National’s strategy around the Pike River report is to try to get the media story over in a day. That’s why Wilkinson waited until now to resign – no punishment as she’ll still be a Cabinet minister and her resignation will come in handy in stymieing opposition questions to the Minister of Labour. But this won’t go away. For one, there’s Key’s claim that our safety standards were up to Aussie’s and our safety record was good. Then, there’s the larger question of the Government’s whole neoliberal approach that leads to such disasters.
See, there’s a lot of deep and serious talk about how the lessons of past disasters were learned and then forgotten – but, actually, that’s bullshit. The lessons of past disasters weren’t forgotten by the miners – they never consented to having their check inspectors abolished and the other safety standards lowered. What happened is those standards and checks were purposely destroyed by the neoliberals. Just as they did with building standards (triggering the leaky building mess) and the financial sector (leading to the finance company collapses).
See, the neoliberals told themselves and us this fairytale to justify what they were really after – reduced government spending and regulation meaning lower taxes for the rich and fewer compliance costs for the capitalists. The story that they told us was that industries would regulate themselves because corporations are rational, unitary actors with perfect information seeking to maximise their own good through series of carefully thought out actions and, so, would never do something so risky and self-destructive sacrifice safety for production volume in a coal mine, or construct homes from shitty material, or make punts with other people’s life savings.
Of course, in reality corporations are fictions that groups of furless primates have invented so that they can seek to optimise their sometimes complimentary, sometimes conflicting goals by making often seat of their pants decisions based on flawed information… and, what’s more, the people who control these corporations know that law and social status will almost certainly protect them if something goes wrong and it will be the chumps further down the food chain who pay with their savings, their homes, or their lives.
When National came back to power in 2008, they referred to this deregulation free-for-all – the 1990s versions of which have lead to such huge disasters – as the ‘high trust model’: ie. ‘we’re going to let you guys do whatever you like, it’ll probably be sweet’. Key described the deregulated, check inspector-less mining system as a ‘high trust model’ yesterday, without irony, which would have been appropriate given where the high trust placed in the Pike River bosses got those 29 men.
There’s another ‘high trust model’ that I can think of, which like the leaky buildings, the finance companies, and the coal mines, strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen. That’s the ‘high trust model‘ that Paula Bennett has created for MSD contractors, especially in Whanau Ora. Effectively, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are being signed over to groups – many of which have appeared from nowhere over night – with vague plans to achieve vague goals, and the money is never seen again. We’ve already seen scattered examples of fraud but I reckon it’s just the tip of the ice-berg. One fine day, we’re going to wake up to find that the taxpayer has been cost a fortune, once again, by the ‘high trust model’.