Sunday, February 23, 2014

Is Labour targeting the wrong issue?

John Key said today - "The big issues are the economy, law and order and health and education and our programme's working and the results are good." and he also said asset sales and Kim Dotcom weren't the big issues - what Labour was focusing on - explaining poll results.

Opposing asset sales was important. It was passed with a 1 vote majority and most people who submitted during the select committee hearings were against it. It has so far cost the country $440 million. This is a great policy for investors in the share market. Investors cycle their money in the capital markets and the housing market and all the foreign markets but never in the supermarkets. So Labour opposed asset sales – as they should have (so did the Greens). Some would say it’s why they were elected. I’m not as convinced about the referendum. And I wasn’t really convinced about the results either. I would have preferred to see it in the 80s. But I also think that the combination of the low election turnout and this shows that many many voters are not really engaged in NZ politics and somehow we need to get them engaged (We = left & right). New Zealand is one of those countries which is starting to get cited in academic articles about the privatization of public administration. Whether or not this is a good policy, there can be no doubt that this equates to transfer of wealth from the public to the select private. I do not believe this is good public policy and Governments are elected to administer PUBLIC policy not advance the interests of a select (but powerful) minority’s economic interests. These issues do matter. 

Labour has come up with a comprehensive 'baby bonus' policy to deal with the costs of having kids (benefiting society in general – we need kids to be born!). People might not like it but it addresses systematic inequalities in society that is preventing many families from moving ahead in life. Why do we need this? Because I don’t see businesses picking up the slack. They are happy to use the labour and brains of people, take in profits, pay them as less as possible by holding employment as hostage, enjoying many tax benefits and effective subsidization of their profits and the whole time bemoaning that people should take individual responsibility. I 100 percent believe that I think it is businesses’ job to make profits. Of course they should make (and keep) profits and I certainly am not going to dictate how much that profit should be but if the profit was at the cost of workplace safety, for example – we would think that was a pretty rubbish business model and would not endorse it. So, why is keeping workers in perpetual poverty any different? (2 in 5 children in poverty come from families where parents are working). Let’s also not forget successive reports that have shown Working For Families has kept us away from even worsening child poverty – a policy introduced by Labour. What has National done – a Ministerial committee on poverty that seems to make no policy changes, an expert advisory group’s recommendations that are cherry picked, employee rights slowly whittled away for business interests. Oh but wait! We do have oil and gas exploration that will create jobs and bring wealth (but of course without meeting any of the environmental security concerns).

The Kim Dotcom issue is a weird one for me. It’s an on-going legal issue which has already demonstrated some major failures by our law enforcement agencies, agencies who haven’t really been held accountable under this Government. If there is a brewing civil rights issue (KDC is a NZ resident) or breach of due process, the opposition should absolutely look into that. Maybe people don’t care. Maybe people don’t see this as affecting them but I think to a certain degree, we expect in a democracy that the Opposition will act as a check on the government and its actions.

Gay marriage, euthanasia, abortion affect people and National isn’t going to touch them with a 10 feet pole. Over and over again it’s Labour that has taken on the responsibility of dealing with these issues. It will never be right time for National. Even during a rock star economic boom, National focused on the flag and not the constitutional changes that the country desperately needs and not any of these issues that actually affect people’s lives. Why? Because it doesn't sound sexy. Someone has to take this responsibility of governance on behalf of the people and I don't think it will be National. So they may not seem like meaty issues but they are relevant. National doesn’t have any problems getting on the gay marriage, Mondayisation, PPL and drunk driving limit bandwagon because they know it’s something that has to be addressed, but they won’t introduce it themselves. National didn't like WFF - still here, interest free student loans - still here, kiwisaver - still here, anti-smacking - still here. All notable policies. All policies passed under the previous Government

I don't think Labour was in government for 9 years by focusing on the wrong issues. I think fundamentally they, like other parties in Parliament, want to govern in order to improve the lives of Kiwis. I do think they have the best interests at heart in all their policies. Yes, they tend to focus on the less glamorous parts of society. So instead of Peter Jackson its forestry workers. Instead of oil and gas, it's apprenticeships for the disaffected youths. Instead of the rights of the Motion Pictures Association of America, it's the civil rights of gay and lesbians. 

What will John Key's National government be remembered for? I’d like someone to do a poll where they ask New Zealanders what their favourite flagship policy of the last five years is without giving any prompting examples. May be Wallace Chapman will ask this question on the streets. I’ll be surprised if people can answer anything definite. But hey 51% of the country loves National so maybe I am completely wrong. Maybe Labour is focusing on the wrong issues.

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