Heroes and hucksters

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    Tuesday’s party political commentary on the front page of the New Zealand Herald as a national daily in the middle of a national human and infrastructural emergency of catastrophic proportions is odd and disturbing.

    Not that the newspaper takes its front page very seriously. For years, it was invariably a medical misery story. For the average reader, a narrative normalising poor health service expectations without any call to action beyond the shock value. Then came the wrap-around adverts on the front. And this week, we have commentator Claire Trevatt’s suggesting that our new prime minister has plagiarised John Key’s Christchurch quake management manual in formulating Gabrielle’s disaster relief strategy.

    Apart from the fact that we don’t want our politicians (and the bureaucracy it has to work with) reinventing the wheel in their own image and to their own advantage when it comes to huge and tragic crises, humankind doesn’t work that way. In real life, we learn by our mistakes.

    This is the week when the Christchurch rebuild fund is finally handing out its last $100,000 and folding its tent. Since it’s now 13 years later, that doesn’t make John Key and Gerry Brownlee look like models of efficient crisis management.

    The rural communities of Northland and the East Cape cannot wait that long and nor can most of us. Napier rebuilt itself after the 1931 earthquake in less than two years.

    The political will to do well this time should be jealously guarded with big overseas businesses pulling their weight. Not secret drivers in the corridors of power. Not political huckstering to divert us from compassion and decisive action in the face of what’s a clear and present danger.

    This week’s announcement of a flood appeal fund to be administered by the government’s chosen relief fund partner Westpac, along with a one-off Lotto draw with half the profit going to help flood-stricken areas and rural access didn’t help.

    We need our leaders to pull far bigger economic and social levers than that and we must make sure they can.

    As Green Party finance spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said this week, “Tax the banks; don’t work with them to set up an appeal fund.”

    “There is a simpler opportunity: tax them fairly,” she said.” The money we need to support each other is already there. An excess profit tax would be a simple and effective way to unlock the resources we need to support the people who need it the most.

    “The profit made by the government’s chosen appeal fund partner, Westpac, hit a record $1.1 billion last year,” she said. “A 10 percent levy on the banking sector’s record profits would raise over half a billion dollars which could be used to support people.

    “While Westpac and other foreign-owned banks are generating record profits, thousands of families are being forced to make impossible choices about whether to pay the bills or put food on the table,” pointing out that lotteries and gambling disproportionately harm lower income communities.

    Treasury data in last year’s government budget documents showed that the pain of the Covid event was both shorter and less severe under Jacinda Ardern’s crisis management compared with the much smaller Global Financial Crisis recovery under the previous National government.

    Mainly because the money was not routed through banks but was fed directly into communities and households where it can circulate on the ground.

    All this is equally disturbing in Cyclone Hale-ravaged Auckland where the climate emergency has truly touched down.

    Here too, the specious clamour around Mayor Wayne Brown’s budget is frighteningly underwhelming: a raft of targeted rates, the economic bogey of a budget blowout and $100,000 for an emergency agency.

    Citizens Advice Bureaus, climate crisis management initiatives, funding for local board decision-making and community grants shouldn’t be sacrificed to feed the wage bill for 11,000 Auckland Council office-bound employees and $10 billion to overseas contractors.

    In the six months before Waiheke County Council was forcibly stuffed into Auckland City in the late 1980s, the county council led by Sandra Lee (later to be Minister of Conservation) accomplished six big local projects including securing the Surfdale Hall for the island’s youth and a new roading truck for the redoubtable works foreman, Ron Leonard.

    We didn’t see the city coming for us and we hadn’t sold our airport shares or used up our million-dollar wharf tax fund.

    Austerity has been top and centre ever since and it’s got to stop. People’s work literally makes money go round in society. However, no amount of money will be any use if we don’t build back a generous, inclusive country worth living in. • Liz Waters

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