Unless a leader is horribly neglectful in the wake of a disaster, like Bush after Katrina, I don’t think there is any grounds to criticise them for the immediate disaster response, which is largely out of their hands anyway. But the policy response that follows is a legitimate topic for political debate. And I’m worried about Key’s.
The Herald reports this morning that Key is:
I have to say, that makes my heart sink. Because, I had expected a serious response, and this looks like more of the same from Key.
Increasing the EQC levies seems neither necessary, nor sufficient. The EQC head has said that it has enough money left for two ‘big ones’ and the coffers will be re-filled to their previous level by 2025 anyway. Historically, there have been five earthquakes that have caused major urban destruction in the past 160 years (Wellington 1855, Napier/Hastings 1931, Wellington/Wairarapa 1942, Christchurch 2010, Christchurch 2011).
And the EQC levy can only legally be used to contribute to the EQC funds. Yet the government faces huge uninsured losses. The cost of repairing Christchurch’s infrastructure will be in the billions and will mostly fall on the central government. How will this be funded?
Key now seems to be rejecting a disaster levy on high income earners. These people have done very well out of the Key government. Indeed, they are the only people who are better off. I would have thought that Key would see it is appropriate for him to give up the $23,000+ a year tax cuts he has awarded himself and the other mammoth tax cuts the elite have received to fund the recovery. Apparently not.
Saying that the government will not reconsider motorway investment in Wellington and Auckland seems like pigheadedness more than anything. These were already either uneconomical or marginally economic projects. The oil price spike has only decreased their benefits and raised their costs, and now, I think we can all agree, there are far more pressing calls on the money.
Despite saying he doesn’t want to raise more money for reconstruction or reallocate spending from white elephant motorways, Key is indicating that the deficit could still be eliminated by 2015. That implies big spending cuts elsewhere, justified by the quake but actually an unnecessary and permanent reduction in public services. This looks like the shock doctrine that Whaleoil has been advocating and which, just the other day, I was pretty confident Key would avoid because it is the most crass form of political opportunitism.
I’m not too happy, frankly, with the idea of a global appeal for money. I just don’t think we need to be first in line for the world’s limited aid dollar. The Australian bushfire appeal, apparently, raised $389 million, yet the UN is struggling to raise $50 million to help a million people displaced by flooding in Sri Lanka. It’s a cruel reality that predominately white, first-world will be far more ready to give money to us than to third-world disaster victims. We don’t need overseas money to feed and house our own – other countries do.
And Key’s suggestion of getting Letterman and Oprah involved unsettles me. I have visions of Key flying over (or appearing live by satellite) on these shows – not cracking too many jokes, hopefully, but still too much of the smile and wave style, which he must surely realise is no longer appropriate.