Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: 'Courage' costly for working-class Kiwis

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Phil Goff claims Labour has the balls to make tough decisions. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Phil Goff claims Labour has the balls to make tough decisions. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Labour leader Phil Goff got control of the first week of the election campaign by announcing his party would make KiwiSaver compulsory and raise the age of superannuation eligibility from 65 to 67.

For the past couple of years, Labour has been returning to its working-class roots. Its three campaign messages of no asset sales, take GST off fruit and veges and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour would make any left-winger proud.

So it is a surprise that Goff now tells workers they'll have to stay in their jobs longer before they get a pension and pay more for it.

Labour Party strategists want to frame their campaign talking points along the lines that New Zealand has serious financial problems and John Key and his Government won't face up to them. They want to depict Key as someone wanting to be popular rather than responsible.

It's a necessary tactic, given that Key is eight times more favoured by New Zealanders to lead this country than Goff. A head-to-head presidential campaign is a loser for Labour, but a policy one might close

the gap.

However, Labour's decision not to open its campaign with a traditional launch, allowing Goff to show his stuff in front of the adoring party faithful, was puzzling. It allowed Key to mock Goff by saying that if Labour didn't have confidence in Goff as leader, then why should the rest of the country have any in him.

Labour's gamble on its unpredictable superannuation policy gives it media domination for the next few days, as political pundits praise Goff's seriousness and responsibility on fiscal management. It hopes this will put Key on the back foot and open up a fruitful line of attack for Labour for the whole campaign.

But here's the thing: making workers stay in their jobs two years longer and forcing them to hand over a percentage of their wages to a private company to invest into large capitalist corporations for a fee is not a pro-worker policy - no matter how it's dressed up.

What happens when these companies go bust, like many have in the United States and Europe? People over there have had their entire savings wiped out through incompetence and, in some cases, downright theft.

The government doesn't guarantee them and these people have been left penniless.

If both major parties were honest, they would admit the actual purpose of these KiwiSaver schemes is to privatise government superannuation by stealth.

In proposing that KiwiSaver becomes compulsory, the Labour Party is forcing workers to pay an additional flat tax towards their retirement.

Raising the employers' contribution by half a per cent each year, until it reaches 7 per cent, just means that most employers will deduct that amount from any annual wage increase offer they would normally make.

Effectively, most workers will be paying the whole lot. This is for a retirement fund that, up until now, their PAYE tax has covered.

Politicians pretending that raising the retirement age is a sacrifice we are all going to have to make are being disingenuous.

Most politicians, like senior civil servants and managerial workers, get generous parliamentary or executive pensions and their government superannuation is just pocket money.

MPs such as Roger Douglas, Jim Anderton, Don Brash and Winston Peters, when they turned 65, got pensions as well as their salary. Nice rort for them.

Most working-class supporters of Labour don't have nice, comfy, white-collar jobs or anywhere near those privileges. Goff's proposal forces a cleaner or a factory worker to hand over 2 per cent more of their wage and compels them to stay in their low-paid job for two more years.

Goff claims that Labour has the "balls" to "make the tough decisions" and that Key "doesn't have the guts". Why doesn't Goff say that a Labour government would guarantee any KiwiSaver losses? Even better, nationalise the whole thing. Instead, he wants workers to pay for it and take all the risks.

What's so tough about that?

- Herald on Sunday

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