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Govt Must Be Held to Account in Election Year

Government Must Be Held to Account in Election Year

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

Last week I was subjected to the wrath of a Bulgarian journalist who is now living here. He was angry because he thinks most New Zealanders are oblivious to the fact that the present government is turning our country into a socialist society. He sees the daily erosion of freedom, the growth in regulation and other central controls, and he feels that the government is not being properly held to account for what is a fundamental corrosion of our democracy.

His anger struck a chord. I visited his country back in the heyday of communist rule. The country was grey and bleak and the people repressed and poor. It was not a place you would want to live and raise a family.

Socialism is based on the public collective ownership or control of the means of production, distribution and exchange. It's avowed aim is to operate for use, rather than profit. That helps to explain why the Labour Government is so ideologically opposed to private enterprise and why it favours the nationalisation of industries and the expansion of the public service.

The re-regulation of industrial relations through the Employment Relations Act has dealt a body blow to private business, delivering significant power over the control of their workforce to state-manipulated unions. The result has been a rapid escalation in the number of strikes.

The government's 'strengthening' of the public service has meant that 'mates', like Susan Bathgate formerly of the Employment Relations Authority could triple dip.

The renationalisation of Accident Compensation has reversed the competitive advantage enjoyed when opened up to private enterprise. The renationalisation of the country's airline has already resulted in a decrease of service and an increase in fares. The renationalisation of Auckland's rail system, in spite of all of the rhetoric, will not reduce congestion on motorways.

The government's coercive, anti-freedom agenda should now be clear to us all. Whether it's in the area of science, education, health, social work, telecommunications, transport, local government, fishing, food labelling, employment - no area of life in New Zealand is safe from the heavy hand of government regulation and control. In fact the Herald newspaper recently estimated the cost on a medium sized business of the raft of regulations passed in the last two years at well over $25,000.

In true socialist style, the government came to office, enthusiastically embracing wealth redistribution - taking money off those who earned it to give it to those who didn't - as a means to eliminate inequality. The fact that such a doctrine has been shown throughout history to fail doesn't appear to matter to them.

The reality is that a true democracy depends not on equal results but on equal opportunity, for its legitimacy. It is driven by the belief that a fundamental desire of all free individuals to better themselves. That means that an essential role of government is to create the conditions for economic growth in order to encourage social mobility.

In his book Free to Choose Milton Friedman puts it this way: 'Any society that puts equality ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests. 'A society that puts freedom first, will end up with both greater freedom and greater equality. A free society releases the energies and the abilities of people to pursue their own objectives. It prevents some people from arbitrarily suppressing others. It does not prevent some people from achieving positions of privilege, but so long as freedom is maintained, it prevents those positions of privilege from becoming institutionalised; they are subject to continued attack by other able, ambitious people. 'Freedom means diversity but also mobility. It preserves the opportunity for today's disadvantaged to become tomorrow's privileged and in the process, it enables almost everyone, from top to bottom, to enjoy a fuller and richer life'.

Economic growth depends on a proper functioning of a free market with government regulation and control getting in the way. In fact, the free market remains the most effective wealth generating mechanism known to man. According to Friedman: 'Wherever the free market has been permitted to operate, wherever anything approaching equality of opportunity has existed, the ordinary man has been able to attain levels of living never dreamed of before. Nowhere is the gap between rich and poor wider, nowhere are the rich richer and the poor poorer than in those societies that do not permit the free market to operate'.

The Bulgarian journalist was right to be concerned about the actions of this government. He was less than complimentary about the scrutiny of those actions by the New Zealand media, explaining that when he worked for the Bulgarian state newspaper, at least they were honest enough to stamp the communist party logo on the front of the paper. Given that election year is now upon us, in the interests of democracy, we must hope that the actions of the government go under the microscope, not only of the media, but of voters as well.


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