Gordon Campbell on National’s token National Super age hike

Yesterday, the government finally announced the age of eligibility for superannuation will rise in steps from 65 to 67 but… don’t worry, the process won’t begin to be phased in until 2037 and won’t finally be in place until 2041. Is there a pattern here? Reminds me of the promise that 90% of our rivers will be safely swimmable 80% of the time… but only by 2040. Not to mention the aim of making New Zealand predator free… by 2050. The goals of climate change policy have a similar tendency to vanish into the political never never.

In each case, the policy rollout has been about appearances rather than urgency, and driven more by National’s political need to guard its flank in an election year than by any genuine response to the country’s best interests. Australia by contrast, announced its intention in 2009 to lift the retirement age from 65 to 67 – and that process starts this year and will be completed by 2023. Moreover, the Turnbull government said in 2014 that it would raise the retirement age to 70 by 2035 (although that commitment has since been fudged.)

For obvious reasons, no-one disputes the need to have some sort of phase-in period. Fairness demands it, and people require an opportunity to prepare for change. Yet the over-riding factor in proceeding so slowly is that the pension age change is so deeply politically unpopular, and governments want to give themselves time to bed in public acceptance of the inevitability of it all, and thus ride out the initial waves of voter disapproval. Across the Tasman, polls still show that little support exists for the pension changes:

According to a recent poll, only one in four Australians supports lifting Age Pension eligibility to 67. Most want it to stay at 65, while a substantial number (17 per cent) want to drop the eligibility age to 60 for women and 65 for men.

In New Zealand, the government would have more credibility on this issue, if it wasn’t so blissfully disinterested in any other practical moves to make national superannuation more affordable. Yesterday for instance, Bill English ruled out means testing of the pension. Also, and despite the relatively healthy state of the economy, the government seems far more interested in tax cuts this year than in resuming the state’s payments to the Cullen Fund superannuation scheme, which remains a crucial means of making pensions more affordable. Suspending those payments in 2009 was inexcusable; not recommencing them until early next decade borders on criminal negligence, and it belies National’s claim to being a more responsible steward of the economy. As New Zealand First has pointed out this week, the Cullen Fund would now be worth $50 billion rather than the current $33 billion, if those payments had not been suspended by Bill English in 2009.

This raises the other – over-riding – political factor in the timing of these changes: namely the likely demands of New Zealand First. If National becomes reliant on NZF for forming a coalition government this year, not touching National Super in the foreseeable would be the policy price of Winston Peters’ support. By 2037, Peters will only be a sprightly 92 years old – younger than the current ruler of Zimbabwe! – so any change to pension eligibility set to occur earlier than 2037 would have been bound to incur Peters’ deadly ire.

Trump on Barack

According to the White House, the Donald Trump election campaign was wire-tapped by the Obama government, and its minions in the FBI. Hard to see why the media should give this claim any more credence than Trump’s previous claim that Barack Obama wasn’t really born in Hawaii, and therefore wasn’t a US citizen. (Not to mention Trump’s claim that Ted Cruz’ father shot JFK.) Amusingly, the FBI – which Trump has implicated in criminal activity by this allegation – is now asking the White House to provide proof of the latest claim. Fat chance.

Obviously, the wiretap claim was pure diversion from the White House scandal over the links between senior Trump White House appointees and Russia. Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated Congress continues its abuse the check and balance role it is supposed to play regarding the excesses of the executive branch.

Previously, Congress had been trigger happy about demanding investigations into bogus mini-scandals involving previous Democratic administrations eg the Benghazi cover-up! Clinton’s emails, which supposedly endangered the national interest! Now, in the face of (a) institutionalised White House influence peddling and (b) lying on oath by its top officials about their prior contacts with a rival world power, Congress is happy to sit on its hands. Nothing to see here, move on.

Why, the Republicans can’t even bring themselves to require Trump to publicly reveal his tax records. For those interested in keeping score on the lies emanating from the Trump White House, the Washington Post has been maintaining a useful tally – and it is now up to 194 false or misleading claims during its first 46 days, at a rate of over four a day.

And the corruption is pervasive. As The Hill contributor Taylor Lorenz commented yesterday:

The most annoying thing is how every shitty person on the planet seems to think Trump’s win validates their decision to be an asshole

Elmore James Was Not Like That

In Trumpville, we’re a long way from the compassion that drove Elmore James’ great blues:

Oh, and if National really wants to win Winston’s heart, it could always sing to him this golden oldie by Nat King Cole. All together now: