State Of It: Election Campaign Reporting And Unfinished Business
By Selwyn Manning Scoop co-editor
Unfinished business: that's the feeling that remains as this election campaign comes to a close. Unfinished from a media point of view in that proper and in-depth analysis of National and Labour's social policy has yet to be concluded. Unfinished too in that the polls show people have largely not made up their minds.
Unfinished, in that Labour's brand of third-way government has not yet been fully tested. And unfinished, in that National is again presenting policy that lingers from the 1990s that it suggests had not been embedded once and for all in the New Zealand lifestyle.
Foreign Policy: Concerns remain: should voters provide the means for National to lead a coalition, what does this mean for New Zealand in the global scheme of things? Will National align closer to the United States and Australia and commit to the extremes of U.S. republicanism foreign policy? To do so is aligning to a superpower that put into practise its National Security Strategy ( released in 2002 see Scoop article; Imperial PAX Americana.) and considered it morally defensible citing pre-emptive defence to unilaterally invade another nation. Would it align to an Australian government, whose leader instituted and sustained gross breaches of human rights via an immigration position that detained arbitrarily refugees, split families, and denied the basic human rights of those who sought its protection and refuge (remember the Tampa refugees and Nauru hunger-strikers)? Such measures of dealing with the strains of global geo-politics relegate nations into the company of the immoral.
Considering National's foreign affairs and trade policy, it appears National will take a trade-first position. Its policy statement lacked detail to a degree that one can only assume human rights and frailties will warrant scant due consideration.
Defence: National will resource combat and strike forces. Sounds fair, but how exactly does it intend to express this policy? Fighting along side the United States as it attacks another 'Axis of Evil' nation? Who knows, Don Brash hasn't gone into such depth. We would have liked to have asked him, but no. National refused to permit Scoop Media to interview Brash on exactly these points. Why was that so? It accused us of disrupting a press conference when our reporters sought answers from Brash on email leaks from his Wellington office. It offered up Lockwood Smith and David Carter. Well, sorry, but this campaign centred around leaders and it is the leader's take on this policy we sought.
Should National be elected to the Treasury benches, will Brash instinctually dodge or refuse to answer questions that may cause him discomfort? Will he continue the tradition of Prime Ministerial post-Cabinet press conferences, or will he cancel them as the last National prime minister did?
What will Don Brash's position be on the Pacific Plan? On peacekeeping roles New Zealand must assume in Oceania? On aid to island states that abide in the South Pacific? Who knows?
Domestic Policy: Concerns remain on why National will be reinstituting market rents for statehouse tenants, and more concerning directing accommodation supplement payments (a top up for the subsequent hike in rents) directly to landlords. That framework of wealth distribution seems to abandon National's ideology of putting more money into the pockets of individuals for them to decide what to do with 'their' money. Again, Scoop Media sought comment from Brash on this most important policy. We were denied access to his thinking.
Experience of the 1990s suggests National's market rent policy will rob renting families of the top-up and hand it over to their landlords to spend. Brash hinted at this on RNZ's nine to noon programme with Linda Clark. Will this policy be extended to private tenants? If so will the accommodation supplement be uniform in that landlords of private tenants too will receive the top-up directly? Looks like a party for the boys. If so, this will rob micro-economies throughout this nation of cash.
Back in the 1990s as National's market rents policy began to bite, Manukau City economists calculated that $20 million per week was siphoned out of the Manukau economy due to the advent of rent-hikes. That meant less money spent locally. Retailers suffered, services suffered, families suffered, and the nation suffered. Where did the money go? Well, back into the coffers of a National-led government.
The chief executive of South Auckland Health at the time, David Clarke, identified a co-relation between housing policy and health budget blowouts. Put simply, families with children could no longer afford to rent so they moved in with other families and friends. Overcrowded housing became rife. National's argument at that time, via Murray McCully, was there was no problem because it had empty housing stock in Manukau and throughout the country. But in the bedrooms designed for two, slept five, when one child got over a bout of influenza, another just caught it, in no time the virus had gone full-circle and respiratory and bronchial family problems became public interest issues as the corridors of Middlemore Hospital and Auckland Hospital accommodated beds where children and the elderly lay waiting for a ward bed. Elective surgery was cancelled winter after winter, the elective surgery budgets transferred to the acute ledger.
What is Don Brash's view of this historical account? Who knows, he would not give Scoop Media an interview on it - despite this media organisation being largely political in its nature and having more individual readers per month than Metro magazine, North and South and a host of others all put together.
Concerns remain due to questions not being answered.
On Race And Divisiveness: National's policy to abolish Maori seats will without a doubt widen the ditch that its leader intends to bridge. Few could successfully argue that there is any insincerity in Don Brash's convictions. But how in tune with New Zealand's indigenous peoples is this former governor of the Reserve Bank? His message luring all to be wrapped in the glorious cape of mainstream conservatism will no doubt have the opposite effect of inclusiveness. Even last night Don Brash began to define what his version of 'mainstream' meant through exclusion. It spoke volumes. Those not mainstream were Labour supporters and those who did not share the tax cut policies of the National Party. Make what you will from the interpretation - the National Party leader said it himself.
And What Of Labour: Well yes its leader Helen Clark gave Scoop Media its requested interview and answered the questions that were put to her (See Scoop article; Election Briefing: Prime Minister Helen Clark). Concerns remain however: will Labour, should it be returned to office, revisit the arrogance and de-attachment it displayed over major public and national interest issues like the Ahmed Zaoui case? Will we again hear its Cabinet minister, David Benson-Pope shout out to send Zaoui home - all the while knowing his home, Algeria, has an execution order on his head for basically being an elected MP and outspoken critic of a military coup that ousted his party?
Labour faces unchecked social dissention in the urban areas of New Zealand. Social conditions for aspiring youth from depressed families are no better off than when it came into office. Election campaigns can reacquaint politicians to the social disorder that exists "out there" that electorate clinics just do not offer. However, the extreme social casualties that line up on the streets of south Auckland and central Auckland in the cool dark nights of winter, scrounging Joes for a few bucks for a hand-job in a littered carpark at the back of SouthMall, hardly spell success for those who represent these areas, nor is it a success for a party that has governed social provision for the past six years.
Concerns remain. However there is in this election a clear identifiable choice between a National-led right ideology of 1990s tested economics and potentially user pays, and, a social democratic third-way government led by Labour.
Voters will no doubt decide to consider smaller parties to indicate a cumulative flavour of government that reflects the New Zealand way: Greens, Progressives, United Future, New Zealand First, ACT all have a prominent part to play in shaping New Zealand's Heritage.
Today, deciphering what the outcome will be is difficult. Tomorrow perhaps will offer a glimpse. By this time next week we will all be introduced to what our fellow New Zealanders collectively believe is the New Zealand way.
Remember to vote Saturday. Kia Kaha.