Putting A Human Face On Capitalism

What’s That Old Saying About Pigs And Lipstick?

- Murray Horton

I freely confess that I was as surprised as anyone by the outcome of the post-election coalition negotiations process. Winston Peters, that quintessential old ham, announced his decision on live TV just as I was about to go out the door to CAFCA’s monthly Committee meeting. I delayed my departure to watch. I fully expected him to pick National. I wasn’t alone. As he launched into what turned out to be a refreshingly short speech, my wife Becky shouted at the TV: “Come on, just say you’ve picked National”. So, it was a pleasant surprise for both of us.

I’ll come back to Winston Peters and what he had to say in that speech (it provided the title for this article; Gareth Morgan, professional curmudgeon and unsuccessful candidate, provided the subtitle. I’m no fan of Morgan but, in his defence, I will say that his use of that phrase was wilfully misinterpreted as being a personal and sexist attack on Jacinda Ardern. Morgan correctly pointed out that he was referring to Labour’s policies, not to the person – or gender – of the Party’s new Leader).

So, to the astonishment of the “born to rule” National Party and the 44% of the electorate who voted for them, we have a Labour-led government again, for the first time since 2008. It’s that “-led” bit that makes the vital difference between being in Government or Opposition. It’s called MMP and, for once, Labour got it right and National, which had been so surefooted under John Key, got it spectacularly wrong. So near but yet so far.


I’m going to start by doing something unusual, possibly unique, for me – namely, praising a politician. Perhaps I’m going soft in my old age but I think Jacinda is just what it says on the tin. She exudes genuine warmth and humanity. She’s a fresh face, a breath of fresh air, and any other cliché including the word “fresh”. She’s young and has the confidence of youth. I admire her promise of “relentless positivity” and I am pleased to see a national leader bring some different values, ones such as kindness, into the political arena. God knows we need something different, because the other ones certainly haven’t been working.

Labour won this election solely on her personality. Just as Key and his extremely popular personality had been National’s greatest asset (but we all knew that he didn’t get to be a multi-millionaire currency trader by being “nice” or “kind”). When he resigned without warning a year before the election, the writing was on the wall for Bill English who has a charisma bypass. He still very nearly won, though.

Jacinda is a contrast to the forbidding personality of Labour’s last PM, Helen Clark. My Dear Old Dad, who voted National for decades before going back to Labour in his final years, told me that Helen Clark was the only PM who scared him as much as his old hero, Piggy Muldoon – and that’s one of the reasons why he went back to voting Labour. Because he considered scariness an essential ingredient for being a successful Prime Minister. I’m not sure what he would have made of “relentless positivity” and Mr Speaker cuddling a baby in the House.

Never Renounced Rogernomics

But (there’s always a but) I draw a sharp distinction between Jacinda and the Labour Party per se. I’ve never had any illusions about Labour and I don’t see anything much different with this latest Government. They do have some good policies, such as increasing the minimum wage, giving some long overdue attention and respect to workers and unions, promising to repeal abominations like the John Key/Peter Jackson “Hobbit Law” which gravely disadvantaged New Zealand workers in the interests of delivering megaprofits to Warner Brothers.

It is refreshing to have a Government that recognises that climate change is the issue of the age and must be confronted by measures including massive scale tree planting and revitalising the role of rail in the national transport network. But Labour never has, and never will, confront the fundamental nature of the economic system. It always markets itself as the more attractive administrator of capitalism (although it never actually mentions that word).

It won’t face up to what it did in the past. Roger Douglas is quite correct when he says that, despite all the criticism heaped on Rogernomics, no subsequent Government, including Labour, has ever changed any of the various acts that cement it in place. All that Labour has ever felt sorry about in relation to Rogernomics is that it proved electoral suicide (meaning that Labour was feeling sorry for itself).

I actually met an old unreconstructed Rogernaut very recently, in a most unexpected encounter in the course of daily life. I’d never met this person before nor had we ever had any contact. But within a very short time of having first spoken, this former Minister said (out of the blue and a propos of nothing): “I shudder to think what shape this country would be in now if it hadn’t been for the 1984-90 Labour government. And I make absolutely no apology for having been part of that”. Extraordinary!

Labour even runs a mile from any suggestion of raising taxes or implementing long overdue new taxes like a capital gains one, terrified of alienating voters who had been promised (since cancelled) tax cuts by National. Labour does not want to alienate the property-owning sector of the middle class that has grown rich on paper by the ridiculous explosion in house values, nor those that have grown rich in reality by profiting from the parasitic false economy of property speculation, an activity that contributes precisely nothing to the economy (not to mention the common good).

