Don't Expect Too Much To Change
Rotary Club of Plimmerton
Category: Social Issues
Category: Social Issues
Keith Harrison gave us his Viewpoint tonight in which he said ...
'In one of two important elections in New Zealand this year, bird lovers voted the Kakapo as their favourite for the second year running, causing much consternation in the ornithological fraternity. But spare a thought for the Americans who for the last four years have had to put up with the orange plumed turkey!
'So let us think about what we can expect from the NZ and the US elections and what they could mean for us. Both the elections have been protracted, over dramatised and have raised public expectations to a very high level.
'Let’s look at the States first.
'The big issues for Biden all begin with C – Covid, Climate and China.
'With respect to Covid a Biden administration will return to a science-led approach to managing the virus crisis and will have the benefit of the vaccines that are holding out some promise. However, it is doubtful that Americans will engage their brains just because they have a new president – the current one has done a great job of making a rational virus strategy virtually impossible to implement.
'Biden will also look more to an evidence-based approach to climate change and will try to put in place more climate-friendly policies. This has been signalled with the intention to return to the Paris Agreement fold. However, he will also have to contend with strong lobby groups such as oil and gas and coal.
'China is a thorny issue and one that will impact New Zealand. The antipathy Americans feel to China is felt across the political spectrum. Biden will take a more nuanced approach than the clumsy and immature approach of Trump, strengthening alliances (such as NATO and the 5 Eyes) and building new ones to circumvent China’s growing global influence and interference. Where Trump did his best to wreck alliances and build walls Biden will seek to build bridges. We have already seen Biden make comments on this, provoking ire from China towards the US and its current allies and warnings to those who are prospective allies.
'New Zealand will be put in the position of having to decide which side it wants to land on, something we have been able to avoid whilst Trump acted in a manner that allowed us to sit on the sidelines. But as Australia found when it called for a Covid enquiry, any criticism of China comes at a cost.
'Even though Adern will be tactful and diplomatic, for NZ the only real choice will be to side with the US given that we are both liberal democracies and allies of long-standing. The challenge here will be to do so in a way that does not jeopardise our relationship with a sensitive and tetchy Chinese regime.
'Trade is an area where the US will continue down a path of protectionism. Don’t expect the US to join free trade agreements unless it is to strengthen political alliances that rebuild the US power base as a bulwark against the threats from China and Russia. The Democrats left-wing progressives are a vocal and demanding faction and are of a protectionist ilk and Biden will continue to follow Obama's protectionist policy.
'Biden will also be hamstrung if the Senate remains in Republican hands and he will also be under pressure to meet the demands of AOC and Bernie and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
'Don’t forget that the US is also a deeply fractured country and Biden will need to use up a lot of political capital trying to mend fences. So Biden has a lot of convincing to do and will need all his years of political experience to meet the expectations that many Americans and people around the world are hoping for. From America perhaps we should not hope for too much.
'Meanwhile, in NZ our most popular leader has managed to gain an outright win in an MMP environment. She has put the Greens in her back pocket and Winston has been shown the door. But her mandate has not come from a socialist milieu. A lot of her support has come from National supporters either to keep out the Greens or because of the lack of leadership and a clear policy vision from National. So her mandate comes from those expecting a centrist path.
'So what can we expect from Jacinda? Remember this is the leader who promised to fight climate change, poverty and the housing shortage, all three policies being hamstrung in the first term by lack of coalition support and inept and inexperienced ministers as well as the fact that these are monumental issues that are challenging for many other countries with more resources than we have. But these big promises raised big expectations and there will be many people with an interest in seeing if they can be delivered on.
'Jacinda has ridden a wave of personal popularity but as a party, there does not seem to be a real idea of where the “let’s keep moving” slogans will move us to. The pre-election build-up was short of policy and rich in slogans and hugs.
'It is a fact that for the last 20 years, governments have not been transformational in NZ, rather political parties have sought to maintain power so as to implement incremental changes that don’t rock the economic boat. In fact this is one reason why National supporters may have felt comfortable voting Labour, and Adern's election night promise to govern for all New Zealanders indicates that this will be a likely course.
'This is also shown by Labour's refusal to back a wealth tax or CGT, another reason why people turned against the Greens, especially with most of that wealth arising from personal homeownership.
'If you really want to see what direction Labour will take, look at what her finance minister is saying. Robertson is messaging fiscal conservatism which will not address the social policies of housing or poverty but will support incremental changes within and to a free market economy. Adern's silence on the Reserve Bank's actions on interest rates shows that there is little political appetite to interfere in the current house price boom but changes to the RMA may allow gradual freeing up of the land to enable more housing to be built to meet market demands.
'So again, big messages and small actions look to be the way for Labour in this coming term. The outcome of elections rarely matches the pre-election drama we are subjected too. Don’t expect too much!'