Editorial | Critic’s View on the General Election: Labour Is the Option For Us

Disclaimer: This endorsement is the view of Critic Magazine and was in no way solicited by the Labour Party or any person affiliated with it. It represents the editorial views of the magazine and no one else.

At the outset of this editorial, we admit that endorsements of political parties are an unusual move for Critic, and indeed for New Zealand’s media outlets in general, but in light of OUSA’s failure to advocate for political policy in the student-interest until the weekend before advanced voting opened, we feel a considerable need to do so in their place; for that we make no apologies.

Critic’s hope is for a Labour-led coalition to result from the election, but our main wish is to prevent a continuation of the National Party in government. Thankfully the occurrence of the former would cause the latter. To add another caveat, we consider it imperative for the Green Party to be a significant part of that coalition.

Though Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern was considered a talented politician from her earliest days in the party, no one predicted that anyone but former leader Andrew Little would be the leader of the opposition, likely to a double-digit defeat, in the election, heralding National into their fourth consecutive term. Though we were pessimistic of that change at that time, Labour now have a realistic chance of winning the election, and we see them as a party that will speak on behalf of the student-interest where necessary, as opposed to one that has made decisions in spite of us.

Beyond the phenomenon of ‘Jacinda-mania’ that has swept the nation over the last seven weeks, political fatigue and a series of crucial slip-ups by National have helped contribute to Labour’s emphatic rise in the opinion polls. The most offensive slip-up included Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett claiming that “some Kiwis just have fewer human rights that others,” an abhorrent faux-pas in relation to an equally abhorrent crime policy - one that would allow private property to be searched without a warrant. That slip-up highlighted the depths to which we may plunge if we have a preservation of the status-quo - human rights are for everyone.

For university students, a National-led government would, in our view, be a disaster given the effect the last three terms have had on student issues and the change that will come from other viable options on the table. Just some of their policies in this sphere have seen the introduction of Voluntary Student Membership cause students’ associations’ financial positions to be decimated nationwide leading to an existential crisis in most, as well as removing the legal right for staff and students to have positions on university councils, and have helped to foster the conditions in which cuts to university staff have become commonplace. This has to stop. On this topic Critic believes Labour provides a much stronger set of policies that would not only help the student body financially, but empower them, particularly the provision of three years free post-secondary school education phased in term on term, and an increase in student allowances and living costs by $50 per week, a commendable move that eclipses the helpful but meagre $11 per week accommodation benefit increase that National have pledged to provide for Dunedin-based students. Moreover, with the Green Party as a part of this potential coalition, we hope that some of their student-related policies, in particular free public transport for under 19s and for all students during off-peak hours, free counselling for all under 25s, and restoring student allowances for postgraduate students, are implemented as well.

The recent bizarre claim made by current Health Minister Jonathan Coleman that New Zealand’s healthcare system is the “envy of the world” would be laughable if the consequences of such a misrepresentation weren’t so dire for patients and their families. Labour’s policy of increasing health funding by $8 billion over four years is double the amount that National have committed to (and no, Steven Joyce, there is demonstrably not an $11.7 billion hole in their plans). Admittedly, pumping money into a problem is not necessarily a solution, although neither will reneging on their 2014 election promise of a hospital rebuild for Dunedin. National’s lacklustre effort on that front has been telling, and now their promise is that the build will be completed in “seven to 10 years” and only “ideally in a central city location,” which appears to explicitly leave the option of a rebuild outside of the centre city on the cards. On the other hand, Ardern’s visit to Dunedin saw three promises on the rebuild: beginning it in their first term in government, ruling out a public-private partnership, and ensuring it’s built in Central Dunedin. If only for the University of Otago’s Medical School, a central city location is imperative, and only one of the main two election players has unequivocally promised to provide that.

The prospect of purchasing a house as a young person has become almost as difficult to imagine as the prospect of a National government following through on their Dunedin Hospital rebuild promise. House prices are soaring and ownership rates are plummeting, and the longstanding advice from baby-boomers to reduce the amount of coffee and avocados we buy will not fix this no matter how many times it is said. A continuation of the National government will see 20,000 new homes built in Auckland for private sale, whereas Labour will build 100,000 houses to sell exclusively to first home buyers. They will also introduce a capital gains tax on investment properties sold within five years of their purchase, restrict residential property ownership by non-residents and increase government support to Māori home ownership. Again, the Green Party come to fore, with a policy to allow student loan borrowers to defer their repayments to their loan (12 percent of our salary) in order to save for a deposit on a house.

Labour’s policies on the environment, and climate change in particular, are weaker than we would’ve liked, which is why the presence of the Greens in any coalition is particularly crucial. Being an existential issue, the world requires immediate and significant action. Despite our relatively small size we need to be one of the countries who are forging ahead on this issue, and showing to other nations that monumental steps can be achieved by small nations. Labour’s plan for their first 100 days, should they be able to make a government, omits any mention of climate change, a real disappointment in an otherwise progressive manifesto. The Green’s pledge to replace the Emissions Trading Scheme with an emissions charge will deliver results on climate change through financial incentives for businesses to cut carbon emissions. Their Kiwi Climate Fund will see the government charging businesses who pollute, and represents a sensible method of effecting change, the revenue from which will be used to pay those who plant trees, and any surplus will be given back to New Zealanders as a dividend, which they estimate will be roughly $250 per year by 2020. Quite clearly no other party provides such a thorough set of policies on climate change - the Greens’ voice at the table is vital.

Though opinion polls have shown a change of government to be a genuinely realistic prospect, we must not forget that polls can be notoriously fallible (recent overseas examples speak for themselves) so to see the election result mirror the majority of these polls we cannot allow complacency to set it in these last few days - if you haven’t voted, please do so.

In endorsing the Labour Party for this election, we are not by any means saying they are the perfect option, and we can see issues and holes in their policy that remain beyond those outlined in this editorial. What they do offer is the option of immensely beneficial change to the average student in New Zealand, in comparison to a party who has had nine years in government and yet still clings to the continuation of the current approach, albeit with minor tweaks here and there.

Of course, our caveat still stands: we want to see Labour in coalition with their Memorandum of Understanding partners, the Green Party. Whatever happens in this election though, the only two parties who can be leading a government following election day are the National Party or the Labour Party, and to that end we believe the only choice for students is clear.


For more on the need for a Green Party presence in government after the election, George Elliot has you covered – Election Endorsement: We Need the Green Party

This article first appeared in Issue 23, 2017.
Posted 10:23am Sunday 17th September 2017 by Critic.