Crony capitalism costs


Last updated 07:30 23/02/2013

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I don't get the political polls lately.

In the space of a week three polls were published. Late last week there was a Roy Morgan poll which showed a good result for the opposition parties. Then a few days later there was TVNZ poll showing the Government way ahead of the opposition parties. Then a couple of days ago a Fairfax poll suggested the opposition parties could govern if there was an election.

The point is there was quite a bit of difference in the polls. This is the first thing I don't get. Now, I'm not a political scientist, so I'm not going to try to explain the differences. I am told that the main thing to look at with these sorts of polls is the trend. But I'm more interested in what has happened around the time of the polls that people might be reacting to.

This leads me to the second thing I don't get. How the Government can still be rating as highly as it is.

I don't think anyone disagrees that last year was a shocker for this Government.

You might expect that I would take some delight in this since I come from the opposite side of politics. Actually, while there is plenty I disagree with, I also accept that they've been elected and they have to govern.

The one thing I do expect of our governing politicians is that they will act fairly and openly and in the interests of all New Zealanders. They might be a National Party Government but they are the New Zealand government. They decide for all of us.

Look at the things that tripped them up last year.

There were some massive privacy breaches in ACC, WINZ and IRD. Sure, it's hard to hold the politicians directly responsible. Except that in the case of the journalist who went into WINZ offices and got access to private information about people, it turns out senior WINZ people knew there was a problem with security of information.

Did any heads roll? I haven't seen the minister being held to account.

Then there were the disasters in education. These were just about all political misjudgments. Trying to tell parents that bigger class sizes were good for kids, before backing down. Putting up a proposal for school closures in Christchurch without getting their facts straight first.

And then there was Novopay.

What made each of these failures stand out was how much the relevant ministers didn't take community concerns seriously.

These were just the failures of political judgement and action. While all these disasters were happening, many working people were struggling to get pay increases or to hold on to enough hours to make ends meet. In some cases, people struggled to hold on to their job.

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Recent figures show incomes falling for many people. The average hourly pay rate actually went down last year.

We know incomes are low on average in New Zealand. This is why unions and church groups have got together to push the idea of a living wage.

Another political story last year was about the shady deal the Government was doing with the casino company, Sky City, to build a conference centre. This week the Auditor General's report on the Sky City deal came out. What was surprising was how it showed up private meetings between ministers and Sky City, the Prime Minister telling advisers to work on one deal only and concerns amongst public servants about what was happening.

This stuff is embarrassing. It's classic crony capitalism - getting a business advantage by cuddling up to politicians in power.

This is the stuff that concerns me most. It's about the trust we can have in government because it looks like a government favouring the rich and the powerful.

How strange that in the middle of all this coming out this week the Government should announce a crack- down on benefit fraud.

What they are now calling relationship fraud costs about $40 million a year. But tax fraud is much bigger. Tax fraud is what happens when the wealthy manipulate income to reduce their tax or use trusts to hide income. It costs us around $1 billion a year. It is theft on a grand scale from those of us who pay all that is due from us.

The benefit fraud crackdown is nothing to do with fixing a major problem. WINZ set up a fraud unit under the last Labour Government that has been working successfully for years.

If you had to choose between benefit fraud or tax theft, why wouldn't you give priority to the biggest problem first? Possibly because the people doing tax theft are the sort of people who vote for your political party?

How disappointing that a local MP has put his name to this shabby piece of politics.

- © Fairfax NZ News

Scott Donaldson
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