Sunday, October 12, 2008

Labour, National, and Act Deliver Sunday Election Liturgies

Labour, National and ACT leaders Helen Clark, John Key, and Rodney Hide delivered their opening campaign sermons by preaching to the choir on Sunday.

Prime Minister Helen Clark's speech focused on how a Labour government would respond to the effects of the global economic crisis on New Zealand. (Speech & Labour's 2008 website here.)

In the short term, Labour will introduce voluntary deposit insurance for financial institutions including banks, building societies, credit unions, and finance companies.

Clark announced that if re-elected her December Economic Statement would include an economic stimulus package that brought forward government spending on infrastructure in the form of roading, sewerage systems, and rail systems between Wellington and Palmerston North as well as to the oil refinery at Marsden Point. Additional funding for “modern” apprenticeships will also be provided. All this is a pale, barely perceptible shadow of the economic recovery programme of the First Labour Government in the 1930s.

Of course, no costing of this economic stimulus package was offered to voter/taxpayers.

National's John Key preaching to his gospel singers slammed the Labour Government for nine years without tax cuts (on 1 October, barely a month before the election Labour tax cuts started), a doubling of interest rates, a widening wage gap with Australia, a loss of Kiwis emigrating permanently, and inflation going 'through the roof' (the current inflation rate is about 5%; Mr Key perhaps was recalling the double digit inflation during the government of one of his predecessor’s Sir Robert Muldoon). Key's speech here - transcript & video.

National announced moderate tax cut plans for middle class and high income taxpayers as part of its economic package last week but some low income families currently eligible for tax benefits through the existing Working for Families programme would be worse off.

National also proposes to clip the wings of the contributory savings scheme, Kiwisaver, if elected. It will cap employer contributions at 2 percent, although the current scheme would raise them to 4 percent, as well as cutting the government’s tax credits to savers’ accounts, hitting hardest on low-income savers. No opinion poll data yet on how voters are reacting specifically to the pruning of Kiwisaver and National’s intent to abrogate contracts, but National’s narrowing lead over Labour may be an indirect sign.

Voters with a memory or good knowledge of New Zealand political history will recall an earlier National Administration that axed the New Zealand Superannuation scheme in 1975. Then, National’s newly-elected PM Robert Muldoon terminated the scheme by administrative fiat only to run foul of the constitution in the form of the Bill of Rights 1689, Article 1. The Chief Justice held that “King” Rob’s pretense through regal authority to suspend a law without parliament’s consent was illegal. Parliament, of course, repealed the act covering NZ Super.

One estimate made in 2007 suggested that if New Zealand Super had been permitted to operate it would have accumulated a fund of NZ$240 billion by 2007 providing each worker with NZ$111,200 superannuation assets per worker compared to the $6,300 actually available in 2007, and NZ$86,821 in Australia (article here). Of course, a recalculation today might see a 42 percent or so reduction in value but that's still about $64,500.

Among the also rans, entering the back straight as the major parties turned into the final stretch, ACT leader Rodney Hide opened his party’s campaign with the announcement that “Our goal is to beat Australia by 2020 – economically, politically, socially, environmentally, and at sport.” (Rodney must still be giddy after all that dancing with the stars… and the Aussies are surely shaking in their boots).

ACT will also support National to form a government – and there’s a fairly good prospect it will play that role based on current polling. Read full speech here and ACT website here.

Hide now has a baking plan (yes, not a banking plan): “That’s why ACT has a 20-Point-Plan to beat Australia and bring our kids home. It’s a plan to bake a bigger economic cake, not simply slice up the one we already have.”

Then losing the plot, Hide told his audience that crime is the number one issue in this election. Championing a failed US-style “three strikes and you’re out” scheme for criminals, Hide said “it’s so simple”. So simple to fill up your prisons – the US has one of the highest levels of imprisonment in the developed countries – and to do nothing to solve the underlying causes of criminality. But good news for security guards, the new growth industry, and private prison entrepreneurs since ACT surely would not wish to spend taxpayer funds on more police and state prisons.

And just in time for Halloween, ACT has resuscitated the aging Sir Roger Douglas, architect of much painful, low-growth, and destabilizing market reform of the past, to stand again for parliament.

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