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Yes, Minister


Jon Gadsby

The minister looked at the whiteboard sadly and reflected it was strange that two little words could so easily ruin one's day. "option4?" he read, as the departmental officer turned the board over.
The fisheries briefing had been going swimmingly until now. Customary rights had come in for its usual level of attention, with much rubbing of noses and kia ora-ing all round. A Treasury lecture on the importance of much needed export dollars generated by the selfless, hard work of the commercial sector had gone down similarly well.
The same could certainly be said of the crayfish, scallops and oysters that had constituted lunch. These too came courtesy of the commercial sector, and washed down with a tincture of Cloudy Bay's finest had gone exceedingly well indeed.
Now they were going to ruin it all, the minister thought gloomily, staring ahead and feeling the first twinges of indigestion. Bloody option4! What did they want now?
Gathering himself and popping a Quickeze, he struggled to maintain a level of ministerial composure.
"option4," he said brightly. "How splendid to hear from them again. But I thought we'd taken care of those concerns."
"So did we, minister," the departmental officer muttered darkly
"I mean, it was all about licensing wasn't it?" the Minister continued. "And when I got up there on the Holmes Show and stated categorically that I had always been opposed to the licensing of recreational fishers, and still am, even though my department suggested it in the first place, I thought we'd heard the last of it. In fact I thought the bit where I said 'there will be no licensing as long as my name's Pete and my bum still points to the ground, went down particularly well. What did you think?"
"We thought you were magnificent, minister," chorused the rest of the room dutifully.
"Thank you," the minister beamed, relaxing visibly. "I rather think Holmes himself was rather impressed too. So what's the problem with option4?"
"The problem is," said the departmental officer, "they don't appear to have been fooled."
"Fooled?" queried the minister. "Who on earth was attempting to fool anyone?"
A senior advisor cleared his throat nervously. "Well, er … I thought we all were. Was that not the plan?"
"What plan?" the minister seemed bewildered.
The departmental officer took over. "Well Minister … some of us here thought the 'plan' was to confuse the issue so intensely that no-one but the most hide-bound bureaucrat would understand it. Indeed, that was the entire point of the pointless two years or so we wasted on the Soundings discussion document. The licensing proposal, you see, was a 'stalking horse'."
"A what?" said the minister, swallowing another Quickeze.
"A 'stalking horse' - a horse tethered in a jungle clearing to attract a tiger. The tiger arrives. Bang! Finished. That's what the licensing proposal was. A red herring, you see."
"Well make your mind up, was it a herring or a bloody horse? You're confusing me. I can understand a herring being under fisheries jurisdiction but where does the horse fit in?"
"A sea-horse?" quipped a junior officer nervously. He was silenced with a look from his superior.
"The licensing option in Soundings was designed to lure the recreational fisher down a completely false trail. We gambled that the very mention of a license would so infuriate this group that it would ignore the rest of the document, and by and large this worked brilliantly. Except for option4."
"You're damned right 'except for option4!'" replied the minister hotly. "Sixty one thousand submissions later, thank you very much. What the hell were you playing at?"
"The game goes on," said the senior advisor in a weasily voice. "We were going to accept the submissions, pretend to read them, and then have you announce an end to the licensing proposal on the Holmes Show."
"But I thought that was my idea!"
"Unfortunately no."
"So what are we trying to do?"
"Indeed. And here you have put your finger on the pulse of the issue as I was ever confident you would, minister," said the departmental officer. "We are trying to do - nothing."
"Precisely. In fact what we are trying especially hard not to do is create a new right."
"Horses, herrings and now rights," snapped the Minister. "End to licensing - option4's support evaporates, that's what I thought, quid pro quo. Now you're talking about rights. What are they moaning about?"
"May I take over?" smiled the senior advisor. "One has to picture the New Zealand fishery as a pond - a pond say, containing one hundred fish."
"Yes," said the minister.
"Well we assigned the rights to catch those fish some time ago to the commercial operators. Then the Maoris kicked up a fuss with their blasted Treaty so we had to buy three or four fish back for them to catch - cost us a fortune, I can tell you. Compensation to the commercial boys for their loss, you see."
The Minister winced. "So that's the commercial and customary lot taken care of. What now?"
"I'm glad you asked that. At the moment the recreational crowd think they have the right to fish in the pond, when in actual fact they have no rights whatsoever. We can stop them at the stroke of a pen. The licensing issue was designed to draw their attention away from this happy state of affairs where the trawlers can scoop up 96 of the fish for export and Maori can eat the other four at a hui. Sadly, option4 is talking about a right in law, an inalienable recreational right for all New Zealanders to fish in the pond. We cannot allow this to happen."
"Why not?"
"Because there's not enough room in the pond - not enough fish - or won't be soon, under our stewardship," said the departmental officer testily. "Each fish the public catches is one that will not go to the commercials and the customaries who have clearly defined legal rights."
"Indeed," said the senior advisor. "And when that lot can't catch their quota anymore, what are they going to demand - as of right?"
"Massive compensation," muttered the minister.
"Correct," chorused the room.
"So what we have to do is avoid granting a right to option4, their cronies and the public at all costs, I take it?"
"Not so fast, minister," interrupted the departmental chief officer. "Here we come to the next phase of the cunning plan, the element of surprise. We believe option4 should be given the right it so deserves, and it should happen as soon as possible."
"Are you serious?" asked the minister, alarmed.
"We're convinced this is the solution sir. Between department and government we should deliver a powerful right out of the blue. A right ascending at great speed from the lower hip to the button of the jaw of anyone who sticks his argumentative head out for option4. A right like the one that dropped Lennox Lewis on his bum in South Africa. Never even saw where it came from, did he? Goodnight Lennox. Goodnight option4. That's the way to deal to them."
"The ministry believes this might be the best and cleanest stratagem," said the departmental chief officer. "Certainly the cheapest. The commercial sector is being very supportive. In fact a few of the lads are already referring to it as 'Option 5'."
"Option 5?" choked the minister.
"Indeed sir," smiled the senior advisor. "The ministry believes Mr Tua might be a good man to talk to."

1) With picture showing cover of Soundings document

"Well Minister … some of us here thought the 'plan' was to confuse the issue so intensely that no-one but the most hide-bound bureaucrat would understand it. Indeed, that was the entire point of the pointless two years or so we wasted on the Soundings discussion document. The licensing proposal, you see, was a 'stalking horse'."

2) When Option4 delivered 61,000 submissions, each from a concerned member of the public, I thought the message was crystal clear. But apparently not.

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