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NZ election 2023: Labour out, National in – either way, neoliberalism wins again



Opinion – For an election ostensibly fought over a “cost-of-living crisis”, there was a strong unspoken consensus between the two major parties: Most people’s living standards needed to reduce to thwart inflation. Regardless of the election result, a form of austerity was always going to win.

Both National and Labour essentially agreed with the Reserve Bank hiking interest rates to bring down inflation – a crude market discipline likely to cause redundancies, suppress wages, and increase debt and inequality.

Such policies – classically neoliberal, specifically monetarist – are presented as if there is no alternative. Yet other countries have successfully used other measures to protect living standards, including wealth taxes, rent caps, windfall taxes on excessive profits, and major subsidies on energy payments.

While National and Labour both offered targeted support for those struggling to get by, such as tax cuts (National) or the removal of GST from fruit and vegetables (Labour), such mitigation seems paltry by comparison.

Only smaller parties, notably the Greens and Te Pāti Māori, offered policies aimed at changing fundamental economic settings.

Radical incrementalism?
Of course, there were and are important differences between Labour and National. Many contend Labour has abandoned the free-market fundamentalism associated with “Rogernomics” that it adopted in the 1980s.

Under the Labour governments led by Jacinda Ardern and then Chris Hipkins, there was an attempt to ameliorate the worst excesses of market capitalism.

Hipkins, for instance, insisted Labour’s policies were not simply about “tinkering around the edges of the neoliberal model”. He spoke of “radical incrementalism” – allowing a government to “do big change”.

In that light, the 2017-23 Labour government lifted the minimum wage, introduced fair pay agreements, built state houses, increased Working for Families wage subsidies, and intervened during a pandemic and natural disasters to support people and jobs.

Labour also reformed the Reserve Bank’s targets to include “maximum sustainable employment”, alongside the bank’s traditional goal of keeping inflation within a 1-3 percent band.

Beyond Aotearoa New Zealand, neoliberalism’s demise was proclaimed in the aftermath of the 2007-09 global financial crisis, as governments everywhere shored up the financial sector.

The obituaries have increased since the Covid pandemic. In the United States, Joe Biden’s preference for public investment prompted one commentator to claim the president had “declared the death of neoliberalism”.

The ‘third way’
Given the Labour government’s track record, then, it might seem unfair to label it a neoliberal administration. But I think such reasoning is mistaken on several counts.

A rough scholarly consensus has emerged that neoliberalism has shown a remarkable ability to evolve. Labour – and to some extent National – have rejected the harsh “vanguard neoliberalism” of the 1980s and ’90s. Instead, they have embraced the mild neoliberalism of “third way” politics since 1999.

Sometimes called the “post-Washington consensus”, third way economics accepts the need for some government intervention in the market, something the more hardline “Washington consensus” of the late 1980s did not.

Yet under this softer form of neoliberalism, governments do not intervene to genuinely redistribute wealth. Instead, they act to temporarily support business during crises.

For example, the Labour government’s Covid-19 business support and wage subsidy scheme was supposedly undertaken to protect workers from unemployment.

In reality, it facilitated a massive upward transfer of wealth by subsidising businesses, and boosting house prices and private savings. That wealth transfer amounted to about NZ$1 trillion, according to economic commentator Bernard Hickey.

Hickey also argued governments of both stripes have effectively cut social services such as housing, health and education in real per-capita terms, as the population has increased. For the most part, increased funding has not stayed level with inflation.

We might call this austerity by stealth, with one example being the current funding crisis in tertiary education that has resulted in many job cuts.

Intervention for the market
In this sense, the various palliative reforms made by the Ardern-Hipkins governments do not represent a fundamental swing away from neoliberalism. Crucially, both prime ministers ruled out any kind of wealth or capital gains tax, and generally kept tax levels low (despite a small increase in the highest income tax rate).

Tellingly, the US Heritage Foundation – a think tank devoted to the “principles of free enterprise, limited government [and] individual freedom” – still ranks New Zealand fifth in its global “index of economic freedom”.

While Labour’s Reserve Bank reforms appeared to modify its monetary priorities to maximise sustainable employment, its governor admitted raising interest rates to control inflation was deliberately engineering a recession, with a likely rise in unemployment.

Before becoming prime minister in 2017, Ardern agreed with the view of previous National prime minister Jim Bolger that neoliberalism had failed. She said Labour accepted the need for government intervention in the market.

This might qualify as a rejection of neoliberalism if we define it only as a set of ideas or policies designed to “hollow out the state” and promote free-market, individualistic competition.

