Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell


Gordon Campbell's blog updates are now published at Werewolf.co.nz.

Gordon Campbell on the centre right’s love of ‘nanny state’

November 16th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

nanny-imageLike clockwork, the old ‘nanny state’ criticism has been wheeled out this week by the National Party and lapped up just as predictably by the mainstream media.

You’d almost think it was 2005 again. That was a time when the rugged individualists of the centre-right were being beset by government regulations on the nature of light-bulbs, the size of shower heads, the junk food available at school tuck shops and other such essentials.
Nannies are female. They fuss. They meddle. Real men don’t need’ em. Like the term ‘First World problem’ that it epitomizes, the ‘nanny state’ label is reserved only for those occasions when the state intrudes upon the lifestyle options of the upper middle class: most of whom see no trouble at all when Big Government micro-manages the lives of anyone poorer than they happen to be.

Like most political clichés, the term flatters the people who use it. This week, the ‘nanny state’ label got attached to Workplace Relations Minister Iain Less-Galloway, because he rejected a National would-be amendment to its parental leave legislation that would have allowed both parents to take up parental leave at the same time. Nanny state-ism, right ? You had to read right to the end of the Dom-Post story to find the reasoning behind the rejection:
Lees-Galloway may have a point that the changes required [would] be out of scope of the current legislation and far more technical than what a simple ‘supplementary order paper’ amendment could capture.

Right. So… given the technical changes to the current bill before the House that the amendment would have entailed, National’s gambit was actually a delaying tactic, and one utterly in line with the party’s track record of hostility to the whole notion of extending paid parental leave. Reportedly, Lees-Galloway was discussing (with colleague Willow Jean-Prime among others)on whether to promote National’s point in separate legislation, and more besides:

Lees-Galloway said one suggestion he had heard was that both parents could take leave for the first few weeks of a baby’s life. “It’s a completely separate policy issue, we really need to look at it outside this bill,” he said..He said Labour did look favourably at a second amendment from National to extend the number of “keeping in touch” days parents could spend at work without losing their paid leave.

National has no credibility to pose as the champion of parents and babies on this issue. In reality, it has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting any extension of paid parental leave at all. During the last term for instance, Bill English used the heavy hand of the state to veto a bill containing an extension beyond 18 weeks – because to do so, he argued, would be “unsustainable. ” The new government’s schedule – 22 weeks by July 2018, and 26 weeks by 2020 – will still bring us up to scratch in three years time only with what countries like Brazil and Russia already offer, but still behind the entitlements available in the United Kingdom. Regardless, those ‘nanny state’ headlines seem to be just too tempting for the media to resist.

Nanny National

The underlying ideology involved is kind of fascinating, though. As mentioned, the centre-right tends to tie itself in mental knots when it comes to the powers of the state. For avowedly sturdy individualists, they seem to have a surprisingly low personal tolerance for the challenges that come with change. Business requires certainty, we are cnstantly told, even as the same firms routinely impose job/ income insecurity upon their workers – for whom apparently, being made to endure regular bouts of change management is a wonderfully bracing and productive experience.

Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised at the hypocrisy involved. Centre-right parties may campaign on a promise to reduce the clout of Big Government and the dinosaurs of commerce – but once elected, they seem more than happy to preside over the extensive growth of Big Government and the entrenchment of corporate power. It happened in the US under Ronald Reagan, and it occurred here under John Key and Bill English.

That complacency is remarkably inconsistent in the light of what came before. During its final term of office, the Clark government was successfully demonized as an authoritarian regime, a rampant nanny state. Why, the NZ Herald even saw the Clark government as a threat to democracy itself.

So… it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see National – in Opposition – bringing the same label out of the closet again, with the help of its friends in the corporate media. Purely for the record, lets look at how the Key/English government happily wielded the powers of the state. For some reason, none of this moved the NZ Herald to fear for the fate of democracy.

