John Key’s weird “gotcha” moment on ACC

Andrew Little was pushing the Prime Minister today on the fact that he’s ripping off workers and businesses to the tune of $350 million in ACC levies in order to generate his much-promised, never-delivered budget surplus.

Desperate to throw mud any way he could, Key took this patsy question from Tim MacIndoe:

 

Here’s the release in question.* That’s right, folks: apparently Andrew Little is a hypocrite because in 2009 he said levies were being raised unnecessarily high in order to prop up National’s political agenda, and in 2015 he’s saying levies are being kept unnecessarily high in order to prop up National’s political agenda.

Breathtaking, isn’t it? A real knockout punch, from the OTT reactions of Macindoe and Ross sitting behind him.

But maybe that does sound like hypocrisy to someone like John Key, to whom going back on his previously-held positions is second nature, whether it’s promising to resign over mass surveillance of New Zealanders, promising to apologise to victims of sexual assault, or promising he hasn’t had contact with Cameron Slater.

The surprising thing is what a terribly weak attack line this is. Since Key and his office lost Jason Ede it’s like all the pizzazz has gone out of the dirty politics machine.

*And no, there’s no conspiracy in me posting that link; it’s the top result when you google “andrew little acc levies epmu”, so calm down, Chaos & Mayhem.

Little: ACC levies need to come down

Most of the attention on today’s episode of Q&A focused on the two biggest issues in NZ politics at the moment – the Northland by-election and Nicky Hager’s most recent GCSB revelations.

But in Andrew Little’s interview with Heather du Plessis-Allan – amongst her blatant, failed attempts to get him to say “I’m telling people to vote for Winston” and “I support 90-day trials” – he raised another issue which highlights some of the weird hypocrisies of our present government.

Labour has an independent report which estimates that business and workers are being collectively overcharged about $350 million every year in ACC levies. ACC is currently running robust reserves, much of which is invested overseas. If some of that unneeded cash were returned to the pockets of people and businesses, it would create enough economic activity to generate 700 new jobs.

For workers at the bottom of the heap, or small businesses running on tight margins, even a few hundred dollars extra per year could be a significant factor in keeping their heads above water.

The irony is this: the Government’s repeatedly had advice – from that well-know communist thinktank, the Treasury – that ACC levies are too high. They’ve taken baby steps towards it, with cuts totalling about $115 million coming into force in April.

This is the National Party – the party which slashed the top tax rate during a recession so its wealthy backers could buy more investment properties, the party which campaigned hard on the idea that Labour wanted to introduce “FIVE NEW TAXES!!!!” – refusing to cut an unnecessary cost which would actually help families, businesses and the wider economy. Purely by coincidence, those unnecessary levies (as Grant Robertson did back in February) are probably helping to keep the Government’s books in surplus.

It kind of tells you everything about their priorities, doesn’t it?

The state of the nation

I probably don’t have a lot to add to what’s already been said about Andrew Little’s state of the nation speech this morning.

It was sensible and forward-looking – an excellent rejoinder to the “Angry Andy” meme which Cameron Slater has been desperately trying to build.

It was focused on jobs – something which seems like it should be natural to the Labour Party but which (for any of a vast number of reasons which are regularly argued on leftwing blogs) hasn’t got a lot of cut-through in recent years.

There was the acknowledgement of the importance of working with business, and especially small business, to create jobs – but concrete points about job security and particularly the scrapping of zero-hour contracts to make it clear that we’re not working within the rightwing “deregulate them and they will come” model. (Which won’t really come as a surprise to the Farrars or Hootons of the world who were quick to demand that Labour scrap its policy on unfair, never-created-any-actual-jobs 90-day trials.)

The Labour Party – and you could argue the wider NZ left – is at the start of a three-year project to rebuild our movement and win in the 2017 general election. I reckon we’re off to a pretty good start.

2014 in review – weetbix and elections

I started Boots Theory on 1 February this year, and since then it’s seen nearly 71 posts (72 now!), 5,000 visitors, and 7,500 pageviews. Not a bad start for a year which got pretty busy offline!

But what really staggered me was finding out that over at The Standard, I somehow managed to post the most-read article of the entire year!

The cost of a bowl of Weet-Bix (reposted at Boots Theory here) took a look at one of those really corrosive memes in NZ politics – the idea that poverty isn’t real because “a bowl of Weet-Bix and milk” is cheap.

The financial breakdown isn’t perfect. Commenters pointed out that I didn’t include some aspects of the Working for Families scheme which beneficiary parents might be able to get, for example. But a big part of the problem of poverty in NZ is how difficult it is for beneficiaries to know, much less get, their full entitlements. Navigating our social welfare system is downright nightmarish for many people, and the fact that WINZ’s website doesn’t even mention you might be entitled to a Family Tax Credit illustrates that.

I also got the tenth-most-read post on The Standard, on Three more years of National in government, and I’m going to give myself half-marks for contributions to the ninth-most-read post, announcing the election of Andrew Little as Labour leader.

On that high note, onwards into 2015!

(Repost) When is a nasty attack not a nasty attack?

Originally posted at On The Left.

John Key was on Breakfast on One this morning talking about the political year past and the challenges facing him in 2015. And it was a fascinating display of how someone can say utterly contradictory things with a straight face.

On the “low point” of the election campaign – after talking dismissively about Nicky Hager – Key says:

“The low point was the campaign … it was a style of campaign that New Zealanders aren’t used to, don’t want … the whole thing was just awful.”

“[Labour] have done every rotten trick in the book.”

But of course:

“It’s the nature of politics and I don’t complain about it.”

Then, after the ad break:

“The one difference with [Andrew Little, compared to previous Labour leaders] is, he’s comfortable in his own skin … he’s got a pretty narrow base … and he’s always been the aggressive hard man, there’ll never be a change of dial or temperature, if a kitten crosses the road … he’ll be screaming like that.”

What was that about nasty attack politics being a turn-off to voters?

This has been the rightwing response to Dirty Politics since the day it dropped, throwing up utterly contradictory defences (“everyone does it so get over it”, “no you’re the dirty ones”, “it turns off voters”, “it’s a beltway issue voters don’t care about”) and assuming

The problem is, it’s worked. So in under 12 minutes on Breakfast, Key can attack the integrity of one of our best investigative journalists, repeat the WhaleOil smear about Andrew Little having no support, and literally accuse him of yelling at kittens.

But apparently it was Labour’s nasty attack politics which resulted in their bad election result.

To add insult to injury, he even kicks off the resurrection of Judith Collins’ career by talking about how good a minister she was! The minister who tried to smear a gallery journo to another in order to distract from her shady dealings with Oravida! (Collins is clearly still holding a grudge on that one, too.)

So when is a nasty attack not a nasty attack? It’s basic emotive conjugation: I am making a neutral observation, you are a nasty attack blogger, he just keeps texting me and I can’t stop him.

It’s frustrating as hell: it seems utterly bizarre that our own Prime Minister can sit in a television studio and act like a victim of attack politics then moments later hurl personal insults at the Leader of the Opposition.

Apparently that’s the nature of politics in New Zealand these days. But unlike our Prime Minister – who will assure you as often as you care to hear that he’s “not complaining about it” – I expect better.