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Bernard Hickey: Politicians avoiding main concerns

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Fixing Christchurch is among many urgent tasks. File photo / Simon Baker
Fixing Christchurch is among many urgent tasks. File photo / Simon Baker

Aside from distractions such as the teapot tape and debate atmospherics, this has been a frustrating election campaign because none of the main parties has addressed the country's main problems.

It's almost as if our politicians have been scared of the problems and what the voters might think if they talked about them.

Ultimately, that is a failure of the voters themselves to demand a proper debate, and of our electoral system. Our system of governance has become a short-sighted vote-buying exercise where electoral success is won at the expense of future generations. Ultimately it is not sustainable.

The rot really set in in 2005 as Labour scrambled for a third term. Helen Clark realised Labour needed to buy the votes of a disgruntled middle class and of students and chose to spend hard-won budget surpluses on a dramatic expansion of Working for Families, interest-free student loans and 20 hours of 'free' early childhood education.

Despite criticising them at the time, National signed up to keep these bribes in the 2008 election and has kept them for 2011.

National went further by cutting taxes for higher income earners, which cost the Government almost $3 billion in the first year and was paid for by borrowing, mostly from foreign investors such as the Chinese government. National is even planning to further enable voters' willingness to spend now and forget about the future by selling state assets to pay for $5 billion of current spending.

Labour is no better. It is also keeping those 2005 bribes and promising to extend Working for Families to non-working families, as well as spending even more on early childhood education.

The result of the past six years of election bribery is an extra $40.86 billion in debt that future generations will have to service and repay. Excluding the cost of the earthquake, the Government has run a budget deficit equivalent of 4.6 per cent of GDP in the last year.

To be fair to Labour, it has raised the politically painful issues of a capital gains tax and an increase in the age of eligibility of NZ Superannuation.

But neither party has addressed the national tragedy of long-term youth unemployment, running at 25 per cent to 30 per cent, or how to transform an underclass of people stuck on welfare and the health and social problems that brings. Neither party is seriously looking at youth rates, expanded apprenticeships and any social reforms to attack these issues directly.

And neither has addressed the risk raised by Treasury of a meltdown in Europe's financial markets crippling global and local economic growth. What are their Plan Bs?

It seems we won't find out until they make up a Plan B after the election. More short-termism from parties intent on consuming the future to stay in power for now.

- Herald on Sunday

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