Thursday, December 11, 2008

Time to oppose

I said yesterday that there were issues coming up “where I’ll definitely be opposed to government plans”. At the time, I was pretty sure that included the government’s tax cut plan. That’s now been enacted, so it’s moot, but it seems to me that the tax cuts will make poor and even many average workers worse off than they would’ve been under Labour’s tax cut plan.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English was being dishonest when he said the plan had been known before the election and voters supported it by choosing a National-led government. The truth is, voters were never told the details of National’s plan and had no way to properly evaluate it. People may have voted for tax cuts, though that’s uncertain, but it wasn’t an endorsement of National’s plans.

My bigger complaint is the way that National is rushing through legislation under urgency so that the people have no chance to have any input into the process. National claims that it’s only doing what Labour did, but that’s simply not true. Labour did occasionally use urgency to pass measures, but never a whole slew of legislation, including some making pretty fundamental changes, and never in an attempt to cut off public input.

A case in point is the government’s plan to introduce a 90-day probationary period for newly-hired workers, something business lobbyists have sought for years. Under the plan, businesses will have 90 days to fire workers with the worker having no right of redress. Business lobbyists and National claim that it will lead to marginal workers or new immigrants “being given a chance,” but what it certainly means is that some 100,000 workers will lose protections.

The Human Rights Commission has slammed National’s speed in making such a fundamental change, but the government claims that the bill was heard in select committee in the previous Parliament, before it was defeated. They say that they’ve made changes to the bill to address problems, but still the public will be prevented from making submissions—and won’t even know the details until National presents it for approval. To its credit, the Maori Party is opposing the bill because they say it will still hurt low income workers. That won’t be enough to stop the bill being shoved through Parliament.

So far, I’ve opposed National’s tax cut plan (Labour’s was better), their changes to Kiwisaver (ill-advised and short-sighted) and I also oppose their 90-day probationary period—I think; given the undue secrecy under which National is doing the people’s business, I can’t be sure. A few days ago, I said the two things democracy needs to survive are an active citizenry and fresh air. At the moment, National is ensuring we won’t have either. National must do better.

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