Budget 2013: who really cares about the poor? Why Labour & Greens don’t go far enough

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Mana-MoneyI know it’s a bit late to be writing about the Budget which, a week on, is already old news.
But I’ve been thinking about it some more, especially after having had the privilege of being a panellist on TV1’s post-Budget Q & A discussion on Sunday.

For the Government, Bill English waxed lyrical about the ‘toolkit’ of planning law reforms and changes to Reserve Bank criteria which he says are going to ensure 39,000 houses are built in Auckland over the next three years, and put heavy reliance on the usual Treasury job forecasts which are about as reliable as an online guide to winning lotto numbers.

In fact, National’s Budget will only serve to deepen levels of unemployment, homelessness and poverty. Entrenching Paula Bennett’s welfare reforms with English’s ‘relentless focus on work’ without any concomitant commitment to job creation only means that low wage workers and beneficiaries will be recycled in and out of the same low paid, insecure jobs.

The removal of long term security from all state housing tenants means that they too will be recycled – into and out of affordable homes. As soon as people claw their way into a job and a reasonable income their housing security will be torn from them, with the likely result they’ll be back in the same stricken circumstances from which they first scrabbled their way into a state house.

What’s more, 500 new state houses and 3000 new state house bedrooms (yes, bedrooms) to be provided in Auckland over two years is a pitiful response to the desperate shortage of affordable housing in our city.
National’s ongoing war on the poor continues unabated, its goal of turning New Zealand into a millionaire’s cosy playground seemingly unstoppable.

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From the other side of the House, David Parker and Russel Norman spoke enthusiastically on Sunday about ‘balancing’ and ‘rebalancing’ the economy, picking up on National’s own past Budget jargon without compunction.

Neither once mentioned the impact the budget will have on low wage workers, beneficiaries and unemployed people – or offered any response in key areas where National is on a brutal rampage, like welfare, tertiary education and employment relations law reform.

On the critical issue of housing, both spokesmen pushed a capital gains tax on investment properties as a top priority, with seemingly no awareness of the fact that while this would certainly be worthwhile in the long run, ultimately it would be a drop in the bucket in terms of addressing current need in any meaningful way.

Russel Norman spoke twice about New Zealand in these terms:

“We’re currently a loss-making company of $10 billion a year …”; and – as putative Minister of Finance – “I’ve just announced my plan for my business, which happens to be NZ Inc.”

David Parker finished the Q & A interview with a classic, “The divides in politics are not enormous,” in context a remarkably telling statement.

Indeed, David is right. What are these parties more worried about – ‘NZ Inc’ – or feeding the kids?
NZ Inc is irrelevant in terms of what’s happening for the poorest people in our country.

Compare this chat about toolkits, rebalancing, and NZ as a ‘loss making company’ to Mana’s response to the Budget.

“If I was John Key or Bill English, I would hang my head in shame because under this budget 270,000 kids will still be in poverty today, tomorrow and next year,” said Hone Harawira.

Hone goes on to talk about the need for 10,000 state houses a year to be built for the next ten years, about the vital need for a government funded feed the kids programme, and the critical importance of job creation and training support for the tens of thousands of young unemployed.

All political parties except Mana now seem to have placed a priority on attracting the votes of the centre and the centre right for next year’s election.

Meanwhile, the centre keeps moving to the right and the non vote among the disenfranchised grows larger as more and more people lose any faith or hope in politicians and parties who in practice don’t do anything to help.

In this evolving and dangerous scenario, most parties are scrapping among themselves for the same centre and right votes – because these people do vote – while a larger and larger percentage of the population fall into alienated poverty.

Mana seems to be the only party giving precedence to what really matters as opposed to discussing the technicalities of a system which was only ever designed to help the rich get richer.

In the end, the truth is that in most years national debt goes up or down; the tradable sector does better or worse; and the budget is more balanced or less balanced.

What doesn’t change is the number of children – and adults – living in poverty, and the ever deepening inequalities in our society.

None of the things Bill English, David Parker and Russel Norman talked about last Sunday will change the fundamentals, like the need for a major redistribution of wealth and power in favour of those who have least of both.

The only party even remotely talking about this is Mana.

I think this is a real shame and an indictment on the narrowing down of ‘mainstream’ parliamentary politics to the point where a rather large number of persons and parties are dancing on a neoliberal pinhead.

23 COMMENTS

  1. You raise valid points here, Sue, same as you did on Q+A last Sunday!

    I am dismayed with the lack of courage and proper alternative solutions on offer (so far) by both, Greens and especially Labour. They do, like so many formerly “left” or “left of centre” parties all over the developed, democratic world, have a real fear of the so-called “market experts”.

