Change of government in New Zealand heralds the need for a fightback!

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With the election of a National Party-led government in New Zealand/Aotearoa on 8th

November 2008, the working class will have a much harder struggle ahead.

The Nationals won 44.93% of the vote, the Labour Party polled 33.99% and the Greens

came in third with 6.72%.

As the worldwide capitalist economic crisis loomed, the Labour Party, led by Helen

Clark, had promised to spend on infrastructure development, which would have provided

employment and services for many people. However, this was almost drowned out by

the media’s clamour for John Key’s “time for a change” government. The media had

been steadily promoting John Key and the National Party for an entire year, including a

massive spread in the New Zealand Herald about John Key’s life. Given this, Labour’s

response was too little too late.


Helen Clarke and Kevin Rudd at the Pacific
Island Forum in Niue, August 2008.
Photo from scoop.co.nz

Meanwhile the National Party, under the smiling John Key, has been presenting itself

as a kinder version of the racist rightwing party we knew under the previous leadership

of Don Brash. Direct attacks on Maori are off the agenda, with beneficiaries, especially

single mothers, becoming the favoured new target. In August 2008, Key described single

mothers as “breeding for a business.” Forcing beneficiaries, including single mothers and

people with disabilities, into work is back on the agenda.

Also in government… During the 1990s, a public referendum changed New Zealand’s

electoral system to Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), which uses a combination of

electorate and party list seats to make up parliament. A party needs at least five percent of

the vote, or at least one electorate seat, to be represented in parliament. New Zealand also

has a proportion of seats allocated to Maori, which are known as Maori Seats. MMP has

brought about a new style of government based upon coalitions or agreements between

parties.

The National Party made a number of agreements to form a government. One is with the

rightwing Act Party. The name comes from the initials of the Association of Consumers

and Taxpayers, the organisation out of which the party grew in 1993. The party stands

for “individual freedom, personal responsibility and smaller government.” Act won

3.7% of the vote, but because Rodney Hyde won an electorate seat, they also get four list

seats, making five in total. In contrast, New Zealand First is out of parliament altogether,

although it won 4.2% of the vote.

The centrist United Future Party is also backing Key. United Future won a mere 0.9% of

the vote and one electorate seat.

The third minor party in the National government is the Maori Party, which attracted

2.39% of the vote, and won five electorate seats. The National Party does not need the

agreement with the Maori Party in order to govern, but appears to be doing so in an

attempt to help it stay in power for the long term. The agreement with the Maori Party is

supposed to enhance the mana (authority, prestige) of both parties. This is a drift to the

right for the leadership of the Maori Party, particularly Tariana Turia who began in the

Labour Party.

Having Tariana Turia and Peter Sharples holding ministerial positions outside cabinet

will reduce the input they can have on government policy, but perhaps leave them free

to express their disagreements. However, should the Maori Party continue to support a

government that directly attacks the working class, including most Maori, they could well

be history at the next election. They have received no assurance regarding the retention

of Maori Seats, apart from a promise not to abolish them during this term. However,

National has promised to review the Seabed and Foreshore legislation. The passage of

this legislation by the Labour government enraged Maori, and perhaps even a token

recognition of this grievance by National could enhance their mana at this time.

Key’s agenda. Commentator Gordon Campbell suggests that the National Party is the

first in the world of a breed of “New Conservatives” to form a government. Central to

their program is the formation of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to cover anything

from roads, education, prisons, the Accident Compensation Scheme, social services, and

welfare. PPPs create private profit at public expense. National also intends to raid the

Kiwi Saver scheme — a government-subsidised scheme to promote retirement saving —

to fund the PPPs.

The spectre of church-led charities running welfare is an alarming one, as it could herald

the end of any entitlement to state support for those in need. The appointment of ex-
beneficiary, Paula Bennet, as Minster of Social Development is not reassuring. She seems

to believe that any beneficiary can rise out of their situation, as she did. The views of

Associate MinisterTariana Turia, from the Maori Party, are equally worrying. She has

spoken out against the Unemployment Benefit. John Key plans to reduce the numbers of

people on this benefit, despite rising unemployment.

Other schemes of National — including a $1.5 million broadband development and

tax cuts for the rich — will be paid for by cuts in wages and social spending. Together

with Act, it plans to impose a cap on the growth of all Crown enterprises (state-owned

enterprises.) However prison expenditure is likely to be increased to satisfy the National/

Act get-tough law and order policies.

Other Act policies that the government could introduce include reducing local

government expenditure and making education “competitive.” This could involve

national testing in primary schools and performance pay for teachers.