TPPA Betrayal

The cardinal sin of Rogernomics was betrayal and, although Jacinda’s government has only been in office for a very short while at the time of writing, the betrayals have already started. I’m talking about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). In Opposition, Labour came out against it (although pretty feebly and not very convincingly). Nevertheless, it opposed the TPPA, which certainly surprised and pissed off John Key, who had reason to believe there was bipartisan consensus on supporting “free trade”.

After all, the 1999-08 Labour government had proclaimed the China Free Trade Agreement as the crowning glory of its foreign policy. And it was that same Government which kicked off the process that morphed into the TPPA. When Labour voted against the TPPA in 2016, it was too much for Phil Goff, who had been the Minister who started that process back in 2008 – he crossed the floor to vote with National.

But no sooner was Jacinda in office than she and David Parker were jetting off overseas to proclaim NZ’s support for the TPPA (which is now minus the US) and to urge less gung ho countries to sign it. Parker actually declared that Labour had always been the “party of free trade” and reminded the country that it had been former Labour PM, Mike Moore, who had gone on to become Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. I would have thought it very unwise for Labour to remind people about Mike Moore in any way, shape or form.

So, having been elected on a platform of opposing the TPPA, Labour blithely turned around and immediately supported it, whilst claiming that it had achieved some “reforms” to it. The reality soon became apparent when it discovered that it couldn’t implement even minor election promises like taxing foreign companies that are granted access to NZ water for virtually nothing, bottle it and export it for profit. Why? Because that would not be allowed under the TPPA (or several other “free trade” deals that NZ is already signed up to).

Just like National governments have never seen a war that they don’t want to get NZ signed up to, Labour governments have never seen a “free trade” deal that they don’t want NZ to join. The common denominator is FOMO – fear of missing out. Missing out on what? The possibility of not being allowed to play with the big kids. It is why NZ needs to be truly independent and non-aligned.

So far as CAFCA’s core issue – foreign control – is concerned, Labour deserves praise for tackling aspects of it as a high priority as soon as getting into office. But that is only as it should be, because it is an extremely important issue and one which has ramifications across a whole raft of other issues. Of course, we are pleased that it is banning foreign speculators from buying houses. But, really, this is what our American friends would call nickel and dime stuff.

We also note that real estate agents are saying that the ban is two years too late, that such speculators bolted as soon as the law required that they show a minimal connection to this country, namely by having an IRD number and a local bank account number. Still, better late than never. It's just a pity that Labour's primary concern seemed to be structuring the thing in such a way that it will allow NZ to sign the TPPA without attracting the wrath of those at the TPPA big kids' table (it did it by avoiding the word “ban” at all, and by declaring all house sales to foreign speculators to involve “sensitive land”, which brings them into the purview of our old mates, the Overseas Investment Office [OIO]).

Tightening Up Farmland Sales Rules Welcomed

We’re very pleased that the Government announced that, as of December 2017, the rules around foreigners buying NZ farmland have been tightened up. Such buyers will now need OIO permission for all purchases of more than five hectares (previously, that requirement only applied to purchases of sheep and beef farms of more than 7,000 hectares i.e. more than ten times the average farm size). It remains to be seen whether the OIO has the resources to handle this much greater workload (and to monitor buyers after approval to see that conditions of purchase are being honoured).

CAFCA wasted no time in meeting with the new Minister of Land Information, Green MP Eugenie Sage, to discuss this new land sale regime in detail, plus various other aspects of the 2005 Overseas Investment Act (which is the one still in force today). We gave Eugenie a copy of our 58-page submission on that Act (written by Bill Rosenberg). It is still extremely relevant today, particularly Bill’s detailed recommendations. You can read it on our Website at  http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/OIReview/2005/CAFCA%20Submission%20indexed.pdf.

Right at the same time as this new land sale regime was announced, and at the same time as CAFCA was meeting Eugenie, it was announced that US TV host Matt Lauer had become the latest high-profile celebrity to be outed and fired for sexually harassing women. Lauer is a controversial recent foreign buyer of prime NZ rural land, namely Hunter Valley Station on the shores of Lake Hawea. He is controversial here because he has not honoured his promise of continued public access through the property.

The circumstances surrounding the abrupt termination of his highly lucrative US TV career make him a candidate to be examined by the OIO for “being not of good character”, which is one of the few conditions imposed on foreign buyers in the Overseas Investment Act. It only applies to individuals owning or controlling a company; the corporate misdeeds of the company itself are not covered.