    These “experts” were the same ones that did fail to see the Global Financial Crisis come, and they told us there would be endless years of growth, shortage of workers (even low skilled), in the years just before the GFC hit.

    When the GFC hit many of them changed their views and assessments, and it was doom and gloom. Then the traditional “economic experts” warned to more courageous ones to not “riks” too much and to rather stick with austerity and further laissez faire approaches of past decades. Now most are back to what they preached in (conservative) policies in years before the GFC.

    Labour’s housing plans are attractive in principle but poorly thought through, and directed at the middle class. The Greens are more courageous. The Nats show too little in the wrong, questionable manner.

    Nothing will be solved, the next election may prove to be a third term for these poor despising ideologues, and the new welfare and housing policies will just marginalise more, solve nothing and divide this country in a shocking way.

    So small Mana, with some good ideas, I fear, will be unable to change this. Labour needs a revolution from within, to bring in housing and other projects that worked in the 1930s and after. I am watching this space, with despair.

    • Labour’s housing plans are attractive in principle but poorly thought through, and directed at the middle class.

      Actually, Labour’s housing plans are directed towards the banksters as all they’ll do is increase the amount of debt that NZ is in. Read Steve Keen and his theory about the change in debt driving the economy. Basically, more debt = more economic action, less debt = less economic action.

      The Nats show too little in the wrong, questionable manner.

      The Nats govern for the banksters.

      Labour needs a revolution from within, to bring in housing and other projects that worked in the 1930s and after.

      That would work but I think it’d be better if people realised that Labour too governs for the banksters.

      • “Actually, Labour’s housing plans are directed towards the banksters as all they’ll do is increase the amount of debt that NZ is in.”
        Exactly! give money creation power back to NZers, not private companies who make more profit based on how much debt and money they can create.

  2. I don’t think it is the political parties that have moved to the right but society as a whole. If people feel the Greens and Labour are too centerist they do have an alternative in Mana. There’s nothing theoretially to stop Mana being the next government, except that there aren’t enough voters who are so-called “left-leaning” (once called centerest) to put them in power. Look at how much stick the Greens get with their policies which should in fact be mainstream.

    • Sue has mentioned that “…the non vote among the disenfranchised grows larger as more and more people lose any faith or hope…”

      It is not that society had moved to the right; many of those who still believe that they have a stake in society have done so, but the disenfranchised still exist in large numbers. Saying that Mana would be the next government if there were enough left-leaning voters is too simplistic. People do not see Mana as close enough to the levers of power to make things happen, though this could change. People could suddenly flock to them anyway as they did to Syriza in Greece.

      However, in the meantime, Labour’s attempting to occupy roughly the same conceptual space as National further marginalises the left in general. I am looking forward to finding out what happens with the People’s Assembly that is being launched in England, which is an attempt to create a pan-left movement outside of politics that is able to compete with the powerful lobbyists for political attention.

      • People could suddenly flock to them anyway as they did to Syriza in Greece.

        A fat lot of good that did. The establishment could not be more discredited than it is in Greece, and yet the same old clowns were voted in rather than Syriza. If a genuinely left wing party cannot win in that situation, then it’s reasonable to think that no left wing party will ever win.

        The arc of democracy tends to 60% of the population screwing the rest. That’s what we have, and it isn’t going away any time soon. New Zealand isn’t really one country any more. It’s their country that the rest of us happen to live in. The media is largely them talking amongst themselves, as is contemporary politics.

        So the rest of us increasingly no longer vote, read the paper, or have anything constructive to do with society at large. This is entirely reasonable. We’ve been made guest workers and refugees in what was supposed to be our own country.

        So screw democracy. I honestly wouldn’t care if the army was in charge. I don’t think it would make much difference.

  3. I would have thought you would be happy that Labour and the Greens have given so much opportunity to Mana to have free reign with their policy uncrowded by other parties preaching the same policy Sue?

    Surely Mana can draw together all these disenfranchised voters with their policies as you say which will benefit them?

    Seems to me like an opportunity for positioning rather than opining about lost opportunity.

  4. Sue, one of the problems of getting enough political leverage to be able to implement policy that will address disparity of wealth is the system we have to work within. Sadly the neoliberal agenda has dominated politics for so long that ordinary New Zealanders have lost influence over their government. Participation in politics at any level has dropped away, unions have lost significant numbers and influence, political parties have few members in comparison to 30-40 years ago (National once had 100,000 members). Election campaigns once filled community halls and now getting more than fifty people to a meeting is considered successful.

