Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington
Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington
Letter from Wellington
Monday, 24 December 2001
The Importance of Parliament
We saw last week what government would do if parliamentary checks on power didn't exist. Winston Peters offered Labour a deal - a week's urgency to pass any law they liked, if the government would also pass his bill restricting the sale of liquor. "Why not include question time in the urgency motion?" ACT asked. "I don't care about question time," Winston said. So, thanks to Mr Peters, the government had a week where it could not be asked questions. The result? It dumped letters about Tariana Turia, it did deals on Ms Bathgate, it gave the go-ahead for the SAS deployment - safe in the knowledge that no Minister would have to answer questions. And yes, Mr Peters' bill does allow councils to re-introduce prohibition and a policeman can arrest you for carrying liquor in a public place - technically it's illegal for the brewery to deliver the beer! As a party that believes in freedom, choice and personal responsibility, ACT says it's wrong to penalise everyone for the actions of a few. If there are trouble-makers at New Year, arrest them and throw the book at them - don't punish the 99.9 percent who cause no problem. As Will Rogers observed: "No man's liberty is safe while the legislature is in secession". You are in danger when Parliament is meeting and the Opposition is gagged.
The collapse of the Argentine economy could have wide ramifications. It seems certain the new government will default on its massive debts. While the world's banking system is in reasonable shape, such a huge default is bound to have a significant impact. Economists agree that the Great Depression of the 1930s was caused by banking failures - not the 1929 stock market crash. Argentina's failure is worrying because it comes as the United States and Japan are in recession and the European economy is flat. What impact will Argentina's collapse have on Brazil, Mexico and other Latin American countries? Is this the butterfly in the economic Amazon jungle?
Dr Cullen has had a dream ride as Finance Minister. He's inherited balanced books, low inflation, no overseas debt, strong growth and the best terms of trade in 30 years. The text book says at times of strong growth governments should put aside money for the inevitable downturn. The latest fiscal update shows projects such as re-nationalising Air NZ, Maori TV, Jim's Bank and "closing the gaps" mean the fiscal cap will be breached. The spending doesn't include borrowing $2 billion a year to invest in overseas equities for Dr Cullen's super scheme. The Finance Minister is counting on NZ avoiding the world economic slowdown. In the last two months, commodity prices for dairy products and wool have weakened. Low interest rates, low energy prices and exceptionally good weather (for farmers) still put NZ ahead. Strong spending in Christmas week - eftpos sales are up 4 percent on last year - indicates consumer confidence. If Dr Cullen is wrong and our export prices fall, then thanks to his extra spending NZ is not in a strong position to ride out a fall in the terms of trade. The coalition's (and our) future hangs on Cullen's gamble.
The Democratic Dilemma
TV One has produced a poll saying 50 percent of NZers would be willing to pay a special tax for health. Such polls always produce this answer - even in the United States. In fact, this poll is interesting because usually more than 60 percent are in favour. This is not surprising when you consider one in three is on welfare - the TV poll showed superannuitants are most in favour of a health tax. Significant groups pay little or no tax -eg students, home-makers - hence the popularity of tax and spend policies. Populist polls such as state TV's, with no real analysis, lower the level of debate. NZ spends more on health per capita than the OECD average yet we are 43rd in the world on health outcomes. Singapore spends less and is in the top three. It seems only ACT will be making the case that our monopoly, no-choice health system is a large part of the problem. (There's no private radiotherapy treatment in NZ, so that's the worst-performing area.) The quickest way to improve cancer treatment times would be a private choice. But that's for next year.
ACT in 2002 will be a party of influence, producing fresh ideas to solve old problems. Richard Prebble's state of the nation speech - the first political event of the new year - will be in January (date and venue to be announced). ACT's conference is at the Crown Plaza Hotel, March 15-17, and among the guest speakers is recently-retired Australian Deputy Prime Minister Peter Reith, who transformed Australia's defence policies. It will be interesting to hear what he really thinks of NZ.
No one was expecting the waka jumping bill to be passed and its sudden rushing through Parliament might explain the fact that the Alliance's Matt McCarten has been holding deep conversations with the Greens. Are Matt and some other Alliance members going to defect en masse to the anti-war Green Party?
As Others See Us
"New Zealanders hoping for a drink this Christmas and New Year may have to break the law after the government brought in prohibition by mistake ... Mr Peters said it was his party's Christmas present to the people of New Zealand." (BBC 1 News).
Where Are We Going?
In Afghanistan it's the law that women receive 90 percent of their previous wage for 100 days parental leave. In Australia and the US States there are no parental leave laws.
The Letter is on holiday until Monday 21 January. We wish all readers a good Christmas and New Year with family and friends, and may 2002 bring all the best - including an ACT government!
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