Politics

Claire Trevett: Sex, drugs and taxes as Labour ‘cracks on’ without NZ First

OPINION:

There was a certain joie de vivre about Health Minister Andrew Little as he put forward a law change to allow for testing of drugs and pills at music festivals.

Little happily buried himself in the debate as Act’s David Seymour pondered the meaning of the words “music festival”, wondering what events would be musical enough and festive enough.

Little’s lightness of being was not because he likes to partake of substances of dubious provenance at music festivals.

His suggestion Roger Whittaker might be the musician at one of these festivals rather indicated that.

But it was certainly a New World in the Morning for Little. He was on a natural high.

A clue as to why came when he quoted NZ First leader Winston Peters, saying “as former member Winston Peters used to say, ‘words matter’.”

The word that mattered most to Little in that sentence was the word “former”.

For Peters was no longer around to make Little’s life a misery.

Little had suffered more than most at the hands of NZ First in his former role of Justice Minister.

So now NZ First was a “former” it seemed apt Little should be the one to usher in one of the measures NZ First had blocked: drug testing at festivals.

The National Party too found liberation in the absence of NZ First.

For a start, it meant National did not have to compete with anyone to play the part of tut-tutting headmaster.

National alone opposed the drug testing bill. Leading the charge of the pursed-lippeds were Grandpas Simon Bridges and Nick Smith.

They suggested (as Peters did in 2019) that rather than take safe drugs, the wild youth should simply abstain.

For Bridges’ efforts, he was given an education by Green MP Chloe Swarbrick on the movie Mean Girls.

She likened him to Coach Carr, who offered sex education to his charges: “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and you will die”.

The drug-testing bill was part of a rush of measures Labour salvaged from the rejects on the coalition bric-a-brac stall as the year ends.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had to deliver something before the end of the year by way of living up to her promise.

Ardern had asked voters to give her a strong mandate to speed up the Covid recovery. Once she got that mandate, she said ‘let’s crack on with it”.

That was followed by many requests for high-priority cracking, such as welfare reform or fair pay agreements.

But there was something of a cracking-free hiatus before Parliament returned six weeks later.

Then came this week and in succession up popped a declaration of a climate change emergency, drug testing at music festivals, and doubling of sick leave to 10 days.

All were relatively concise measures that were ready to go and could be moved on quickly.All had been rejected by NZ First.

The real headache for Ardern lies in the things NZ First rejected, which she too subsequently rejected.

As real estate agents deliver leaflets urging people to sell their homes while the market is “red hot”, Ardern may well be ruing some of her decisions.

Ardern’s defences reached rather ludicrous levels on Monday, when she said the public had some responsibility for the situation because the public had not embraced the prospect of a capital gains tax, which had meant she had to take it off the table forever.

Her defence on Tuesday was that house prices had also gone up a lot in National’s nine years, and it had not done much about it either.

Labour’s defences did not pass muster with the Green Party, which also has extra freedom under the new government arrangements.

It invoked its new ability to abstain from voting on confidence and supply for the first time, saying it would abstain rather than support Labour’s tax bill to introduce a new income tax bracket on those earning more than $180,000.

The Green Party objection was not to what was in that tax bill – the Greens’ support higher taxes for high income earners. Its protest was aimed at what was not in the bill: a wealth or capital gains tax.

Given Labour has the numbers to do whatever it wants, the Green Party’s protest was as effective as declaring a climate change emergency.

All words and symbolism, no actual consequences.

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