Social responsibility? What about a government that burns books? Yes
the National Library is burning books. Valuables in the collection,
such as a rare collection of first edition Milton, are being sold. Our
accumulated national literary treasures are being destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, and that veteran campaigner for putting
New Zealand first [sic], have launched a campaign to let us all know
that social concerns are important. By now you will have received
through your letterbox the Prime Minister's social policy initiative,
Towards a Code of Social & Family Responsibility, He Kaupapa Kawenga
Whănau Kawenga Hapori.
Mrs Shipley has been accused of an ill-conceived and expensive
propaganda stunt. She said the public consultation exercise would cost
under a million dollars. It has since been pointed out that that
figure does not include the cost of receiving, analysing and collating
the responses. Moreover, Ministry of Women's Affairs input was
precluded because that department could not be relied upon to give
input the Government wanted. Does government actually want our
response, or do the politicians have their own agenda?
This Code of Social & Family Responsibility consultation is intended
to help government target social spending. Mrs Shipley has
consistently denied allegations that the government intends to use
this to support cuts in social spending. She replies, "There are no
plans to cut benefits across the board". Note how the words "across
the board" qualify Mrs Shipley's statement. That statement can mean,
"Yes we plan to cut benefits, but not all benefits."
From Mrs Shipley's comments, it appears that government did not budget
for reading and collating the responses it receives. There is a real
danger that National and New Zealand First will use a mock
consultation process, regardless of feedback, to push through a series
of prepared social policy reforms (deforms).
Some of the Code will be issues that we all agree on and others will
be highly contentious, such as forcing children to be immunised. This
may be a genuinely naive view of the dangers of immunisation, or it
may be motivated by the medical and pharmaceutical lobbies, or there
may be more sinister intent to use these laws to mark citizens.
Whatever the motivation, this proposal represents a serious attack on
Rolling back the state
In the traditional welfare state, government has an obligation to
provide quality education, health, housing and support for all
citizens in need. This is funded through a progressive tax system that
taxes rich people more and tends to retain a relative parity between
the rich and poor. That means the rich don't get obscenely wealthy
and the poor have a fair chance of good health, reasonable housing and
a decent education. This type of economy is usually a regulated
command economy. New Zealand practised this political and economic
philosophy from the 1930s until the 1980s. During this time New
Zealand built up significant public assets.
Since 1984 a free-market ideology has prevailed in New Zealand. This
ideology developed through aspirations for predatory commercial
expansion of the British Empire. Adam Smith enunciated de-regulated
free-market principles in his 1776 work, The Wealth of Nations. Today
the movement has transcended its national roots and is truly global.
However, you should know that the most successful economies, the
internal corporate economies, remain command economies. While large
corporations may preach a free unregulated competitive market
approach, internally they practise the old style command economy.
The Code of Social and Family Responsibility emphasises individual
responsibility. Notions of government responsibility are notably
absent from the statements of Expectation. The statements of
Expectation will move forward into any Code of Social and Family
Responsibility, not the subtext or questions. Nothing in the Code
suggests that we expect government to provide public health or public
education systems. Nor is there any suggestion that business might be
expected to act in a socially responsible manner.
The obvious danger is that government will use a Code to set out
expectations of the people, and avoid government obligations to the
people. In this way the Code can be used to supplant traditional
expectations of the state toward the people with a new set of
expectations where responsibilities for health, welfare and education,
are expressed in terms of personal obligation. This is dangerous, as
it will allow government to step away from its traditional
responsibilities, and privatise key social services without breaching
Paragraph 3 on page 1 says, "We need New Zealanders and their families
to help decide what responsibilities are theirs and what
responsibilities the taxpayer should pick up.". This is almost
offensive. It hides the government behind the taxpayer and implies
that government is about to take on added responsibility. If you read
carefully with our traditional background in mind, you will see that
this Code is about government shedding responsibility. Moreover,
"taxpayer" is a negatively loaded term, deliberately used in this
context to divert attention away from government responsibility.
In education, by emphasising personal responsibility for learning and
acquiring skills, government opens the way to a voucher system whereby
the individual can choose where to go and what to learn. Certain
people in the National Party and ACT would prefer to privatise
education. Vouchers will mean that the wealthy can use state money to
go to private schools. This will lead to more private schooling and
fewer state schools. State schools may be privatised when they
struggle with relatively less funding.
The same risks exist in health. By emphasising personal responsibility
for health, government opens the way to introduce a health voucher
system. The result would be an American style health system. The
wealthy have more choice and can transfer their entitlement toward
private medical insurance. The poor will rely on the remains of a
depleted public health system struggling to treat difficult or chronic
(read expensive) patients that private insurers decline. There is more
than enough evidence to show that the American style health system is
a failure. We should not want it here.
Under this proposed Code the government could allow the health system
to run down whilst hiding behind the principle that individuals are
responsible for their own health.
Why should anyone worry about what will happen to the poor
computer-illiterate peasants? If you can afford a personal computer
and an Internet connection then you are not one of the poor
underprivileged. Not yet anyway? As New Zealand is absorbed into the
global economy, you will be competing with workers all over the world.
Some of us will do extraordinarily well from the Kiwi pioneering
have-a-go do-it-yourself attitude, cutting edge technology and access
to world markets. Most of us will see national resources sold off and
our standard of living steadily eroded.
Anyone, with a social conscience must acknowledge that the poor,
unskilled and uneducated in New Zealand will suffer as a result of
globalisation. We can look forward to real wages that reflect the fact
that much of the world population lives like slaves, in squalor,
working long hours for next to nothing. Our egalitarian way of life is
A Political Responsibility Code
Perhaps at this time it would be more appropriate to discuss a Code
of Conduct for politicians than a Code of Social and Family
Responsibility for the populace. Should politicians be expected to
observe the standards expected of normal citizens?
If any ordinary person set out a plan of action and sought support
from the public, then that person would be accountable to that plan.
If however, that plan is an election manifesto, then it seems that no
one is accountable.
Why shouldn't an election manifesto be enforceable? Perhaps
politicians should seek a new mandate from the electorate if they are
unable to fulfil their promises. What avenues should be available to
challenge members of parliament when they breach their obligations?
Should we use the Fair Trading Act to enforce representations and
promises made by members of parliament?
How is it that some of our political representatives make millions
while in office? Are they taking backhanders and bribes? Perhaps
political accounting ought to be transparent. Should there be a
publicly accessible register of all political donations over $200?
Should there be a public register of (competing?) interests for
parliamentarians and senior public servants? Likewise, perhaps the
public should know more about government consultants.
Should the major law, accountancy, marketing and banking firms that
advise government be required to declare their interests? Should we
know if the people advising government to liquidate our public assets
also work as agents for foreign transnationals?