Warning Signs: The Briefings To Incoming Ministers Reveal A Country Gripped By Multiple Crises

By   /   December 9, 2017  /   14 Comments

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The grim picture painted in the BIMs is the consequence of National’s class-driven programme of austerity. Labour’s seeming helplessness in the face of the multiple crises they reveal, is the direct consequence of its refusal to accept that the wounds of austerity can only be healed by applying the sovereign remedy of substantial increases in state spending – facilitated by a radical expansion of the tax base.

THE BRIEFINGS TO INCOMING MINISTERS (BIMs) have laid bare the accumulated failures of nine years of National Party Government. In sector after sector senior civil servants paint a grim picture of incompetence and neglect. The clear message which emerges from this sorry record is that New Zealand has been the victim of a nine-year austerity programme that nobody – other than the poor – seems to have noticed. Taken together, the BIMs offer stark proof of just how deep the class divisions in this country now run.

The veteran political journalist, Richard Harman, puts it like this: “What the Government is confronting is two separate pressures on its spending – one deferred spending from the austerity imposed by the last Government as a response to the GFC in 2008 and a new force in the form of a rapidly growing, ethnically diverse population.”

One of the reasons the three parties making up the present government were able to secure the votes necessary to win power was because the National-led Government was no longer able to confine the effects of its austerity programme to the poorest – and brownest – working-class communities. The effects of prolonged underfunding were beginning to be felt in New Zealand’s leafy suburbs as well as in its meanest streets. More and more people shared in the common agreement that something must be done.

An understanding that a great deal more money would have to be raised and spent, should have been at the heart of that agreement – and Labour should have been the party that put it there, imbuing it with the moral and intellectual force required to overcome the Right’s inevitable resistance. This had been the strategy of the Labour Party in the early 1930s, and it succeeded brilliantly. Labour took power in 1935 with a comprehensive and progressive manifesto, backed by the irresistible weight of an informed and impatient public.

Sadly, this was not the case in 2017.

Rather than build a broad consensus around the need for a substantial increase in public expenditure, funded by an equally large increase in taxation, Labour set out to convince voters of the exact opposite. No increase in personal income tax contributions were necessary, they were told, not even from the very wealthy. Corporate taxation, similarly, would not need to rise. The rate of the Goods and Services Tax could remain fixed at 15 percent. There would be no Capital Gains Tax, Land Tax or Inheritance Tax. Labour was at pains to let people know that it intended to cleave faithfully to the broad fiscal and economic settings bequeathed to it by the outgoing National Government. Gusts of rhetorical stardust notwithstanding, the new Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, was determined to run a tight fiscal ship.

In essence, Robertson’s strategy was the same as Steven Joyce’s, his predecessor: keep the middle-classes happy. National had done it with rock-bottom interest-rates, and by allowing the value of their personal assets to soar. Labour hoped to keep them happy with promises of free tertiary education and affordable homes for their kids; decent pay raises for teachers, nurses, hospital doctors and civil servants; and the gradual upgrading of New Zealand’s ailing infrastructure as and when finances permitted. For the working-class and beneficiaries there would be lots of smiles and hugs – and bugger-all else.

But, as Harman puts it on Politik: “There is a subtle but strong message running through the Briefings to Incoming Ministers […] which comes near to putting a price that the Government is going to have to pay to implement its promises.”

Unsurprisingly, given the neoliberal predilections of senior Treasury officials, the price envisaged is a capitulation to the idea of opening-up the renovation of New Zealand’s public services and infrastructure to private investors. Robertson’s principal advisers are steering him, very quietly, in the direction of Public-Private-Partnerships. In this they will be greatly assisted by Robertson’s personal aversion to unorthodox economic ideas, and by his determination to stay within the bounds of his “Budget Responsibility Rules”.

No matter that New Zealand is short 75,000 houses, or that 700,000 Kiwis cannot be sure of the purity of their drinking water. Too bad that there aren’t enough beds for the mentally ill, and that the prisons are full-to-overflowing. Unfortunate that our courts are so under-resourced that justice is being denied by trial delays of up to 18 months. Labour will continue to resist the rising clamour for increased spending via the tax rises essential to the maintenance of a civilised society.

The grim picture painted in the BIMs is the consequence of National’s class-driven programme of austerity. Labour’s seeming helplessness in the face of the multiple crises they reveal, is the direct consequence of its refusal to accept that the wounds of austerity can only be healed by applying the sovereign remedy of substantial increases in state spending – facilitated by a radical expansion of the tax base.

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14 Comments

  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    Good piece Chris as a lot of truth is there.

    Seems like Phil Twyford has seen the funing crisis in National’s past plan to tarseal our entire country withbtheir “roads of national significance.”

