New Zealand First Is NOT Neoliberal – A Response To Frank Macskasy

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I ordinarily have a lot of time for Frank Macskasy. His pieces are usually trenchantly researched and thorough. On top of that, he was the first journalist to ever give me a proper interview.

But even the best of us have off days. Combinations of preferenced ideological blind-spots and wood-for-trees-ism which mercilessly get in the way of and interfere with the accuracy of our analysis.

And as applies Frank’s piece from earlier this week setting out the rather perilous accusation that New Zealand First is, in fact, ardently neoliberal … that certainly appears to be what’s happened here.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the material Frank quoted was either inaccurate or wildly out of context. It wasn’t. Winston, while in government with the National Party from 1996-1998, wound up backing and supporting principles and policies which might fairly be regarded as almost the complete opposite of what our Movement was founded to propound all those years ago in 1993. Probably the biggest clanger is something which Frank hasn’t directly referenced – Winston’s in-public support for the privatization of a state asset (namely, the Auckland Airport).

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But we all have pasts – particularly those of us who’ve effectively spent something like forty years straight in politics – and while previous actions can be quite instructive in helping us to understand where someone’s come from … I find myself customarily FAR more interested in what they’re doing now (or, for that matter, over the last ten to twelve years) as compared to what they were doing quite literally almost twenty years ago.

This is where Frank’s analysis falls down.

Nobody – other than the most diehard and counterfactual pro-NZF zealots – would sincerely seek to argue that National-NZF ’96 was a good idea. Or anything other than a horrible, right-wing inflected disaster. Winston himself, and to his credit, not only walked out of Government in protest against National’s ongoing neoliberal agenda … but even, later that decade, outright apologized to the nation for ever going into coalition with the Nats in the first place. (As an aside – the journalist who gave me an electronic copy of the newspaper clipping detailing this happening was none other than Frank Macskasy. It is unfortunate that this tangible evidence of reversal of position by Winston was not deemed significant enough for inclusion in Frank’s piece on significant things we did in the late 1990s; presumably because it didn’t easily fit the narrative)

The other points which desperately needed to be included in Frank’s article yet which evidently must have been left on the cutting-room floor include i) our actions in and around government *since* 1998 (i.e. the 2005-2008 co-operation with the Labour Party and even, later, the Greens); and ii) what we’ve done and said both out of Parliament and in Opposition since then.

As applies our record from 2005-2008, the evidence is clear: New Zealand First is no Neoliberal party. Otherwise, why would we have pushed for unprecedented rises in the minimum wage commensurate with a figure of about a dollar per year (and effective scrapping of youth rates)? Why would we have delivered the renationalization of KiwiRail? Or secured a thousand extra front-line police plus three hundred support staff?

There are numerous other examples drawn from that three-year period to cite … but even considered in the most superficial manner, renationalizing assets, raising wages, and pouring vastly more funding into an essential state service (for such the provision of law and order surely is) hardly smack of “Neoliberalism”.

Indeed, given the privatization of assets, undermining of real wages, and slashing of state services are pretty much the sine qua non criterion for a given party or regime being “neoliberal” … I’d even go so far as to say that our more recent Record In Office is tantamount to us being Neoliberalism’s very Antithesis Incarnate.

This trend doesn’t exactly abate during either the Wilderness Years from 2008-2011 (during which time, I joined the Party – because it appeared to be the strongest anti-Neoliberal force available), or for the period running from late-2011 to the present day in which we’ve been back in Parliament.

On issues like the privatization of state assets or the Government and Reserve Bank’s ongoing quixotic obsession with controlling inflation rates at the expense of both currency and unemployment concerns … for the longest time, New Zealand First effectively seemed to be standing alone. I am more than happy to be proven wrong about this, but I don’t seem to recall either of Labour or the Green Party putting forward serious policy nor legislative proposals to comprehensively #Renationalize stolen Kiwi assets, or fundamentally reform the Reserve Bank Act to move our country’s key monetary policy instrument away from the avowedly Neoliberal theoretical underpinnings and preferences which had so deleteriously constrained it for so long.

I do not deny that some of Winston’s rhetoric from 1996-1998 was seriously average … but to ignore all of the above in favour of insisting that a specific interpretation of what he said two decades ago is absolutely and axiomatically what we believe today seems almost scurrilous. Or at the very least rather willfully myopic.

