Duplicity belies the PM’s Beguiling Smile

It’s easy to forget that PM Ardern set up the TWG during the 2017 election campaign as a way to ‘park’ the most vulnerable question Labour faced in that campaign; ie; what was her view on taxing income from capital, specifically the likelihood of the Capital Gains Tax that Labour promised in the previous election campaign?

Given her support of a CGT, despite it manifestly being little more than an ‘envy’ tax that would do nought to address inequality, the housing problem or NZ’s entrenched low rates of productivity and income growth – rather than show the courage of her conviction Ms Ardern announced in the campaign that she would rely on the view of ‘experts’ that the TWG would enlist. In other words, she kicked the issue to touch.

That manoeuvre took the heat off Labour’s new leader and she was able to keep smiling her way to the election, surfing in on a vacuum of policy content – what I referred to at the time as a “pig” of a policy offering from Labour.

But her action was duplicitous. Ardern never had any intention of promoting best practice policy – her parking of the problem was purely and simply about getting herself away from the heat of having to address New Zealand’s most telling economic issue – the drag on economic performance imparted by a tax regime the protects privilege, especially the privilege of being in a position to own a house. She confirmed that rationale when soon after being elected she said the TWG would not be allowed to consider the “family home” in its assessment of our tax regime’s problems.

That declaration alone condemned the TWG’s work to an irrelevancy on this most urgent of reforms. From that day on the review was no more than play acting, a sideshow that was prohibited from doing the best by New Zealand. Her duplicity was confirmed a 3rd time when she appointed one of the Labour Party’s most experienced hacks to head the “independent”, taxpayer-funded review and of course she knew from Day One Winston Peters would never support a CGT anyway. Note that hasn’t stopped Ardern’s hired hack Michael Cullen trying to blame Winston for the failure. He’s wrong – much as I despise the politics of Peters, he is consistent, and he never supported CGT.

With her succession of deliberate and cynical steps Ardern confirmed that insofar as economic reform that seriously confronts our issues of inequality, productivity, economic efficiency and overall well-being, she is a flake. Behind her bleating displays of empathy, she couldn’t care less. New Zealand has elected yet another charming, vacuous political leader incapable of championing transformational progress.

And for that, it’s the voters who are to blame – shallow, gullible and treating their vote as though they’re electing a winner of Dancing with the Stars.

So, the TWG scraped about and found a quorum of experts willing to serve. It was surprising they got a quorum given that the group’s independence was destroyed from the start by Ardern’s terms of reference. And of course, the result was predictable – out of the incoherent babble the group produced around closing the tax loophole on capital income, came a CGT recommendation that had no merit whatsoever. At least those members of the group with any remaining integrity acknowledged that by refusing to endorse the Cullen-led recommendation.

What a total waste of effort – a circus produced by the cynical, manipulative politics of yet another journeyman politician that these Establishment parties throw up decade after decade.

My question is why are voters in New Zealand collectively so thick that they just keep elevating these vacuous smiley faces into positions of political leadership when the outcome is so predetermined? New Zealand just keeps drifting along failing utterly to fulfil its potential when it comes to productivity, incomes and fairness. I can only conclude that we are so fat (3rd in the world), content (8th in the world) and complacent that we actually don’t want any political leadership that shakes us free from the inertia of our mediocrity. The fact we continue to drift down the OECD rankings it appears, is irrelevant to the bulk of voters. We’ll bitch and moan about these issues but have no will or spine to do anything but elect guardians that preserve this status quo.

Democracy at its worst – just soul-destroying for those of us seriously interested in building our nation’s prosperity on a foundation of fairness.