That sounds good in theory but CAFCA was able to point out to Eugenie that we have been making “not of good character” complaints for 20 years and not one of them has ever been upheld by the OIO (or its predecessor the Overseas Investment Office [OIC]). Click on this link to our Website http://www.sitelevel.com/query?query=good+character+complaints&crid=0c76d290&B1=SiteLevel+Search and you’ll find pages of links to numerous Watchdog articles on the subject over many years.

I can assure you that our complaints are neither “frivolous” or “vexatious”. Furthermore, we pointed out to Eugenie that there is no legal obligation on the OIO to respond to such complaints by any deadline (in contrast to the Official Information Act). Our latest such complaint was lodged in December 2016 – as of December 2017 we had received no response (I don’t mean “no decision”, I do mean “no response”). So, if our complaints are not rejected, they are simply ignored.

The new farmland regime has different criteria for forestry, where the Government says that foreign investment is still necessary. This is a perfect example of Rogernomics coming back to bite Labour in the bum. Jacinda wants NZ to plant a billion trees (one reason is to create a carbon sink as part of the battle against climate change) and the State will play a major role in forestry. This is reinventing the wheel because, until the 1984-90 Rogernomics government (and the 1990-99 National government), NZ had a massive State-owned forestry estate which had been built up over generations.

All gone, flogged off to transnational corporations and other foreign owners as part of the privatisation mania of that era (error, more accurately). In some cases, forests have been ripped out to be replaced by dairy farms (which is a sector also subject to significant ownership and control by foreign agri-business). If that short-sighted ideology had not prevailed, Jacinda would have inherited her billion publicly owned trees on Day One.

There are other shortcomings in the new regime. There is still no provision for the public to make submissions (or any requirement for the OIO to give advance notice of applications from foreign would be buyers). People only find out after the event. Most basically, the powers that be still don’t know (and haven’t made very much effort to find out) how much land is foreign-owned.

John Key used to say it was no more than 1% of the total. We can safely discard that. Statistics on sales of land to overseas interests are poorly recorded and incomplete. Our best estimate is that in 2011 at least 8.7% of New Zealand farmland including forestry, or 1.3 million hectares, was foreign-owned or controlled and it could have reached 10%. It’s a safe bet that the figure will not have gone down in the years since.

What’s It Going To Do About TNC Domination?

And this new regime “does not change the rules regarding acquisitions of significant business assets”, to quote from the press release announcing it. But land sales, although they get a lot of attention, only involve tens of millions of dollars. The real guts of any modern economy, the high rollers' lounge of the capitalist casino, is the business sector. That's where the billion-dollar deals are done.

And we've heard nothing from the Government about what, if anything, it plans to do about the transnational corporations (TNCs) that so dominate the NZ economy (apart from the commendable, but comparatively minor, aim of trying to get them to pay their fair share of tax). For example, what does the Government plan to do about the cosy cartel of Australian-owned banks, who suck billions out of the NZ economy every year?

But this new regime on farmland sales is a long overdue start, for which the Government deserves credit. And we take heart from the fact that Eugenie is the first Minister of Land Information ever prepared to meet with CAFCA and seek our views on a subject on which we have acquired decades of knowledge and expertise.

What is needed now is a political willingness to consider NZ joining the list of countries which ban foreigners from buying rural land (not just farmland). Or just let them lease land, rather than buy it. If the Government is squeamish about doing this itself, then freeze all sales of rural land sales to foreigners and either set up a commission of inquiry into the subject or put it to a referendum.

There’s nothing “radical” about considering a ban on foreigners owning rural land. None other than John Key said that he didn't want to see New Zealanders become tenants in their own country. Agriculture, in all its many facets, remains the most important sector of the NZ economy. It is our comparative advantage in the global market, to use the jargon. Land is the basic building block of agriculture; who owns, controls and profits from it is of vital national importance. The first step has been taken; much more please and quickly.

On the subject of “significant business assets” and the activities of transnational corporations in this country, let's have a look at a couple of specific examples. What is the Government going to do about South African-owned insurance company Youi, an unrepentant corporate repeat offender? It won the latest (2016) Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand. You can read the damning Judges' Report at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/pdf/roger-award-2016-judges-report.pdf.

