Why is the Neoliberal Establishment so Pissed-Off with Bill English?


IT’S DIFFICULT TO AVOID THE IMPRESSION that the neoliberal establishment is very pissed-off with Bill English. His handling of the NZ Superannuation issue has been an unmitigated disaster from beginning to end. The media wasn’t briefed. National’s surrogates in academia and the business community weren’t primed. The public was not prepared.

Unfortunately, for any proposal to reform an institution as popular as NZ Super to have the slightest chance of success, all three of the above groups must be ready to hear it. One can only imagine the frustration of the Retirement Commissioner, Diane Maxwell, as she watched all her patient public diplomacy reduced to ashes in English’s ill-considered political bonfire.

English’s actions take on an even more absurd aspect when one recalls that there is a time-honoured and well-tested process for slaughtering a cow as sacred as NZ Super in relative political safety.

For a start, it is ill-advised to announce such plans in the early months of an election year.

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Ill-advised, but not automatically fatal. Instigating an extensive and entirely independent review of any given set of current public policy settings is eminently survivable – if that is the sum total of your announcement. Indeed, it generally prompts hearty praise from all those “experts” agitating for change. It also allows the instigator to refuse the media anything further in the way of specificity until the review is complete.

Had English adhered to this process with NZ Super he could also have increased the political pressure on his principal electoral foes. Labour, in particular, would have found it extremely difficult to oppose any government call for a cross-party commitment to a comprehensive review of NZ Super. After all, in both the 2011 and 2014 general elections, reforming NZ Super had been Labour’s policy. The Greens, likewise, could hardly refuse to join in a sober, without prejudice, quest to arrive at the broadest possible political consensus on this highly contentious issue.

NZ First could not, however, credibly lend its name to such an effort without, at least implicitly, being bound by the review’s eventual recommendations. But such a dog-in-the-manger stance would put Winston Peters in an extremely difficult position.

Refusing to endorse a review of NZ Super would, presumably, leave NZ First no choice but to refuse to enter into any confidence and supply agreement that did not include its cancellation. Assuming both Labour and the Greens had joined National in supporting the proposed review, NZ First would have nowhere to go but the cross-benches – a position of acute and ever-increasing political precariousness.

The beauty of establishing any sort of official inquiry is, of course, that the people doing the establishing get to appoint the people doing the inquiring, and to draft their terms of reference. In almost every case this more-or-less guarantees that the inquiry will produce recommendations which correspond remarkably closely to the wishes of those who set it up.

In other words, English had the chance to appoint a Royal Commission of Inquiry into NZ Superannuation which, after weeks of hearings, and months of deliberation, solemnly recommended to his government that not only would the age of eligibility have to be advanced – and quickly – but also that the means of calculating the quantum of NZ super would have to be altered, and a means-testing regime established.

Because Labour and the Greens would already have signed up to the inquiry, their endorsement of its recommendations would be automatic. Any ensuing legislation would thus be guaranteed an overwhelming parliamentary majority.

Imagine the celebrations at Treasury, the NZ initiative and across the financial sector. Not only would the whole issue have been depoliticised for the foreseeable future, but also (and best of all!) no neoliberal fingerprints would ever be found on the gun that killed the last great universal entitlement of the social-democratic era.

All of these highly-sought-after right-wing objectives have now been put at risk by English’s ineptitude. Listening to the business journalist, Fran O’Sullivan, this morning [10/3/17] on RNZ, the fury and frustration of the neoliberal establishment was evident in every bitter syllable of her commentary. Not only that, but in her rage at the now solid phalanx of NZ Super political defenders which English’s blundering has brought into formation (Labour, the Greens and NZ First) she blurted out the Right’s true intentions.

In the event of a National victory in September, Act (acting on behalf of the neoliberal establishment) will insist that means-testing and a reduction in NZ Super’s purchasing power be added to the legislation sanctioning the (immediate?) extension of the age of eligibility to 67.

No confusion now about the Right’s murderous intentions towards NZ Superannuation – and not the slightest doubt as to whose fingerprints will be found on the gun.


  1. New Zealanders got the government they voted for.

    On the plus side, English has opened a can of worms with this Super thing. If millenials don’t get of their backsides to voite to protect their self-interest they deserve everything they get.

    I look forward to Gareth Morgan’s policy release this Tuesday on this issue. TOP is looking more and more attractive every day. I watched and listened to Andrew Little this morning on The Nation. To say I was under-whelmed would be under-stating things. His responses were bullshit and if he goes into the election like that, English will be PM after September. The man was as inspiring as two week old roadkill .

  2. Bill English – This “stool pigeon” for his puppet master, Billderberg Group, Goldman Sachs and the global Corporate cabal is a twisted lair when he released the new “Swimmable water quality” amendment saying our water quality will improve.
    he lied as he knows that our water quality is now becoming so toxic that it will cause us all cancer and nervous system damages as we drink and swim in our waters today.

    Tyre dust is made from Petrochemicals and contain 1.3.butadiene Styrene both which are recognised as carcinogen’s and nervous system toxins so if the scientists confirm this why is Bill English lying to us????

    Road transport pollution of air pollutants and tyre dust pollution road runoff is never factored into any Government studies of degradation of water quality in NZ.

    NIWA have long expressed the need for Government to recognise this road runoff pollution issue and have it addressed through new planning rules as to why rail freight should now be used more actively to lower road freight pollution.

