On the coalition agreements

Now that the three deals done to maintain the National-led coalition are all on the table, its pretty clear how shabby these arrangements really are. United Future for instance has won the promise to “investigate free annual health checks for over 65s when fiscal circumstances allow” – which probably means that any current 65 year olds will be lucky to live to see the benefits of that pledge to “investigate” the idea, whenever “fiscal circumstances” finally make it affordable. Not exactly trumping the Gold Card.

As for asset sales… the Greens have already pointed out Peter Dunne’s lukewarm-to-negative stance about partial asset sales while he was on the campaign trail, trying to woo Ohariu voters. Opposing any further privatisation of water rights was one of Dunne’s three “no go” areas on asset sales but hello… he will now have the casting vote on a plan that involves selling down the state’s ownership of several hydro dams. How can he claim to have a mandate to sell them down? Mandate, schmandate.

Somehow, I don’t think banning heli-hunting on the conservation estate – which is another of Dunne’s stellar negotiation “gains” will compensate for the flip-flopping he has in mind on asset sales. Getting a ‘guarantee’ not to sell more than 49% of those assets – which was another of his bogus victories in the coalition negotiations – doesn’t get him off the hook, either.

The spending cap promise extracted by the Act Party is even more outrageous, even if – as Keith Ng has pointed out – it is likely to kick in sometime after the next election, and will be gone by lunch time once the next centre left government is elected. In which case, Key may have given a concession that has only marginal chances of ever become a reality.

In principle, it is a piece of ideological extremism from the 1990s that Act has sought to import wholesale from the unfortunate state of Colorado – where it has reduced state expenditure so savagely that fire stations have been closed, street lighting has had to be turned off, children’s vaccination programmes closed down, and volunteers have had to mow the lawns in public parks.

Needless to say, there was no talk during the campaign about either charter schools or a spending cap – which in the past, both Treasury and Finance Minister Bill English have opposed.

So far, when questioned on the lack of a democratic mandate for such policies, Prime Minister John Key has blamed MMP. In the real world of course, there is nothing about MMP that stops political parties from revealing their policies and general intentions before the election. Nor is there anything peculiar about MMP that enables secret agendas to be sprung on the public. Very few people for instance, who voted in 1984 under the FPP system for Labour anticipated the secret agenda subsequently pursued by the fourth Labour government.

This time around, nothing about MMP prevented the National Party negotiators from rejecting those elements of the Act Party wish list for which there was no voter mandate. National could have easily said “ Sorry, but there’s been no public discussion of spending caps or charter schools during the campaign, so you can’t use us to sneak them in through the side door.” The fact that negotiations were wrapped up so quickly indicates that National was a very willing participant.

Still, since Key seems to want to blame MMP for this sort of ruse, he should be willing to make the lack of transparency part of the independent review of the voting system next year. In principle at least, it should be possible to outlaw policies that played no part in the election campaign from becoming part of the new government’s coalition agreements.

In some ways, the Maori Party document was the sorriest of all three documents, given the expectations that once surrounded the party’s creation. This time, it has won itself the right to stay on the ministerial gravy train, while absolving itself of responsibility for the plan to sell down state assets. Maybe a Jesuit could find a credible rationale for enabling someone to do things that you concede will impact badly on your people, while you protest that you’re doing all you can to defend them – anything that is, that doesn’t involve giving up your own collusion with the perpetrator.

The ministerial committee on poverty that it has won as its main achievement is not even being chaired by either of the Maori Party leaders – but by Finance Minister Bill English. Presumably, this means that just as with those free health checks won by Peter Dunne, the government will pledge to “investigate” poverty and take steps to alleviate it “when fiscal circumstances allow.” Wow.


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