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Closing The Gaps
Bob Bargh - 19/01/00

'Closing the Gaps' was another political slogan designed by politicians to mask from the public the real problems which New Zealand faces today. We've had many slogans over the past fifteen years: 'there is no other way', 'no gain without pain', 'user pays', 'get the state out of government'. 'The unemployed just do not want to work', 'the unemployed are dole bludgers', 'work for the dole', 'market forces create efficiency', 'free trade is essential for the New Zealand economy', 'shareholding ministers', 'the people's bank'. etc, etc, all calculated to win acceptance for failing policies, titillate the rich and deceive and blame the poor.

These slogans seduce us from seeing the obvious. Of course we are not helped to understand what is going on by the New Zealand media. Our media lacks people with the ability and the will to analyse the ramifications of the political machinations and manipulations and onerous policies with which we have been inflicted by various parliamentary parties.

'Closing the Gaps'
The 'closing the gaps' slogan hasn't worked for the Labour Government because it was apparent from the start that the issue applied to class rather than race and it was perceived by the white middle class as a sop to the Maori voters. Ironically the gap between the privileged elite and the powerless poor is as wide in the Maori community as in the Pakeha world.

Obviously in the 'gaps' case the sloganeers knew that almost everyone was aware that those gaps existed and is unhappy about them. The Labour Party would have liked the public to focus on Maori issues such as non-achievement in the education field, the fact that life expectancy for Maoris is significantly less than for pakehas, and that they have problems with health and welfare and with crime and violence etc. However, the spin-doctors didn't take into account that all of these things and more applied to the burgeoning 'poor-white' population. The 'closing the gaps' slogan designed to appeal to those Maori who had flocked back to the Labour Party at election time had the ring of political chicanery. It is noteworthy that in the early stages of the 'gaps' campaign Dover Samuels had to go because he wasn't a suitable person to head Te Puni Kokiri the Ministry that is fronting the programme.

Racism is Alive and Flourishing in Aotearoa!
Unfortunately the 'closing the gaps' policy also revealed the myth that we have a non-racial society New Zealand. The slogan exposed the underbelly of redneck racial bigotry especially in the middle and upper classes. (Another myth is that we have a classless society). Many of these people are Labour voters so for electoral reasons it would not be wise for the Labour/Alliance Coalition to upset them.

Were the Gaps Always There?
Up until 1984 New Zealand society was described as egalitarian because in fact the taxation system distributed the wealth of the country equably and the government was able to invest heavily and fairly in education, health, welfare and genuine service to the public. Nominal unemployment relative to what was to come meant very little taxation money was needed to assist those without work. Education and health services were almost free and students had no difficulty finding work in the holidays. New Zealand was a very nice country to live in and it was not a myth or a fatuous slogan that it was 'a great place to bring up children'. In other words there were little or no gaps and despite historical injustices Maori had some sense of belonging to go along with their full employment.

All that changed dramatically after 1984 when the Labour Government betrayed its supporters by implementing a secret agenda which was diametrically opposed to its traditional philosophy.

Who created the gaps?
A Labour Government in office between 1984 and 1990 created the gaps.

The gaps were opened up by a massive change in the taxation system. Steeply regressive taxation was flattened so that those on high incomes paid considerably less while at the same time the poor were forced to pay more. All income earners were required to pay tax. There were no exemptions for the low paid. This led to the almost flat tax situation we now have. To make up for the huge tax revenue shortfall that resulted from reduced taxation on the high-income earners, a Goods and Services Tax was applied to all items sold and even to Local Authority Rates. Those on low incomes who paid out all of their income on day-to-day expenses were hardest hit while those on high incomes escaped the ravages of this tax on a large percentage of their salaries. A major portion of the tax taken from the poor was given to elite consultants and entrepreneurs and the new rich further widening the gaps.

The policy to reduce government expenditure wiped out many services, which the public had previously received free.

Tomorrow's Schools put education on a business foundation effectively ending free education and introducing elitism. The Health System was revised and put on a business footing and managers were brought in to implement 'efficiency', so sacred in the 'new right' ideology. Most of these health managers, and this applies to other government agencies, and their army of attendants hired to control expenditure, knew little or nothing about the organisations they managed. The Government implemented a system of selling off state assets. When preparing them for sale and after sale thousands of workers were dismissed in the name of efficiency. Government departments who had provided a service to the public running apprenticeship and other training schemes simply had no money available to continue that service. De-regulation and self-supervision took many skilled and experienced people out of the work force causing considerable unemployment. Many of the skilled replaced other less skilled workers forcing more people, least able to cope, onto the dole.

These policies, which were anathema to the traditional Labour supporters could not have been implemented without the compliance of many leaders in the trade union movement and, of course, almost all of the senior civil servants many of whom benefited greatly.

The free-trade ideology destroyed the fledgling industrial section and the removal of subsidies threw thousands of factory workers, many in small establishments in small towns, out of work.

Last, yet first, the exemplary public service culture both in central government and local government was destroyed. The service to the public was replaced by a service to profit. Today people who could have been attracted to a professional or working environment not dedicated to profit are denied that option.

As a consequence of the above and many more outrageous policies of the 1984-90 Labour Government the gap between rich and poor widened enormously. Before long a rich list for New Zealanders who were multi-millionaires could be published. The rich began to feel comfortable flaunting their wealth. The New Zealand Establishment embraced capitalism and drove out the last traces of socialism which was made a dirty word.

Continuing Betrayal Widens the Gaps!
The Labour Government was given its marching orders in the 1990 election. Voters were spurred on by the National Party's promise to change Labour's abhorrent and destructive policies to ones, which would lead to a 'Decent Society'. But the new government carried on where the previous one had left off thus betraying their supporters as Labour had done. Betrayal has been a feature of every government since including the Labour-Alliance Coalition and the gaps continue to widen. More food parcels were needed at Christmas this year than at any other time!

Will Labour and the Alliance Close the Gaps?
No, the present Coalition government will not close the gaps. It has made some slight changes to the taxation system and a little tinkering here and there for electoral purposes but these alterations have not been radical. The major policies, which caused the gaps, have not changed. Even the Employment Relations Act will not help the workers much. The business world must be kept happy in today's New Zealand and it continues to be given the utmost priority by our present government despite the fact that they have consistently failed the public.

The destruction of Ministries responsible to the people of New Zealand through Parliament and Ministers of the government and replacing them with independent 'businesses' with 'shareholding ministers' who get their advice from accountants has been a disaster. The New Zealand public has lost control of its infrastructure. The chickens are coming home to roost with respect to those departments, which were sold off. Our once proud and exemplary publicly owned facilities have been virtually destroyed and the public have become tenants in their own country. Labour and the Alliance have no intention of altering this.

How can the gaps be closed?
We must return to a truly democratic system. At present this is unachievable because several changes must be made which no New Zealand government will implement and the New Zealand Establishment would not tolerate. At election time the elector is powerless. We are faced by a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledummer. A situation is needed where genuine alternative policies contained in party manifestos are put forward. The parties must faithfully represent the people and they must implement the policies they put forward.

A policy of free education must be implemented. The availability of education as a profit driven business must be stamped out. In particular Tomorrow's Schools has to be dumped so that a good education isn't confined to the privileged few. The student loan system has to go.

Free television, state owned and operated must be instigated. All State Owned and Crown Enterprises must be reconstituted as government departments presided over by Ministers of the Crown who are responsible to Parliament and to the people of New Zealand.

Free health care must be made available to all. It will be necessary to limit the salaries of specialist doctors and a salary cap must be applied to managers in all government departments.

GST must go, but a tax may be left on luxury and leisure items. A steeply regressive taxation system is necessary to pay for the new services. The ratio between the income of the highest paid person to the lowest paid should not exceed ten. Prior to the 1980s those earning $100,000 would pay $70,000 in tax. We have to return to that situation.

Faithful representatives of the people must control the economy for the benefit of all New Zealanders. They would begin by controlling the Reserve Bank and nationalising the Bank of New Zealand.

Professional sport must not be permitted to dominate the culture of the country. Sporting activities must be organised so that they are for leisure and not exploited for profit or voyeurism.

A full employment policy is critical. When a third of the world's population is starving and we live in a bountiful land there is no way any unemployment is necessary or can be tolerated.

What Does the Future Hold?
New Zealand is a great country. Once we had the third highest standard of living and probably the best quality of life. That is how things were and should have been in a sparsely populated, fertile country with a well-educated, innovative population. Instead of building on that position it was all thrown away by the actions of ignorant politicians and bureaucrats backed up by incompetent and failed businessmen. All the motivating groups lacked imagination, creativity, awareness and vision and none had the interests of the ordinary citizen at heart. They were led by the strongest lobby in the country - The Business Round Table. These people dispossessed us of our birthright and our tinorangitiratanga. Who knows when, if ever we will get it back.

Today New Zealand is paradise for a few, and drudgery, illiteracy, hopelessness, criminality, poor health, ignorance and consequential apathy are the future for the majority. The portents are not good.

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