Monday, September 25, 2023

Update on election thoughts as the NZ General Election draws nigh

Please note dear readers that due to some international travel to another part of the Anglican Communion and no idea what internet access I may have - and, in any case, am not taking my laptop!! - this might be the last post for a few weeks. Weekly posts will resume no later than Monday 16 October 2023. Also, posting comments you submit may not be feasible through this period.

Update on election thoughts as the NZ General Election draws nigh - takes place 14 October 2023

The following are a series of lightly edited comments I have been making in my weekly eLife message to the Diocese. I propose a conclusion at the end.

1. One of my wonderings, noting how close National and Labour’s policies are, and how relatively tepid those policies are in respect of the big issues of our time – such as mitigation of climate change and enhancing the productivity of our economy – is whether our leaders are timid or really good at discerning what we the voting public will actually support by way of change. The ultimate question a general election addresses is not who the next PM will be but what the voters will accept as adjustments to the status quo.

2. Despite the claims of some that this year’s election is the most important in their lifetimes, I see that the Press frontpage headline this morning is very lowkey and evenhanded, “Leaders on the campaign trail”! We face issues, but overseas there are much greater issues being experienced. Two countries, Morocco (earthquake) and Libya (flooding), are experiencing appalling loss of life through natural disasters. The war in Ukraine continues, and Kim Jong Un and Putin have had a meeting. Presumably, they have not been talking about the Rugby World Cup. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, by contrast, we have issues, but we have a lot to be thankful for.

3. (Referring to Sunday, 10 September 2023, Ordinary 23 and the epistle reading is Romans 13:8-14). The lectionary skips the first part of Romans 13, which is a pity so close to a general election, not least because these affirm the authority of government to oversee a justice system and to collect revenue! Our epistle reading this week is still germane to election seasoning of the airwaves with promises and policies. 

First, as we discern how we will cast our vote, which set of policies and promises will fulfil the law, “love your neighbour as yourself.” 

Secondly, the last part of the passage lifts our horizons beyond the situation of this time. The day of the Lord – the day when we will all be held to account before God for how we have lived – is “nearer to us now than when we became believers.” Are we living in readiness for that great day?

4. Referring to Sunday, 3 September 2023,  Ordinary 22 and the epistle reading is Romans 12:9-21). Quite a bit in this passage (and in Romans 13) is useful reading as we prepare for our General Election (14 October). Which party, for example, offers a vision for a society in which we “live in harmony with one another” (v. 16)? Who is offering a way forward so that NZ “extends hospitality to strangers” (v. 13)? In the next few Sundays we read on into Romans 13 which also challenges us about the kind of society we want to shape as Christians, summarised in the commandment, “love your neighbour as yourself” (13:9).

5. It is hard to escape the fact that there is a General Election this year, with final voting day on 14 October. Although the polls imply we already know the result, there is a lot to think about. Media focus on National and Labour, sometimes revealing that their respective policies are more or less identical, may be distracting us from considering the ramifications of policies of potential support parties for either Labour or National.

6. We live in challenging economic times. Whatever we make of the wisdom of proposing a change to the general principle of GST (that it be applied without exceptions), we appreciate that many Kiwis need every extra dollar available to them to meet basic costs of living. We also appreciate that financial penalties make life very difficult for those struggling to meet those basic costs. One such penalty is the cost of disconnection and reconnection fees when power bills are not paid. I thank the Reverend Jolyon White, our Director of Anglican Advocacy for speaking up about this, (behind a paywall). 

In the advocates’ petition, launched earlier this month, they also called for a ban on disconnection/reconnection fees relating to unpaid bills. Jolyon White, director of Anglican Advocacy, a Christchurch based organisation, described disconnection fees as “kicking someone when they’re down”.

7. There are a number of news reports these days about an evangelist called Julian Batchelor who is crusading around our islands against “co-governance.” Co-governance is an emerging feature of national life which deserves respectful conversation and empathetic understanding of our obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. Nothing is helped by divisive and inflammatory antagonism. A thoughtful essay on co-governance and  on Batchelor’s crusade has been written by Denis O’Reilly and can be read at . (This comment goes back to a message a couple of months back)

8. (Present comment on this blog, not drawn from an eLife message) More recently - Sunday 24 September 2024 - a columnist I appreciate (but do not always agree with) - Damien Grant - writing on Stuff, about whether we can believe political slogans, makes this astute observation, citing the great Henry Mencken:

"HL Mencken, a wry observer of American life and politics, quipped that an election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods. There is an electoral logic to Mencken’s analysis. If there are ten rich voters and ninety poor ones, you will win an election promising to redistribute wealth. Some readers will cheer. Why should those who have wealth not be forced to share it with the needy?  

