Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On last night’s TV3 debate

November 22nd, 2011

Phil Goff’s won last night’s TV3 leaders’ debate handily, such that it seemed as if John Key has already decided that Goff is no longer the main thing standing between him and comprehensive victory. The rise of Winston Peters, and the parlous state of his wavering coalition allies in Epsom and Ohariu mean that Goff probably rates about third on Key’s list of concerns right now. Whatever the reason, Key was virtually missing in action last night. He looked as if… well, as if he thought that the TV3 debate didn’t really matter. And probably, it didn’t.

On both sides, there were the usual reasons to tear out one’s hair. Key assured us he would use the proceeds from asset sales – and at one point, he used the $7 billion figure that only a Treasury apparatchiks regard as even faintly credible – to prudently sell down debt. In the next breath, he said he would be spending the proceeds on things that New Zealanders use and need, like schools, hospitals and… irrigation schemes. Hmm, can’t recall the last time I needed to take the kids to the Late Night Irrigation Canal, but nice to know it will be there if the need ever arises.

As Rod Oram has consistently pointed out, Cabinet papers earlier this year showed those irrigation schemes would deliver a poor return on the investment. Conclusive evidence also exists to show that it would make more economic sense to borrow the money than to sell down the assets. Such arguments never got into the frame last night.

If asset sales are the albatross round John Key’s neck, Goff’s main liability last night was the former member from Tauranga. Phil Goff tried to address the ‘Would he have Winston Peters in his government’ question by saying that he’d have to wait and see what the people decide, and if Peters was in Parliament then Goff was sure Peters would act responsibly and he could work with him blah blah, In the next breath though, democracy went out the window when it came to Hone Harawira who – peoples’ choice or not – would be no part of any government that Goff led because that would make things unacceptably ‘unstable.’ Huh?

Evidently, New Zealand First is being treated by Labour as a more compatible potential partner in government than the Mana Party. Few voters on the centre-left would agree. Moreover, depicting Harawira as unstable and ruling out working with him doesn’t seem like the best way of mobilising the Labour vote in south Auckland on Saturday.

Much of this is entirely a moot point, since Peters first has to get into Parliament. If he does, Peters himself has said he won’t be part of any formal arrangement with either Labour or National, but will treat each issue on its merits in Parliament and vote accordingly. Given the control freak tendencies in both major parties, this is seen by them as problematic. Key for instance, has been claiming Peters would be willing and able to trigger a fresh election at any time, and is using that bogey as a reason for centre right voters to give him an absolute majority on Saturday.

In fact, Key will first have to form a government – with or without the co-operation of Peters – so any subsequent decision to call a fresh election would be one for which Key’s government would share some responsibility. (In a democracy, a government can’t throw its toys out of the cot without being punished by the public for doing so.) This situation of mutually assured destruction would exert its own disciplines, and would foster a salutary need for caution by all concerned.

But to repeat: the Peters spectre is entirely hypothetical. For many voters, the thought of National having absolute power is a far more terrifying prospect than any potential threat posed by New Zealand First.

For Labour – which on current polling, will need him if it is to govern at all – Peters is a known quantity with whom they can do business. Tellingly Peters is felt by the Labour leadership to be more amenable, and more simpatico with them than Harawira. (Yet another sign that the control freaks in Labour find it hard to work as equals with anyone further to the left of them on the political spectrum.) That’s despite the fact that Harawira is far closer to Labour on policy questions – re welfare reform, minimum wage policy, capital gains tax etc – than Peters. Here for instance, is an exchange I had with Harawira a couple of years ago:

Campbell : OK. So, when you look at the desired direction of welfare policy for Maori, and you look at the desired direction of industrial relations policy for Maori – which of the two major parties offers you the better framework to work under?

Harawira : For our people, because they’re primarily in the lower socio-economic bracket ? Labour. For the simple reason that Labour has always maintained a clear view of consistently raising the basic minimum wage.

At this point, Peters is just another deliberate distraction. Asset sales – which are a far more concrete reality – remain the Achilles heel for John Key during the rest of this campaign, and for good reason. There is no economic justification for them and the public don’t want them. They are little more than an ideological bone being thrown to the government’s corporate backers. Goff may have performed well last night, but nothing appears likely now to stop those assets from being put on the auction block after next Saturday.