Here's one quote from that: "Needless to say, although the company was successfully prosecuted and fined a token sum last year (2015) , not one of the managers and executives responsible has been prosecuted, the company continues to operate in New Zealand under its Reserve Bank licence, Youi remains a full member of the New Zealand Insurance Council, Hansard records no mention of the scandal in Parliament, television continues to carry the company’s deceptive advertising, and the Chief Executive Officer on whose watch it all happened has been promoted".

The second specific example is much bigger, older and much more entrenched. What is the Government going to do about the country's biggest bludger, the transnational owners of the Bluff smelter? They have twisted NZ governments, both National and Labour, around their little finger for at least 50 years. If Jacinda Ardern is serious that climate change is her Government's nuclear free issue, then she will have to confront and face down the smelter's owners.

And do better than the Clark Labour government which folded when the smelter owners threatened to leave the country if Labour brought in an emissions trading scheme. Memo to Jacinda - if they threaten to go, hold the door open for them and help them load their suitcases into the airport shuttle. And make sure that they (those recipients of corporate welfare par excellence), and not the NZ taxpayer, foot the bill for cleaning up their mess.

That would involve Labour facing up to the 2003 and 04 indemnities signed by Michael Cullen, Labour's Minister of Finance at the time, accepting that the taxpayer, and not the smelter owners, would be responsible for the cost of cleaning up toxic waste produced by the smelting process. Hands up all those who knew about that.

You’ll find the details in the 2013 Roger Award Judges’ Report http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Roger/Roger2013.pdf, under the final subheading: “Toxic Waste Liability Dumped On Taxpayers”. That liability was renewed as recently as 2016, by the Key government. My conclusion is: don’t expect this Labour government to even remotely look like it will tackle capitalism. Tickle it, yes – to make it look more attractive and “work better”. But tackle it; no.

NZ Still Loyal Satellite

As for tackling imperialism – there’s less than zero chance of that. I’ve already written about this in my Anti-Bases Campaign capacity (“Anti-Bases Campaign Has Not Very Great Expectations Of New Government”, press release, 27/10/17): “ABC has not very great expectations of this new Government in the areas of interest to us. Waihopai, Five Eyes, the active military/intelligence alliance with the US, membership of the US Empire, foreign policy or New Zealand’s place in the Trumpian world – none of that was even mentioned in the election campaign by any of the parties (in stark contrast to the 2014 election, where the GCSB, Five Eyes and domestic spying were major issues)”.

“Just as there is bipartisan consensus among National and Labour in support of the nuclear free policy, there is simultaneously bipartisan support for the Waihopai spy base and NZ’s continued membership of Five Eyes. David Lange, the Labour Prime Minister who gets the credit for the nuclear free law, was the same PM who approved the building of Waihopai. Both things – nuclear free law and go-ahead for Waihopai – happened in the same year, 1987”.

“Years after he quit politics, in his quite extraordinary 1996 Foreword to Nicky’s Hager’s ‘Secret Power’ (still the definitive book on Waihopai and Five Eyes), Lange wrote: ‘But it was not until I read this book that I had any idea that we had been committed to an international integrated electronic network’. Speaking of Nicky, he wrote: ‘an astonishing number of people have told him things that I, as Prime Minister in charge of the intelligence services, was never told’”.

“But Labour in Government has never done anything about Waihopai or Five Eyes. And this new Government looks set to continue the pattern. In a 2017 letter to an ABC member, Labour’s then Leader, Andrew Little, wrote: ‘Labour supports our remaining in the network’ i.e. Five Eyes. Andrew Little is the new Minister in Charge of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB, which runs Waihopai) and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS)”

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is the Minister for National Security and Intelligence. As I wrote after the 2014 election: ‘As soon as the election was over, (then National PM John Key) was indecently keen to break with all precedent and get shot of the portfolios of Minister in Charge of the SIS and GCSB, which had always been held by the Prime Minister, regardless of whether National or Labour was in power. He bestowed them onto Chris Finlayson, whilst giving himself the newly created portfolio of Minister for National Security and Intelligence. Why did he dump responsibility for the two spy agencies?’”

“‘Simple – they had been causing him grief during the Government’s 2011-14 term and grief is bad for the image of smile and wave John, selfie John. What Key and his spin doctors desperately needed was plausible deniability, that favourite phrase of political criminals and spymasters going back to the 1970s’ USA of Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal. ‘Nothing to do with me, you’ll have to ask the Minister in Charge of the SIS and GCSB’. He needs to be at arm’s length from the day to day business of the spies, to be insulated from the dirty deeds and grubby details’. So, it is not a good sign that Ardern has automatically followed that very recent National precedent”.