Matters become even worse when we see the oblique comparison between National-NZF on one hand (as the ‘parties of the right’, although the author doesn’t name them as such), and Labour-Greens on the other (as the assumedly anti-neoliberal “left”) towards the end of Frank’s piece.

Certainly, nobody denies that the Green Party are generally pretty good when it comes to advocating for what’s customarily a principled left-of-center and redoubtably anti-neoliberal position. This is one of the many reasons why I keep advocating #BlackGreen2017

Yet I seem to recall a certain co-leader of the Greens making the curious call during the last Election run-up to broadcast the claim that the Greens are allegedly more “pro-market” than National. They actually campaigned on lower company taxes, leaving the regressive GST-levy untouched, and “markets [being] a really good solution to the big challenges”.

According to Frank’s logic of taking quotes from a certain period of a Party’s history, and then applying them at face-value as present-day ethos and proclivity … surely this indicates that the Greens are in the same boat as New Zealand First when it comes to neoliberalism? Perhaps even a bit deeper into the vessel considering the fact that the Norman-quotes come from a mere two years ago, while the Winston-speeches are from twenty?

Further, consider the other party which Frank has identified as being of the (supportable) “left” in this country. Labour. Now we all know what they got up to in the 1980s. I won’t waste half a piece by setting out exactly which still presently serving front-bench spokespeople did seriously, SERIOUSLY neoliberal things during and after Rogernomics. But that was closer in time to Winston’s 1997 misadventures than either set of incidences is to the present day.

And more importantly, if Labour’s severely mixed messages about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement are anything to go by, while New Zealand First has clearly and avowedly left our past mistakes in the rear-view mirror … for the Parliamentary Labour Party, their own egregious missteps appear more a case of “objects in this mirror may be much closer than they appear”.

New Zealand First lead the charge against the TPPA in Parliament. We put forward not one but TWO excellent bills to try and stop the TPPA and its worst effects from being allowed to happen here. In our vision for the future of New Zealand, foreign corporate power should NEVER be allowed to trump New Zealand people power. If that isn’t ‘anti-Neoliberal’, then I really don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, Labour – apart from initiating the negotiations which saw us tied into the TPPA to begin with – found itself embroiled in a serious internal contratemps that saw two out of the last four Leaders of the Parliamentary Labour Party attempting to undermine the current one by outwardly supporting it. The end result of which was that Phil Goff was allowed to vote WITH the Government when it came to matters pertaining to the TPPA – and that’s all stuff which has happened THIS year! (No word yet as to whether Goff will be allowed to deploy similar logic to vote against any legislation to lower or abolish the cost of tertiary education in this country yet, either, given his rather prominent role in establishing university fees here in the first place…)

Now all of this is not put forward out of spite or out of hand. I have no great interest in attacking either Labour or the Greens in this piece. But the plain fact of the matter is that if we apply Frank’s own evidentiary standards which he’s subjected us to, to the two parties he’s quite happy to label as “left”, then we inevitably wind up with a situation wherein they’re attackable under exactly the same pernicious charge of “aiding, abetting and embodying Neoliberalism” as New Zealand First supposedly is.

Or, to phrase it another way – if we are to convict Winston of ‘neoliberalism’ on the basis of a speech made twenty years ago (and disregarding pretty much all the available evidence of his conduct, aspirations and beliefs for much of the two decades since, including the last time we were in/near Government) … then we quite quickly wind up in a thankless and just about impossible situation wherein virtually everybody in or near Parliament ought be rhetorically tarred and feathered for much the same reason. If not outright more ardently, due to the far more recent (in the case of the Greens) and sustained (in the case of Labour) nature of their offending.

In summary – as I said at the outset, I often have considerable time and regard for what Frank publishes. I mean him no disrespect (in fact, quite the contrary) by seeking to engage with, critique, and riposte against his most recent piece.

But while it is probably too strong a term to state that charges of New Zealand First being ‘neoliberal’ are entirely “unfounded” (Frank’s digging up of two speeches from twenty years ago does sort-of put paid to that) … asserting that the present, modern New Zealand First which I joined up to some seven years ago is either i) ‘neoliberal’; or ii) by implication, somehow more ‘neoliberal’ than, say, the Labour Party, makes an utter nonsense of the term.