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    1. 14 Responses to “On last night’s TV3 debate”

    2. By Lisa on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      Thanks Gordon for your continuing and measured analysis on asset sales. If only more people cared more. The levels of apathy out there amongst the general public are actually pretty astronomical. They’d rather be watching more rugby. Even though politics affects their lives far more.

      On your point that Labour freaks out about working with parties to its left, I found this post interesting:

    3. By Joe Blow on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      Yeah, I agree with Lisa. The level of apathy out there means that the part of NZ that matters in this election didn’t even know the leaders debate was on last night…

      Still it was good to see Goff do well for a second time on national television after the terrible last three years he’s had as leader of the opposition. He deserves some kind of reprieve.

      Still as for Hone, I think that it is hard to argue that a government in coalition with Mana would be stable as Hone has made it clear that he would refuse to compromise on just about anything, so any coalition between him and Labour would be likely to fall apart if Labour tried to pass legislation that Hone didn’t like… I get your point, Winston is claiming he’d be similar, but it seems much more likely that Winston will whore himself to the man with the most votes…

      Still it would be interesting if ACT went poof in a puff of smoke and National couldn’t make a majority with the Maori Party and UNFuture. If Winston refused to play ball with anybody to regain some credibility then there might have to be the formation of NZ’s first true minority government. National would have to take tenders from each party in order to put through legislation, which would be watered down by each prospective partner. It could work quite well as there will be no coalition partner that would agree on asset sales. Even if ACT gets in and ACT, National and the Maori Party can make a majority, the Maori Party and ACT won’t work together so things are looking good for the left next term as long as ACT carks it as predicted… may ACT never rear its ugly head again!

    4. By Judy Haynes on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      Interestingly, Key seems to find it hard to understand that NZ First will sit in Opposition & will vote for everything which is good for New Zealand or oppose anything which is bad for New Zealand. They will also push their policies through from the opposition. This has all been explained clearly by Winston that the average person like me can easily understand it. Key is trying to cause a problem with his silly put down of New Zealand First. By doing so he is actually making a lot of peoples minds up to vote for New Zealand First as they can see right through him. He is a control freak as well as a lier. Glad we have Winston Peters still, can’t imagine another three years without him in Parliament. We would be off to Aussie too with the rest of the real Kiwis.

    5. By Pete George on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      There’s three things that could stop asset sales.

      If the Maori Party and/or United Future hold the balance of power it might be enough (pressure or excuse) to cause National to pause.

      The third reason is market conditions, they may at least slow down progess.

    6. By Peter on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      Its interesting many people keep saying that National originally said that they would sell assets to reduce debt and now they have changed to using it to fund some types of capital expenditure. So I traced back through the Internet to the original release and found this
      He talks about borrowing less and talks about mixed ownership model – but borrowing less is not the same as reducing debt, its just no increasing debt. Are people just exaggerating to make their own point and make it sound like the past asset sales or is there some other info somewhere.

    7. By Peter on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      Other people do care – but don’t agree that a partial sale of a few assets is necessarily bad. I personally have sold off pretty much all my assets twice – I must have used the proceeds wisely because each time I have comeback stronger. I am about to sell again and diversify I am at that stage of life and my income is not what it was and so I don’t want to borrow a whole lot in order to diversify – so I will sell and buy different assets. The use of capital to achieve good future aims is just as important if not more important that just sitting on an asset. Even Jesus agrees in his “Parable of Talents” Just to hold an asset and receive the dividends and do nothing is not necessarily the best option. So yes people do care but have different and valid views. And people agreeing or not agreeing with you does not mean that they don’t have a private agenda. e.g. the main aim of both National and Labour at the moment is to get voted into Government and they will tell you what you want to hear.

    8. By Joe Blow on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      @ Peter

      Key introduced his plan for asset sales in his state of the nation speech on 26 Jan 2011. If you look below you will see that as early as the third line into his speech he says that in order to turn things around we need “to increase national savings and [specifically] reduce the country’s debt.”

      “Ladies and Gentlemen.

      This year is about building a brighter future for New Zealanders and their families.

      That is only possible if we lift the country’s economic performance, and by doing so deliver the jobs, higher incomes and better living standards New Zealanders aspire to and deserve.

