Throwing down the Gauntlet

The Alliance is still fighting to make it back to parliament in Dunedin. Standing in the Dunedin North Electorate is a firebrand orator old fashion politician that is techno savy the magnificent the awesome, Victor, Billot!!!!. I will probably be giving him my electorate vote – the only thing holding me back is getting our $300 bond back. Check out his blog. Near the end of the Q&A session at the tertiary education debate on Friday afternoon (in Dunedin) a question was asked something like this:

“To the parties that support a universal student allowance and abollition of Student Loans. How are you going to pay for this.”

Only two parties representitives responded Metiria, and Victor. Metiria jumped up and got in first. She spoke at length justifying these policies but didn’t really answer the question. Victor stood up said quite frankly as he had throughout the debate “Progressive Taxation” or something in that vein. Before returning to his seat he threw the gauntlet down to Metiria (Hitting the Act Candidate and finally knocking her out…)

Metiria responded with a short yes.

I wish to challenge Victor:

The Alliance Party still puts forward a manifesto. Which is awesome, but I would like them to move into the reality imposed by MMP. The Greens or the Alliance or ACT will not be enacting a manifesto in the next term. The Labour Government has moved slowly in a diverging direction and hasn’t enacted a radical change. If you made 5+% or got a seat (Hopefully Dunedin North!!!) then how would you implement your policy? If you couldn’t get a majority agreement for your taxation policy then how would you fund the programmes you wanted to implement?

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22 thoughts on “Throwing down the Gauntlet

  1. Reply by email…

    Firstly, thank you for the invitation to discuss these important issues in a friendly environment. I enjoyed the debate on Friday, and I was impressed by the number of Green Party supporters in the audience.

    I think your challenge misses the point, because my challenge to the Greens has not yet been answered. Metiria may have said “yes” but I have seen no Green tax table or alternative budget to back up her assertion. More on this below.

    The central question here, is how the programme of the Alliance Party, or any party, should be funded. The Alliance spells out its spending and taxation plan.

    You have diverted away from this question to ask, if the Alliance can only aspire at best a minor parliamentary presence under MMP, how can it achieve its policies, detailed or not.
    That is a different question but one I am happy to answer before moving back to the main target.

    The simple answer to your question is we would not be able to achieve all our goals if we were a small party. However this is not a unique problem for the Alliance. It is a problem for all minor parties, and under MMP, a problem even for governing parties who have to deal with minor parties.

    However, our minor party status does not abrogate us of the responsibility to tell the voters how our policies would be funded and to provide a clear direction and framework to achieve those policies.
    The Alliance has a programme for New Zealand. Our goal is to form a Government and implement our policies in full. We start as we mean to continue.

    The question you should be asking is why does the Alliance make a big deal out of our costed policies and our alternative budget?
    The Alliance takes its role in challenging the New Right economic direction of New Zealand very seriously. We are providing a clear alternative budget, based on democratic socialist principles, that details a New Zealand that is quite different from the one we see today.
    Honesty and transparency is essential.
    Several weeks out from an election, the National Party has not released many of its policies. This is an indictment on the lack of accountability of modern politics.
    If the Alliance is to seriously challenge the current status quo, we need to mount a credible and rigourous case for our policies.
    The Green Party may see its role in introducing its policies differently.

    The Alliance clearly states where the money is coming from for all of our promises.
    Professor Jim Flynn, the Alliance Party finance and taxation spokesperson, has noted the Green Party are not specifying clearly how it would pay for its promises.
    His opinion, stated in a recent public lecture, was that he understood the Greens would rely on resource taxes.
    He believed this would not provide sufficient funds to carry out the required spending, without raising the cost of resources such as petrol to an unacceptable level.

    The Alliance point of difference is that we have tax tables and costings.
    The Alliance is highly concerned that it is not the working class or low income people who have to carry the burden of the necessary changes we have to make to our economy and infrastructure to make it socially and environmentally responsible.
    In my view the Alliance spending programme is more ambitious than the Green spending programme in areas such as health and education, although both parties seek to move in a similar direction in some areas.