I could go on at some (even greater) length, but I think the point is made.

New Zealand First has undeniably and unquestionably made some graven mistakes in the past. Many of us are amongst the first to acknowledge this. But we have also made strident and stringent contributions to the political good of our nation – often, although not exclusively, in the field of repealing and rolling back dire neoliberal ‘reforms’ wrought and put into play by parties other than our own.

Going into the 2017 Campaign, you’re going to hear an awful lot of prognostication and punditry about New Zealand First’s likely future prospects and potential political positioning. Much of it will be sensationalized. Some of it will be slanderous. And as always happens, there will be a bevvy of persons erroneously insisting that we’re somehow “right-wing”. 

But look to the evidence – ALL of it, rather than piecemeal and cherrypicked slivers from several decades ago – and you’ll quite rapidly start to get a proper picture of who and what we actually are. 

“Neoliberal”, whatever the actual meaning and import of the term, would appear to be pretty far down the list of terms which one could feasibly use. 

21 COMMENTS

  1. C. You’ve lost this one …Winston as he has done many times before. Shot his load too early! Getting poor advice? Or just thinking on his feet? He has the problem of “foot-shooting-himself?” Thats less cryptic to figure out than you wordy diatribe. An ole saying and advice is, “Stop digging …..”

  2. Thank you Curwen. I have never been a fan of NZF since they went with National after campaigning against them. I was pleasantly surprised at the obvious hum at your latest conference and am prepared to almost concede that your party may be a little more than a one-man band. However , bearing in mind that Ron Mark and Shane Jones are right wingers, I would insist that your party declare its colours before the election.
    If you are going to aim at the rural electorate then it is obvious which way Winston will go. So ,in my book, he is totally untrustworthy unless he declares.

  3. “If not outright more ardently, due to the far more recent (in the case of the Greens) … nature of their offending.”

    What?

  4. Curwen, I respect both you and Frank for your skills and dedication. On this issue, tho, I think Frank has raised a valid point.

    Time will tell, I guess.

  5. Ah ? Yeah…. Nah. I’m going with Frank Macskasy. It’s always been my view that winston peters is a Machiavellian liar and a deviant confederate. A red herring in a pin stripped suit.
    To prove my point. If he was genuine? Something would have happened. Nothing has happened. Unless, of course, you think things getting worse for us is ‘something happening’.

    And now that I have your attention, read this.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/12/how-america-became-a-1-society#comment-83138688

    Bill Moyers has been an organiser of the Peace Corps, a top White House aide, a publisher, and a prolific broadcast journalist whose work earned 37 Emmy Awards and nine Peabody Awards. He is president of the Schumann Media Centre, which supports independent journalism.

  6. I’ll go with you Curwen,

    “This is one of the many reasons why I keep advocating #BlackGreen2017” said Curwen.

    We live in very dangerous time now with a clear fascist government!!!

    While NatZ are deliberately flooding us with immigration to water our
    society all down, which most recognise as Genocide.

    So knowing Winston’s record on this subject I am with him as we need his principals on this criminal attempt to water our way of life down, as NatZ are doing deliberately.

    So a green/Black sounds feasible at least because “desperate times demands we use any method top counter the evil besetting us all.

  7. I agree with Curwen. Everyone knows the basis of NZF raison d’etre is Winston Peters’ musing, opinions, xenophobia and pork-barrell politics.

    Any resemblence to a coherent political ideology is mere happenstance.

    Kia kaha Curwen.

  8. Hi Curwen

    i agree that NZF along with the Greens have been staunchly critical of the TPPA, but i really worry that will change if the pro-TPPA Shane Jones joins the parliamentary team.

  9. Kia ora, Curwen,

    An excellent critique of my earlier blogpost. If someone is going to contest a position I’ve put forward, I appreciate a methodical response. You’ve certainly achieved this.

    A few points, if I may…

    1.

    Probably the biggest clanger is something which Frank hasn’t directly referenced – Winston’s in-public support for the privatization of a state asset (namely, the Auckland Airport).

    Indeed, I left that out of my piece – though I did refer to it later, in a message (https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2016/09/07/expose-winston-peters-the-1997-speeches-and-neo-liberal-tendencies/#comment-351772) in response to something Strypey said.

