National’s Appalling Record

English Bennett

National ruling for the fewer, not the many: we few, we happy few, we band of warring brothers. 

By Martin Gregory

 

The National Party is the party of business, employers and the wealthy; namely the capitalist class. If National are booted out in September, from their perspective they will at least be able to look back with satisfaction that since coming to power in 2008 they have tipped the balance even more in favour of the parasitic class and made life meaner for the rest of us.

 

It will take a book to tell the full story of nine years of National’s crimes against the working class and oppressed. Only a selection can be given in this account, which unavoidably leaves out much and fails to convey the full spread of National’s dark deeds.

Inequality  

 

Under National New Zealand has become a more unequal society. In January Oxfam revealed that two New Zealand men own more wealth than the poorest 30 percent of the population. The richest one percent have 20 percent of the wealth, while 90 percent of the population owns less than half of the national wealth. These figures are broadly in line with the government’s own statistics. In July 2016 Statistics NZ said the richest 10 percent had 60 percent of the country’s wealth, and the richest 1 percent held 18 percent.

 

In February this year Amnesty International’s global human rights report highlighted New Zealand’s terrible child poverty rate of nearly one in three. In June Unicef published its report card on children in the developed world. It ranked New Zealand 34th out of 41 countries for child well-being.

 

National has shifted the tax burden off its supporters and on to workers. In part National have done this by allowing tax avoidance by the super-rich. New Zealand is internationally renowned as a tax haven for the super-rich as revealed by the Panama Papers. Secondly, the government has reduced the top income tax rate and increased GST. National first reduced the top rate from 39 percent to 38 percent in 2009. Then in 2010 they dropped it to 33 percent and at the same time raised GST from 12.5 percent to 15 percent.

 

Workers’ rights

 

National’s numerous changes to employment law have given the employers even more of a whip hand over workers and disadvantaged unions. These changes include: sackings for no reason allowed within 90 days of employment; rest and meal breaks no longer protected by law; even more restrictions on what were already severe restrictions on the ability to strike lawfully; and employers no longer required to conclude collective agreements with unions.

 

National’s subservience to the demands of multinational corporations was demonstrated in 2010 when, at the dictate of Warner Bros, the government passed the ‘Hobbit Law’ that made film workers individual contractors and, therefore, excluded from collective bargaining rights.

 

Women’s rights

 

National have fought to stem reforms giving women rights in two tangible, monetary instances: on paid parental leave and equal pay.

 

When National came into government in 2008 paid parental leave to look after babies was for 14 weeks, one of the shortest periods among developed economies. Since then Labour MP Sue Moroney twice piloted members’ Bills to increase paid leave to 26 weeks. The first Bill was introduced in 2012 and went through the legislative procedure until February 2015 when National and Act just managed to defeat the measure when Parliament voted 60-60. However, National had to concede something to public opinion and extended the leave by two weeks to 16 weeks later that year.

 

In May 2016 the National Party and Act could not stop Sue Moroney’s second Bill for the 26 weeks passing its second reading in Parliament 61-60.  National had to resort to an undemocratic financial veto to stop the Bill becoming law. Once again, the government had to bow to public opinion and extended parental leave by another two weeks to 18 weeks.

 

It has been a similar story on equal pay where National have done their utmost to prevent progress, but have been forced into a concession. The government joined the aged-care industry in opposing Kristine Bartlett’s claims in the courts for equal pay for work of equal value. Kristine’s case was vindicated in every court. Faced with the prospect of the court imposing pay rates, the government had to concede large pay increases for aged-care workers at the cost of $2 billion.

 

The government agreed in tripartite talks with the unions and employers that in order to avoid the courts employment law should be changed to allow women to make equal pay claims to their employers. National have proposed a crafty draft Bill designed to thwart women winning equal pay for work of equal value. In May the Coalition for Equal Value Equal Pay called for the government’s draft Bill to be scrapped. CEVEP says: “The government says it wants to make it easier for women to claim equal pay equity without going to court. But this Bill would do the opposite.”

 

Repression and demonisation

 

When National came to power in 2008 New Zealand already had one of the highest prison incarceration rates in the developed world. They have made it worse. According to the Department of Corrections, the total number of prisoners was 8,244 at December 2009 and 9,914 at December 2016, i.e., a 20 percent increase.