      That means making responsible decisions now, as the economy picks up, to increase national savings and reduce the country’s debt.”

      Then later he says:

      “But the Government is already committed to playing its part. We have to increase our own savings and reduce public sector debt.

      That is why the Government is going to reduce growth in its spending, get back to surplus faster than previously indicated and look to better allocate its assets across competing uses.”

      Still Peter I think, like most kiwis, you might have a bit of a narrow view of what the PM means by “reducing debt”. He means getting back into surplus by 2014 by not taking on so much annual debt (the deficit). He makes it sound like he’s going to get us out of the debt his government has taken on since taking office and cutting taxes, but in fact he’s just going to try and reduce the amount of annual debt we’re taking on.

      The other thing is that often he weaves the national ‘private debt’ together with our ‘public debt’ and makes it sound like they are the same thing without disclosing what proportion the public debt is or its size. He says they are both 85% of GDP, but the public debt was around 14% of GDP when National took office and has grown to around 22% since then (and it’s still growing). It’s now back to the same level that it was when Labour took office in 1999. I have actually seen stats that show our private debt to be around 75% of GDP on its own (mainly comprised of a glut of mortgage debt from the housing boom – imagine if we had a CGT during the boom. We might be like Oz with an even lower public debt than us).

      National to date has not come up with any convincing plans to reduce private debt – especially when it reduced kiwisaver and axed the Cullen fund soon after entering office. Our private debt starts making compulsory super look like a damn good idea.

    9. By Joe Blow on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      @ Peter

      Here are some more exact stats for public debt as a percentage of GDP from the NZ Debt Management Office:

      2008 17.7%
      2010 23.1%

    10. By Joe Blow on Nov 22, 2011 | Reply

      @ Peter

      Here’s the estimate for NZ public debt in 2010:

      2010 30.3%

      That means that public debt under National has increased from 17.7% of GDP in 2008 to 30.3%.

      And Key is still claiming he is the best person to be running the economy?

    11. By squirrel on Nov 23, 2011 | Reply

      It feels like the days before George Bush went for his 2nd term. Deja Vu….

    12. By Peter on Nov 23, 2011 | Reply

      Yes Joe – that is exactly what I read too – he intends to reduce the amount of additional debt we take on. I am doing the same thing. I am 55 and I don’t want to take on additional debt at this stage of my life but I am uncomfortable that I have all my assets in one class e.g. a house its mortgage free and worth a reasonable amount. So I could borrow against it but don’t want the repayments at this stage of my life. So I plan to sell it, buy a smaller cheaper house to live in and use the rest to purchase some other assets (not sure what yet) But not increasing debt is not the same as paying down debt as many people keep saying. We are all well aware that National has increased debt. Once the recession set in with all the outstanding commitments the government had the Treasury predicted 10 years of deficits. Most governments in the world borrowed more to ease the hardship on the countries and to keep the economy ticking over. So I am not why that is an issue – unless you keep doing it – which I think we all believe it is time to stop especially as the world is now collapsing.

    13. By Joe Blow on Nov 23, 2011 | Reply

      Hi Peter,

      I have a bit of a problem with the metaphor of a house with a mortgage being used to explain how the partial sale of our energy companies will help us as a country. Can New Zealander’s think in terms of any other kind of investment? We’re addicted to real estate!

      My concerns with the metaphor are as follows:

      1. Unlike with a house many people own our energy companies including people in the future. I’m not sure if you have children that might inherit from you but concerns about whether anything is left to them after you have gone would weigh on most people’s minds. The metaphor might be better if your adult children also owned the house or needed the house and had a say in whether it was sold or not. Most young people these days need to inherit to be able to afford a deposit on a house these days anyway.
      2. Is the house just the energy companies or the government as a whole? If it is just the energy companies then, unlike with your situation, there are many other liabilities and costs elsewhere, which we need to think about how to handle way after we are long gone. For example, the cost of the retirement of the babyboomers, most of whom own a house with an overly inflated price and live longer than their forebears. That brings me to my next point.
      3. There are other options other than just selling or borrowing. We could put up the rent (tax more?). We could do up the house and put solar panels on it and save money that way. We could cut our spending on some of our unneeded creature comforts by tightening our belts in order to take on less debt elsewhere (for example by raising the retirement age to 67 or by no longer getting the full capital value when we sell our house or shares unlike we do with most other income generation).
      4. Finally, you may be nearing retirement Peter, but NZ as a country, the young and the future generations, are not nearing retirement. Sometimes people need to vote for reasons beyond their own interests for the greater good of all New Zealanders and future New Zealanders.

