Garth George: A taskforce not to be reckoned with

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The venerable Mike Moore, in a captivating article on this page of Tuesday, told us that after a long life in public affairs he now has a new rule of measurement, "the sacred law of humour".

"If someone can't see the absurdities of life, then I get nervous," he wrote, rueing the lack these days of public scepticism, which he describes as "the chastity of intellect [which] should not be surrendered easily".

He was discoursing on how Green politics has become a religion, a sinister example of ideology becoming a theology that rejects man's right to reason and choose.

It was, therefore, no small coincidence that elsewhere in the Herald that day was another classic example of ideology which has become theology - the report of the 2025 Taskforce led by Don Brash with David Caygill and three others as offsiders.

The taskforce, part of National's coalition agreement with Act, was set up to recommend ways by which New Zealand might catch up with Australia economically by 2025.

Absurdities abound, the first of which was the appointment of people like Dr Brash and Mr Caygill who, along with their soulmate, Act Party seat-warmer Roger Douglas, are not just yesterday's men but last century's men.

But perhaps the biggest absurdity is the proposition that New Zealand can and should catch up with Australia. Apart from the fact that Kiwis and Aussies speak the same language and have a historic affinity for each other, there is just no comparison between the two countries.

Australia, for instance, has five times our population and 32 times our land area, an almost entirely different climate and is immensely richer in mineral resources.

It also has a two-tier federal political system, the benefits of which are to be seen right now as a group of wide-awake politicians in the Senate battle against its Government's emissions trading scheme legislation. That's now likely to be put on the back-burner until well after this month's Copenhagen climate change gabfest - as ours should have been.

The taskforce report itself is, of course, full of absurdities. It could have been nothing else since it was written by a bunch of far-right, laissez-faire capitalists whose deeply flawed theology, long discredited, has created a new poverty-stricken underclass and robbed the country of ownership of some of its richest business resources.

A flat tax of 20c or 25c? That means that those on incomes up to $14,800 pay either 7.5c or 12.5c more on every dollar earned and those on incomes up to $48,000 either pay 1c less or 4c more. Those on higher incomes, however, benefit by up to 19c in the dollar. Great way to help our less well-off, eh?

Abolish subsidised doctor visits and reduce subsidies on prescription medicines? Who will that benefit? Certainly not those on minimal incomes, particularly if they have families. This reeks of the same sort of vicious selfishness exhibited by the right-wing greedies in the United States who want to deprive millions of their fellow countrymen of medical insurance.

Can you imagine being poor in the US and having absolutely nowhere to go when you get sick or hurt except, perhaps, one of the few, overcrowded charity hospitals? It's a terrifying thought which we, with our decades-old comprehensive state health system, can't get our heads around.

Charge market rates on student loans? Fair enough, for in making such loans interest-free the last (and I hope it is the last) Labour Government has encouraged tens of thousands of young people to see borrowing as normal and condemned many of them to a lifetime of debt bondage.

But if interest were to be returned to student loans, then some sort of state subsidy would have to be put in place to cater for the poorest and brightest of our youngsters who otherwise wouldn't have a chance.

Remove subsidies for early childhood education? Considering our pitiful low-wage structure and the absolute need for increased literacy and numeracy, this is absurdity taken to the extreme.

Sell all government-owned businesses? Yeah, right, and create an even bigger balance of payments deficit as more billions of dollars in profits are sucked from our economy into the pockets of overseas shareholders whose companies have snapped up assets that should always belong to Kiwis.

Pay private schools the same subsidy for students as state schools, creating competition? That might sound attractive to private schools, but they need to remember that "he who pays the piper calls the tune" and if they value their independence from the state, which is why parents send their kids to them, they'd have to say "thanks, but no thanks".

The description of the report by Finance Minister Bill English as "too radical" is the final absurdity. The report is not just too radical; it is economic and social bullshit, a serious waste of taxpayers' money, and every copy should be recycled into toilet paper.

- NZ Herald

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