24 May 2008
On Being cheesed off or being caught policy short.
There were two stories in the normally tory supporting Herald on Saturday that could serve as object lessons to New Zealand. One was on the fate of the humble banana and the other a post budget opinion piece.
These two seemingly disparate stories are perfect demonstrations of the consequences of being caught short of policy when challenged to counter a platform of responsible, forward thinking initiatives from the Labour led government.
Which leads one to the story about the fate of the banana. As we are probably aware the banana is a fruit that depends on constant intervention by the grower to keep producing. The plant is infertile. It is grown under what are effectively slash and burn farming practices.
As well the banana industry is based on only one cultivar which is now threatened by disease to the point where the existence of the banana is highly questionable and could even become extinct in the near future. These problems have come about because of the single-minded exploitative policies of the industry.
So what are the parallels to New Zealand politics?
The answer is to look closely at the National Party and the reactions of its spokespeople on release of the ninth Cullen budget this past week. Since the last election National has been running on a single policy (cultivar) “Tax cuts” which has, like bananas, become a popular item. Unfortunately for Key and his spinmeisters this policy has proven to be susceptible to canker especially when it is required to demonstrate sustainability and support of continuing production (read a dynamic economy.)
Key’s support of a single policy platform - tax cuts - requires the National Party to subscribe to the same economic model favoured by the banana republics - “slash and burn” the environment that supports more than the banana or, in this case, the policy. The Herald commentator noted that when challenged to explain how he would fund a tax cut programme which would deliver the expected bigger than big tax breaks Key was, as John Campbell noted on TV3, slippery and evasive with answers that lacked conviction and punch floundering and obviously caught hopping as he offered up “We’ll slash and burn bureaucracies, We’ll slash and burn current government inefficient policies...”
However these exercises in slash and burn wouldn’t sustain the level of tax cuts Key and English have talked up.
As was noted by a commentator in The Sunday Star-Times the only big ticket programmes that National could slash and burn in an effort to support their sole policy ticket would be the investment programmes of KiwiSaver and the Superannuation Fund which are designed to build the savings platform that right and left wing economists have been urging on New Zealand as the only credible means of long term investment in infra-structure and a sound economy.
As anyone with a long term memory will recall we had a similar situation at the 1975 election when, after the 1972-75 Labour Government had established a contributory superannuation scheme that was designed to invest in the New Zealand economy, the incoming National government immediately scrapped it on the grounds that such a scheme was pure communism (their big business funded dancing cossacks advertisements supported this argument all the way to the ballot box.). The resulting slashing and burning of the planned savings and investment programmes plunged New Zealand to the status of a banana republic economy as the country discovered after the 1984 election.
Despite the evidence of the failure of single policy platforms there has been no evidence that the National Party has changed its view of economic policy and continues to hold to the economic model that is now threatening to destroy the banana industry as it voted against the introduction of KiwiSaver.
No wonder, then that the only image that Slippery John could muster in debating the budget was that of cheese. He could only be cheesed off as the shallowness of his economic advice and policy was revealed in the aftermath of the latest Cullen budget.