A letter from New Zealand

The formation of the Labour coalition government in New Zealand shows the party’s serious lack of political principles, in seeking a Coalition with the anti-immigrant New Zealand First.

This has been compounded by the support for the Labour/NZ First coalition by the NZ Greens. New Zealand First’s Winston Peters is now Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and his party will take three other inner cabinet ministries, including defence. The New Zealand Greens have four positions in the outer ministry and have agreed to support the Coalition on questions of confidence and supply.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has been hailed as a Corbyn–like figure who has been responsible for a dramatic surge in electoral support for Labour in New Zealand. But her agreement to form a coalition with New Zealand First, and agree to anti-immigrant policies in the process, reveals a Labour leader driven as much by opportunism as any other. Labour is now entirely dependent on the right-wing populist Winston Peters. And they will likely pay dearly for it.

Such an agreement is likely to stall any leftward shift by Labour and can only be detrimental to developing a genuine left alternative to the aggressive neo-liberalism that has gripped recent Labour and National New Zealand governments.

Similarly, the NZ Greens now find themslves propping up a highly unprincipled government and going along with anti-immigrant policies.

Shamefully Labour has already agreed to ban non-resident foreigners (read Chinese) from buying existing residential properties. Ardern has also flagged drastic cuts to immigration, up to 30,000 from an overall figure of 72,000 last year. Much has been made of Labour’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but that has already become more muted and recent statements suggest that Labour may oppose only the TPP provisions which would prevent a NZ Government from restricting foreign buyers of NZ land.

In ther run up to the election, some Greens leaders expressed extreme concerns about the the politrics of a Labour/New Zealand First coalition. In the end however, the Greens threw principles aside, and are supporting the government in return for a commitment for New Zealand to have 100 per cent renewable energy by 2035.

Below, long-time political activist Barry Lee gives his first impressions of the New Zealand election.

A Letter from New Zealand

The new New Zealand government was a surprise for many people. From the limited amount I have heard there seems to have been great disappointment from National members and supporters and varying levels of elation or satisfaction from opponents of the National-led government and its actions of recent years.

The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement policies so far have promised some reforms which will please some sectors of the community – such as commitment to increased affordable housing, possible more state owned housing (which has been reduced drastically over recent years) and ending of charter schools and so-called national standards in education. The latter will have considerable appeal for the education sector.

The proposed development boost to poverty stricken Northland would strengthen Peters’ image in his home territory and help Labour in the next election.

Will they deliver? That is always a key question, especially with Labour Governments who make many bold declarations when in opposition but, despite their historic working class base, they do what the bureaucrats tell them once in office.

Does it seem an odd mix of partners? At a distance it might, but when you consider that the Parliamentary Labour Party is the Party that introduced neo-liberalism to NZ in a savage assault during the Lange-Douglas era. Later, the nine years of the Helen Clark Labour government did nothing to reverse the neo-liberal programme, and at best made small gestures at alleviating some of the worst affects. Whilst in the years since the neo-liberal onslaught some Labour MPs have referred to “mistakes” made by the Lange-Douglas government, they have far from condemned them or advocated any meaningful reversal.

The Clark Government introduced the “Working for Families Policy” – an income subsidy for low paid workers with children – but it did nothing to reverse the vicious cuts to welfare benefits made by the National Government at the end of 1990 which contributed significantly to the appalling child poverty rate in NZ. The wage subsidy approach satisfies the right-wing myth that if people can live on the benefit they won’t seek work – so beneficiaries remain in poverty. Low paid workers without families got a $10 per week subsidy, but for the many on the minimum wage of $15.75 per hour (for adults) it is well below the accepted living wage of $20.20 per hour.

The Green Party has moved to a more “business friendly” position over recent years so an accommodation with a Labour-NZ First Government is not a great surprise.

It is significant that, when announcing his coalition choice, Winston Peters talked about capitalism needing to “regain its human face” (NZ Herald 230.10.17). This is hardly a revolutionary call, and not a sentiment that is unique to NZ First.

In fact, Peters’ comment mirrors statements from several leaders at last year’s G20 meeting in Hangzhao, China. According to the Financial Times the USA, UK, Canadian and Australian leaders spoke about the need to “placate public discontent”. Malcolm Turner warned that the leaders need to “civilise capitalism” (Financial Times 6.9.16). It does indicate that NZ First could be more amenable to any limited “reforms” that Labour is likely to want.

NZ First and the Greens have been opponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Greens participated in the massive protests against the TPP. Labour merely criticised parts of the agreement, and said it wanted changes. “Re-negotiation” of parts of the agreement is part of the coalition agreement, as are immigration restrictions and restrictions on foreign purchases of residential land and farms. The latter were central planks of the NZ First economic nationalist platform and policies which the Labour Party has been advocating.

Will it be a break with neo-liberalism? Not at all. At best there will be some reforms, at worst working people will be spared the onslaught that a re-elected and emboldened National Government would claim the mandate to carry out.

Regrettably there was no viable left-wing alternative.

Will the new government last the full three-year parliamentary term? My prediction is “yes”. NZ First has worked in coalitions with National and Labour in the past. They all know that if the coalition collapses the electorate will punish them. Voters tend to not like early elections, so the turkey is not likely to vote for an early Xmas.

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