No Confidence: Sensible or Just Sulking?
No Confidence: Sensible or Just Sulking?
Monday 30th Oct 2000 Stephen Franks Media Release -- Other
Last Thursday, I met Yegor Gaidar, a Russian politician and economist known around the world. He held the Prime Minister and Finance Minister posts at various times in Russia’s tumultuous last 10 years.
Our problems seem tiny after talking with a politician who has grappled with the forces loose in that vast country.
He was asked for his optimistic forecast of Russia in 10 years time. He referred to its world-leading education in maths, physics, military and space technology. But people would nevertheless still earn less than half of New Zealand averages. Damage from the tragic experiment with Socialism would go for generations. They have lost so many of the building blocks of civil society.
Naturally, we were humbled. Are our concerns about business depression, emigration, crime and falling educational and health standing in the world just the “hissy fit” that Michael Cullen calls them?
Are Richard Poole and his seven hundred friends just spoilt kids over-reacting to the fulfilment of three election promises? Are they just showing attitudes they get from their parents, complaining about the election of a team from the wrong side of the tracks, people without the right accents?
Should we be satisfied by the preservation of Reserve Bank independence, the Fiscal Responsibility Act and the Government’s balanced budget?
Are we just talking ourselves into third world depression, while the rest of the world is getting on with the party? Will we become Hobart to Sydney or Nova Scotia or New Foundland to Ontario, Calabria to Italy?
I want to look at the Government’s performance outside of the big three controversies, ACC, ERA and tax increases. The smaller things will tell shrewd observers what Cabinet Ministers know, what they value, where they are likely to lead us if they get long enough.
I believe we are at a turning point. New Zealanders are angry. They wanted to change the Government, but did not expect to get the incompetence, the ignorance of the real world, and the rejection of traditional virtues that is now washing over us. New Zealand was misled by a clever election campaign that Labour-Alliance were allowed to present as Centre-Left.
In reality, in world terms, our Government is about as far left as first-world countries tolerate. In fact, National is about where the Democrats sit in the US, Act’s position is close to that of the US Republicans, but the label ‘far right’ is locked to ACT in the media word processor.
So New Zealanders have a hangover. We celebrated getting new management and now we find their references were false.
Few current Cabinet members have ever employed anyone out of their own money. They haven’t had to take business risks. They don’t understand marginal pricing.
In particular, they don’t grasp that to business people the present is valued in terms of what it will mean in the future.
Property values rest not on what it earned last year or this year, or on what you are doing with it now, but on what you think someone will pay next year, or in 10 years’ time for a property. So, confidence and investment and willingness to work and to take risks depend on sentiment. It is sentiment that is judging this Government.
Anxious sentiment that arises from the lack of any vision for the future that we can understand. Business is looking past the credit card promises for the signals. Has the Government got sound judgement? And it is not just the Government we look at. We look at ourselves. What do our votes say about us?
Have we New Zealanders the qualities, the realism and the will needed? Can we make the collective decisions that will pull us onto a path of energy and self-reliance? If we don’t, are Government people the leaders who can change the climate in the right direction? Will they challenge us to do better or will the instead feed our deficiencies?
Well let’s look at he facts. Let’s review this first year of the Government and look past the headline items, tax, ACC and the ERB. What else might the sentiment be based on?
We started with a $20 a week across the board benefit increase, to please Michael Cullen’s mother.
This is in a country that has spent more than it’s earned all my adult life.
This is in a country with serious skilled labour shortages.
This is at a time when the bottom 30% of our school kids need drastic incentive changes, because they feel it is okay not to get skills.
This is in a country that the OECD has warned already has a welfare poverty trap, where the gap between welfare benefits and the value employers can see in lower skilled or unskilled workers, is too small. Making work less attractive is not the way you deal with poverty traps.
Minimum Wage Rise
Nor is increasing minimum wages. That can have only one effect on the job seekers least attractive to employers – those who most need to be given a chance to get their foot up the ladder.
Wipe Work Testing
Shortly thereafter the Government confirmed abolition of the work test for unemployment. It nobbled the ACC in its work readiness testing.
This at the same time as fruit is going unharvested in Hawkes Bay while several thousand unemployed loaf in Hastings and Flaxmere watching daytime TV, and beating their kids and showing all the other classic signs of frustration at pointless lives.
Reneging on Contracts
The Government also started early on destroying faith in the rule of law and indeed in the concept of good faith from the Government. Ministers calmly told parties who have trusted in contact with the Government, ‘We renege, tough luck.’
