Thursday, July 03, 2008

Nats’ new clothes?

The conservative NZ National Party has been riding high in the polls based largely one fact: It’s not the NZ Labour Party, currently the party leading Government. Historically, New Zealand voters get sick of a party—any party—once it’s led government for three terms.

That’s easy in a country like New Zealand in which the two main parties aren’t polar opposites, but different flavours of the same more or less centrist ideology. The centre, after all, is where most voters are. New Zealand’s political climate is based on some near-universal beliefs, chief among them that central government has the primary role in providing education and healthcare. Poll after poll after poll has shown that ordinary people would rather have more money spent on those two things than get tax cuts.

The National Party has played a coy strategy of not revealing any policy, so as to avoid frightening voters. What we’ve heard so far is worrying: They plan to raise the fees that ordinary people pay to doctors and they want school buildings owned by the private sector, with schools paying market rents to occupy them.

The party has pledged that it will not sell off state-owned assets—Kiwibank, KiwiRail, Air New Zealand, etc.—during it’s first term. However, it was reported previously that they were looking at increasing the shares sold publicly, which would dilute the people’s shareholding. That’s selling off taxpayer-owned assets by stealth, in other words.

Yesterday it was revealed that they plan on privatising ACC, which provides accident insurance for all New Zealanders, including workplace injury insurance and rehabilitation. An overseas investment company advised its clients to buy shares in Australian insurance companies because a National-led government will allow them to take over ACC business. National had to admit that, well, yes, despite the “no asset sale” pledge, they were effectively doing exactly that by allowing other companies to offer ACC’s services.

It was revealed in Parliament yesterday that when the National Party sold off New Zealand Rail in a sweetheart deal to an investment firm with deep ties to both National and neoconservatives generally, John Key, current leader of the National Party, was in the thick of the financial arrangements. Then in 2003, when the government bought back the rail network from Toll Holdings, John Key voted against it. Labour alleges that Key and his family owned some 30,000 shares in Toll Holdings at the time, a fact he didn’t reveal.

Key denies he or his family had an undisclosed financial interest in the matter he was voting on. If he’s telling the truth, that’s the end of the matter. But if he’s not telling the truth, or not telling the complete truth, then Labour will present the proof. But the larger issue here is that Key has long been in the thick of the sort of wheeling and dealing in which New Zealand assets were stripped and sold off, sending all the profits overseas.

So far, the policies National has revealed—sometimes kicking and screaming—have been bad for New Zealand, showing an enduring affection and allegiance to the economic policies of the 1980s. Those days are over. If National isn’t prepared to move into the 21st Century, and especially if it isn’t prepared to keep to the letter of its promises, it cannot be trusted to run the country.


Roger Owen Green said...

"Yhat’s easy in a country like New Zealand in which the two main parties aren’t polar opposites, but different flavours of the same more or less centrist ideology." You'll find that there ate lots of people who think the same way about the US Dems and GOP, albeit more center-right.

Arthur Schenck said...

I know there are plenty of people at the two ends of the spectrum who see the two US parties as the same. Indeed, they often hold very similar positions on some issues.

But on other issues they are so dramatically opposite each other (especially abortion, civil rights, healthcare) that the parties are nothing alike. I think that the ends of the political spectrum like to gloss over these and other differences because it suits their agenda, but those differences are both profound and important.

For me, people on the left who ignore the very important ways that the Republican right is dramatically opposed to the goals and ideals of the centre and the left endanger us all.