    14. By Leon Henderson on Nov 24, 2011 | Reply

      If the rotten Key/Joyce/English National Party get back in, (and God help us all if they do: it will be the 1990’s all over again and with the added “feature” that this country will be totally sold down the drain to foreign capitalists lock, stock, and barrel, and will rapidly end up being like the USA puppet-state known as the Phillipines, and all the other formerly prosperous, but now, due to being grabbed control of by the USA, are now utter garbage heaps of violence-ridden rampant poverty) it will be because of the almost equally rotten “Labour” Party, who actually are no “Labour” Party at all, and instead are just a slightly slacker and more ramshackle version of the National/ACT Party.

      Jim Anderton described the “Labour” Party as traitors to the Working-Class people of New Zealand; that “Labour” could not be trusted, and said if Michael Joseph Savage could see what his Labour Party had mutated into, MJS would be spinning in his grave.

      When the relentlessly ever-increasingly more and more extreme Right-Wing Helen Clarke (who was touting for a cushy sinecure in the rotten corrupt “United Nations”) got the UN gong bang, and she whisked herself away to New York, the so-called “Labour” Party immediately made Phil Goff their leader and Annette King their Deputy Leader.

      All political commentators were unanimous in that this was yet another victory for the extreme Right-Wing of the so-called “Labour” Party, and was handing the Treasury Benches to the National/ACT Party on a proverbial plate.

      One political writer said, correctly, that by electing Goff and King (who both played pivotal roles in the 1984/87 Roger Douglas “Labour” Party and were both rabid supporters of Roger Douglas) the “Labour” Party were essentially committing treason against the New Zealand Working-Class people by making sure that the National/ACT Party would win by default in 2008.

      I am no admirer of Trevor Mallard, but Mallard, in the populist lexicon has got the entire “Book” in terms of sheer “personality projection” (Philip Goff has not got any!!!) and also powers of oration that are actually quite amazing.

      If the “Labour” Party wanted to actually win an election,they would have made Mallard their leader, and Stevie Chadwick their Shadow Leader (she has got an incredibly interesting and “nice” voice, and if she was made to say the right things she could be used powerfully to distribute audial information), but they didn’t (Mallard said he “wasn’t interested” in being the leader – another act of deliberate sabotage against New Zealand!!!)and instead all there is, is Goff and King.

      In only two days is the General Election: if Key/Joyce/English get back in, then it will be because of the so-called “Labour” Party: just as in 2008 (where the National/ACT Party did not “win” but simply got onto the Treasury Benches by default because more than thirty percent of “Labour” voters refused to vote), and will be the final traitorous manifestation from them, condemning this Nation to rapidly end up like the Phillipines, Indonesia, and every other Third World puppet-state of Wall Street.

      Hey Joe Blow: whilst on the subject of the “Third World” here you can read about all of the wonderful things your USA/Zionist chums have been doing for the educational system in Iraq.

      Under Saddam it was free to everyone from kindergarten to the highest university levels, and everywhere totally secular (Saddam and the Socialist Baath Party outlawed public religeous exhibitions, made it illegal to proselytise, and alcohol also was freely available, but not allowed to be imbibed in the street).

      Bush, Clinton, and Mr. Hopey-Changey murdered Saddam and his sons, just like they murdered President Gaddafi and his son Mutassim – who you can see, Joe Blow here if you scroll down a long way. Notice how “chummy” the Mad Bint Hillary Clinton is being with Mutassim Gaddafi. Little did he suspect that the “matey” Mad Bint would soon be playing a major role in both the torture and vicious murder of both himself and his father.

      Joe Blow: here is where you can see what the Zionists/USA have done for the Iraqi educational system; you will undoubtedly be interested in this, as you claim to be an advocate for “knowledge”:

    15. By Leon Henderson on Nov 24, 2011 | Reply

      New Zealanders: Do not let the National/ACT Party get back in, and be sure to vote for MMP.

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