On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 5 September, NZ First leader Winston Peters, told Guyon Espiner that his party would be a force for major economic change. NZ First, he insisted, would spell an end to neo-liberalism;
“It’s no use having what we’ve had, perhaps you can call it tweedledum and tweedledummer, who have persisted with the neo-liberal experiment. Who have gone along with allowing the foreign banks to dominate New Zealand market for example. Allowed the overseas ownership of our share martket which went from 19% when this experiment started to beyond 70% now.
New Zealand First is not going to swap one side for the other side because they think it’s their turn so that they can carry on the same economic direction they’re going.
You’ve got a group on the Right, with a whole lot of cling-ons. You’ve got an unholy wedding or pre-nuptials on the Left, and we don’t want to be part of either of those things. We’re out for economic change and we intend to be successful.
We believe, if we’ve succeeded in getting our message away then economic and social direction change is a certainty.
And we’re not going to go around starting negotiating pre-election, with parties who have proven since the last 32 years, one started this economic disaster and the other one has continued it.”
Peters’ repudiation of the neo-liberal economic model had been made two months earlier on TVNZ’s Q+A, when he told Corin Dann;
Corin Dann: Do you think globalisation has failed?
Winston Peters: Of course it has. Because, see, it’s not so much about free trade, so to speak; it should be about fair trade, and there’s a world of difference.
Corin Dann: What is the alternative to globalisation if you believe that it’s failed? Is it a return to protectionism, nationalism?
Winston Peters: No, no, it’s not. It’s being like Norway; it’s being like Switzerland; it’s being like Taiwan. It’s being as smart about protecting the interests of the economy you’re trying to build rather than just going along with being told internationally what you must accept. There’s a world of difference, and right around the Western world, there is a coming now rejection of the neoliberal experiment after 30, 35 years. It is under serious challenge now.
Corin Dann: Mr Peters, globalisation has lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty. It’s brought New Zealand great diversity; it’s brought us all of the mod cons that we take for granted – our phones – everything like that. Hasn’t globalisation been great?
Winston Peters: You’re just confusing sound trade arrangements with globalisation. Globalisation in the UK consequence meant they were being told, out of the European Commission – unelected, in the UK Parliament – they were being told how their laws would be. 55% of the laws in the UK were being dominated out of Brussels. Now, no self-respecting country’s going to take that.
Peters’ comments roundly rejected globalisation, free trade, neo-liberalism. He inferred protectionism when he told Dann, “It’s being as smart about protecting the interests of the economy you’re trying to build rather than just going along with being told internationally what you must accept“.
However, in a speech made in 1997, when Peters was Treasurer in the National-NZ First Coalition Government, he told the NBR Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Government to Business Forum that he would be pursuing conservative fiscal management; supporting an “open, internationally competitive economy”; lower taxes; and a de-regulated market.
Peter’s speech is in the form of a hard-copy in this blogger’s possession. It is headed “Office of the Deputy Prime Minister & Treasurer” and is dated 11 February 1997. It was embargoed till 8.35am for that day, when Peters made his speech at Wellington’s up-market Park Royal Hotel.
Peters began by saying that there were “four core economic principles at the heart of the government’s strategy;
- “sound, stable government
- ensuring an economic climate conducive to sustainable development and growth, more employment opportunities, high quality education and social services, a strong commitment to low inflation, prudent and conservative fiscal management and over time, lower taxes and reduced public debt
- an open, internationally competitive economy, a strong export sector, and policies to stimulate private sector and individual performance
- planning for the country’s future, emphasising intergenerational fairness and increasing the nation’s saving”
Later in the speech, Peters reiterated the Coalition’s fiscal policy;
“That is why we are committed to low inflation, prudent and conservative fiscal management, lowering taxes and reducing public debt.”
Peters made clear that those were the core principles of the National-NZ First Coalition. They also happen to be core ideological tenets of neo-liberal doctrine.
Peters’ “core principles” are mirrored by the so-called “NZ Initiative” (formerly the Business Roundtable), a right-wing, neo-liberal think-tank;
We [NZ Initiative] are committed to developing policies that work for all New Zealanders, and we believe that promoting such policies will benefit all of our members as a matter of fact. But we are certainly an Initiative that usually prefers Adam Smith’s invisible hand to government’s visible fist.
Most of all, though, we believe that our goals and values are similar – if not identical – to what most New Zealanders want to see achieved:
- A good education system.
- Affordable housing.
- An open economy.
- A free and democratic society.
- The protection of our natural resources and heritage.
- Sound public finances.
- A stable currency.
The NZ Initiative/Business Roundtable also promotes lower taxes; a competitive, open economy; and prudent and conservative fiscal management – in short all the core principles expressed by Peters in February 1997.
In case his audience did not understand Peters’ commitment to “an open, internationally competitive economy” he repeated himself again, in his speech;
“The key to maintaining an open internationally competitive economy will be:
stable macroeconomic policies;
de-regulated, competitive and open market;
quality public services provided as efficiently as possible;
and the lowest possible taxes”
He went on;
“Another reform… removing restrictions on air services to and from New Zealand is important for reducing barriers to trade and tourism. To this end, the government remains committed to reciprocal liberalisation where possible…
To make the most of the opportunities a global economy provides…”
Not content to cement in an adherence to a neo-liberal agenda, Peters then attacked the social welfare system in this country – another prime target of the New Right;
“What distinguishes this government is the prominence given to the value of self-reliance… moving people away from State dependence to independence.”
Bear in mind that Peters was giving his speech only six years after Ruth Richardson’s notorious “Mother of All Budgets” in 1991. By the time Peters addressed the Government to Business Forum in 1997, 19% of households were already living below the poverty line and unemployment was at 6.8%. By June the following year it had ballooned to 7.9%.
Peters’ response was to attack and demean the welfare system that kept many of these people alive as the scourge of neo-liberalism ravaged the country.
Peters’ speech continued, parroting many of neo-liberal cliches that we are now so familiar with;
“We want to create an environment which encourages New Zealanders to move away from welfare dependency to employment. And for those who still need welfare support, we want a move away from a welfare mentality to a positive attitude and greater acceptance of social obligations.
It is also about people taking greater responsibility for their futures rather than simply relying on the state.”
Peters was promoting the Cult of Individualism and cutting back state support – another basic tenet of neo-liberalism.
Next, he took a swipe at families and their “reliance” on welfare;
“A prime area needing attention is the family… this government will create an environment which instils greater levels of parental responsibility.
Our destiny is ultimately in the hands of individual New Zealanders. Breaking the cycle of dependency means taking primary responsibility for our own welfare and the welfare of our families.
This government expects each and every New Zealander to… live up to their responsibilities…”
This speech and it’s conservative message sounds ominously as if the ACT Party might have given it;
“To alleviate poverty, reduce dependency and shift able-bodied people from welfare to work.”
“To put personal responsibility, self-reliance and work above welfare dependency.”
“Welfare must not put children at risk by undermining the two-parent family.”
“True compassion demands welfare that provides a hand up to work, independence and a better future.”
In a later speech by Peters, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland, Peters reiterated his commitment to a free market regime;
“…Maintaining an open, internationally competitive economy, supporting a strong export sector, particularly by managing cost structures downwards and continuing deregulation and policies to stimulate private sector and individual performance.
The government’s approach to fiscal management is orthodox and consistent…
Maintaining an open and competitive enterprise economy is essential because an open and competitive economy drives New Zealand firms to lift their game, and provide a more profitable investment base for our savings.
Let me be clear, this government is not opposed to foreign investment. When it is in the national interest we welcome all investment that boosts employment, productivity and growth.”
Peters was reassuring his capitalist audience; this man was not for ‘turning’.
There is little clear evidence that Peters is hostile to neo-liberalism, whether of the brutal Ruthenasia variety or the more insidious neo-liberalism-with-a-relaxed-face.
Instead, the evidence from his 1997 speeches is there for all to see. Peters may profess to have distanced himself from the neo-liberal experiment, but his own words betray him.
There is not one monolithic conservative/centre-right party in New Zealand, but two, distinct parties on the conservative spectrum. Just as Australia has the Liberal Party and it’s own rural-based National Party, we have National and NZ First. Like left-wing voters who have a choice between Labour or the Green Party, conservative voters in this country have a choice between National and NZ First.
As long as everyone is crystal-clear on this; NZ First’s leader remains committed to neo-liberalism.
The following are scanned images of Winston Peters’ 1997 speech to the Government to Business Forum;
The following are scanned images of Winston Peters speech, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland;
All media enquiries can be made to the author at email@example.com.
NZ Initiative: About Us
NZ Initiative: The Case for Lower Taxes
Business Roundtable (NZ Initiative): Submission to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on the 1997 Budget Policy Statement (March 1997)
Te Ara Encyclopedia: Mother of All Budgets
Ministry of Social Development: Assessing The Progress On Poverty Reduction
Statistics NZ: When times are tough, wage growth slows
ACT Party: Welfare and The Family
The Standard: Can We Trust Winston Peters?
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 September 2016.
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Congratulations are in order for Dr (Nick) Smith.
Not content with National’s default Blame-Game targets, Dr Smith has come up with an entire new scape-goat for National’s never-ending botch-ups; failed policies; scandals; mismanagement; under-funding; accident-prone Ministers; cronyism, and every other cluster-f*ck that a politician can conceivably come up with.
Up till now, National’s favorite Default Deflection targets have been;
Deflection #1: The Previous Labour government done it
Never mind that National has been in power for nearly nine years, they can still point the finger at Labour for “the mess that they left us”. (“Mess” being record low unemployment; positive economic growth; national debt paid down, and posting eight surpluses in a row. How many countries would love to have been bequeathed Labour’s “mess“?)
How that “mess” has survived unchanged and “fixed”, by National, throughout nearly a decade is never explained. Only Guyon Espiner on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘ cuts of Ministers when they attempt to resort to Deflection Number One, with an exasperation in his voice that would do the parent of a toddler proud.
The Housing crisis was a recent example of Deflecting blame to Labour;
Key’s latest exercise in responsibility-avoidance;
“Under the nine years that Helen [Clark] was Prime Minister, my friend, nationally house prices went up 102 percent. Under us in eight years, they’ve gone up 43. In Auckland they went up 87 percent I think – under us it’s about the same.
If it was a state of emergency now, a crisis now, why wasn’t it a state of emergency and a crisis then?”
Even the passing of National’s ill-fated synthetic drugs laws (later repealed as an utter legislative failure) was blamed on Labour;
Who would have thought that after eight years in Opposition, Labour still wields such powerful influence? Who thought it possible to govern from the Opposition benches?
Labour, take a bow.
Which is all rather ironic, as Dear Leader is pushing Heaven, Earth, and Planet Key to support Helen Clark as the U.N.’s next Secretary General;
“There are major global challenges facing the world today and the United Nations needs a proven leader who can be pragmatic and effective.
Coming from New Zealand Helen Clark is well placed to bridge divisions and get results. She is the best person for the job.
I’ll do everything I can to get her over the line.
If Helen became the next secretary general of the UN New Zealanders would celebrate in the same way they celebrate Lorde for her singing and Lydia Ko in golf.”
Most people would say she was a very strong prime minister for nine years and she’s done a great job in the last seven years at UNDP.”
“If they’re doing that, that is everything that’s wrong with the United Nations because, for goodness sake, let’s get the best person in the job…
I still think anyway if its a drag race between Kevin Rudd and Helen Clark, New Zealanders, and I reckon a hell of a lot of Australians, know who the best candidate is.”
Wow! Is this the same Prime Minister of a previous Labour government that Key blames all New Zealand’s economic and social woes?
