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Why Can’t We Do More?

Written By: - Date published: 8:44 am, October 16th, 2021 - 35 comments
Categories: climate change, covid-19, housing, human rights, labour, poverty - Tags:

That’s a pretty standard question when your own political team is comfortably in power.

Particularly since the failure to implement the Capital Gains Tax in April 2019, there was clamour for this government to have the courage to do more.

Since that time a number of large government initiatives have been actively stopped or gone nowhere.

They have shown extraordinary caution to solidify the direction of the Climate Commission into a forceful, bold and comprehensive climate change response across the whole of government and indeed of society. Tax. Climate. Poverty. Environment. Productivity. Savings. Housing. Energy.

They have made small steps in some areas, but no more.

There is one quite present thing that ought to give this government courage to act boldly and implement swiftly in climate change, poverty, tax, housing, or any other policy area and it is this. All government entities, and almost 90% of the entire population of New Zealand, have acted to the common policy interest of us all and agreed to invasive medical treatment, and the state has enabled this to occur within 10 months of just one year, with exceptionally fast results.

Over one third of New Zealand’s population and 40% of its economy has in Auckland been subjected to a martial order controlling its citizens and curtailing their human rights and commercial freedoms three times over two years, with but minor protest. The Brian Tamaki protest managed to gather less than half the number of Kiwis whose main sport is cross-country running.

When the state and its political leadership determine that there are policy goals which are so pressing that human rights and commercial freedoms must be suspended on such a scale, you know that you have a society that is at base so cohesive, with such high trust in government, that it really will sacrifice to transform itself in the common good.

Within such incredible circumstance of dramatic cuts to our rights and freedoms for common cause, the popularity of the ruling Labour Party remains higher than it has for decades. Our sustained cohesion is something to behold.

So there is no political excuse left not to act boldly in responding to any of our outstanding policy areas. Poverty. Climate. Environment. Housing. Productivity. Savings. Energy.

We have good reason to now expect that this government and indeed ourselves can get to 90% achievement of any such audacious goal.

Not only is there the will of the public service to act at speed and with power, so too is the will of the people to achieve it.

35 comments on “Why Can’t We Do More? ”

  1. garibaldi 1

    Greta Thunberg comes to mind. All we will get is "blah blah blah".

  2. Forget now 2

    One thing that the government could do right away is to stop exempting itself from the (legal) consequences of its inaction on CO2/ CH4 reduction (beyond a toothless declaration by the courts).

    Across the world climate change activists have been going to court, seeking to make their governments act to protect future generations. And hot on the heels of victories in the Netherlands and Germany, there's been another one in France…

    Note that Aotearoa's climate law specifically forbids this. Our government refuses to be accountable under the law if it fails to meet its obligations. Which is effectively a declaration of criminal intent.


    The relevant Subpart 5: {was} inserted, on 14 November 2019, by section 8 of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 (2019 No 61), so it's not like they can blame this one on National. NZF maybe, but that begs the question of; why have they done nothing over the past year to amend this clause?

    (1) No remedy or relief is available for failure to meet the 2050 target or an emissions budget, and the 2050 target and emissions budgets are not enforceable in a court of law, except as set out in this section.

    (2) If the 2050 target or an emissions budget is not met, a court may make a declaration to that effect, together with an award of costs.


  3. Tiger Mountain 3

    Ideological orthodoxy and the substantial pressure of an embedded neo liberal state is why the Labour Caucus will not do more. Plus the “Parliamentary wing” of the NZ Labour Party has always lorded it over ordinary party members–lest they get uppity with any ideas about “socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange”.

    Contracting out, deregulation, self regulation, penetration of public infrastructure by private capital (e.g. power generation and supply), free in and out flow of capital, State Sector Act, Reserve Bank Act…these are the reasons there is not a state house mega build, rent control, basic income to all citizens, retirement of WINZ/MSD, Capital Gains tax etc. etc.

