Saturday, November 12, 2011
Ron Smith: Sounds of the election
Clearly, what is happening in Greece and Italy has the potential to be a social catastrophe in those countries and the triggering factor is escalating public debt. Apart from the implications for pensions and public amenities (as well as continuing social disorder), it may be worth noting that in both these prominent cases, public confidence in politicians has sunk to such a level, that administrative power has been handed over to non-elected officials. This, in itself, has the potential to become part of a wider problem, and it is a problem that both countries have experienced within the lifetimes of persons still living.
In New Zealand, we can avoid a similar fate by exercising restraint in the matter of our demands on the public purse and supporting parties that advocate such restraint (however imperfectly). Looking at the specifics of the choices that confront us in the election it would seem that a Labour/Green coalition government would be the least likely to do what is required. (It is assumed that the prospect for a dominant Goff-led government, depending on weaker partners, is vanishingly small.) On present polling figures, it may be that a purely National government is unlikely. The crucial question then concerns who Mr Key’s coalition partners are, and to what extent he is beholden to them.
The crucial player here is the almost-disappeared ACT party. Prime Minister Key is persisting with the scientifically and economically absurd emissions trading regime; an indulgence that cannot be afforded in our present circumstances. He needs to be dissuaded. Given what ACT’s policy was on this matter, and given the damage this policy will do to the New Zealand economy, it is astonishing that it has not been raised. The other issue that ought to have been the centre-piece of the ACT campaign is the global economic context of the election. Here Dr Brash has the credentials to talk authoritatively and, given an ACT presence in Parliament after the election, (which seems by no means certain at the present time) this could be a crucial factor. John Key still seems to be in denial about the problem of providing superannuation (and the attendant health costs) for the aging population. Indeed, the presence of such a demanding partner may provide Mr Key with a way out that would enable him to change policy. This could even entail an approach to whoever was leader of the Labour Party, proposing a multi-party approach to the problem.
All this so far has been about New Zealand’s economic and social health, and is somewhat off my usual beat, although it has to be said that, without adequate provision for national security, all else is ultimately at risk. Of course, there has been little discussion of defence issues in the campaign so far, and I am not anticipating any change in the last two weeks. Economic issues seem understandably more pressing. But if we were to speak of defence, I should have to note that the ACT election policy statement was the almost the only one that made any sense. Indeed, some parties (and this includes National) seem to have no defence policy at all (as far the election is concerned).
In a brief statement, ACT observes that the ‘prime responsibility of government is to keep its citizens safe’ and for this purpose we need ‘strong alliances’. We do not have the resources to act on our own (act in an isolationist manner). Like National, Labour has little to say about international security or about what threats there might be out there but they (Labour) would bring home the SAS. That is also the only specific foreign policy principle for the Maori Party.
By contrast, United Future supports an ‘active role in the fight against violent terrorist organisations’. It also advocates ‘a multi-party accord’ on defence. What the prospects for this might be when there are parties (such as the Greens) who think that defence forces should only be used for ‘peace-keeping’ and ‘search and rescue’ and be capable only of ‘defensive combat’, I do not know. Certainly, such forces would be ill-equipped to deal with violent terrorists. On the other hand, the core of New Zealand First foreign policy is ‘being a reliable neighbour’. That might be easier to accommodate.
With the exception of ACT and United Future the foreign and defence policies of the various parties are either naïve or neglectful. At the present time that might not be a pressing concern to many voters. Such threats as there are, or may be conceived of, seem distant in time and place. But this may be an illusion. We already know that the terrorist threat can appear anywhere, and there are contingencies, such as a conflict over resources in Antarctica, which would be very close and unavoidable. As a trading nation, we also have an interest in the security of international commerce. If the background ‘noise’ to a future election is the ‘drums of war’, it will be too late to discuss it then.
at 5:11 PM