West Coast Accord: The West Coast Forest Accords were broken. Just before the House rose, the Bill was forced through that abolished any rights to compensation for breach of contract,. Investors in mills relying on long term contracts were expressly refused compensation. Kit Richards, doing his duty as senior employee of Timberlands, was forced from his job by a vindictive Prime Minister.
F-16: We then tore up the F-16 contract with the Americans.
Private Prison Management: Corrections Minister Matt Robson publicly bemoaned being forced to stick with the prison management contract with the Melbourne builder and operator of the new Auckland Remand Prison. Initially he was going to end it. He says that it will not be renewed at the first expiry date. The reason is pure anti-business ideology.
Retrospective Change for Casino: And the pattern has continued. Several weeks ago your local Member, Mr Gallagher, tried to make a Bill extending the casino moratorium retrospective, a disgraceful way to change the rules on businesses acting in good faith. Making it retrospective would have been worse.
Treaty Settlements: The Government is welching on what was intended when Te Ohu Kai Moana was set up. The Treaty fisheries agreements should now be confirmed instead of pandering to urban voters outside Treaty property rights.
Contracts in Government
Some in this Government actually despise contracts. In a paper to the Legal Research Foundation, Margaret Wilson explained her view that a contract was what you had in an environment of mistrust and bad faith. Instead she favours ‘relationships’. She left her audience flabbergasted.
I have to say that a benefit for Waikato from the last election, was the loss of Professor Wilson from the Law School. They now have a better chance to build a reputation for genuine scholarship, instead of a New Age melange of feminism and recycled 19th century race consciousness.
Bad Faith in Employment Law
I said I wouldn’t go on about the Employment Relations Act but we should remember that the election promise was only to abolish the ECA. They didn’t promise to cull every reference to contract and replace it with the word ‘agreement’. They didn’t promise to increase employer risks of serious personal grievance claims shifting the burden of proof.
They didn’t promise to make reinstatement the primary remedy in dismissal cases.
They chose to do those things. How does it enhance good faith relationships, to force employers and fellow employees to accept back someone they mistrust? Someone they believe lacks competence or integrity?
Assimilation with Australia
In another of my spokesman areas, Commerce Minister Paul Swain seems to have no appreciation that it is not good enough for New Zealand to have the same rules as Australia. Australia can afford expensive lawyer-enriching rules like the takeover code and utilities regulation. Our law must be better. We have to focus on reliable enforcement of basic rules against fraud. Fancy extra codes are meaningless if basic commercial law doesn’t mean what it says, and you can’t collect debt.
Stamping out Tertiary Education Competition
As tertiary education spokesperson I have been watching with disbelief the contortions Minister Steve Maharey is going through. He has vowed to stamp out competition among tertiary institutions. He seems belatedly to have realised what that might do to Otago, Canterbury, Lincoln and Waikato universities. Of course they duplicate courses and facilities offered in the other universities. They draw students from outside their areas.
Quality the Issue
He has not recanted his vow, but we can expect a long period of confusion and indecision in Education policy. This comes at a time when New Zealand as a whole is losing its competitiveness with he world-brand universities. Those institutions are “coming ready or not” through Australia, through the Internet and through the recognition by our better students that their New Zealand qualification brands may be serious devalued and they need validation or endorsement overseas.
In an election bribe, student loans were made interest-free while the student studies. We are seeing approximately $200 million extra go out this year though student rolls have fallen a little. Most of that money would not have been borrowed last year. Michael Cullen’s public musing on the possible non-collectability of the $4 billion in outstanding loans just tells families without loans they are mugs.
It encourages the young to borrow and spend up because they are taking a ticket in a lottery that may see their loans wiped. In any event the scheme does not pursue them overseas, so it remains an emigration bonus.
In secondary education, the legislated zoning rules now ration access by mortgage capacity. It is fascinating how often we can look at Socialist policies and see how they reinforce class systems. I understand real estate agents are seeing a rapid divergence of property values as between favoured and unfavoured suburbs.
Housing: Income Related Rents
While on housing, let’s think about the impact of income-related rent policy on housing construction and the supply in a few years of low-cost rental accommodation. The Government is re-creating house rationing by waiting list with its income-related rent policy. The mistrust of accommodation supplements says to sensible landlords and investors it could be time to get out, or at least not increase exposure to the bottom end of the housing market.
But this list is just a reminder of the things that tell us why many thoughtful people despair for our prospects in the short term.
Fanning Racism But underlying all of this is a cancerous problem often mentioned only in private. I believe it is a substantial unacknowledged reason for our emigration loss.