    The Alliance programme will be funded through progressive taxation, which reduces income tax levels on those on low incomes, and raises them incrementally on higher incomes.
    Our progressive tax system also includes other improvements including the phaseout of GST, and the introduction of new taxes including a Financial Transactions Tax and a Capital Gains Tax for investment property amongst others. This raises the necessary money to pay for our policies.
    We have done the sums. There are links to all the relevant documents including manifesto, tax table and alternative budget from the front page of our website http://www.alliance.org.nz

    In a brief search of the Green website this evening, I could find no costings, tax tables or alternative budget of the Green programme. The closest I came to was an economics policy that talked in worthy but non-specific terms. However I would be happy to be proved wrong and directed to the relevant documentation to confirm Metiria’s statement.

    My question to Metiria at Friday’s debate was to nail down where the money was coming from for Green policies. In my view she did not answer a question from the floor about where the money was coming from. (Please note I hold Metiria in the highest personal regard and do not question her sincerity. However this is a serious political question and evidence is required.)
    I actually have a copy of my question and Metiria’s response on video.
    I said “[the money is] not just going to come from resource taxes, so are the Green Party going to make the middle class, Green Party, academics pay a bit more tax like the Alliance?”
    Her answer was simple, yet once again, a little short on specifics.
    She said “Yes.”
    Now, I would like to see, from the Green Party, the evidence to back up that claim. A tax table and an alternative budget similar to that the Alliance Party has on its website would be a basic requirement, so we can analyse the Green Party’s progressive taxation policy in detail.

    Regards

    Victor Billot

  2. “You have diverted away from this question to ask, if the Alliance can only aspire at best a minor parliamentary presence under MMP, how can it achieve its policies, detailed or not. That is a different question but one I am happy to answer before moving back to the main target.”

    You might see this as a separate issue but I don’t. We don’t expect to be able to implement all our policy. All we can do is try and push and support labour to either make no tax cuts (I vividly remember last election on the leaders debate Jeanette and Helen being the only voices against tax cuts on a yes/no answer round) failing that advocate for tax to be cut in a manner which doesn’t increase the inequality in NZ society.

    We provide a comprehensive list of policies but the reality is that the only opportunity you get to advance this is either through negotiation within government and support parties or via a private members bill and negotiation with all parties in parliament. We don’t do a complete tax table (that I am aware of) because it is a waste of our time. For the alliance with it’s strong academic credentials I can see why you are fond of the idea. Nothing more fun than postulating a model and testing it! Something which I would like to do as well. I would love to be able to spend time to put together a cohesive mock budget, suggested time lines for legislation, drafts of bills etc. Unfortunately I don’t have an infinite amount of time, there are serious problems with modern society and we must be pragmatic prioritise the use of our resources.

    Furthermore, negotiation would mean that you would have to alter your plan somewhat even if you were the major party. Peter Dunne recently claimed credit for forcing labour to implement business tax cuts. Why lie to people. Why say this is how we would do it and this is how much money you will get out of it. You are as bad as the Labour and National parties for putting up a tax calculator so people can go hmm I would get more from this option.

    My philosophy is don’t leave the math and modelling to a voluntary organisation, let the politicians set the aspirational goals let the public service temper that with reality.

    We do not know the make up of parliament after the election.the higher our numbers the more we could expect to get out of negotiations. This is not the only factor though as it depends on what other parties want.

    So (to the best of my knowledge) we will not be putting forward a tax table. We will be asking people to let us represent them. We will then work with other parties to get the best deal we can get for the people who have voted for us. For example take the ETS.

    We have an aspiration for a carbon charge – we realise that there was not going to be support for this so advocated for a cap ‘n trade solution. Labour released it’s proposal. We negotiated to try and make the scheme better, from our perspective. Unfortunately as NZFirst was doing the same thing from a different perspective and Labours perspective was different still the result was that we didn’t make as much progress as we wanted to. We gave the public an opportunity to comment. We looked at that and decided that on balance where we had got to was better than where we were so we supported the legislation.

