Illustration by Tim Denee – www.timdenee.com
The decision to phase out the government’s support package for Christchurch business seems to have been plucked from the air within ministerial offices in Wellington, and not reached by any process of consultation with the businesses affected. The wage subsidies for qualifying firms will be shut down in fortnightly steps starting from April 18:
For employers, the current payment of $500 per week for each fulltime employee would drop back to $375 a week, then down to $250 a week two weeks later. For employees, the job loss cover payment, which has been taken up by 6700 people, would be scrapped and replaced with a top-up payment for those still out of work. It would be paid out at $50 per week for a single person, $80 for a couple without children and an additional $10 per week for each child, up to a maximum of $110 a week.
This is hardly a soft landing for business, or their staff. Many employers are still being forcibly denied access to their business premises and therefore can’t yet even begin the process of resurrecting their firms. Hardly the time to start talking about cutting off aid, and telling them to stand on their own two feet. For all the stirring, inspirational talk of standing together shoulder to shoulder with Christchurch the cold reality is that within three months of a huge natural disaster, many employers and their staff are facing a ‘sink or swim’ message from central government. Major firms and multinational chains will be better placed to absorb the shock – but many small businesses with less than 20 staff will go to the wall. Day by day, more and more Christchurch jobs are still being lost, with 600 jobs going in the aged care sector alone:
Having a cut-off point for aid at some point in the future is inevitable – yet preferably one reached on the basis of consultation, and with some analysis of how long various sectors of the Christchurch economy will need to make the transition, with as little social damage as possible. Compassion, not toughlove is supposed to be what Christchurch needs and deserves right now. Terminating aid for business at this point – when nothing remotely like normal activity has returned to the city – makes no sense. Many workers will be tipped out onto the dole, and losing their trained staff will make it that much harder for employers, who merely need help to bridge the period until reconstruction work begins to pump money back through the veins of the Christchurch economy. Does government have any idea of how long this transition will take ? If he has, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee refused an invitation to go on RNZ this morning to tell us, or to discuss the government’s phase out decision.
This arbitrary, top down response is a poor prelude for how the new central government agency being set up to co-ordinate Christchurch’s reconstruction is going to operate. On this evidence, all the major decisions are going to be made in Wellington and imposed on Christchurch, with short term cost savings being the driver of the entire process. Once again – as we saw at Pike River – the Key government seems to be long on photo opportunities and compassionate soundbites, but desperately short on follow through.
Given the level of news discourse in the US, it is hardly surprising that Barack Obama is still taking flak over the US role in the UN intervention in Libya. As US academic and Middle East specialist Juan Cole says, if Obama had done the opposite – and let Gaddafi’s tanks roll into Benghazi and crush the democratic uprising, just as Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring in 1968 – he’d be being slammed for being ineffectual.
As yet, the outcome on the ground is still undecided, though Cole has made the additional point (in the course of his “Open Letter to the Left on Libya”) that the UN air strikes have not only taken out Gaddafi’s air superiority but most of his tank forces as well, thus evening up the military odds between the untrained rebels and Gaddafi’s forces. The rebel supply lines are already severely stretched, well short of Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli. It may take the full 90 days (or more) currently being projected for the UN campaign, before the rebels can finally rid Libya of its tyrannical ruler. The rebels can then rebuild the country on the back of Libya’s vast oil resources, which should make it easier for them to resist neo-colonial domination by its new friends and liberators. By getting rid of Gaddafi, Cole concludes, the rebels will also make it that much easier for the fledgling democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt to survive, and to flourish.