    “the combined effects of sediments, nutrients, and urban contaminants (such as heavy metals washed off roads and roofs) degrade water quality,” – “The real impact of diffuse pollution on ecosystems downstream is multiple stressors: one stressor almost never works on its own,” says Clive Howard-Williams, NIWA’s Chief Scientist, Freshwater.


    The new Government elected this year must pickup this issue to help reduce the degradation of our water quality in NZ.


    • One I posted today in the Herald:

      The Herald is also running a story on English and what he will be campaigning on in this years election, Growth.

      Growth in homelessness
      Growth in poverty
      Growth in unattainable home ownership
      Growth in the gap between the wealthy and the poor
      Growth in immigration
      Growth in unemployment

      English has the audacity to say that Labour and the left are against this growth?

      You need to let your bias go Audrey, however you are right National could well govern alongside an invigorated( Maori) separatist party.

  3. Keep it up , Chris Trotter – that’s the sort of insight we need into these neo liberal wretches.

    A graphic tour de force of the mindset and absolute vicious planning that goes on behind closed doors of the far right neo liberal against the unsuspecting New Zealand public.

    They have not changed in their doubletalk and deceptive methodology since the days of their ideological patriarch , Roger Douglas.

    Roger Douglas and The years of Treason.

    I believe the tide is now turning… the Double Dipper appears to be a victim of , – and tripping over – his decades old objectives in his impatience to see them accomplished.

    I believe he knows as well , … his time is limited.

    He is fully aware of his general unsuitability for being the man at the front. This is why Key was brought in. To fulfill the role of the second hand used car salesman , to be the front man Bill English knows he is not.

    English is happier in the back rooms, away from the possibility of the public’s gaze… doing the groundwork , doing the planning. His is not the persona to fire the imagination of the masses… his meticulous ideological planning is far too precious and has been far too long in the making to risk having it be derailed by his own self acknowledged public speakers limitations ….

    English is starting to stumble.

    And yet there appears no one suitably able to carry the neo liberal torch in his absence,… there are few ideologues left of his vintage , and quite as versed in its objectives as English ,… thus the National party is in an incredibly vulnerable position should there be a growing impatience with English and if English should get offside with his neo liberal support base…

    How interesting. And how so very ironic…

    33 long years of a carefully constructed deceit by bodies such as the New Zealand Institute , of lobbying and funding selected party’s and certain politicians within those party’s…

    Destroyed by one of their very own , one of the most ardent promoters of the neo liberal ideology that they possessed…

    Revenge is a dish best served cold.

  4. Time to see if National voters care about the Grandkids. I wouldn’t hold your breath.
    What I’m waiting for is to see if Labour voters care enough about the Grandkids enough to end their love affair with buying and selling the ‘family’ home, enough to demand an end to the profitability of the housing market and Landlordism, by demanding Progressive housing policy from Labour.
    The ‘Battle for the Center’ is pretty well stalled at this point. 2% shifts are a joke.

  5. Interesting perspective Chris. Either the PM is being incredibly brave or is a complete idiot to bring up Superannuation changes 6 months out from an election. But at least we as a country go into an election with policy lines drawn. I would like to see every party’s policy on the issue. We have Nationals, time for Labour, Greens, NZF and TOP to step up.

  6. It’s pretty clear that English is trying his best to throw the election.
    Key , in true money trader form , saw the writing on the wall regarding the upcoming fallout from the absolute hash he’d made of running the country, got outta there and threw English under the bus.
    Now he wants out too.
    From the ridiculous Nick Smith fiasco, to insulting born and bred Kiwi youth, out of control tourism , out of control immigration and an out of control housing situation , his myopic visionless approach has landed him in an inescapable corner. With the rook covering the straight lines and the Queen all the angles it’s checkmate for English.
    Fred Dagg would have had a field describing this fiasco, but i’m picking he would have finished with “I say Trev , it’s a mess !!”

  7. What about celebrating the opportunity provided to the opposition by this inept PM, Bill English?

    Chris makes it sound as if he also feels sorry for that man, making the blunder he has made.

  8. People can keep pretending that present economic arrangements (based on the conversion of fossil fuels into deadly waste) are sustainable if they like, but the reality is, nothing in the present set of economic arrangements is sustainable, and all of it will come crashing to the ground over the next decade or so.

    The scandal is not the government’s failure to provide proper consultation over absolutely necessary changes to the superannuation scheme but the failure of a series of governments over a period of many decades to establish sustainable economic and social arrangements.

    Undoubtedly the game of pretending that present economic arrangements have a future will continue a while longer…..probably until the entire global economic system crashes dues to failure of the globalized liquid fuel supply some time in the fairly near future.

    Without energy fossil fuel energy nothing happens, and with fossil fuels energy we ruin the environment for our progeny.

    ‘Carbon dioxide levels rose at record pace for 2nd straight year’


    ‘Interesting times’ indeed.

  9. The ACT party does not have any desire to introduce means testing nor reduce the purchasing power of the rate. The party does want to reduce the burden of funding the scheme in the next few years and ensure the Baby boomer generation at least pays a part in this.

      • By raising the age of eligibility much earlier than the plan put forward by National. The plan is in fact very similar to what Labour was suggesting at the 2011 and 2014 election.

  10. As a person who is rapidly approaching Gold Card Age, I would be only mildly annoyed if they put back the pensionable age by a small increment now.

    Let’s say, 6 months now and maybe another 6 months 2 to 5 years down the track.

    If there really is a great need to address this issue (and I question that – the predicted shortfall is small compared to the student loans overhang and is trivial compared to the backlog in, say, Auckland’s water treatment capital expenditure) then the sooner we do it, the less long term pain will be experienced.

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