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Robson-on-Politics 5 December 2006

Robson-on-Politics - 5 December 2006

Parliament resumes with all eyes on John Key

Parliament resumes at 2 p.m. today and it is a very different place from the one that rose for a short recess 12 days ago.

John Key is the new Leader of the Opposition and the broad-brush picture for the future which he has outlined over the past week probably sits pretty comfortably with at least 60 MPs (National, NZ First, United Future, ACT) in the 121-seat Parliament.

There is now a huge contest between Labour and National for the affections of the Maori Party, which has four seats in this Parliament and looks very likely to be in a strong position to determine the next government.

I suspect some Labour people imagine the competition is for the affections of NZ First and United, but the reality is that National won that contest the day Mr Brash jumped.

John Key stands for selling down shareholdings in SOEs

The Key-led National Party's position is pretty much indistinguishable from that of United Future on two important issues: S.O.E.s and public debt.

It wants to reduce the Crown's shareholdings in State Owned Enterprises like the electricity companies - all that would do is socialise commercial risk while leaving the taxpayer (via the government) zero control over the assets they partially own. And as all of our S.O.E.s are domestic services industries, the big dividends that they make, if shareholdings were diluted, would partly flow offshore to new owners - adding to our current account deficits which, these days, run at around 10% of GDP.

John Key stands for raising public debt levels
In an interview with Scoop earlier in the year, Mr Key made it clear that he wants the public sector to join the credit card bandwagon that the private sector is already on: He is sympathetic to raising the level of government debt.

It is a dangerous policy in a country with huge current account deficit and it would, by definition, mean that every small business and homeowner would pay higher debt mortgage servicing costs.

Progressives welcome Nats conversion just as we welcomed Labour's

It is great news for social democracy that Mr Key has given a commitment to the basic values of a majority of Kiwis. He has committed National to the Treaty of Waitangi, to our anti-nuclear policy and to not playing politics over global climate change.

Under Mr Key, National, we are told, is to be a moderate right-wing party instead of being a party with an agenda to impose far-right economic and social electric shock treatment. We know that in 2005 National advanced those emotive and divisive policies as a diversion from the economic agenda it hoped to ram down our throats - they were a ruse and the fact that National has abandoned the sideshows means it has abandoned the secret far-right agenda and plans to try and govern for the long-term under MMP.

Losing three elections in 1999, 2002 and 2005, were what convinced National to announce partial surrender on the ideological front.

Its the same process that Labour's current leadership went through after losing the 1990, 1993 and 1996 elections - they recognised what they must do to become government is to give-up on the hard-right secret agenda and get into tune with the values of a majority of Kiwis.

Mr Prebble was on Labour's front bench until he was knocked out of Parliament by Sandra Lee and Mr Caygill, who gets a special mention in Nicky Hager's book, was Labour's deputy leader right up until the mid-1990s. Others, like Mr Douglas and Mr Bassett voluntarily retired from Parliament - they were never expelled from caucus, the way Jim Anderton was when he abstained on Labour's proposed sale of BNZ.

So now, in 2006, Mr Brash will also voluntarily retire from Parliament.

I don't think it really matters what motivates the leaders of major parties to abandon or become defensive about far-right social and economic far-right agendas – what matters is that they do so.

Progressive-minded people should therefore welcome Mr Key's conversion to political reality in 2006, just as we welcomed Labour's in 1998.
But we should remember that the spin doctor’s prescription is to say what the public want to hear even if the implementation plan is for the opposite.

What should the Left do going forward?

The Left suffered a terrible shock when the far-right took over the Labour Party in the 1980s.

Progressives - in the form initially of an alliance led by NewLabour, the Greens and Mana Motuhake - got our act together in the early 1990s to campaign for M.M.P. and we've pulled the centre of political gravity away from the Right over the past decade and a half.

Under the old unrepresentative voting system, progressives only won two seats in 1993 (1 NLP, 1 Mana Motuhake).

But under MMP, these three progressive parties won nine seats between them in 1996 (4 NLP, 3 Greens, 2 MM)*: fourteen seats in 1999 (7 Greens, 5 NLP, 2 MM)* and twelve seats in 2002 (9 Greens, 2 Progressive). In 2005, progressives won eleven seats (6 Greens, 4 Maori Party, 1 Progressive).

National's recent decision to get its house in order and to get serious about winning power will hopefully wake up the Left to do likewise.

In last week-end's Roy Morgan poll, the left-of-Labour's support translates into fifteen seats. Labour-Progressive-Green-Maori support translates into a tiny majority in a 121-seat Parliament. But if Labour and the Maori Party don't repair relations very quickly an ensure they are on the same side, then the winner will be the John Key-led National Opposition.

(*In the 1996 and 1999 elections, Grant Gillon and John Wright were Alliance M.P.s representing the Democrats. John and Grant stood for Progressive in 2005, but the Democrats put up a separate list in last year's election).

Let's promote big home-building programme, financial transactions tax

If I had to summarize the two biggest policies that Progressive Party members around the country want to promote in the next election, it would be (1) choosing a major government-funded home-building programme and (2) a financial transactions tax to fund child poverty eradication programmes.

I've enjoyed going around branches and next year we should discuss the idea of An Alternative Progressive Party Budget in 2008 - in other words, outline what a Progressive Budget would look like as opposed to a Labour-Progressive Budget.

Events in Fiji, Tonga, Solomons, Timor - we should focus on our backyard

The situation in Fiji, Tonga, the Solomons and East Timor, are all acting as a big wake-up call to all of us. We need to not only increase our overseas economic development assistance, open up our labour market to South Pacific workers - but we also need to concentrate more and more our limited overseas assistance resources to our own region.

We should also scale-down our efforts in Afghanistan because U.S. policies across the Middle East - from Palestine to Iraq, Bahrein to Lebanon - are playing into the hands of the Sunni extremists that our forces are trying to combat in Afghanistan.

The very Sunni extremism that we went into Afghanistan to fight, is now thriving in the chaos of Iraq and no doubt will soon fill the vacuum created in other areas like Palestine and Lebanon which have experienced recent U.S. foreign policy bombardment.

Labour:Insufficient evidence of war crimes

Talking about the war against extremism and terrorism, Labour's Deputy Leader says there is insufficient evidence of war crimes by one Moshe Ya'alon, the former Israel Defence Forces boss in our country on a fund-raising tour. Mr Cullen ruled invalid the recent proceedings of the District Court in Auckland to indict Ya'alon .

It wasn't that long ago the South Africa Defence Forces killed more than 2000 people, and detained an estimated 25,000 people, often without trial and often tortured, during its futile racist campaign against progress.

Labour people might do some evidence-gathering about the nature of what is going on in Gaza and West Bank/Jerusalem - they'll find it oddly similar to South Africa circa 1980.

Wishing you quality time with family and good friends over the summer break - may the sun shine on you, may the surf be good and may you also find a good book to take to the beach to enjoy under a tree. See you all next year!


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