Friday 29 January 2016

Are The Greens Arriving From, Or Departing For, Another Planet?

Little Green Men: Coming Or Going? Green Co-Leader, Metira Turei's State of the Nation speech made it very clear that her party has grown very weary of living on Planet Impotence - and may even be contemplating a departure for Planet Key. Her plans for Treasury to audit political parties' manifestos would certainly make the Greens' stay on Planet Key more comfortable.
I’M WORRIED that the oft-repeated claim that the Greens come from another planet, might, in fact, be true. Because only someone recently arrived from an altogether more benign solar system could possibly argue that the NZ Treasury casting its cold forensic eye over left-wing parties’ policies is a good idea. The astonishing naivety of the suggestion confirms every old socialist’s slur that when you’re dealing with the Greens, you’re dealing with the children of a very different tribe. And, honestly, after Metira Turei’s “State of the Nation” speech, I’m minded to amend the end of that sentence to read: “a very different and a very stupid tribe.”
According to Ms Turei: “New Zealanders deserve more transparency from their politicians so that they can better engage in the political system. That’s why the Green Party is proposing the establishment of [a Policy Costing Unit] to provide independent costings for the policies proposed by political parties. The PCU would be an independent unit within the Treasury and available to all parliamentary parties. It would help cut through the noise of political party promises and deliver New Zealanders unbiased information.”
Unbiased information! Clearly, the inhabitants of the planet Ms Turei has been visiting for the past 32 years are entirely ignorant of the 1984 neoliberal coup-d’état spearheaded by the leaders of the New Zealand Treasury. How else are we to explain her child-like faith in the Treasury’s lack of bias? Any other politically aware individual from this benighted chunk of our planet would have not the slightest difficulty in identifying No. 1 the Terrace, Wellington, as New Zealand’s Barad-dûr – dwelling place of the Dark Lord and source of all the woes of Middle Earth.
Can it really be true that Ms Turei has never heard of “Economics II”, the special Treasury division headed by the late Roger Kerr (of Business Roundtable fame) which, working alongside Dr Bryce Wilkinson and Dr Graham Scott of “Economics I”, was responsible for bringing together “Economic Management” – the policy bible for what came to be known as “Rogernomics”? Does she really not know that the current institutional “culture” of Treasury descends directly from these implacable ideologues?
Obviously not. Otherwise she wouldn’t dream of advocating that her party entrust its policies to Treasury’s tender mercies. Any more than she’d happily dispatch her youngest child for a sleepover at Michael Jackson’s Neverland!
And yet, Ms Turei was here, in New Zealand, for the entire time Treasury’s neoliberal evangelists were transforming the country. She knows full well that before 1984 the number of children living below the poverty line was 15 percent, and that after 20 years of Treasury-guided economic “reforms”, that figure had nearly doubled.
So, if eradicating child poverty is one of the Greens’ most important “twenty-first century policies” (as she told us, on the radio, only this week) then how is she going to feel when Treasury solemnly vouchsafes to the electorate that the measures her party proposes are not only unlikely to reduce child poverty but may even make it worse. And if she refuses to believe that Treasury would stoop to such blatantly political tactics, then all I can recommend is that she spend an hour or two with Sir Michael Cullen. As Labour’s finance minister from 1999 until 2008, he became something of an aficionado of Treasury’s “ideological burps”.
There is, of course, another explanation for Ms Turei’s extraordinary suggestion. It involves the Greens not arriving from, but departing for, another planet. Planet Key.
After all, the planet they’re currently living on – Planet Impotence – is a very dreary place. Nothing ever happens on this dismal chunk of rock, and what makes their lives even more frustrating is that Planet Key looks like a place where the right sort of Green could have such a lot of fun! It’s so bright, so blue, and everyone living there looks so happy. A material girl soon grows tired of hanging out with the poor and needy. Surely, it must be someone else’s turn to nursemaid the Labour Party! Especially when, every time Labour manages to construct a spaceship capable of lifting them off Planet Impotence, they always leave the Greens behind!
And that’s the beauty of establishing a PCU! It more-or-less guarantees that the Green Party’s Treasury-vetted policies will be ideologically indistinguishable from those of a National Government.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times, The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 January 2016.


greywarbler said...

