John Key likes to label Don Brash’s policies as extremist. However in Australia these policies are seen as sensible.
If anyone doubts how left-wing New Zealand has become, one need look no further than the recent pronouncements of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. You won’t read it in most newspapers, but Ms Gillard, ex-Trotskyite and left-wing factional heavy, has much in common with a resurgent New Zealand political figure; so called ‘extreme right-winger’ Dr Donald T. Brash.
The comparison shows how far New Zealand has drifted down a path of fuzzy, socialist sentiment, with little hard analysis of policy. That Dr Brash is labelled an extremist reflects a malaise in economic and political thought in this country. Quite the paradox considering that in 2005, 39% of New Zealanders gave their primary vote to Dr Brash, a higher percentage than Ms Gillard received from the Australian public last year.
The mistake that National and sycophantic National supporters mistake is that they think that Don Brash will not appeal to mainstream New Zealand. They of course forget their history and forget the results of 2005. Sure Don Brash didn’t win but he still got 39% which is far from the extremes of the minnow parties.
For a start, consider the 2025 Taskforce, which Dr Brash chairs. The central recommendation in both of its reports is to reduce government spending in to 2005 levels. This is hardly ‘slash and burn’ stuff, and aims to reverse the enormous increases in total government expenditure since 2005 to around 35% of GDP, from its currently staggering level of 45% (causing the government to borrow $300 million per week). By comparison, Australians consistently spend between 33 and 35% of GDP. The target Dr Brash is aiming for is still modest compared to Australia, and does not represent ‘extreme right wing’ values.
Consider the Gillard government’s position on budget surpluses: the Australian Labor party (ALP) is committed to digging itself out of deficit and producing a budget surplus by 2012/13 – despite budget profligacy under Kevin Rudd. This will require cuts, which the electorate is being softened up for now.
45% of GDP for total government expenditure is banana republic stuff. Australia, which Labour constantly refers to and also John Key as supposedly a better place to live because of all their largesse to the workers actually spends a whole lot less as a government. No wonder the gap is widening and not shrinking.
Consider Julia Gillard’s position on health reform in Australia. Although the ALP’s health reforms have been widely derided as weak and ineffective, Gillard has been on record talking about introducing price signals in health. Considering that healthcare is a budgetary bottomless pit of costs (since 2000, it has increased in New Zealand from $6 billion to $13.5 billion), this is wise. But the only person in New Zealand politics who would adopt that sort of language is Dr Brash.
The retirement age: the Gillard government is committed to lifting the retirement age to 67 due to Australians living longer, healthier lives, and to help the offset the pension burden this entails. Dr Brash agrees. Prime Minister John Key has pledged this will never happen under his premiership –deferring the inevitable decision.
Take welfare dependency: Ms Gillard and her government plan to tackle long term welfare dependency, particularly those on disability and sickness benefits, whose rolls have grown inexorably over the past two decades, despite better health outcomes nationally. Dr Brash made similar suggestions as National Party leader.
Lots of similarities there. Don Brash doesn’t look so extreme, in fact John Key is the one looking extreme with the continuation of structural spending locked in by Labour off of the back of alleged structural surpluses which mysteriaously disappeared after the change of government.
Last night we saw Don Brash labelled extreme on raace relations by Hone Harawira, himself and extremist. But is Don Brash really an extremist.
The one major difference is in indigenous politics. Compared to Ms Gillard and the ALP, Dr Brash is not only not extreme, but looks positively wet: he supports equal rights, one law for all and the continuing redress of historic injustice. The ALP continues to support the Northern Territory intervention to revive dysfunctional remote communities. It has largely eschewed reparations for past injustices. Indeed the only real action the ALP has considered is a referendum on acknowledging of indigenous Australians in the constitution. And even this gesture is only being adopted at the behest of the Greens.
Finally, both Ms Gillard and Dr Brash support mining, and resource exploration. There is a perception in NZ that Australia is laden with resources in the desert that can be extracted with no protest, or disruption whatever. This is untrue. There are environmental hoops, indigenous issues and protestors to contend with – the difference is that governments in Australia tend to be pro development. Yet in New Zealand, the government has already backed down once on mining some of the 40% of the nation in the conservation estate. To be in favour of mining where a reasonable case can be made is hardly extreme.
I am glad that Don Brash has re-entered politics. At least we will now at least have a debate about the important things.