    We were never going to hear from Labour and NZFirst, Okay you are not voting for our scheme we will implement yours instead.

  3. Pingback: What is the difference between the Greens and the Alliance? « On the campaign trail in Dunedin North with Victor Billot

  4. What I take from this is that you have along wish list (policies) and a tendency to ask for carbon taxes from whichever party has the most seats. You think working out where the money should come from ahead of time is a bad idea (your words were “a waste of time”) and you want us to vote in large numbers for you? This is, quite frankly, a scarey concept. Without any forethought to how you will finance your plans means this country will more further down the path to finacial, economic and social insecurity.

  5. Look I would be amazed if we became the largest party in parliament after being the fourth largest this election. If this were to happen I think that we would work collectively with other parties, to develop a system of taxation that was fair, and didn’t lead to the economy being put ahead of the environment. Realistically us getting enough votes to put us ahead of national and labour – is not going to happen. For us activist time is a scare resource (In economic terms) as such we have to decide where to allocated it to. The toss up is between channelling energy into increasing our vote or instead planning for a situation that will not happen this election. We would be deluding ourselves to do the later.

  6. Unfortunately, your comments appears to suggest that you won’t do either. By that, I mean that you will not become the largest party in the party (which is, as you admit unlikely anyway), and more importantly you will not be able to offer an alternative to either National or Labour.

    Working collectively to ‘develop a system of fair taxation’ is like waiting for Godot as you never know when or if he is going to show up.

    All the parties in parliament have their own idea of what a ‘fair’ system means and that for the most part ‘regressive’ personal taxation and a wider range of indirect taxes ie. lower taxes on those who can afford it and the transfering of debt to those who cannot. It also means a decline in spending for core public services such as health care and education. These items have increasing been picked up by the individual as the state financially opts out.

    I note that the Greens have, in the past, advocated for indirect taxes as a means of punishing those who pollute. The sad fact is that this merely increases the tax burden on those with less income as the costs are passed onto them by businesses.

    Finally, the thrust of your argument reminds me of some of the historical arguments that used to occur prior to the Great Depression. The UK Labour Party said something very similar to your position in the 1920s and then when it got into power it merely endorsed conventional market economics. The outcome was not good.

    I feel that people have a right to know where the money is coming from and, how you are going to implement your polices and what the policies are. ‘Trust me…I know what I’m doing’ should only be the title remark from the 1980s TV show, Sledgehammer – not a policy for a New Zealand political party that aspires to be part of Government.

  7. For me, the big reason to vote Alliance is that even if we get only 2 or 3% on election day, this would signal growing support for social democratic values AND honesty in politics.

    If Labour find that they have milked all they can from banal, “mom and apple pie” (as they say in the US) platitudes without specific policies or honesty in tax policy, but they are losing votes (say 5% Greens and 3% Alliance), then they will slide back to the left, at least to grab that 3% back.

    This will only happen if they know that the vote consists of people who are aware of the “downside” – the tax needed to pay for it. Any wiggle room and they can say “oh, it would break the economy” (and if the payment options aren’t calculated, how would you contradict them?) At the moment it can be claimed that people who vote for the Greens today do so out of a momentary flush of environmental guilt, but would balk at any tax policy (carbon or income) and kick out the first government that interfered with their back pocket, no matter how worthy the cause.

    Each and every party vote for the Alliance is a signal that you know what needs be done to make the country and planet a better place, and that you accept the effort that this will require, eyes wide open.

  8. For the Green Party to say it is a waste of time for them to do the sums for their policies to me says they don’t know if they are financially feasible (and maybe don’t want to know, because then where would they be ?). As for them not having the resources to do it, well they must surely have more resources and funding than the Alliance, who have provided their costings. What would the Greens think if Labour or National did not provide figures to show how they would fund their policies ?

