Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On Bill English’s attempt to politicize the earthquake response, plus the Rugby World Cup

March 2nd, 2011

Much of the inspirational rhetoric surrounding the Christchurch earthquake has had a genuine “We’re all in this together” quality. Certainly, most of the political benefits the quake has delivered to the government have sprung from that same unity of purpose, and shared sense of suffering. Yesterday, Finance Minister Bill English put all that at risk by flagging that all government spending is now on the table for re-consideration – including, for instance, shrinking the eligibility for Working for Families and interest free student loans.

It is not simply that the government’s mandate at the last election was based on promises not to touch such items. In exceptional circumstances – which the Christchurch quake certainly is – the basics of a mandate may need to be reviewed. However, it also makes it crucial that any such review be even handed, and undertaken only as a last resort. English completely failed that test. Every candidate for spending restraint and revenue relief that has surfaced in the past 48 hours (Working for Families criteria, interest free student loans, postponing or scrapping the CBD rail loop in Auckland, the partial privatisation of state energy companies etc) was on the government’s political wish list well before the earthquake. If it looks like English is trying to exploit the earthquake for party political purposes, that’s because it is exactly what he is doing. Barely a week after the quake – and while many people in Christchurch are still lacking basic services – the government has begun to play politics with their plight.

Government spending is, after all, only one half of the revenue equation. If English wants this to be a genuine process, all forms and all rates of revenue gathering should also be back on the table, including (a) the possibility of a special national tax levy for Christchurch and (b) a review of the government’s highly skewed tax cuts programme. The principle behind reviewing the criteria for Working for Families is supposedly that certain upper middle class families have little need for the WFF subsidy. Well, if means testing is to become the new norm, the same principle should be applied to the tax cuts programme – given that its benefits were showered disproportionately on the least needy income earners in New Zealand.

Treasury has been a worse than useless player in this crisis. No surprises there. In a demonstration of its usual preference for theory over reality, Treasury has reportedly opposed a special levy to help Christchurch recover and rebuild. The public, on the other hand, would support such a levy, as a meaningful expression of the “We’re all in this together” national sentiment. Why should WFF middle income earners, students and Aucklanders be selected out to shoulder the main burden of the quake, and of the government’s related borrowing programme? Last year, no such restraint was in evidence when nearly $2 billion was magically found to bail out the investors in Alan Hubbard’s business empire.

In sum, it is time that John Key and Bill English went public – and asked New Zealanders whether they would prefer to pay a special quake levy, or accept cuts in public services and partial privatization of state assets? As an aside, it is worth checking out this excellent NZ Herald summary of why government spending on the CBD loop is very much in the country’s medium term/long term interests :

[Auckland Transport committee chairman Mike] Lee said he was concerned that people might be using the Christchurch earthquake “to reinforce their own prejudices which we have seen on display for so many months” after the release of the business case and its compelling arguments for the rail link.

He was referring to the Government’s reaction to a report for for KiwiRail and the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority which predicted that the 3.5km underground link from the western end of Britomart to Mt Eden would pay for itself three and a half times over in benefits to Auckland.

A team of consultants warned that without the link, a dead-end Britomart would be almost at capacity within three years, leaving virtually no room for extra rail services after the arrival of electric trains in 2013-14.

Ultimately, Auckland would choke on its traffic congestion, and double or even triple bus lanes would have to be built on each side of main roads to have any hope of keeping people moving.

***

Living In Denial

Very soon, someone in government will need to do something bound to be deeply unpopular about the Rugby World Cup programme. Currently, Christchurch is due to host two RWC quarter finals and five pool games. Given that at least 85,000 foreign visitors are heading to this country for the RWC competition, that probably means that some 40,000 extra foreign tourists – not counting New Zealanders – may require suitable accommodation, and an efficient public transport system to and from the games in Christchurch.

Currently, it is hard to see how the Christchurch CBD (or city as a whole) will be back in adequate working order by September 10–11, sufficient to host the first two games on Christchurch’s roster. That’s assuming foreign visitors would want to take the risk of coming to Christchurch in the first place. Hotels that were booked to the gunwales are now either wrecked, or due for demolition. The current talk of putting tourists in cruise ships out in Lyttelton harbour is a sign of just how unrealistic the alternatives are.

On paper, Wellington and Dunedin are the only real alternatives for the quarterfinals, while Nelson or Invercargill could conceivably be candidates for the pool games. Problem is, Wellington already has two quarterfinals booked for the same days (October 8 and October 9) as the quarterfinals currently allocated to Christchurch. So Dunedin is the only real option.

Currently, Dunedin’s new and very expensive stadium has a grand total of just two pool games. I don’t know what Dunedin’s hotel bed capacity is, but on paper, it should be able to shoulder the burden of hosting two quarterfinals on the same weekend. Dunedin would also be the most accessible option for disappointed Canterbury fans, and would serve the greater tourism good of pulling those big spending foreign visitors south, and pumping them out towards Queenstown, Wanaka and points north, south and west of Dunedin.

