Friday, March 13, 2009

National’s mistakes

I’m not a National Party supporter, so it’s no surprise that I disagree with things they’re doing in government. In fact, it’d be surprising only if I didn’t disagree with them.

Still, I was prepared to give them a chance when they came to power; John Key, who’s clearly a moderate, pledged to be Prime Minister for all New Zealanders, and that would mean me, too. So when they’ve done something right, I’ve said so. Lately, though, it seems I’ve had fewer reasons to talk positively about them.

This week I’ve criticised National 2½ times (the half a time was the post on restoring knighthoods, something I’m pretty indifferent about). The two areas I criticised at length were national’s plans on ACC privatisation and changes to the Resource Management Act.

Today, I’m adding to the list with a few short-takes:

Nine day joke
One of two big things to come out of the Prime Minister’s jobs summit (which I wrote about here), was a “nine day fortnight”, in which workers will work nine days out of every two weeks, taking the tenth day off without pay. This was supposedly a way to stem job losses, the idea being that it might give companies just enough time to get through a rough patch.

But the plan is open only to the biggest companies, which employ a small minority of New Zealanders, and can be used for a maximum of six months. It’s not a good deal for workers, either: The government will pay employers a subsidy of five hours at minimum wage (which they can top-up or not, as they wish) per worker who’s been employed by the company for at least two months. For these kinds of workers, it’ll likely mean a huge pay cut.

How will Key police this to make sure companies don’t claim the benefit, but have the workers work ten days, anyway? No answer, apart from a promise to “come down like a tonne of bricks” on any company that does that.

All in all, this sounds to me like a rushed, poorly thought-out programme. The other big idea that came out of the summit, building a cycleway from one end of the country to the other, is suddenly sounding like the best idea.

Crime for profit
National plans to allow private companies to run and, eventually, own prisons. They’ve already started meeting with companies even before the law is changed. Let me reveal my bias: I’m philosophically opposed to private companies running prisons; only the state has the power to deprive citizens of liberty, so, in my opinion, no company should ever be able to make money by depriving liberty to citizens.

My real problem with this idea is that it’s just plain stupid. National says it’ll save money. And how do you think private companies do that? Personnel cuts: They cut staff and staff pay, endangering both staff and prisoners. They also cut programmes designed to rehabilitate prisoners, helping to ensure that they’ll remain criminals.

The bottom line
The common thing in my criticism of National this week is this: They’re putting ideology ahead of common sense. ACC ought to focus on getting people back to work, which represents a cost savings and so much more. Changes to the RMA ought to focus on streamlining it—for real—and not just on making things easier for developers and big business. Programmes to keep people in work ought to keep “people” in the plan. Prisons ought to be about rehabilitation as much as punishment. In all these things, cost-saving is not the highest priority.

I haven’t given up on National yet. But more and more I expect less and less.

As I said at the start, I’m not a National Party supporter. They have a long way to go to win me over. This week shows why.

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