  9. The other thing was that relying on bureaucrats for expert advice and “realism” means that if their advice is partisan or erroneous you have know way of knowing it. This contributed a lot to the policies of the 4th Labour government – “experts” would provide “solutions” to a crisis, and nobody could debate them to the same level.

    Of course, the “solutions” turned out to be ill-considered academic theories without any practical history, but nobody knew enough to argue that then, and the country was severly damaged.

    Regardless of actually releasing policy specifics, you guys *really* need to know the numbers, otherwise they’ll walk all over you with the “it would bankrupt the country” argument and you wouldn’t know if they were right or wrong.

  10. Jumping in a bit late, but here goes:

    I have been a public service employee.
    No, politicians don’t know the specifics of how policy is enacted by the public service. That’s not their job.

    So when a Green candidate (or, indeed, sitting MP) says that the details of how it will work should be worked out by the staff of the relevant Ministry, that person is telling the honest-to-god truth.
    Not pontificating about possible delivery scenarios, which haven’t got any vague resembalnce to the actual processes carried out by the relevant Ministrie’s budgeting division.

    Yes, Minister ring a bell with anyone?
    Funnily enough, it had public service employees in stitches specifically because it was just like that, in any country where the Westminster model of parliamentary organisation still existed, however “post-colonial”.

    Policy is just a bunch of decisions – “marks on paper”, as an old friend used to say.
    It is enacted by process, ironically another bunch of “marks on paper”, but a more formally codified set, with people allocated to enact the processes.

    That’s where the separation between politics, legislature and the output of government policy occurs.

    Don’t shoot the messengers during political forum panels! 😉

  11. I have enormous respect for the Greens but I think this is an area where the differences between Greens and Alliance are brought to the fore. We (the Alliance) can’t just rely on the attraction of a neat brand and general feel-good woolly thinking to see us through – we have to present a realistic and coherent alternative. The purpose of a comprehensive manifesto and a fully costed alternative budget is precisely to show that THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE.

    How many times during the campaign and at universities do you encounter people that agree that the current system is unsustainable, that Labour and National don’t care about most people, but shrug their shoulders and resign themselves to the status quo?

    Not only do tax tables and hard figures show the hypocrisy of the major parties, but they give an outline of an alternative future for New Zealand that is totally realistic and eminently reasonable. We also have a role as the bearers of a respectable intellectual tradition that needs to be kept alive in New Zealand or we will have to reinvent the wheel when people do come around to our ideas.

    I really don’t see how we can be criticised for doing the hard thinking. Better that than ‘trust us, we’ll work it out later’.

  12. I’m not suggesting you weren’t doing ‘the hard thinking’.

    I’m just pointing out that you’re over-thinking it, ‘cos politicians do not enact budgets, public servants do.

    If you’re really interested in having control of that process, get an MCA/MBA, get into MED, and get into the policy development team.

    ‘Cos that’s who has the bottom line in actually DOING the initiatives produced by parties – never mind how well the proposed policy and it’s budgeted foresight doc’s look, the relevant ministry will be steered by MED and their inhouse bean counters to trim or otherwise make fit the policy proposal, in order to process it into action.

    Have a look at the MSD website for examples of polkicy which has been enacted, which you may remember form previous election campaign blurbs!

  13. You are quite right anarkaytie. The public servants do give relevant figures. However as we have seen through the Christine Rankins and Don Brash’s, the political neutrality of the public service is nothing more than a nirvanic dream. You are probably aware that in senior tertiary level business management studies, they encourage students to take a cross over course on ‘Public Management’. This is to show where the roles of each side relate and at times clash.
    The politician needs to have a capability to follow the figures thereby not at as great a risk of being faced with the TINA(there is no alternative) argument. The public servant needs to provide the current politician with the best information they can, that helps the politician fulfill his pledge to the people.
    The treasury has over the last twenty odd years, has had a ‘small state’ , ‘dogde fiscal responsibilty’ attitude. I would trust them as far as I could throw them, to give a more Socialist government the information to cement such a philosophy in legislation and practice. They would all be throwing up over the floor at the mere thought of it.

