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Matt McCarten: National is taking NZ back down memory lane
Herald on Sunday
November 29th 2009
John Key's year-long honeymoon is over. Or, at the very least, it's the beginning of the end.
The first hint that his Teflon existence was about to expire was the fallout from Rodney Hide and Hone Harawira's overseas trips. Both problems, created by Key's junior coalition partners, were avoidable and self-inflicted, but National gets some of the public opprobrium by dint of its association.
Before these maddening events, Key's changes to Accident Compensation hinted at a right-wing direction, but most people were somewhat pacified by our Prime Minister's assurance that his proposed changes were a managerial response to a cashflow crisis, rather than philosophical. But after this week, no one should be under any illusion that this National-led Government plans to implement an ideological agenda.
The emissions trading scheme changes moved the cost from business to the taxpayer and the consumer at the petrol pump. It's a classic transfer of costs from the wealthy to the rest of us. What went on behind the scenes to get the Maori Party to do a policy u-turn enabled Labour to accuse both parties of an unprincipled backroom deal. The claim that the Maori Party support was bought by giving Maori-run corporates a deal worth up to $50 million went to the heart of the Maori Party's integrity, integrity that it has tried hard to earn.
It's interesting that Harawira, who has been on enforced leave until this weekend, didn't give his proxy vote to his party whip to cast in support of this deal. Labour's Phil Goff clearly smelled an opportunity and put the boot in. Goff's reneging on his party's earlier support for a repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act is totally cynical and intended to whip up Pakeha New Zealanders. It's the space that Winston Peters used to occupy. Goff and his advisers clearly believe they can close the gap with National with this desperate and, in my opinion, covertly racist strategy. It worked a treat for Don Brash and Goff no doubt hopes it'll work the same magic for him. There's a certain irony that Key is now in the same position as Helen Clark was on this issue. Let's see if he blinks under fire in the same way Clark did.
However, the more substantive political divide between the right and the left last week was over the selling of our prisons for private profit. I assume the beneficiaries of this new money-making venture will be overseas corporations. The normal practice of these profiteers is to be on their best behaviour until they're embedded deeply at the trough. Once there, staff and their wages and conditions are cut and services are downgraded. Revelations from Labour's Lianne Dalziel that 10 of Britain's 11 private prisons rank in the bottom 25 per cent should prove the lie to any government zealot who tries to kid us that privatisation will mean a more efficient and accountable service.
The logical extension of prison privatisation is: why not the cops, courts or even the military? Half of armed Americans in Iraq are contractors and in private militias. Look at the criminal behaviour that has caused. It's not a system we should be getting enthusiastic about.
Part of being a civilised society is that the police, courts and prison are under direct public control. It shouldn't be an opportunity for shareholders to improve their wealth.
Privatisation goes to the core differences between National and Labour, and that's where I'd like to see Goff focus his attention. Key is starting to lose his Midas touch and starting to look just like another deal-making politician.
On Friday and Saturday, thousands of low-paid state workers marched in 27 centres in protest at not receiving a pay rise. Fighting for them not, in my view, appealing to our base racial instincts, should be Labour's priority. The left doesn't have to stoop to this gutter strategy just because the right did when it was in opposition.