NZ courting its own Greek crisis

RICHARD LONG
Last updated 05:00 19/06/2012

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Richard Long

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OPINION: Full marks to the tabloid weekender which splashed the story of the health system "victim" wrongly diagnosed with a fatal cancer, who went on a tropical holiday with his wife, notched up debts, and then, alas, found he was going to live.

The story said the victim was pleased to be alive but inherent in the article was the suggestion that this was all a government-health system mistake and shouldn't he perhaps be compensated for the luxury vacation. Join the queue.

What never ceases to amaze me about all the issues the Government is facing down at the moment  teacher numbers, ACC payouts, subsidies to parent caregivers of the disabled, a national convention centre for Auckland, the selldown of state assets - is the apparent widespread belief that the Government has bottomless coffers and should pay for everything without increasing taxes or debt.

The classic is Grey Power in Dunedin  who should be campaigning to protect current generous pensioner benefits  marching in the streets at the weekend against asset sales. What on earth has that political cause to do with them as a lobby group?

Either they are suffering some form of mass dementia or they have been taken over by Labour and the Greens. It does not seem to have occurred to them that unless debt is reduced, we will face further Government cutbacks, including super benefits.

The long-suffering John Key is getting it in the neck on all these issues. His slight fall in the polls (to the level he polled at last year's election) is greeted with enthusiasm and as a sign Labour (and the Greens) are on the way back, as if this could be some sort of saviour of the Kiwi system.

As Mr Key pointed out after his European trip, his Government and the Germans are the only ones likely to survive an election in the continuing world economic crisis.

The British coalition, according to polls, would be slaughtered and in Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard is on her knees.

Frankly, if I were Mr Key, I would arrange for screening of extended TV clips of the Greek euro crisis with the followup line: "Do we really want this here?"

This could be followed with the explanation that partial asset sales, while retaining the companies in majority government ownership, would help reduce debt scheduled to balloon out to $70 billion in three years. As well, it would give the big Kiwi institutions safe investment vehicles, along with Kiwi superannuitants who were so badly battered in the finance house collapses.

We have vast mineral, oil and gas resources onshore and offshore, which could turn us into a Norway of the South Pacific, but these are thwarted on so-called environmental grounds and by the inevitable presence of rare snails or worms. The bureaucratic approval processes are costly and time-consuming, and seemingly stacked against development.

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We have vast coal resources but the Greens, who would have a powerful voice in any coalition with Labour, are opposed to the further exploitation of these.

And there are some worrying signals emerging from some politicians after the bizarre goings-on at ACC, with claims that the no-fault system will, after all the ructions, be restored to its full generosity. Does this mean claims being paid without question? Let's hope not. The sad fact is that Justice Woodhouse's visionary model has been widely rorted by dishonest claimants seeking unwarranted lengthy payouts and by lazy doctors prepared to endorse them. ACC was reduced to collecting evidence of long-term back-injury claimants painting their houses and digging gardens, for example.

The once simple basic model aimed at helping people get back to work was then extended by Labour into such complicated and contentious areas as "work-related mental injury". Fine for a bus or train driver driving over a pedestrian perhaps, but everyone can make a case for mental trauma after a bad day at the office.

Thank goodness realists stopped activists from extending the accident scheme into non-work-related disease as well, or else we would be facing our own Greek ACC crisis.

- The Dominion Post

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