For starters, National oversaw the extensive expansion of state surveillance, and the ability of the state to hand the information gathered to foreign powers. It passed legislation to formalize and extend the state’s search and surveillance powers, across a range of some 70 state agencies. It sought ‘reform’ of the Resource Management Act, in order to restrict the public’s ability to challenge resource consents. It imposed a range of highly intrusive, punitive and discriminatory obligations on beneficiaries and their families, and was about to use Big Data (compulsorily gathered) to focus state intrusion on families that had received prior attention from state agencies. National also mounted a sustained attack on both the criteria and funding for legal aid, and on the consequent ability of defendants to contest prosecutions mounted by the state.

Moving right along, the Key government passed retrospective legalisation to validate illegal spying by the Police. It scrapped local democracy in Canterbury in order to further its own agenda for water utilization; it granted itself sweeping powers to over-ride local democracy in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake; it stripped workers of many of the key protections they previously held during their first 90 days of employment; it acted to privatize the ownership and much of the profits in energy companies previously owned by all New Zealanders, for the prime benefit of a small minority of them.

It was also a National government that passed a law to remove the right of prisoners to vote, thus violating section 12 of our Bill of Rights and article 25 of the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Such blanket disenfranchisement of prisoners has been held to be inconsistent with electoral rights by the Supreme Court of Canada, by the European Court of Human Rights, by the High Court of Australia, and by the South African Constitutional Court. (Note : removing this injustice should be a priority on the new government’s reform agenda.)

There’s more. The last National government increased the state’s powers to carry out random breath testing and drug testing. It sought to compel agencies (such as Rape Crisis) to hand over personal details of their clients to the state, as a pre-condition of continued funding. It required women to inform the state of the name of the fathers of their children on pain of having their meagre benefits docked, despite the physical danger (from revenge action) this would pose to the woman and children concerned… one could go on, and on. Safe to say, if any of the above had been carried out by a centre left government, the corporate media would be thundering about the arrogant intrusions of the nanny state into the lives of ordinary citizens.

Hey… after nine years of neglect of child poverty, homelessless and proper health funding… maybe a bit of genuine care and attention from the state would come as a welcome development, for most of us.

Song to Remember

Elvis Presley’s output on Sun records gives the lie to the myth that he was just a hillbilly natural who didn’t have a clue about what he was doing early on, and who later got corrupted by RCA and the Colonel. Sure, the waste and corruption became real enough, but maybe more because Presley came to feel it didn’t concern his audience much, either way. Audiences do matter.

This year’s The Boy From Tupelo 3 CD box set of Elvis out-takes and live performances from the Sun period offers plenty of evidence to contradict the ‘instinctive performer’ myth that Peter Guralnick and others have promoted. As Elvis, Scotty Moore and the rest of the band revisit these songs in take after take, its fascinating to hear the 19 year old Elvis identifying the core essentials of these songs, holding them through multiple versions, and refining them. Beyond his ritual expressions of Southern modesty, he was consciously shaping this stuff, and was justifiably proud of it.

The nine takes of his radical, hauntingly spectral interpretation of “Blue Moon” offer a case in point. (In line with the haunted mood he was going for here, Elvis dropped the upbeat middle verse.) Here’s take four :

And here’s the final product:

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Gordon Campbell on the TPP outcome, and the Hobbit law

November 13th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

tpp-hobbit-biggerWhen even Justin Trudeau seems willing to abandon you by the wayside, you know you’re in trouble. Yet somehow the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal has come lurching back from the dead – and as predicted in this column last week, the member countries gathered in Vietnam have announced a deal in broad principle, shunted aside until a later date the stuff on which they don’t agree, and declared victory. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Ardern’s trade battles at APEC

November 9th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

ardern-jpeg-biggerResurrections are rarely pain free. Coming back from the dead changes you – in the Bible, and on Buffy The Vampire Slayer alike. It should therefore come as no surprise that this week’s attempt to resurrect the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal has been fraught. If any TPP 11 deal at all is struck in Vietnam at the APEC gathering his week, the document signed off will be quite different from the original one that US President Donald Trump tore up earlier this year.