Winston Is This Government’s AmBoy

“As for Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters - he already held the latter portfolio from 2005-08 under the last Labour government. So, we’ve already seen enough of him in action in that capacity to have absolutely negative expectations. Filipinos have just the word for him – AmBoy (America’s Boy, which they use to describe various of their Presidents and political leaders. There is never any shortage of them in that country)”

“Upon being appointed by Ardern, he said that he had devoted his previous stint at Foreign Affairs to rebuilding NZ’s relationship with the US. TV news illustrated this with a clip of him shaking hands with Condoleezza Rice, who was Secretary of State under President George W Bush. We tend to forget that, until Trump came along and lowered the bar to a whole new level, Dubya Bush was viewed as the absolute nadir of US Presidential ignorance, idiocy and warmongering (now he’s wheeled out for public appearances as a kindly old elder statesman)”.

“Bush gave the world the ongoing and seemingly never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which have sucked in New Zealand as one of the minor accomplices in crime. We still have troops in both wars (I’m sorry, ‘trainers’. I cut my teeth on the Vietnam War – in the early days, the US military presence was described as consisting of ‘advisers’. Today they would be called ‘consultants’). Bush gave the world the endless and global ‘war on terror’ that has most recently seen American troops killed in Niger. This was the Administration with which Peters was proudly ‘rebuilding the relationship’”.

“Don’t just take our word for it. Here’s a quote from a 2005 US Embassy cable (one of those leaked by Wikileaks and online at the ABC site at http://liberation.typepad.com/files/wellington-us-embassy-cables---bryce-edwards.pdf. They’re well worth reading, all 600+ pages of them). ‘We believe that Peters is genuinely interested in improving bilateral relations with the United States, and during his introductory meeting with Ambassador McCormick last week he made clear this was a priority. (FYI: Peters purposely made sure that Ambassador McCormick was the first Ambassador he met with as Foreign Minister)’”.

“So, Winston should fit in just fine with Trump’s America. Although it is worth noting that he actually visited North Korea, in 2007, in the days when the West saw wisdom in talking to, and engaging with, that country, rather than simply issuing bloodcurdlingly bellicose threats of total annihilation. Trump could absentmindedly lead the US and its little mates into another Korean War – Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull has already said that Australia is ‘joined at the hip’ with the US over Korea. That crisis will be Peters’ first test. Let’s see how much of an AmBoy he is this time around”.

Break Ties With US Empire

“ABC has some simple advice to the Ardern/Peters government: Close the Waihopai spy base, get out of Five Eyes, and pull the plug on the ANZUS-in-all-but-name military and intelligence alliance with Trump’s increasingly dangerous and unhinged US. Get out of the American wars that we are already in, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan and definitely stay out of any new wars that Trump may try to drag us into, such as in Korea”.

“Finish the business started in the 1980s when NZ became nuclear free and break the remaining military and intelligence ties to the US. The Americans are very proud of having won their independence from the British Empire; it’s time for us to do the same from the American Empire. We urge your new Government, one elected by people wanting change for the better, to declare that Aotearoa will become truly non-aligned and independent. To coin a phrase that I have heard a lot recently: Let’s do this!”

Good On Jacinda For Pissing Off Aussie

Actually, there are a couple of foreign policy things for which the Government deserves praise. One is investigating the creation of a special class of visa to allow climate change refugees to enter NZ from our Pacific neighbours, the micro-states and lagoons that are threatened with imminent disappearance below the sea through no fault of their own.

The other one is, of course, her offering to take some of the boat people cruelly imprisoned indefinitely, then abandoned, by Australia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island (plus there are others on Nauru). This was criticised for pissing off Australia – good, it deserves to be pissed off because of its appalling inhumanity. All that Jacinda was doing was renewing an offer made by John Key, whom Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull was fond of referring to as his bestie.

“Australia needs to hang its head in shame (this crime against humanity has been perpetrated by both Liberal [conservative] and Labor governments). If you read, heard or saw a news report about civilians imprisoned without charge, trial or hope of release, who were then abandoned without food, water, power or toilets and in imminent fear of attack and/or death by hostile locals, your first reaction would probably be that this was the latest atrocity by ISIS”.

“There is a precedent for New Zealand cleaning up Australia’s refugee mess, namely the Clark government taking in a swag of people from the Tampa, which was famously blocked by John Howard in 2001. Not only that, NZ did the decent thing and let their families join them. Hands up if you’ve heard of any of those people going to Australia via the ‘New Zealand back door’ and becoming terrorists. No, I thought not. Those Tampa refugees made their lives in New Zealand and have become an asset to this country”.

