Monday, October 16, 2023

The trouble ahead

New Zealand is facing potentially massive political change as its government veers to the Right. How big the change is will depend on who, precisely, is in the government coalition, and what their demands are. None of that will be known for weeks. That gives at least us a chance to buckle ourselves in.

The Official Result of the 2023 General Election will be released Friday, November 3, and it will determine the final allocation of seats in Parliament. However, there’s also a By-election in the Port Waikato Electorate to be held Saturday, November 25, 2023, and that result may or may not affect the final make-up of Parliament. The make-up of Parliament has never been this uncertain in the 27 years since MMP began.

To be clear, the half million votes to be counted won’t change which party leads Government—there’s no way it can deliver a Labour-led Government, and it won’t give any other party seats in Parliament. Instead, the final results will determine how many seats each party will receive, and that, in turn, will determine whether the National and Act Parties can form government alone, or whether they’ll need support from New Zealand First, the result determining the legislative agenda of the new government.

For example, both National and Act want to raise the retirement age, with Act insanely wanting to start raising it on January 1: Act would force me to wait two more months before I can collect National Superannuation (our government retirement benefit, similar to the USA’s Social Security). That’s obscenely unfair not just to me, but to everyone who’s planned their retirement around National Super, only to have everything delayed longer and longer. Not even Reagan was that stupid, and the increase in the USA’s retirement age changed beginning 20 years later, and people like me had four decades to plan. I guess to a party that mainly cares about the rich, it may seem like no big deal, but it can be a very, very big deal to some people.

The proposed change deliberately ignores some important facts. First, National Super is taxed, so retirees are taxpayers—they’re not getting tax-free cash. Second, working class people—especially Māori and Pasifika peoples—don’t live as long as middle class and above peoples do. As it is right now, large numbers of working class people never live long enough to collect the pension, and National and Act will ensure that even more never do. Finally, the Labour Government under former Prime Minister Helen Clark created the National Super Fund to invest money to help fund retirement in the years ahead. All of which means there’s no urgent need to raise the age, and if the new government insists on raising the age, it MUST be done over enough time so people can plan.

The bottom line is that the campaigns of both National nor Act were dishonest about the need for change, constantly aping the absurd “people are living longer now” talking point as if it was universally true, as if the pension wasn’t actually taxed, and as if there wasn’t a substantial nest egg in place (despite National stopping contributions to the Fund under John Key). However, Winston Peters—whose own political base is largely retirees—is extremely unlikely to to go along with it. If National/Act need Winston’s support, raising the retirement age may not happen.

Act has also proposed Parliament pass legislation to arbitrarily define the “Principles of the Treaty” [of Waitangi], apparently without consulting Māori, and then hold a binding referendum on it. This was part of Act’s dogwhistling on race when it attacked partnerships between Māori and the Crown known as “co-governance”, particularly by the Right. John Key reportedly told incoming prime minister Chris Luxon to not to allow the referendum to happen, or he’d see “hikois from hell” (a reference to protest marches by Māori). Green Party co-leader James Shaw said a referendum could lead to violence. If Luxon can’t stop Act on this point, it’s unlikely he’s be able to control his right flank at all. It’s unclear what Winston would do about a referendum, but he, too, attacked “co-governance” as a dogwhistle to racists. The fact that Australian voters soundly rejected the referendum on an indigenous voice underscores both why Act and Winston dogwhistled on race, and also how ugly it could become if Act’s referendum goes ahead.

Always lovely to see a billionaire relieved when
a pesky centre-left government is defeated.
Finally, there’s no certainty on what programmes the new government will cut. Historically, National cuts funding for health and education, but Luxon promised to raise both—though John Key did, too, and actually oversaw de facto cuts. National usually cuts the taxes of the rich, too, however, Luxon has said there won’t be any such big cut for a year or so. The bigger concern is that the economic “plan” national campaigned on has been rubbished by leading economists, and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) called it a “reverse Robin Hood tax plan [that] enriches mega landlords by hundreds of millions”, having previously noted that only 3,000 households would get the maximum $250 a fortnight benefit from the party’s promised tax cuts, an amount the party constantly promoted during the campaign as if most people would get that much. National later admitted the 3,000 household figure was correct—and then attacked the CTU for daring to point out the reality of National’s “plan”.

No one has any idea what the government led by National/Act (plus or minus NZ First) will actually do, but I think it’s reasonable to speculate that corporations and the rich will do quite well (they always do under National), the poor will be worse off (ditto), and the middle class will largely be ignored, except for bread and circuses to distract them.

Some two and a half weeks from now, we should have a clearer idea of what we’ll all be in for. I feel certain ordinary New Zealanders will be worse off by the end of this term in 2026, and the country will be a much harsher place for a number of reasons—but I deeply hope I’m proven wrong. I honestly doubt that’ll happen, though.

1 comment:

Arthur Schenck said...

That's pretty good coverage. So many foreign news outlets don't get details right, so it's refreshing to see.