It is a permanent problem with good people as opposed to bad people, in simple childish terms. The 'bad' people can't be considered in simple hopeful terms but require wariness and healthy scepticism looking for whatever delightful traps they may spring. The 'good' people may be plain foolish, even gullible, without the knowledge of Machiavelli's thoughts that it is wise to have read and understood.

It's been the same since Red Riding Hood went to see her Grandmother and noticed that she had sprouted sharp teeth, long ears and acquisitive eyes.

Anonymous said...

Chris you have hit the nail, the Greens have been wary / unhappy with Labour since Andrew Little publicly spurned Metiria Turei for a seat on the security committee.
James Shaw has a blue hue about him and I understand that a few of their big donors want feet under the table.
The debacle within Labour about TPPA will further lessen the Greens confidence in Labour.
I am not a supporter of the Greens but I can fully understand their concerns.
We are seeing and will probably see a few mistakes from the Greens as they re-position for 2017.
John Key may not pick the idea up but I would put money on that they he and National will be impressed.

Victor said...

All very true, Chris, assuming Ms Turei is totally on the level on this issue.

But I suspect it's a bluff and a well-aimed one, as there's no way she's going to get agreement for it from all or even most other parties.

The Greens have a genuine problem in the way the media paints them as fiscally reckless, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So what better way could there be to contest this perception than to challenge everyone to an ostensibly hyper-stringent level of fiscal rectitude, in the certain knowledge that it's not going to eventuate?

Far from being evidence that the Greens are off the planet, I think this move shows them being very much of this world.

Anonymous said...

Just maybe, might the reason for this new policy be that the NZ Greens really believe that their policies cost well (as they have shown themselves many times) and have been talking to their Aussie Green mates and learned that the Aussie Greens got exactly such a independent Treasury costing unit established in Oz when they were in govt, and found it to be a great thing for levelling the playing field a bit against the myth of good economic management by the Liberals? Did you ring Metiria to ask a few basic questions before dreaming up conspiracy theories about the Greens joining with National, Chris?

Anonymous said...

I suspect Chris that another motivation for this move from the Greens is to help push NZ in the direction of state funded political parties.

I suspect that for Parties to cost out policies takes a reasonable chunk of their leaders budget so this is a way of pushing some cost onto the Parliamentary Budget - however there may be a downside as you have pointed out as the results may not be to the Pollies liking.

The one issue I have with this idea is that in the heat of an Election Campaign, heat/blame/accusations will start being heaped onto a Government Department if the published costings are not to the liking of any particular Politicians.

Much better for Pollies to put some effort into costing and ownership of their own policy so that if they do attain Government they have some idea of what is involved in implementing their policies.

Also if the costings have been done badly or contain obvious errors then Pollies should cop the blame not some hapless bureaucrat who cannot defend themselves.


alwyn said...

I am generally in favour of the concept. I wouldn't put it in Treasury though. It should be part of Parliament although Public Servants, including those from Treasury would be seconded.
However how on earth could it work? I have looked at one of the Green Party policies which is apparently dear to Meteria's heart.
Can anyone see a way to cost this? It goes on and on with a series of platitudes. They sound good but have no substance for an analyst to cost.
Would they be allowed to release a report that says something like.
"This policy is so ill defined that no costing is possible" and have it stamped on every page of the policy document that is released?

greywarbler said...

Very interesting points coming up in this discussion Chris. First yours, Victors, and also Anonymous Jimmie. Is this a cunning plan, better fashioned than the ones from Blackadder? Hope we get a lot more comments, as each one adds another facet.

Victor said...


I don't see this Silly Season diversion as even mildly Baldrickian.

It's bog standard spin, totally transparent and, as such, not to be taken seriously.

But I'm glad to see the Greens capable of a bit of low level skulduggery.