No wonder we are hurting

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    After nearly six years and a spectacular Labour win three years ago, there is something horribly wrong with our current political discourse. The attack politics that poisoned New Zealand 20 years ago have somehow arrived back with a vengeance.

    So brutally that prime minister Jacinda Ardern – a lightning rod for the formless, misogynist fury – resigned to break the deadlock; the incessant political squalling from rivals, political commentators and media at full pitch more than a year out from this year’s election.

    For a while there it seemed as if we could right the inequality wrongs that we’d wrestled with since the 1980s. The possibility of igniting a genuine levelling-up didn’t, for a while, look too hard.

    A lot of mahi had been done, mostly unsung or misrepresented in the clamour.

    Yet here we are, still with the most expensive housing on earth. Banks haven’t been dragged into the same regulatory framework as they are on their home turf and they are still racking up profits in the billions.

    Ditto the supermarkets. With their land banks and their monopoly prices. The government enquiry is in there too. No wonder the younger half of the population are hurting.

    The country needs control of its own money; not for it to be flowing out to feed multinational convenience and avarice.

    Windfall taxes seem fair enough but the most obvious (and fair) lever is leaving more money in taxpayers’ pockets to flow outwards in to the community. That and meaningful reduction and regulation of essential household expenses for probably half the population for whom the notion of discretionary spending is a distant memory.

    That’s pretty easy, one would have thought.

    The government could easily forego it’s GST (ours is the world’s highest) on wholesome food, given the higher spending that flows in automatically from more affluent sectors like the late model car market. Not to mention the handsome spoils of inflation and price rises.

    The recent, ugly clamour attached to taxes threw up the whole question of polls as a political football. Bad questions give bad results. 

    Here, too, the mahi to inform a meaningful re-arrangement of taxes for middle and low income taxpayers has now been done. It’s the half that has far less access to GST relief than those better off. Unfortunately, it pays substantially the same rate of tax as, for example, the ANZ bank.

    And let’s not get started on the multi-national tech companies that harvest our data yet pay nominal tax. Considering the huge impact these tech giants are having on our health system with the number of our people needing support for mental health, it seems a no-brainer to make them contribute fairly.

    And many of the wealthiest are actually calling for real tax reform. No-one wins if we slide further into urban squalor.

    Besides, for all the clamour from the entitled wings of the far right, it’s hard to see that these sorts of adjustments will damage lifestyles or even profits for the wealthier. Law and order – that mantra of the political right – is a function of the brutal inequality inflicted on the country in the 1980s that we still haven’t dislodged.

    I heard a well-known business woman from the comfortable classes (who would undoubtedly consider herself a leader) impatiently explain why the current round of housing foreclosures was a necessary pain last week. Mortgage rate rises mean people would spend less, thus stopping inflation, she said.

    The two things should not be in the same sentence. Inflation can only be driven, at this singular point in history, by the fortunate, more-than-comfortable classes. The economic pain – for reasons that economists seem to think should be self-evident – falls to the least guilty. Children, students, young families, fixed incomes, low incomes, the accidentally impoverished.

    It’s hard not to mourn the lost opportunities in our recent history and the optics of our current politics are awful, reduced to apparently wildly excited television polls and public journalism that relies on equally dividing air time for ruling and opposition politicians on every issue.

    The result is that journalists are let off reading the government’s actual policy papers or presenting it in a readable and constructive format for time-poor citizens. Instead, it’s a Wimbledon of hot air laced with hypocrisy, obfuscation and very little in the way of constructive political commitment.

    Opinion polling can, like most things, be a good servant and a bad master. If you Google Australian political strategists Crosby/Textor, notice the successes they boast in securing and manipulating political power and covert agendas.

    Now knighted, Lynton Crosby has been described as the Svengali to UK prime ministers David Cameron and then-London mayor  Boris Johnson, Australia’s John Howard through three elections, Scott Morrison and, in New Zealand, Don Brash and Sir John Key.

    Often with little policy or action beyond the mantras of market economics.

    Polls manipulate opinion and Labour’s victory in 2020 only became a landslide when it took an extra four seats from National in the election itself. We need to pay attention to what politicians will do themselves, not what they say is wrong with others.  • Liz Waters

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