So long and thanks for all the defishits

I’ve been a bit distracted over the past week setting up a wee side project* but what do you know, the omens were right: comfortably within the two-week period after fronting the media to say that any talk of a leadership change was rubbish, a major political party is changing leaders.

I’m just so bloody glad it’s not Labour this time.

Nobody would believe for a second that I have any kind of inside knowledge on the factions and agendas of the blue team, and I just don’t have the sheer gall of a Matthew Hooton to make things up and count it a success if people squawk at it. So what to say?

There’s been an upsurge in mischievous #crushingforCollins tweets from the left, and a huge amount of tea-leaf reading and bold predictions from the press gallery, who know that being the person to call the result early means bragging rights for life, while being one of the many calling it wrong will vanish like tears in the rain.  The broad consensus puts Collins, Bridges and Kaye at the top of the list – the arguments for each, respectively, “because nothing can stop her”, “because he’s comparatively fresh-faced but experienced” and “because she kind of fits the Jacinda mould”.

But who knows? And does it matter? The National Party, despite holding on to their polling numbers for the time being, don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. Since Key stepped down at the end of 2016, they’ve been in a holding pattern in terms of strategy, and entirely failed to re-jig their campaign to account for having a very different leader at the helm. And none of the possible contenders – not even the outside bets – seem to have Key’s sorcerous mix of affability, Teflon coating and unthreatening blandness. Certainly not Collins. Certainly not Bridges:

Ultimately, it’s the Catholics I feel sorry for. When Bill became Prime Minister for a  blessed few months, there was a sudden flurry of activity from the marriage-is-sacred, pregnancy-a-duty corner of the National Party – a corner which has seriously kept to itself for the past decade. They clearly saw their moment, nominating candidates in very safe seats, like Simeon Brown, former President of the student group ProLife Auckland, in Pakuranga and Chris Penk – who believes “a baby should have as many human rights inside the womb as it did outside of it” – in Key’s old stomping ground of Helensville.

But Bill was their only shot. As far as I know – and like I said, I’m no expert on the internal workings of the National Party – none of the genuine contenders for the leadership come from that side of the altar. They might placate them by promising not to advance abortion law reform or to repeal assisted suicide, should Seymour’s bill go through, but that’s never enough for extremist religious types. For a brief glimmering moment, they might have thought they were going to get genuine conservative change. And it’s gone. And all they have left is a party possibly on the brink of schism (which wouldn’t be the worst idea, electorally speaking) and a pregnant 37-year-old socialist* in the Beehive.

Poor things.

But what to say of Bill, now he’s off? The Prime Minister and others have made the usual polite noises about “his service” and the deep mutual respect all politicians theoretically have even for those on the other side of the spectrum. The meme has always been that he was a fantastic Minister of Finance (they all have to be, after Rob Muldoon) and he kept the country running (because we kid ourselves that “the economy” is a fickle and temperamental demigod who must be bound from doing harm by arcane ritual, published in bright blue covers and distributed to the priesthood during the sacred time of “the Budget lock-in”).

I say: this is a man who, despite professing a deep spiritual faith in a saviour whose paramount message was of love, compassion and mutual care, spent decades hammering the message that only money mattered. That the only measure of success and health for our country was balancing the books and making the numbers come out right at the end. And he couldn’t even do that. He failed by his own calculating, cold-hearted metrics, and did immense damage to the people of this country in the process.

Jog on, Bill.


*I just launched a YouTube channel for snarky reviews of romance novels. If that sounds like your kind of thing, head on over to Op Shop Romance.

Free GP visits for under 13s – an unequivocally broken election promise

National could not have been clearer in their wording during the election campaign:

national free gp visits

Their own website still says:

More than 400,000 primary school-aged children will be able to go to a doctor for free, any time of the day or night, and get their prescriptions free as well.

Part of our $500 million Budget 2014 package helping families.

National brought in free GP visits and prescriptions for children under six, including free after-hours visits. Thanks to our prudent management of the health budget, we are extending this policy to children under 13.

But when the Green Party received documents through the OIA process showing that the government is funding only 90% of accident-related GP visits for under-13s, suddenly the story changed: it’s not about providing “free GP visits and prescriptions” to under-13s, it’s about encouraging GPs to offer free visits to under-13s.

And today, the really telling bit: Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman, defending the fact that his party promised free GP visits for all and is delivering free GP visits for not-actually all, suggested that parents “shop around” for GPs who do offer free visits.

“If your GP won’t give you your free under 6 consultation then you go a couple of hundred yards down the road,” he said.

The same approach would need to be taken by parents for the under 13 scheme and Coleman advised parents to contact their local District Health Board to find a doctor signed up to the scheme if their own one isn’t.

Because everyone, of course, lives in an area where there’s another GP just “a couple of hundred yards down the road”. And all GPs are accepting new patients. And when your child is sick or injured and needs medical treatment you’re definitely going to ring around and circle the block a few times to get the best deal – healthcare is basically like buying a fridge, right?

And of course, DHBs are so flush with cash and back office staff that they can easily answer calls from every family in their district wanting to know which GPs offer free visits.

It’s the core of National Party ideology laid bare: the market is the Messiah. The customer will decide what they want and the market will adjust accordingly.

They ignore the chronic underfunding of our health system. They ignore the realities of everyday life for people who aren’t on ministerial salaries and don’t live in big cities. They think of sick and injured children as consumers and family doctors as businesses and don’t understand why that’s grotesque.

They don’t seem to understand why we have a public health care system in the first place, or that healthcare is a need, not a nice to have.

But they made a promise, and their own words condemn them. Free GP visits and prescriptions for children under 13. Not “some” GPs. Not “some” visits. Not “some” under-13s.

No matter how they try to spin this, no one can see this as anything other than another broken promise.