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Howard's End: The Carpetbaggers Return

They're Back! Economic rationalists such as former Australian PM Paul Keating who undermined the bargaining power of workers and dismantled Australia's economic defences, along with Harvard University's Dr Michael Porter of the Roger Douglas era, are scheduled to speak to 450 hand-picked attendees at an Auckland conference on August 1 entitled; "Catching the Knowledge Wave." Lock up the silver! Maree Howard writes

The Labour/Alliance coalition government is about to embark on yet another scheme of action plans and radical change to drive New Zealand's economic transformation.

They are being quite smart by sending clear messages to the "right" that it's an OK government, while professing publicly that it is "centre-left." That leaves the right wing Opposition with no place to go.

But I smell a rat. Coupled with this August "knowledge wave" conference, is a review of the Local Government Act which, although may sound boring to many, seems to dovetail nicely with Government's plans for the economic transformation of New Zealand.

The Government has issued a discussion document in which it now proposes to allow city, district and regional councils to have; "full capacity to carry on or undertake any business or activity, do any act, or enter into any transaction and full rights, powers and privileges."

According to Local Government Minister Sandra Lee, councils will have the same power of general competence as corporations. Think about that!

Might this proposed "power of general competence" be read as power for Council's to sell-off of water, sewerage, and roads to the private sector or do anything else that they want to? All for our good, our benefit and in our interest, of course.

Afterall, most of our major publicly-owned assets had already been sold-off by the Labour Government between 1984 and 1990 and then continued by National between 1990 and 1999. So it might make sound business and economic sense for the private sector to be able to get their hands on the rest of our publicly-owned assets with the help of government.

The government could rightly say that it's not selling our assets - local government is.

And might we expect to see councils become involved in partnerships with business in all sorts of other areas that they are presently not allowed to do?

Where did all this come from?

Over January 14-15 1999, a global forum entitled "Transforming Governments in the 21st Century" was held in Washington which included leaders from 45 nations.

According to the agenda, then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley attended, and was a speaker.

The forum media briefing was told by Morley Winograd, senior advisor to then VP Al Gore, there has been a history in many countries of reinvention efforts that have been started by one political party continuing after another political party takes office.

"Once the momentum begins, fiscal necessity and the economic necessity tends to drive the program regardless of political party," he said.

In his address Al Gore said; " Inefficient, slow-moving, overly centralised government can be one of the greatest obstacles to the progress of the private sector, especially in the high-speed, high-tech economy of the 21st century. "

" Over the past five years the U.S. government has eliminated 250 outdated government programs, slashed 16,000 pages of regulations, cut more than 640,000 pages of internal rules, helped balance the budget for the first time in 30 years by saving more than $137 billion, and cut more than 351,000 employees." - now the smallest percentage of employees its been since the 1930's.

As an aside British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has recently lost major financial support of a British trade union because he now wants to allow the private sector to run part of the public service.

But what Al Gore didn't say at the 1999 global forum was that many of the functions that central government used to do in the U.S. were shifted to state and local government. This caused local U.S. leaders to cry foul and call for funding from central government for what they called "un-funded federal mandates."

Government-Business partnerships are now the order of the day in the U.S. and Britain. And the same language is also being used in New Zealand.

What is really happening is a redistribution of publicly-owned assets.

For example, the people of Dallas didn't want their taxes (rates) raised so a new "innovative financing proposal" was arranged. The sewer system shifted from being owned by the people into a new partnership now jointly owned by local government and business.

The board of this "financial arrangement" now sits around an unelected corporate table, rather than the elected council table, and profit and return on investment has been added to the cost recovery equation. Result? People pay more and business has got its hands on a good part of former publicly-owned assets.

But the real question is, who has the power? It's clear that the golden rule now applies - he who has the gold has the power - and makes the rules.

And that seems to be where New Zealand is now heading under a left-leaning Labour/Alliance government.

Since the 1989 New Zealand local council amalgamations around 90 functions have been moved from central government to local government and ratepayers - that now looks set to continue.

And despite acrimonious opposition, current U.S. President, George Bush, last Thursday received approval from Congress, voting 233 to 198, for his "faith-based" delivery of social services in his "compassionate conservative" plan.

The Community Solutions Act allows religious organisations to receive federal funding to help fight addiction, poverty, homelessness, hunger and other ills.

Opponents, however, are bitterly against the program which they see as threatening human rights and are rankled by the depth of arm-twisting by President Bush to get it passed. They see religious organisations as sometimes being intolerant.

In New Zealand, our Government will not go quite so far, preferring to pass these social responsibilities to local government.

That's clear from the Local Government Review discussion document which says that the purpose of local government is proposed; "to enable local decision-making by and on behalf of citizens in their local communities to promote their social, economic, cultural and environmental well-being in the present and for the future."

Sandra Lee says Government will not try to push its responsibilities in the area of social policy onto local government.

But "policy" is one thing - who will be expected to carryout or enact that policy and its cost, is an entirely different matter.

Ms Lee recently told the local government conference in Wellington that it would face formidable challenges in the coming decades. Indeed it will, if what were once the responsibilities of central government are palmed-off to local council's in the name of transforming the economy.

The historic August 1 "Catching the Knowledge Wave" conference will see a "group think" to create strategies and action plans to transform our economy.

Some of those strategies and plans will likely provide the basis for decisions about the level of responsibilities of a future "reinvented" central government.

Let's all hope that some of the 450 hand-picked attendees such as trade unionists, bureaucrats, academics, businesspeople, politicians and the news media, don't go into the conference with their eyes wide shut.


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