I am glad that for the last 15 months I have been watching political events in NZ from afar. The 2005 election was a nail biter that still gave me a smile, because I witnessed provincial New Zealand turn its back on the moral relativists of political correct Labour – the ones who think they can make the country a better place spending your money, rather than you can, the ones who call you racist for wanting a colour blind government, the ones who think the answer to any problem is the government. It also gave me a smile because Don Brash’s vision for New Zealand was one that, at least in part, I endorsed.
So what would have happened had National beaten Labour? Well for starters it couldn’t have acted willy nilly – United Future and NZ First would have kept it restrained somewhat. As Peters and Dunne both know they can get more out of the power starved Nats than they can out of Clark, it would have been more of a coalition than the current government.
Despite the tribal propaganda spun by Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party, among others, Don Brash’s vision was neither a conservative one, nor ACT recast, but it did represent two changes in direction that I thoroughly support:
- Less government (exemplified mainly through modest tax cuts, but also a return to scepticism about government spending and intervention);
- End to race based law and funding.
Have no doubt about it, Brash was not going to implement ACT or Libertarianz style policies writ large. Yes you’d get the tax cuts, but the left’s fears of massive cuts to social spending would not have been realised. Yes, the unions in the education and health sectors couldn’t snap their fingers and get the pay rises they would like, but there would still be public health and education, and social welfare. None of that would be cut, you just would see less growth in it. You’d see less subsidies to businesses. In short, the willingness of government to spend more and more of your money would be lessened. You would see privatisation on the agenda again, but probably no more than it is with every other liberal democratic government today – only Labour under Clark is into renationalisation when “necessary”. Some bureaucracies might have been closed, like the far from neutral Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Regulation would be reformed, I am sure local government would get some shackles put around it so it doesn’t pursue mad expensive schemes like an underground Auckland rail station. The RMA would be reformed, probably giving property rights some status to reduce the ability of the RMA to hinder what people do with their own property.
Maori specific funding would have been phased out in favour of funding by purpose rather than recipient, and there would be a start to removing Treaty of Waitangi clauses from some legislation. You could expect to see greater scrutiny over projects like Maori Television.
The left like to paint it as another era of Rogernomics or Ruth Richardson, but this is far from the case. If it were about some radical revolution you’d see:
- Flat tax (no, just some lifting of thresholds);
- Selling off all SOEs (no just some consideration of it for some, like selling down stake in Air NZ, which Labour wanted to do with Qantas);
- Commercialising health and education or privatising (no sign, some private provision is hardly a radical step forward);
- User pays in health and education (it wont be less, but unlikely to see much more);
- Radical cuts in welfare (probably be tightening of welfare eligibility and toughening of enforcement, but no end to the safety net);
- Big increases in defence spending (strike wing and blue water navies both too expensive, but likely to be some increase);
- Repeal of anti-nuclear legislation (might be some improvement in relations with the US militarily, but that would be too much to hope for)
There is no conservative religious agenda. Civil unions and prostitution law reform would be safe. There wouldn’t be religious teaching in schools, or any other fantasyland policies for evangelicals to get excited about. At best they might hope for education vouchers so private schools are funded similar to state schools – hardly an enormous step forward for a conservative agenda. Nevertheless, it is part of the currency of the left to paint the right as racist, sexist, homophobic and generally gleefully enjoying people becoming poor.
Brash was anything but that, a Brash led government would not have been libertarian or ACT oriented, but it would have applied economic rationalism, it would have demanded accountability and performance from the public sector, it would have closed down some bureaucracies and erred on the side of non-intervention.
That in itself would be a small step forward. It might also have helped inculcate a party with principle, discipline and understanding that being pro-business and less government means NOT outdoing Labour by saying you’ll spend more or subsidise more or regulate more.
Sadly I’m not convinced John Key knows better and I know Bill English doesn’t. With the odd exception, the National Party has been conservative - meaning it has done nothing. Labour establishes the welfare state, National expands it. Labour establishes universal pensions, National expands it. Labour subsidises businesses, National subsidises them more. Except for 1990-1993 (and to a limited extent 1993-1999), the Nats have been arguing on Labour's terms. Brash offered political debate on wider terms than that - the left hated him and have brought him down, with the help of the "born to rule" portion of the National Party. The ones who love the idea that government can get involved in "anything". They'd be in Labour if it was closer to the centre.
So that's it - the last National chance to have a government of some principle. Look for the following in National in coming months:
1. Fudging about tax cuts.
2. End of talk of abolishing the Maori seats and removing Treaty references from law.
3. Commitment to act on climate change.
This is because the Nats will want to be seen as kind, and they want to seduce the Maori Party and the Greens.
I hope I am wrong.