    I’m well aware of NZ First’s enabling of the privatisation of Auckland Airport. I’m also aware that Wellington Airport was next on the agenda, had it not been for massive public opposition and the National-NZ First’s deteriorating position in the polls.

    This is an issue I was planning for a follow-up piece, along with other instances such as Peters not following through on his election promise to buy back forestry cutting rights for the Kaingaroia Forest, that the previous Bolger-led National government had flogged off to Chinese interests in 1996. (See: https://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/winston-peters-recycles-pledge-to-buy-back-state-assets-where-have-we-heard-that-before/)

    Another day perhaps.

    2.

    But we all have pasts – particularly those of us who’ve effectively spent something like forty years straight in politics – and while previous actions can be quite instructive in helping us to understand where someone’s come from … I find myself customarily FAR more interested in what they’re doing now (or, for that matter, over the last ten to twelve years) as compared to what they were doing quite literally almost twenty years ago.

    I can’t disagree with that. My early years (teens and 20s) were extremely right-wing in many respects. Gosman would’ve nodded in approval at my early, uninformed political beliefs at thew time.

    Only my interest in environmental issues and the Western sabotage of the democratically elected Allende government in Chile made me re-assess my beliefs. That, and Sonja Davies’ late son, Mark, who taught me to question everything.

    (Rest in peace, Mark, and thank you for being patient with me at the time.)

    So if Winston Peters has shifted on the political spectrum, that is not unreasonable, considering my on-going evolution in beliefs.

    3.

    Winston himself, and to his credit, not only walked out of Government in protest against National’s ongoing neoliberal agenda … but even, later that decade, outright apologized to the nation for ever going into coalition with the Nats in the first place.

    Agreed. I can’t contradict that point.

    4.

    Further, consider the other party which Frank has identified as being of the (supportable) “left” in this country. Labour.

    Hmmm, that bit is contestable. A charitable person would describe Labour as “center-Left. An uncharitable person would describe them as perpetuating the neo-liberal system.

    As several pointed out, it was National that raised the benefit by $25 a week. Labour had eight years to rectify Ruth Richardson’s diabolical welfare cuts in 1992 – and did nothing.

    5.

    New Zealand First lead the charge against the TPPA in Parliament.

    I contest that. The vast majority of activists “leading the charge” were either Mana Movement or from various other left-wing groups, unions, etc.

    I did happen to see a NZ First flag at some rallies – but so were the Pirate Party present.

    6.

    In summary – as I said at the outset, I often have considerable time and regard for what Frank publishes. I mean him no disrespect (in fact, quite the contrary) by seeking to engage with, critique, and riposte against his most recent piece.

    Nope, I’m honoured. You’ve taken time, effort, and assembled evidence to support your position. That’s not “disrespectful” – that’s quite a compliment.

    7.

    New Zealand First has undeniably and unquestionably made some graven mistakes in the past. Many of us are amongst the first to acknowledge this. But we have also made strident and stringent contributions to the political good of our nation – often, although not exclusively, in the field of repealing and rolling back dire neoliberal ‘reforms’ wrought and put into play by parties other than our own.

    To be honest, Curwen, if I’m wrong in this piece and Peters decides to support a Labour-Green government to roll back neo-liberalism, then I’ll be doing a little happy dance; apologise profusely for doubting; and shout you a very long round of drinks at The Backbencher’s pub.

    This is one occasion where I really, really, really want to be wrong.

    • We are all hoping this Frank for NZ;s sake mate.

      Well said with wonderful elegance I am very impressed you are a gem.

      • I agree, Cleangreen. Frank is not noted for tolerating fools, but his measured response to Curwen indicates (I think) that he holds the young man in high regard.

        Time will tell who is right on this issue.

    • Yep – I would like to be wrong about Winston too. Once bitten, twice shy. He said all the right things beforehand last time.

    • A heartwarming example of ‘how to disagree constructively’ at its finest. 🙂

      While I usually have to agree with all Curwen writes about NZF, I have never voted for them and never would…

      As long as they will not commit themselves in advance to what’s right, rather than what’s politically expedient.

      Under our MMP, the Maori party seem the prime example of a party that will do whatever it takes to be in government (expediency).

