Wednesday, November 29, 2023

NZ’s new government: A grab bag of hot takes

New Zealand’s new three-ring circus government goes back and forth from from comedy to farce, and the jokes that are its announced policies, while jokes, aren’t even remotely funny. This is going to a long—well, however long this government ends up surviving before it implodes.

So far, one announed policy scrapping has attracted worldwide attention: The Tripartite Regime has announced it will repeal the landmark world-leading smoke-free legislation adopted by the previous Labour-led Government. That legislation would have slowly raised the legal age to buy tobacco products so that no one born in 2009 or later would ever be able to buy tobacco products in New Zealand. It was also slowly reduce the number of places cigarettes could be purchased from 6000 to 600. Naturally, powerful forces moved against it.

The tobacco lobby claimed that not allowing today’s 14-year-olds to ever buy tobacco would lead to skyrocketing increases in blackmarket tobacco, a dubious claim that the National Party Prime Minister, Chris Luxon, has been parroting since coming to power. Given the declining rates of smoking in New Zealand, and that the law wouldn’t even affect anyone for another four years, this was an interesting claim—and probably utter nonsense.

The real reason for the change seems to be tax (though Chris Luxon now denies that, as well as denying the claim that senior National MP Chris Bishop, a former tobacco industry lobbyist, took part in coalition negotiations on the issue). However, ever since the current Job Share Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters (who himself has been a cigarette addict for decades), killed National’s promise to allow foreigners to buy private houses above $2 million, and so, also killed the 15% tax Luxon planned to charge foreigners, National was desperate to find revenue somewhere to pay for their planned tax cuts (which will almost certainly be targeted at helping the rich, if the past is any guide).

Winston apparently struck again in securing a promise to pull all sex and gender education guidelines from schools. Winston wants to prevent schools from addressing any Rainbow issues, gender identity in particular. During the campaign, he promised that if his party formed government, he would pass a law requiring business owners make sure that toilets for customers would only be used by people whose gender corresponded to their sex assigned at birth, though he didn’t say how, exactly, he expected businesses to do that—did he expect them to conduct inspections of customers’ genitals? Probably.

Winston knew he’d never lead any government—only a small fraction of NZ voters ever vote for his party—but by pandering to the most ignorant, bigoted and conspiracy-loving segments of society, he knew he could win votes and get donations to his party. With Winston, politics has always been transactional, not philosophical or ideological. Well, it never used to be.

The thing is, most of the curriculum was about how the body changes, about relationships, diversity, and—most importantly—consent. The goal was to help young people to understand the changes they were experiencing, that there are rules around sex, and that, most importantly, no means no. That, too, will be dumped so Winston can wage his “war on woke”.

Maybe this shows that Winston has spent too much time around cookers and other fans of conspiracy theories, because in many ways he seems to have gone weird. For example, attacking the news media has always been part of his cynical game: His fans ate it up because they hate the new media and/or just like to see Winston go after journalists. Lately, though, his attacks have become downright sinister.

He spread baseless disinformation and lies born out of conspiracy theories about the New Zealand news media, first at the singing of the coalition agreement, then during the photo op at the new cabinet’s first meeting, and also told a media outlet that he’s “at war” with the news media.

Then he truly went off the deep end, spewing the utterly bizarre claim that the news industry was responsible for the long second Auckland Covid lockdown, asking, "Why did [the media] allow the second dramatic lockdown with only one case in Auckland”, and since he was a real, non-job share deputy prime minister when the lockdown first began—um, every accusation is a confession, maybe? Chris Luxon said that Winston puts things in ways he wouldn’t (which must be the understatement of the week), and the Deputy Leader of his Party, Nicola Willis, tried to diminish the seriousness of Winston’a ravings, calling it “hyperbole”. How long can Luxon and Willis carry on pretending like that?

These are only some of the latest highlights from the 3-ring circus, and there will be plenty more to come until Parliament finally goes away for Christmas and gives us a break from them. At the moment, my personal favourite description of the new government and it’s mishmash of policies came from Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party MP for Auckland Central. Yesterday morning, she told TVNZ’s “Breakfast” programme:
It's definitely not the government of low wage workers, renters, or anybody who sits on the margins of our society. The priorities of the incoming government should be dealing with the dual crises of inequality and the climate crisis.

But instead, what we have with those two agreements is a grab bag of 200-plus-odd random policies that come across more as hot takes from your uncle at Christmas. It's not a vision for the future that New Zealanders deserve. I just can't see how we're gonna get anywhere near the issues that really matter.
Swarbrick also succinctly described the reality of this hodgepodge government: "It's a pair of scissors, it's not a vision for the future of this country.”

This is going to a long—well, however long this government ends up surviving before it implodes or is turfed out.


Roger Owen Green said...

So good to see that you have @$$4013$ in your govt too...

Arthur Schenck said...

Couldn't you have kept the supply to yourselves?