Monday, November 30, 2009

Old dog, old tricks

Don Brash apparently learned nothing from his defeat in the 2005 election, a failure that saw him dumped as National Party Leader. He’d moved the party so far to the right, it co-opted the policies of the neo-conservative ACT Party; the voters didn’t buy it.

Now head of a “productivity” task force, Brash has said the only way to “catch up” with Australian “wealth” is to slash $9 billion from government spending. And how would he do that? By repeating the failed policies of Reagan/Thatcher/Douglas/Richardson, of course.

Here’s the destruction they would wreak:

Reduce benefit numbers with "ambitious" welfare reform (presumably including kicking people off the dole, whether they have any way of surviving or not);

Reduce the minimum wage (which would hurt low-skill workers, including those now on welfare) and reintroduce a lower minimum youth wage (to exploit youth). The minimum wage “should be reduced to the same ratio to average wages that prevailed in 1999”. So, they want to get the poor off welfare and cut their wages so they’re far worse off.

Extend probationary employment periods to a year for all workers. This extends the controversial 90-day probationary period National enacted. Basically, this would allow an unscrupulous business owner to hire workers then sack them within a year without much in the way of recourse for the workers (my home state had this as part of its union-busting laws, but there was no time limit).

Raise the age of superannuation eligibility (because they don’t want the elderly loafing when they could still be wage slaves) and slow the increases in the amount the elderly get;

Scrap the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and use the money to pay off debt (because Brash and the business elite believe elderly baby boomers can jolly well look after themselves, even though their pensions will be reduced year after year);

End Kiwisaver subsidies (because even though New Zealanders have among the lowest household savings rates in the developed world, Brash and his fellow troglodytes believe that government should never—ever—do anything to help encourage people to do something that’s good for the country);

Cut universal subsidies for health and education (because the American model of privately funded healthcare works so well, why not do that and add privately funded education, too?). They’d end subsidised prescriptions so that those “generally in good health and not on low incomes” pay the full price, and they’d end universal subsidies for doctors’ visits (they appear to want New Zealanders to be sicker);

In addition to privatising education, they ‘d charge full market interest rates on student loans (without an interest-free period) and end all caps on university fees.

They’d allow mining on or under sensitive government-owned land, just as long as it met some sort of cost-benefit analysis (environmental and cultural issues are clearly irrelevant), but that mining can only be done by private companies. In fact, all government-owned enterprises would be sold off “where competition is actual or feasible” (emphasis added; in other words, always).

It’s not just ordinary New Zealanders they want to screw over: They want to privatise Fonterra, which is a cooperative owned by New Zealand Dairy Farmers; this would inevitably transfer the ownership of New Zealand’s dairy industry to foreign ownership and encourage American-style corporate farming.

And what do they want to do with the $9 billion they’d shave off government spending? Why, cut taxes for the rich and corporate elites, of course! They want a maximum top tax rate for personal income taxes and corporate and trust taxes of 20 percent, and a dramatically flatter tax rate overall.

What all of this means is simple: When they say they want to increase the wealth of New Zealanders relative to Australians, they mean they want to increase the wealth of those who are already rich, as well as the wealth and power of the business elites. Ordinary New Zealanders—who would suffer greatly under these proposals—don’t matter to Brash and the business elites behind this “report”.

Brash is held up by the right as some sort of demi-god, as if he has wisdom handed down from the gods. Brash is really just another hard-right ideologue whose antique ideas were long ago discredited worldwide and repeatedly rejected by New Zealand voters—and will be again (and if you doubt that, consider that ACT is barely in Parliament at all now and, on current polling, faces possible annihilation in the next general election).

Perhaps the best example of how irrelevant the extremist views of Brash and the elites are, even Prime Minister John Key has rejected adoption of what he called “absolutely radical big bang reform”. He acknowledged that "It would certainly have a dramatic effect on New Zealanders and in the short term it would feel very much like we were pulling the rug out from underneath them." Precisely.

The task force was established as part of National’s agreement with the ACT Party, which espouses a neo-conservative economic agenda. The Opposition asks, as it should, if this is all a “straw man” move, so the National-led government can implement most of the policies but stop short of the whole thing. Certainly Finance Minister Bill English did nothing to dispel that notion when he said, "The Government intends to pick its way through the report to see what recommendations it could implement." Could, not should—implying, certainly, a desire to implement the whole thing, but perhaps avaluating what it thinks it can get away with.

Still, Key promised New Zealanders that there would be no asset sales in a first term, and he keeps dismissing any radical changes. New Zealand voters will hold him to those promises, or else this National-led government may find it only gets the one term. After all, despite what radical extremists like Brash and his buddies among the business elites want, New Zealand is still a democracy.

No comments: