By John Braddock 8 August 2015 Many in New Zealand’s ruling circles cautiously welcomed, at this stage, last week’s failure of the intensive negotiations in Hawaii to seal the US-driven Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade and investment pact. The reaction points to the broader fissures between countries involved in the talks. Two of the main unresolved […]
Category Archives: New Zealand
By Tom Peters 19 June 2015 There is now substantial evidence that last month Australian officials paid six “people smugglers” about $US30,000 to take 65 asylum seekers, who were attempting to reach New Zealand by boat, back to Indonesia. The passengers and crew were intercepted by the Australian navy, which confiscated their boat, stripped them […]
By Tom Peters 23 April 2015 Reserve Bank deputy governor Grant Spencer issued a blunt warning to the government last week that the housing bubble in Auckland, the country’s largest city, could suddenly burst, endangering the wider economy. While the National Party government and some media commentators continue to describe New Zealand as a “rock […]
By Tom Peters 18 April 2015 Leaked documents show that New Zealand’s intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), has spent more than a decade collaborating with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on targets in Bangladesh. The agencies passed on information to Bangladeshi security agencies, which are notorious for torture, murder […]
By Tom Peters 10 April 2015 The Australian-based Camp Gallipoli Foundation announced the cancellation on Monday of its New Zealand event, telling the media that by April 1 it had sold just 102 tickets. It had aimed to attract 10,000 people to an overnight camp-out at Auckland’s Ellerslie Racecourse on April 24 to celebrate the […]
By Tom Peters 7 April 2015 The government’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn announced on March 26 that she would investigate complaints made by the Green Party and others “over alleged interception of communications of New Zealanders working or travelling in the South Pacific by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).” The aim […]
By Tom Peters 6 April 2015 The International Socialist Organisation (ISO) posted a statement on its New Zealand web site on March 3 about its decision to exit the Maori nationalist Mana Party, after four years working within it and campaigning for it in the 2011 and 2014 elections. The statement made clear that the […]
By Tom Peters 31 March 2015 Winston Peters, leader of the right-wing populist New Zealand First Party, won a landslide victory in Saturday’s by-election in the northern seat of Northland, which was held by the ruling National Party for more than half a century. The by-election was prompted by the resignation of National MP Mike […]
By Tom Peters 9 March 2015 US National Security Agency documents released on March 5 by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that New Zealand’s intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), spies intensively on “nearly two dozen countries” in the Asia-Pacific region. The documents were revealed by Ryan Gallagher from the Intercept website, in collaboration […]
By Tom Peters 26 February 2015 Prime Minister John Key announced on Tuesday that up to 143 New Zealand soldiers will be sent to Iraq in May to join the US-led war, ostensibly to help fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Conscious of widespread anti-war sentiment, the government has sought to portray […]
By Tom Peters 9 February 2015 Winston Peters, leader of the right-wing populist New Zealand First Party, issued a statement on January 27 denouncing the National Party government for “softening restrictions” on work visas for foreign students and allowing students to immigrate “through the back door.” Peters singled out Indian students, declaring that their numbers […]
By Tom Peters 3 February 2015 Last week’s “state of the nation” speeches by Prime Minister John Key and Labour Party leader Andrew Little served to underscore yet again the lack of any significant differences between the government and opposition. Both are committed to making the working class pay for the deepening crisis of global […]
By John Braddock and Tom Peters 31 January 2015 In the wake of an abysmal result in last September’s New Zealand election, the Mana and Internet parties agreed to split. The Internet Mana Party (IMP), established last May, was formally dissolved last month. The Internet Party (IP), which was founded shortly before the merger, is […]
By John Braddock 26 January 2015 New Zealand’s deepening social disaster was highlighted by a report released on January 19 showing that Auckland, the country’s biggest city, now ranks among the least affordable in the world for housing. The 2014 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey compares house prices with incomes in 378 cities, including 86 […]
By John Braddock
3 November 2014
In the wake of the September 20 general election, four contenders have emerged for the leadership of New Zealand’s opposition Labour Party. The National Party government was returned with an increased majority as the Labour vote slumped to below 25 percent, its worst result since 1922 and third successive defeat.
David Cunliffe, who was installed as Labour leader in September 2013 in a desperate bid to revive the party’s standing, resigned on September 27 amid growing recriminations and a deeply hostile caucus. He initially declared he would re-contest the leadership but withdrew after single-term MP Andrew Little, former national secretary of the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), declared his candidacy.
Little, who is also a former Labour Party president, is expected to win the support of a majority of the affiliated unions that backed Cunliffe in the 2013 leadership contest. The Dairy Workers’ Union has joined with the EPMU to endorse Little, guaranteeing him almost half the total union votes.
The remaining three candidates are: Wellington MP Grant Robertson, finance spokesman and acting leader David Parker and leader of the unofficial Maori caucus, Nanaia Mahuta, who represents the Maori electorate of Hauraki-Waikato.
The contest, which runs until November 18, is conducted under rules adopted at an acrimonious party conference in 2012, purportedly to “democratise” the selection process by taking the decision out of the hands of the parliamentary caucus. The votes are divided three ways: 40 percent each to the MPs and wider membership, and 20 percent to the affiliated unions.
The new process has done nothing to re-establish any connection between Labour and the working class. Cunliffe was elected leader with strong support from the membership and union affiliates, and falsely promoted by liberal commentators and the pseudo-left groups as “left wing.” He campaigned in the election, however, by promising greater austerity, including lifting the pension age, and whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment.
Labour has long ceased to offer even minimal social reforms. In the 1980s, the Labour government was hailed internationally as a model for the imposition of pro-market restructuring that reversed many of the previous gains of the working class, and set the pattern for subsequent National and Labour governments.
As a result Labour is viewed by workers as a big business party like National. Its union base has become a compliant, de facto arm of corporate management. Workers have largely deserted the official Labour movement, which has no mass membership base and, despite National’s six years of vicious austerity measures, rapidly declining electoral support.
Labour’s pro-war character was highlighted in a leadership debate on TV 1’s “Q and A” program on October 19. Asked where they stood on a looming decision by the government to join US-led military operations in the Middle East, each candidate lined up to declare that so long as any such action was covered by a UN mandate, and preferably couched as a “humanitarian” mission to combat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Labour should endorse it.
All four agree with the party’s austerity agenda. Parker and Mahuta were cabinet ministers in the Helen Clark-led 1999-2008 Labour government, which deepened the attacks on workers’ jobs and living standards during a booming share market. Parker continues to defend the right-wing economic program he was responsible for putting before voters at the election, saying it was not “sold” properly to the electorate.
After a political apprenticeship as a student union leader, Robertson was Clark’s private secretary before becoming an MP in 2008. He was deputy leader under Cunliffe’s predecessor, David Shearer. He was the first to declare his candidacy, and appears to have considerable support within the caucus. He and his running mate for the deputy leadership, Jacida Adern, are vacuously posturing as the “new generation.”
Mahuta declared she is standing to show that Maori people—who are vastly over-represented in every statistic on poverty and social devastation—have a “place” within Labour. Mahuta however, represents a privileged middle class layer that has benefited from the multi-million dollar Treaty of Waitangi settlement process. She has close links with the leadership of the powerful Tainui tribe, which controls business interests valued at over $NZ1 billion.
Little, who has considerable support in business circles and the media, is being touted as the possible front-runner. Little proved his worth to the corporate establishment through his leadership of the EPMU from 2000 to 2011. He has been endorsed by the union-sponsored Daily Blog as a “unifying” figure and also by prominent right-wing broadcaster Mike Hosking. Hosking praised Little’s stated readiness to dump policies that “won’t work,” including a proposed capital gains tax and limited measures to rein in rampant power prices.
Under Little and his predecessor Rex Jones, another Labour Party president (1986-7), the EPMU presided over the decimation of jobs and working conditions in manufacturing. Automobile assembly, rail manufacturing and repair, aeroplane servicing, clothing and, most recently, the postal service, have been all but wiped out. The EPMU, which in the 1980s was the first union to advocate a policy of overt collaboration with employers through such mechanisms as “quality circles,” has for decades been the chief enforcer of the pro-business assault. It maintained its membership base, not by defending jobs and conditions, but by absorbing smaller unions.
The consequences of the EPMU’s class collaboration were exposed in 2010 when 29 miners were killed in a methane explosion at the Pike River (PRC) mine. The EPMU, which represented half the workforce, rushed to exonerate the company. Little told the New Zealand Herald that PRC had an “active health and safety committee” and there was “nothing unusual about Pike River … that we’ve been particularly concerned about.”
The EPMU had worked hand-in-glove with PRC to suppress workers’ opposition to the lack of safety standards, even after a group of workers walked off the job and called a union official to protest the lack of basic safety equipment. Nobody has been held legally accountable for the disaster, and Little has refused to accept any responsibility for the union’s role in preparing the conditions that led to the deaths.
All the leadership contestants have opened their campaigns with worthless noises about “reconnecting” Labour with working people, while advocating that Labour cements its base outside the working class. Mahuta told a Wellington meeting that Labour’s policies were not resonating with the “ladder of aspiration,” with small business owners and people who wanted to “get ahead.” Parker declared that Labour had become a “cult” and needed to ditch its traditional attachment to the colour red in order to orient to contractors and the self-employed, and “foster innovation.” Robertson maintains that Labour needs to reward “aspiration.”
None of the four has said anything to differentiate Labour in any way from National, which has begun its new term in office with an offensive on employment conditions and the sale of public housing. On all the essentials they agree with the government’s agenda of austerity at home and militarism abroad.
By John Braddock
8 October 2014
New Zealand’s Labour Party leader David Cunliffe resigned last week following the party’s worst election defeat in 92 years. At the September 20 poll, Labour gained only 24.7 percent of the vote, while the incumbent National Party returned to office with 48 percent.
Despite National’s six-year record of attacks on jobs, living standards, public services and basic rights, and deepening social inequality, Labour has now lost three elections in a row by successively larger margins.
Cunliffe declared that he took “responsibility for a horrific election loss,” but announced he will stand again in a fresh leadership ballot that will run until November 18.
Wellington MP Grant Robertson promptly declared his candidacy, claiming he would be a “unifying” figure supported by most of the caucus.
Andrew Little, a former party president and previously head of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), also said he had been “prevailed upon by a large number of people” from both union and business circles to consider standing. The EPMU, Labour’s largest affiliate, earlier warned Cunliffe that it might not support him in the coming race, after endorsing him 12 months earlier.
Cunliffe is counting on the backing of the party members and unions whose votes secured his victory as leader last year. He was then touted as the “left wing” candidate following a speech in which he ostensibly distanced himself from Labour’s “pro-market” restructuring of the 1984–90 period. The posturing, however, was entirely phony. Labour’s election campaign was based on assuring big business that it could be trusted to deepen National’s austerity measures by returning budget surpluses at the expense of working people.
Cunliffe’s candidacy is now depicted in the media as a largely futile last throw of the dice. At a hostile seven-hour caucus meeting after the election, the MPs installed a known opponent as whip, then openly defied his attempted gagging orders. His former deputy and now the acting leader, David Parker, declared: “I don’t think it is tenable for him to continue as leader.”
Cunliffe continues to cast himself as the most in touch with the party’s members, dismissing Robertson as a product of the parliamentary “beltway.” Robertson, 43, became an MP in 2008 following a political apprenticeship as a university student union president, then as a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official before serving as private secretary to former Labour Prime Minster Helen Clark. Robertson, who was deputy leader under Cunliffe’s predecessor, David Shearer, was a defeated leadership contender in 2013.
Regarded as the caucus favourite, Robertson has held a number of positions, including spokesperson on state services, tertiary education, health and economic development. Most recently, he led a campaign against Justice Minister Judith Collins, who was accused of a conflict of interest over Chinese dairy products company Oravida, with which her husband has business connections. Playing to Labour’s xenophobic anti-China stance against foreign investment, Robertson repeatedly called for her to resign, which she was eventually forced to do.
Commentators from the trade union-funded the Daily Blog have mourned Cunliffe’s demise as a defeat for the Labour “left.” Chris Trotter declared that Cunliffe “was the only choice available to those who wanted to rid the Labour Party of its neoliberal cuckoos” but he had simply proved “unequal to the task.” Trotter predicted that Labour will now “capitulate to its parliamentary wing” with “no way back for Cunliffe and the Left.”
There are no principled differences, however, between the “factions,” all of which are committed to the big business agenda of pro-market restructuring and austerity. They are essentially at war over their rapidly shrinking access to influence, position and careers. Labour, along with the ruling elite as a whole, has moved far to the right over the past three decades, a process that has accelerated since the 2008 financial crisis.
Accordingly, working people have largely deserted Labour, particularly in the main cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, which were traditionally presented as its “strongholds.” In 2008, Labour received 229,786 votes across 22 Auckland electorates, but in 2011 this dropped to just 200,000 and fell again this year to 165,396. In the Wellington electorate of Hutt South, Labour’s vote was down 15 points from 2008. In Christchurch, Labour’s vote dropped by 7,000 despite a severe social crisis due to the slow rebuild after the 2011 earthquake. In the 121-member parliament, Labour this year won just 27 electorate seats and five more from the “list” generated by its share of the overall party vote.
The election outcome reflected, above all, the profound alienation of working people from the entire political establishment. Despite the party resources pumped into several “get out and vote” campaigns, including one by the trade unions, nearly a million eligible people refused to either enrol or cast a ballot.
Labour’s crisis is the outcome of a protracted decline. Like its social democratic counterparts around the world, Labour based itself on the myth that it was possible under capitalism to improve the social position of the working class within a nationally regulated economy. However, the globalisation of production since the late 1970s has completely undermined the agenda of national reformism and parties.
In New Zealand, the ruling elites relied on the Labour government of Prime Minister David Lange to carry out the so-called neo-liberal agenda of dismantling national economic regulation imposed by Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the US. Labour slashed public spending, sold off public enterprises and launched an all-out class war on jobs and living standards. Wages were sharply cut and a period of relentlessly rising inequality opened up.
The working class was deeply shocked and embittered by Labour’s pro-market blitz. Calls for resistance through industrial action were sharply suppressed by the union bureaucracy. The Labour Party split, with a breakaway establishing NewLabour and later the Alliance. However, these formations, along with the Greens, proved to be nothing more than props for subsequent pro-business governments, further alienating the wider population.
The 1999–2008 Helen Clark-led Labour government only deepened and extended the anti-working class offensive. It re-established military ties with Washington after a temporary breakdown caused by the Lange government’s anti-nuclear policy. The renewed defence relationship was consummated with the commitment of NZ troops to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as a quid-pro-quo for support for New Zealand’s own neo-colonial operations in the Pacific.
For decades, Labour has operated as an open advocate of the free market, “international competitiveness” and the destruction of past social reforms. It is, as many working people recognise, another party of big business, dedicated to the imposition of austerity at home and war abroad.
By Tom Peters
22 September 2014
Saturday’s national election in New Zealand resulted in a landslide victory for the incumbent conservative National Party government, giving it a third term in office. The main opposition Labour Party received just 24.7 percent of the vote, its worst result since 1922 and even lower than the 27 percent it received in the 2011 election. National’s 48.1 percent was its best result since 1951.
At the same time, turnout was the third lowest in 100 years, reflecting the alienation of broad layers of the working class from all the parties, which share the same pro-business and militarist agenda. Approximately 77 percent of enrolled voters participated, slightly more than the 2011 figure of 74.2 percent, which was the lowest turnout since 1893. About one million eligible people abstained from voting, including 280,000 predominantly young people who did not enrol. This is roughly equivalent to the number who voted for National.
The election took place amid mounting economic instability globally and in New Zealand. The NZ economy expanded by 3.9 percent in the year to June, one of the highest growth rates recorded among developed countries. This is largely due to a temporary construction boom following the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, and agricultural exports to Asia. However prices for dairy products, the country’s biggest export, have almost halved since February, mainly due to falling demand from China. The Treasury has slashed its forecasts for growth.
In response National, Labour and its main ally the Greens all campaigned on a strict spending limit and returning budget surpluses, inevitably at the expense of working people. Labour and the Greens both promised to retain National’s increase to the regressive Goods and Services Tax (GST) and its cut to corporate tax. The Greens even proposed a further company tax cut to be funded by a carbon tax designed to benefit “sustainable” businesses.
Yesterday in interviews with TVNZ and TV3, former Labour leader David Shearer ludicrously blamed the party’s defeat on “a group of people who wanted to take Labour to the extreme left” and lost the support of “centre” voters. Shearer was replaced last year by David Cunliffe in a desperate attempt to boost the party’s support. Cunliffe was fraudulently promoted as “left wing” by liberal commentators, trade union bureaucrats and the pseudo-left International Socialist Organisation.
The reality is that over the past six years of deeply unpopular austerity measures, Labour has offered no alternative. In 2011, when he was Labour’s finance spokesman, Cunliffe declared that “under any government there would have to be cuts.” Throughout the election campaign Cunliffe repeatedly praised National’s response to the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008, which included the destruction of thousands of public sector job and cutbacks to healthcare, welfare and education.
While cynically expressing concern that almost one quarter of children live in poverty, Labour proposed nothing to seriously address the decline in real wages and the major increase in social inequality under successive National and Labour governments. Labour pledged to increase the minimum wage by a mere $2 an hour, while lifting the retirement age from 65 to 67.
Predictably, pro-Labour commentators have slandered the working class as right wing or apathetic for failing to vote for the party. Martyn Bradbury, who runs the trade union funded Daily Blog, wrote: “I am speechless. I thought New Zealanders would react angrily at seeing the real [Prime Minister John] Key, they didn’t.”
Bradbury pointed to “the vile toxic politics exposed by Dirty Politics,” journalist Nicky Hager’s book which revealed the government’s collusion with right-wing bloggers to smear political opponents—a practice common to all bourgeois parties. The book was used by the opposition and the media to pressure Justice Minister Judith Collins to resign over her ties to blogger Cameron Slater.
Labour and its allies used the scandal to posture as a “clean” alternative to National. At the same time Labour, the Greens, the Maori nationalist Mana Party and NZ First all took part in a filthy campaign to whip up opposition to Chinese investment and to scapegoat immigrants for the lack of jobs and the high cost of housing.
Cunliffe courted NZ First as a potential coalition partner and declared that Labour had “a lot in common” with the party, which has opposed Asian immigration since it was founded 20 years ago. Since 2012 all the opposition parties have pushed for the government to cut business ties with China, NZ’s number one trading partner. The parties had previously called for Collins’ resignation over her links to Chinese business figures.
The opposition’s aim is to align the country more explicitly with Washington’s “pivot” to Asia—the Obama administration’s military encirclement and preparations for war against China.
While Labour and the Greens did not gain any additional votes from the xenophobic campaign, they helped NZ First to grow its share from 7 to 9 percent. At the same time, the recently formed Conservative Party—which adopted many of NZ First’s policies—got more than 4 percent.
Another Daily Blog column by Green MP Catherine Delahunty, published two days before the election, railed against “the apparent complicity of a sleepy hypnotised population [in]… not only global violence but also state surveillance without ethics, and dirty politics without shame.”
On September 15 journalist Glenn Greenwald and whistle-blower Edward Snowden presented evidence that NZ’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) collaborates with the US National Security Agency to spy indiscriminately on the communications of millions of ordinary citizens.
In fact, there is widespread opposition to mass surveillance. But Labour, the Greens and the Internet-Mana Party (IMP)—which hosted a large public meeting in Auckland where Snowden and Greenwald spoke—have no intention of dismantling the GCSB. The parties made vague calls for a “review” or an “inquiry” into the spy agency, which would undoubtedly keep all its anti-democratic powers intact.
All the parties demonstrated their support for Washington’s “global violence” by voting in parliament earlier this year for resolutions which endorsed the US-backed coup in Ukraine and the American provocations against Russia. When Labour declared its support for US bombing of Iraq nine days before the election, the Greens and IMP remained silent.
The IMP was obliterated in the election, receiving less than 1.3 percent of the vote and losing the one seat it had in parliament. This was despite multi-millionaire Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom spending $4 million on the IMP’s campaign.
The alliance between the Internet Party and the Maori nationalist Mana Party—which includes the middle class, pseudo-left groups the International Socialist Organisation, Fightback and Socialist Aotearoa—attempted to sell itself as “pro-poor.” But its policies to raise the minimum wage, introduce free university education and lunches in some schools were no more than window dressing for an openly pro-business agenda.
The IMP intended to support a Labour-led government and extract concessions for an upper-middle class layer, including cash handouts for tech entrepreneurs like Dotcom and increased payments from the state to indigenous tribal businesses.
The election result has made clear the vast gulf between all the established parties and the interests of workers and youth. The historic collapse of Labour, which was previously the main mechanism used by the ruling class to suppress workers’ struggles, means that future class struggles will take a more open and explosive form.
By John Braddock
20 September 2014
The campaign for today’s general election in New Zealand has been characterised by the suppression of all the major issues confronting the working class—the drive to war, austerity and attacks on democratic rights. The contending parties have sought to outdo each other in offering their services to big business to impose the next round of attacks on public services, jobs and living standards.
Any occasional expressions of concern about the plight of the poor, children in particular, have been simply to camouflage the corporate agenda, to which all parties are committed. The hypocrisy of the entire political establishment was underscored at one of the few election events on the issue of poverty, which took place in Wellington on Tuesday. The meeting, featuring speakers from most political parties, was sponsored by the NZ Council of Christian Social Services and attracted an audience of about 150.
The framework of the discussion was set by the chairman, Max Rashbrooke, a journalist and well-known “poverty” publicist, who invoked the concern of “international bodies” such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and “even organisations like Standard and Poor’s” that social inequality was a “huge problem.” Neither Rashbrooke nor any of the other speakers made the basic point that these institutions are responsible for imposing the agenda of pro-market restructuring that has widened the gulf between rich and poor internationally.
Far from being a debate, the platform had the character of a club. Each speaker professed sympathy for the poor and offered election promises, knowing full well that even these limited band aids would not be carried out. The chatty, joking banter on the platform only underscored the point. In a rare moment of candour, Chris Auchinvole, a retiring National Party MP, declared: “What you are going to hear is there is actually more in common between us than there is apart.”
The meeting chairman ensured that nothing was allowed to upset this cross-party unity. Discussion from the floor was strictly limited to “questions only.” Rather pointedly, WSWS representatives, who campaigned at previous forums chaired by Rashbrooke, were not given the call during question time.
The Labour Party’s economic development spokesman Grant Robertson told the audience that he volunteered to spend a night in a nearby shelter for homeless men and learnt they all had “some aspirations.” He declared Labour would “put people back in the centre of monetary policy,” “set targets” and introduce “pro-people” taxes, such as a capital gains tax.
In fact, Labour’s central finance policy plank is to return greater budget surpluses than the incumbent National government, which in turn will require further cuts to social spending. Labour has ruled out removing the regressive GST, and its proposed capital gains tax is chiefly geared to reining in property speculation. Labour has adopted overtly pro-business demands to push out the age of retirement to 67 years, increase compulsory superannuation payments and gut the public accident compensation scheme.
Candidates from the Greens and the Internet-Mana Party (IMP), both of which claim to be the only ones opposing child poverty, also displayed their pro-business programs. Greens candidate James Shaw, a former “environmental consultant” with the HSBC bank, said that to create employment the Greens would boost handouts to business for research and development, and “reduce company taxes and personal income taxes,” using revenue from a climate levy on carbon emissions.
Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati, the IMP candidate for the Rongotai electorate, highlighted her background in social work and the Maori business sector. She said the IMP would “buy back” the power companies partially privatised by the National government, a policy that would only line the pockets of investors. She promoted Mana’s “Feed the Kids” initiative to provide free meals for children in schools in low income areas. Mana leader Hone Harawira has previously emphasised the “affordability” of the measure, which will be restricted to the very poorest schools and use public funds to expand existing business-backed charity programs.
Paretutanganui-Tamati promoted the IMP’s plan to broaden business opportunities in IT and said the party would “revitalise New Zealand business by increasing incentives and grants to allow start-ups … to generate jobs.” In what is now an IMP theme, she said German-born party founder and multi-millionaire Kim Dotcom was “given a million dollars from his government to develop his business … that’s one of our approaches.”
The shameless character of the event was underscored by a large graph posted on the wall, charting the relentless rise of inequality over the past 30 years under all governments. The sharp increases in the 1980s and early 1990s was followed by a near continual rise until 2014. A minor and brief levelling was associated with Labour’s “Working for Families” (WFF) welfare package, which National has retained and is restricted to working households.
Labour candidate Robertson attempted to use the chart to blame National. However, Labour governments in the 1980s, and again from 1999 to 2008, with the support of the Greens, initiated and deepened the pro-market restructuring that devastated the living standards of the working class. At the same time, he declared that social inequality “isn’t a problem that gets solved straight away and it isn’t a problem that any one political party owns.” In other words, everybody and nobody—certainly none of the parties represented on the platform—is to be held responsible.
A new report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), released on September 9, found that child poverty has become “more entrenched and difficult to address” than ever over the past three years. Last year, 260,000 or 24 percent, of children were living under the poverty line, set at 60 percent of the medium income after housing costs. Some 205,000 children are further below the poverty line than previously thought. Three out of five live in poverty for at least seven years. Wages have continued to decline to the extent that 40 percent of poor children live in households where one or both parents are in work. Long-term impacts on health, housing and education are severe.
Whichever parties take office after the election, the next government, confronted with deteriorating economic forecasts, will only deepen the assault on living standards, inevitably hitting the most vulnerable.
By Tom Peters
19 September 2014
Whichever party or coalition of parties form the New Zealand government after tomorrow’s election, the working class will have been totally disenfranchised. The established parties are all committed to deepening the assault on living standards, while further aligning the country with US imperialist aggression in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia.
This agenda has been decided behind the backs of the population by the banks and big business backers of the National government and opposition Labour Party, in response to the worsening crisis of the capitalist system. Six years after the Wall Street crash of 2008 unleashed the most severe crisis since the Great Depression the global economy has not recovered and is entering into an even deeper slump. The OECD has slashed its growth forecast for developed countries and there are growing warnings of a greater slowdown in China.
At the start of the year the government and numerous commentators described New Zealand’s economy as a “rock star” that had weathered the global recession. In fact, the upswing was highly unstable and the country was exposed to a downturn in Asia. Recent figures show that prices for dairy products, NZ’s main export, have plummeted by over 40 percent since February, mainly due to falling demand from China, the country’s biggest trading partner.
The final televised debate between Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe on Wednesday demonstrated again that the response of the entire political establishment will be to impose greater burdens on working people.
While Cunliffe demagogically declared that people were struggling “to put food on the table to feed their kids,” neither Labour nor any other party is offering anything to address the profound social crisis. More than one in four or 270,000 children live in poverty; median wages have declined since 2006; and there has been a sharp rise in homelessness due to soaring housing costs, especially in earthquake-devastated Christchurch.
As in previous debates Cunliffe praised Key for “taking the country through the GFC [global financial crisis]”, signalling Labour’s agreement with the harsh austerity measures imposed over the past six years. These include the increase in the regressive Goods and Services Tax (GST), thousands of public sector job cuts, pushing single parents off welfare and reducing spending on health and education.
Labour is promising a meagre $2 increase in the minimum wage, while at the same time increasing the pension age from 65 to 67 and forcing workers to pay more for their own retirement through a compulsory savings scheme.
The party has already slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from its alternative budget in response to the Treasury downgrading the country’s growth forecast. In a column in Wednesday’s Australian Financial Review,Cunliffe emphasised that Labour’s so-called “economic upgrade” would focus on paying off National’s debt and returning budget surpluses, which will inevitably mean further cuts to spending on social programs.
While attacking the working class at home, the political establishment has also responded to the economic crisis by aligning more closely with US imperialism and its preparations for war.
After the 1999–2008 Labour government sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, National cemented military and intelligence ties with the US. The NZ ruling elite relies on the de facto alliance to defend its own neo-colonial interests in the South Pacific.
Throughout the campaign period there has been no debate on the question of war. While Cunliffe and Key declared their support for Obama’s bombing and deployment of troops to Iraq, the other parties raised no objections and remained silent, indicating their agreement.
Twice this year every party—including Labour’s allies the Greens and the Maori nationalist Mana Party—voted for parliamentary motions that endorsed the US-backed coup in Ukraine and Washington’s provocations against Russia.
All the parties have also welcomed the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia, a strategy aimed at militarily encircling and preparing for war against China. The Key government has been cautious in its public statements, however, having based itself for the past six years on building up trade with China. Labour, the Greens, Mana and the right-wing NZ First Party represent sections of the bourgeoisie who favour a more explicit embrace of Washington, as the Australian government has done.
The opposition bloc has carried out a xenophobic campaign against Chinese investors over the past two years. Along with the media, the parties whipped up “corruption” scandals to force the resignation of two government ministers—Judith Collins and Maurice Williamson—who had close ties with Chinese business figures.
Labour and its allies have also scapegoated immigrants, especially those from China, for unemployment, the high cost of housing, and other aspects of the social crisis. Labour, which is polling at just 25 percent and is widely discredited among workers, hopes to form a coalition government with the viciously anti-Asian NZ First, along with the Greens and supported by the Internet-Mana Party.
As in the US, Europe and elsewhere, the bourgeoisie’s plans for war and deeper austerity measures cannot be imposed democratically and have gone hand in hand with the build-up of sweeping police state powers.
On Monday Edward Snowden provided evidence that NZ’s spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), carries out surveillance in collaboration with the US National Security Agency on millions of New Zealanders and other people around the world.
While there is widespread outrage over the revelations, none of the parties offers any alternative. The Internet-Mana Party (IMP), which hosted Snowden via video-link at Monday’s public meeting in Auckland, is a pro-business alliance which does not call for the GCSB to be dismantled but supports vague pledges by Labour and the Greens for a “review” or “inquiry” that would only whitewash the spy agencies and strengthen their powers.
The IMP and the middle class pseudo-left groups that are part of it—the International Socialist Organisation, Socialist Aotearoa and Fightback—have campaigned on the slogan “change the government” and portray Labour as a lesser evil to National. This is a total fraud aimed at corralling workers behind a right wing coalition which, if elected, will carry out further attacks on living conditions and democratic rights, including the rights of immigrants, in order to prepare the country for war.
The only way to oppose war, austerity and attacks on democratic rights is through the construction of a party based firmly on the principles of internationalism and socialism and dedicated to the overthrow of the global capitalist system. That means building a revolutionary leadership of the working class in New Zealand as a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, the world Trotskyist movement.
By Tom Peters
16 September 2014
On Monday evening 1,700 people crowded into Auckland’s Town Hall to hear speeches by journalist Glenn Greenwald and, via video-link from Russia, whistleblower Edward Snowden. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange also made a video appearance from the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
According to the Internet Party, which organised the meeting, dubbed “The Moment of Truth,” 800 more people had to be turned away due to lack of space. The event, held just five days before New Zealand’s national election, was watched online by tens of thousands of people.
The speeches, along with articles published the same day by Snowden and Greenwald on the Intercept website, further exposed the mass surveillance of NZ citizens and residents by the spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
Greenwald released documents revealing that “at some point in 2012 or early 2013” the US National Security Agency (NSA) and GCSB carried out an operation, code-named Speargun, which plugged into the undersea Southern Cross cable, which “carries the vast majority of Internet traffic between New Zealand and the rest of the world.” This would also allow access to data from Australia, and via Australia to large parts of Asia.
Tapping into the cable gives the spy agencies access to enormous volumes of communications metadata and content, which can be viewed using the XKEYSCORE tool by all the agencies in the Five Eyes network (the US, NZ, Australia, Britain and Canada).
Snowden wrote that from his desk in Hawaii, where he worked as a NSA contractor until mid-2013, “I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders.” He stated that the GCSB agents “do not merely useXKEYSCORE, but also actively and directly develop mass surveillance algorithms for it.” He told the Auckland meeting that using the tool, “I can see everything. I can see what book you looked at on Amazon.com, I can see who you talked to, I can see who your friends on Facebook are, I can see the text messages you sent, I can read the emails you wrote.”
Snowden also revealed that there are two NSA facilities in New Zealand, including one in Auckland. This is in addition to the secretive Waihopai spy base operated by the GCSB, which also gathers data on behalf of the US. Prime Minister John Key has denied the claim.
In an interview with TV3 on Saturday, Greenwald said he is preparing a further report showing that the GCSB spies “on a variety of countries on behalf of the United States,” including “hostile” countries and “Western democracies.”
The revelations from Snowden and Greenwald directly contradict repeated assurances by Key over the past year that the GCSB does not engage in mass surveillance. Last year, the National Party government admitted that the GCSB had illegally spied on at least 88 NZ residents and citizens, including multi-millionaire entrepreneur and Internet Party (IP) founder Kim Dotcom. Dotcom’s mansion was raided by armed police in 2012 and he has since been fighting extradition to the US on charges of copyright infringement relating to his former website Megaupload.
In August 2013, the government passed laws to legalise spying on New Zealanders by the GCSB and increase its ability to access Internet communications. Thousands of people protested across the country against the laws.
Greenwald refuted Key’s claims that the new laws were “harmless.” He wrote that the NSA documents showed that “in high-level discussions between the Key government and the NSA, the new law was clearly viewed as the crucial means to empower the GCSB to engage in metadata surveillance.”
Key has attempted to dismiss the allegations of mass spying and has hurled abuse at Greenwald, describing him as a “loser” and a “henchman” for Dotcom. Key said the documents released by Greenwald merely showed a proposal for metadata gathering by the GCSB, which was never implemented. But Key has repeatedly refused to comment on Snowden’s evidence of the GCSB’s involvement with XKEYSCORE, which is nothing other than a mass surveillance tool.
Greenwald, Snowden and Assange have all performed valuable services by exposing the machinations and crimes of US imperialism and the establishment of the scaffolding for a police state in the US and other countries, including New Zealand. They have also shown considerable personal courage in the face of persecution by Washington and its allies.
However their attendance and speeches at last night’s meeting also revealed significant political limitations. For the IP and its ally, the Maori nationalist Mana Party, the purpose of the event was to boost their support in the election this Saturday. Snowden and Greenwald joined Dotcom and IP leader Laila Harre in calling for a vote to change the government—that is, to install the Labour Party supported by the Greens, the right-wing NZ First, the IP and Mana.
Greenwald admitted he had “spent very little time” studying NZ’s domestic political disputes, but said he was “thrilled that [Dotcom] … is willing to support and fund a party … devoted to defending Internet freedom and individual privacy and opposing mass surveillance.”
However the IP’s policy, like that of the Greens and Labour, merely calls for a “review” of the GCSB and other spy agencies—not their abolition. It calls for New Zealand to exit the Five Eyes network in order to exercise “sovereign control” over the intelligence agencies, so as to defend the country’s “national security” and “future interests.”
The IP is a pro-business party whose main objective is to reform copyright laws and establish other incentives for online businesses like Dotcom’s. It has no interest in dismantling the state’s repressive apparatus.
Labour, for its part, is absolutely committed to the military-intelligence alliance with the US, including the GCSB’s relationship with the NSA. The 1999–2008 Labour government passed the GCSB Act in 2003, establishing the agency as a separate department. According to investigative journalist Nicky Hager, the agency’s funding increased by 150 percent in the decade following the September 11 attacks in 2001, mostly under the Labour government.
Labour was responsible for strengthening the alliance with the US by sending NZ troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. This included sending GCSB agents to work with the US spy agencies in Afghanistan, where they helped identify targets for airstrikes, according to Hager’s book Other People ’ s Wars .
In a deliberately vague statement, Labour leader David Cunliffe told TVNZ on Sunday that he would replace the current GCSB legislation with something “more protective of New Zealanders’ personal privacy.” Today Cunliffe stressed that he “would not” withdraw NZ from Five Eyes. He told the media that Labour’s “review” of the GCSB would be designed to “build public confidence” in the spy agency. Asked if he believed Snowden was a credible source, Cunliffe refused to comment.
Labour’s record was not mentioned by Harre, Dotcom or any of the speakers at the “Moment of Truth” event. Nor did the meeting discuss the purpose of the surveillance of the world’s population by the NSA and its partners: namely, as a pre-emptive measure to suppress opposition to imperialist war and deepening social inequality.
By Tom Peters
11 September 2014
As New Zealand’s September 20 national election approaches, the main opposition Labour Party has failed to gain significant support. It remains stuck at well below 30 percent in recent polls. This is despite six years of brutal austerity imposed by the National Party government to make workers pay for the economic crisis—including thousands of job cuts, a rise in the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and cuts to healthcare, education and welfare.
Many workers and young people view Labour as a big business party, no different to National. At the last election in 2011, Labour received its lowest vote in 80 years. One beneficiary of the collapse in support for the major parties was the Greens, which increased its vote from 7 to 11 percent between 2008 and 2011 and is currently the third largest party in parliament. If Labour is to form a coalition government after this month’s election, the Greens would almost certainly be part of it.
In recent years, under the impact of the global economic breakdown that erupted in 2008, the Greens have steadily moved to the right. The party now portrays itself as more “fiscally responsible” and pro-market than Labour or National, and has openly ditched social policies on which it previously campaigned, such as free university education.
Co-leader Russel Norman underlined the party’s pro-business credentials in a September 5 televised debate. Asked which MP outside his party he most admired, he named Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, who is responsible for six savage austerity budgets. The Greens have promised to pay down debt faster than both major parties—inevitably at the expense of working people.
Norman stressed that the Greens’ main environmental policy, a price on carbon emissions, would fund a cut to the company tax rate. The National government has already reduced corporate tax from 30 to 28 percent. The only other party campaigning for a further cut is the far-right ACT Party. The Greens have also ruled out reversing National’s increase to the regressive GST.
The Greens’ website justifies the party’s plan to raise the top income tax rate from 33 to 40 percent by declaring that it would still be well below the top rates in Australia and the UK (47 percent), the US (48 percent) and most other OECD countries. The revenue raised would fund a policy to “alleviate child poverty”—a pittance of just $60 a week for low-income families along with some additional healthcare spending.
While the Greens still call themselves “left wing” or “progressive,” this was never the case. From 1999 to 2008 the Greens supported the Labour government of Prime Minister Helen Clark, which presided over deepening poverty and social inequality and the strengthening of military and intelligence ties with US imperialism.
While describing themselves as pacifists, the Greens backed the dispatch of troops to the Australian-led invasion of East Timor in 1999 and the 2003 military-police intervention in Solomon Islands. Unlike Labour’s other “left” supporter, the now-defunct Alliance Party, the Greens voted against sending troops to assist the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. However, the party did support the stationing of about 100 “peacekeeping” troops in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province from 2003 to 2013.
Since Obama’s 2008 election, the Greens, like their counterparts in Germany and other countries, have become even more open in their support for US imperialist operations around the world. Last year they supported calls for a direct US attack on Syria. The party denounced Russia and China for opposing UN Security Council motions that would have paved the way for intervention. As a pretext, the Greens regurgitated Washington’s lie that the Assad regime, rather than the Al Qaeda-linked and CIA-backed militias, was responsible for a sarin gas attack on civilians in August 2013.
The Greens tacitly supported the February coup in Ukraine, which was led by fascist groups and supported by the US and European powers. The party joined two unanimous parliamentary resolutions criticising Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the Malaysia Airlines disaster in July. Without any evidence, Washington and its allies have accused pro-Russia rebels of shooting down the plane, and used the tragedy to escalate threats against Russia.
In June, the Greens criticised Prime Minister John Key’s support for US bombing in Iraq, only to call for a United Nations-led “multilateral” intervention instead. A decade ago, the Greens fronted protests around the country against Bush’s invasion of Iraq and criticised Labour’s decision to send 60 army engineers to assist the occupation—all while continuing to support Labour.
Since US bombing began last month, however, the Greens have remained silent, thereby tacitly supporting Labour’s position. Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer told Fairfax Media on August 13 that the “airstrikes are needed” on the bogus “humanitarian” pretext of protecting people from Islamic State militias.
All the opposition parties support an even closer alignment with Washington’s “pivot to Asia”—the military and economic encirclement and preparations for war against China. Over the past two years, the Greens, along with Labour, Mana and NZ First, have campaigned vigorously against the sale of land to Chinese companies and against the government’s cultivation of business ties with China, which is NZ’s biggest trading partner.
The Greens have criticised the other opposition parties’ calls to reduce immigration—which is mainly from Asia—but support banning foreigners from buying houses. The Greens would be happy to work alongside NZ First, whose leader Winston Peters has scapegoated Chinese immigrants for social problems such as gambling, unemployment, organised crime, prostitution and high house prices. Last Thursday, Norman told a business meeting in Auckland that the two parties shared “a fair bit of common ground,” including opposition to “overseas ownership of land.”
The opposition parties’ support for anti-Chinese politics is bound up with New Zealand’s neo-colonial interests in the South Pacific, where Wellington and Canberra both rely on Washington. The Greens’ defence policy calls for “[m]ore resources … to be devoted to maritime surveillance of our [exclusive economic zone] and that of our Pacific neighbours.” It also stresses the need to “[e]nsure that New Zealand has special forces sufficient for rapid action in crisis situations, including terrorist actions in New Zealand and Pacific nations.”
The party suggests “extending the reserve forces and reserve training to a wider section of the population,” which would assist the ruling elite’s push to foster militaristic sentiments.
The Greens represent an affluent, upper middle class and big business milieu, which profits from “sustainable” capitalist ventures and favours more nationalist and protectionist policies. The party’s miserly “pro-poor” proposals are nothing but window dressing. If they form part of the next government, the Greens will support increased austerity and the preparations to join imperialist wars.
By John Braddock
9 September 2014
Two New Zealand Work and Income (WINZ) workers were killed and one seriously wounded when a homeless welfare recipient allegedly fired at them with a shotgun on September 2. The workers were all long-standing employees of the WINZ office in the South Island provincial town of Ashburton.
According to police, a balaclava-clad man carrying a sawn-off shotgun entered the office and fired several shots before fleeing on a bike. John Henry Tully, 48, a WINZ client with the Ashburton agency, was tracked down by police and arrested later the same day at a nearby farm. Tully has been charged with the murder of Peggy Noble, 67, and Susan Leigh Cleveland, 55, and the attempted murder of Lindy Curtis, aged 43.
The incident, which is a tragedy on every level, reflects the sharpening social tensions within New Zealand. The shooting took place just three weeks out from the September 20 national parliamentary elections. While occasional lip-service has been paid during the election campaign to deepening inequality and poverty, particularly among children, all of the political parties are committed to a pro-market program that will accelerate the destruction of jobs, living standards and public services.
The dire personal situation of the accused is a stark indication of the social conditions confronting the working class. Tully had moved back to Ashburton, where he was born and raised, after working in the Australian mines. He recently became homeless and spoke to the Ashburton Guardian about his frustration at the lack of accommodation in the town. He said he had a skin disease that caused him to be placed on a disability benefit. Rents in Ashburton, near the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch, were more than $300 a week and outside his reach.
Tully was living rough while on the waiting list for a Housing New Zealand (HNZ) property and was angered by the way government agencies handled his situation. He had been removed from the WINZ office earlier last month. He said his doctor recommended he stay somewhere warm and dry to alleviate his condition. “WINZ have cut me off from all other help other than the [disability] benefit,” Tully complained.
Last month, Tully pitched his tent in the Ashburton Domain as a protest. He was evicted by police and lived in his car until he sold it, and moved to the nearby riverbed. A major source of frustration was a HNZ property in Ashburton, which he alleged was unoccupied and in which hoped to live. Tully had been convicted on a firearms charge and threatening to kill in 2002, when a landlord served him an eviction notice in order to renovate and sell the flat.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett flatly rejected Tully’s claims against WINZ, telling the media he had been receiving all his entitlements and had been offered “a lot of assistance that he had turned down.” She said Tully’s behaviour in the past had been “intimidating.”
The fact is that WINZ, the agency that administers the social welfare system, is charged with enforcing many of the austerity measures imposed by successive National and Labour-led governments, a process that has accelerated since the 2008 global financial crisis.
In the past three years, thousands of people, particularly sole parents and unemployed youth, have been subjected to a stringent new “work testing” regime and forced off benefits. The National government has slashed its forecast welfare spending this year by $1 billion. Last year, it introduced restricted criteria for state housing tenants, and plans to sell off thousands of houses around the country, amid soaring rents.
No government has restored the previous level of benefits after National’s former finance minister, Ruth Richardson, brought down her infamous “mother of all budgets” in 1991, savagely cutting welfare and throwing most beneficiaries into poverty.
The Accommodation Supplement and In-Work Tax Credit have not been adjusted for inflation for nine years, effectively slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to poor families. Poverty-level invalid and unemployment benefits, deliberately suppressed to maintain the downward pressure on wages, have not been adjusted for 23 years. According to the Ministry of Social Development, 285,000 children are living in poverty.
Ongoing cuts to mental health provisions have forced vulnerable people out of mental health care and left them to either fend for themselves or turn to the ill-equipped social welfare system. The Dominion Post reported on August 27 that more mentally ill people would soon be living on the streets of Wellington. A District Health Board shake-up would withdraw funding to eight mental health service providers that between them looked after 150 clients. Most were expected to close their doors.
Action Against Poverty spokesman Alastair Russell told NZ Newswire that people are frequently denied rent and bond, advances, housing, food grants and money for essential household items, despite being entitled to them. “There are massive discrepancies between what exists in legal entitlements in law and the policies and practices at Work and Income,” Russell said. While some WINZ clients occasionally lashed out, he generally dealt with people “in tears and desperate for help.”
An intensifying social crisis is played out every week in WINZ offices around the country. Last week’s shooting was the worst in a long list of incidents, the result of pent-up frustration, poverty and bureaucratic treatment on the government’s part. According to the New Zealand Herald, serious assaults and threats against WINZ staff jumped 43 percent in the past two years, despite the posting of security guards in its 157 offices. Assaults and threats increased from 201 in 2011 to 247 in 2012 and 288 last year.
In the days following the shootings, several WINZ offices were closed when a dozen fresh threats were received. Bennett responded by announcing stepped up “zero tolerance” security measures, including more active policing of entry into WINZ premises, even at the expense of more people not being able to get prompt welfare assistance.
By Tom Peters
8 September 2014
Prime Minister John Key and opposition Labour leader David Cunliffe took part in public debates on August 28 and September 2 ahead of the September 20 election. To describe the events as debates was something of a misnomer. The disagreements and point scoring could not cover up the fact that the two leaders had broad agreement on the need to impose the burden of the worsening economic crisis on the working class.
Cunliffe repeatedly praised the government. In the first debate, he declared: “Nobody is criticising the National government for getting us through the rough patch of the GFC [global financial crisis] and I respect John’s team for that.” Labour accepts the government’s austerity measures over the past six years, which include thousands of public sector job cuts, an increase in the Goods and Services Tax (GST), pushing single parents off welfare, and reduced spending on health and education.
Labour has adopted the government’s annual $1.5 billion limit on new spending and has promised to cut debt faster than the National Party to return budget surpluses—policies that will inevitably result in deeper cuts to social spending. Cunliffe also said he would not reverse National’s partial privatisation of energy companies because there was “not the fiscal headroom.”
Cunliffe boasted that in response to the economic downturn Labour was “reining back” its own election promises. The party has cancelled six policy announcements that would have cost $300 million.
Despite mounting economic evidence to the contrary, Prime Minister Key stated that the country’s economy was “very strong” and “on the cusp of something very special,” citing the decrease in official unemployment from 7.3 percent in 2012 to 5.6 percent. This temporary drop is overwhelmingly due to construction in the earthquake-devastated city of Christchurch. Job cuts and factory closures have continued in other parts of the economy. Treasury has slashed its forecasts for economic growth following a 40 percent drop in the price for dairy products, the country’s main export, since February.
Cunliffe declared that many New Zealanders were “worried about the widening gap” between rich and poor, noting that median incomes had fallen in 13 out of 16 regions since National came to power in 2008. In the biggest city, Auckland, the median income is $29,600, down 6 percent in real terms since 2006. Nationwide at least 260,000 children, one in five, are living in poverty.
But Labour will not reverse this social crisis. Its meagre “reforms” including increasing the hourly minimum wage by two dollars to $NZ16.25 and paying $60 a week to new parents on low incomes for up to three years, are nothing more than electoral window-dressing.
At the same time, Labour plans to hit older workers by lifting the pension age from 65 to 67. Labour also proposes to force all workers to enter the superannuation program KiwiSaver, and would raise the level of compulsory contributions from 3 to 4.5 percent of salaries. This would force workers to pay for their own retirement and facilitate the gutting of pensions, while providing more cash for the banks and finance companies that run KiwiSaver schemes.
At the September 2 debate in Christchurch, Cunliffe praised “the work that the prime minister and the government have done” to rebuild the city following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, which destroyed entire suburbs and killed 185 people.
In fact, rebuilding has been extremely slow. Key declared that insurance companies had settled 90 percent of residential claims for damages worth over $100,000. But the Press noted that “Key’s definition of ‘settled’ included 40 percent that had reached agreement with insurers but the work has not been completed.”
According to the Insurance Council, of 22,739 claims for more than $100,000 of damage, less than 10 percent of the houses have been rebuilt or repaired. About 50 percent have received no settlement or repairs. Peter Townsend from the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce said about $4.5 billion had been spent on rebuilding the city so far. The estimate for the total bill is $45-50 billion.
Cunliffe pointed to some indices of the city’s social crisis, including the housing shortage and the 46 percent increase in rents over the past four years. Many people are living in damaged properties and overcrowded conditions, garages, and other makeshift accommodation.
But Labour will not provide any meaningful assistance. It accepted the government buyout offers for more than 7,000 houses in the worst-damaged “red zone” suburbs, based on 2007 valuations that are typically well below the price of a new house.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, a minister in the previous Labour government, is working hand-in-glove with National to make working people pay for the rebuild. The council is considering privatisations and cuts to services and jobs in order to fill a $900 million budget “black hole” caused by the earthquakes.
Labour claims it will address soaring house prices in Christchurch and nationwide by building 10,000 “affordable” houses each year. However, private companies would be hired to build the homes and they would not be sold at a loss.
Labour also claims that its proposed flat 15 percent capital gains tax (CGT) on most business and investment assets, excluding the family home, will deter property speculation and lead to lower house prices. Houses in Auckland are among the least affordable in the world, averaging more than $700,000.
Labour’s proposals to lower house prices are not driven by concern for working people, but rather by fears in business circles. Several economists have warned that the housing market is severely over-inflated and could cause major damage in the event of a collapse. Moreover, while some business commentators see a CGT as an unacceptable impost on profit-making, there has not been a concerted campaign against it by the corporate elite.
Labour’s proposed CGT rate would be low by international standards. In Australia, which has had a CGT since the mid-1980s, house prices are even higher than in NZ. Labour would not reverse National’s 2010 company tax cut (from 30 to 28 percent). It would increase the top income tax rate from 33 to 36 percent—but this would still be below the 39 percent rate under the 1999–2008 Labour government.
The working class, especially young people, is increasingly alienated from the major political parties, and see Labour as a party of big business just like National. The 2011 election produced the lowest turnout in more than a century. This election nearly 200,000 under-30 year olds have not even enrolled to vote.
Support for Labour is hovering at around 25 percent in the polls and has not increased significantly, despite an ongoing media- and opposition-fuelled “corruption” scandal, which has forced Justice Minister Judith Collins to resignover her links to a right-wing blogger and to Chinese business figures.
The working class has been through a long and bitter experience with Labour. Inequality soared after the 1980s, the Labour government halved the top income tax rate and introduced the GST, as part of a raft of pro-business restructuring. From the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, under successive Labour and National-led governments, income inequality increased faster than in any other OECD country.
In both debates Cunliffe denounced foreigners buying houses and land which he called “our birth right.” Labour and its allies, the Greens, the right-wing NZ First Party and the Internet-Mana Party, have all sought to scapegoat foreigners—especially those from China—for soaring housing costs and for taking jobs away from New Zealanders.
This xenophobic campaign is aimed at deflecting social tensions while aligning New Zealand more closely with Washington’s military encirclement of China, aimed at securing US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. A striking feature of the two leaders’ debates was the absence of any discussion of foreign policy, particularly the de facto military alliance with the US, which all the parties support.
By Tom Peters
5 August 2014
On August 29, the New Zealand government held a ceremony outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum to mark 100 years since the seizure of German Samoa—the first action taken by NZ military forces in World War I. The event was part of the government’s five-year centenary program, which involves spending tens of millions of dollars to sanitise and glorify WWI in order to condition workers and youth for new imperialist wars.
Auckland has a Samoan population of well over 100,000, making it the largest Samoan urban population in the world. Very few attended the ceremony. Aside from government officials, diplomats, soldiers and high-school students, it was attended by around 150 people, including some descendants of the NZ military forces involved.
The ceremony was a crass celebration of the seizure of the German colony that whitewashed the imperialist character of the enterprise. For the New Zealand ruling class, like its counter-parts around the world, the war was to fulfil its long-standing ambitions to expand its colonial possessions. In the 1870s, Prime Minister Julius Vogel unsuccessfully sought permission from Britain to annex Samoa, which was split in 1899 between the US and Germany. Germany had established copra plantations on the islands, which profited from the exploitation of indentured labourers from Melanesia and China.
WWI provided the opportunity for New Zealand to expand its possessions in the South West Pacific. In exchange for Samoa, and a share of the highly profitable phosphates extracted from Nauru (which was seized by Australia), the New Zealand government sent more than 100,000 troops to fight in Europe and the Middle East—one tenth of the NZ population at the time. Some 18,500 died and more than 40,000 were wounded.
On August 15, 1914, nine days after the declaration of war in Europe, two troopships left New Zealand for Samoa, accompanied by three cruisers. They were also escorted by two Australian warships and a French cruiser. German defences in Samoa were virtually non-existent but the movements of Germany’s battleships in the Pacific, the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, were unknown.
Union Jack flying at government building, Apia, 30 August 1914
In the event, New Zealand forces landed without a single shot being fired. There were no German soldiers in Samoa and the governing officials turned themselves in without resistance. NZ’s 1,400-strong landing force was replaced two weeks later with by a smaller force of 360 soldiers.
Samoa was the second German colony seized by the British Empire (the first was Togoland). Shortly afterwards, on September 11, Australian forces tookGerman New Guinea.
Navy chaplain Colin Mason opened the Auckland ceremony by saying it paid “tribute to those who put themselves in harm’s way to preserve freedom” and was an opportunity to “re-dedicate ourselves to the work of vigilance required to both honour and preserve the sacrifices made for freedom and peace.”
Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, the former chief of the Defence Force, said the invasion “fulfilled a great and urgent imperial service” on behalf of Britain by seizing the German wireless station in Samoa. He read from a telegram sent by Colonel Robert Logan, the first New Zealand administrator of Samoa, which declared that “the vast majority of the natives are in sympathy with the British occupation of Samoa.”
The operation had nothing to do with preserving freedom and was greeted with considerable fear in Samoa. The August 29 New Zealand Herald quoted 103-year-old Mele Ioelu, who still remembers the day the troops landed: “[W]e all ran to the church to hide. Other families had built underground shelters and so they went down there to stay until the soldiers left. They were big men who wore their uniforms proudly. But they had big guns strapped across their backs—and I was always afraid I’d get shot one day.”
Far from bringing “freedom and peace” to Samoa, NZ imposed a military dictatorship. One of Logan’s first orders was to violently disperse thousands of Chinese indentured labourers, who had walked off the copra plantations and gathered outside the court house after hearing about the landing. Logan imposed strict racial segregation, banning Chinese people from entering Samoan houses. Intermarriage between Chinese and Samoans was later outlawed and some couples were forcibly separated.
