John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Soft target in the sights

David Cunliffe. Photo / Paul Taylor
David Cunliffe. Photo / Paul Taylor

When it comes to honesty and ethics, the public ranks insurance companies only slightly above used-car salesmen.

So David Cunliffe cannot really go wrong in committing Labour to setting up a state-owned general insurance firm, KiwiAssure - especially at a time when private companies' premiums are soaring through the roof and their cover is falling through the floor.

The Labour leader will be lectured on the perils of the insurance market and putting taxpayers' money at significant risk. The purists can weep. They will just have to get used to Cunliffe using the clout of the state. The test will be whether such intervention works.

With by-election campaigning in progress in Christchurch East, Cunliffe will face accusations he has made the promise to shore up support in a Labour-held seat where earthquake-hit residents have had lengthy battles with their insurers.

That argument does not hold water. Labour's policy comes too late for those voters. What the policy does do is show the party is on the people's side, rather than being neutral, about the pricing behaviour of foreign-owned companies.

It also shows the degree to which Labour has shifted to the left. In 2002, Labour took a lot of convincing when Alliance leader Jim Anderton set out to establish Kiwibank. Yesterday's announcement proves that hesitancy no longer holds.

- Herald on Sunday

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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