Deflection #2: Welfare Beneficiaries/Housing NZ tenants done it
It’s the fault of those “lazy benes”. And/or Housing NZ tenants. It’s their fault that poverty has increased; wages have remained low; the income/wealth gap has widened; that there is over-crowding and homelessness.
Of course it’s their fault. Key said so;
“But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills. And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.”
Didn’t you know that government social and fiscal policy is set by WINZ beneficiaries and Housing NZ clients?!
Deflection #3: The GFC/Great Recession/Overseas Events done it
Unemployment is still high (even with Statistics NZ fudging unemployment stats). It’s the GFC, stoopid, as Key pointed out;
“We did inherit a pretty bad situation with the global financial crisis. We have had three terrible earthquakes in Christchurch. We have had the collapse of finance companies. We have had to bail out what is, in terms of the earthquakes, the single biggest economic impact on a developed economy as the result of a disaster. The public don’t agree with every decision… but I think they believe on balance it’s been a tough three years and we’ve handled most things well. The second thing is it’s all relative. Yes, our unemployment went to 7 per cent and now it’s 6.5, but in America it’s 9 per cent officially and 14 per cent unofficially and in Spain it’s 20 per cent… “
“While I think we have to acknowledge that the last three years have been pretty tough with the Global Financial Crisis, on a relative basisNew Zealand’s been doing a better than a lot of other countries.”
Of course, Deflection #3 has a limited shelf-life, and sooner or later the public and media will wise-up to the fact that the Global Financial Crisis event was eight years ago.
Time for another handy international crisis?
When it comes to Auckland-related problems such as housing unaffordability; homelessness, and over-crowding, the Nats have a geographic-specific Deflection solely set aside for that contingency;
Deflection #4 is better than ‘Persil‘ at removing embarrassing and unsightly, Auckland-issue credibility stains…
But now, in a masterful, brilliant stroke of creative political bullshit-artistry, Dr Smith has come up with a brand new Deflection category.
Drum roll, please…
Deflection #5: The birds done it!
In a speech on 30 August, Dr Smith was at pains to rationalise away his government’s abject failure at cleaning up New Zealand’s heavily polluted waterways. His surrender to a future of rivers so contaminated with animal faeces and harmful micro-organisms that they can no longer be swum in, was summed up when he lamented;
“A national requirement for all water bodies to be swimmable all of the time is impractical. Most of our rivers breach the 540 E. coli count required for swimming during heavy rainfall.”
The target to blame? Birds.
“We’ve got water bodies like the Washdyke Lagoon here in Canterbury and Lake Papaitonga in the Manawatu which are home to many birds whose E. coli make it impossible to meet the swimming standard without a massive bird cull.”
The… Birds!?!? Priceless.
Hear that, birds?!?! It’s all your fault!!
Expect to hear more of Deflection #5 in future, as the chorus of complaints about our rivers and lakes continues to grow.
Never let it be said that National cannot find a convenient target to deflect blame onto, whenever a situation demands it;
Obviously, any chance of National taking responsibility for the mis-management of our waterways is… for the birds.
But the public, the media, and environmental groups will not allow Smith to escape his responsibilities. He will be held to account and reminded of his failures at every turn. Like New Zealand’s polluted, unswimmable waterways, his Environmental portfolio has become utterly toxic.
We can hear Dr Smith now; “Oh, the pain, the pain…”
Parliament Today: Housing NZ’s Woes Blamed on Labour
Radio NZ: Labour forced our hand on timing – Key
Fairfax media: Government backs Helen Clark for top UN job
Fairfax media: John Key – Don’t write Helen Clark off yet, after UN polling
Dominion Post: View from the top
Fairfax media: Key and Goff Q&A – Creating jobs
Fairfax media: Council blamed for Auckland housing delays
Beehive.govt.nz: Improving freshwater management
No Right Turn: Lowering expectations
No Right Turn: So much for 100% pure
The Standard: Water quality too important for bird-brained excuses
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 September 2016.
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