Opinion: There is something about this election campaign that reminds me of the 1975 election.
I had just turned 15, and I was bemused by the advertisements I was seeing on television. I remember asking my father why the National Party’s ads had dancing Cossacks.
He said it was Muldoon’s response to the NZ Superannuation scheme which had just been introduced by the Kirk/Rowling government. The implications were that the scheme would be able to own every share in the country and that was communism – or something like that.
It’s hard to believe that such an argument would hold sway in an election campaign today. Or is it?
I have heard some fascinating claims, some of which admittedly have the hallmarks of a lack of institutional knowledge rather than any intention to deceive. But others just don’t cut the mustard.
I mention this because I believe the decision to overturn the 1974 scheme was an act of economic vandalism unmatched by any subsequent chants of “no ifs, no buts, no maybes”. I often reflect on how much more resilient we would have been as a nation had the scheme been left to continue to develop and grow.
Haven’t we had more than one ‘rainy day’ recently? What was the global pandemic? What were the anniversary weekend floods in Auckland and the devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle across several regions? What happens when rainy days follow rainy days, and you know there are more to come?
It is interesting to reflect on the courage it had taken to introduce it in the first place – and no I am not saying it was perfect, but it was a great start. The country was under huge pressure with Britain having joined the EEC (now the EU) at the same time as there was an oil crisis. Compulsory contributions were key to its success. That meant that saving for our retirement would mean some salary sacrifice at a difficult time.
Sacrifice had nothing on a campaign pledge to return the money that had already been deducted, with the added promise of universal superannuation from 60 years – all taxpayer-funded so no deductions from wages and salaries. It’s easy to see now that this was nothing more than an election bribe, and the beginning of the political football status superannuation would hold for years to come.
And what of sacrifice today? I acknowledge the sacrifices people were called on to make as we tackled a global pandemic. But it seems the sacrifices we need to make to take on future challenges – such as the impacts of climate change – can apparently be deferred just like the superannuation contributions in 1975.
I have largely steered clear of this year’s election campaign – there is enough being said. The closest I have come is to say there are some issues that should be beyond the political fray – the big picture policy issues that should not have to depend on the election result.
We should insist that whoever takes the Treasury benches urgently begins a cross-party process of engaging with local government to determine the best way forward
Obviously, I believe superannuation should be one of those. But there are other things like the need to develop the national planning framework which is critical to the Resource Management Act reforms regardless of which side of the debate you sit on. This cannot be a political football.
And as I have also said, how are we going to cope with the cost of these extreme climate events that are becoming more frequent and severe?
It was this subject that was raised in the finance debates between National and Labour. How do we fund the work needed for communities to build resilience as they prepare for, adapt to, and recover from the impacts of climate change?
They were pushed to answer a question about whether a levy might be one way.
One was more open to the possibility than the other.
The Labour spokesperson highlighted the National Resilience Plan fund it had put in place to support communities building resilience and becoming more adaptable in the face of these climate-induced disasters. He said there was a long-term conversation to have about how to have a more secure funding system, while ensuring people could still access insurance.
The National spokesperson says, no, the fundamental role of government is to ensure that it has got its books in good enough order that it has left enough for a rainy day so that when disaster does strike it can responsibly borrow.
It’s the idea of the rainy day that caught my attention. Haven’t we had more than one ‘rainy day’ recently?
What was the global pandemic? What were the anniversary weekend floods in Auckland and the devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle across several regions?
What happens when rainy days follow rainy days, and you know there are more to come?
And the question no one asked was what happens when the insurance market retreats before local decisions can be made about land use planning, adaptation and retreat?
We already contribute to the Earthquake Commission fund when we buy residential insurance. Surely an additional fund should at least be considered to meet some of these bigger picture concerns. Such a fund could be based on a levy and potentially backed by an element of parametric insurance – an agreed sum paid for a specific event.
All these things will potentially become harder to negotiate as we face more extreme events, and the ‘let the market decide’ brigade show us what market failure actually looks like.
And that’s why we should insist that whoever takes the Treasury benches urgently begins a cross-party process of engaging with local government to determine the best way forward, so we have the capacity to invest in building resilience ahead of extreme events and to take on the recovery once the damage is done.
There may not be dancing Cossacks on our screens this time, but we are being told we can put these things off for now. I don’t think we can afford to believe we can have it all and that no amount of sacrifice is required. We will pay a much higher price if we don’t act now.
The impacts of climate change are coming ready or not, and I for one would rather be ready.