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Thursday, September 18

Nats would have had blood on their hands in Iraq - PM

Prime Minister Helen Clark was out on the campaign trail today telling a Grey Power audience what it wanted to hear and saying if National had won the last election Kiwis would have died in Iraq .

Miss Clark, who named the November 8 election date last week, told the crowd of over 250 at a hall in Lower Hutt they needed the prudent, predictable steady government her party provided.

In her speech she talked about the need for early health checks and said she had a lazy right eye which was never treated and she could now see little out of it.

She traversed topics from superannuation, Supergold card benefits such as free off-peak transport, rates rebates, housing and health.

She also talked about the importance of an independent foreign policy.

Had National got into Government it would have sent troops to Iraq and on a pro-rata basis, considering 4000 US troops were killed, there would be 60 body bags coming home, she said.

"And for what? Is the world a single bit safer?"

The remark was a winner with the audience applauding.

Australia did send troops to Iraq and none were killed in combat.

After the speech she told reporters the 60 figure was a back of the envelope calculation.

Miss Clark said did not think it was an old issue.

"Oh no I've found it's an issue that very much resonates because it speaks of what your attitude is to New Zealand as an independent country with principles rather than just doffing its cap to larger friends."

She said National "most certainly would have had blood on their hands".

A spokesman for National Party leader John Key said Miss Clark was engaging in "hysterical scaremongering".

"She is not focusing on the issues that matter," the spokesman said.

Questioning from the audience showed serious concerns on issues ranging from waiting lists, rest home carers, the cost of living and superannuation but none gave Miss Clark any trouble.

No one raised the current controversy around her support party New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters, and Miss Clark did not mention what the party had gained for the elderly in her speech.

But the issue was on the minds of those in the audience.

One group of older women told NZPA they were happy with the way Miss Clark had treated Mr Peters and that he deserved a fair process.

However, they expected her to act if inquiries did not go Mr Peters' way. He has been stood down from his ministerial roles.

One woman, not a NZ First supporter, doubted NZ First would survive the election.

"I'm very sad about it actually because I think we need someone like (Mr Peters) in Parliament."

Most people thought Miss Clark gave a good performance, as one woman said: "I think Helen spoke very well" and another told her she thought she was the "best Prime Minister we've ever had".

But the signs were not all good: "I'm not too sure at the moment," a former Labour voter said. "I think it's time we have a change."

Miss Clark said she valued the elderly which had been important voters for Labour in 1999 and 2002.

"What I know about older New Zealanders is they do vote, they feel it's very much their civic duty, their public duty, and they do listen very carefully and they go out and make a considered judgment."-NZPA

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