Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

WTF – May 8 2008: Sealord, Tax Cuts, Retirement

May 8th, 2008

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Scoop image – Lyndon Hood
1. Sealord, not Law’ed. How ironic that Sealord – half owned by Maori business interests – was being denounced on RNZ this morning by foreign human rights agencies for co-exploiting the fisheries resources of the indigenous people of Western Sahara. This isn’t the first time Sealord’s business links have triggered accusations of dodgy dealings – remember the charges of their indirect links to whaling earlier this decade, subsequently terminated after a blaze of publicity ?

They might try to ride this one out. After all, this fisheries case isn’t the first time that Phil Goff and the Government have been called on to deter our firms from breaking international law over the exploitation of Western Saharan resources. In mid 2006, Ravensdown availed itself of a phosphate shipment from Western Sahara. In 2006, Goff’s feeble rejoinder of that deal in Parliament ran like this :“I do not think anybody can say with any certainty what the local people in Western Sahara feel about the mining of phosphate resources. I certainly have no evidence about that. I am aware that the independence movement is opposed to that, but I am not aware of what the views of the ordinary people in Western Sahara may be, and how could I be? “

That’s right, Phil. With that attitude, it would have been almost as hard to oppose apartheid wouldn’t it, because – while we knew the views of the ANC movement – who among us REALLY KNEW what the views of the average black person on the streets of South Africa were? Maybe they LIKED apartheid, and maybe Saharawis like being colonised by a country with whom they have almost no shared cultural legacy, and that is ripping off their natural resources ? Who’s to know – right, Phil ?

For the record, New Zealand officially regards Western Sahara as a colonized territory, opposes the Moroccan invasion and occupation, and supports the right of the Saharawi people to have a choice between total independence and limited autonomy under Moroccan rule, in a referendum that was first promised to them 30 years ago, and several times since.

Disclosure : lawyer Moana Jackson and I will be speaking on Monday and Wednesday next week in Wellington at the Human Rights Film Festival screenings of the film “ Western Sahara : Africa’s Last Colony.”

2. Politicising the tax cuts. Also interesting to hear the love fest this morning on RNZ between Pricewaterhouse tax expert John Shewan and Sean Plunket on what a bad idea it would be to exempt the first $9,500 of earnings from income tax, to help the needy, bridge the income gaps and alleviate poverty. On this point, there was no argument with Finance Minister Michael Cullen’s world view, in ruling out the measure. Shewan’s main argument ? That some people would benefit who weren’t needy, since they could arrange their finances to produce little, or no taxable income.

Threadbare stuff. Yes, some people not in genuine need might exploit that advantage. Far more people in genuine need would benefit from an initial $9, 500 exemption. More to the point, they will do better under such an exemption than from an across the board cut in tax rates – a measure that Shewan and his clients would undoubtedly favour, since the bulk of the money will go off to the already relatively well off, while giving the poor a pittance, at best. Most likely, the real reason Finance Minister Michael Cullen has decided against the $9,500 exemption is that it would give the bulk of the tax cuts to people who are either Labour voters already – or non voters – and he has other fish to fry.

Still, it leaves the field free for Tariana Turia to exploit the point in the Maori seats, and elsewhere. As she told Scoop a couple of weeks ago :

Turia….How we’re approaching the whole tax cuts situation is probably different to how we’re being read. What we have felt is that those who under $25,000 a year are the ones who should be receiving the tax cut. In fact, we don’t feel those people should be paying taxes. $25,000 is the poverty line in this country. If someone is earning $500 a week and their take home pay is $400 a week, and their rent is $250- 300 a week… its obviously very difficult for them.
Campbell: So you oppose sweeping tax cuts across the board ?

Turia : Yes, we’re quite specific about that.

Campbell: And for anyone living below a $25,000 poverty level, no tax?

Turia : No tax.

3. Defence, for retirement spending. Phil Rennie of the Centre for Independent Studies arguesthat the $2 billion we are spending on retirement savings is more than the annual spend on our defence forces. Bad comparison, if it is meant to suggest our armed services are going without. They certainly did in the 1990s under National governments, which starved the defence forces of new equipment.

Yet ironically under a centre left government, the annual defence spend this decade has been enough to pay for a major revamp of defence equipment including over a hundred LAVs for the Army, overseas deployments in Timor, Afghanistan and the Gulf, a new EEZ maritime defence fleet AND a brand new Defence HQ building in Wellington. Given that New Zealand doesn’t face any discernible security threat, it makes a lot more sense to prioritise retirement savings, especially when a demographic time bomb ( ie, an ageing population) is headed our way.


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    1. 11 Responses to “WTF – May 8 2008: Sealord, Tax Cuts, Retirement”

    2. By Brian on May 8, 2008 | Reply

      Can Turia explain why the half wits in the country who choose not to educate themselves and consequently are employed as burger flippers should have a take home pay the equivilent to those earning 40k a year? Talk about a lame society with no will of their own, Labour/Green/Maori/Act/Progressives go jump

    3. By mike on May 8, 2008 | Reply

      I ask myself why doesn’t the NZ media want to run with the Western Sahara phosphate story?? It’s a cracker! 90% of the $125,000,000 worth of phosphate that enters NZ each year comes labelled as Moroccan but is mined at Bou Craa in Western Sahara.THEFT on a huge scale! Got to be a great story!!