The occupation was catastrophic for Samoa. In 1918 the failure of NZ authorities to quarantine a disease-carrying ship in Apia Harbour led to the introduction of the deadly influenza virus, which wiped out about 8,500 people—one fifth of the population. Mass graves were dug to bury the bodies. Logan’s administration provided grossly inadequate medical services. He infamously replied to a request for help from a girls’ school by saying: “I do not care if they are going to die. Let them die and go to hell.”
New Zealand colonial rule was oppressive. All vestiges of traditional Samoan authority were removed and the administration gave itself sweeping powers to banish “trouble makers” from villages. On the plantations seized from Germany the system of indentured labour continued. Samoans who petitioned for self-government were hunted down, exiled and imprisoned. Villages were routinely ransacked and families terrorised by police searching for protest leaders. In 1929 police opened fire with rifles and a machine gun on a crowd of unarmed protesters in Apia, killing 11 people and injuring 50, including women and children.
These experiences, which are remembered with intense bitterness by Samoans, were not mentioned by the governor-general or by Minister for Pacific Island Affairs Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga. The latter blandly declared that NZ’s occupation of Samoa “started a relationship” between the two countries “that has had its peaks and troughs… [but] is based on friendship, shared values and a common vision for the future.”
Samoa was not granted formal independence until 1962. Since then it has remained dependent on New Zealand and mired in economic backwardness and poverty. Large numbers of people survive on subsistence farming, while money sent from relatives in NZ and other countries accounts for a quarter of GDP.
According to a UN report last year, 25 percent of the population lives below the “basic needs” poverty line. According to another UN report in 2011, more than 40 percent of men aged 20 to 29 were not working or studying. Conditions in neighbouring American Samoa, which is still a US colony, are just as bad. New Zealand businesses profit from the desperate conditions in Samoa and other Pacific island nations by employing thousands of seasonal migrant workers on low wages.
The official ceremony’s whitewashing of New Zealand’s emergence as a colonial power in the Pacific should be taken as a warning to the working class in New Zealand and throughout the region. A hundred years after the outbreak of WWI, the geo-political situation in the Asia-Pacific is extremely tense and the ruling elite is again preparing to defend its interests in the region by military means.
New Zealand and Australia now regard China as an intruder into what they regard as their sphere of influence in the Pacific. Samoa’s government is currently in discussions with a Chinese company over a $200 million port development proposal. At the same time, Beijing has attempted to expand its influence by offering the governments of Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and elsewhere larger loans and more aid money than Wellington or Canberra, with fewer strings attached.
In recent years, Wellington has greatly strengthened its military and intelligence cooperation with the US. Both Labour and the current National Party government are supporting the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia, a strategy to encircle China militarily and ensure US dominance over the region. In return, Washington is supporting the interests of New Zealand imperialism in the Pacific.
Just as it is celebrating past colonial conquests, New Zealand, in concert with its allies, are preparing for new ones. Last November NZ hosted US and other foreign troops for the country’s biggest ever international military exercise, Operation Southern Katipo, which was explicitly designed to prepare for intervention in the event of a hostile government coming to power in a Pacific island state.
By Tom Peters
16 August 2014
In the first two weeks of August, New Zealand’s opposition parties—Labour, the Greens, the Internet-Mana Party and the right-wing NZ First Party—all joined the recently established far-right Conservative Party in denouncing the impending private sale of Lochinver Station farmland to the Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin. Labour has vowed to block the sale if it wins the September 20 election, with leader David Cunliffe telling the media that New Zealanders risked becoming “tenants in our own country.”
The campaign is blatantly xenophobic. The opposition has seized on Shanghai Pengxin’s purchase despite Cunliffe admitting that Chinese investors own less land in New Zealand than those from the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, Monaco, Britain, Luxembourg, Canada and Israel. According to the National Party government, China accounts for only 4 percent of foreign buyers.
Labour and its allies have also attacked Asian immigrants, with Labour pledging to slash the annual migrant intake by at least half. India and China are the two leading sources of immigrants and NZ’s Asian population has grown by 50 percent since 2001.
Taking their cue from NZ First , which has campaigned against Asian immigrants in every election over the past two decades , Labour and the Maori nationalist Mana Party have scapegoated immigrants for the social crisis, including the high cost of housing and pressure on healthcare services, schools and jobs. (See: “NZ opposition parties wage xenophobic campaign against Asian immigrants”)
Labour’s opposition to the Lochinver sale dominated headlines in the first half of the month. Right-wing New Zealand Herald columnist John Armstrong said the issue had “raised the standard of debate” in the election campaign and weakened the government. TV3’s political editor Patrick Gower described Labour’s policy as an electoral “grenade” that put Prime Minister John Key “on the wrong side of public opinion” defending the sale. TV3 and TVNZ highlighted the issue in at least three televised debates between Labour and National MPs and the leaders of minor political parties.
The attempt to whip up anti-Chinese sentiment has become a distinctive feature of the opposition’s electioneering under conditions where Labour is widely seen as no different to National and its support has collapsed. Labour agrees that the working class must continue to pay for the economic crisis, through the elimination of jobs, cuts to spending on health and education, and other austerity measures, while the rich continue to increase their fortunes.
The big business parties also agree on strengthening the military-intelligence alliance with Washington. Speaking to Newstalk ZB on August 13 Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer endorsed Obama’s decision to send troops and war planes back to Iraq. When it was last in office, Labour sent soldiers to Iraq and joined the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. The Greens, who supported the deployment to Afghanistan, have remained silent on the renewed assault on Iraq.
The anti-Chinese campaign dovetails with the requirements of the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia—a strategy to militarily encircle China in order to maintain US dominance in the region. Washington is supporting the re-militarisation of Japan and strengthening military ties with the Philippines and Vietnam, while encouraging all three countries to press their territorial disputes with China. The Australian government has agreed to station US marines in Darwin and has offered the US much greater use of its military bases.
The difference between Labour and the National government is that the latter, while fully supportive of Washington’s “pivot,” remains nervous about antagonising Chinese investors. China is NZ’s main trading partner. Reflecting the concerns of a layer of big business, a Herald editorial said “we should welcome Chinese investment” and noted that blocking land sales could imperil investments in China by NZ dairy conglomerate Fonterra.
Labour, Mana, the Greens and NZ First began campaigning against land sales to China in 2012, the year after that Obama’s pivot was announced. The parties used rallies across the country, ostensibly called to oppose the privatisation of power companies, to denounce Shanghai Pengxin’s purchase of the Crafar family’s farms.
Mana leader Hone Harawira called for people to join the protests if they were “pissed off at the Chinese buying our land.” The nationalist campaign was supported by the pseudo-left organisations Fightback, Socialist Aotearoa (SA) and the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), which are all affiliated to Mana and support the indigenous capitalist layer that it represents.
SA and Fightback both issued statements at the time supporting a rival bid for the Crafar farms by the Maori tribe Ngati Rereahu, some of whose members had occupied the land. The ISO was somewhat critical of the xenophobic rhetoric of NZ First, Labour and the Greens, but not of Mana. It declared that New Zealand was “Maori land” and Maori tribes would have to fight to regain land from Chinese or other NZ owners.
All three groups have remained completely silent on the new campaign against the Lochinver sale, thereby tacitly endorsing the positions of Mana and Labour.
Mana represents Maori business interests who regard Chinese investors as rivals. On Facebook on August 3, party president Annette Sykes denounced the latest deal with Shanghai Pengxin and said land approved for the company should be given to the Maori tribe Tuwharetoa instead.
In a minor parties debate on TV3 on August 9, Harawira stated that if deals like the Shanghai Pengxin purchase continued, “our children and our grandchildren will grow up in a land owned by someone else.” He also denounced immigrants for “taking jobs that other people should be having” and called for an employment quota for New Zealanders, “Maori in particular.”
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said her party had drafted a bill to “restrict land sales just to New Zealand residents.” NZ First leader Winston Peters ranted that he knew of “somebody from Beijing owning 55 houses in Auckland” and branded the sale of Lochinver Station as “treachery.”
At NZ First’s campaign launch on August 10, Peters denounced the government’s links with Chinese businesses, asserting that it was “deeply infiltrated and funded by foreign money interests.” Cunliffe has identified NZ First as a potential partner in a Labour-led government.
The filthy anti-Chinese campaign demonstrates the completely reactionary character of Labour, Mana, the Greens and their pseudo-left supporters. If a Labour-led government is installed it will carry out attacks on Asian immigrants, while deepening the National government’s assault on the working class and commitment to US war preparations against China.
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By John Braddock
15 August 2014
An Internet-Mana Party (IMP) election meeting held in Wellington on August 4 exposed the IMP’s campaign for the September 20 election as a charade, offering nothing to working people but intensifying austerity, nationalism and war.
The IMP is an opportunist electoral alliance between the Internet Party (IP), formed by entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, and the Maori nationalist Mana Party. Both want to capitalise on widespread alienation from the opposition Labour Party, which has slumped to 26 percent support in the polls. The Wellington meeting was part of a nationwide tour ostensibly aimed at young people and alienated working-class voters.
The IMP campaign is backed by so-called liberal media pundits as well as NZ’s main pseudo-left groups—the International Socialist Organisation, Fightback and Socialist Aotearoa—which are part of Mana.
Despite the IMP’s pitch to represent the “poor and dispossessed,” its pro-business agenda was revealed by the character of the meeting. The IMP is being funded by Dotcom to the tune of $NZ4 million ($US3.4 million). The meeting was held in the function room of a hotel, adjoining the NZ Stock Exchange building, frequented by corporate patrons. The mainly young, middle class audience was entertained by the IMP’s “Youth Ambassador,” Hip-Hop artist King Kapisi, on an array of expensive hi-fi equipment. A supply of party T-Shirts was up for sale, in contrast to a thin amount of literature.
One striking feature was the absence of any reference to the deepening economic and political crisis of global capitalism and growing danger of war. The gathering took place amid Israel’s brutal massacres in Gaza, the intensifying Western confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, the ongoing US-led military build-up in the Asia-Pacific against China, and growing turbulence on global share markets.
All of this was ignored. Instead the focus of the meeting was a parochial concentration on domestic politics. In a paean to nationalism, a Maori entertainer opened the proceedings with a bracket of songs lionising “Aotearoa” (the Maori name for New Zealand) and finishing with a rendition of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up [for your rights].”
The IMP defends the profit system and is steeped in nationalism and ethnic identity politics. According to its election statement, the IMP stands for “a stronger, more connected New Zealand.” It bases itself on the Treaty of Waitangi, which has become a tool for exploiting the historical injustices wreaked on the Maori people to cultivate a privileged layer of business and political leaders wedded to the private profit system.
Both parties were represented by three speakers, including their national leaders. For the IP, Dotcom and political leader Laila Harre spoke, along with local candidate Callum Valentine. Mana’s speakers were leader Hone Harawira, party president Annette Sykes, and candidate Georgina Beyer, a former Labour MP.
Harawira declared that under National “too many people” had been driven into poverty, homelessness and unemployment because the government is “committed to maximising the wealth for their elite friends.” The IMP’s program, however, centres on improving the position of a just a narrow social layer within the capitalist system. According to Harawira, Mana “encourages individual effort but rejects corporate excess.”
Dotcom called for a series of policies to favour IT entrepreneurs and “create middle class businesses.” Dotcom, originally from Germany, described how he got his start in the IT business with a $1m interest-free loan from the German government. “Why don’t we have this kind of incentive program for our young bright minds in New Zealand?” he asked.
Dotcom lauded South Korea’s economy, claiming that if NZ similarly increased its global IT “market share,” it would eliminate unemployment and “lift the game for everybody.” He boasted that the IMP could “double NZ’s GDP within a decade.” Such a plan is premised on further driving down wages and impoverishing the working class to make New Zealand “competitive” with countries like South Korea.
The IMP’s Wellington central candidate Callum Valentine spoke for the middle class social layer the party represents. His comments make clear that the party’s limited opposition to government restrictions on the Internet are not motivated by concerns about democratic rights, but the interests of Internet entrepreneurs and their profits.
Valentine opposed monopoly corporate control of the Internet because it “is where we earn our living.” The Internet was something, he said, “we all own” and should not be used as “corporate property.” State agencies which are using the Internet to spy on the population, he declared, were threatening the security, not of millions of ordinary people, but of “our banking systems.”
IP leader Laila Harre made demagogic references to poverty and young people being “disenfranchised” by the “political elites.” However, she said the root cause of this was the “digital divide” and called for a program to “open up the institutions,” absurdly claiming access to the Internet could provide a path out of social misery for the 280,000 children living in poverty. Justifying her own recent transition from the trade union bureaucracy to her highly paid job leading the IMP, Harre declared that “progressive politics” is about “building alliances.”
The speakers put forward a number of limited policies to make an appeal to young audiences. Dotcom and Harre advocated increased taxes on the “super rich,” while supporting tax breaks for small and rural businesses. Free tertiary education is proposed in order to lessen the debt burden on young people.
Sykes and Beyer made an overt pitch to the poverty and inequality that is entrenched in Maori communities. However, their purpose was to use ethnic identity politics to corral opposition to the deepening social crisis behind Mana and its parliamentary ambitions. Beyer catalogued her bitter experiences within the Labour caucus over her opposition to the Helen Clark government’s Seabed and Foreshore legislation, which extinguished Maori claims to the inter-tidal zone and thus cut off benefits for the Maori elite.
One of Mana’s central demands is for Maori “independence” and “self-determination”—which really means private property rights for an upper-class layer. Reminding the audience that “most of us” in Mana are “on the protest lines every week” over asset sales and deep sea drilling, Sykes demanded an end to land sales to foreigners and “assets going offshore.”
Mana uses the issues of land, foreign ownership and migrant labour to whip-up anti-foreigner—especially anti-Chinese—chauvinism. On a TV3 debate on August 9, Harawira falsely claimed there are “tens of thousands” of immigrants “taking jobs that other people should be having.” He called for preference quotas for New Zealanders, “Maori in particular,” who should get priority for jobs. The IMP has just announced that a longstanding adviser to the right-wing anti-immigrant NZ First Party has been recruited to work “in policy” for the IMP.