The question is not whether the original TPP will be changed – it will be by how much, depending on what extent of changes the signatories can abide. The APEC gathering will sign off an incomplete deal – on the bits on which there is ‘broad agreement” – and it will simply declare victory at that point. Japan has invested far too much diplomatic prestige in the resurrected deal to allow itself to emerge from APEC entirely empty-handed. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the battle over select committees

November 7th, 2017

committee-image-bigOver the past 30 years, so many of our economic theories, health, education and law and order policies, and surveillance activities by the state have been imported from the United States. Basically, our politicians – National, Labour and Act – have been more devoted adherents of US culture than any hip hop fan. So it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the National Party has been planning to mimic the worst practices of the Republican Party when it comes to its parliamentary tactics in opposition. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the fear of change

October 25th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

Change isn’t the same old menu, with merely a better range of desserts. As New Zealand has woken from its nine-year slumber to confront National’s dire legacy of social and economic neglect, the changes involved are going to be extensive. Everything from the minimum wage rate – due to reach $20 an hour by 2020 – the Gold Card and the Reserve Bank Act are up for super-charged makeovers. The currency will be managed more energetically. Regions will be developed. Infrastructure will be built, power pricing will be reviewed. Over 70 policy commitments are contained in the coalition agreements that Labour has struck with the Greens and New Zealand First, let alone Labour’s own initiatives. These changes won’t be risk free or painless for everyone; but turning a blind eye to the country’s social deficits is no longer an option. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Kaiser Bill alive and well in the White House?

October 17th, 2017

Article – Gordon Campbell

T he Passchendaele centenary commemorations were held last week. Amid the military rituals, there was a notable lack of commentary on the imperial platitudes that sent those young soldiers off to kill and be killed. That seems unacceptable, today. Even … Read the rest of this entry »

What does Winston Peters want his legacy to be?

October 12th, 2017

Article – Gordon Campbell

A lot of people in New Zealand seem to resent Winston Peters and the power that he appears to have. “Appears” being the operative word. In reality, Peters will have power only up to the point that he uses it. By next week, he’ll have become … Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Peters’ end game in the coalition talks

October 5th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

winston-petersWe’re now entering the Agatha Christie phase of the coalition negotiations, given that all the main characters have been summoned to the drawing room today by M. Hercule Peters. Although the resolution of the plot will take a few days yet, one can bet that all be finally executed with brilliant elan by Monsieur Peters. All will ultimately be portrayed as having been the only conclusion possible for the discerning mind, no matter that the voter ordinaire will be kept guessing right up until the final unveiling. That’s just how it’s done. Yet even now perhaps, we can dare to surmise as to where this particular mystery is headed. Read the rest of this entry »

Which way will New Zealand First jump?

September 28th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

How relevant will Peters treat his own party policy to his final decision?
by Gordon Campbell

peters-bigIn the election aftermath, where is New Zealand First headed? Subliminally, it would like to go centre-left. How do I know this? Well, when you click on the New Zealand First policies the first panel that comes up on the top row left is Transport, and it has a picture of a bus on it, and that bus is headed to…Aro St. Say no more.

Sure, a few nitpickers will say that this evidence of NZF’s directional compatibility with the spiritual home of James Shaw proves nothing at all. True enough, it is also clear as mud as to what extent Winston Peters regards himself as being the humble servant of the NZF policy manifesto. Much of it, you’d guess, will not see the further light of day. Also: he may not (merely) have utu in mind, as some in the media have claimed. But if you were a betting person, you’d still be putting money on the likelihood that the country’s sixteen charter schools – the offspring of Act’s much loathed David Seymour – are not long for this world, either way that Peters jumps.