    4. By jockmoron on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      Hello Brian, I wonder what you do? Have you been watching the price of oil recently? Do you understand that in a year or two, when oil is $200/bbl, or possible unobtainable, that your job, whatever it is, might be at risk? Whilst I don’t wish anyone any harm at any time, your subsequent discomfort will obviously be what you urgently need. A few months or a year or two of relative poverty will undoubtedly bring a much needed change in perspective. Indeed, I would propose that every member of parliament, when they are elected, are obliged to live on no more than the income level of the poorest paid in our society for say three months, that too might bring them a level of perspective which is also urgently needed. You may not realise this, Brian, but New Zealand is now one of the least egalitarian nations in the OECD and our levels of child poverty are a shame on our society.

    5. By Simon Lambert on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      Haven’t followed the Sealords story but, um, what exactly is ironic about a company seeking profit at the expense of – in this case – Western Saharawi’s? Is it the (nominal) indigenous ownership (I’m Maori and haven’t received a penny from my investment); is it because it is a good ol’ Kiwi company – and NZers cherish the environment and all its denizens, human or otherwise, right?!

      Sorry. Karl Marx might be as passe as the Marx brothers, but accumulating capital is what Sealords is required to do. Is it ironic the press don’t understanding this? (Or you understand but don’t want to investigate ALL the implications …).

    6. By Stefan on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      The problem with the above statement by Brian is that it emotionalises a very large problem, which we just don’t need. The largest problem a modern/progressive society faces is the question of responsibility. Brian obviously thinks it’s the poor’s responsibility to get themselves out of poverty, while the left hand side of parliament sees it as a collective responsibility.

      It’s this conflict that divides the right from the left, and more time needs to be spent debating that answer rather than emotion based diatribes that make both sides look like judgmental know it all prats.

    7. By Greg on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      Brian, try looking at it from a different point of view:

      Low wage jobs are needed. Burger flipping may not be difficult nor require much thought, but it is a service that people who eat burgers want. And other low wage jobs are the same – we will always have shop assistants, cleaners, and street sweepers, because they do work that we, as a society, want done.

      So given that these people exist and will continue to exist in society, do we always treat whoever occupies these positions with contempt? Do we chastise them for not achieving higher? And yet what if they do achieve higher? Then someone comes in to takes their place at the bottom. Do we then redirect our contempt to the bottom again? Or do we accept that they, like people in higher paid jobs, also provide a service that people want and therefore treat them with respect? Part of that respect, I think, is ensuring that they are not struggling to live, especially with commodity price growth far outstripping wage growth.

      The alternative is that if it is considered bad to have a low wage job, everyone educates themselves to a high level (this is very hypothetical) with the intention of getting a medium to high wage job, and they don’t accept low wage jobs, then we have an unskilled labour shortage and a glut of unemployed people searching for high wage jobs. So either we automate as much labour as we can (thereby increasing energy use) and pay a benefit to those large numbers of unemployed people, or we step up pacific immigration to fill the unskilled wage gap. But then we are back to the same problem: there are people working for small amounts whom we feel contempt for.

      And another thing: with a progressive tax structure it is impossible for someone on, for example, 25k to “have a take home pay the equivalent to those earning 40k a year”. Assumming Turia’s plan was based around a progressive tax structure (she didn’t imply otherwise) then everyone in employment would have the first 25k untaxed. The next 15k, you would assume, would then be higher taxed than it is now, but the take home pay would still be higher. (Working for Families obviously complicates this, but it is a different piece of legislation with a more specific purpose than broad tax relief).

    8. By Jared on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      While I agree that no tax for earners under 25K is not the way to go, in line with Brian’s comments, let’s not be under any illusion that *anybody* and *everybody* can ‘choose’ to educate themselves, with the follow-on that this will lead to upward mobility. Society is not nearly so simple. Society is not nearly free from ingrained equality. There will always be a need for people to flip Brian’s burgers, and no doubt dry-clean his suits, and possibly come to his house once a week and clean it for $12 an hour – is he suggesting that all service workers choose not to educate themselves? Should they, and then is he prepared to pay extra for all those services to accommodate their higher education? I think not.

    9. By Jack on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      I think whatever tax laws are put down, the rich will always benefit because they are money savy. The poor aren’t. Infact, 15000.00 would be the cut off. This way the poor would have more initiative to go back to work and not rely on welfare or DBP saving taxpayers a heap of money.

    10. By Mike on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      It’s not ironic, it’s just unfortunate.

    11. By lyndon on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      Haven’t followed the Sealords story but, um, what exactly is ironic about a company seeking profit at the expense of – in this case – Western Saharawi’s?

      I believe it’s the ‘maori’ company exploiting indigenous people thing.

      The exploitation (and I haven’t followed it either) seems to arise from the way WS is what you might call a ‘Non-Self-Governing Territory’ and presumably nobody with incentive to conserve its resources properly has the power to.

    12. By tobybong on May 9, 2008 | Reply

      not ironic, ’tis f*cking hilarious

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