Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

National’s secrecy about its policies

May 28th, 2008

By Gordon Campbell
What does this sound like? A tiny group of politicians develop policy and hide it from the rest of their colleagues – all the better to unveil these policies in a way that will give the voting public the least possible time and opportunity to understand the full implications of what is being proposed. Roger Douglas may not be in the next National Cabinet in person, but clearly, he will be there in spirit.

The Kiwisaver fiasco has revealed all this, and more. It has underlined that the National Party under John Key are replicating the most secretive and un-democratic qualities of the Lange/Douglas team of the mid 1980s. Policy will not be exposed to daylight until it is about to be enacted. Caucus colleagues cannot be trusted, and need to be kept out of the loop. The outcome of this secrecy ? The party figureheads screw up.

Thus, National’s own industrial relations spokesperson Kate Wilkinson told a forum of human resource managers that National would scrap the compulsory employer contributions to the Kiwisaver scheme.

When this hit the media a few hours later, Wilkinson frantically back-tracked and claimed not to have understood what she had been asked. Key’s subsequent explanation and ‘correction’ of Wilkinson’s statement was that she had not been part of the policy design. So much for her credibility – the party’s own industrial relations spokesperson is being kept out of the loop on core matters concerning employers ! Grudgingly, Key revealed that the National Party policy, while not yet ‘ finalised’ would involve compulsory employer contributions.

Ah, but at what rate ? At the current levy, with its $20 a week tax credit offset ? Or at the level the scheme will entail in four years – whereby someone on $45,000 would be looking at an $1800 a year employer contribution, offset by a $1040 annual tax credit? Key wasn’t saying. Nor is he saying whether National prefers to use those funds to finance even bigger tax cuts ( than those in the Budget ) that he hints about delivering, but which has also not confirmed.

So much for the need for business “ certainty’ that National bangs on about in almost every other forum. In this case, it is happy to leave employers uncertain while – wink wink, nudge nudge – dropping clues they may not need to plan for the higher levels of compulsory contributions further down the track. Meanwhile, the 600,000 New Zealanders currently enrolled in the Kiwisaver scheme are being left in the dark about National’s true intentions.

So much for transparency, and fully informed electoral choice. The public is being required to buy a pig in a poke. National is proceeding on a deliberate course to hide from public scrutiny and debate – for as long as it possibly can – what it intends to do on tax, on Kiwisaver and much else besides. When taken together with its intention to re-open the case for FPP, it is a reminder of the party’s fundamentally undemocratic instincts.

In fact, in its mode of operation and stance towards the economy the National Party appears to have learned nothing – and changed very little – since the early 1990s. All that has changed has been its ability to better hide its intentions from the public. This too, isn’t all that novel. During the 1980s, Labour had a similar changeling as its popular figurehead.


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    1. 14 Responses to “National’s secrecy about its policies”

    2. By Dave McArthur on May 28, 2008 | Reply

      Where is the Union Movement?
      I have yet to observe any degree of critical thinking about superannuation savings in the Post Cheap Oil/Gas Age from our Union leaders. As your article notes we have a history of our political parties having hidden agendas and using wooden horses of all sorts implement them. What notice did this Labour Administration give employers of the role they would have to play in KiwiSaver? In my last posting on this website I pointed out how the last National Administration used the temporary prevalence of private health insurance schemes, often facilitated by the Unions to their members, to justify winding down our universal health system.

      Most of our political parties are not to be trusted and so any reforms should retain safeguards against this unfortunate situation. It is not that these folk are necessarily malicious or conniving. It is simply a historical fact that circumstances change e.g. there is a dramatic downturn in our nations terms of trade or inflation from rising mineral oil prices surges and tax revenue suddenly shrinks or a trading partner or market system implodes or warfare breaks out. And lets face it, the current wasteful uses of mineral oil by nations like the USA, Australia and NZ make such a change all but inevitable for us at the moment.
      In such circumstances politicians who have not foreseen these events react with desperate measures. They find reason to sell off national assets, take out huge loans, gut public saving’s funds and reduce universal entitlements such as dwelling, heating, sickness, superannuation and other basics.

      As KiwiSaver contributions disappear into the black hole that our current Stock Market is about to become then there will be great political motivation to relieve employers of their contribution. There will also be a strong tendency to use the tax system to prop up our small legion of people who make a direct living off the Stock Market. KiwiSaver will seem the perfect mechanism for this and so politicians will find it utterly logical and irresistible to wipe Universal Superannuation.

      And be very clear the average wage earner is going to pay a lot to maintain KiwiSaver. One of its salespeople assured my community that the Government guarantees $60 a year per account to the fund managers. As many people experience major income drops how many will cease contributions to KiwiSaver? At any time there may be a million NZers living overseas and in recent memory 100,000 people have emigrated in a year. We could be talking $60 million of taxpayer’s funds annually to administer small, effectively dead accounts.

      What I would like to know from the Union Movement is how they are going to negotiate for members who either are to poor to contribute or too patriotic to be involved in such a shonky scheme as this? It could be that those prepared and able to be involved in KiwiSaver will be effectively receiving the Government handout plus employer contributions of a few thousand dollars annually. For those many of us on $20-25,000 a year that sum could well amount to 10-15% of our annual income? Are they proposing two tier bargaining systems? Or two tier work place environments? And if push comes to shove, will the Union Movement opt for Universal Superannuation for New Zealanders or KiwiSaver for their members?

    3. By Steve Withers on May 28, 2008 | Reply

      The real reasons for National delaying policy announcements is becoming rather obvious now. People won’t like them. If they knew what they were, national might be facing a lot more hard questions than they have had to date. They might go down in the polls. The government might start looking good. They must have been listening to Helen Clark last year when she said she wasn’t concerned about the polls because when people found out what National was all about, they would stay with Labour. Best way to respond to that is not tell people what you’re about then, isn’t it!

