Horse-trading in unquiet times

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    Very little, in this past election season, has made sense.

    Slogans replaced policy and data but apparently were compelling enough to win the election, just.  We ‘wanted change’, National leader Christopher Luxon said, but it was another made-up obfuscation. The change we have wanted for three decades – a stop to selling off housing, fair wages, reasonable regulation, taxation for top earners and overseas operators, reining in banks and supermarkets et al – was finally on quite a different track. One that was much admired internationally, even.

    As the post-election horse-trading ended and Christopher Luxon’s own, three-way coalition was announced late last week, the Guardian, which had closely followed our election and our apparent “lurch to the right”, reported outgoing prime minister Chris Hipkins saying the coalition agreements prioritised millionaires with policies that would gut employment protections and drag down wages, leaving workers worse off.

    The coalition agreements would lead to a more polarised and divided New Zealand, he said.

    Lost in all the naked ambition was the fact that fully half of New Zealand voters did not want to be back on a tatty neoliberal track mapped by the prime minister elect and had mostly watched with approval, if some impatience, as the last Labour government radically lifted the median and minimum wages, built 12,000 new social houses (to replace those which had been sold off by Sir John Key’s government) and turned the tide on national and international housing speculation that had been the only economic game in town for a decade. All during six years of almost back-to-back international and domestic crises.

    Given the fundamental real-life differences between left and right intentions in this election, a bout of robust horse-trading with a third party at this stage could only be good. Healthy democracy depended on it.

    We looked in vain for leadership as players hopped from one Auckland hotel to another for brief jab-and-run meetings at taxpayers’ expense, eventually learning that Luxon’s back-to-the-future foreign house buyer policy was off the table. Since it was going to pay for National’s tax cuts, it is still unclear how the new finance minister will find the funds to pay for them, with deeper cuts to public services and additional taxes, probably.

    Luxon’s promise to wind all Labour’s other gains back by Christmas always seemed massively disrespectful, at very least. He hasn’t missed a beat in trumpeting dissatisfaction with his predecessors so it’s galling to think that he takes over, and will doubtless claim credit for, our imminent health and economic recovery.

    Rebuilding after the climate disasters of the current year should keep our nation’s GDP figures in top form for the next 10 years, as Christchurch’s tragic earthquake recovery mechanisms did during the Key years. Such is the weird logic of GDP and ‘the economy’.

    Meanwhile, as commentator and author Max Rashbrooke said during the uneasy wait for the government to sort out its tortuous power structure, Luxon will probably benefit from an upturn in sentiment based on things he did nothing to deserve.

    “The construction pipeline for state houses is already in the thousands, carbon emissions will likely continue their slight falls of recent years, and the economy is – barring a major world meltdown – set to recover in coming months. All of which are achievements Luxon would happily claim,” he said.

    Other commentators are not hopeful. In the interests of advancing personal career ambitions, New Zealand’s “slapdash” new government has no vision – only a plan to take us backwards and we will be left with fewer employment protections, a higher prison population and dismantled treaty obligations, political commentator Lamia Imam concluded.

    What I wanted more than anything else from the election, however, never even got a look in.

    Just as there will now be no political will to reverse Stephen Joyce’s iniquitous decree in 2014 that the Waiheke ferry service should remain unregulated for its wealthy Scottish owner, there will be none at all to run a ruler over the first 10 years of the sclerotic 2011 Supercity structure designed by ACT leader Rodney Hide, which has seen the council reach new heights of fiscal imprudence and will drown us in austerity for a decade.

    Oh yes, and New Zealand’s new government will scrap our world-leading law to ban smoking for future generations to help pay for tax cuts. Cuts that public health officials believe will cost thousands of lives and be catastrophic for Māori communities. How blatantly can you divide a country?

    Out here at the grass roots, we can only work together to pick up the pieces, one day at a time. • Liz Waters

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