 

If that is not bad enough, the disproportion of Maori prisoners is shocking. Maori constitute 50.8 percent of inmates although they are 15 percent of the general population. Pasifka are also over-represented with 11.4 percent of prisoners for a general population of 7 percent. These figures reflect two things: racist bias in the judicial system and the colonial racism that has resulted in Maori and Pasifika being concentrated in the poorest levels of the population.

 

All around the world, with poverty comes petty crime. But in this country petty crime is punished by prison offences. Fully 13 percent of prisoners are in for drug offences. Unnecessary prison sentences only escalate the anguish and financial problems of the poorest families. Only 38 percent of prisoners are convicted for violent offences. Without suggesting that this 38 percent should be in prison, this figure does indicate the scale of pointless imprisonment. The legalisation of cannabis would, at a stroke, reduce imprisonment and undermine the methamphetamine black market.

 

The National-led government has done little to help people in need of support; for example, with drug addiction or their mental health. They have done nothing to alleviate the misery of poverty and bad housing that breeds “offences”. The National Party’s only answer is repression – building yet more prisons, monuments to their failure.

 

Climate change and the environment

 

Despite all the empty talk on tackling climate change, on National’s watch New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have actually gone up. According to Statistics New Zealand, in 2008 net greenhouse gas emissions were 47.63 million tonnes. By 2014 the emissions had reached 56.69 million tonnes.

 

Under their hands-off economic doctrine, National has allowed market forces to drive a massive wave of dairy conversions that has resulted in increased emissions and worse pollution of our waterways.

 

National have starved investment in public transport while all the time boosting the polluting car-economy. National have poured billions into unnecessary road schemes to unclog the highways. But international evidence shows that spending on roads, instead of on public transport, leads only to yet more cars clogging the roads again.

 

Privatisation and public sector cuts

 

A central objective of the National Party is to increase the scope for private profit. Much of the state sector was privatised in the 1980s and 1990s, leaving little left for wholesale privatisation by National under John Key. They did, however, sell off energy companies and reduce the state’s share in Air New Zealand in 2013-2014. Otherwise it has been a case of privatisation by stealth, as yet more services, e.g. social services, are contracted out and local government services transferred out of direct control to hybrid entities or private companies.

 

Other state assets have been deliberately run down in order to invite the private sector to move in. In 2012 KiwiRail’s Hillside workshops were closed and partly sold off. New Zealand Post has been gradually run down by a programme of franchising post offices, post box deletions and reduced deliveries. Radio New Zealand struggles along on a pittance.

 

Then there are the principal public services, such as health and education. Wholesale privatisation is politically unacceptable as it would risk mass resistance. Here National’s strategy has been to gradually weaken the services by cuts. The ultimate object being that more people will opt for private education and health.

 

Education

 

In 2010 National introduced National Standards for primary and intermediate schools. This was widely condemned by teaching staff as prescription by government limits teachers’ ability to teach. Teaching to the standards has narrowed the curriculum and demoralises children deemed to be failing.

 

National introduced a handful of state-funded private schools, known as charter schools. Charter schools get more public funding than public schools, are not required to have qualified teaching staff, do not have to follow the national curriculum and can selectively pick who is enrolled. Charter schools could lead an education system divided by social class, ethnicity and religion.

 

In tertiary education National have attacked democracy by the introduction of voluntary student union membership. Humanities courses that encourage critical thinking have been cut as universities are geared to meet businesses’ needs for trained-up workers.

 

Housing crisis

 

National’s most obvious failure is the housing crisis. They have tenaciously adhered to free-market dogma. To encourage the free market in the rental sector, National have busied themselves with running down Housing New Zealand, transforming public housing to social housing. For its part, the free market has failed to meet people’s desires for either home ownership or a place for affordable rent. This should not surprise us. The free market does not have any social goals; its only driver is profit.

 

The free market has delivered speculation in the private landlord sector. According to an article in The Spinoff by Professor Bob Hargreaves, rented households increased from 26.2 percent in 1991 to 35.2 percent in 2016. As the ability to buy a home has diminished, private landlords have been able to hike up rents. From 2006 to 2016 rents rose by 53 percent whereas wages rose by only 33 percent.

 

In July this year Yale University released a report that found that New Zealand had the highest rate of homelessness among OECD countries.

 

Conclusion

 

The National Party in government have proved to be reactionary on every count. They have shown extreme callousness to people, whether that be in refusing to recover the bodies of the Pike River dead, refusing to accept refugees from war zones or tolerating homelessness. Quite simply, the National Party’s record is appalling.

 

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