I’m really pissed off that politics has come into the Christchurch earthquake so quickly. But make no mistake, the Nats are pursuing a strongly ideological agenda. They’re using the quake as cover for radically cutting important policies and making other extreme decisions, while preserving the tax cuts for the rich. It’s called the Shock Doctrine.
You’ll see there’s been no posts on The Standard criticising the government’s emergency response to the earthquake. That is only right. Emergency officials are clearly doing their best. Criticising the Prime Minister and other leaders over whether and when they should go to Christchurch is a bit churlish – as long as their behaviour isn’t truly outrageous. The leadership’s initial response was apolitical and nitpicking would just have been reflexively anti-National, not reasonable or responsible.
Unfortunately, the government’s actions have not remained apolitical. They could have and should have started by assessing the costs that need to be met, then formulating a method to pay for it through a consensus with other parties and local government, and then appointing apolitical rebuilding commissioners (as happened after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake).
Instead, even before the costs are known, the government is ruling out any reversal of their recent tax cuts for the rich and begun speculating on cutting Working for Families, Kiwisaver incentives, and interest-free student loans. These would be horrendously destructive policies, taking money out of the pockets of low and middle income families with kids, disincentivising saving, and putting higher education out of reach of many. Meanwhile, National stalkinghorses are proposing even more radical rightwing policies like selling local body assets and dumping tens of thousands of jobless workers off the dole.
Until now, National has known it couldn’t do any of this stuff – it would cost too many votes.
But they think they can get away with whatever they like if they wrap it up in the earthquake recovery and claim there is no alternative (a favourite line of the Nats). We saw this after the last quake when Parliament was rushed into giving Gerry Brownlee dictatorial powers, which he now seems determined to use against historic buildings. We also saw it after the Pike River tragedy, when Brownlee mooted open-case mining on Schedule 4 land, despite the public’s prior strong rejection of that policy. The Nats have not shied away from using the shock doctrine before and, despite the gravity of the situation, they appear willing to manipulate disaster for political gain once again.
We will be told that there is no alternative, that we all must sacrifice to rebuilding Christchurch. Questions over why poor families with young kids get money taken off them while John Key keeps the $23,000 a year in tax cuts that he has awarded himself will be diverted with vague claims that tax cuts for the rich promote growth.
Make no mistake, National is preparing the way to use the appropriate lull in confrontational politics and the natural reliance on a country’s leaders following a disaster to push through a radical and unmandated agenda.
While the country still reels from this latest shock, the Nats are cynically moving to take advantage of the situation.