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August 3, 2008 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

Infrastructure, tax and fawning journos

Easily the best news out of the National Party conference this week has to be the announcement that the party would reformulate the Resource Management Act. The RMA, passed in 1991 to ensure sustainable use of our environment, is commonly seen to be a cumbersome mammoth that obstructs many small building projects while failing to prevent much more significant blights upon the environment. If you walk into any local pub in the South Island and listen in on whatever political discussion occurs, you’ll learn that the RMA is for many their number one gripe against government.

Yet the problems encountered via the RMA by those attempting to build and develop the economy are not so much errors in the RMA’s legislation when compared with previous regimes, as problems created by its implementation. Small renovators cannot hire someone else to do their paperwork as large property developers can, and correcting this inequity would require a reform of the actual day to day implementation of the RMA as well as its wording. But National’s promise is a good sign.

Their second most important announcement, a continuing series of tax cuts, reeks of double-speak. Finance Spokesperson Bill English announced yesterday that National would follow this year’s tax cuts with annual successors in 2009 and 2010. Today John Key said National would not borrow to fund these cuts, but would also increase government spending on infrastructure by $500 million (coupled with RMA reform this appears to be a solid plan for economic growth), partly funded by public-private partnerships. Yesterday, English had said that while National would not borrow to fund tax cuts, it would borrow to fund infrastructure. Now, this doesn’t make sense. If the government has less money because of increased spending on both tax cuts and infrastructure, and has to borrow, you cannot claim that the borrowing only applies to the infrastructure – it applies to everything that needs funding.

Borrowing isn’t necessarily a bad thing: given that we have been operating with, on the one hand large government surpluses and, on the other hand, $10bn+ per year trade deficits, increasing the government’s deficit to try to reduce our trade deficit is an acceptable plan – so long as it works, and the profits from planned growth do not all drain offshore. So why does National have to be so dishonest about borrowing? Because it has already promised for argument’s sake that it won’t borrow for tax cuts, and cannot bear to backtrack? Whatever.

Anyway, if you’re going to look for a villain in the current National Conference, you’ll find it not in the party itself but in the media coverage. The Sunday Star Times opens a full-page article on Key with the claim that he has “a bottomless amiability” because he turned down their fetishistic request that he sit in Helen Clark’s Prime Ministerial chair. Meanwhile, their cover claims that National’s tax cut announcement constitute “the opening salvoes in the election year battle over the economy.” Forgive me for having a memory, but I do believe Cullen’s larger-than-expected tax cuts on Budget day may have constituted something of an opening salvoe.

Student media probably bitches about the mainstream media a bit much: their fact-finding abilities regarding local events are excellent, and we generally steal their information without bothering to credit them. But when it comes to political coverage they become either whining or fawning children. Duncan Garner’s inanely irrelevent question regarding party finance after Condoleezza Rice called us an ally may be the worst current example, but the SST‘s National Party Conference coverage this weekend is almost as bad: lots of snappy Key quotes about growth, little analysis of exactly what in the RMA should be reformed except to say that the private sector will be involved in speeding up building consents. How is this going to work? Consents don’t take time because of funding, they take time because of discussion. If Key means National will speed up consents when the projects involved have large-scale funding behind them, then he’s talking about making the RMA’s current disparity in favour of large developers worse, and National will have failed to address the RMA’s real problem – the amount of effort it drains from smaller players.

So what does all this mean? 1: National has put forward a very real plan to increase productivity. 2: The details are so vague that the don’t actually know whether this plan will make things better or worse. And 3: We probably can’t rely upon our journalists to discover what the actual details are.

P.S. Yes, I am perfectly aware that the biggest story this weekend is not National’s conference but the fact that Graham Henry just saved himself from assassination. Unfotunately I’m not a good enough reporter to give this moment adequate coverage, so we’ll have to leave it at ‘yay’.

P.P.S. It’s also worth noting that National Radio’s Mediawatch has covered the fawning-over-Key issue in much more depth than us, check out their broadcast from today
The Gone Fishing interview is pretty lulz.


About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

Comments (10)

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  1. The fawning could be due to the mean spread the Nats put on for the media. Apparently there was awesome cheeseboard!

  2. Cheeseboard hmmm… I feel this is proof of their ongoing ties to the dairy industry. Which is neither here nor there.

  3. Dr. Peter Manglethwaite says:

    mmmm cheese. With the price of cheese fone through the roof, some party should introduce CMA, Cheese Management Act, that would ensure that cheese prices here are not more than the places we export cheese too, as the case is at the moment. Fuck you protected markets and exclusionist economic policies of the Labour government who push up domestic prices yet keep export prices low.

  4. Beans says:

    Are the changes to the RMA going to make it easier for the small people? My understanding was that they were going to ‘stream line’ the process which translated to cutting out some of the appeals, which might hurt the small guys if they were trying to change existing precedents which is what you might want to do considering the state of the current case law.

  5. Jackson Wood says:

    The funny thing about National is that they’re going to lower taxes, borrow more, invest it in infrastructure and then…

    probably sell it.

    Basically they’re tarting up the country so more foreign companies can come in and start buying the roads, hospitals, ACC state owned assets ad nasuem.

    The way Bill English was speaking was making it SOOOOO obvious that anything they invest in will become a fattened calf, juicy and bubbling with glee in the hope that they can slaughter it on the alter of free market ideology.

  6. nihiliam says:

    Fuck you’re an idiot Jackson. You weren’t even there. How he hell do you get “buy roads and hospitals and ACC” etc from all that??!

  7. Gibbon says:

    It isn’t a very big leap… do you follow the news?

  8. National had already announced its intention to open up private competition to ACC; at their conference Key stated a preference for more public-private partnerships in roading and health. To what extent we regard this as ‘buying’ will be the crux of the debate.

  9. Jackson Wood says:

    Fuck you’re sexy nihiliam.

    What Gibbon said.

  10. Tom M says:

    I’m not sure why reducing the trade deficit is inherently a good goal, or why it would be bad if ‘profits’ from growth go to overseas investors.

    I have quite a trade deficit with downtown Wellington, thanks to the presence of Borders and cheap eateries. This is certainly a preferable situation in my opinion. There is no bookstore where I live. But it seems that most of my wages are therefore being siphoned out of my local economy.
    Will I soon become destitute? Will the other denizens of Miramar? Am I doing something immoral by not buying Miramar made?
    I don’t think so.

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