Except; it isn’t all of the needy, is it?   

A few short hours from these blessed islands lives the troubled nation of the Solomon Islands. 700,000 souls live in a bountiful but impoverished archipelago where the per capita GDP is about a third more than the retail price of the new iPhone 15.  

A dollar spent in Honiara would alleviate more suffering than ten spent in Horotiu [a place in NZ] but no one is promising that. This election isn’t about justice, or poverty, or fairness. Ask not what you can do for humanity but what a politician can do for you, and we elect whoever we think is in it for us. "

Further on Grant observes:

"We are untroubled by the suffering of those we cannot see but are exercised to outrage at the inequity that others can enjoy the perks of their labour while we are forced to cover the cost of our own dental care or, heaven forbid, pay a market price for daycare.  

This election, like all elections, is about finding the balance between taxing the productive to buy the votes of the poor, but not overtaxing them so that the flow of output is degraded. "

And his resounding conclusion is:

"It was a 19th century French economist, Frederic Bastiat, who speculated that government is a great fiction through which everyone endeavours to live at the expense of everyone else. We remain in thrall to this delusion; that there is a free lunch that can be provided by taking the wealth or income of others.

There isn’t, obviously, but so long as we believe we can enrich ourselves at the expense of our fellow citizens there will be politicians promising to sell us that dream while those enduring real poverty remain comfortably over the horizon.

When Hipkins claims he is in it for you, he is being honest, as is Luxon when he sings a similar refrain, but we should be clear-eyed that this is neither an admirable nor a noble path that either gentleman is pursuing."

My conclusions:

9. I am fascinated (as something of a swing voter) by how close National and Labour have become in various things they are promising. Is the critical difference between them Labour's record of delivery through the past six years and National's promise of better delivery, through the next three years?

10. I am intrigued, per a comment above, by how little quizzing there is of what a Labour-Green-Te Pati Maori coalition might entail - compared with a lot of quizzing about a National-ACT or National-ACT-NZ First coalition might entail. Have the media determined who the winner is going to be? (To be fair to the media, the polls support any such assumption.) That is, if National/Labour promises are broadly "good" for middle NZ - they are clearly aiming at middle NZ - then the potential "not so good" or "bold and brilliant and very good" for middle NZ lies in what radical changes to NZ life potential coalition partner(s) may seek to extract in a coalition deal.

11. I am concerned by possible changes (even if they are remote possibilities) should some minor parties gain traction after 14 October: I do not agree with the radical opposition of ACT to "co-governance"; I do not agree that there should be no prisons (Te Pati Maori wishes to phase them out from now, and to abolish them from 2040); I do not agree with a "wealth tax" (Green Party and Te Pati Maori proposals, on the grounds that such tax assumes continuing prosperity for NZ even after we have driven the wealthy to Australia). (I would, for clarity, support an enhanced capital gains tax; and always support review of our tax settings in an ever changing world with respect to all incomes levels and all sectors of society and business); and I am concerned that ACT with increased presence in parliament will have a go at widening settings re euthanasia in our country.

12. In other words, as someone still to make up my mind re whom I shall be voting for, I see that I will be swallowing a dead rat or two of policy promises, whether voting for one of the minor parties or for one of the major parties, knowing that - on current polling -  neither Labour nor National will form a government after 14 October without support of one or more minor parties.

13. BUT I will vote. I urge NZ readers to do so. I see no gain for the body politic if voters refuse to vote on the grounds that it is difficult this time to know whom to vote for (as, it would appear, anecdotally, many Kiwis are finding this time round.)


Anonymous said...

Peter, the world is stumbling into war and you have gone silent!
But I am sure you are praying. So are the rest of us, I trust. Kyrie eleison.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Hi William.
I have been visiting a diocese in Tanzania with just a cellphone for e-company and very limited internet. Nearly home (this posted from Sydney). I don’t think added comment from me re Israel will make much difference in the great tide of comment washing around the world! But I am profoundly disturbed by the murder, rape, desecration of people, etc, and even more disturbed by the inability of many to condemn murderous terrorism.