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Dr Muriel Newman

Winning an election is not enough

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The Rugby World Cup is showing New Zealanders what is possible when we all unite behind a common purpose. Imagine how far we could go as a country if we all got behind a goal like lifting our living standards! Becoming a wealthy county again would certainly be within our reach.

The problem we face is not that such a goal is impossible – it is in fact very achievable. Our problem is a lack of political vision.

Throughout history the hallmark of great political leaders has been that rare ability to unify a nation into a single common purpose. It is a failing of contemporary New Zealand politics that no such leadership has emerged over recent years.

Nowadays, of course, John Key is winning the popularity stakes hands down (although without any serious challenger). Unfortunately he has not used that popularity to undertake real and serious economic reform. His focus instead appears to be in offering the hand of friendship to extremist minorities like the Maori Party and the Green Party, in order to isolate Labour.

The reality is that ever since their election in 2008, National has shied away from a battle of ideas, even though it is ideas not parties that shape nations. As a result they have allowed the New Zealand public to believe that the big-spending socialism that seriously weakened our economy while Labour was in control and made us vulnerable to the global economic crisis, is normal. Since most of the former Labour government’s expensive socialist policies – such as the Emissions Trading Scheme, interest free student loans, and working for families subsidies – have been left in place, National has failed to reduce government spending down to affordable levels. It’s as though National is now supporting policies it criticised while in opposition.

By adopting collectivist ideas and Labour’s profligate spending agenda, National has become part of the problem, borrowing almost $1 billion a month to cover its overspending. It’s therefore no surprise that the major credit rating agencies Fitch and Standard and Poors have both downgraded our credit rating, highlighting the fact that there is now an increased risk of New Zealand defaulting on its debt obligations (albeit still a low risk).

Instead of reversing the belief that governments can borrow and spend their way out of their problems National has perpetuated a false faith in big government. As a result a large proportion of the population remain more suspicious of the private sector than they do of government – and they fail to understand that it is the private sector that creates wealth, while it is the government that consumes it. The fact that so many people do not understand the inextricable connection between personal freedom and a strong economy, better education, better healthcare and a cleaner environment, is a tragedy in itself.

Because National has continued Labour’s spending agenda, the Prime Minister has not been able to deliver to New Zealanders a higher standard of living, to make good his election promise to close the income gap with Australia.

It is the nature of politics that causes politicians to lose sight of what’s right, in order to focus instead on winning the election by convincing voters that they would be better off with ‘us’ rather than ‘them’ – although to be fair, that’s an easy sell for National at the present time given that Labour is no longer a coherent political force.

With the election less than seven weeks away, we need to better understand who the ‘us’ and ‘them’ actually are, since under MMP – as the country has found out to our cost – the main parties are not averse to entering into all sorts of unlikely arrangements with disparate parties in an attempt to cobble together a government.

The problem for New Zealand is that in the past, these coalition parties are often not united in the interests of the common good, but only in the interest of pursuing their own niche agenda – be it the racial agenda of the Maori Party or the socialist agenda of the Greens.

An over-riding belief in doing what is good for the country does not appear be a priority for governing parties in MMP politics – at least in the way that it has been practiced to date.

Again, this points to a failure of political leadership, where coalition support parties are allowed to impose radical and unpopular policies – which are supported by only the smallest minority of voters – onto the whole country with the blessing of the main governing party. This is not responsible government at all. The Maori Party’s policy to privatise the foreshore and seabed, and the Green Party’s ban on smacking, are both examples of law changes imposed by minor coalition partners that have had a huge and detrimental impact on the whole country.

These cases serve to remind us how vulnerable the public are under MMP and how desperately some safeguards are needed, so we can protect ourselves from the radical demands of minority coalition partners – when main parties are irresponsible enough to allow extreme coalition proposals to become law.

Making Citizens Initiated Referenda binding to give voters the power to veto such radical law changes would provide a much needed safeguard. Should MMP win the November referendum, establishing such a safeguard should be a major proposal to be put forward in the planned review.

This week’s Guest Commentator is Owen McShane the director of the Centre for Resource Management Studies and regular contributor to our Breaking Views blog. Owen provides a backgrounder, Beware the Dark Greens, on Green environmentalism to remind us that the Green Movement is not as harmless as many people think, but with its origins in Nazi Germany, the Green Movement has a dangerous and extremely radical side:

“As election year moves into full gear our MMP system means the voters will want to know how post-election coalitions might emerge and just who might end up in Government. The Green Party has managed to present itself as representing a group of kindly folk who want to keep New Zealand clean and green, but are essentially harmless – and many of them are. However, we need to be aware that the Dark Side of the Green movement is becoming more vocal in its declaration that we must move beyond democracy if we are to save the planet from humanity’s blight.”

He concludes his article with a warning that should resonate with the public, “So any party contemplating the Green Party as a coalition partner should press hard to establish the party’s attitudes to the principles of liberal democracy and the role of science in modern society.”

Going back to our rugby analogy, imagine the chaos if the All Blacks team was made up of a disparate coalition of independent players who had nothing in common except a desire to be the playmakers. Would there be any chance of them winning the game? No, not a hope in hell – not even against Namibia!

If that All Blacks team was made up of a coalition of the Greens, the Mana Party, and the Maori Party, there would be no hope of unity. Hone Harawira, John Minto, and Sue Bradford would not want to play ball. The Greens would make sure that no-one wins – winning is not PC nor environmentally sustainable! The Maori Party would only want Maori to win.

As a society we don’t want radicals who are relentlessly driven by self interest or are anti-establishment anywhere near the levers of government power. In this respect – in the worst of all scenarios – having a radical in a reserved Parliamentary seat bringing through other radicals who want to destroy rather than build, is yet another issue that needs to be addressed in the MMP review.

New Zealanders need to recognise the need for unity in government and an agreed economic plan. We need an open debate not only about economic management, but also about the damage that is being done by the imposition of racial privilege – which has now escalated into a naked grab for public resources.

A line needs to be drawn. Yes, we need to respect the Maori culture – it is a well-developed brand that is being successfully sold to tourists as they hit the arrival gates. But that is quite different from saying that Maori own the beaches or that they need to be paid resource consent fees – which are again based on greed. Or from having the Treaty of Waitangi and the Maori seats entrenched in a new constitution to deliver preferential treatment to Maori for ever more.

More than anything this on-going constitutional review and the stacked review team reminds us that when a ruling party allows radical ideas to gain ascendancy and become law, then it is no longer acting in a responsible manner. It reaffirms that the political agendas in Wellington are far removed from the aims and ideals of everyday New Zealanders. Such occurrences serve to widen the growing gulf between the political elites and the public, as more and more people turn off politics and turn on the tellie to watch the rugby, disillusioned that Parliament is no longer working in the best interest of citizens, but is working in the interests of politicians.

The reality is that the key to New Zealand’s fortunes is a sensible plan for the future so that this country becomes a better place tomorrow than it is today. What we’ve had over recent years is not good enough. The public would get behind a good plan, if our politicians had the courage to suggest one – and the charisma to advocate for its support. The onus is on our political leaders to deliver.

While there are obviously many facets to this, the most important is being able to make a decent living. That’s the prime reason why so many good people are leaving New Zealand – because they can do better living overseas. This exodus needs to be reversed and the public need to be encouraged to understand that contrary to what Labour, the Greens, the Mana Party and other advocates of the left say, policies that make the rich poorer do not make the poor richer – all they do is make the state stronger!