Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Mexican stand-off over wage gulf

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Labour's suggestion New Zealand is in danger of becoming 'Australia's Mexico' was more for dramatic effect than any literal comparison. Photo / Thinkstock
Labour's suggestion New Zealand is in danger of becoming 'Australia's Mexico' was more for dramatic effect than any literal comparison. Photo / Thinkstock

Watching the Labour Opposition trying to tackle the Government is a bit like watching a game of Battleship.

They guess four of the five co-ordinates for that big aircraft carrier, but can't for the life of them figure out what the fifth one is that will sink HMNZS National.

Having unsuccessfully hazarded guesses at China and Finland, this week they took a punt on the co-ordinates of Australia and, in a related guess, Mexico.

It was about a year ago that Finance Minister Bill English told the Australian audience at the Australia-New Zealand leadership forum that one of New Zealand's advantages was that its wages were 30 per cent cheaper.

At the time, he said that although low wages were not a good thing, they were a fact and so it was only right that he should be persuading Australians of the virtues of investing in New Zealand.

Attracting such companies, he said, "would help us create the jobs and lift incomes".

At the time, Labour MP David Cunliffe declared that English had "lost the plot".

But a year later - result!

Woolworths, Heinz Wattie and Imperial Tobacco all joined Canon and McCain in cutting jobs in Australia so New Zealanders could instead answer their phone calls, roll their cigarettes and distribute their tomato sauce.

English took on the air of a Cassandra whose prophecies were finally proven, despite the absurdity of a situation in which New Zealanders go to Australia for higher wages but Australia sends its jobs to New Zealand for lower wages, which English claims will result in higher wages in NZ.

English stopped short there, but to take his argument to its logical conclusion, presumably there is a danger that at that point those jobs could then go elsewhere and everybody will be back where they started.

Nonetheless, he could be justified in thinking that he had single-handedly delivered some of the jobs the Government had promised and that the people would be celebrating in the streets at a time when unemployment is arguably a larger issue than having lower wages than Australia.

But Labour's David Parker reached for his sombrero.

One man's "investment" is another man's sweatshop, and Parker's suggestion that New Zealand was in danger of becoming "Australia's Mexico" was more for dramatic effect than any literal comparison.

Some even thought there might be a bright side to it - the burritos, the Corona. But the Mexican ambassador didn't see the funny side. A colourful woman, she issued a stern press release pointing out the advances of recent years and that the only way to increase wages was by attracting such investment, as Mexico had.

She resisted the temptation to point out that Parker had conveniently forgotten Labour, too, had made the most of New Zealand's lower wages in the film industry - during the filming of The Last Samurai and Lord of the Rings, local workers were called "Mexicans with cellphones" because of their low wages.

Of course, Labour is not opposed to the jobs from Australia as such - just the admission that it was New Zealand's lower wages that secured them. Similarly, it is not opposed to a convention centre for Auckland, it is just opposed to changing the gambling law to secure it.

Labour's problem is that it has yet to convince voters that it can produce a New Zealand in which jobs will magically appear without having to import them from Australia and without having to cut deals for a convention centre.

That could take some creativity, and fortunately for Labour, its leader, David Shearer, showed he had an astonishing alacrity for making the incredible seem plausible on Would I Lie to You? last week.

The show requires a person to tell a story about themselves and a panel of three on the other side have to decide whether it is truth or a lie.

Shearer had a 75 per cent success rate, proving irrefutably that he could lie as if he was telling the truth and tell the truth as if he was lying. They fell for it when he told them he had a guitar jam session with Keith Richards playing the Cocaine Blues (a lie). More astonishingly, he managed to convince them he had once arranged flowers (irises) with Princess Diana and was in charge of the floral arrangements in his household (another lie).

Those bits that were the truth were also very interesting. Shearer reached a brown-belt level in karate (be warned, Grant Robertson) and got married in Thailand on the spur of the moment after pursuing his wife there while she was travelling.

Asked if he was prone to such romantic gestures, he said not usually. "It was just one of those things when you realise somebody is going to slip away from you and I decided I'd chase after her." That line alone turned the female panellists to mush.

Turn that charm on the rest of the female population and matters pertaining to asset sales, farm sales and poker-machine sales will be redundant - it will be battleship down.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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