But there is another view of neoliberalism, put forward by historian Quinn Slobodian and other scholars, that it was never about rejecting big government. Rather, at its core, it is about imposing a global and state framework that favours business and private property.

To achieve this, they argue, the state restricts democracy, trade unions and community interest groups from achieving genuine improvements in ordinary people’s lives. Slobodian sees neoliberalism as involving “re-regulation” rather than deregulation.

The underlying consensus
None of this means Labour and National mirror each other. Labour is more centrist, more committed to maintaining public services. National is more business-friendly and seems poised to make deeper cuts to public services.

To differing degrees, National and its probable coalition partner ACT reject the “progressive” aspects of what feminist scholar Nancy Fraser called “progressive neoliberalism”. They aim to roll back most of Labour’s incremental reforms, and are aligned in their opposition to what they see as excessive government spending and regulation.

But beneath those apparent ideological differences there remains an underlying neoliberal consensus. Roughly speaking, this compact aims to keep taxes low, push for free trade agreements, maintain a largely deregulated business sector, enable financial speculation, and use interest rates to combat inflation.

Above all, the goal is to be “fiscally responsible” by keeping government spending tight and the debt-to-GDP ratio low. Austerity is the means by which this is achieved, whether by stealth or through more upfront cuts.

It was perhaps predictable that governments everywhere would revert to austerity to pay down debts incurred during the pandemic. But those same governments are also struggling with broader economic, climate, housing, health and education crises.

Wars and political polarisation generally have added to a sense that neoliberalism’s hegemony is fraying. There has been a trend towards more nationalist and authoritarian government – although not yet in Aotearoa New Zealand to any great extent.

Given we are now seeing living standards squeezed to combat inflation, and government austerity to pay off Covid debts, neoliberalism still seems embedded in the political and economic fabric of Aotearoa. This is especially so with the election success of parties promising to reduce government spending.

* Toby Boraman is a lecturer in politics at Massey University.



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Christchurch terror attack inquest: ‘Significant blind spot’ relating to St John’s specialist paramedics – coroner



A woman who was forced to leave the side of her bleeding husband following the terror attack at Christchurch’s Linwood Islamic Centre only discovered he had died the following day after seeking help from then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Saira Patel’s husband Musa Patel was one of seven people who died after being shot at the Linwood Islamic Centre, following the massacre at nearby Al Noor Mosque on 15 March 2019.

Supported by her son, Patel told the inquest into the deaths that she and her husband were praying in separate parts of the mosque on the day of the attack.

Patel said she thought a tyre had blown when she heard a loud bang. A baby began to cry, and she could soon smell gunpowder.

She yelled, “Someone is shooting, someone is shooting” as people ran to escape.

When Patel found her bleeding husband, she told the Coroners Court she could hear him saying his “last prayer” as if he knew he was about to die.

Imam Hafiz Musa Patel

Musa Patel died at Linwood Islamic Centre on 15 March 2019. Photo: Facebook/ US Embassy Suva

She said she was forced to leave when police arrived and started treating Musa Patel, an order that distressed her to this day.

“I think any dying person who is about to leave this world would be very desperately craving and needing to be close to their loved ones. My presence during his final moments would have made a big difference in my life and I think maybe his last moments of departing this world,” she said.

She did not know her husband had died until the following day, when she approached then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who led her to a counsellor.

Patel said the counsellor showed her a photo of an unidentified man in hospital who was not her husband.

“I knew then that my husband was dead. There was no-one else who could have identified him, and this last unidentified man was my last hope,” she said.

Patel thanked the doctors and paramedics who did everything they could to console her husband in his final moments.

“I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart,” she said.

“I was trying to be with him in that last moment but maybe they were chosen to be with him.”

Dr Alison Wooding from nearby Piki Te Ora Medical Centre was one of the doctors who treated Musa Patel when staff went to the mosque to help the injured.

She told the court he was meant to be the first victim taken to hospital but realised he had died after he was moved onto a stretcher.

Wooding said she and others were talking to Musa Patel the entire time they cared for him, but she did not recall him ever responding.

Police officers gave evidence on Tuesday saying Musa Patel had been able to communicate with them at first but his condition deteriorated over time.

Wooding told the court she felt apprehensive and worried about the situation at the mosque, but safe and protected between armed and vigilant police officers.

29th November 2023 Iain McGregor/The Press/Pool Christchurch Masjidain Attack Coronial hearing. Coroner Brigitte Windley.

Deputy chief coroner Brigitte Windley. Photo: The Press / Iain McGregor

‘Significant blind spot’ relating to St John emergency response team – coroner

The coroner has queried a “significant blind spot” in the way St John ambulance officers work with specialist paramedics trained to work in dangerous situations.

