Gordon Campbell on the government’s lack of a jobs policy, and our abortion laws

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Gosh, who would have thought that if you cut government spending and jobs in the teeth of a recession, the economy would contract further and unemployment would rise? Plainly, it’s a lot easier to un-govern and to walk away from responsibility than it is to do the active, hands on positive governing stuff, which they never taught you much about at Merrill Lynch. Does it mean that public sector spending wasn’t really crowding out private sector enterprise after all, but that….private enterprise prosperity has been dependent all along on a healthy and expanding public sector? Could be.

What we do know is that we now have over 160,000 people out of work, and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is almost certainly right when he says that jobs losses and unemployment are far higher than the government likes to admit, and closer in reality to 10% than to the measured rate. One example of hidden unemployment? Many people tipped out of steady jobs in the public service are now subsisting in the nether world of contracting, and there are significant psychological and social barriers preventing the acceptance that the time ’between contracts” actually amounts to unemployment. They are unemployed, but are living in denial. So long as they cling on to the illusion of merely being between jobs, they’re not showing up in the ‘registered unemployed’ rate. As Peters says, under-employment is rife within this stagnating economy.

So….what has Steven Joyce, appointed as Jobs Czar with such fanfare by Prime Minister John Key after the last election, actually been doing? Sweet FA, by the look of it. (If Joyce was on a 90 day employment trial as Jobs Czar, you wouldn’t be re-hiring him, would you?) So far, we have seen very little sign of positive policy and/or action from Joyce’s new and grandly entitled departmental compound, aka the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. In fact – and quite amusingly – the employment forecasts emerging from the MBIE are resolutely downbeat, and they now predict that New Zealand’s jobless rate won’t fall below 6 percent before 2014. This, as CTU economist Bill Rosenberg has pointed out, is a good deal worse than what the government was claiming in the Budget, where Treasury was forecasting 5.7% unemployment in March 2013 and 5.2% in March 2014. “MBIE is forecasting a much higher 6.2% for 2013 and 5.9% for 2014.” When even your can-do Mr. Jobs Czar is being Eeyore about the unemployment figures, you know you’re in trouble.

Or you should do. Yet there was Finance Minister Bill English on RNZ this morning, burbling on about the sectors that are actually doing quite well. Yep, and there were parts of the Titanic that were still above water for quite a while too, even after that thing with the iceberg, which was evidently one of those unfortunate and unpredictable things that you encounter at times in international waters. Predictably, English laid the blame on those opposition parties that complain about poor job growth while blocking the bonanza that would allegedly ensue if only we tore up the Resource Management Act and gave the petroleum and mining companies carte blanche to do what they like.

Really? If we let the mining companies mine all that coal we’d all be rich and have jobs aplenty? Well, if that is the case, perhaps English should have a talk to the people running Solid Energy – because they have evidently decided that given the slump in international coal prices, it makes more sense to leave the coal in the ground. That’s why Solid Energy is cutting jobs in coal mining on the West Coast. It is not because environmentalists are lying down in front of the diggers with copies of the RMA stuffed down their shirts.

Is there anything that government could do? Besides sitting on its hands and waiting for the Christchurch rebuild, which seems to be the sum total of its jobs strategy. For starters, it could put in place some sensible and consistent policies for government procurement. At one end of the spectrum, this would mean building trains and rail wagons in New Zealand and thus enhancing the expertise that already exists – or did exist – at Hillside in Dunedin, rather than falling for the short term gains of buying cut price rubbish from China.

Sensible government procurement runs right across the board, and should be a policy priority. In all the things that government does the default setting should be that we buy from local suppliers, because that creates local jobs. As FIRST union general secretary Robert Reid pointed out this week, the government once talked the talk on this subject, but has conspicuously failed to deliver on it:

Procurement was raised as one of the top 20 issues at the Prime Minister’s job summit in early 2009. But despite all John Key’s talk, the working group on procurement met only once over teleconference, and was never convened again….the procurement agenda has been completely twisted away from jobs, and into saving a few dollars for the government.

Our competitors do much better on procurement. The United States requires its solders to be kitted out in American made uniforms and Australian infrastructure projects often have a minimum local content provision…

That’s not the case here. An active government procurement policy would mean for instance, taking the banking business of government – a huge contract, which could become a foundation for future growth – from an Australian bank like Westpac, and seeing whether Kiwibank can do the job instead. The Key government however, seems fixated on cutting back public sector jobs as a pathway to growth. It should be making jobs (and prosperity) for New Zealand workers and communities its prime goal. How hard is this to grasp? Incredibly difficult it would seem on Planet National, where we are all currently condemned to live – but where only a few of us, evidently, are allowed to work.

Abortion, Rape…and New Zealand

A few weeks ago, an aspiring Republican politician called Todd Akin earned headlines around the world with his comments about ‘legitimate rape’ and the alleged ability of women’s bodies to mysteriously discriminate between the sperm of rapists and that of their consensual sex partners. At the time, the Republican Party condemned his views, even though – as several commentators pointed out – the Republican abortion platform makes no exception either, for pregnancies arising from rape. In practice, the positions of the Republicans and Akin are identical.

And what about New Zealand? Alison McCulloch is a distinguished New Zealand journalist who has worked for the New York Times and other prominent US newspapers, and is now resident in Tauranga – where she writes regularly for Werewolf, and also does a column for the Bay of Plenty Times that’s worth checking out each week online. As she pointed out in one of her recent BOP Times columns, New Zealand has no reason to feel superior to Todd Akin. Unlike in the US, where – as she says – thanks to the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, abortion is legal to around 24 weeks, our Crimes Act covers abortion at all stages of pregnancy, and abortion is only legal under a narrow set of grounds, of which rape is not one.

The ‘reasoning’ behind this situation would do Todd Akin proud:

The 1977 Royal Commission on abortion, on which our current laws are based, actually made an argument frighteningly similar to the one Todd Akin is now furiously backing away from.

In its report, [the 1977 Royal] Commission [on abortion] noted, citing some questionable sources, that among a “considerable number of rape victims” there was a “very low incidence of pregnancy”. Even worse, it went on to argue that if rape were a ground for abortion, women would simply lie about being raped. Or, in its words, including rape would “for the very few women which it would benefit, be the subject of abuse”. Instead it recommended use of the morning after pill, or an IUD. Yes, having an intra-uterine device inserted into her body is just what a woman who has been raped really wants.

The ensuing debate in Parliament sank even lower than the Commission’s report, if that’s possible, with the Minister of Justice at the time talking about “true rape cases” (sounds a lot like Akin’s “legitimate” rape, don’t you think?) and evidence that pregnancy resulting from rape “is almost nil”.

Like the Commission, the minister said allowing rape as a ground for abortion would encourage “abortion on dishonest request – abortion by subterfuge”.

Incredible, no? Even for 1977. Today, the 1977 law and the values it enshrines remain in place. Some of the tensions and contradictions in our current abortion law are the subject of McCulloch’s most recent article in Werewolf called “Abortion In The Dock” which examines the recent Supreme Court decision on the operation of our abortion laws. As McCulloch indicates, the result of the Court’s split 3-2 decision has been to confirm an uneasy status quo, one that satisfies neither side of the abortion debate.