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Entry 1410, on 2012-07-11 at 13:44:45 (Rating 4, Politics)
There's a simple solution to many of the political problems we have today: that is to have a strong and courageous opposition. If the party in power makes a decision which the opposition genuinely thinks is against the best interests of the country then they should offer a reasonable but robust alternative and possibly even offer a policy which might sabotage the bad policy.
There are a couple of conspicuous current examples: one where a right wing opposition can sabotage the left and one the opposite. In Australia the Labour party has just introduced it's carbon tax and the opposition there has promised to repeal it when they get into power (and they almost certainly will win the next election).
In my opinion, and in the opinion of many rationally thinking people, a carbon tax is a good idea - a far better one that the idiotic emissions trading scheme New Zealand has half implemented. So I naturally disagree with the idea of halting this very reasonable and sensible environmental initiative. But it is the opposition's job to offer an alternative when they think it is necessary - even when they are wrong - and they have.
So what about here in New Zealand? There's a very easy way the opposition here can sabotage the government's asset sales program. All they need to do is signal that they will buy the assets back at a cost less than what was originally paid for them. Who would invest in anything under those circumstances? Very few people would.
And even if it's impossible to carry out a policy of that sort there are plenty of other options available: subsidies and other assistance for taxpayer owned competitors, regulations which make the ownership of those shares a lot less attractive, and taxes on income from shares owned in essential services such as power companies.
That may seem a bit extreme and maybe it is, but if the opposition signals it will do it before anyone buys the shares then it seems to be entirely open and fair. And if people don't like it they won't vote for the left at the next election. Apparently National think that if you win an election then any policy you were elected on is OK so they can't complain about it!
This same sort of action should have been used in the past too. Before New Zealand's rail system was privatised I will admit it was a bit inefficient in places but it was a lot better than it was after it was bought and sold by a series of private owners who systematically destroyed it.
Then the Labour government was forced to buy it back at a much greater price than it was worth. Ironically the supporters of private ownership complained about that buy back even though it was necessary because rail was yet another example of the total failure of privatisation.
What they should have done was buy it back at a more realistic price, preferably much less than what the existing owner paid. And if that wasn't possible (after all you can't force someone to sell something at an arbitrary price) they should have made life difficult for the owner through regulations until they did decide to sell it at a reasonable price.
Some will say that this is a bad idea and will discourage investment that we need. Well no, actually: it will discourage investment that we don't need. That is investment with the intention of asset stripping, making a quick profit, or making no improvements then selling at a profit. But it shouldn't stop genuine investors who are interested in making a long-term genuine contribution, should it?
So getting back to the current asset sales. All Labour has to do is say that it will force a buy back of the assets at a reduced price. It might not even matter whether that is practical or not because it would introduce enough uncertainty that it would be an effective form of political sabotage. The asset sales would be a failure before they even get started.
Labour have been rather timid in opposition. The Greens and New Zealand First seem to be offering real alternatives and are less scared to be seen as offering more bold and different policies. Maybe Labour thinks that doing nothing and waiting for the government to make the mistakes is the best option. in the past they might have been right, but now that sort of attitude just makes other opposition parties stronger - not that there's anything wrong with that for anyone except Labour.
The opposition parties and most of the public of New Zealand know that asset sales are tantamount to robbing from the poor and giving to the rich. Wait a minute, weren't the "good guys" supposed to do the opposite? Of course they were and that clearly shows which side the current government is on. They are incompetent and their policies are counterproductive. The opposition needs to do whatever is necessary now to stop them before too much damage is done. If political sabotage is necessary, so be it.
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