Saturday, November 19, 2011

Key's curious desire to talk policy

It is refreshing to hear John Key demanding the media focus on policy in the election campaign. Curious strategy, since I would have thought National's policy platform was their Achilles heel but they do need to get away from the poor handling of the storm in a teacup.

National has relied heavily on John Key's easy-going charm, using things like RadioLIVE’s 'politics-free' Prime Minister’s hour and a presidential-style campaign, and Key's overreaction to what should have been a minor affair hurts his brand. Ironically, the party which has expended so much effort to play up Key's personal characteristics now has to convince people to shift their gaze.

Which is a good thing. It would be nice to think the election might be decided on what the political parties plan to do if they become government, rather than which of the leaders we'd rather have round for a barbie. Anything which takes us closer to that goal has my support. This is especially true in the context of an on-going global financial crisis, looming oil supply constraints, accelerating environmental degradation and increasing frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change..

National has been criticised for being on the “smile and wave” plan when it comes to economic management. In my view that is unfair. National does have a clear plan for the future, which is to strip mine the country.

From Key's enthusiastic support of Solid Energy's plan to dig up lignite (the lowest value and dirtiest type of coal) and convert it into briquettes, urea and diesel, to his secretive meetings with Anadarko boss James Hackett this week, one of the companies involved in the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill, to his on-going commitment to dig up the conservation estate, National remains committed to coal mining and deep sea oil drilling, despite this putting at risk the natural environment that is so fundamental to our national identity.

Similarly, National intends to strip-mine Aotearoa's wealth by partially privatising a number of State Owned Enterprises. This will turn a sustainable income from the returns from those shares into a one-off payment, effectively giving Key's government (if elected) a chunk of money to spend but leaving a short-fall for future governments to make good. As with deep-sea oil drilling, National seems prepared to sacrifice the future well-being of the country for a short term cash boost.

What makes it worse is how National intends to spend the money. A significant portion of it will be spent on education and health – which is a bit like selling the tractor to pay for school fees. Education and health spending are basic budget items that should be paid out of income. It would be lunacy to sell income-generating capital to pay for them.

The rest of the money will go on subsidising farm irrigation. This will speed up the expansion of dairy farming at the very time when we need to put limits around it.

Creating taxpayer-funded artificial profits for farming (which are increasingly owned by corporations rather than families) prevents diversification of the economy by preventing more efficient land use in marginal areas. It also speeds up the killing of our lakes and rivers and makes it impossible for us to pull our weight in international efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

The problem voters face, of course, is where else to turn. Labour has taken a bold step in announcing a range of courageous policies that begin to take it back to its base.

Phil Goff is looking more attractive to the public when he occasionally manages to relax at bit and stop trying so hard. The fact that most of Labour's best ideas are actually samples of long time Green policy may be a good or a bad thing depending on how one looks at it, but what Labour lacks in my view is coherence. Labour needs to be clear about its vision if it wants to be convincing, and it may just be too soon after its foray on the right to do that.

The party that does have a coherent economic policy, one that actually grapples with the realities of the 21st century, is the Greens, which is why they seem to be on a trajectory to becoming the main opposition to National. Let’s just hope they get enough votes this election to prevent Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee doing the skinhead moonstomp all over Aotearoa New Zealand.

Read more:

1 comment:

Rich Wernham said...

Brother you are once again, putting it straight out there and on target about the snakey closet full of double dealers that is our present Govt. Shame is that a lot of the voting public are voting for the 'Money Changer' in the Temple of our democracy, cause they like BBQ's more than thinking about sensable long term sustainable policies. Would be good to talk some time soon about the next level of awareness that Joe & Janet Public need to 'get'. Aroha Always.