    It seems that “National yet again hid the facts” that roading maintainece cost has spun out of control as he was questiioned multiple tiimes thursday in Q+A over every road planed by National whether they “are a priority” in his transport plans, so in turn he said bluntly to all opposation members and said every time you ask about roads my answer will bbe this; ” The new Labour lead Government will ot honour any National plans as we are ow revising all transport policies using a level playing field by finding the best model all all modems of transport be that road, rail, air and sea, so we are not going down that old tired roading maddness policy of the last Government.

    Lastly he challenged them with the facts that have emerged now that roading maintainence has gone up 50% in last five years under National alone, and we canot afford this “pork belly politics” any more.

  2. OnceWasTim says:

    @ Chris. I’ll reread this later without distraction but a quick question.

    Don’t you find it a bit sad that the state of our public service is now such that it’s only during the era of BIMs that we begin to seriously hear about the sorry state of affairs that’s been allowed to develop.
    It’s a shame that some of the overpaid senior public servants and CEOs could not have been more vociferous earlier.
    (Some do of course – such as the Children’s Commissioner who doesn’t mince words, and seems to operate without partisan favour, Ditto the Ombudsman).
    I think recent developments prove a point I’m trying to make whether it be in Health, or MSD, or NZTA, or Housing NZ, or the MoBIE bugger’s muddle, or at local level – the DHBs. And I’ve no doubt, there’s more to come.

    • Sam Sam says:

      The most recent high profile user of the revolving door kiwi style is John Car Key who seamlessly walked the Finnance sector corridors straight into the corridors of power and back again to ANZ chair. I mean if you go through the legislation passed under his watch alone hardly any of it touches the big guys, the corporations ect. Legislation under Car Key is almost all to suppress the little guy.

  3. savenz says:

    National’s austerity programme was masked by their creation of a NZ massive immigration drive – that many in the left for identity politics reason’s refused to call the government out on.

    This allowed multiple crisis to develop not just masking austerity but also lowering wages and conditions, increasing the long term social spending needed to pay for schooling, health, education, justice, and super, housing, pollution and so forth. It’s deliberately created multiple crisis we didn’t used to have.

    At the same time the left helped National get in again and again by calling for more taxes for the local people while being in denial of the growing situation of NZ’s tax spend not keeping up with the amount of new people. Instead the left seemed to be more interested in protecting new migrants rights, having locals pay the bills for National’s programme of immigration and not being too fussed over the abuse of the migration and any real analysis of it.

    The same thing has happened in the USA. The issue of migration or out sourcing is not about ethnicity for many people it is about the destruction and lowering of local jobs and wages and conditions.

    While the leftie democrats refused to discuss this growing and real issue calling any one out xenophobic and instead trying to win the election by identity politics – aka being the first women PM of the USA. It failed and bought in the next wave of the right, the quasi supremistists.

    Meanwhile it allowed the opposite to happen, even people of colour started to vote for Trump in the vain hope that it would end neoliberalism that was lowering their wages and conditions and making them valueless and replaceable within the USA as they sort in cheaper labour and goods.

    Now all hell has broken loose as Trump the manic is now in charge of one of the most powerful countries.

    Learn, learn, learn. Immigration and protecting local interests FULLY including middle class, is much more important to the left than crys of more taxes for locals.

    Otherwise the next wave of truly horrible zenophobia gets activated. Listening and acting in the last 2 elections would have prevented it.

    At the same time, politicians chasing the neoliberal dream of more money and growth. India and China being sited as wonderful economies.

    The price has been high for anyone unfortunate to live there in the face of air and water pollution. Wow Indians and Chinese can afford cars now as some pinocle of economic gain – pity their air is killing them – as a recent sport test had the players vomiting – the cost of all that growth in population and dirty manufacturing.

    http://web.asianage.com/sports/cricket/061217/did-team-india-brave-pollution-or-act-foolishly.html

    NZ should follow our own path and not constantly try to follow others. Most countries have a lot more problems than NZ.

    Hard work is needed to make NZ a decent place for all to live here, but the NZ government has A LOT less problems that other governments – focus should be on solving them in. a practical way – not following ideology that is clearly not worked aka private partnerships run for profit. The profit belongs to Kiwis living here, not corporations.

    • Afewknowthetruth says:

      NZ is a corporation, set up long ago as a corporation, with the specific intent of extracting wealth and transferring that wealth to the ‘owners’.

      The NZ population is nothing more than the ‘livestock’, required by the system to extract the wealth and transfer it to the owners. The government is nothing more than a management system, geared to continued extraction of wealth and continued transfer of that wealth to the ‘owners’.

      Opportunists are given opportunities to rort various parts of the economy because the overall result provides more notional wealth to the owners, i.e. fiat wealth in the form of computer digits.

