Garth George

Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: The money... and the real issues

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Phil Goff (left) has kept the pressure on John Key. Photo / Getty Images
Phil Goff (left) has kept the pressure on John Key. Photo / Getty Images

Only two more sleeps and it will all be over - we'll have a new government and we can all sit back and forget about it for the next three years.

In the meantime we might devote ourselves to pondering some of the more intriguing questions that this brief - and none the worse for that - election campaign has thrown up.

Will John Key's National Party win enough seats to govern alone? At the beginning of the campaign I believed that could happen; now, with Phil Goff's Labour coming on strong, I have serious doubts.

Will the Act Party survive, or will the electors of Epsom stop being yellow and turn blue, finally relegating Act to its proper place - obscurity - and putting paid to the tarnished political aspirations of Don Brash and John Banks?

Will Winston Peters succeed in the exhumation of his dead-horse NZ First party, with its ragtag coterie of running dogs, and get back into Parliament, there to do as much damage as his ego can come up with?

Will the Greens really achieve anything like 12 per cent of the vote and become a much more significant third force in our political landscape - perhaps even the powerbroker - holding back economic progress and spending our money on saving snails - at $8000 a snail?

Will the Maori Party be reduced to three seats; and will Hone Harawira sneak back into Parliament - a lone and powerless but nevertheless loud and angry voice?

And what of the brand new, squeaky-clean Conservative party, which seems to have gone relatively unnoticed until now? According to a press release, the party gained more than 500 members in the first fortnight after it was floated by millionaire Colin Craig on October 6 and now has more than 2000, having along the way absorbed Larry Baldock's Kiwi party.

And, surprisingly, a Horizon poll last Sunday had the party with 4.7 per cent of the vote, within a whisker of the 5 per cent MMP threshold.

Mr Craig is standing in the Rodney electorate against National newcomer Mark Mitchell, who was nominated after long-time seat-warmer, including the Speaker's chair, Lockwood Smith, decided to confine himself to the list.

At this point, Mr Craig, who came third in the first Super City mayoral contest, reckons he has about 47 per cent support in Rodney compared with Mr Mitchell's 37 per cent.

Whether these figures bear any resemblance to the outcome on Saturday I have no idea, but the possibility of a new party entering Parliament, largely as a result of widespread disillusionment among voters, simply adds to the intrigue of this election.

And the electorate is disillusioned. Not only is the political landscape alive with all sorts of divergent and discordant voices, but the two principal players are fighting for what they see as the middle ground to the extent that there is little to differentiate between them.

As always, Labour is going after the working man's vote and National is pandering to its business constituency. And, as ever, it's all about money: bigger profits for National's supporters; more money in the wage packet for Labour's.

Ironically, the excuses are the same. National says more profit will generate more investment and jobs to stimulate the economy; Labour says lower taxes and higher wages will give people more money to spend, and that will stimulate the economy.

So it comes down to the same old argument between capital and labour that's been going on since the Industrial Revolution. In the meantime grim social and societal problems go begging for real answers, apparently until "the economy" improves.

For instance: Ten children under five, including two newborns and a 1-week-old, have been killed in this country this year; poverty afflicts more than 200,000 children; and foodbanks in Auckland and Northland alone provided more than 4000 food parcels in the three months to September this year.

However, there are a few policies announced by the two main parties which deserve more than passing consideration.

Labour's capital gains tax is a no-brainer and should have been introduced decades ago; so is its plan to make the first $5000 or earnings tax-free.

National's proposal to give trainee teachers a personality test is long overdue, and it is right to insist on retaining national standards. Until the teaching profession is called to account and forced to submit to its political masters, our education system will remain deeply flawed.

Much has been made of the partial sale of state assets, which the media try to tell us is the defining issue of this election, yet a poll on the Herald online the other day showed it well down the list of public concerns. I don't think many people give a damn one way or the other.

And that pretty much sums up my attitude to the whole affair. However, since the polling booth is only a minute's walk from home, I will cast my votes.

- NZ Herald

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