The leadership changes in the Labour Party and the Green Party have been making headlines lately, while the leadership change at Local Government New Zealand last month barely rated a mention.

Back in the 20th century, I stood -- unsuccessfully -- as a candidate in both local body and parliamentary elections, and in 1993, I was the Alliance (remember them?) candidate for Whanganui, running against Jill Pettis (Labour) Gail Donahue (National) and the late Terry Heffernan (NZ First).

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The Alliance Party was full of energy and new ideas -- like Kiwi Bank -- and it was an interesting time to be in politics.


The Alliance taxation policy involved ditching GST and replacing it with a "financial transaction tax" (FFT) of one cent in the dollar on every transaction, and the "universal basic income" (UBI).

At the time, the Alliance said GST -- now 15 per cent, thanks to John Key and National -- was a regressive tax, impacting disproportionately on the poor. FTT was less complicated, fairer and caught transactions such as overnight, overseas currency speculation and transnational corporations repatriating their profits without paying tax in New Zealand -- as Apple, Google and Facebook still get away with today.

The rationale behind the universal basic income was that the NZ benefit system had become too complex and costly to administer -- and this was in the days when attacks on Winz staff were relatively uncommon and Work and Income offices did not have security guards at the entrance. Under UBI, everyone becomes a "beneficiary" and there are no barriers to taking on a job.

FFT and UBI were labelled fringe economics by the Labour/National status quo at the time.

Switzerland recently had a referendum on UBI, but it failed to reach the required majority. However, UBI was part of the tax policy of Laila Harre and Kim Dotcom's internet Party during the last election in 2014, and it has been picked up by economist Gareth Morgan and is part of The Opportunities Party (TOP) tax policy for this election.

Basic income: The Internet Party’s Kim Dotcom and Laila Harre during the 2014 election campaign. UBI was part of their policy
Basic income: The Internet Party’s Kim Dotcom and Laila Harre during the 2014 election campaign. UBI was part of their policy

The UBI is seen by its proponents as a way of confronting a welfare system that has been tweaked so many times by the left and the right that it has lost sight of its original purpose, breeds resentment and is long overdue for a serious overhaul.

The recent resignation of former beneficiary Metiria Turei as Green Party co-leader was the end result of her confession to benefit fraud, ostensibly as a way of drawing attention to the inequity of the present benefit system. Ironically, it cost her her job in the Green Party, and it highlights the stigma that surrounds being a beneficiary.

Like a harbinger of the second coming of Helen Clark, the Labour Party's new leader, Jacinda Ardern, has breathed new life into Labour's election campaign -- but don't expect Labour to take on "fringe economics" like the UBI.


After the posturing, dog whistling and "crying on demand" of central government politicians, the election of Dunedin mayor Dave Cull as the president of Local Government New Zealand came as a breath of fresh air.

Dave Cull said he would work to increase recognition of local government's mandate and the right of local government not to have its views on local issues "totally overruled" by central government.

"At the moment, we're very much at the behest of central government," he said.

Since the reforms of the 1990s, central government has dumped more requirements on local government to police everything from double-glazing and dog control to where and when you can drink or smoke a cigarette.

Local authorities are becoming increasingly vocal about the real challenges facing their communities, like paying for roads, water and sewerage -- as well as having to enforce the latest batch of rules from central government.

Meritia Turei is now standing as a candidate in the Te Tai Tonga electorate, and she may get some sympathy votes from Maori voters who know what a "game" the benefit system has become.

While she is back home, Metiria should call in on Dave Cull. What was it the Greens used to say? "Think globally, act locally."

Fred Frederikse is a self-directed student of geography and traveller