    How deep the nearly 40 year Parliamentary neo liberal consensus runs is obvious in the fact that Grant Roberstson would rather appease the corporate, SME and petit bourgeois sectors than do some easy things for the working class–and the alienated working class that seem to make up a good section of the non vaccinated.

    Class left thinkers are needed at the heart of Government rather than the hardcore fifth columnist tories at the top to the public service, complete with their rimless or Harry Potter styled glasses. The current MPs are mainly the children of “Roger’n’Ruth” so to some extent they have not known any other way of doing politics, particularly post Employment Contracts Act when union density was devastated.

    So Parliament cannot be seen as the answer, it is the people and communities that have to get organised again. And as the property hogging boomers shuffle off, their replacement generations will have that opportunity and there are many signs they will take it.

    • KJT 3.1

      As the small proportion of boomers that are "Property hogging" shuffle their mortal coil.

      Their equally wealthy and "property hogging" descendants will inherit the houses, the wealth and the anti community selfishness.

      And most likely vote ACT!

    • Michael 3.2

      I agree with your diagnosis. The Labour Party has not been a vehicle for participatory democracy for many years. As a result, the caucus is easily swayed by vested interests from outside the Party, either technocratic, bureaucratic or capitalist. In turn, people from outside those elite groups have no faith or confidence that their concerns will even be considered. I'd really like to see the Party build, or rebuild, democratic participation from within – unions could be a great source of people and resources. Workshops in civics, to improve basic political and economic literacy, seem necessary.

  4. weka 4

    Good post. (lol that you know or looked up how many cross country runners NZ has).

    So what's the difference between the pandemic and the housing crisis or climate/ecology crises (the two most pressing issues)? The pandemic force Labour to act. The other two crises aren't at crunch, do or die moment. They should be, but we are still buffered by neoliberal economics and fossil fuels, and can keep pretending that they're not that urgent.

    I see a lot of potential for the pandemic to teach use how to respond to climate/eco and housing crises, but I also think it's going to take pressure from outside of parliament of a degree that Labour will follow. There's a paradox there because a lot of what is going on is people being afraid of covid and being relieved that someone else stepped up and sorted it out (Labour). But Labour aren't stepping up on housing or climate/ecology.

    What would make them do so other than waiting until both those long crises are so bad that the government is forced to act?

    I don't think waiting for the election cycle will work either, because Labour don't have a history of shifting left to win elections when they're already in power.

    • Sabine 4.1

      Not one member in parliament is affected by poverty or the housing crisis.

      Covid however is something even the well to do can get and die of.

      See, there is your motivation to 'combat' the one whilst doing very little on the rest.

  5. Dennis Frank 5

    Your thesis correctly illuminates the dark side of centrism. Hegemony of the middle, used to preserve the status quo. The problem for genuine progressives is the numbers game of democracy.

    So the left/right thing is just democracy's institutional way of implementing mass psychology, using Plato's model of shadows on the cave wall. Folks read the shadow-play, believing it real. Mass delusions are ever a source of political power.

    Next year is likely to be a new ball game created by the level of mass vaccination, and ensuing effectiveness of that strategy. If the threat is stabilised, any progressive govt agenda will be revealed in roll-out of prospective legislation. It would be sensible for the PM to announce her aspirations after the new year.

  6. SPC 6

    In Germany the Social Democrats are moving to a traffic light coalition with Greens and Free Democrats.

    They have agreed to bring forward the end of coal power from 2038 to 2030, have solar panels on all suitable roof space and allocate 2% of land for wind farms.


    The Germans will end nuclear power next year and will use more (of the cleaner) gas as coal use ends, and thus the “green” divide with France, which is continuing with its nuclear power system will continue.


  7. AB 7

    …you know that you have a society that is at base so cohesive…

    I think the apparent cohesiveness is a bit deceptive. Pandemic-style public action is accepted only to the point where private interests (especially economic ones) start to suffer too much, then cohesiveness breaks down fast. What would another 4 weeks of L4 in Auckland produced?