    The Mana Party has stood up in support of the poor and disenfranchised and has been staunch in advocating for a shift in wealth to those who need it. The only time when the disenfranchised can really make their voices known, and have an impact, is at the ballot box and sadly few used their power. National was re-elected into Government in 2011, not because most people supported their polices but because 25% of voters didn’t show up on the day. That 25% consisted mainly of traditional Labour voters and the constituency that Mana represents.

    To change the system from within, it means shaping your message for the utmost impact and aiming it at the audience in question. For the Greens to gain economic credibility it means talking the language of our current system and displaying a knowledge of how it operates. Russel had little opportunity to say much on Q&A and to sound “financially” credible just talking about poverty would not have done that. The Q&A audience is also a limited one.

    When I watch parliament it is the Greens who are most vocal in support of those in most need and their private members bills are clearly focussed on the real issues. However because of our country’s current values, through neoliberal influences, most voters now think about economic impacts rather than social impacts. I cannot see Mana or the Greens shifting this flawed perception before the next election, so what we need to do is focus on the economic benefits of a more egalitarian society.

    -It saves the country money to rehabilitate prisoners and have them working productively in society.
    -If we spend money in supporting children and families in the early years it saves us billions in health and welfare costs later.
    -If we build decent homes and insulate houses then our health expenditure will drop
    -If we lift the minimum wage then people will have more discretionary income and our domestic economy will recover.

    Yes we have hungry kids, poor housing and families trying to subsist on unlivable incomes, and we do need to shift wealth to those who need it. Sadly this message has been heard but the people who actually vote don’t want their own wealth affected to put things right. If we want to shift perceptions we have to demonstrate that we will all benefit from giving more to those at the bottom (Spirit Level) and therefore the messaging may not sound as direct as you would like it.

    Mana got 1.08% of the vote in the last election and if it doubles the vote in 2014 it will have 2.16%, sadly the Mana message isn’t having the impact it should to be able to effectively advocate for those it represents.

    • That 25% consisted mainly of traditional Labour voters and the constituency that Mana represents.

      The problem being that they believe that Mana doesn’t represent them and perhaps Mana doesn’t. IMO, people see Mana as just another Maori party.

  5. What is the circuit breaker that will motivate the alienated non voter whose ranks could easily sweep aside the torys and put the still largely neo lib social democrats at least on notice?

    Involvement of people in their communities and politics again is the requirement. Unite and to some extent FIRST Union are doing a great job publically challenging the corporate sector and re-engaging young people in unionism and collective action. Unite all who can be united, almost a lost art in todays me, me, did I mention me? individualist world.

    Mana and to some extent the greens are the only parliamentary type partys doing this. Small groups of Labourites support public action but their party is ultimately run by the parliamentary and caucus wing.

    So keep on trucking Mana and small left groups. We can be effective while building our numbers. Look at the legislation on banning dissent at sea, it does not take too much to get them running scared. Politics should mainly happen out side parliament imo but with kiwis fixation on that institution if is an important tactical requirement to get that non vote out or else next election.

  6. “the truth is that in most years national debt goes up or down”
    You can’t just ignore that, what do you think the biggest reason for this wealth discrepency is? fractional reserve banking, private companies (banks) being given free liscence to create dollars, and sink everyone including government into debt, while demanding interest on money that they create! Someone have the guts to address this lunacy…

  7. In relation to the other posts above regarding difficulty getting political traction on the left..

    I’m sure I have the same difficulty voting for the left as a bunch of other voters. It’s a case of, “hmm, I see the rich getting richer, poor getting poorer, no one standing up for oppressed, kids, etc,” and yet I find the “left” very alienating and can’t bring myself to vote for Labour, Greens, or Mana. *cue verbal bashing*. If I do, then I get to get to address social inequalities, yet get locked into moral dilemmas. I get to be part of helping kids who live in poverty, yet must also embrace abortion as a women’s right, which removes any value from the same children before they are born. I get to help families struggling on low wages facing a ridiculous cost of living, yet must deny those same families have any value and that marriage (which families are based on) is something up for definition by whoever happens to be in government. Show me a left positioned party that will not force social experiments on me, and I bet me and a whole bunch of NZers will find something that resonates.
    I’m sorry if people are offended or hurt, it was not the intention. This is a blog to widen political debate, is it not?

    • I get to be part of helping kids who live in poverty, yet must also embrace abortion as a women’s right, which removes any value from the same children before they are born.

      That’s not a moral dilemma. Would should have the right to have an abortion if they choose. It’s not your choice to make.

      yet must deny those same families have any value and that marriage (which families are based on) is something up for definition by whoever happens to be in government.

      You’re grasping at straws there. Marriage doesn’t make a family, it’s the social ties that does. Marriage is just a legal form to help keep track of who owns what.

