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Mostly Useless

I like to occasionally offer an appraisal of the performance of the New Zealand government. Generally I’m not very positive about the right-wing parties we have here (and often rather less than totally enthusiastic regarding the left as well) but when the current National-lead government first came into power about 4 years ago I thought they were OK. But since then they have steadily gone down in my estimation and now I would have to rate them as “mostly useless”.

Actually mostly useless is a bit too generous because “useless” implies they just have no real positive merit, but in this case no government at all would be preferable because in general this lot are worse than useless. However I am prepared to be charitable and rate them simply as “mostly useless”. Yeah, I know, I can be very generous!

Anyway what is it about Key and his cronies which has incurred my wrath to the extent that I feel the need for yet another rant against them? Wow, where to start… Just about everything they have done has been a failure. Even the areas where they are allegedly competent – such as stimulating growth in business – seem to be a less than spectacular success. So let’s move on to some specific examples…

When he was in opposition John Key said the number of New Zealanders moving to Australia was a vote of no confidence in the Labour government of the time. During the election campaign Key said he would reverse that trend and that although it couldn’t be turned around overnight they were already making progress. Apparently going from 28,000 in Labour’s time to 54,000 now is progress according to John Key. If that’s how he does his maths it’s no wonder the economy is also such a mess!

At the moment 1000 people per week give up on the government’s promises of a better life here and leave for Australia… strangely enough, where they have a Labour government!

National supporters usually trot out some trite excuse like “it is all the previous Labour government’s fault – they left the country in such mess it will take years to fix it”. Is that right? And how many years exactly are we talking here? I don’t expect miracles but shouldn’t things be getting gradually better, not worse? Maybe an alternative explanation is that National just don’t know what they’re doing. Isn’t that also a possibility?

Another sign of the misguided dogma National are following is their employment policy. The latest change is to allow employers to employ new staff on less than the terms of the collective contract. OK, maybe they think that will encourage more employment or make the economy more efficient or that it might have some other amorphous benefit, but the labour minister insists it will be good for workers and give them more freedom. Surely no one really believes this. Employers already have the opportunity to offer better conditions so all this allows is for them to offer worse. How is this good for employees?

And the minister seems to think that this will encourage employers and employees to negotiate and reach a mutually beneficial and amicable solution. Wow, these people really do live in cloud cuckoo land, don’t they? New employees can’t afford to negotiate, they just have to take what they’re offered. Imagine how they would be viewed by the government if they refused a job because of poor conditions and then had to rely on the welfare system. There is no room for negotiation, but the Nats either don’t understand this or deliberately ignore it.

I agree that employment conditions here have created a few new jobs. For example Heinz moved a factory from Australia to New Zealand to exploit our low-wage economy. About 150 jobs were lost in Australia and 50 new ones (many casual) were created here. Is this the way we really want to progress? Is offering a low wage workforce with no bargaining power the best we can do? Is stealing jobs from our neighbours and encouraging virtual slave labour conditions here the right path forward? Apparently from their lofty heights the top 1% (including Key and his rich friends) think so.

And finally we come to the policy which really defines right-wing governments here: their continual insistence on selling off the assets that the people of this country own, even though the record in the past on these deals has been very poor at best (some would say disastrous). But the asset sales have hit a few roadblocks: Maori claims on water (which I discussed in a blog post “More Sabotage” on 2012-07-12) and recent poor performance of one of the assets up for sale, Solid Energy, have put them on hold.

Apparently the government only wants to sell assets which are performing well. Is this a common business strategy? Most companies sell off the assets which aren’t working for them and tend to keep the ones which are generating a good return. And yes, I know that the better the asset is the more you get for it, but compared with the long term income possible this seems like a very unwise and short-sighted strategy.

It seems that learning from history is not something the political right like to do, which is odd because conservatives often like to live in the past. There are so many examples of failed privatisations that you have to wonder how they can justify more. The New Zealand rail system was sold, virtually destroyed by its new owners, and had to be bought back by the government. Air New Zealand was sold, almost bankrupted, and rescued by the government. Our phone system was sold, turned into a monopoly, and now has had to have a lot of government intervention to make it work efficiently. It’s just one disaster after another yet they just don’t seem to see it. They even want to sell our share in Air New Zealand again! As my old science teacher said: “everyone makes mistakes but only a fool makes the same mistake twice.”

I know that the initial wave of privatisations was done by a Labour government in the 1980s. But that was a party which had been hijacked by the same factions which now control National. I will never forgive Labour for what they did in the 80s but at least they have moved back to a more sensible, centrist position when they realised the great promises of neo-liberalism were fake. National seem intent on pursuing them even though they have been a total failure.

Everything Key and his morally corrupt friends do seems to be designed to increase the gap between rich and poor, to drive down conditions to third world levels, and to create an overclass of greedy, self-centered people who care about nothing except making more for themselves no matter what the cost. I can understand why the top 1% would vote for a party like this but it’s bizarre that anyone else would. On the other hand I do have to agree that the main opposition party, Labour, is extremely uninspiring, both in its leadership (nice guy but not an extremely effective politician) and in its policies (are they really that different from the government’s which Labour criticises?)

Of all the parties out there the Greens are the only one which I have much confidence in and even then there are areas in their agenda which I disagree with. Of course it’s unreasonable to think that there should be a party which agrees 100% with my opinions so I really should accept that I need to choose one which is the least bad instead of one which is perfect.

One thing’s for sure though: this government has to go. I could possibly get over their clear right wing agenda if there were any real benefits apparent from it, but they can’t even get that right. If I went back through their actions I think I could find some which have achieved a good outcome (no one is 100% wrong) but I can’t think of anything right now. As I said before, my most generous appraisal can only be “mostly useless”.

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