Are the skilled people flooding out of New Zealand just misjudging everything? Are the partial replacements, the immigrants with fewer options, lower skills and more limited horizons, smarter about this country’s future because they want to come? Or do they just have few options? The sinister fact is that we have a deeply racist Government. New Zealanders know that they see everything through a race prism. They are pandering to instincts and passions that have wrought evil wherever they have been let loose. No-one has been able to control race-consciousness once it has been deliberately fostered.
Our forebears quarried notions of citizenship from Roman successes in integrating a polyglot empire. Citizenship transcended culture and ethnic identity. Indeed, the nation state was evolved in countries with serious potential racial tensions, to ensure that national loyalties overcame tribal passions. Now the Government has set out to foster division.
I was at the Constitutional Hui supported by the Government in April this year. Pakeha New Zealanders have little idea of the gulf between the thinking of the elite and the common sense of ordinary New Zealanders. Mr Bolger, for example, promoted again his idea of a second chamber, but this time with the view that Maori would have at least 50% of the seats so that they could veto anything Maori didn’t like.
Attorney General Margaret Wilson, in charge of Treaty matters, has decided to bypass the Waitangi Tribunal and is about to go on a propaganda tour. She wants us to accept what is cunningly called “contemporary Treaty issues”. By that they mean their project to infiltrate Treaty ‘race’ privileges into all law.
They cannot achieve that openly by referendum. So they are working law by law. They want a state in which all powers exercise by negotiation among elite representatives of racially-defined groups.
I quote Margaret Wilson describing the goal in a paper she wrote in 1995. It is to enable “the whole issue of Maori sovereignty to be debated in the Courts in a variety of circumstances... [to]… give the Courts an opportunity to judge all legislation against the provisions of the Treaty to see if it conformed with its terms”.
In our Cabinet are a few who sneer at the quaintness of notions such as “one person one vote” democracy. They despise our inheritance of equality before he law.
At the Hui, a number of Maori had reservations about incorporating the Treaty in the Constitution because it does not go far enough. For example, they are not comfortable with “the same rights and the duties of citizenship [as British subjects to] … all the ordinary people of New Zealand … “, which is found clearly in Article 3 of the Treaty.
So we get Treaty clauses in the Health Bill, in our proposed Singapore Free Trade Agreement, to the utter bemusement of the Singaporeans. We have a Minister endorsing the ludicrous Waitangi Tribunal claims that Maori history was a holocaust exceeding the tragedies of other people. The Government demanded that she stop using the word. The debate should have been about her beliefs. We should honour her for honesty and challenge the illogic. But no – the reaction was to gag her, for alerting us to the thinking in Cabinet.
We have the Attorney General appointing Caren Wickliffe as a Judge despite her writings as recently as April this year denying the legitimacy of the government and institutions in New Zealand.
We have law and practice that says merit in New Zealand is now out-ranked by membership of inherited race or status groups.
We have Ministers retaining office despite scandals such as the $200,000 to be spent on a road to nowhere for the benefit of her friends. We have two standards of expected political behaviour depending on the colour of your skin. One colour can advocate thinly-disguised separate development theory, which would have been a scandal only twenty years ago when we were busy reforming South Africa.
But we should not blame the radicalised Maori. Appeasement has tempted them to push until they find resistance. I would have taken the same course, in their shoes, 30 years ago. All they have found is candy floss. By not crying halt, moderate Pakeha and Maori alike are betraying their own values. Most of us believe in universally-desirable values promotion on merit, equality before the law, colour blindness of the state, a neutral independent judiciary, intellectual honesty, hard work, thrift, personal responsibility and responsibility for your families. All are under attack by theories that force us to look at all performance only through a race prism.
Until New Zealanders stop looking the other way, until the candy-floss Pakeha and Maori leaders are replaced by people not cowed by the nasty names they will be called. Until they get over their fear of being called bigots by people who are bigots, we could continue to be puzzled by people migrating from this lifestyle paradise.
Even if we fixed all the other things until this cancer is burned out, our children will decide to stay away.
Fiddling with racist ‘gaps’ programmes while our values corrode will see us fall off the vitality map. We will sit in a kind of lifestyle rest home, fearfully watching rising crime, lowering aspirations and politically correct self-delusion justify the stream of skilled families departing. I am optimistic that the reaction process is finally starting. The silver lining to this Government is that its debacles may show voters the risks of supporting asking for candy floss.
If this Government vaccinates New Zealanders for a decade or two against soft option slogans, if it unmasks the candy floss politicians for a generation, then the cost to the country might have been worthwhile.
For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.