Jacinda Ardern via Getty
Jacinda Ardern via Getty

Peter Williams: Labour not helping anyone - including the poor

Peter Williams 21/05/2021

OPINION: The point about having an outright majority in parliament is that you can do what you want as a political party. And that’s what this Labour government has decided to do. 

Because of Covid, they won a majority the likes of which this country hadn’t seen for 70 years, and may not see for another 70 years. But no matter the reasons for that stunning win last October, no matter what they did or didn’t campaign on, they are the legally elected government so they can do what they like. 

Well put it this way, they can plan to do what they like but whether or not they can actually follow through is still a moot point. So in yesterday’s budget, it was a classic left-wing, redistribution model. Take from the haves and give to the have nots. No mention of trying to encourage the have nots to join the haves and therefore growing the country’s overall economic pie. And that’s what annoys me most about what was announced yesterday. 

We always knew there were going to be significant increases in benefits. But will $20 or $50 a week really going to make that much difference?

How many times have we said on this show in recent weeks that you don’t solve a problem by throwing money at it? And on this matter of poverty, which as we should know is very much a relative thing because what New Zealand has is not real poverty by international standards - and anybody who has been to Rio, Capetown, Soweto or Mumbai will know what actual poverty without social welfare really is - but in the minds of this Labour government, poverty is simply an arbitrary money thing. 

Give a family another $20 or $50 a week and, hey presto - just like that - 33,000 children are lifted out of poverty. In itself that is heartless isn’t it? That poverty is only measured by money. But is the life of those 33,000 kids going to be noticeably better in 12 months time? I would doubt it unless the attitude and approach to life of their parents or caregiver had shifted significantly. 

Will that person have made moves to get a job? To make the children’s lunch? To ensure they go to school at least 90 percent of the time? 

There is nothing in that budget yesterday which looks to make New Zealanders an aspirational people. In fact, what it does signal is a return to the way this country used to think - that is thinking about Australia. Their budget last week was about creating jobs. 

The question was raised in a column last weekend: are we about to see another brain drain to Australia? I don’t know the answer to that of course, and at my stage of life, I won’t be part of it. But when you read about wages and salaries there you think my god, if you’re a nurse or a school teacher and you’re in your twenties or thirties, why would you stay here? 

Graduate nurses make $15,000  a year more there than here, newly minted teachers in Australia get paid $72,000 a year - in New Zealand, it’s just under $50,000. And then with iron ore getting $200 a tonne, there aren’t too many signs the Aussie economy, with its new tax breaks and business incentives, is due to slow down anytime soon. 

You get the feeling that place over the ditch is beginning to look more and more attractive to a generation of young New Zealanders. Is that what you sense too? Or am I being just too pessimistic? 

The other thing that was patently obvious in the budget yesterday was the way Labour’s Maori caucus is calling the tune. All up a billion dollars for Maori initiatives, especially in housing. Look, I’m the first person who wants houses built, and quickly? But why initiatives for people based on race? Is there no pressing need for housing for non-Maori? Of course there is but the agenda of the likes of Willie Jackson and Nanaia Mahuta is obvious. 

Then Rawiri Waititi, the leader of the Maori Party summed up the issue succinctly. “The big question,” he said “is who will be responsible for the delivery of these initiatives. More money is not always the answer.” And ain’t that the truth. 

So in a year from now will those 1000 houses be built? Or will those 700 be fixed? Where will the workers come from? And how about the building supplies? 

Look, I really hope it works. I really do. But the track record on delivery is not good. 

Anyway, one could go on and on about the lack of aspiration, and you might say inspiration too, in this budget, but it just makes you kind of depressed about the country’s future doesn’t it? Let’s just get the people who work, who produce, who earn money to keep on doing that so that we can take money off them and give it to those who are not being incentivised to go and earn and pay taxes.

Yesterday, there was no move to give middle and high-income earners any sort of break and no move to give businesses any sort of incentive to hire more people. In fact, just the night before the budget, the legislation allowing us 10 days of sick leave each year was passed. Another imposition on employers. 

Unions are beginning to have more and more of a say in the way the country operates. Their latest initiative being this social unemployment insurance tax which will be yet another cost for employers, and employees too. If you lose your job you’ll get 80 percent of your income anyway, although we don’t know for how long. 

It’s going to be yet another monstrous government-owned financial institution like the Super Fund and ACC, both of which were started under Labour governments. Is this another sign of a return to the way it used to be? 

Listen to Peter Williams every weekday from 9am on Magic Talk.