Editorial: Shearer missing the point

Last updated 05:00 11/08/2012

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Labour leader David Shearer tells a good story. Unfortunately, the punchline is missing.

OPINION: If he can deliver it, voters might start listening to Labour again, but till he does the story serves only to illustrate the paucity of critical thinking within his party.

The story goes like this: during the 2008 election campaign Mr Shearer knocked on a door in his Mt Albert electorate. "See that guy over there," said the man who came to the door, gesturing to a neighbour's house. "He's on a sickness benefit, yet he's up there painting the roof of his house ... Do you guys support him?"

Mr Shearer recounted the encounter at a Grey Power meeting in Auckland this week. The answer to his constituent's question, he told his audience, was no, Labour was not in favour of people receiving the sickness benefit when they were fit for work. Fairness was a core feature of the social contract. People who needed assistance should get it, but once they were back on their own feet they should pull their weight and contribute to society.

Regrettably, that was the beginning and end of the lesson.

Mr Shearer said the government's role was to ensure the transition from welfare to work occurred through upskilling, educating and giving a "nudge" to those not honouring their side of the bargain. But he did not say how he proposed to persuade the sickness beneficiary to descend from his roof and seek paid employment.

Given that the last Labour government had nine years to upskill, educate and nudge, the public could be forgiven for assuming that under Mr Shearer Labour has nothing new to offer.

Of one thing voters can be sure: extending the "in work" tax credit used to compensate low-wage workers for the extra costs associated with work, to beneficiaries, as proposed by Labour last year, will not solve the problem. It will only further reduce the incentives to seek paid employment.

Mr Shearer's party is stuck in an ideological cul de sac.

The creation of the welfare state was the crowning achievement of Labour's founders. It has contributed to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of New Zealanders making better lives for themselves and their children.

However, as the Kahui case and other recent instances of child abuse demonstrate, it has also contributed to the creation of a growing underclass, comprising second and third-generation beneficiaries who do not recognise any obligation to seek gainful employment or to contribute to the community.

Until Labour accepts that the system is failing the children of those families, it is unlikely to receive a warm welcome on the doorsteps of working New Zealanders.

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IN PRAISE OF ... OLYMPIC INSPIRATION

IN HOMES all over the country, bicycle tyres are being pumped up and running shoes retrieved from the deepest recesses of wardrobes. The London Olympics draw to a close in two days but, inspired by the feats of Hoy, Bolt, and Phelps, not to mention New Zealand's rowers, weekend warriors will be taking to the nation's roads and swimming pools in increased numbers in coming days. Physiotherapists should prepare for an upsurge in business.

Once again the Olympics have delivered a feast of sport and drama. London has glittered, tears have been shed, tantrums have been thrown and records have been broken. But some of the most lasting memories of these Games have been the displays of camaraderie between rivals once competition has ended. Few who watched the epic men's single sculls final will forget the delight on the faces of bronze medallist Alan Campbell and silver medallist Ondrej Synek as they hoisted the victorious Mahe Drysdale in the air before the medal ceremony.

Only the vanquished appreciate just how much effort has gone into securing victory. Winning is not everything; giving of your best is.

Remember that as you lace up those old runners.

- The Dominion Post

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