The Wellington event and the entire Internet-Mana election campaign demonstrate that claims the parties are progressive are a sham. If elected, IMP candidates will prop up the discredited Labour Party and help impose its pro-business, militarist agenda on the working class.
By John Braddock 9 August 2014 The Internet Party (IP), formed by millionaire Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, has begun its campaign alongside the Maori nationalist Mana Party for the September 20 New Zealand election with nationwide meetings and concert “parties” aimed at establishing a base among young people and alienated working-class voters. The IP and […]
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By Tom Peters 25 July 2014 New Zealand’s government and opposition parties have all lined up behind the US and Australian-led campaign to blame Russia over the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 disaster in Ukraine, and to pave the way for military intervention. On Tuesday, parliament unanimously supported a motion by Prime Minister John Key that […]
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By Tom Peters 2 July 2014 Last month’s visit to Washington by Prime Minister John Key marked a definite shift by New Zealand’s ruling elite into closer alignment with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia”—a strategy aimed at strengthening US control over the Asia-Pacific region and preparing for war against China. Key’s meeting with President […]
By Tom Peters 5 June 2014 Over the past month, New Zealand’s main opposition Labour Party, the Greens, the Maori nationalist Mana Party and the right-wing NZ First Party, have intensified their xenophobic campaign to restrict immigration, particularly from China and other Asian countries. The parties are seeking to make this a central issue in […]
By Tom Peters
17 February 2014
Prime Minister John Key announced last Monday that his government had cancelled the passports of a “small group” of people—fewer than 10—who were allegedly planning to join “rebel groups” in Syria. He also claimed that some New Zealand citizens were already fighting in Syria and would be monitored by intelligence agencies if they returned.
The passports were revoked without any semblance of due process. This sets a dangerous new precedent. The individuals involved have not been charged with anything. The only justification offered by Key is that they mightend up in a rebel force linked to Al Qaeda. He told the media that they could “pose a threat to other New Zealanders, if they become radicalised” [emphasis added].
An amendment to the Passports Act, introduced by the former Labour government in 2005, gives the internal affairs minister the right to unilaterally cancel someone’s passport if the minister “believes on reasonable grounds” that they intend to engage in a “terrorist act.”
Despite this sweeping and anti-democratic legislation, Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis and Wellington lawyer Graeme Edgeler both told Radio NZ that the government’s actions could still be unlawful. The government has not accused the individuals of intending to commit terrorist acts; Key merely stated that they wanted to go to Syria “to fight in a way we don’t think is a sensible step for them to take.”
The National Party government’s decision follows the Australian and British governments’ cancellation of dozens of passports for citizens allegedly involved in the Syrian conflict or planning to join the so-called rebels.
The Key government’s actions are completely hypocritical. Like his counterparts in London and Canberra, Key has backed the US-led intervention for regime change in Syria for the past three years. Washington and its regional allies, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have armed and trained the reactionary Islamist militias that constitute the main force fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Now Key is invoking the activity of these Al Qaeda-linked forces to justify the government’s attacks on democratic rights. He told the media he had decided to publicly reveal the cancellation of passports in order to make “the point that our intelligence agencies do some very good work and they’re actually necessary. And last year, when we were having a debate around GCSB [Government Communications Security Bureau], one of the big points I was making was that GCSB provides assistance to SIS [Security Intelligence Service] in exactly these circumstances.”
Last year the government expanded the powers of the GCSB—the country’s external intelligence agency—to allow it to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents. The legislative change, which was opposed by 89 percent of the population, followed revelations that the GCSB had illegally spied on more than 80 people since 2003, including NZ resident Kim Dotcom, an Internet entrepreneur.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden also revealed that the GCSB’s spy bases were part of the US National Security Agency’s worldwide spying operations. Key has stated that he expects Snowden to release more information soon about New Zealand’s role in the NSA’s massive global spying operations. On Thursday, after US President Barack Obama stated that “there is no country where we have a ‘no-spy’ agreement,” Key admitted that US agencies spied on New Zealanders “from time to time” but only if there was a “very good reason.”
In fact, as Snowden revealed, the NSA gathers and stores data from phone calls, text messages, emails and Internet searches of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
The opposition Labour party criticised the cancellation of passports, but its position is no less hypocritical. The previous Labour government, supported by the Greens, allowed the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders and strengthened military and intelligence ties with Washington by taking part in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Labour’s criticisms are bound up with concerns in sections of the ruling elite that Key’s statements could undermine attempts to portray the Syrian bloodbath as a struggle for democracy. Like the National government, Labour and the Greens have repeatedly made clear their support for US intervention in Syria. This week, Obama renewed his threats against Syria, declaring that he reserved “the right to exercise military action on behalf of America’s national security interests.”
Labour’s assistant foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff told Radio Live that while there were some extremist rebel groups, “some of them are liberal democrats.” He said he had no objection to the GCSB “monitoring” individuals returning from Syria, but told the New Zealand Herald that they should be allowed “to fight for the cause of democracy against tyrannical despots.” He likened the US-backed militias to the socialist-inspired workers fighting against Franco’s fascist army during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
The comparison is obscene. The “rebels” are dominated by fundamentalist Sunni groups, including the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). These jihadists, along with more “moderate” groups, have carried out numerous atrocities, including massacring minority Alawite Shiites and Christians. They have no significant support in the Syrian working class.
Sections of the corporate media have echoed Labour’s criticisms. TheHerald’s editorial on Wednesday, while declaring its support for the GCSB’s spying, stated: “[T]here is no doubt [Western governments] would welcome the overthrow of Assad. Why, then, should they care that a few of their citizens have gone [to fight him]?”
Neither Labour nor the Herald has any concern for defending democratic rights. Their statements are intended to once more re-affirm the commitment of New Zealand’s ruling class to Washington’s drive toward direct military intervention.
By John Braddock
16 December 2013
A new report on child poverty in New Zealand, released on December 9, confirmed previous estimates that a quarter of the country’s children, some 265,000, are living in poverty.
The Child Poverty Monitor report by Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills, a practicing paediatrician, was undertaken after the National government rejected earlier recommendations that it should start a comprehensive measure of poverty. Wills obtained private funding from a Wellington charity to support the research.
The report assessed the level of poverty on the basis of children living in households with less than 60 percent of the median income after housing costs. According to the 2013 Census, the individual median income is $NZ28,500.
The figures are damning. One out of every six children does not receive basic necessities such as healthcare and clothing. One in ten suffers from “severe poverty”—often going without essential items like fruit and vegetables and warm housing. Three out of five poor children will be entrenched in poverty for much of their childhood.
The figures for Maori and Pacific Islander children are a particular indictment, with one in three living in poverty. Altogether, sole parent families make up 51 percent of those in poverty and families dependent on welfare represent about 60 percent. However, child poverty is reaching far beyond welfare beneficiaries, with about two out of five impoverished kids living in working families.
Poverty-related illnesses have risen 12 percent since the global crash began in 2008 and reached record highs last year. The biggest increases are in acute bronchiolitis, gastroenteritis, asthma, acute upper respiratory infections and skin infections. Tens of thousands of children are admitted to hospital every year for respiratory and infectious diseases associated with living in damp, overcrowded homes.
“Most New Zealanders will find the numbers of children affected by disease shocking,” Wills told the Herald on Sunday, “but for those of us working clinically with families in poverty it is not surprising.” He said hospital wards were full of poor, sick children every month of the year, not just in winter. There was no longer a “summer lull” in diseases. Wills added: “You don’t get 10 to 12 people living in a two-bedroom house because they want to.”
Wills said there remained widespread ignorance about the extent of child poverty and how badly it had deteriorated in the past 30 years. “Child poverty has at least doubled by any measure since I was a kid,” Wills said, saying the government lacked “a plan” to reduce child poverty.
In fact, ruthless government measures are exacerbating the crisis. Since July, following the most far-reaching attack on welfare in 50 years, aimed at slashing $1.6 billion from benefits, more than 2,700 parents had seen their payments halved for failing “work obligations.” This could be anything from missing a work seminar to not giving the authorities a CV. More than 8,600 other beneficiaries had their payments cut or cancelled, which could be for failing to enrol children in education and healthcare, refusing to undergo a work drug test, or ignoring a warrant for arrest.
The Child Poverty Monitor report was the second in less than a week to point to the extent of child poverty. The United Nations agency UNICEF found significant increases in infectious diseases, high rates of child maltreatment, children hurt while working, children detained in police cells and tried in the adult justice system, and significant levels of inequality.
The plight of impoverished children is part of the wider onslaught by governments of all stripes over the past three decades, and in particular the austerity measures implemented since the 2008 global financial crisis. Welfare measures are being dismantled in order to slash government spending, cut corporate taxes and drive down wages, so that profit rates can be boosted.
Census data released last month showed the gap between rich and poor has sharply increased since 2006. While median income increased in dollar terms from $24,400 to $28,500, it failed to keep up with inflation. Incomes in working class South Auckland plummeted by up to 17 percent. Nearly 40 percent of adults had an income of $20,000 or less. Home ownership rates dropped to 65 percent of households, compared with 70 percent in 2006.
Meanwhile, a narrow privileged layer improved its financial position significantly, with more than 181,000 people—5 percent of the population—earning above $100,000, compared with 105,525 individuals six years ago, an increase of nearly 75 percent.
The yawning social gulf is impacting every area of life. In the OECD’s international educational tests, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), published last month, New Zealand’s 15-year-olds slipped from seventh to 13th in reading, seventh to 18th in science and 13th to 23rd in mathematics. In 2003, New Zealand had one of the biggest gaps between high and low achievement. By 2012, the gap had worsened.
Fiona Ell from Auckland University wrote in the New Zealand Herald on December 5 that New Zealand has bigger differences in mathematics performance between rich and poor students than many other countries, and there is a stronger than average relationship between test scores and socio-economic status. “It is harder to do well in New Zealand if you are poor, than other places,” she concluded.
Government ministers flatly dismissed the Child Poverty Monitor report. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett remained adamant that child poverty had got “no worse.” Prime Minister John Key simply claimed that after the global financial crisis “more people went onto the unemployment benefit for a period of time.”
The main “opposition” parties, Labour, the Greens and Mana, while making minor criticisms of National, offer no alternative to the relentless growth of mass poverty caused by the global crisis of capitalism. It is an economic system they all defend, backing the drive to make New Zealand companies “competitive” by matching the cuts in working class conditions being imposed in Europe and America.
In government from 1999-2008, Labour and its allies never restored National’s devastating welfare cuts of the early 1990s. They are now preparing to implement even more sweeping austerity measures should they win the 2014 election. Last week, Labour confirmed it would join the international assault on workers’ pensions by lifting the retirement age from 65 to 67 and means-testing superannuation payments.
By John Braddock
14 November 2013
New Zealand Post announced this month that the company will axe over 2,000 jobs in the coming three years. NZ Post CEO Brian Roche earlier refused to reveal the full extent of the cuts before talks with the trade unions, saying only that “they would be significant.” The scale of the job losses, 20 percent of the state-owned enterprise’s workforce, was much greater than anticipated and came as an enormous shock to workers.
The onslaught follows the National-led government’s decision to approve changes to NZ Post’s “Deed of Understanding” to allow postal deliveries to be cut from six days a week to three. NZ Post chairman Michael Cullen told a press conference on November 1 the change reflected “the challenges of new market realities.”
Cullen was deputy prime minister in the 1999-2008 Labour government. He denied that the latest moves paralleled the pro-market restructuring of the Lange Labour government in the 1980s. He noted that 400 Post Shops closed in a single day in February 1988, saying “small towns in New Zealand still bear the scars of those changes.” That is “not going to happen here,” he claimed.
NZ Post’s board and management blamed falling mail volumes for the decision. Cullen said the company’s traditional letter mail business was in “irreversible decline” and had deteriorated to a point “where it would be irresponsible not to take action.” Letter volumes have dropped 30 percent since 2006.
In reality, the extensive restructuring of NZ Post has just one purpose: to drive up profits at the expense of workers and postal services for working people. NZ Post made a net after-tax profit of $121 million for the year to June but, according to the Dominion Post, the changes are needed to ensure the “taxpayer-owned business” maximises “the profits and the dividends it delivers to governments.”
Like the British Royal Mail, NZ Post is most likely being pared down in preparation for privatisation, following the current partial sales of three power companies and Air New Zealand. The company’s plans include “premium” services such as overnight deliveries, slashing “postie” numbers and replacing bikes with vehicles, transforming specialist Post Shops into kiosks within private business agencies, and the greater use of technology.
The political establishment as a whole backed the decision. Prime Minister John Key bluntly dismissed the loss of 2,000 jobs as the “brutal reality” of fewer letters. Labour Party leader David Cunliffe described the move as “a sledgehammer approach,” but did not oppose the sackings, saying instead that the “massive workforce cut may not be the best response” to the growth of email traffic.
Greens co-leader Russel Norman told Radio NZ: “[C]learly the volumes are dropping and I think NZ Post is just trying to adjust to that commercial reality.” The Maori nationalist Mana Movement and its pseudo-left satellites—Socialist Aotearoa, Fightback and the International Socialist Organisation—remain silent, indicating their complicity.
The Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) and Postal Workers Union (PWU) both feigned surprise at the announcement. EPMU organiser Joe Gallagher said: “These plans have clearly been in the pipeline for a long time, but the people affected by them, including all New Zealanders who use the postal service, have been kept in the dark.”
In fact, the unions have been central to imposing the cuts. NZ Post CEO Roche told Radio NZ’s “Checkpoint” program on October 26 that the mass sackings would be “worked through methodically” with the trade unions. Since the beginning of the year, the unions have enforced a series of sackings, closures and wage cuts, suppressing any opposition by workers.
