Gordon Campbell, as ever, is there with the insightful commentary:
Gordon Campbell on John Key’s assault on the welfare system
If John Key is the face of moderation, there’s not much room left on the margins for the extremism of Don Brash. “Moderation” evidently means asset sales, tax breaks for the rich, cuts to government spending, a view that public services are “unsustainable” and unaffordable” plus – as Key indicated at yesterday’s post -Cabinet press conference – forced contraception for women on benefits as an idea worthy of further consideration. If you can get all that from the smiling face of “moderation” who needs the Act Party?
Act’s first dismal round of polls under its new leadership suggest that the centre right voters have indeed decided that Act is a redundancy. That’s an entirely rational conclusion. As a political shell company for the National Party – led by its lesser, older lights – the Act Party’s only purpose seems to be to foster the illusion of Key’s moderation. Yesterday, Key-the-moderate was engaged in the age-old right wing election year rhetoric of welfare bashing.
More in sorrow than in anger though, of course. The current system was “broken”. It was “unaffordable” And it was “unsustainable ” – unless most of the wilder ideas of the Welfare Working Group are put into action. A Cabinet working team and government departments are now to be tasked with furthering the WWG recommendations.
These welfare alarums are bogus, of course. Only three years ago, this same allegedly broken system had benefit levels down at record lows. The driver of beneficiary numbers is not the mindset of individual beneficiaries, or the fact that New Zealand has suddenly transformed itself into a nation of shirkers. The main determinant of beneficiary numbers is a functioning economy where jobs are available – and that’s something for which Key takes no responsibility whatsoever. Instead, the government seems to be hellbent on making beneficiaries keep their side of the social contract – while taking no responsibility as managers of the economy, for failing to keep its side of the bargain.
In that respect, the government’s welfare reform rhetoric is as dishonest as the timeframe that Key chose to introduce the topic at yesterday’s press conference. In 1970, Key twice pointed out, only 2% of the working age population were on benefits, while 13% were on benefits today. Conclusion: the system is making it too easy for people to get on, and stay on benefits. No concession that he is measuring those beneficiary numbers at the employment trough of the worst global recession since the 1930s, and in the wake of one of New Zealand’s worst natural disasters.
Campbell is spot on. People are desperate for work. But the work isn’t there. The Nats have not responded successfully to the current challenges, so they are blaming beneficiaries for their own failures. Read on for the rest of Campbell’s piece, then go and read his Ten Myths About Welfare. Another electoral battle line has been drawn – arm yourself with the facts!