“‘Resettled in New Zealand and allowed to bring in their families, Tampa refugees have become doctors, civil engineers, lawyers, police officers, nurses, architects and business owners, employing others. About two dozen in the trades worked on the Christchurch rebuild’ (Press editorial, 6/11/17). I’ve met one of the Tampa people myself – a young Afghan woman working as a checkout operator, complete with headscarf, in a central Christchurch supermarket. She told me she was a baby on the Tampa. So that’s what big tough Australia’s scared of – babies”.

“Even if we took in all of those affected Pacific islanders, plus the prisoners from Manus and Nauru, it would all only add up to a few thousand people. We bring in more foreigners than that every year to milk them in shonky ‘education’ courses and to supply New Zealand employers with cheap labour. How about we change the emphasis from bringing people in to exploit and rip them off to bringing them to help them and, as the Tampa experience shows, helping ourselves in the process? Sounds like a win-win to me” (extracts from my press release, “Root Causes Of Refugee Crisis Need To Be Addressed” (14/11/17, http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/aim/root-causes.html).

Revenge Is Sweet

I’ve already mentioned Winston Peters. New Zealand First is the real winner of the 2017 election, having performed the biggest comeback since Lazarus. It and the Alliance (remember the Alliance?) both featured strongly in the first MMP election in 1996. Both were disparaged as being one-man bands (the respective “one man” being Peters and Jim Anderton). The Alliance only lasted in Parliament until 2002 and never got back in. Peters formed a coalition with National in the 90s and with Labour in the 00s but his party was seen as a loose cannon.

In 2008, National and its creature, Act, had two electoral goals - defeat Labour to become the Government (achieved) and drive Peters out of his Tauranga seat and New Zealand First out of Parliament (also achieved). But Peters and his party astounded the “experts” and confounded the odds by coming back into Parliament in 2011, the only party to have done that. So, after plunging into electoral oblivion in 2008, they are the junior partner in the coalition Government. And what’s more, it was Peters who got to choose whether NZ First went with National or Labour.

Revenge is sweet. Peters won a constituency seat for NZ First, defeating National at the 2015 Northland by-election (having once again been written off by the “experts”). National then devoted its considerable political resources, both legit and grubby, to again getting rid of him and his party at the 2017 election. They did win Northland back, leaving NZ First once more as a list member-only party. And National campaigned on a slogan of getting rid of the middle man i.e. give enough votes to National so that it wouldn’t need NZ First as a potential coalition partner.

At the height of the election campaign, an anonymous source leaked details of Peters having been overpaid his superannuation. This backfired, as it transpired that the fault lay with the bureaucracy, not Peters; that he’d promptly repaid the money; and the public saw it for the smear tactic that it was, one redolent of the dirty politics that National deployed in the 2014 election campaign. All of this was electoral suicide for National when it did have to negotiate with Peters post-election. One thing he is very good at is holding a grudge. And he went with Labour. So long, suckers

As far as CAFCA is concerned, suffice it to say that we've been led up the garden path by Peters before on this very subject of foreign control. Back in the 90s he campaigned very hard on this issue, went into coalition with National at the 1996 election, was given real power over foreign investors in his specially created portfolio of Treasurer, and did - SFA. I recommend you read what I wrote about him at the time (“Winston’s Petered Out”, Watchdog 84, May 1997, https://www.scribd.com/doc/24211537/2258-Christchurch-New).

It's 20 years old but a fascinating trip down memory lane. CAFCA stands by what we said about New Zealand First then: "...we conclude that the party quite correctly campaigned hard on foreign control because it was, and is, a major issue of broad-based public concern. But that the leadership essentially adopted the issue for opportunistic reasons, as it later did with immigration. With power in its sights, it backflipped and rendered the policy innocuous; once in office, it essentially abandoned the policy and the entire issue". But, hey, it's not all bad news - the racing industry extols Winston as their greatest ever Minister, so that's something, isn't it?

Winston Peters The Anti-Capitalist?

But there was something noticeably different about Peters in 2017. During his live TV speech in which he announced his choice of Labour as NZ First’s coalition partner, he said: "Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today's capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong. That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible - its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations” (Stuff, 20/10/17, “Winston Peters Wants “Today’s Capitalism’ To Regain Its ‘Human Face’” https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/98084598/winston-peters-wants-todays-capitalism-to-regain-its-human-face).