The previous restructuring included the closure in June of mail processing centres in Wellington, Waikato and Dunedin at a cost of 500 jobs, the mothballing of the company’s Wellington and Auckland Datamail facilities, and the elimination of 100 management positions in July. In pay negotiations earlier this year, the unions agreed to a one-off payment of $500 and a paltry 1 percent wage increase in 2014.
The unions declared from the outset that the changes were inevitable and necessary. The EPMU announced in February that it accepted a “restructuring” of NZ Post. The PWU said it recognised “the changes facing NZ Post,” while pledging to meet with management to “discuss the future job prospects of those employees who chose to leave before being made redundant.”
On November 2, PWU president John Maynard told the Dominion Post he agreed there was “definitely an issue of declining mail volumes” and it was “fair enough the company tried to solve the problem.” His only criticism was that the company was proceeding “in a way that’s going to accelerate” the decline. Maynard said he would meet with NZ Post management at the end of the month, and “emphasise the need to look at alternatives.”
NZ Post workers should reject the job losses, destruction of conditions and closures. The NZ Post decisions are not the inevitable consequence of falling mail volumes, but are dictated by the corporate elite to open up every sector of the economy to private profit at the expense of the working class. The enormous advances in technology should allow the provision of low cost, high quality services for all, lessening the workload of workers. But under capitalism, there is a never-ending restructuring that destroys the jobs, conditions and living standards of the working class.
The first step in launching a struggle to defend all jobs, conditions and services is a complete break with the trade unions, the establishment of independent rank-and-file committees and a turn to other sections of workers in New Zealand and internationally facing similar attacks. It involves, above all, a political struggle against NZ Post management, the National government and the unions on the basis of a fight for a workers’ government and socialist policies. The postal system and other essential utilities, along with the banks and major private corporations, should be placed under the democratic control and public ownership of the working class, as part of the socialist reorganisation of society.
By Tom Peters
10 October 2013
Addressing the UN General Assembly on September 26, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key re-affirmed the National Party government’s support for the US drive to war against Syria. Key denounced the UN Security Council’s “lack of agreement,” which he said had rendered it a “powerless bystander to the Syrian tragedy” and “shielded the Assad regime.” His remarks were regarded as an attack on Russia and China, which vetoed UN resolutions that would have paved the way for military intervention.
Key repeated Washington’s false claim that the UN investigation “makes it very clear” that the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus was carried out “by the Syrian regime” and called for it to be “brought to account.” In fact, the UN inspectors’ report gave no indication of which side was responsible, but merely established that chemical weapons had been used. Russia and Syria insist that the US-backed “rebels” staged the attack to create the pretext for US military intervention.
Key’s speech underscored the commitment of New Zealand ruling elite to the military alliance with the US. Support for US militarism seeks to ensure Washington’s backing for New Zealand’s own neo-colonial operations in the Pacific, where NZ businesses face increasing competition from China. The opposition Labour Party and the Greens also back regime change in Syria. While both the government and the opposition parties have called for a UN mandate, Key previously stated that he would consider supporting a unilateral US attack.
On the same day as Key’s speech, the UN Security Council adopted a deal negotiated between the US and Russia to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. This represented a temporary retreat by the Obama administration in the face of overwhelming public opposition to war within the US and internationally. For weeks the US had threatened to bombard Syria to support the Al Qaeda-linked militias seeking to topple Assad.
The resolution only delayed the prospect of war. Washington can readily exploit the inspection process to manufacture a pretext for stepping-up the regime-change operation it has been directing in Syria for more than two years. The real purpose of its intervention is to consolidate US dominance over the energy-rich Middle East. Addressing the UN on September 24, Obama defended preparations for war, stating that the US “is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests” in the Middle East and Africa, including “the free flow of energy from the region.”
Key made clear that his government supports this agenda. He told reporters on September 27 that the resolution to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons was a “positive step,” but complained that it “doesn’t specifically spell out how it would hold the regime to account… It doesn’t allow for force.” He criticised the lack of a Chapter 7 resolution, which would authorise military intervention if the regime violated the disarmament plan.
There is no substantive difference between the government’s warmongering and the position of the main opposition parties. Recently-installed Labour leader David Cunliffe made no criticism of Key’s speech. Last month he told TVNZ he supported New Zealand “playing its part” in an attack on Syria “under a UN mandate.” On September 8, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer recommended supporting “the Security Council in creating the space for whatever retaliatory action needs to happen.”
Labour’s defence spokesman Phil Goff has repeatedly called for the ousting of Assad and denounced Russian opposition to an attack. In August, he told Radio NZ that Assad could not be allowed to “act with impunity,” declaring that “even Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons in the Second World War.”
Labour has a long record of support for US militarism. The 1999–2008 Labour government, backed by the Greens and the Alliance Party, sent troops to assist the invasion of Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq—illegal wars launched on the basis of lies about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
The Greens have adopted a “pacifist” posture, calling for “non-military” action to prosecute and disarm Assad’s regime. Notwithstanding this, the Greens, like their co-thinkers in Germany and elsewhere, have made perfectly clear their support for a US war. The party’s foreign affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham repeatedly attacked China and Russia for vetoing UN resolutions that would have authorised US military action.
On September 18, Graham wrote approvingly that the UN Security Council could “take any action, including military as a last resort” to address the “threat” posed by Syria’s chemical weapons. In other words, the Greens would support attacks on Syria, “as a last resort”, provided it is UN-approved.
In a blog post on September 23, Graham endorsed Washington’s pretext for war, writing that “Western states have ‘high confidence’ (the highest level short of confirmation) that the Syrian government forces deployed [chemical] weapons.” He hailed the Russian-US deal to destroy the weapons as a “major step forward,” while noting that “non-compliance ‘should result’ in chapter VII measures being adopted by the Council”—in other words, military force. On September 27, he wrote that Key “should be commended” for denouncing the use of the veto in his speech.
The pseudo-left groups Fightback, Socialist Aotearoa and the International Socialist Organisation, have remained silent on Key’s speech and the other parties’ pro-war statements. Like their international counterparts, these organisations are advocates for US imperialism. While nominally opposing a US attack, they all support the reactionary Islamist militias in Syria, who are funded and armed by the US and its allies to oust Assad, and whose leaders have urged US military intervention.
By Joel Priddy
2 October 2013
Recent reports underscore the widening social gulf in New Zealand. Like its counterparts in the US and Europe, the National Party-led government is imposing sweeping cuts to essential services and overseeing the destruction of jobs, wages and conditions, while engineering a transfer of wealth to the rich.
A recent book, Inequality; A New Zealand Crisis, edited by journalist Max Rashbrooke, notes that workers’ share of gross domestic product is lower in New Zealand than in 28 other OECD countries and higher than only four: Luxembourg, Mexico, Slovakia and Turkey. Half the population, including beneficiaries and pensioners, earn less than $24,000. The bottom 10 percent of single-person households received an average of just $11,000 in 2011. After housing costs are deducted, these households have less money to spend than they did in the early 1980s.
The book reports that anyone earning more than $72,000 is in the top 10 percent of income earners. The top 1 percent of the adult population own 16 percent of the country’s total wealth, three times as much as the poorest 50 percent. In 2010, New Zealand was ranked 20th among 34 OECD countries in terms of income inequality.
Real wages have been falling behind labour productivity increases since the mid-1980s, indicating a sharp increase in the rate of exploitation of the working class. According to economist Bill Rosenberg, working people have received only a quarter of labour productivity gains over the past decade, resulting in a progressively lower labour share of total economic output.
The latest pay figures released by Statistics NZ last month show that average hourly earnings rose by only 2.1 percent over the year, the smallest increase since December 2000. Some 45 percent of workers did not receive any pay rise at all. The paltry gain comes off an extremely low wages base: the adult minimum wage is just $13.75 an hour, with the “starting-out” wage for young workers, instituted by the National-led government in May, set at 80 percent of the adult rate. A third of all workers receive less than $18.40 per hour.
A glimpse of the social crisis among broad layers of working people is provided in an Otago University study, released last month, which gives the first accurate picture of homelessness. Some 34,000 people suffer “severe housing deprivation.” More than half are aged under 25, and a quarter are children. About half are homeless despite working or studying, and about one in five are working full-time.
In response to the study, Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills admitted that an “alarming” number of children have “no fixed abode.” At many working-class schools, this leads to a yearly student turnover of more than 50 percent, as families move from house to house. These children usually do not have a doctor and spend long periods not attending school as they move. “These are low-income working families that can only get accommodation in a garage or in a shed. It leads to terrible outcomes for children,” Wills said.
While the Otago study is based on 2006 census data, researchers say that the problem has worsened. The figures do not include those people made homeless by the government’s austerity measures or the 2011 Christchurch earthquake—which according to one study number more than 3,000.
There is a deepening housing shortage and rising demand for support services. According to the Otago Daily Times, the Christchurch City Mission and YWCA are “inundated” with women and children desperately seeking emergency housing at levels never seen before. Both say they have to turn away people. The YWCA, on average, has a regular waiting list of 50 women plus their children.
Meanwhile, the National Business Review (NBR) 2013 “Rich List,” published in July, reported that the “rich continue to get richer.” The NBR boasted that the 2013 list is “bigger and richer than ever before.” The total net worth of list members is over $NZ47.8 billion, an increase of $3.5 billion on last year. If New Zealand-based international billionaires are included, the figure climbs to a record $60.4 billion.
When the list was started in 1986, $6.8 million was enough to earn a place. By 2010, a net worth of $50 million was needed. This year, there are 12 newcomers and six billionaires topping the list. Two notable inclusions are Prime Minister John Key, net worth $50 million, and National Party president Peter Goodfellow, whose family’s worth is $500 million.
Graeme Hart, the country’s richest man and world’s largest packing supplier, is worth $6.4 billion. He is currently extending a $30 million cliff-top home in Auckland. Hart also owns property on Waiheke Island, two super yachts, a property in Aspen and an island in Fiji.
NBR editor Neville Gibson said the surge in wealth was mainly due to record profitability across investment classes. The equity market returned 25.9 percent in 2012 and added another 10 percent in the first half of this year. The property market, according to Gibson, “has been white hot.”
The wealth accumulated by this tiny elite has been at the expense of the working class. Beginning with the Lange-led Labour Party administration in 1984, governments of all stripes implemented sweeping pro-market restructuring that has redistributed wealth to the richest layers of society. Fire sales of government assets took place, and are continuing, corporate taxes were slashed, the top marginal tax rate was halved, the regressive Goods and Services Tax introduced, and the financial markets deregulated.
Under both Labour and National governments, the trade unions have suppressed the opposition of the working class to the onslaught on jobs, wages and essential services such as education, health and welfare. Now in opposition, the Labour Party is attempting to posture as a defender of the poor, but like the National government, is committed to imposing the burden of the worsening global capitalist crisis on the working class.
By John Braddock
21 September 2013
David Cunliffe, who postured as “left-wing” during the lengthy campaign for the New Zealand Labour Party leadership, won the ballot that was announced last Sunday. While he failed to gain a majority of the parliamentary caucus, Cunliffe won 60 percent of the membership vote and 70 percent of votes allocated to the affiliated unions, to defeat rivals Grant Robertson and Shane Jones.
The installation of Cunliffe is a desperate attempt by Labour to overcome the profound hostility in the working class towards the party. Beginning with the Lange-Douglas governments of the 1980s, the Labour Party has been instrumental in imposing the demands of big business for slashed social spending, privatisation and pro-market restructuring.
As a result, its membership has plummetted and, despite widespread hostility to the present National Party government, Labour faces a third consecutive election rout next year. The previous leader David Shearer resigned last month after shifting Labour further to the right, following landslide defeats to National in 2008 and 2011.
All the candidates in the leadership contest made cynical pitches to working people. Cunliffe denounced inequality and declared he was dedicated to restoring “fairness” and lifting living standards. His limited promises included raising personal taxes on the wealthy, repealing a raft of draconian employment laws, and backing a union-led campaign for a “living wage” of $18.40 an hour.
Cunliffe is the first leading Labour MP to repudiate the pro-market policies of the 1984-89 Lange government, since Jim Anderton led a 1989 split to form New Labour. At a speech to the New Lynn Women’s Branch in April last year, Cunliffe argued that by adopting the free market “neo-liberal” dogma, Labour had, to its “eternal shame”, embraced a system that “simply handed over most of the wealth and power to rich people.”
The speech was lauded in “radical” circles. Columnist Chris Trotter, a former Anderton supporter, enthused over Cunliffe’s “singular and radical understanding of the need to steer Labour into the new, fast-flowing tides of historical change.” The pseudo-left International Socialist Organisation (ISO) claimed that a Cunliffe victory would “push Labour, to some extent, to the Left.”
Following Cunliffe’s victory, Trotter declared it was “a great day for David Cunliffe, the Labour Party and the New Zealand working-class.” Blogger Martyn Bradbury wrote: “David has emerged as the peoples [sic] champion for Labour. The winds of history are now at his back and he represents the first real post-[Helen] Clark Labour Party.”
Cunliffe himself has continued to feed these illusions. When Prime Minister John Key declared that the new Labour leader would shift his party to the “far-left”, Cunliffe responded: “If putting a warm dry home around every Kiwi child and making sure their tummies are fed and they have shoes on their feet is suddenly far-left, well go ahead with that tag.”
All of this posturing is entirely bogus. Cunliffe’s elevation does not represent any shift from the agenda of pro-market restructuring begun under the Lange-Douglas governments. While feigning concern about child poverty, he has assured big business that Labour would implement its agenda.
On TV One’s “Q and A” program on September 1, Cunliffe emphasised his commitment to the “market” economy, saying that the role of government was to be an “active partner” to big business and outlining a series of pro-business policies on taxation, research and regional development.
In an interview on National Radio on Monday, Cunliffe declared that he would lift the top personal tax rate from 33 percent to its previous level of 39 percent, but promised to leave corporate taxes untouched. He emphasised that his proposal for a capital gains tax at the “low level” of 15 percent was to deter property speculation.
Cunliffe has studiously avoided making any promises to reverse any of National’s deeply unpopular policies, including asset sales, public service job cuts, school closures, its increase to the regressive Goods and Service Tax, or recently-enacted spying legislation. On foreign policy, he already declared support for a criminal US-led strike against Syria.
