dence.’’

It sounds like an up­hill strug­gle again, although with some grounds for hope.

Chauvel’s first United Na­tions as­sign­ment is in Quito, Ecuador, on March 27.

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