    And pandemics are a bit unusual – in that although there is still a social gradient and the poor are more likely to get sick, they are scary for everyone. Pandemics are unusually equalising in their psychological effect. Housing crises, and poverty aren't like that. Climate change might be, but we will need to see imminent threats to life itself right at the door before large-scale coercive intervention is tolerated.

    We are stymied because sufficient cohesiveness is actually absent. And that's not suprising when we structure our society as what amounts to an undeclared civil war of everyone against everyone else for money and resources.

  8. Foreign waka 8

    There is currently no system aligned providing freedom for the individual without the outcome of winners and losers in that system. The left tries to mitigate by state intervention whereas the right relies on self sufficiency aka swim or sink. Both have the propensity to work, as time passes and votes to be retained, towards the outer edges of their ideology. Over time people in the middle get p… off, because they are either milked endlessly for tax or made to run the gauntlet, with both outcomes delivering only a grunt and survival mood. These are also the very people that are throwing their jobs what is reported as the "great resignation". You can skin people some of the time but not all of the time. Now where is the tax to keep all ticking over going to come from? The corporates? LOL, sarc. The danger now is that the shift towards extremes at both ends. But the left does not want to take notice. Well, lets see in two years time….

  9. Ad 9

    We just did 100,000 vaccinations in a day.

    We can do anything we want.

    • Tiger Mountain 9.1

      Various counties have tried that…and the “powers that be” put a spanner in, capital flight or state force is the usual threat, so leaderships have to inform and take the people with them to have any chance.

      The PM could do it if she had a class left political analysis, but that is unfortunately not the case. A state house flat pack mega build with enforced land acquisition could indeed be done, but the Labour Caucus defers to developers and suppliers ahead of working class homeless.

      Yes great numbers today, all is not lost in the COVID fight.

      • Ad 9.1.1

        The PM led it, with a united DHB and NGO and volunteer effort. The disaggregated state seems perfectly capable of effecting policy.

        • Foreign waka

          You need to ask the question: where is the money coming from? NZ is now at a cross road where all the country "generates" is farm based product and that is internationally being questioned in terms of greenhouse gases. You need people paying tax, not government employees being fed the tax dollar generated by those few left to produce something and then "working from home" (pull another one).

          NZ is billions in debt, has printed money as if there is no tomorrow which resulted in assets (houses) being used instead of bank deposits and/or investments. Lets just see how that pans out shall we. I mean financial literacy is not the strongest suit by the average punter either.

          • Ad

            NZ goes through crises at least once every five years and are getting better and better at responding, both as a state and as a society.

        • Tiger Mountain

          Yes, on an “all New Zealander” basis–and how could it be otherwise in this case, a nasty virus that can kill rich and poor alike–except the alienated and poor are now more on the receiving end for some obvious reasons.

          Most Parliamentarians claim to govern for all, but the fact is they will not introduce reforms that capital and the structural neo liberal state strongly disapprove of.

          The Govt. is certainly capable, as the marvellous first few weeks response to COVID 2020 illustrated, when public health was put before private profit. It has been daily sniper attacks ever since, with fifth columnists in the public service providing intel, by capital trying to reverse that situation for good.

          • Ad

            Neither the MSM nor Parliamentary opponents have achieved their aims. The old threat from National and its core is just vanishing. They had the chance to unite with the government and chose to stay where they were and burn. The NZHeraldn and both tv news channels are leading with Ardern's nationwide success today.

            There is of course reason to be pessimistic about this government achieving goals, but through her Covid response Ardern will see the measure of what she can do, and this will empower her to act more boldly in other areas.

  10. Castro 10

    Don't hold your breath; Lational and Nabour have imported and enfranchished a fuckload of ACT (and Lational) voters.

  11. RedLogix 11

    So there is no political excuse left not to act boldly in responding to any of our outstanding policy areas. Poverty. Climate. Environment. Housing. Productivity. Savings. Energy.