So far, Key has merely expressed his preference that the RWC games currently set for Christchurch to be held there, since that would a symbol of the city’s potential for recovery. Indeed it would. It would be very nice. Reality though is soon going to require someone to step up and announce the shifting of the games.

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    1. 27 Responses to “On Bill English’s attempt to politicize the earthquake response, plus the Rugby World Cup”

    2. By Wimpie on Mar 2, 2011 | Reply

      Thank God for people like Gordon Campbell. While not in the habit of politising issues himself, he helpfully makes us aware of those who do.
      Fortunately I’ve just read that Phill Goff tells us that there is no need to panic about rebuilding Christchurch. All will be well! Hurray!
      I wonder … what would we do without non-politicisers like Campbell and Goff? I honestly wouldn’t know what or how to think.

    3. By Wimpie on Mar 2, 2011 | Reply

      And oh yes, I forgot! Study the photo featured with Gordon Campbell’s article and you can clearly see how, while others are expressing their genuine sorrow, Bill English is already deeply involved in scheming and politicising. The facial expression is one of an evil mind at work, wouldn’t you say? We deserve better than that. Give me statesman Goff anytime!

    4. By Tara on Mar 2, 2011 | Reply

      There are a considerable number of IDP’s-so is there not any international aid available?(or microfinance projects)
      These displaced NZ citizens are of refugee status.

      Of course I would agree with you if it was a simple choice between ‘the lesser of two evils’ another earthquake levy would be the choice rather than using a national disaster as an excuse to make further planned cuts in services.

    5. By Tara on Mar 2, 2011 | Reply

      Wimple you are a bit overexcited- everything is political.
      You are wrong I think Gordon did English a favour with the photo.

    6. By Eeyan on Mar 2, 2011 | Reply

      Dunedin could easily host extra games as it, in theory, will have the new stadium as well as the godd Ole Carisbrook grounds.

    7. By Wimpie on Mar 2, 2011 | Reply

      Tara, if ‘everything is political’ as you claim what’s the point of accusing English of politicising?
      Anyway, if you’re right, then my suspicion that Clark’s visit to CHCH(better late than never by the way) was a cunning political stunt, has been confirmed. Thanks for explaining politics to me; it’s a revelation!

    8. By Tara on Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

      Wimple you are very welcome for the revelation, though it is surprising that you are so ignorant when “you’re soaking in it’.
      Since you don’t understand politics you prove Gordon was right (dropping it to the lowest denominator) and maybe there really was a need to point out that it is in poor taste that a national disaster can be used as an excuse to try to mangle mandates.
      Don’t feel bad Wimple, you just didn’t understand.Maybe you can get a job working for National,its a crucial time & they need more PR guys.
      I suspect sometimes they sometimes use the same guys that did tourism promos of Christchurch which incorporated the streets sewer problems.

    9. By read on Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

      A read of Naomi Klein’s the Shock Doctrine might be timely.

    10. By richarquis on Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

      Sigh. OK Wimpie, let’s turn that around, shall we?
      [If ‘everything is political’... then my suspicion that Clark’s visit to CHCH(better late than never by the way) was a cunning political stunt, has been confirmed.]

      Which, if you extend the logic, means Key, English, McCully, Brownlee, etc, are also just doing the same.

      If you can’t see through their paper-thin veneer, then god help us all if we meet you on the roads.

    11. By richarquis on Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

      PS – When I say paper thin veneer, I’m not referring to them visiting CHCH – I’m referring to them using it as a ramrod for their policies that are either simply deeply unpopular and otherwise untenable, or, outright breaking of election promises.

    12. By Dan on Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

      I heard on the radio this morning that the current government has said the earthquake will “cost” the country $15b, therefore necessitating cuts to welfare and other spending. Wait a minute, with billions of dollars flowing in from overseas re-insurance and private insurance companies, won’t the net fiscal position be even, or a small fraction of the above figure?

    13. By richarquis on Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

      @Dan – Yes, NZEQC, like any insurance company, insures itself with re-insurers, but they’re hoping people won’t stop an think about things like that. The premiums will inevitably take a hit, but not so much as to justify English’s proposals. But he’ll throw the old dogs that are talkback radio/ letters to the editor/ etc etc a few bones, and they’ll all froth at the mouth in excitement. Same old tired story.

    14. By wimpie on Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

      Tara and richarquis
      Wow, I’ve hit a nerve somewhere.
      Well dream on you guys in your certain little world. Berate one side and exonerate the other. Now, that’s politics! Your politics!

    15. By Ben on Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

      Wimpie…umm…your politics too i guess? You are giving me a good laugh tho:)

    16. By tara on Mar 4, 2011 | Reply

      Wimpie you are just being silly – . Breaking election promises is not cause for exoneration.Politics is an idea, but though you may feel you have ownership of it(ie in your term”your politics”)-but it doesn’t belong to you .
      PS Don’t flatter yourself, your overexcited pro election promise breaking opinion doesn’t hit any nerves. (Don’t get upset about it I’m pretty sure you’ve got on someones nerves recently).

