Just after he’d won the last election, John Campbell interviewed Prime Minister John Key who was humbled by the result. He told Campbell that arrogance would not be a characteristic of his government or of his ministers… And at this stage some years down the track, we’re entitled to a little giggle. He might just as well have said that shame would not characterize them either. And he would be right.
(On the map:
red = no paid leave;
orange = < 14 weeks;
yellow = 14-25 weeks;
pale blue = 26-51 weeks;
dark blue 52 + weeks.
No shame in the well publicised snubs to public opinion over asset sales. None in land sales to foreign buyers. Not a skerrick really over our emergence as an outstanding tax haven – and a third world nation with 305,000 children in poverty and the countless thousands homeless.
And finally no shame in preventing an investment in families by using the Financial Veto to torpedo the Labour MP Sue Moroney’s Paid Parental Leave bill.
No arrogance? Pull the other one. But this mean-spirited and unpopular move was more than just a political manoeuvre – it struck at the heart of our democracy. Parliament was ready to pass this bill by 61 votes to 60. But our blokey Minister of Finance Bill English said no and later was grilled by RNZ’s Guyon Espiner on his reasons. Espiner pressed him on the key (pardon the pun) issue and it wasn’t the bill which had sought to raise PPL from 17 to 26 weeks.
Espiner: ” Do you believe in democracy?”
English: ” Ah, yes, it’s pretty fundamental.
Espiner: Yes, democracy means the majority wins?”
English: “Generally does”
Espiner: “Yet we had a majority – 61 to 60 wanted an extension of paid parental leave, a majority of New Zealanders voted for parties which wanted paid parental leave.”
English: “A majority of Parliament has also supported a system called the Financial Veto…”
And at that point you want to throw your hands up in despair. Yes the parties did that but the Veto is part of Standing Orders, the sawdust of Parliamentary process. The vetoed Bill was about improving the lives of countless mothers and their children in the years to come.
Repugnant as it was, there was worse and it came in English’s endorsement of the average. We are ‘about average’ in the provision of PPL, and that was just fine with the Minister. Is that really a mark of leadership? Being satisfied with being in the herd; being average – another word for mediocre – when once our imaginative flair led the world in so many areas?
Well yes. We can say the government leads by averaging – and in the process has made ours an average democracy.