John Key has made the traditional right wing look almost mainstream since he became Prime Minister. It has been completely disorienting for the left and many must be wondering if the left-right political paradigm is somewhat outdated.
Our reactionary bovver boys couldn't keep up this touchy-feely veneer for too long before they reverted to type. State Services Minister Tony Ryall brought flinty right-wing ideology back into the political centre ring this week. His unilateral decision to scrap two investigations set up by the previous Labour Government into gender-related pay disparity in the public service was stupid and exposes some of the Neanderthal thinking of the new Government.
For most New Zealanders, the idea of paying different amounts of money to workers doing similar work on the basis of gender seems archaic.
Most of us assumed this gender battle was won decades ago. But apparently, in the minds of some of our new senior politicians, it seems it is still normal to treat women differently at work. It was only last year that discrimination in pay for young workers was removed.
The argument was finally accepted by parliament that everyone should be paid receive equal pay for equal work, no matter their age. At the time, the National Party opposed the removal of youth wages. But their decision this week to cement-in discrimination against female government employees is truly shocking.
It's an established fact that female social workers at the Child, Youth & Family department are paid 9.5 per cent less than their male co-workers.
Ryall tried to explain it as merely a financial decision rather than an anti-woman posture. But he misses the point. The issue is very clear.
It is not acceptable for people to be paid a lesser rate of pay because of their sex. If it's found to be happening, a remedy needs to be discussed.
But it's a case of first establishing whether structural discrimination against gender is happening in our public service.
The point of the original investigation was to establish whether there was any discrimination in pay between men and women. Ryall has kneecapped the process because he obviously knows full well that women are being deliberately discriminated against in the public service.
It is the same argument that previous National administrations used in relation to inquiries into structure discrimination against Maori.
They claimed for years that if investigations showed that Maori were disadvantaged, the cost to New Zealand would be too great to rectify any justified grievance.
They raised the possible financial ramifications as an excuse not to investigate any wrongs.
But any schoolchild knows there is a difference between taking a step in establishing whether a problem exists and considering appropriate remedies after that.
Careers such as nursing, teaching, and social work tend to attract more women. This has led to these occupations being devalued, with consequent pay discrimination compared with occupations in which men dominate.
A classic example was the argument that nurses were comparable to police officers in qualifications and expectations. It seems strange that we would pay someone considerably more to lock us up than to save our lives.
Only in recent years has our governments accepted that there was discrimination in the public service based on gender and steps were being made to quantify its extent.
The decision by this Government to scrap us even knowing that it is happening is outrageous. It has put us back decades. Imagine the outcry if there were anecdotal evidence that Maori, or any other race, were discriminated against in pay in the public service and a minister scrapped an investigation.
But somehow, fudging this blatant and crass sexism under a veneer of fiscal responsibility is insulting.
In New Zealand, we have prided ourselves on having had a female Prime Minister, Governor-General and Speaker of the House (although I note they have all reverted to men).
But because of having women in powerful roles we've almost been able to kid ourselves that sexism in our government institutions is a thing of the past.
It seems that for many of the sisterhood below the glass ceiling, discrimination not only still exists but that our political leaders are now trying to cover it up. Maybe it's assumed that if our politicians ignore sexism at the lower end of the food chain then it won't exist.
The barriers to equality that held back the grandmothers and mothers of young women today still exist. How pathetic.
The Labour opposition has rightly condemned Ryall's decision, but it seems peculiar that this inequality was not fixed in the previous nine years, when women were in senior government roles. Evidently it doesn't naturally follow that having women at the top means women at the bottom are emancipated.
The fact that, in this century, a government thinks it is acceptable to cover up its structural discrimination against women workers is a national disgrace. No one should put up with it.