IT’S SAID OFTEN ENOUGH in coaching circles that no matter how well you train someone in a new style of play—changing their golf swing, improving their kicking style, remedying their bowling action—when push comes to shove in a pressure situation, they’ll revert regardless to what they do instinctively.
So it is with this National-led Government who, when the chips are down, revert to what they know best. Big Government.
Their legislative response to Canterbury’s earthquake is a classic illustration of what I mean. Maintaining that "we need to be able to … remove bureaucracy that would slow up” rebuilding, you need to understand that by “we” here they intend not you and me, but themselves. The bureaucracy they have removed is from them.
To those now expressing surprise at the dictatorial powers they have now granted themselves I say, “Why be surprised?” Because when the rubber that is an earthquake meets the road that is economic reality, you really do see what implicit conviction a governing party really does hold. And whatever their stated principles might suggest about their convictions, enough clues have already been scattered throughout this government’s term to quite easily determine their real, implicit convictions.
Let me give you a few leading examples.
- EXAMPLE NO. 1: Take a look at what they did with the RMA. They announced even before the election that they would “simplify and streamline” the Resource Management Act (RMA) to stop the impediments to development. And so they did. They simplified and streamlined the RMA, not to make it easier for you and me to get on with our renovations, but to make it easier for the government to get out the bulldozers and get on with its Think Big 2.0 infrastructure programme. To impose “greater central government direction” (Nick Smith’s words) not less. To set up a whole new bureaucracy, an Environmental Protection Authority, to ride herd on those pesky property owners seeking the same freedoms from the constraints of the RMA the government was simplifying and streamlining for themselves. The RMA was streamlined all right – streamlined to make it easier for ThinkBig 2.0, and make like easier for planners.
- EXAMPLE NO. 2: “Fibre to the home.” Announcing that the ability for every home to download porn is crucial to this country’s development, this government then continued the meddling in the telecommunications market begun by the last government (ensuring no sane investor would risk their own money on any sort of large-scale fibre network) before announcing the government itself would risk several billion of our tax dollars (that’s $1.5 billion plus cock-ups) by undertaking this important mission itself.
- EXAMPLE NO. 3: How about what Rodney Hide is doing in National’s name in Auckland, undertaking “local government reform to “get the city moving.” How will a super-sized bureaucracy (staffed with super-sized egos) do that, you might ask? Simple, says Rodney Hide. It will give one mayor and one unified council undreamed of power to dictate what happens from Pukekohe to Warkworth—a megalomaniacal concentration of bureaucratic power “focussed on big picture issues” paid by big city rates, all to make sure the trains run on time.
Are you getting the picture yet?
This is a government that does want to see the country moving forward. Let’s give them that much. But when push comes to shove, and despite their stated principles of “maximum freedom and the avoidance of unnecessary controls,” the freedom they seek is not for you and me, it’s for them. And the avoidance of unnecessary controls is not for the entrepreneurs, investors and businessmen and women who actually do drive the creation of wealth—it’s for themselves and their bureaucrats.
That they don’t even see this themselves was evident only yesterday, when Steven Joyce spoke in Rotorua at a New Zealand Computer Society Conference
on how Governments are not good at innovation – tried that in an experiment known as the Soviet Union. Said innovation happens in all the companies and firms that are represented at this conference, and the Government’s job is to try and facilitate a supportive environment.
He said all that out of one side of the mouth, while out of the other he was telling the audience how excited he is about the government’s $1.5b urban fibre project, and the urgency of (and votes in) “advancing the rural fibre project….”
And by “advancing,” he means risking bucket-loads of your money on something no private investor can yet see a profit in. Not, at least, while the govt talks like this.
LET ME SAY IT again. Despite their stated small-govt principles, the only agent for change this government takes seriously is Big Government. The only agent who knows best, they assume, is Big Government.
Every important reform or undertaking this government has undertaken since it came to power has been an expression of that same inner conviction. RMA. Smacking. National Standards. A new War on P. Three Strikes. Boot Camps. DNA Testing. Car Crushing. Infrastructure Spend-Up. Auckland’s Local Government Reform. Fibre to the home. The Canterbury Reconstruction (All-Powerful Govt) Bill. . .