The environment could also be in trouble, with more forests being cut down. Key has

already announced the delay of the implementation of the Emissions Trading Scheme

and the establishment of a review of possible alternatives to it that will include “hearing

competing views on the scientific aspects of climate change” and considering whether

responding to climate change is economically worthwhile.

Left alternatives to Labour. Whilst lacking historical roots in the labour movement,

the Green Party had a number of progressive policies. The Greens ruled out joining

a National-led-government. If Labour had committed itself earlier to the Greens as a

potential partner in government, both their chances could have been enhanced. Since

Labour lost the election, the Greens lost the chance to be in government, despite polling

an extra 2.14% of the vote and winning nine list seats.

The Alliance Party, which was a part of the Labour-led government of 1999-2001

contested this election but won very few votes.

In a big business-dominated election, anti-capitalist and socialist candidates such as

the Workers Party and the Residents Action Movement (RAM) achieved tiny levels of

support. The Workers Party, which managed to achieve the 500 members required for

registration with the Electoral Commission a month before the election, received 0.04%

of the vote. RAM, which also achieved electoral registration, is led by socialists but ran a

“broad left,” rather than an openly socialist campaign. It achieved less than half the votes

won by the explicitly socialist Workers Party.

Labour’s mixed record. The Labour-led government was in power for nine years and

limited itself to governing within the framework of administering a capitalist economy.

Helen Clark was an inspiration to many women and girls, with her strong personality,

socially liberal views and intelligence. She also attracted some sexist opposition,

characterising her as presiding over a “nanny state.” She led a “third way” centrist

government. Under new Labour leader Phil Goff, the Labour Party appears even more

centrist.

The Employment Relations Act revived the trade union movement. It made it easier for

unions to recruit. As a result, a new generation of workers, who did not even know what

a union was, are now union members. Labour removed the interest from student loans,

gave tax concessions to families, increased paid parental leave, and reduced doctors’

fees. It re-nationalised Air New Zealand and New Zealand Rail. Section 59 — which

had given parents a defence of “reasonable force” for assaulting their children — was

removed from the Crimes Act. A Civil Union Act was passed which almost legalised gay

marriage.

On the downside, while Helen Clark did not send troops to Iraq, she sent them to

Afghanistan. Labour bowed to international pressure to pass draconian terrorism

legislation. Trade agreements with China and the USA were the crowning international

achievement of this pro-business government.

Two groups who were poorly treated by Labour were beneficiaries and Maori.

Labour continued cutting benefits. Child poverty worsened. Beneficiary families were

excluded from any of the tax concessions. Work-focused welfare policies have done all

the groundwork for National to introduce work for the dole.

The Seabed and Foreshore Act was the biggest land grab of the century. It caused

massive protest and led to the creation of the Maori Party. (See “Maori resistance to the

theft of the seabed and foreshore” in Freedom Socialist Bulletin # 31.)

The 2007 raids upon the Tuhoe people and activists, under terrorism legislation, was a

scandalous attack upon Maori and democratic rights. Although the terrorism charges

were dropped, many arrestees still face serious charges. (See “Communities unite against

misuse of terror laws” in Freedom Socialist Bulletin # 38.)

This Labour government also sprayed large numbers of Auckland’s urban population

with toxic sprays in an effort to contain a wasp.

The fight ahead. Class Struggle, the publication of the New Zealand Communist

Workers’ Group, argues that despite being like a slow acting poison, a Labour-led

government would have put the working class in a better position to defend itself against

an international capitalist class intent upon making us pay for its crisis. In contrast, the

National government is likely to launch a massive assault upon workers and our still

fragile organisations.

Now that National has won the election, we need to fight back against attacks upon our

living standards. National’s moderate image is already slipping. Just before Christmas it

rushed through legislation that allows employers to sack new employees for no reason

within 90 days. The Combined Trades Unions is outraged.

We need to organise in our unions to resist wage and benefit cuts and to oppose

National’s plan to gut the Employment Relations Act. We need to organise in our

communities against attacks upon social services, and attempts to privatise them at local

and national government levels.

In December, prior to the bill’s passage, Socialist Aotearoa held a public meeting to unite

the Left. Attracting all of the organised Left, a campaign was formed around the slogan,

“We won’t pay for their crisis.” A united front protest was held the next day outside John

Key’s Auckland mansion, and a national day of action will be held on 28 February to

oppose Key’s 90 day “Fire at Will” laws.

We are in for a tough fight — the need to build a democratic and fighting union

movement is urgent. We need a mass working class party prepared to challenge the rule

of capital, take over the economy and put the decisions about how society is run in the

hands of working class New Zealanders — Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Island and all other

ethnicities, all sexual orientations, women and men, young and old, waged and unwaged.

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