Consensus ≠ compromise – A friend of mine complained to me a while ago that he had paid $2m in tax the previous year and asked how this was fair. Knowing roughly his net worth, I replied that he was significantly privileged to be one of the very few who had the ability and the means to choose where they live in the world. He could move to any tax haven anywhere around the globe and have a very good life, but for whatever reason, he had chosen to live in New Zealand. After the forth beer he threatened to move to Dubai, but that was two years ago and his kids are still enjoying a first class NZ state education.
In New Zealand, we have very few guiding philosophies that create societal expectations around how we live and operate. One fundamental expectation, however, is that you pay your fair share; no more, no less. How successful you are will determine the exact amount of that share, but whatever the sum, a ‘fair share’ is not supposed to be onerous, or unduly penalize the successful or dissuade the wealthy. And I don’t believe it does. But what really pisses me off is when I see some of our most successful go to great (legal) lengths to avoid not only not paying their fair share, but not paying anything at all.! At least my grumpy friend actually pays tax.
As Labour’s Revenue Spokesman last term, I did a lot of research and work around the Capital Gains Tax initiative. The result was a paper justifying the introduction of such a tax. The interesting thing is that I actually started with the premise that we didn’t need a CGT, but simply needed to tighten up current tax law. I soon realized my initial premise was flawed and that a CGT is vital to any efficient and fair tax regime.
Phil Goff realised this too. I have been told by a very reliable source that Bill English privately believes we need a CGT, and that a number of backbench Nat MPs were advised to keep quiet on this policy in case they wanted to introduce a CGT themselves in a post-Key future.
So Phil did what was right – and very courageous: he approached John Key and said that Labour would promise to work with his government in a bipartisan way in developing a CGT. Key said no. In my view, one of the greatest missed opportunities of Key’s lackluster tenure.
So what’s the point of this story? Well, I believe that consensus politics on key issues, where ideological barriers shouldn’t prevent dialogue, is the way of the future. Occasionally, this does happen on big ticket items, but not often enough. And I also believe there are many more such issues that a bipartisan approach should be taken than are immediately obvious. There is no ideology around a CGT; just politics. All-but-one tax expert, the vast majority of economists and all economic commentators actually supported Labour’s policy; and these aren’t gentle men and women who have the date for the Labour conference inked in their diaries.!
Labels such as ‘left’ and ‘right’ are of no consequence. I have been called ‘left’ by those on the right and ‘right’ by those on the left, and yet there is no sharp picket fence I sit on when it comes to developing and promoting policies that will drive sustainable economic growth, create jobs, lift children out of poverty or put more money in the back pockets of good hard working kiwis. Of course there are massive differences between Labour and this government, and I am not suggesting for a moment, Labour try and become ‘National lite’, but there are people in places of influence who have ideas that need to see the light of day. And heaven help me – they do not wear red underwear to bed, but they are Kiwis who simply want what’s best for our wonderful, but fading, country.
My brief experience is that they will talk to anyone who will listen. And if an MP isn‘t smart enough to distill good advice, ideas and concepts from bad, then perhaps a more appropriate job awaits them outside of parliament.
The bottom line is that I am an idealist, a social democrat, a Kiwi, but also an arch pragmatist. Personally, I don’t care who you voted for in 2002; if you can show me an idea that fits my personal philosophy around equality of opportunity, I am more than happy to work it up into a policy that will either drive sustainable economic growth, lift children out of poverty, create jobs and/or put more money into the back pockets of hard working Kiwis, because to me, making a real difference is what politics is about.
Editor’s Note: This is Stuart Nash’s first article with The Daily Blog.