We’ll all have to wait until after the special votes are counted, which will be October 7th at the latest. Yet simply as a mind experiment… lets assume that the policies Peters told voters he was running on will have some relevance to the positions he takes in the negotiations. Reading those policies in the cold aftermath of election night, it is… interesting how much more compatible with the centre-left they seem to be, overall. (Not entirely, of course, but still…)

For example, when it comes to education policy, a few commentators and lobby groups have already cited NZF’s opposition to charter schools and national standards as evidence of why Peters will/might/should go with the centre-left. That’s not the half of it. Lets start with how NZF policy would improve transport. Even the Greens would like some of this:

• Require government and council vehicles to be 100% zero emission by 2025/26 (with exemptions for emergency services and NZDF).

• Initiate a Public Inquiry on the future of conventionally powered motor vehicles — to put in place what we need to have mostly zero emission vehicles by 2050.

• Electrify rail with a spur to Auckland International Airport connecting it to the network.

• Establish accessible public transport for people in all major population centres with accessible ‘flexible transport services’ operating in smaller centres.

• Public transport, walking and cycling to be factors in urban spatial development plans.:

….Develop Railways of National Importance (RoNI) backed by full electrification.

Re-instate the Gisborne to Wairoa rail line and upgrade other lines.

Build a rail spur to Auckland International Airport connecting it to the main trunk line.

Sure, there are sticking points. The centre-left would have problems with NZF’s dingbat desire to relocate the Port of Auckland to Northport (near Whangarei) over the next ten years. But then, so will National.

Workplace policy

Moving right along, what about labour and industrial relations policy? Again, many striking compatibilities with the centre-left exist, starting with:

Increase the minimum wage to $20 per hour over three years starting in 2018 (with tax assistance for employers).

Remove secondary tax for workers with more than one job.

Abolish the ‘starting out wage’ for young people.

Set Minimum Redundancy provisions based on twice the normal contractual notice period up to a maximum of 13 weeks.

Amend the Companies Act so that wages and salary, including holiday pay, have equal priority with Secured Creditors.

Introduce paid paternal leave of two weeks rising to four weeks.

Support increasing paid maternity leave to 26-weeks.

Review and amend employment laws to ensure that casualisation employment practices are fair and just with a review of short term employment contracts.

Put New Zealanders first for jobs by sensible immigration policies.

Pay the Job Seekers Benefit to approved employers when taking on an apprentice.

Paid internship programme to provide work experience.

Introduce literacy and numeracy skills package for workers….

Require transparency when public service salaries exceed accepted public service bands.

To repeat: the centre-left seems closer to NZF than does National on most of those points. Conversely, neither Labour or the Greens would support NZF’s plan to cut back on the “bureaucratic excesses” of the Health and Safety Act. But that could be negotiable.

Income tax and Commerce

This area of NZF policy is a curate’s egg of ideas, some of which the centre left could readily support, and several it would resist. But again the likely sticking points would be just as problematic for National. Lets start with the policies that Labour and the Greens could probably embrace:

Direct the Guardians of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to prioritise the purchase of shares in New Zealand infrastructure companies when they become economically available. [Note: This is the same buyback of privatised state assets that the UK Labour Party has been advocating over the past fortnight.]

Establish a new low fees state-run KiwiSaver option – KiwiFund – to invest in New Zealand land, assets, enterprises and infrastructure.

Make KiwiBank the government’s official trading bank.

Re-establish a state-owned insurer to be called KiwiSure to operate at a retail and commercial level.

Introduce Government-backed deposit guarantees for majority New Zealand-owned banks.

Stop the sale of land and farmland to foreigners.

Seriously strengthen the Overseas Investment Act to prevent vertical integration or the loss of strategic business assets.

Establish automatic inflation adjustment for PAYE tax thresholds to end ‘bracket creep.’

Remove secondary tax for workers with more than one job.

Remove GST from basic food items [Labour policy in 2014.]

Remove GST from the non-service component of Council Rates.

Initiate a review into the double-taxation of ‘tax like’ instruments.