Now, Winston Peters is no opponent of capitalism (nor, as I’ve already detailed, of the US imperialism that provides the muscle for global capitalism). He just wants capitalism to be “humanised”. But it is extraordinary that it was him that raised this subject – certainly the mainstream media thought so. Labour certainly never talks about capitalism as such. Jacinda would only venture as far as criticising neo-liberalism (which is the current, failed, fashion within capitalism. See “Neo-Liberalism Has Failed In NZ, Says Ardern”, Press, 13/9/17, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/96739673/jacinda-ardern-says-neoliberalism-has-failed).

This is hardly cutting-edge stuff anymore – God help us, 90s’ Tory PM Jim Bolger has publicly renounced neo-liberalism (and bewailed the decline in strength of unions, to boot. Stuff, 21/4/ 17, “Jim Bolger Says  Neo-Liberalism Has Failed NZ And It’s Time To Give Unions The Power Back”, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/91769882/The-9th-floor-Jim-Bolger-says-neoliberalism-has-failed-NZ-and-its-time-to-give-unions-the-power-back). So, what an indictment of this Labour government that its only public critic of capitalism is an old Tory warhorse from way back. Perhaps Winston has acquired some of the wisdom that is supposed to come with age. Or maybe it’s just guilt.

Good News And Bad News

The Greens had a funny old election, with both wins and losses. On the one hand they are in Government for the very first time ever (but not in Cabinet. New Zealand First is Labour’s actual coalition partner, not the Greens). This would have brought tears of joy to the eyes of my old mate, Rod Donald, who died in 2005 after nine years in Parliament as Greens’ Co-Leader, and who wanted nothing more than to be a Minister.

It was Rod’s fate to live in the time of Helen Clark, who went to extraordinary lengths to pick any party other than the Greens to be Labour’s coalition partner. So, the Greens have three Ministers and I have already detailed, above, the start of what CAFCA hopes will be a productive working relationship with Eugenie Sage, the Minister in charge of the Overseas Investment Office (as Minister of Land Information). James Shaw is a good choice as Minister for Climate Change Issues

But, on the other hand, the Greens lost nearly half of their MPs and plunged perilously close to electoral oblivion (i.e. below 5% of the party vote total). Shaw gets the credit for singlehandedly stopping them from plunging over the abyss. But they are back down to eight MPs, which is almost exactly where they were when they first came into Parliament, independent of the former Alliance, in 1999. Not long before this election they were polling at 15%.

The near-catastrophic drop can be attributed to one thing and one thing alone, namely former Co-Leader Metiria Turei’s extraordinarily naïve and cackhanded outing of herself from when she was a solo mother on a benefit. She was quickly exposed by the media for having told other historic porkies and the Greens went into freefall, which was only stopped by her resignation. By then, “blue green” floating voters had fled back to Labour or National.

I know and like Metiria, have shared speaking platforms with her and have even been an overnight guest in her home. I understand what she was trying to do, namely to focus political attention on the national disgrace of poverty in this country. But I reckon that hers was the biggest political own goal since a visibly pissed Piggy Muldoon called a snap election in 1984 (and that didn’t end well for him, either. I always reckoned that he should have worn one of those T shirts that feature slogans like: “I Am Drunk Today. Tell Me Tomorrow What I Did”).

This big drop in the share of the vote has had major consequences for the Greens. Eugenie is now their only South Island MP. Less MPs means less funding, meaning that (at the time of writing) there is no staffed Green Party office in the South Island. They used to have them in Christchurch, Dunedin and Nelson. All gone. But, at least and at last, they are in Government, after 21 years in Parliament. Let’s see what sort of a job they make of it. The history of minor party partners in the MMP era is not encouraging   - they become the fall guy for the big party and cop the inevitable electoral backlash.

Writing On Wall When Key Quit

I’m not going to say much about National. Not because I’m disrespecting it as a major political party (after all, it was the “winner” on election night and had every reason to expect to continue as Government for another three years. It remains the single biggest party in Parliament, which is unprecedented for an Opposition party). No, I don’t need to say much about it because I’ve regularly written at length about it since 2008.

Specifically, I gave an overview of nearly all of its whole term in office in “It Really Is At The End Of the Day. My Name’s John And I’m Gone”, (Watchdog 144, May 2017, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/44/03.html). That looked at Key’s eight years as PM. Key personified that Government – once he pulled the plug, without warning, the writing was on the wall for his hapless successor.