      The Green party ‘ will do whatever it takes not to be in government’ (values, doing the right thing rather than the expedient thing).

      And NZF will keep people in the dark about what it will do.

      Again and again we read …’and in this latest poll, (yet again) NZF will decide on who gets to govern, Winston is kingmaker’, and variations on that theme.

      Though larger than NZF, the Greens have never been cited as possible kingmakers precisely due to letting it be known, consistently and in advance, that there are levels (like everyday business under National) to which they just will not stoop.

      Respect for consistent ethical choices can be slow to arrive, especially when winning by expediency looks so clever and laudable. So clever and laudable that having zero ethics starts looking like the greatest virtue.

      We have a party which says (once you’ve learnt to see past the lies) ‘Vote for us first and then you’ll find out how we intend to wreck society.’

      If NZF wants to avoid the continuing risk of looking like National in sheep’s clothing, I believe it will one day have to take the plunge and risk losing in a good cause.

      To have people vote for it because they know they can trust it, not in the hope that it won’t betray them.

    • Frank;

      To admit you may be wrong shows real strength of character. I applaud you.

      To bring up something from so long ago,what were you thinking?

      It’s time to get on board with NZF now Frank.

      We now know how the Deep State works and I put it to you who else will carry the banner of Nationalism and Sovereignty.?

      National,Labour,Greens really are controlled by off shore forces whether you
      are prepared to admit it or not. (Think Geoff)

      With this new Green leader I would not be surprised if they went with National
      to push Key over the line again in 2017 (he still has much work to do) if it meant
      keeping Winston out of power.
      Greens usually go with the right in Europe in their MMP systems (eg Germany)

      People can change their politics when confronted with new and up to date
      information like you yourself have already alluded too.

      Below is Winston’s State of The Nation speech 2016 ALL NZ’s should read.

      And a couple more, in order, of 2016.
      Thank god we still have the independent website http://www.scoop.co.nz/index.html

      http://community.scoop.co.nz/2016/01/rt-hon-winston-peters-state-of-the-nation-speech/

      http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1602/S00340/winston-peters-speech-realising-real-opportunities.htm

      http://business.scoop.co.nz/2016/02/27/speech-by-new-zealand-first-leader-winston-peters/

      Bonus. See Tracy’s well researched speech on education.
      http://nzfirst.org.nz/updates/speeches

      Finally my comment from elsewhere.

      Winston could be our Trump if we all got in behind. He is the Nationalist.

      ie,Gain enough votes to beat Labour and Greens thus becomes PM. !!

      Spread the word.

      The idea whose time has come.

      http://www.reenagagneja.com/ron-paul-3/

      Cheers.

      • Here we see NZ First key messages for trying to pull votes from the Greens:
        * Greens are overseas controlled.

        I know of no reason to be believe this. Evidence please?

        * Greens will support National in 2017.

        This is delusional. Greens have already indicated they will probably go with Labour, via the MoU. They declare before each election who they will consider working with, and they stick to it, unlike NZ First who insist on leaving us guessing until after the election.

        * Greens usually go with “the right” in Europe, so they will in NZ.

        Each Green Party makes its own decisions about who to work with, based on the political situation in their own country. In the neo-liberal age, its not always obvious from a distance who is “left” and who is “right”. Some would argue that the Greens working with NZ First would be going with “the right”.

        As for “Winston could be our Trump”, yes, there are vague similarities in some of their nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric, but comparing Winston to a corporation-owning, capitalist buffoon like Trump is an insult to Winston that I don’t think he would have deserved even at his 1996-8 worst.

    • If you think Labour is “center-left”, then I’d suggest having a look at where politicalcompass.org had Labour for the 2014 election.

      • …and here it is:
        https://www.politicalcompass.org/nz2014

        Interesting that the Greens were far more “left” in 2014 than any other party except Mana, and at the same time the most “libertarian” party on the spectrum by far.

        Honestly, in my darker moments I fantasize about strapping down every news media staffer in the country in one of those forced-viewing chairs from A Clockwork Orange, and making them stare at this for at least a few days. Hopefully that would put paid to the delusional nonsense they routinely spout about which parties inhabit “the centre”, and whether that’s even a good thing.

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