Amend (from 1 April 2018) Capital Limitation rules in the Income Tax Act to treat seismic strengthening as “repairs and maintenance”.

And here’s an area where National might have a negotiating edge:

From 1 April 2019:

o Reduce Company Tax rates over three years to 25%.

o Introduce an Export Tax rate of 20% on export-generated income. [How could you identify this precisely for tax purposes?]

o Introduce a 100% depreciation rate for business equipment worth up to $20,000 for each item (exclusive of GST).[ The extent of the revenue loss here?]

But both major parties might usefully consider this train of thought:

* Introduce Research & Development Tax Credits starting at 125% in the second year when a company invests 2% of its revenue on research, rising to 150% for the third consecutive year and 200% from year four onwards.

*Give shareholders of large companies, including cooperatives, a ‘Say on Pay’ for directors and CEO’s, introduce minimum holding periods for executive share schemes and crack down on ‘golden hellos’ and ‘golden parachutes.’….

And yet its easier for the centre-left bloc to go down this road:

*Crack down on corporate tax avoidance and base erosion especially with e-commerce providers like Uber and Amazon.

*Impose stiffer penalties for evasion and similar offences.

*Introduce, as the UK has recently done, two new criminal offences ‘failing to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion’ – whether done domestically or offshore.

*Double the criminal penalty for evasion offences to ten years per-offence.

*Increase the fine for evasion offences ‘from up to’ $50,000 to $5 million per-offence.

Foreign Affairs and Trade

This starts out with a blanket promise by NZF to boost MFAT funding – “Provide the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade with resources it needs.” Whatever it needs. O-kay. Peters managed to score a major boost in MFAT’s funding between 2005-2008, and this new pledge could well indicate Peters’ keen interest in regaining his old post as Foreign Minister. Beyond that, the policy is unexceptional:

Promote diplomacy as the first option to resolve international conflict.

Remain strongly committed to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy.

Oppose the National-led government’s sponsorship of UNSC2334. [That resolution was the Murray McCully engineered even handed position on the Israel/Palestine conflict, and Gerry Brownlee has already backed off from it. NZF is much closer to National on this point.]

Continue to advocate against the exploitation of Antarctica and for the cessation of all whaling.

But when it comes to global and regional free trade deals, NZF is MUCH closer to the centre-left:

Oppose investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in bilateral and multilateral agreements and by extension the Trans Pacific Partnership-11, which offers little for our exporters.

Revise current FTA deals being negotiated to make sure they are real and are in our interests (such as protection of land and strategic assets).

Renegotiate existing poor-quality deals to increase their quality and benefit.

Beyond that, Peters wants to treat Russia as a top trade priority

Conclude the Russia-Belarus Kazakhstan Customs Union Free Trade Agreement as a priority – that bloc being the world’s number two dairy and beef importer.

Initiate public diplomacy in countries we want Free Trade Agreements with in order to win their public over and secure a better deal for their country and especially, ours.

Prioritise free and fair trade deals with Japan, United Kingdom, EU and the United States..

Health

NZF’s health policy offers a whole smorgasbord of policy remedies. Many of them (unsurprisingly) are skewed towards scoring better funding for the institutional, residential and medicinal care of the aged. The first pledge would pose some definitional problems for both the centre-left and National. Try and work out what this would mean in practice:

Establish a public health compact stipulating the guaranteed minimum services the public can expect from the public health system and its overlap with the private sector.

The centre –left could however support the likes of this:

• Ensure the nationwide health screening of all children under one year.

• Provide dental care to every pre-school and school child.

But these could be either very costly and/or a misplaced emphasis – given the other funding shortfalls in public health:

• Improve residential services for people who have severe illnesses or disabilities and/or substance abuse problems.

• Support the investigation of a third Medical School at Waikato University and increase the number of medical professionals choosing to be General Practitioners, especially in rural areas.

• Fully fund palliative care services.