  14. They would all be throwing up over the floor at the mere thought of it.

    I suspect you’re at least partially wrong, but this isn’t the place to go into the detail of why 😉

  15. I’m not sure which side of the coin you’re on, anarkaytie.

    On the one hand you say politicians don’t need to know the cost – even rough enough for a party manifesto – of their policies because the public service sort all that out.

    On the other hand, you say that _Yes,_Minister_ is true to life. As I recall that programme, most if not all the episodes involved a skilled civil service deliberately leading an inexpert politician towards policy that fulfilled the civil service’ own objectives.

    The practise has been called “bureaucratic capture” in economics courses that specifically studied the Lange/Douglas years. Things like “the XXXX would be so much more efficient if we sold it [and I end up running it as a corporate boss at 10 times my current salary]” and macro-economic policy that betrayed all of Labour’s principles to date.

    Should the Greens present an itemised daily budget for the next 3 years, down to the penny? No.

    Should the people who vote for the Greens have some idea (in round terms, at least) of the cost of the policies they’re expected to vote for? Definitely.

    Example
    All we have in the only Greens policy with the word “tax” is to make the first $5,000 tax free. $1billion cost is paid by $300 million on diesel charges (great for gorcery prices), and the remaining $700 million (one assumes) recouped by landfill taxes, “resource rents” and toxicity taxes.

    Not bad, but (randomly choosing from the Greens website) the full health policy seems to be “will improve funding” “will increase support” etc etc. The only point of policy difference with Labour is excessive use of the word “holistic”. It’s not a policy, it’s a list of bumper stickers.

    The Alliance health policy – even the short version – gives examinable benchmarks that other parties can deride, test or aspire to (up to 8% GDP over 3 years, immediate $1.4b injection and how it’s spent). It’s matched by a detailed tax table to show we can pay for it. You can argue with specifics, but it’s something to aim for. Everyone brings platitudes to the party.

  16. claims to be full policy: eco-tax site
    http://www.greens.org.nz/policy/ecotax

    greens health policy
    http://www.greens.org.nz/policy/health

    No mention of money, numbers of new doctors, etc etc etc.

    Alliance manifesto (less words that the Green “full” policies, but more specifics he says slipping in a little dig 🙂
    http://alliance.org.nz/2008-election/alliance-party-manifesto/

    And links to the “proposed budget” (i.e. costs of all promises, math for all new taxes) on the manifesto page.

  17. Green policy with the word “tax” in the title:
    http://www.greens.org.nz/policy/ecotax

    Green health policy
    http://www.greens.org.nz/policy/health
    (no mention of funding specifics, no number of new doctors, few if any other specifics)

    Alliance manifesto
    http://alliance.org.nz/2008-election/alliance-party-manifesto/
    Specifc targets which other parties can aspire to, link to a budget (itemised cost of new policies, itemised revenue projections of taxes).

    It is possible the greens’ website link goes to the short version, but I pressed the “full” button.

    *Unless* the “full” policy isn’t really all of it and you’re going to relase more details, ya wee kidders 🙂

    Reading back over my track record here, I need to say that I do actually like a lot of Green ideas and policies. It’s not like you’re ACT or anything – I just like specifics that I can hold my candidates accountable for. If Victor issues a release saying that a $100million health funding boost is great and we should be grateful to Labour, I’d justifiably be grumpy. If a Green MP said that, they’d still be fulfilling the target of “Increase funding to progressively make primary health care affordable for everyone”.

  18. I seem to be having difficulty posting to this blog using my old address…

    Anyway, I was referring to the “full” policies on the Greens website, not just the summaries.

    I just want to vote for specifics, not vague phrases.

    I do actually like the Greens, to a certain extent. God knows that in the few instances National or ACT use specifics I shudder in disgust 😦

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