To quote from that earlier article: “So, what now for National with Bill English as Prime Minister?  It’s worth remembering that it’s not his first time as National’s Leader and that things went disastrously for them the last time he led them into an election (as Leader of the Opposition in 2002). As I wrote in Watchdog 119 (February 2009, ‘Heeeere’s Johnny!’, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/19/02.htm)”:

“‘Labour was at its apex in the 2002 election when they were given a dream run by National under Bill English running possibly the most inept campaign in New Zealand’s history, which led to National’s worst ever result (the only thing that I can remember Bill saying from that campaign was the immortal line ‘Oi loike poies’ when filmed eating one. Good on you mate, so do I. But oi still wouldn’t vote for you, even if you promised me a free one for every doie of the rest of my loife)’”.

“And, again, in Watchdog 100 (August 2002, ‘Righto! An Even More ‘Business Friendly’ Government”, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/00/01.htm): ‘The Opposition parties are worth a word. Losers is the one that comes to mind. National suffered its worst defeat ever and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people…I am not alone in saying that I’ve never seen such an appalling election campaign. The TV ads made hapless Bill English, the Dipstick from Dipton, look like he hadn’t been able to find his way back to his coffin before daybreak. The newspaper ones resembled something put together as an occupational therapy project’”.

“Doubtless, Tory apologists will say that was then, this is now. Let’s see, shall we. It is also worth remembering that the last long serving and electorally popular Tory PM to resign not long before an election and drop his Deputy into it was none other than Kiwi Keith Holyoake. His successor as a very short serving PM was Slack Jack Marshall and the result was the 1972 victory of Big Norm Kirk’s Labour government”.

Tories Won Battle But Lost War

Well, now we have seen and history has repeated itself. National won the battle by running a classic First Past the Post election campaign and ending up as the biggest single party in Parliament. But the operative word is “single”. They lost the war by not understanding MMP (which Key had mastered), namely that you need coalition partners to get from 44% of the MPs to 50%. And National had committed electoral suicide by its behaviour towards the only realistic coalition option – New Zealand First.

National disrespected the smaller party, openly urged voters to drive it from Parliament (again) and, for good measure, tossed in some good old-fashioned sleaze in the form of its “revelation” about Winston’s Super overpayment. The end result led to defeat and outraged bellowing from born-to-rule Toryland about the election being stolen by a “coalition of losers” and the country now being run by a slip of a girl and an old age pensioner.

National’s erstwhile allies hardly need rate a mention. Act’s David Seymour, who sits in Parliament solely by dint of a grace and favour arrangement with National, can be best described as the bobble head doll in the back window of National’s Crown limo. The sanctimonious Peter Dunne, who had a similar arrangement with National, had the nous to suddenly get out before the election (so suddenly that he didn’t even get to give a valedictory speech) and his “party”, United Future, has since officially gone out of existence. National had relied on Dunne to scrape through notorious laws like the GCSB Act, which legalises domestic spying (including retrospectively). Good riddance.

And I had been predicting for several elections that the Maori Party was on the downward spiral to electoral oblivion due to its coalition with National, despite the great majority of Maori voters consistently backing Labour. That electoral oblivion came in 2017. There is an irony in that New Zealand First, the party that was voted out of Parliament and then voted back in and has now replaced the Maori Party as the junior coalition partner in this Government, was branded as “a Maori party” when it first came into Parliament in the 90s.

Real Battle Is Outside Parliament

We wish this Government well but its aims are truly modest via vis this vital issue of foreign control. It needs to be a lot bolder. Labour in government is always terrified of upsetting business (it left it to Peters to start making slightly critical comments about capitalism). It is scared of provoking a business backlash (which was threatened by business against the Clark government in the 2000 "winter of discontent").

In other words, a capital strike, class warfare from the top down. And instead of asking the people who voted it in to back it in such confrontations, Labour always buckles to business (which, in this country, means business dominated by transnational corporations). Our advice to the Government on how to approach this subject is succinct – less arse kissing; more arse kicking.

I wrote this about the 2002 election (another one which Labour won; CAFCA has seen several Labour governments come and go in our 40+ years). It is as true today as it was then: “We (CAFCA) have never entertained any illusions about Parliamentarism nor have we put much stock in whatever party has been in power. Our concern is with who owns and operates New Zealand, not those whose job it is to wave them through the traffic lights. The real battle is, and always has been, outside Parliament and that is where we focus our attention. So, let’s get on with it”.


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