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Robson-On-Politics - Tuesday 14 November 2006


Robson-On-Politics - Tuesday 14 November 2006

From progressive economic development to a laboured transformation?

I don't remember Trevor Mallard raising a voice in favour of the campaign of his junior partner in the coalition government to establish the Ministry of Economic Development in 2000-2001.

I am not saying that he didn't secretly have a passion for the economic development agenda.

It is just that I can't remember anything other than a big, collective yawn from the Labour side of the coalition whenever issues of industry, economic and regional development were brought to the Cabinet table.

A bit like how they rolled their eyes when we rejected the proposal for the break-up and sale of a major state-owned enterprise because it was going through a poor sales patch, or how they looked all depressed at the thought of having to "concede" Kiwibank as the price of sharing power - but that's when Kiwibank was just an idea, not the profit-making, flexible enterprise judged by consumers as one of the most responsive retailing banks in the country as it is today.


For progressives, going back to the Liberal Government of the 1890s and consistent right through to the Labour Party of Bill Rowling in the early 1980s, the name of the game has always been about (1) how to strengthen the skills and training of the workforce and (2) how to creatively and cooperatively leverage more out of our comparative economic advantages: Two pillars in the push forward toward a higher-income, higher-skilled, full-employment economy. For progressives, this is the stuff of which social justice, and freedom from coercion, are made.

Labour, after Roger Douglas voluntarily resigned from the party in 1990, in contrast, always seemed to get a lot more excited by latest "liberal" banner fad - usually, funnily enough, adoption an indistinguishable position to the Rogernomics faction which had moved to establish ACT - alcohol retail liberalization, prostitution "law reform" etc.

But just more lately Labour has been talking a great deal not about economic development as such, because they prefer buzzier-sounding terms like "economic transformation".

Progressives should be elated that Labour is finally on board. But I can't help feeling a bit nervous when I hear that Labour thinks that the biggest contributor to helping Auckland become a more internationally competitive place to do business is to build a massive stadium at the bottom of Queen Street.

The word on the Labour street is that is how Sweden did it. That's how Finland did it. That's how Taiwan did it. Ditto Singapore and Hong Kong and Eire.

But if Labour gets this wrong then it isn't just the hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars that will go up in smoke - it will set-back the very idea that there is a positive role for democratically-elected governments to play a constructive role in facilitating and promoting economic, industry and regional development.


The political implications of le grand Malade

Has Mr. Mallard got it wrong?

What are the potential costs and benefits of adopting alternative uses for that proposed taxpayer investment?

I have to be honest and say I don't know. If there is a strong case for Stadium Aotearoa, or is it Stadium NZ, then it doesn't appear to have been shared with us the public - we, apparently, just get the bill. My instinct tells me that economic development, to be successful, must by definition enjoy wide, voluntary buy-in. That's the whole point.

But if I don't know much about the economic benefits of the proposals, I do fully understand some of the political implications, or at least the potential implications for our national politics in the years ahead, arising out of recent events.

The political implications of snubbing of mana whenua over Labour's latest grandiose proposal is that the Maori Party might conclude that there is no difference between joining a government led by Labour or National.

If National, under the more dynamic leadership of John Key in two years' time, emerges from Election 2008 with at least one more seat than Labour, then events in the next two weeks in Auckland may prove to matter a very great deal about determining who leads the next government.


Do they share their dreams with the Greens?

I do fully understand also some of the other political implications as well.

What does it say about the level of behind-the-scenes trust and confidence between Labour and the Greens that the Sporty Minister announced the need to override the Resource Management Act at a press conference and that the news came as, well, came as news to the Greens?

The political implications of all of this is worthy of frontpage news coverage in itself.

It can only mean that Labour's top brass have made a strategic decision to look Right - to NZ First and United Future - as its most likely reliable allies after Election 2008.

United Future re-issues threat to sell off State assets

As if on cue to remind us who these people are, the United Future Party has just re-issued its determination to hock-off State assets - the electricity companies are in its sights: Meridian, Mighty River and Genesis.


But United will support "largest party"

But it seems an unduly odd strategy for Labour.

NZ First and United are parties that, after any election, will in the first instance support the largest party in Parliament to lead the next government. And since they say, hand on heart, that they don't know the difference between their Right and their Left, you'd have to say they have about as much spine as the seabed at the foreshore when the tide is running out.


Sometimes there is encouraging news from the Middle East

Arab countries, after ten months of implementing the Tony Blair/ George Bush embargo on the imprisoned Palestinian populations under Israeli military control, have agreed to lift the blockade.


The blockade, imposed because the Palestinians had voted the wrong way in elections in January, was a monstrous crime against humanity - particularly the humanity of Gaza - a sandpit of a prison camp for refugees and their descendents since 1948.

The tin-pot dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan et al. rarely do anything publicly without the greenlight first from the U.S. government so this may mean that the U.S. is looking for a just and negotiated settlement between the Palestinians and the government of Israel after trying, and failing, to smash the population into submission through military offensives and economic sanctions?



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