There are alternatives to explore

BY IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY
Last updated 13:37 27/04/2009

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"There is no alternative."

Popular in the 1980s with the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the phrase, "there is no alternative", sent a shiver down the spines of workers and families all over the Western World.

It meant something painful was about to happen. Jobs would be lost, benefits cut, government investment slashed.

But no matter how painful, whatever the effects on communities, regardless of the repercussions, we were reminded, simply: "There is no alternative." It became so common that, like a piece of government administrivia, it morphed into an acronym: Tina.

Twenty-five years on and Tina's exponents see opportunity in our current economic peril. While the effects of the recession are real, and probably every one of us has taken some steps to guard against its impact, the situation has been amplified by some commentators to the point where many of us find the complexity and enormity of the problem overwhelming and will accept any solutions offered, no matter how painful.

Wage freeze? There is no alternative. Public service cuts? There is no alternative. No tax cuts for low income families? There is no alternative. No tax cuts at all next year? There is no alternative. Fewer public health services? There is no alternative. Privatised ACC? There is no alternative. Science investment slashed? There is no alternative. Sustainability projects canned? There is no alternative.

The global economic situation is being used by some in New Zealand to legitimise an ideological pathway we as a nation decided at the end of 1999 we no longer wished to tread. During most of the three years before 1999, the economically centrist tendencies of NZ First had already started to pull the government off that path.

Recognising this, the National Party campaigned in 2008 on a more centrist platform than they had in previous elections, a strategy that worked well, as they now form the bulk of the Government and occupy all the seats at the Cabinet table.

So are there any alternatives? We just have to look at the countries we most often like to compare ourselves with to see that there are.

In the United States, President Barack Obama has doubled the government's investment in science, research and technology, as well as signalling his intention to make permanent the research and development tax credits already introduced.

The UK budget presented last week included a [PndStlg]750 million package aimed at boosting research and innovation in industry, including [PndStlg]250 million for low-carbon business opportunities.

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The UK and US have asked the scientific community to play a key role in the economic recovery of those nations, and have backed that request up with the investment required to make it happen.

The contrast between this approach and what has happened in New Zealand couldn't be starker. The scrapping of the research and development tax credits and the NZ Fast Forward Fund for innovation in the primary produce sector has brought trepidation and uncertainty to the very sector we should be turning to for long-term solutions to our economic woes.

In announcing one of the largest tax-cut packages in US history, President Obama specifically targeted low and middle-income earners, not only in the interests of fairness, but specifically because that strategy has the greatest stimulatory effect on the economy. Again, the contrast with New Zealand is clear.

The Labour Party will continue to offer alternatives when we think there are better ways of tackling the recession. It is equally important that everyone continues to offer ideas and question the decisions made by the Government to ensure all avenues are explored.

Our current situation should not be used as a tool of the Tina ideologues, and it is certainly no excuse for broken promises.

As political scientist Susan George once said: Tata - there are thousands of alternatives! The "centrists" at the Cabinet table need to consider as many alternatives as possible.

- Manawatu Standard

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