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Peter Dunne Op-ed: Pink Thinking On The Rise

Op-ed piece
By Peter Dunne Leader United Future
Tuesday, 23 September 2003

Last month I wrote about the ‘pink think’ that is pervading a number of government measures that are trying to change the way in which we think about social norms.

I argued that reforms such as the smoke-free legislation, aspects of the new child guardianship laws, and proposed changes to the legal status of marriage revealed a willingness by some elements within Labour to impose their own politically correct values onto everyone, yet with no clear mandate for doing so.

But it is not just limited to social policy. Despite Labour’s ability during the last parliamentary term to assure many voters that it was neither a scary socialist nor a rabid Rogernomics government, now that it has a second term, the government is under pressure to deliver to its activists through agenda-driven policy decisions.

It’s also been behind a whole raft of policy decisions relating to the economy, and is being driven by a union-inspired belief that businesses take more than they give. Employment law is a clear example.

New health and safety laws introduced stress as a workplace hazard, meaning that bosses are now liable for stressed out employees. Stress is not defined, yet employers are supposed to be able to recognise it when it occurs and deal with it, lest they are driven out of business by grossly inflated fines.

And when it comes to training workplace representatives about the new rules, guess who got the contract? The CTU of course.

Now there’s the Holidays Bill, currently before Parliament. Instead of simply updating and simplifying a law long in need of an overhaul, the government have taken the opportunity to add a whole bunch of new entitlements for workers. For example, the Bill extends sick leave provisions, so that an employee can take a whole week off sick without providing any evidence. Redistribution, rather than growth, is the real agenda, and employers will be footing the bill.

Taxpayers will also be hit. The Auckland District Health Board alone has calculated that the new law will cost it at least $1.25 million a year in extra pay.

Surely these are matters for employees to negotiate, whether individually or collectively, with employers in good faith. The thought of a return to the bad old days of state-imposed awards should give us all cause to watch the outcome of the government’s review of the ERA very carefully.

There’s a real danger that in its attempt to “promote collective bargaining”, the ERA review will actually tip the scales so far in favour of the unions that people will be compelled to join. PSA members in government departments are already getting extra payments for their union’s ‘constructive approach’ to contract negotiations.

How can freedom of association, a fundamental human right, be maintained when exerting the right not to belong hits you in the pocket? For too long, successive governments have treated businesses as if they were its money machine. Labour promised in 1999 that there would be no tax increases beyond a lift in the top marginal personal tax rate, but since that time, 17 additional tax increases have been imposed in the guise of levies (such as ACC, petrol excise, the flatulence tax) and the like, sucking an extra $4 billion out of the economy.

Yet private enterprise is also being shut out of opportunities due to an ideological belief that there are some things that only the state should do.

The new Corrections Bill rules out private prisons, despite the success of the privately-run Auckland Remand Prison, for this very reason.

Recently, the Wellington DHB refused the assistance of a private hospital when it couldn’t cope with demand for surgical services, even though it was offered at a much lower rate. This meant that those patients had to wait unnecessarily to be treated, and perhaps they’re still waiting. Once again, ideology blinds the government from losing sight of the idea that although the state should set the standards of public service, it does not necessarily mean that they are best suited to deliver on them.

It’s time for the government to stop seeing the private sector as the problem, or dare I say it, the enemy, and instead be open to the idea that it should be part of a solution.

United Future opposes any government policy that is driven by ideology rather than common sense. Unfortunately, the cards that the voters dealt out at the election mean that the government can usually turn to the Greens to advance those parts of its social and economic agenda that put the interests of one group of New Zealanders over those of another.

But if United Future were not there, working constructively with the government to moderate its legislation and provide stability, then what sort of government would we have?

I think the bickering between Labour and the Greens over the past few weeks gives you a pretty good idea.

Ends

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