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Robson-On-Politics - 1 November 2006

Robson-On-Politics - 1 November 2006

United Future - a reliable support party

United Future describes itself as a party that 'guarantees stable government' .

It isn't an unreasonable boast.

After the breakdown in relations between Labour and the Greens at the 2002 election, Labour and Progressive were eight seats short of a majority. We turned to United to provide those critical eight confidence votes to permit the Lab-Progressive minority coalition to govern.

In the following three years, Progressive's Bill to extend workers' a fourth week paid annual holidays became law and other social advances were delivered including the extention of the paid parental leave scheme and the Working for Families targeted tax relief for low and middle income families. Ironically. United which incessantly terms itself the family party voted against these family friendly measures. In particular they were vociferous opponents of the four weeks bill , irelesly explaining that although they as MPs needed more than four weeks leave each year wage and saary earners should thank their bosses for their jobs and be grateful for three weeks annual leave. Fortunately the Greens , despite their rift with Labour, supported these progressive policies without hesitation.

However, United guaranteed confidence and supply. Had United not supported the government, we would have had a potentially serious impasse between Labour and the Greens over a fundamental policy issue, GE.,which could in turn have dealt a deathly blow to the MMP system itself because if there is one thing nearly all voters hate it is unstable politics and the threat of snap elections.

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But commonsense policies to benefit families?

But United Future also describes itself as a party that 'guarantees commonsense policies that benefit the New Zealand family'.

There is no question that the biggest drug problem hurting families is alcohol and there is no question also that a large majority of families want Parliament to tighten standards around liquor marketing and advertising aimed at children and to raise the legal minimum age at which you can purchase alcohol to help stem some of the supply of alcohol used for unsupervised consumption not just by 17-year-olds, but 16-, 15- and even 14-year olds.


There is also no question that Parliament's decisions in the 1980s and 1990s to relax liquor marketing standards, liberalize liquor retailing rules and reduce the purchasing age, contributed to an increase in problems experienced by some very young teenagers and caused pain and suffering to them and their families.

Libertarians, like those in ACT, say that no matter what the evidence of harm to children Parliament should not raise the purchasing age to 20 (or 21, as in the United States), because that would be too big an infringement on the inalienable right of 18- and 19-year-olds' rights to buy alcohol.

Progressive of course disagrees with ACT.

We believe that the proposed infringement of 18 and 19 year olds' shopping rights is a price worth taking to help protect more 14- and 15-year-olds' mental and physical health in the same way that 90-year-olds' alcohol consumption rights are infringed by liquor-bans at public places in the interests of promoting community-wide benefits.

ACT probably also opposes liquor-bans in public places - its libertarian position is what it says it is in Parliament to promote: In a slogan, "Me, Me, ME!".

But United Future? What of United's position on the issue?

It says it is in Parliament to be on the side of the family but its leader, Peter Dunne, is lined up with ACT to vote against the Progressive Party Bill.

Now he will vote against the Progressive bill , which is based on the based on the best public health evidence , to reduce the harm of alcohol. I think it is a completely indefensible position for the leader of a party that claims to be in Parliament as the champion of families.


United also wants more spending, less taxes

United's policy platform promotes significant increases in government spending at the same time as it promotes expensive cuts to government revenue - via income tax cuts and changes to income tax rules.

If ever implemented, the policies would bankrupt the central government by significantly raising government debt levels. It is a classic Ultra-Right Wing position similar to the approach of the Republican Party in America.

The response of Democrats to the dangerous fiscal policies of the ultra-right is a proposal to change the law so that, in future, Congress wouldn't be allowed to enact any new spending programmes or tax cuts without first showing how they would be paid for over time.


It was the same sort of thinking adopted when we formed the precursor to Progressive, the NewLabour Party, in 1989 after we resigned from the 4th Labour Government which was running a ruinously "loose" financial policy and engaged in selling State asset after State asset in a desperate bid to raise some cash to put off the day that either taxes would need to rise or, as what ultimately happened in the ' 90s, health and education services were cut instead.

The NewLabour Party resolved to be the Opposition Party that would produce an Alternative Budget every year because we had an obligation to outline the financial cost of our policies.

United Future does not produce alternative budgets. If it did, what they would show is that its programme would deliver much higher government debt levels and higher mortgage- and debt-servicing costs for the entire economy - followed a few years later by a return to State asset sales and, once that cuts the flow of dividends to government from profitable former State enterprises, then there would be reductions in health and education services a few years later.

Its position is the antithesis to what a majority of Kiwi families want which is more, not less, public education and health services.


Centre-left can't rely on United next time

The reason I have been thinking about all of this is that there have been too many newspaper stories recently suggesting that John Key may become National's leader, perhaps with an able deputy like Catherine Rich or Simon Power.

If National puts in place an intelligent, strategic and attractive leadership team, then it is going to be about a hundred times harder to win an historic 4th term centre-left government.

United Future and NZ First will stick with their position of supporting either National or Labour - "whoever has the most seats" - add that to their right wing economic prejudices, combined with a strategic National leadership willing to deal, and it all adds up to one thing: the first really serious threat to the centre-left coalition government since 1999.



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