    17. By richarquis on Mar 4, 2011 | Reply

      Wimpie – Dude, if you’re gonna try and be sarcastic, at least do a good job of it. As it is, it’s just hypocrisy struggling under the weight of a poorly designed mask. You direct at Tara and I the comment:
      “Berate one side and exonerate the other.” Yet you do exactly this. You make mocking comments about GC and Phil Goff, while jumping to English’s defence. Then you accuse us of “politicising”? You really are making a fool of yourself here, but I’m sure you’ll be the last one to recognize the fact. Certainly the last to admit it.

    18. By Wimpie on Mar 4, 2011 | Reply

      Dear Tara and richarquis

      I profoundly apologise for mocking Goff and I regret making a fool of myself. I increasingly realise that mocking exponents of the left is not the done thing in your circles.
      If one is not scathing of the National Government, its PM and its ministers, one is just asking for over-heated reactions from political wizards who see the things the right (which in this case means the left)way.
      Well, good luck with your astute political observations and conclusions. I, once again, look forward to your reactions. Talking about mocking…

    19. By lyndon on Mar 4, 2011 | Reply

      Well, that was milding interesting but I think we can let it go now.

      Ladies and gentlemen, please do not feed the troll.

    20. By Wimpie on Mar 4, 2011 | Reply

      OK Lyndon, I won’t.

    21. By Joe Blow on Mar 5, 2011 | Reply

      Sorry I’ve been absent of late. I’ve been busy with an earthquake. And it looks like I missed all the fun!

      Um, Wimpie you missed the point. Campbell wrote on English’s attempt to politicise the earthquake in other words the way that English tried to politicise the earthquake. He’s not denying that other people from other areas of the political spectrum have attempted to politicise the earthquake and that politicising such things in general is wrong. He’s having a gripe at the way English is attempting to politicise the earthquake.

      As for the rest of you I can’t believe you also missed the point.

      Holy shit I’m a refugee!

      Tara, never have people fleeing from a natural disaster ever acquired refugee status. Under the Refugee Covention refugee status requires persecution for reasons of “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

      Sorry but an earthquake can’t do that.

      Wise up people! You’re making the left look dumb!

    22. By Wimpie on Mar 5, 2011 | Reply

      Look dumb?

    23. By Tara on Mar 5, 2011 | Reply

      Joe I maintain that there are a significant number of IDP’s. Many are homeless and fall under refugee status.”An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who is forced to flee their home but who remains within their country’s borders. They are often referred to as refugees, although they do not fall within the current legal definition of a refugee.” An earthquake can do that.
      Certainly using the word refugee out-groups instantly in NZ.I wouldnt brandy it round in the media anymore than overusing the word Cantabrians.
      P.S Joe -You don’t have to live like a refugee.

    24. By Joe Blow on Mar 5, 2011 | Reply

      Okay Tara I understand what you mean, but an IDP cannot get “refugee status” under the Refugee Convention. It’s just a UN definition quite separate from the legal definition of a refugee and does not afford any kind of “status” in the legal sense.

      I must say there have been times when I have felt like a refugee recently but unlike a lot of others down here I have not had significant damage to my family home so I guess I’m not an IDP either.

    25. By Joe Blow on Mar 5, 2011 | Reply

      This link might help explain what I’m getting at better:

      http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c146.html

    26. By Sabine on Mar 8, 2011 | Reply

      I want to comment on the voices that would like to quickly raise Christchurch’s CBD to the ground for safety and other reasons (for example the dreaded “moving forward”).

      For this I quote from a book I found unsettling when I first read it, but too close for comfort after the earthquake two weeks ago:

      “The news racing around the shelter that day was that Richard Baker, a prominent Republican congressman from this city, had told a group of lobbyists, ‘We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.’ Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans’ wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: ‘I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.’ All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a ‘smaller, safer city’
      …. Hearing all the talk of ‘fresh starts’ and ‘clean sheets’, you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the highway.
      … For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the ‘reforms’ permanent.
      … Friedman first learned how to exploit a large-scale shock or crisis in the mid-seventies, when he acted as adviser to the Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. … Friedman advised Pinochet to impose a rapid-fire transformation of the economy – tax-cuts, free trade, privatized services, cuts to social spending and deregulation.” (from: The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein)

      We shouldn’t lull ourselves into believing that our cosy New Zealand is any different in terms of cut-throat economists, greedy speculants and power-hungry politicians. They’re here. Let’s watch them closely.

    27. By Tara on Mar 15, 2011 | Reply

      Key announced a royal commission of inquiry into building collapses in the earthquake.

      WHY.

    28. By Jackp on Mar 20, 2011 | Reply

      Sabine, you make a very good point. I lived in the states and it took me awhile to figure that the lobbyist are screwing that country up. Greedy money hungry bastards that will stop at nothing. I see English and Key are doing the same thing. Key with the foreshore and seabed, English with disasters. I use to be a national supporter but I can’t stand Mr flip flop Key and National. You are right with what you say. I read that a day after Katrina, a strong lobbyist was still getting calls from elected officials. Discusting! and since I lived here, I see Key doing the same.

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