Goff speech hits mark walloping bludgers at both ends

by Jake Quinn

National have couched most of their decisions in office thus far in terms of the recession:  belt tightening, constraint, cuts here, cuts there, just like the ones ‘mums and dads’ are having to make around the kitchen tables of New Zealand.  Labour realises that undermining the overt ‘need for constraint’ message is key to undermining National’s supreme popularity in government, and their ability to cut public services without paying any political price.

In his State of the Nation speech delivered to 250 odd Hamiltonians (myself included) at the Ferrybank lounge, titled ‘The Many. Not the Few‘, Labour leader Phil Goff reminded us that the world was now out of recession, “the IMF says the world economy will grow by 3.9 percent this year, lets call it 4 percent” he said, and that “hard-working kiwis must share in that recovery”.  Naturally, he linked this message to the Tax Working Groups recommendations and the Nat government’s likely response to it, that is, a GST increase in return for a tax cut for the “wealthy elite”.  His claim that Labour would oppose such a GST increase was met with loud applause.

For me, the most interesting part of the speech concerned ‘hitting bludgers at both ends’.  Goff started off by blasting finance company bosses who screwed over the life savings of little old ladies while sheltering their own personal wealth from the losses incurred by their company’s.  Interestingly, here he refereed to the 50% of the wealthiest 100 kiwis who are not even recorded as paying the top tax bracket (because of avoidance), which was actually a tactical devise employed by the right to justify getting rid of the bracket.

Next he walloped the well publicized and much hated ACC and beneficiary abusing cases (the guy on ACC with a sore back for five years who was videoed moving large boulders while landscaping his back yard, and the Christchurch white-supremacist gang family who’ve been on sickness benefits for 20 odd years because of ‘marijuana addiction’) saying that no one, weather on the top or the bottom of the heap, should be shafting their fellow hardworking kiwis.  This double ended attack on bludging and corruption can only be a win win.  I can’t imagine anyone, perhaps apart from those specifically under attack by Goff, disagreeing that something serious really needs to be done here.

Of course, the thing that most titillated Guyon and Garner’s gaggle was the Public Service Chief Executive pay cut bit.  In terms of the politics of it, well its a healthy little bit of populism that won’t warm anyone, so why the hell not? (heck its good enough for the British Tory’s!)  I’ve always thought that 500-600 thousand dollars a year seemed like an awfully  large amount of money for any one person to receive as a salary, especially when that salary is being paid out of taxes.

People enter parliament or public service leadership positions because they actually want to serve.  Foreign Affairs Secretary John Allen, for instance, gave up a salary of $1.2 million at NZ Post to serve his country (he took a pay cut of $600k for goodness sake).  If you want to be filthy rich you best do it some place else and without public money, thank you very much.

And frankly, while were bagging on public sector CE’s. I just don’t buy the ‘oh but they will go to the private sector if we don’t pay them heaps line’.  Show me the private sector (in Wellington) that is looking for an extra 30 executives to pay a total of 15 million dollars plus per year.  It doesn’t exist.  Of all the folks living in Wellington that I know, the wealthiest ones work in the public sector (Senior Advisors on nearly a hundred grand or Senior Managers earning double that).  But they’re not all through the wider state sector, not by a long shot.  God knows the staff of Radio NZ aren’t in danger if becoming millionaires any time soon.

Basically it was a solid speech, which had something for everyone, laid out a clear path and a clear attitude for Labour in 2010.  I got the feeling that the journo’s present were impressed by it too.  Those wanting to know where Goff and Labour stand on the big issues have no place better to look.

For further reading: here’s vernon’s, danyl’s, farrar’s, eddie’s & lew’s takes.