New Zealand is now emerging from nine years of creeping socialism. During those nine years, we have been told that the state knows best how to run our lives – and our country. Whether it is what we eat, how we bring up our children, or what sort of light bulbs we can use in our homes, laws have been developed to control our behaviour.
As a result, the growth in the government sector has been rapacious. The 41 departments and ministries which employed 29,000 public servants in 1999 have expanded to a workforce numbering 46,000. That’s the size of a small city. The three largest departments – Social Development, Inland Revenue and Corrections – have 22,000 staff between them. In addition to the core public service, the government also directly employs some 40,000 health workers, 50,000 teachers, 10,000 Police, and 15,000 defence personnel.
Then there are also the thousands of employees in the 126 Crown Entities, 48 state-run Boards and Councils, and 18 State Owned Enterprises. It is little wonder that the government sector has crowded out office space in Wellington!
The local government sector is also bursting at the seams with tens of thousands of bureaucrats, planners, and politicians in 76 territorial local authorities, 16 regional councils, 4 unitary authorities, and 147 community boards.
On top of all of that is the growing number of Members of Parliament, up from 99 before the introduction of MMP in 1996, to 122 at the last election – these two additional MPs are as a result of the ‘overhang’ caused by the Maori Party winning more electorate seats than its party vote entitlement. Needless to say, Margaret Robertson’s Citizens’ Initiated Referendum held at the 2002 general election, to reduce the number of Members of Parliament back to 99, met with the overwhelming support of 81.5 percent of voters. It was, however – predictably – ignored by Parliament!
For a country of just over 4 million people, our biggest industry is state regulation. There are laws to regulate almost every aspect of our lives, with many, like the heavy-handed restrictions on fireworks, designed to keep us safe by saving us from ourselves – though how tom thumb crackers and miniature skyrockets could ever be considered to be such a threat to humanity that they needed to be banned, is difficult to comprehend!
Clearly the need to regulate every conceivable risk reflected Labour’s inherent distrust in anything but their own judgment. This of course led to mounting accusations of “nanny state”. Just last week, for example, parents were complaining how in some schools they are being discouraged from using a red cross (X) when marking their children’s homework, because it was deemed to be too upsetting for the children. Indeed, this misguided philosophy that children need to be wrapped in cotton wool to protect them from life’s pitfalls and disappointments is now being recognised as very damaging. It is this same mentality that has given rise to children’s playgrounds that are so sterile, that the excitement, risk and adventure – the very things that help to build a child’s confidence and judgment – have been removed. Having said that, at least however – as far as I am aware – Kiwi kids are still free to play pirates and hoist their skull-and-crossbones flags, unlike their British counterparts where planning permission is now needed before a skull-and-crossbones flag can be raised – in case it offends the neighbours!
But it isn’t just the size of a government that is the problem – it their pervasive influence through legislation and even language, that permeates through our public institutions to become social norms. In addition there are parasitic organisations that have become stronger by feeding on resources provided by nine years of socialism.
The union movement is now in de-facto control of many of New Zealand’s workplaces. Activist groups like the Environmental Defence Society receive central and local government funding to promote their radical message. The gay rights movement have been very successful in having their ‘normalisation’ agenda adopted into the school curriculum. Radical feminists pushing their anti-male and anti-family agendas, have all but succeeded in removing references to husbands and marriage from the statute books. Maori activists have redefined Treaty rights to achieve ever-more generous settlements, including rights to public good areas such as rivers that were once regarded as being outside the purview of the Treaty settlement process.
Such was the momentum of these government and pseudo-government organisations that those who exercised the most basic of fundamental rights – expressing a contrary view – where personally attacked or blacklisted from government contracts, overlooked for job promotions or found themselves on the wrong end of a job restructuring.
Even those who were not beholden to government – over time – became loathe to speak out in such an intimidatory environment. Remember Richard Poole, the young professional who wrote an open letter to the government in 2000, blaming their economic policies for the brain drain? If you recall he – and 700 young supporters – took out a full page ad in the Herald headlined “A Generation Lost”. For his troubles, he was subjected to a vicious and prolonged ‘ad hominem’ attack by the Prime Minister and her government that radiated out the strong message “criticise this government at your peril”!
Fortunately New Zealand is now emerging from the long shadows of socialism – a new era is about to be revealed. This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Karl du Fresne, journalist and former editor of the Dominion newspaper, explains in his article The Changing of the Guard, that the hand that now guides us is from a younger generation:
“The left-leaning baby-boomers who helped keep Labour in power for nine years, and who watched with mounting despair in their artfully restored inner-suburban villas as the results came in on election night, are having to come to terms with the unpleasant fact that ‘their’ people – of whom Helen Clark is the embodiment – are no longer in control. The baton has been passed to a new generation with quite different values and attitudes.
“Key was born in 1961, technically still well within baby-boomer parameters, and like Lange he went to university. But his formative experiences occurred during the 1980s, an era when many of the 1960s-era values so cherished by the liberal baby-boomers were being upended by Rogernomics. To all intents and purposes, people of Key’s generation have experienced only the post-Rogernomics New Zealand.
“To them, the programme of deregulation, liberalisation and asset sales that horrified the liberal left (and rescued a moribund economy in the nick of time) would seem unremarkable. It’s all they have known. The extent of this generational shift is illustrated by the fact that Helen Clark in her 20s was immersed in politics and taking part in protests against the Vietnam War while Key, at an equivalent age, was well on his way to making his first millions with Elders Merchant Finance. Only 11 years separate them in age but in reality the gap is infinitely wider”.
With this new era upon us, it is surely time to change our focus as a country to one that encourages success, innovation and wealth creation – throughout every level of society. It is also long past time to search out public policy initiatives which could lift the performance of New Zealand institutions.
The visit to Australia last week of Joel Kline, the chancellor of the New York public school system, which is the largest in the US with more than 1400 schools, is a case in point. Based on accountability, transparency and leadership, he explained how his bold reforms have lifted the prospects of tens of thousands of children by testing literacy and numeracy, tracking the progress of every student and the performance of every teacher, and using student achievement to grade schools – from A to D or F for fail. The D and F schools face restructure or closure unless they improve, with parents given the choice of moving their children to another school if they wish. All of this information is accessible to parents on the New York City education department’s website.
With the Confidence and Supply Agreement between National and ACT having provisions for a working group to look at initiatives to improve educational achievement, these are the sort of ideas for the future which we should hope will be seriously considered.