Unanticipated consequences – again

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    Ten years ago, New Zealand was something of a poster child in the global thought leader organization that I’ve participated in and coached since the early 90s.

     I was talking recently (at some weird hour of the morning) to a fellow coach on Eastern Standard Time about the state of our part of the world.  How was it going, asked the New Yorker, who knew nothing of us. 

    When I claimed our election of a progressive government with Jacinda Ardern at its head as a specific and measurable success, his ‘aha’ moment of recognition was the fact that she has just had a baby.

    I brushed poor little Neve aside somewhat.  This was a week when our Prime Minister used the words “kindness” and “quality time with parents and caregivers” in front of the United Nations General Assembly (and Neve, as it happened). 

    I wanted my New York contact to know we New Zealanders were back on our game.   

    Jacinda’s speech affirmed her belief in New Zealand as an “incredibly progressive country” and backed it up, chapter and verse, from her own small-town upbringing exposed to New Zealand’s very visible activism of the 1980s.

    The future to be created is one of more healthy empowerment and action, so neither Jacinda nor I saw fit to go into our previous ten years of predatory globalised capital that dented our self-image and kept us busy quibbling over derisory ‘maternity leave’ entitlements. This over decades while wages – that formerly enabled families to have a full time caregiver, at least until the youngest went to school – languished virtually unchanged.

    Unfortunately, New Zealand’s mainstream media isn’t yet with the programme and remains as relentlessly strident as it was, with social justice and robust debate and a Parliamentary coalition that’s rebuilding our social capital constantly recast as a ‘controversy’.

    “Fleeced,” was the NZ Herald’s front page on Monday as the Prime Minister began remedial work on a problem of deregulated prices at the pump that’s plagued us for years. But by the time you had finished with the front page, you’d have thought it was all the fault of Ardern’s government.

    The fact remains that the price of oil by the barrel goes up and down as it always does, while the price at the pump mostly ratchets up but rarely down.  

    Oil company profits depend on the rest of us having roads to drive on. 

    And the government gets GST on all our tax-paid discretionary spending, so whether a citizen is buying an expensive electric car, a family holiday or the additional fuel pumped into the atmosphere as a result of Auckland’s daily gridlock is immaterial to the country’s GST revenues.

    It was the previous government’s mania for unregulated prices – think fuel, taxis, coastal shipping, ferry fares, overseas investment – that’s got us here.  As the present Prime Minister pointed out, the oil companies haven’t opened their books before and it’s time for a reckoning that can be seen and measured as visibly fair.  

    Last time I checked with the Land Transport Agency because someone had just been charged twice the usual rate for a taxi fare to Surfdale, I was told that taxi companies named (and notionally justified) their individual price schedules.

    Oil giant BP said the same when I queried, also as the result of a reader’s complaint, the price at the petrol pump on Waiheke one summer afternoon.

    Deregulation and abandoned public safeguards let the undermanned Rena go on the Astrolabe Reef, left the gassy Pike River Mine dangerously unchecked and turned the watchdog Overseas Investment Commission into the balance-sheet touting Overseas Investment Office in 2005.

    At stake in the deregulation game is the quality of life for citizens vs profits for corporates that, unchecked, literally name their price, and export the revenues, because tax evasion seems fatally unregulated too. 

    We on Waiheke are not doing too well out of it ourselves; it seems the most expensive fuel in New Zealand is on Waiheke. 

    Our anomalously-unregulated ferry service has just added yet another dollar to the cost of every ferry trip and, as if residents are not under enough financial pressure already, we’re also gulping at the Accommodation Tax which seemingly leapfrogs all safeguards and enables a money-hungry council to rezone houses as commercial if they take in paying visitors – doubling its rate take as an additional bonus to themselves. 

    That’s the fate of all commercial operators but, on Waiheke in particular, it has the power to squash a local, low impact industry that has developed to provide the independent traveller experience that put us at the top of the planet’s visitor destinations.

    There’s still a lot of room for dumb, careless decision-making. • Liz Waters

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