      The real wealth of the nation gets degraded on a continuous basis, and the environment gradually gets pushed further and further towards the point of complete collapse [of the systems that make the current living arrangements possible].

      It will make no difference how bad environmental or even economic indicators factors become: the game will continue because those who set up and operate the system (primarily banks and corporations) demand the system continue until it can’t.

      Right now NZ is facing severe drought which will have devastating effects. The global oil predicament worsen by the day, as does the atmospheric CO2 predicament. But we will still see local and regional councils promote the squandering of resources and the polluting of the environment via activities such as dairy farming, or motor racing, or eating and drinking festivals.

    • Brian says:

      Spot on SaveNZ!! The debate on immigration has been gagged for the last 10 years but is the main reason why we are in deep trouble now. Stands to reason really- and considering almost all have come to Auckland, which is bursting at the seems with a housing crisis, infrastructure upgrade/extension crisis, health/mental health crisis, education crisis (schools with too many students and not enough funding), and unemployment (yes, the real numbers not ther phony figures given by government – 1hr of work per week = employed).

      The effects of the last decade (never mind the last 30 years) will be devastating!! Remember John Key’s slogan ‘A Brighter Future’- never forget it!!

  4. Marc says:

    “Unsurprisingly, given the neoliberal predilections of senior Treasury officials, the price envisaged is a capitulation to the idea of opening-up the renovation of New Zealand’s public services and infrastructure to private investors. Robertson’s principal advisers are steering him, very quietly, in the direction of Public-Private-Partnerships. In this they will be greatly assisted by Robertson’s personal aversion to unorthodox economic ideas, and by his determination to stay within the bounds of his “Budget Responsibility Rules”.”

    I saw this coming, and will see it come, when it comes to the building of the 100,000 homes Labour has been talking about. It will be a bonanza for developers and construction companies, and the subcontractors and many workers will be forced do deliver the hardware by working and operating at the smell of an oily rag.

    Same will happen with the planting of the billion or half a billion of trees. The physically hard work will be done by many getting no more than 16 or 17 dollars an hour, for a minimum wage, while PPPs will be set up, also involving overseas investors, to get it under way and implemented.

    And I suspect, in health and education PPPs will eventually become the norm, there may even be asset sales, but I doubt the latter, as I fear, this will be a one term government, which will not be able to see through what it plans, and voters with their short attention spans, fed (mis)information by our MSM, will in 2020 vote in the Nats again, to carry on with the same, in their manner.

  5. Steve King says:

    I have this question. How is it that the consequences of the national government’s policies was never aired while they were in power? Are we being played? That’s actually two questions.

    • mattygee says:

      The answer is simple, National controlled the media. ..

      • let me be frank says:

        or would it be more accurate to say National and the MSM have the same master?

      • Marc says:

        It may rather be like the vested interest holding business players and property owners, the bosses and entrepreneurs that hold the largest stake in this NZ Inc. ‘corporation’, do somehow control both, the MSM (as commercially driven, dependent on advertising), AND the National Party, who exist as willing mercenaries dependent on donations of the same.

        National itself is just in instrument, to get a hold onto government, with hangers on parties, or without.

        And as the ones controlling MSM and Nats still control the whole show, the present government will be forced to operate under a tight regime and strict limitations, as we see unfold.

  6. Andrea says:

    Why does Chris keep talking about ‘Labour’? We have a coalition with some seasoned players in it. Expecting poor old cautious Labour to suddenly change its spots – yeah, nah.

    But. Working as a true coalition and getting soaking-close to the opportunities to develop better ways than traditional to handle the production of many houses that will last for thirty or so years and then be effectively recycled; vastly and rapidly upgrading our sewerage systems and bulk water networks; making our power system far more robust so it doesn’t die at the first whiff of a breeze.

    Also sweetly encourage our research and engineering people into something at least as challenging as agriculture. Make it worthwhile for people of any age to embark upon either of these lines of enquiry, knowing there are lifetimes of opportunity (unless we fry or drown first).

    The prime era for Labour is past. No factories, no labouring work, no big and united work forces – which is why it’s so easy for exploiters and slavers to indulge their filthy habits. The Boss is not so easy to pick out of the line-up any more and Labour does not give the impression that it’s kept up with the changes.

    Coalition, Chris. Coalition. Now get the oxen and the ass to work in harness or there’ll be no daily bread for far too many.

    PS – this is NOT a ‘job for private enterprise’. Surely by now we’ve seen how risk-averse that sector is? The ONLY big-enough player is the dreaded and demonised public sector. Did it before – could do it again – so long as Labour doesn’t have another 1980’s spasm… Bless.

  7. Jack says:

    Yeah well that’s Tories for you. NZ is now nothing more than an overpriced, unaffordable shop front. What’s out the back of the shop doesn’t bear thinking about.