Writing in the Herald on September 14, business commentator Fran O’Sullivan reassured her readers about Cunliffe’s “socialist” posturing: “There is considerable room for doubt over whether Cunliffe really embraces socialism. Or whether it is just convenient window-dressing to boost support in the Labour Party at large to make up for the considerable distrust he faces within the caucus.”
Cunliffe helped implement anti-working class policies of the 1999–2008 Clark administration. He was first elected in the Titirangi electorate seat, later New Lynn, in 1999. He graduated from Harvard University with a masters degree in public administration then worked as a diplomat, economist and business strategist for Boston Consulting Group. To allay business concerns, he peddles his corporate background, claiming he can match Key, a former currency trader, on the prime minister’s own terms.
Under Clark, Cunliffe held the health and commerce portfolios. As minister of commerce, he was responsible for unbundling Telecom’s local loop monopoly and further opening up the IT sector to investors. When Labour was defeated at the 2008 election, he took the shadow finance portfolio. As opposition spokesman, he advocated fiscal “prudence”, lowering debt levels, “partnerships” with business—including public-private partnerships—and boosting the Maori business base.
Cunliffe has been a consistent advocate of austerity measures that have devastated the living standards of working people. In May 2011, in response to the release of National’s budget cutbacks, Cunliffe told Radio NZ that “under any government there would have to be cuts”, because finances were tight. His main line of attack against National this week has been over the deficit, boasting of Labour’s record of budget surpluses, achieved by slashing spending on health, welfare and education. His message is clearly that the government’s measures are not harsh enough.
As the New Zealand economy deteriorates, Cunliffe is promoting Labour to the corporate and financial elite as the best political instrument for implementing its agenda while containing any resistance from working people. This right-wing bourgeois politician is only able to get away with his fraudulent posturing as a defender of the working class with the assistance of figures like Trotter and the pseudo-left ISO.
By John Braddock
14 September 2013
Three candidates—Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe and Shane Jones—are contesting a ballot for the vacant position of the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, with voting due to conclude tomorrow.
The three-week campaign was triggered by the August 22 resignation of David Shearer. Shearer had failed to lift the party’s dismal media poll ratings since assuming the leadership in 2011 and was heading toward a divisive national party conference in November and another likely electoral disaster in 2014.
Shearer’s resignation highlights the profound crisis wracking the Labour Party, a product of the widespread hostility toward the party that has developed over three decades among its former social base in the working class.
Labour’s collapse of support follows two lengthy periods in office, 1984–1989 and 1999–2008, during which it carried out the reactionary pro-market agenda of big business. The last Labour government, led by Helen Clark, was dumped in 2008 with just 34 percent of the popular vote, 11 points behind the National Party.
At the 2011 election, despite the National government’s far reaching assault on workers, Labour received just 27 percent of the vote, its worst result in 80 years. In another sign of popular disaffection, the turnout of 74 percent of those eligible was the lowest since 1887.
In opposition, Labour has expressed no fundamental differences with Prime Minister John Key’s government. National’s austerity agenda has resulted in sweeping asset sales program and stepped-up attacks on jobs, living standards, health and education.
Under Shearer, Labour lurched even further to the right. It joined the Greens and the right-wing populist NZ First party in whipping up anti-Chinese sentiment over Chinese land purchases and recently proposed that foreigners be blocked from buying property, supposedly to halt soaring house prices.
Shearer resigned following widespread protests against deeply unpopular legislation giving wide powers to the security services to spy on the population. Labour did not oppose the new law as such, but proposed only cosmetic changes, purportedly to ensure greater oversight.
The leadership contest is being conducted under new rules adopted following a bitter debate at the 2012 party conference, which reduced the power of the parliamentary caucus. The leadership is now decided by a vote weighted to allocate 40 percent to the party membership, 40 percent to the caucus and 20 percent to six affiliated trade unions.
There has been a presidential-style selection race, with the candidates addressing membership meetings and union gatherings. These stage-managed affairs, fawned over by the media, were designed to create an atmosphere of “rejuvenation” among the party’s vastly depleted ranks.
The candidates boast of addressing 4,000 members at meetings over the past three weeks. This, however, only underlines the precipitous decline of Labour’s base, from nearly 60,000 in the 1980s under the Lange Labour government to less than 10,000. Labour no longer has the active support of the working class—it is an electoral apparatus for the parliamentary aspirations of union bureaucrats and sections of the middle class.
Labour’s six union affiliates, which are themselves discredited by their decades of betrayal, are attempting to mobilise non-party union members—most of whom are deeply alienated from the Labour Party—in the selection process. Four unions endorsed Cunliffe as their preferred candidate, while the Service and Food Workers Union called on its branches to hold worksite meetings to discuss and vote on the leadership.
Each of the contenders has sought to distance himself from Shearer and Labour’s record in government, claiming to stand for a return to “traditional Labour values.” This harks back to the country’s first Labour government, which took office at the height of the 1930s Depression and implemented limited social reforms to head off emerging political and social upheavals. Invoking this political heritage is part of the attempts by the three candidates to appeal to the working class. It is also a pledge to the ruling class that they are committed to propping up capitalism in the current global crisis.
All three are right-wing bourgeois politicians with ties to the former Clark government and its attacks on the working class. Robertson, Shearer’s deputy, was previously a diplomat and ministerial adviser to Clark. Cunliffe was commerce minister in Clark’s government. Jones, also a member of the Clark cabinet, entered politics from the chairmanship of the Maori Fisheries Commission.
On TV One’s “Q and A” program on September 1, all the candidates emphasised their commitment to the “market” economy, saying that the role of government is to be an “active partner” to big business. Stressing his background as a corporate consultant, Cunliffe enumerated pro-business policies around taxation, research and regional development. Robertson stated that Labour has a lot in common with NZ First, as well as the Greens and that he could work with either.
All three have assured big business that they can be relied on to implement the next stage of the austerity agenda. None have promised to change Labour’s previous agreement not to reverse any of National’s job cuts, school closures in Christchurch and its increase to the regressive Goods and Service Tax. On foreign policy, the candidates have all declared their support for a US-led strike against Syria.
However, such is the hostility in the working class to Labour that the candidates have felt compelled to make empty promises to lift living standards. Cunliffe and Robertson have endorsed a “living wage” campaign by the unions, promising to lift the minimum wage for government workers to $18.40 per hour and the national minimum wage from $13.75 to $15 per hour.
Cunliffe made a hypocritical show of concern about child poverty and struggling families, while Robertson made a pitch on the basis of identity politics, promising to ensure that 50 percent of Labour MPs after the next election would be women. Both pledged to do away with National’s employment law changes, including the 90-day probation period for new hires. Jones promised to restore the party’s connections with its alienated “traditional” supporters.
The contenders have relied on various apologists for Labour from the middle-class radical milieu to give this fraudulent process credibility. Columnist Chris Trotter, who in 2011 backed Shearer, has now anointed Cunliffe as the most “left-wing” candidate. Writing in the Dominion Post on August 30, Trotter declared that Cunliffe understands that the financial crash of 2008 shattered the “market-led” policies of the previous period, on which there had been the “broad consensus” between both National and Labour-led governments.
In fact, the “market-led” policies that were initiated by the Lange Labour government, and produced an endless assault on the living standards of workers, were a product of the globalisation of production that shattered any basis for national economic regulation and limited social reforms. Whoever is chosen as leader, Labour, like National, remains committed to ensuring the “competitiveness” of New Zealand capitalism at the expense of the working class.
The pseudo-left International Socialist Organisation (ISO) also openly supported Cunliffe, promoting the dangerous illusion that his victory “would push Labour, to some extent, to the Left, and has the chance to raise expectations beyond the party.” The ISO and other pseudo-left organisations function as political defenders of Labour and the unions, in order to block the development of an independent movement of the working class based on an internationalist and socialist alternative.
These efforts to revive the political fortunes of the Labor Party reflect broader concerns in ruling circles over the stability of parliamentary rule itself, amid profound alienation from all the major parties. In conditions where mass struggles have already erupted in Egypt, Europe and elsewhere in response to austerity measures, the New Zealand political establishment is acutely aware that whichever party comes to power after the 2014 election will be compelled to deepen the assault on the working class.
By John Braddock and Tom Peters
2 September 2013
New Zealand’s conservative National Party-led government passed legislation on August 22 to give the country’s external security agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), vastly expanded powers to spy on citizens and residents.
The legislation, introduced under “urgency” provisions to curtail public debate, passed its final reading in parliament by 61 votes to 59. National, United Future and ACT New Zealand backed the legislation, with all other parties, including Labour, the Greens and the Maori-nationalist Mana Party voting against it.
The law was pressed through in the face of overwhelming public opposition. Three days earlier an audience of 1,500 people filled the Auckland town hall to protest the Bill. This followed a series of well-attended protest rallies in towns and cities across the country on July 27 (see “New Zealand: Thousands protest domestic spying laws”). A poll of nearly 53,000 people by TV3 found that 89 percent opposed the Bill.
The legislation was brought forward following revelations that the GCSB had illegally spied on Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom as part of an operation initiated by the US State Department to shut down Dotcom’s Megaupload file-sharing site. A government-ordered inquiry found that over the last 10 years the GCSB broke the law by spying on 88 citizens and permanent residents.
On August 29, police superintendent Peter Read announced that no charges would be laid over the spying on Dotcom on the spurious grounds that the GCSB did not break the law with “intent.”
Last month the Sunday Star-Times also published claims that the Defence Force and GCSB had worked with US agencies to spy on New Zealand journalist Jon Stephenson in Afghanistan.
The new law is designed to legalise past GCSB activities and at the same time to boost its powers. It amends the 2003 GCSB Act and the 2004 Telecommunications Interception Capability Act to allow the agency to engage in domestic spying, both on its own behalf and in conjunction with the police, the Defence Force and the domestic spy agency, the Security Intelligence Service (SIS).
The new law extends the GCSB’s aims beyond “national security” to include contributing to “the international relations and well-being of NZ” and its “economic well-being.” It is also empowered to provide advice to a range of unspecified public and private sector organisations.
The extent of popular opposition has provoked concerns in ruling circles. In an editorial on August 24, the Dominion Post expressed full support for the Bill, including the “need for the GCSB to exist and to have the extraordinary abilities it has been given.” At the same time, the Post warned that it would take more than a “statutory change” to “restore New Zealanders’ trust in the spy agency … after serious questions about its ability to stay within legal boundaries.”
As well as invoking threats of “terrorism,” Prime Minister Key claimed that as minister in charge of the agency he would not grant warrants to the GCSB to look at the content of New Zealanders’ communications. Key also promised that he and the head of GCSB would resign if the spy agency were found to have conducted mass surveillance.
Such assurances are completely hollow. New Zealand is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence network led by the American National Security Agency (NSA), together with Britain, Canada and Australia. This allows the governments involved to circumvent any prohibition against gathering data on their own citizens by accessing the NSA’s massive data banks.
The whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in July that the GCSB’s Waihopai spy base—which is partly funded by the US—helps to gather electronic data for the NSA’s X-Keyscore program.
Former Internet NZ chief executive Vikram Kumar noted in the National Business Review that under the companion Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security (TICS) Bill, all internet service providers, including Skype, Google Talk and Apple’s FaceTime and iMessage, and telecommunications companies like Telecom and Vodafone, can be ordered to make their networks “interceptable.”
According to Kumar, the TICS Bill will “provide surveillance agencies with secret, direct access to the whole of a network’s traffic in real-time, bypassing normal security and access requirements.”
Despite voting against the GCSB Bill in parliament, the “opposition” parties are just as committed to maintaining and extending the country’s intelligence apparatus. Labour and the Greens have promised a “review” of the security services, if they win the next election, but such a review will only pave the way for deeper attacks on democratic rights.
The key role in attempting to divert anger over the Bill behind the parliamentary opposition has been played by the Mana Party and its pseudo-left affiliates, particularly Socialist Aotearoa.
Mana’s candidate for mayor John Minto made clear at a July 27 protest that he had no principled opposition to state surveillance, provided it was “in the interests of the people of New Zealand.” In a July 17 article, Socialist Aotearoa (SA) downplayed the significance of the new laws. Echoing the line of the government, SA asserted that the GCSB was focused on “potential terrorist actors” and dismissed claims that the Bill represented “massive new attacks on civil liberties.”
Amid growing public hostility to the new law SA attempted to backtrack from this position, stating on August 14 that the GCSB’s collaboration with the NSA’s gathering of personal data “breaches our fundamental human rights to privacy.” SA promoted the August 19 public meeting, organised by Mana and liberal blogger Martyn Bradbury, ensuring opposition remained tied to the parliamentary set-up and capitalist parties.
The meeting provided a platform for Labour leader Shearer, Greens co-leader Russel Norman, and Winston Peters of the right-wing populist NZ First Party, to posture as opponents of the Bill. Peters asserted that spy agencies were necessary because “we live in an imperfect, often evil world.” Like Shearer and Norman, he made vague calls for “robust, workable oversight.”
The reactionary nationalism of Mana and SA is revealed in their embrace of NZ First. On August 27, SA applauded NZ First leader Peters for joining Mana leader Hone Harawira in giving Energy Minister Simon Bridges “a good kicking” during a parliamentary debate on the GCSB.
It is no accident that these same parties backed by the pseudo-lefts seek to play down the significance of the intelligence legislation and support GCSB’s continued operation and integration into the vast US spying network.
NZ First—supported by Labour, the Greens and Mana—is currently leading a racist campaign against Chinese immigration and investment. Last year all the opposition parties and the pseudo-left groups worked to whip up opposition to the purchase of a handful of dairy farms by a Chinese company. The campaign is to scapegoat Chinese people for growing social inequality and align New Zealand with the US war preparations in Asia against China.
By Tom Peters 8 August 2013 The company, Pike River Coal, was sentenced last month on nine charges relating to health and safety violations leading to the fatal explosion at its coal mine on New Zealand’s West Coast on November 19, 2010. The company, known as PRC, was fined $760,000 ($US605,000) and ordered to pay […]