      Show me a left positioned party that will not force social experiments on me,

      Society is an experiment, it is constantly changing.

      This is a blog to widen political debate, is it not?

      It is, yes but you’re not widening it – you’re narrowing it.

      • Thanks for your reply Draco, let me clear up a couple of points, and hopefully not upset you. All I presented was an opinion, which is obviously different to yours. If any opinions which you disagree with yours is “narrowing” a debate, I suggest you apply for censorship privileges on the website. If my implication is wrong, please enlighten me, I’m willing to learn.

        re: abortion, which is obviously a complex issue,
        “That’s not a moral dilemma. Would should have the right to have an abortion if they choose. It’s not your choice to make.”
        I’m glad its not a moral dilemma for you Draco. However, NZ is not made up of 4 million Dracos, and for a lot of people it is a moral dilemma. I’m not debating whether it is right or wrong, or whether women (I think that’s what you meant) should have the right to choose or not, especially since I’m male. My only point was that the kid doesn’t get a choice. Should they have the right to choose? If the answer is no, is it because they are less valuable than the woman? hence my reference to value. If this is too narrow to discuss once again, because it is not your opinion, I am sorry to offend.

        • I’m not debating whether it is right or wrong,

          You’re right, you’re not – you’re stating that it is wrong.

          My only point was that the kid doesn’t get a choice.

          What kid? Neither a zygote nor a fetus is a child.

          Here’s the important bit that you seem not to be able to grasp:
          It is not your right to have a say other people having abortions.

          The truly immoral bit is you believing that you do.

          • “you’re stating that it is wrong.” Sorry Draco, could you point out my statement please? I can’t find it.

            “What kid? Neither a zygote nor a fetus is a child.”
            Why Draco? Your opinion? The opinion of a majority of doctors? Which begs the question, is the majority always “correct” eg. voting in Nats? Do you understand what makes a zygote a zygote and a foetus a foetus? Because the scientists and doctors that label stages as such sure don’t. The simplest level of cell differentiation in a zygote is not understood, what gives you so much faith in arbitrary stages labelled by the same people?

            “The truly immoral bit is you believing that you do.”
            If you would like to discuss morality further, please invite the discussion Draco. Otherwise it may be beside the issue of this article. If asking questions in an open forum offends, please accept my apology. As it is, we have gone tangential here. Do you have any thoughts on the original premise that the Left may alienate voters by bringing in a raft of policies as well as ones focused on reducing wealth/poverty imbalances?

        • HAH. Move along, love.

          A fetus is not a child, period. Thankfully, anti-abortion views such as yours are dying of old age as we speak.

          Ditto those against marriage equality.

          • Thanks for that clarification Lissa, with logic like yours, who needs intelligent discussion? Thankfully, views from all spheres can be discussed honestly in some conversations for millennia to come as we speak.

  8. Once upon a time there was a party called the Green Party that focused some of its attention on

    Preparation for Peak Oil, and

    Global environmental collapse.

    That party morphed into a business-as-usual party that now promotes planetary meltdown and future economic mayhem due to there being no preparation being made for rapidly declining availability of oil. (the energy cliff starts to get really steep in 2015).

    Perhaps the ‘Green’ Party will soon endorse deep-sea drilling and fracking as ways of propping up failing economic arrangements for a few more years. I would put nothing in the impossible basket now that parliament is almost entirely populated by spineless liars.

    As for Labour, who cares? They are just another bunch of liars.

  9. Sue Bradford?
    Didn’t she and her Green Party mates vote for Kiwi Saver?
    Isn’t Kiwi Saver DEPENDENT on growth?
    Doesn’t GROWTH equal destruction of the only human friendly environment we know of?
    With their dear leader (you know the one in pants) pushing for Quantitative Easing, and GROWTH in manufacturing?
    Most Greed Party voters will know and understand before they die, that humans will be extinct long before most of them will see a cent from Kiwi Saver.
    Good on you Sue, for keeping mum on this travesty, you wouldn’t want to stand up and tell the truth and show that every politician is an out and out fucking liar.
    I guess it isn’t that much of a big deal for Honi and Mana, after all most ‘your’ voters aren’t in Kiwi Saver.
    Every politicians silence about this scam is tantamount to treason.

    The Greeds are the most contemptible party we have in parliament, though they have done a great job of doing what they were set up for ie- to suck in the ‘organic, tree huger’ vote and give it to Labour.

    The idiot voters are happy with this arrangement …. for now.

  10. (WTF does “kiwi saver have to do with anything??)Robert you sound like a moron.How can you call Greens the “most contemptible party”??
    Have they been selling off our public assets? Selling NZ down the river and giving it up to foreign ownership- THATS what treason is. Moron.

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