Wednesday 16 August 2017

“Let’s Tax This?” – “Hell, Yeah!”

"Hell, Yeah!" - Labour must not retreat before National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack. Not when a majority of New Zealanders are ready to rescue their ailing public services from further deterioration. When National hurls the “tax and spend” accusation at Labour candidates they should respond instantly with a hearty “Hell, yeah!”
‘LET’S TAX THIS!’ Looks like being the National Party’s strategic rejoinder to Jacinda Ardern’s “Let’s Do This!” campaign slogan. If it is, then it deserves to be as ineffective as it is unoriginal. National’s campaign manager, Steven Joyce, is experienced enough to know that making the Left’s alleged propensity to “tax and spend” the central feature of a National Party election campaign only works when Labour is in power.
The reason for this is obvious. One of the main reasons National governments fall is because they are ideologically allergic to both taxing and spending. As the years pass, and the necessary investments in health, education, housing and infrastructure are withheld, the public starts to notice a worrying decline in the quality and quantity of essential social services.
Urgent surgical operations are routinely deferred, or, worse still, declined. School classrooms become overcrowded. The recruitment and retention of qualified teachers becomes impossible. Demand for affordable housing outstrips supply. Homelessness reaches crisis levels. Rivers and streams become unswimmable. To all but the greedy and the cruel, the moral case for increased taxation, to enable long-deferred public expenditure, is irrefutable.
Where New Zealand now stands, the need of a “tax and spend” government is palpable. Voters convinced of this need are, therefore, unlikely to run screaming for the hills at the prospect of a Labour government taking office. That National is defaulting to such a tired old attack-line is a sign not of strategic confidence – it actually signals something pretty close to despair.
Why then is Mr Joyce rolling the dice so recklessly?
The most likely answer is that he believes Labour’s leaders – most particularly its finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson – are incorrigibly risk averse, and that they will recoil from National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack in confusion and dismay.
On the strength of Labour’s performance under Andrew Little, Mr Joyce’s gamble is not unreasonable. It was, after all, Mr Little who nixed Labour’s 2011-2014 policy of introducing a capital gains tax. Nor was he willing to countenance a sharp rise in the progressivity of the Income Tax. His preference for a “working group” of “experts” to write his party’s tax policies – but only after Labour has been safely elected – betrayed the Opposition’s extraordinary sensitivity towards these issues.
Mr Joyce is hoping that the more pressure the National Party is able to heap upon Labour in relation to tax, the more confused and equivocal its spokespeople will become. This would be of enormous assistance to National; not least because it would spike the Opposition’s rhetorical guns on at least two issues where the Government is acutely vulnerable: Auckland’s escalating traffic woes; and the appalling condition of New Zealand’s waterways.
Ms Ardern’s bold policy announcements on both of these issues have included unabashed references to such fiscal instruments as regional fuel taxes, resource-use royalties and irrigation levies. Had she not included these references, National’s charge would have been that Labour has no idea how its promises will be paid for. By anticipating this criticism, however, and countering it, Ms Ardern handed Mr Joyce the “Let’s Tax This!” attack-line he was looking for.
For a day or two, Mr Joyce’s strategy appeared to be working. Interviewed by Lisa Owen on the Three network’s current affairs programme, “The Nation”, Mr Robertson’s confidence visibly faded when asked whether or not Labour would be putting a capital gains tax back on the agenda. As his opponent floundered, the wolfish grin on Finance Minister Joyce’s face told the viewers everything they needed to know!
By the following day, however, Labour had developed an attack-line of its own. Interviewed on TVNZ’s “Q+A”, Labour’s environment spokesperson, David Parker, hit back against criticism of his party’s water policies by turning the disparagement back on its originators. Mr Parker simply demanded to know whether or not the Government, Federated Farmers, horticulturalists and vintners were suggesting that the biggest contributors to New Zealand’s water problems should be exempted entirely from making a reasonable contribution to their solution?
That Mr Parker rebuked his critics while wearing an expression that positively shouted: “You have got to be kidding me!”, made his challenge even more persuasive. Television is an ideal medium for this sort of non-verbal communication – As Mr Joyce had proved the day before.
Labour should not, therefore, retreat before National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack. Not when a majority of New Zealanders are ready to rescue their ailing public services from further deterioration. That “taxation is the price we pay for civilisation” has become increasingly clear over the nine years of Bill English’s undeclared, but unmistakeable, austerity campaign against the public sector. When National hurls the “tax and spend” accusation at Labour candidates they should respond instantly with a hearty “Hell, yeah!”
“Let’s Do This!” and “Let’s Tax This!” are simply different ways of saying the same thing.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 15 August 2017.