But this item looks like a gift to private sector health profiteering:

Explore options associated with boosting uptake of private health insurance, including the provision of tax rebates for those with private health insurance.

While this policy plank has some truly hair-raising privacy implications:

)• Ensure the transition to Electronic Health Records so that PHO’s, DHB’s and private providers have access to patient records.

Alas, the cost of implementing all of the Health measures being mooted by New Zealand First – while many are worthy and desirable – would be utterly astronomical. Here are only a few of them:

Establish and implement a national strategy for addressing cancer treatment.

• Fully fund and provide world leading maternity-care services (especially in the regions).

• Develop a national rural and provincial health services plan.

• Adequately resource elective surgery and provide additional waiting times funding so as to firmly establish guaranteed maximum waiting times for a range of surgical and specialist treatment.

Chances are, Peters may be happy to walk away from his negotiations on Health policy with this one:

Introduce three annual SuperGold Health Checks with a GP.

There are several other realms of NZF policy. In Justice, some punitive aspects of what NZF has in mind – it wants to lower the age of criminal responsibility – would be equally problematic for both the centre-left and National. On Education – as mentioned – the teacher unions have already come out in favour of NZF’s idea of a nationwide hui to devise a 30 year strategic plan for the education sector, and they also support these two NZF policies:

• Replace National Standards at Years 1 to 8, with children’s progress and achievement being assessed against level bands within the New Zealand Curriculum.

• Repeal the amendments to the Education Act 1989 that allowed the creation of Charter Schools at the same time as reviewing Section 156 of the Designated Character Schools section within the same Act.

The moves to address the palpable funding and organisational needs in early childhood education would also be welcomed by the centre-left – but could be grudgingly accepted by National.

Conclusion

If it was taken seriously, NZF’s policy package certainly looks more like a centre-left document than a National one. However, it also looks more like the wishlist of a party in opposition, rather than a pragmatic document for a party in government. That’s an important distinction. Peters is not going to get all of this, and would not expect to – if only because the bill would be unaffordable for a government of any stripe. Moreover, these coalition negotiations will not start until October 8th, and yet will have to be concluded before October 14th. That means there won’t be time for the policies to be argued line by line.

That’s why… while the tone and content of the NZF policy package proved useful in luring voters, it is likely to be jettisoned during this next stage of the journey. The unenviable task for both the centre-left and National will be to speculate on what in this policy grab bag is truly important to Peters – and what gains he would regard as (a) sufficient to appease his core support, (b) reasonably achievable over time, and (c) being safely able to be left to others to implement, given that (d) Peters himself is likely to be out of the country a lot of the time in future, while plying his trade as Foreign Minister.

Red or blue? At a wild guess, I’d say the NZF chameleon was more red in the policies that it put up during the election campaign but is more likely to turn blue by the end of the coalition negotiations. Which means we’re probably facing the 1996 outcome, once again. Meaning: Peters has run against the current government in the campaign, so as to be all the better placed to join with it afterwards.

Songs For Winston

Did you ever have to finally decide? Say yes to one, and let the other one ride? Truly, this 1960s hit could be Peters’ theme song:

Right now, Peters has got all the boys (and girls) standing in line…what’s he got in mind, and what’s he trying to prove? Voice your choice, speak your piece. Or so said the Radiants, way back in 1966…

Finally, there was a 1960s soul group called the Winstons. Their big hit contained a line about how we all now belong to the man with that big wide grin… and boy, do we ever.

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Gordon Campbell on the election result, and likely road ahead

September 25th, 2017

petersA government led by Bill English and Winston Peters would be a more conservative one – particularly on social issues – than any we experienced during the Key years. If, say, Peters’ oft repeated call for a referendum on the Maori seats becomes a condition of coalition formation, there would be a racially divisive prelude to the ballot likely to resurrect all the redneck arguments raised by Don Brash, back in the mid 2000s. Given that the Maori seats are now all held by Labour, National would have absolutely no motive for showing restraint about such a process. Read the rest of this entry »