From the first hundred days to now, it’s been one sopping seamless stream of state worship. So why should anyone be surprised now when Gerry Brownlee adopts the mantle of Nero and National supporters like David Farrar start writing encomia to benevolent dictatorship.
THE IRONY OF CHEERLEADER FARRAR being the first one to openly and enthusiastically embrace the dictatorial implications of the Brownlee Brownlee Enabling Bill was lost on few people. After all , as everyone from The Standard to Kiwipolitico to David Slack points out (“Reading Kiwiblog on ‘wise dictatorship,’ you'd think Thomas Jefferson never put quill to paper,” said Slack) , today’s chief blogetic cheerleader for dictators was 2007’s leader of the campaign against the Electoral Finance Act—a campaign whose ads argued that Helen Clark’s attack on free speech in the EFA put her on a par with dictators like Frank Bainimarama, Robert Mugabe, and Mao Zedong.
How quickly a manatee changes its spots.
But so too, it must be said, have many of those once former advocates of the Electoral Finance Act who now talk so nobly about Thomas Jefferson and the virtues of small government.* As Craig Ranapia said in jest about the complaining going on about the Bill over at Public Address, “I’m shocked how close you commies are to forming an Ayn Rand book club.”
How quickly commies change their spots too, eh, when it’s not their team who’s in power.
Wherein, perhaps, lies a lesson that the various party cheerleaders might think about when they go home at night to their various book clubs. We’re very far from ever having any serous constitutional restraints on governments in this country, more’s the pity. But how about those who are in power, and those who support them, begin by imagining how much power the the legislation they do write will give to the other team should they ever get back behind the Treasury benches.
That at least might exercise the small fibres of small-government thinking still residing in what they call their brains, sufficiently perhaps that these sentiments might burst forth at times other than just their party conferences, or when they’re in opposition.
[* CLARIFICATION: David Slack reckons “you'll find that you'll search high, low and in vain to find anything I've ever written advocating the EFA. I could be mistaken, but I'd be mightily surprised.” e’s not so sure about the commies, but. ]
UPDATE 1: Chris Trotter opposes the Gerry Brownlee Enabling Bill with some convincing arguments, somehow contriving not to notice both his blatant violation of Godwin’s Law and the undeniable fact that the intent of this Bill, of Auckland’s new super-bureaucracy, of the sacking of Environment Canterbury’s councillors, of all the other examples I’ve indicated above, are not examples of the government giving power to itself . Instead they somehow demonstrate, says Trotter trying to convince himself as much as his readers,
A remark that represents either astonishing blindness or a capacity to believe two impossible things before breakfast, since if his own favoured party was packing on the same power this one is he’d be first out there in the cheer squad.
Mind you, this is the same Chris Trotter who, when his own favoured political regime was at the top table and extorting your money to find their election campaign , wrote a very long and learned piece arguing that this ransacking of the public purse for their electoral war chest was “justifiable” or “acceptable corruption.”
Which I guess, given the symmetry with Farrar’s “I Heart Dictators” post this week, makes him something like Farrar’s alter ego. Or maybe his Red twin.
UPDATE 2: Lyndon Hood at Scoop scores an interview with someone not exactly like, but very like, the Canterbury Caesar. We start in mid-flight…
Scoop: Doesn't this all seem a bit authoritarian to you?
Brownlee: 'Authoritarian'. Yes, I think that's exactly the word. Well done.
Scoop: So your Government…
Brownlee: I'll just write that down.
Scoop: Your Government rammed through the Super City and disestablished the Canterbury local government. One of your Ministers released personal information on people who complained about their policies. Is authoritarianism your answer to everything?
Brownlee: I wouldn't say that.
Scoop: I know you wouldn't say it, but is it true?
Brownlee: I don't think it's very fair.
Scoop: Well can you think of any problem you wouldn't solve with authoritarianism?
Brownlee: Well, I, for example if my problem was I wanted a cup of tea, I might boil the jug or I might ask someone to make some for me.
Scoop: And if there wasn't any tea?
Brownlee: Well, if it was like that I suppose I would go for the authoritarianism.
Scoop: Perhaps you'd commandeer some tea?
Brownlee: Obviously I'd have to suspend the Crimes Act first otherwise it would be stealing. But look, that's not reason to go around calling us names. Some might say that's hampering the reconstruction effort.
Brownlee: There must still be a gallows somewhere in this country…