Kat said...

Why not ask National whose pockets the money they are throwing around before the election is coming out of. Why not ask National about where the millions Nick Smith has targeted to clean up rivers over the never never is coming from. Its time National was asked to show us the money. They can't and that's why they never do anything.

National are just managers and hopeless ones at that. Labour are the agents of change.

Time for a big change.

mikesh said...

It is also quite possible, however, that they have suggested to the Green Party, on the quiet, that the latter should not push their equity for beneficiaries policy too hard.

David Stone said...

"Let's Do This" is so far open to the universe for interpretation . I see you are making the most of it's unlimited possibilities Chris.
In the end though it can only mean what the labour party caucus has already decided.

Kat said...

Not one for posting links but if this is indicative of how Jacinda Ardern operates politically then we may have a four term PM in the making here.

Victor said...


Whilst I agree with the main thrust of your argument, I don't think David Parker made a very good case for Labour's water policy when on "The Nation".

Talking in cubic metres or whatever might mean something to the farming community, although it's not going to persuade more than a few handfuls of them to vote Labour.

But it means nothing to an impractical townie such as myself, who wants to know approximately how much it will cost the average Waikato cocky and how much more his cousin in Canterbury might need to pay.

You may say this doesn't concern townies, other than in terms of the knock-on to food prices. But it's going to become part of National's overall taxation mantra. So the credibility or otherwise of this policy is part and parcel of Labour's claim to competency.

And, yes, I appreciate that it's way too early to cite firm figures. So state maximums and tell the public that you hope it will be a lot lower.

Remember what Auntie Helen said about not promising more than you can deliver but delivering more than you promise.

In lieu of this sort of approach, Mr Parker came across as smug, soignee and arrogant.

Kat said...

Victor, I would disagree and say that David Parker came across as genuine, clearly putting the facts on the table. His exasperation at the mindless nonsense spouted by National and its supporters could be misinterpreted by those not entirely cognizant of the policy.

carlos e said...

I doubt many people watch The Nation anyroad. Or care as much as you think about water. Even if they should. And they are aware it was Labour that created Fonterra and its near monopoly.
Anyway, economics 101. Which the average voter does know some of and is mostly what determines their voting as it happens.
Chris you do not need to raise taxes if your economy is growing so well as it has been for years, and employment is up. More and more tax just flows in, and less welfare is needed, hence the surpluses with more to come, as long as the ship is not shoved off course by a daft government. Helen and her nerdy-before-it-was-cool Christ's College boy finance man knew that. A most infamous Old Boy.

The government is spending heaps, with even more planned. You and Kat shouting 'crisis' or 'multiple crises' does not wash with the majority.
I know you hope for a real crisis but there isn't one.
The only hope for change currently is if the media plus smiley can pump up an imagined crisis and/or a dreamy hope for an even better future led by the new kid on the block.
Not impossible but it would not be based on reality. Yet these are strange times abroad. I still think that makes it just as likely NZ with think 'better not mess with the good we got'.

Victor said...


I'm, like you, on the guy's side.

But I was sitting there waiting bated breath for figures that meant something to me, as I'm not a farmer and barely know one end of a cow from another.

My wife has since told me that RNZ's Rural Report has given an approximate breakdown of what it would cost a single family Canterbury farm. It seems to be lot but not, I would have thought, prohibitive.

As a voter, I need to know this, so as to weigh up the oncoming National assault on Labour's expenditure plans.

There's a UK politician called David (now Lord)Owen of whom it was once said that he'd rather win an argument than win a friend. NZ Labour needs to do both and exasperation without adequate explication is not the way.

Victor said...

Well, carlos e

If the economy's performing so well that we don't need to raise more taxes, let's just spend whatever's necessary on all those areas of obvious social and infra-structual shortfall and then print money.

Is that what you mean? No, I didn't think so.