      If National had attractive policies that would appeal to most voters, you’d think they would be trumpeting them from the hill tops. To the extent a portion of the public really is “off the hook” with respect to Labour, it wouldn’t matter if Labour did a “Me, too” on some of them.

      The other question raised is: Who IS on the “inside” in the National Party if the majority of their elected representatives and spokespeople aren’t involved. This can only feed suspicion that National has imported the worst aspects of President Bush’s crony capitalism in a behind-the-scenes policy auction.

      None of this is good for democracy. National needs to front up and let voters have a good long look at who and what they are.

    4. By brian marshall on May 28, 2008 | Reply

      Come on people. Are you all novices to politics or something. If National releases it’s policies this far out from the election, it’s advantage to Labour to have time to “trump” the policy.
      National got caught out last election with the Student loan interest bribe that Labour released after National had already released it’s Student loan policy. I’d be worried if they did not take lessons from the last election.

    5. By Colvin on May 28, 2008 | Reply

      While it is a fair political tactic to hold back on some policy to closer to the election to try and do better, if there are hidden plans to change kiwisaver this will harm many New Zealanders who are taking up the scheme in the meantime. Tens of thousands of people are taking up the scheme currently, and surely a reason for many doing so is both the Government contributions, and the employer contributions. If it is the case that National are going to sit there watching people sign up for a scheme that they have no plan in going through with in the form it’s in now – that surely isn’t fair on those people. If National or any party wants to hold back on their tax plans or (most) other policies then I don’t have a problem with that.

    6. By Martin on May 29, 2008 | Reply

      No the leftist media are not naive but they are disengenious at best. Of course, they know Labour will just steal or trump National’s policies if they release them early.

    7. By John on May 29, 2008 | Reply

      If I were Kate Wilkinson I’d be livid at the way I’d been treated. It’s obvious that Key & co are consulting with polsters rather than their own party. By doing so they are in danger of having no unique policies left by the time the time they are ready to release what they’ve got. Just this week they suggested Med students could be bonded to work in areas of shortage – unfortunately, that was 3 weeks after United Future had released a health policy saying exactly the same thing! I can just see John Key saying “me too” to Winston Peter’s policies on the elderly, UF’s tax policy, ACT’s law and order etc etc etc

    8. By Steve Withers on May 29, 2008 | Reply

      It isn’t “leftist” to want to know what policies are being advanced by people who want your vote and have time to think about it. That’s how democracy is supposed to work – whatever ideological faith system you may subscribe to or tribe you support.

    9. By robert on May 29, 2008 | Reply

      the “labour will trump them” argument makes only very limited sense here… sure, in some policy areas it could happen – but how does labour “trump” something as utterly fundamental as explaining where the money for those big tax cuts is going to come from…

    10. By richarquis on May 29, 2008 | Reply

      Well said Steve Withers. I think it’s good that people who genuinely believe in National are standing by them, a sense of principle is important and admirable. But you’re absolutely right, asking for justification is a valid stance, and for diehard Nat supporters to balk and cry “Leftist!” simply because someone asks for an informed perspective… Ridiculous. I’m sure any of those same people would cry foul if a criminal got off because the judge accepted a defence case of “Honestly, my client is innocent.” They would demand justification, and demanding that would not prompt catcalls of “Rightist!”, rather, it would illustrate common sense. So why the knee jerk reaction to a fair and intelligent demand from those who ask the sheep at the door, “Are you sure you’re not a wolf?”

    11. By Jack on May 29, 2008 | Reply

      You folks can speculate all you want. I know the media loves it. But this is Labour’s week. Cullen just announced the budget a weeks ago. It would be foolish to announce anything right now because this is Labour’s wind sort of speaking. I think it is a lot of hot wind, but they get the attention.

    12. By Roger on Jun 3, 2008 | Reply

      While it might be considered good politics (at least in the short term) to delay announcing policy and to give minimum time for critical scrutiny of said policies it is hardly in keeping with open government. I wonder too whether the media and the public might begin to question the lack of detailed policy over the next two or three months. The question then is whether most voters will hold back their vote until such policy is forthcoming – or whether they will commit it anyway.

    13. By David on Jun 9, 2008 | Reply

      National wants to return to the FPP electoral system, fair enough. I object to the current MMP system whereby a candidate who is unsuccessful in an electorate can still end up being an MP. If the candidate’s electorate don’t want them why should they be foisted upon the electorate as a list MP?

      When will national bring back hanging? No one who was ever hanged ever committed a crime again.

      The first lot of candidates for the gallows should be politicians. If National want the public to vote for them they ought to have a publicly stated policy. If they do not, how can they rightly expect to govern with a clear conscience? Politiicians cannot be trusted with the public’s moneys and that is why politicians ought to be hanged.

    14. By Jum on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      I know that the day National outlines its policies;
      Gordon Campbell
      The Standard,
      Colin Espiner
      Russell Brown
      Barry Soper
      Eye to Eye
      and others
      will be all over them. I will expect to see a basic understanding of them within the next two days following; I’ll read the kiwiblog spin, Fran O’Sullivan, Chris Trotter and whatsisname and have a pretty good idea of what is bad for NZ, mostly from the amount of spin put on particular policies from the National/Act Supporters. Then I can begin distributing the information.
      Don’t let me down guys. This could be the most important election ever.

    15. By Jum on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      The longer it takes for the election date to be announced the better.

      The excuse of National not wanting Labour to trump their policy is wearing thin. What is becoming apparent now is that National is (appearing to be) hiding something unpalatable to New Zealanders and as time goes on, the more entrenched that feeling will become.

      Perception is very important here. National, unfortunately for them, has not yet realised it.

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