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    The Government Giveth and the Government Taketh Away - Part 1
    Conrad - 23/5/98

    Consistency hasn't been a strong point for the New Zealand Coalition Government recently. For example they have announced that it is now no longer illegal to import cars with wound back odometers as we do not have the ability to consistently and easily detect it - it is now simply a matter of 'buyer beware'. In the same week they announced that we do have the technology to track all vehicles on the roading system with the purpose of charging according to use.

    Clearly our computer and satellite technology has outstripped our mechanical capability - or is this just an indication of the Government's priorities? Yeah, don't worry about protecting the consumers, just make sure we can get more money out of them. In the wake of this decision it has been suggested that other problematic areas for policing such as burglary also be made 'not illegal' - a case of 'homeowner beware' perhaps.

    The distinction apparently is that the clocking is occurring overseas before the cars reach New Zealand. You could apply that logic to the importation of faulty or dangerous goods - buyer beware. Given that the Government is hell bent on opening our market to international competition by dropping tariffs and encouraging imports, we could end up with a lot of foreign produced useless rubbish being sold cheaply to people on benefits who formerly worked in such industries as footwear and vehicle manufacture (more on this later). Something is wrong with this picture.

    The main news in the recent Budget (May 14) was that beneficiaries will be expected to do community work for twenty hours a week in exchange for their payment, retitled the community wage. Basically the Government wants to decrease the numbers of people dependent on a benefit, with the basic premise that if people really want work they'll be able to find it. The reality is that the economic policies pursued by successive Governments over the last decade have created a large pool of unemployed that grows faster than the number of jobs available.

    You'd think then that as part of this drive to get beneficiaries working they'd be creating new jobs. In fact it's been estimated that for every four people on a community wage one real job will be lost. Well, excuse me, but doesn't that seem to be a backwards step? The reality is that unemployment is at its highest for four years and while in that time 8000 new jobs have been created, the working age population has grown by 59,200 (The Press May 16).

    How ironical it is too that in the same budget the Government removed tariffs on new imported vehicles, resulting in 1500 car assembly plant workers losing their jobs. I'm sure however that the price reduction of $2000 on a $30,000 car is of great comfort to the unemployed and low waged.

    The work-for-your-benefit rule was also extended to those on the DPB, forcing those with children over five into part-time work and over thirteen into full-time work. Conceivably this leaves the over thirteens to their own devices after school until their solo parent gets home from work. Yet in the Government's Code of Social Responsibility, parents are expected to be responsible for their children's behavior at all times.

    Consider too the possibility that a woman on the DPB whose career is in care-giving, may be forced to work giving care to other people's children while using her earnings to pay for another care-giver to look after her own children.

    In another big move recently the Fire Service Commission announced a plan to sack all full-time firemen on July the first after which they could all reapply for a reduced number of jobs. They plan to reduce the minimum number of firemen per appliance from four to three. However the firemen claim that without the fourth person there they will be unable to rescue anyone as the other three will be occupied with essential duties, and will have to wait for the arrival of a second appliance which no longer has an enforced arrival timeframe.

    The International standard is for a minimum of four fire personnel per appliance. The chairman of the Fire Service Commission, Roger Estall, thinks he knows better and said that by reducing the numbers of firemen there will be "fewer fires, fewer deaths and less property damage". In that case why not sack them all, rehire none and then there will be no fires at all.

    Perhaps by reducing the number of police we can also reduce crime. It'll be no surprise then that Roger Estall is involved in the Police review which recommends cutting staff, as revealed in a leaked memo from the Police Minister Jack Elder to Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. This is in spite of the Coalition agreement locking them into an increase of five hundred police during this term of office. Mrs Shipley was most concerned... that the memo had been leaked.

    With their other hand, however, come Budget day, the Government announced an increase of 114 police officers. Does this mean that the police force will be both increased and decreased and end up where it started?

    The Budget also announced a surplus of $2.8b. Now I'm no economist but I can't see what's so great about that. What is the point of a Government running at a profit? It's not as if there's a shareholder payout. The fact is it's a surplus created out of choking funding to essential services such as Health, Police and the Fire Service to name a few. Aren't they always telling us we've got a huge national debt?

    So what do they do with that surplus? Surely if they actually use it for something it is no longer a surplus. Someone please enlighten me. It seems to me that they could be a lot prouder of adequately funding essential services and running at a zero balance.

    Check out Part 2...


    Published with permission from NZine