Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

On Bill English’s politicizing earthquake response & the RWC

Gordon Campbell on Bill English’s attempt to politicize the earthquake response, plus the Rugby World Cup

Much of the inspirational rhetoric surrounding the Christchurch earthquake has had a genuine “We’re all in this together” quality. Certainly, most of the political benefits the quake has delivered to the government have sprung from that same unity of purpose, and shared sense of suffering. Yesterday, Finance Minister Bill English put all that at risk by flagging that all government spending is now on the table for re-consideration – including, for instance, shrinking the eligibility for Working for Families and interest free student loans.

It is not simply that the government’s mandate at the last election was based on promises not to touch such items. In exceptional circumstances – which the Christchurch quake certainly is – the basics of a mandate may need to be reviewed. However, it also makes it crucial that any such review be even handed, and undertaken only as a last resort. English completely failed that test. Every candidate for spending restraint and revenue relief that has surfaced in the past 48 hours (Working for Families criteria, interest free student loans, postponing or scrapping the CBD rail loop in Auckland, the partial privatisation of state energy companies etc) was on the government’s political wish list well before the earthquake. If it looks like English is trying to exploit the earthquake for party political purposes, that’s because it is exactly what he is doing. Barely a week after the quake – and while many people in Christchurch are still lacking basic services – the government has begun to play politics with their plight.

Government spending is, after all, only one half of the revenue equation. If English wants this to be a genuine process, all forms and all rates of revenue gathering should also be back on the table, including (a) the possibility of a special national tax levy for Christchurch and (b) a review of the government’s highly skewed tax cuts programme. The principle behind reviewing the criteria for Working for Families is supposedly that certain upper middle class families have little need for the WFF subsidy. Well, if means testing is to become the new norm, the same principle should be applied to the tax cuts programme – given that its benefits were showered disproportionately on the least needy income earners in New Zealand.

Treasury has been a worse than useless player in this crisis. No surprises there. In a demonstration of its usual preference for theory over reality, Treasury has reportedly opposed a special levy to help Christchurch recover and rebuild. The public, on the other hand, would support such a levy, as a meaningful expression of the “We’re all in this together” national sentiment. Why should WFF middle income earners, students and Aucklanders be selected out to shoulder the main burden of the quake, and of the government’s related borrowing programme? Last year, no such restraint was in evidence when nearly $2 billion was magically found to bail out the investors in Alan Hubbard’s business empire.

In sum, it is time that John Key and Bill English went public – and asked New Zealanders whether they would prefer to pay a special quake levy, or accept cuts in public services and partial privatization of state assets? As an aside, it is worth checking out this excellent NZ Herald summary of why government spending on the CBD loop is very much in the country’s medium term/long term interests :

[Auckland Transport committee chairman Mike] Lee said he was concerned that people might be using the Christchurch earthquake "to reinforce their own prejudices which we have seen on display for so many months" after the release of the business case and its compelling arguments for the rail link.

He was referring to the Government's reaction to a report for for KiwiRail and the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority which predicted that the 3.5km underground link from the western end of Britomart to Mt Eden would pay for itself three and a half times over in benefits to Auckland.

A team of consultants warned that without the link, a dead-end Britomart would be almost at capacity within three years, leaving virtually no room for extra rail services after the arrival of electric trains in 2013-14.

Ultimately, Auckland would choke on its traffic congestion, and double or even triple bus lanes would have to be built on each side of main roads to have any hope of keeping people moving.

***

Living In Denial

Very soon, someone in government will need to do something bound to be deeply unpopular about the Rugby World Cup programme. Currently, Christchurch is due to host two RWC quarter finals and five pool games. Given that at least 85,000 foreign visitors are heading to this country for the RWC competition, that probably means that some 40,000 extra foreign tourists – not counting New Zealanders – may require suitable accommodation, and an efficient public transport system to and from the games in Christchurch.

Currently, it is hard to see how the Christchurch CBD (or city as a whole) will be back in adequate working order by September 10–11, sufficient to host the first two games on Christchurch’s roster. That’s assuming foreign visitors would want to take the risk of coming to Christchurch in the first place. Hotels that were booked to the gunwales are now either wrecked, or due for demolition. The current talk of putting tourists in cruise ships out in Lyttelton harbour is a sign of just how unrealistic the alternatives are.

On paper, Wellington and Dunedin are the only real alternatives for the quarterfinals, while Nelson or Invercargill could conceivably be candidates for the pool games. Problem is, Wellington already has two quarterfinals booked for the same days (October 8 and October 9) as the quarterfinals currently allocated to Christchurch. So Dunedin is the only real option.

Currently, Dunedin’s new and very expensive stadium has a grand total of just two pool games. I don’t know what Dunedin’s hotel bed capacity is, but on paper, it should be able to shoulder the burden of hosting two quarterfinals on the same weekend. Dunedin would also be the most accessible option for disappointed Canterbury fans, and would serve the greater tourism good of pulling those big spending foreign visitors south, and pumping them out towards Queenstown, Wanaka and points north, south and west of Dunedin.

So far, Key has merely expressed his preference that the RWC games currently set for Christchurch to be held there, since that would a symbol of the city’s potential for recovery. Indeed it would. It would be very nice. Reality though is soon going to require someone to step up and announce the shifting of the games.

********

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 


Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Voices Of Concern: Aussies For Assange’s Return

With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice. It might be said that a few have even found their conscience... More>>



Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>



Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>