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Richard Prebble's Letter From Wellington 5/8/2002

Letter from Wellington

Monday, 05 August 2002

Will Commissioner Lead the Way?

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams, is happy to accept a salary of $160,000 a year to tell the government it must modify its goal to make New Zealand a rich country again, and impose even more taxes and red tape.

In a 182-page report (talk about waste) Dr Williams takes a swipe at "the continual emphasis by successive governments on economic growth as a priority".

The commissioner wants to hit motorists and businesses with hefty fuel taxes, impose higher airport taxes on tourists, and tax retailers for packaging their products.

If Dr Williams is so keen to see New Zealand's standard of living slip even further, he could set an example by taking a 50 percent cut in his own salary. The government should also examine the wasteful expenditure of $1.7 million a year on the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, which employs 17 staff and wastes huge amounts of paper with worthless reports. The office is a waste of money and should be abolished - in the interests of conservation.

Even Four Percent is Not Enough

The commissioner's report comes as Finance Minister Michael Cullen has belatedly adopted the goal that ACT has been promoting, to return New Zealand's per capita income to the top half of the OECD. Dr Cullen acknowledges this will require at least 4 percent growth sustainably.

ACT believes we need growth closer to 6 percent - a difficult challenge but achievable if we cut taxes and slash red tape, both of which are strangling business, and seriously push for higher standards in education.

If we take Dr Williams' advice, we will be lucky to sustain even the 2 percent growth that New Zealand has averaged under Labour. At 2 percent growth, New Zealand will slip even further down the OECD per capita income rankings. We'll be overtaken by Spain, Portugal and Korea during the next decade.

Even with 4 percent growth, New Zealand will move only slowly up the rankings from its current 21st place. To achieve Dr Cullen's goal of being in the top half of the OECD within a decade, we must average 5 to 6 percent growth sustainably.

No Way Under Labour

As Labour settles in for another term of government, economic clouds are looming on the horizon. Economists are scaling back their growth forecasts from the 4 percent they were predicting 12 months ago, to just 2 percent.

The latest National Bank survey shows business confidence is falling, as firms start to get nervous about the state of the economy. The rural sector is already feeling the impact of the downturn. World dairy prices have tumbled in the last 12 months, and wool and meat prices are also heading downwards.

Labour is relieved that the economy barely figured in the media during the election campaign. But the reality will soon start to bite. Labour has no strategy to get the economy growing, except innovation by government committee, which has never worked anywhere in the world.

It's interesting to note that Japan is about to introduce a package of tax cuts to get its economy growing.

Coalition Blues

Labour's coalition talks with the Greens and United Future are not going as well as expected. A large chunk of the Labour caucus, and their trade union supporters, are wary of Peter Dunne because he voted against the introduction of the Employment Relations Act. They thereby declare Mr Dunne worker-unfriendly and not a suitable partner for Labour.

Helen Clark is now reaping the reward of having shot down her potential coalition partners during the election campaign.

It seems we will end up with a minority Labour government (plus Jim Anderton), with Peter Dunne offering his party's support on confidence and supply. In return, it's likely United Future will get its Commission for the Family. The party's policy says this body will "combine a family support agency and a national centre for research into the family, and ... co-ordinate government departments".

Juggling the Figures?

The latest OSH workplace death statistics are another example of the Labour government fiddling the figures for political ends. Looking at the OSH figures, you'd think workplaces had suddenly become much more dangerous, with 73 deaths in the year to June 30, compared with 39 the previous year.

But closer examination shows OSH appears to have changed the criteria since last year. The latest death toll includes six murder victims, a retirement home resident who fell down a bank and an elderly woman who fell down stairs at a garden centre. There were also 24 self-employed people who died.

Less than half the 73 deaths cited by OSH can in any way be attributed to employer negligence. Labour, which has been captured by the agenda of trade union bosses, is using the dubious OSH figures to justify more regulations and red tape - such as Margaret Wilson's Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill, with fines up to $500,000 for employers who cause stress at work.

Labour has also juggled other figures - such as crime and hospital waiting lists - to suit its political agenda.

Law is Flawed, Not Judges

Phil Goff last Friday made an extraordinary attack on New Zealand's judges, saying they don't understand his new Sentencing Act, and need to read it properly. The fact is, the judges have read the legislation and, like the rest of us, they're confused about what it is supposed to mean and do.

Now the election is over, Mr Goff should admit the new Act is a dog. He pushed it through Parliament despite warnings from the only experienced lawyer in Parliament - ACT's Stephen Franks.

During the next three years, ACT will continue to lead the fight for truth in sentencing. ACT will push for major amendments to Mr Goff's flawed legislation, which allows violent offenders out of jail after serving just one-third of their sentence.

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