Deputy chief coroner Brigitte Windley questioned St John duty manager Bruce Chubb about the organisation’s response massacre.

Two Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) paramedics were among ambulance officers who went to the scene of the shooting in Linwood Avenue.

No-one from St John attended the Al Noor scene in a SERT capacity.

Chubb told the Coroners Court that SERT teams worked under police and it was not uncommon for St John not to know when they had been requested, where they were, or what they were doing.

In response, coroner Windley said: “My concern is that that creates a significant blind spot for St John, doesn’t it?”

“Isn’t it that these are critical resources in terms of closing that care gap for people who are dying and injured and being able to get a response in, and you’ve got no visibility about where they are and even if in fact they’ve been deployed?”

041223 CHRIS SKELTON Witness, Bruce Chubb from St John command and control during the Christchurch terror attack inquest held at the Christchurch Justice precinct.

St John’s Bruce Chubb. Photo: Stuff / Chris Skelton

Chubb said he was not suggesting it was “okay” that St John did not know where SERT officers were but said it was the practice at the time.

He was not aware of any changes to the SERT policy since the terror attack.

Chubb told the coroner he thought it was “always nice to know” where resources were, to which she replied, “I would suggest it’s more than nice to know. I would suggest that St John needs to know”.

Chubb earlier told the inquest that he believed general ambulance officers should not have entered either mosque immediately after the shootings because of the safety risk.

Windley said the court was concerned St John ambulance officers had to breach the organisation’s policy in order to get an emergency response in place.

“Do you agree that that’s fundamentally a problem?” she asked.

“Yes,” Chubb replied.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chubb told counsel for families Kathryn Dalziel that the terror attack was a catastrophic event that he did not expect and was never prepared for.

“I don’t believe any of my colleagues were either, so it was fundamentally overwhelming,” he said.

The inquest will examine the following 10 issues over seven weeks:

  • Events of 15 March 2019 from the commencement of the attack until the terrorist’s formal interview by police
  • Response times and entry processes of police and ambulance officers at each mosque
  • Triage and medical response at each mosque
  • The steps that were taken to apprehend the offender
  • The role of, and processes undertaken by, Christchurch Hospital in responding to the attack
  • Coordination between emergency services and first responders
  • Whether the terrorist had any direct assistance from any other person on 15 March 2019
  • If raised by immediate family, and to the extent it can be ascertained, the final movements and time of death for each of the deceased
  • The cause of death for each of the victims and whether any deaths could have been avoided
  • Whether Al Noor Mosque emergency exit door in the southeast corner of the main prayer room failed to function during the attack and, if so, why?

The inquest continues.


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Protests raise questions about next year’s Waitangi day



In the wake of protests over the new government’s policies on co-governance and the Treaty, the head of the Waitangi National Trust Board says it is important Treaty partners front up and have a conversation on 6 February.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says he intends to visit for Waitangi Day, as does ACT’s David Seymour.

The protests taking place across New Zealand on Tuesday were part of a “National Māori Action Day”, led by Te Pāti Māori and iwi, to challenge the government over its policies on the Treaty of Waitangi, and other policies affecting Māori.

Waitangi National Trust Board chairperson Pita Tipene expected for that sentiment to flow through on Waitangi Day.

“Clearly, the Māori people see it as an attack on the Treaty of Waitangi and the constitutional basis of this country,” Tipene said.

These include switching from Māori to English names on various government departments, rewriting legislation to make mentions of the principles of the Treaty more specific, and progressing an ACT bill calling for the principles to be set down under its own prescription, rather than decades of jurisprudence.


Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene

Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene Photo: RNZ

Tipene told Checkpoint there was no invite list for politicians per se, and the doors of the Trust were open for all to come along.

“Given that it is a Waitangi Day commemorations period, it’s really important that the Treaty of Waitangi is the focus, and therefore the Treaty partners should front up and have a conversation.”

He would be disappointed, but not surprised, if parties in government were not represented there on the day.

“It has happened before where governments or political parties have chosen not to front up at Waitangi.”


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Te Pāti Māori protests – Day of action focuses on new government’s Māori policies



Police says protesters are causing widespread delays at key transport networks around the North Island, but there have been no arrests so far.

A police spokesperson says commuters should allow travel time this morning, with Te Pāti Māori’s planned protests disrupting travel routes.

There are large gatherings in Tāmaki Makaurau and central Wellington, along with a number of other cities and towns.

The spokesperson says Auckland motorists are advised there are heavy delays on parts of the motorway network this morning.

The demonstrations are in response to Te Pāti Māori’s call for action against the new government’s policies on co-governance and the Treaty.


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