    The bold response to COVID was possible because people were willing to give up some of their usual rights – such as being able to go out of their home – for a temporary period.

    I'm not sure how this would work out for your list above. Crisis politics has a shelf life.

    • Ad 11.1

      It's pretty hard now to look back on New Zealand's last 20 years without a good-sized crisis every 3 years at least.

      In a small country with a small government and a very small corporate sector all such crises get magnified. Our responses do look like they're improving.

  12. Stuart Munro 12

    I am all for more active government, but there are things that make it difficult. The main gap is competence. Muldoon was enthusiastic to make NZ a tiger economy, but his strike rate under Think Big was lower than might have been hoped. We never got the synthetic petrol nor the ammonia urea plant – but I'm pretty sure we paid for them.

    Palmer learned the wrong lesson from this, deciding that government should do nothing – thus locking in decades of automatic failure. If one never tries, one will certainly never succeed. Opposition parties became exceptionally lazy during this period, until the Key government was so useless it was incapable of managing the still incomplete Christchurch rebuild. Its only achievements were faking a recovery by flooding the real estate market with foreign speculators, and primary industry with migrants who could never qualify for PR – creating a temporary new colonial economy by those who could exploit them.

    Labour should choose a substantial project to embark upon post Covid. Housing everybody would be a logical start – and if it reduced the deadweight cost of rentiers to the economy, so much the better. But, if they're going to do it, better do it right. Do not rely on foreign investors – they have no interest in project success, only in cash returns. Forget The Market as a rational force – NZ is a pretty small market and much more susceptible to volatilities of one kind or another than the theoretical markets, or large ones like the US or Europe. Get a working group within the party to bone up on the sector, and related issues like homelessness, materials supply, forestry and milling, and sustainable building technology. Select ministers and associates from this group once plans are worked out – this way the competence gap can be avoided. Give little credence to National or Act criticism – they have no competence, and listening to Seymour is like listening to Carter Burke.

    • Foreign waka 12.1

      I honestly think that an UI would be a good start. The value ought to be linked to the affordability of basics such as housing, food, clothes, medicine. This could take away the one blackmailing power from those who have economic power over the less well off and perhaps an adult conversation can finally take place what it means to build a sustainable society. Such are dreams…

  13. georgecom 13

    Over the past few weeks here are covid related things I can think of right here and now that relate to how the government has introduced new responses, initiatives and ways of doing things:

    isolate at home trial following international travel

    isolate at home recovering from covid

    introduce saliva pcr tests

    allow rapid antigen tests

    mandatory masks at level 2 and above

    compulsory vaccines in health and education

    vaccine passports

    mandatory weekly tests for those crossing the auckland border

    saturday vaxathon

    some are easy, like mask wearing, some quite late appearing like saliva pcr test, something the govt hasn't done that some might like, but all in all a reasonable suite of responses to the delta outbreak

  14. Phillip Clarke 14

    There seems to be a lot more blah blah blah here.

    Climate change is coming to a field near you.

    Hows about stopping burning coal? That would work

    Hows about stopping subsidising fossil fuels? That would work

    Hows about supporting regenerative farming? That would work

    I have children. I want them to see a New Zealand as green as it is now or preferably more.

  15. georgecom 15

    yes to regenerative farming, which includes a focus on water harvesting where the topography permits it

  16. Sabine 16

    why can't they do more?

    Because literally they are not able to think bigger and better then what they have offered now. Which is sandwiches for kids that can go to school, nothing much for those that are 'learning' from home, motel accom for our homeless adults and their kids, and a nice shiny new electric car feebate for those that can afford such a vehicle in the first place, oh and best of all Unisex toilets other people and persons and Men toilets for Men. 🙂

    We can do a lot of things – as a people, a community and a country, but we will get nothing done if leadership is not there, and it seems that while there is a lot of self interest being served there is no leadership to be found anywhere in our government.

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