Academic journal article Hecate

New Zealand since 1984: Economic Restructuring-Feminist Responses, Activity and Theory

Academic journal article Hecate

New Zealand since 1984: Economic Restructuring-Feminist Responses, Activity and Theory

Article excerpt

New Zealand Since 1984: Economic Restructuring -- Feminist Responses, Activity and Theory

The New Right/Deregulation in New Zealand, 1984/94

The rise of the new right, both on political and economic issues, in New Zealand and several countries overseas, involves a substantial actual and threatened backlash against earlier social and economic gains by women. It lays stress on individual rights, duties and responsibilities, portraying self reliance and competitiveness as major virtues. Hence market rewards are seen as a deserved return for effort, which should be encouraged by low tax rates. The role of opportunity, luck and the contribution of others is underestimated in this justification of inequality. Greater emphasis on deregulated markets ignores discrimination and the systemic differences in opportunities, resources, power and choice which operate against ethnic minorities, women, and lower socio-economic groups. The assumption of selfishness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as less community responsibility puts people into the position of feeling forced to operate against their own beliefs and behave selfishly -- for example by taking out private health insurance or refusing to give blood when they would prefer to pay higher taxes and support a comprehensive public health system as against part charges, private health services, and a residual system for the uninsured. Economic orthodoxy is presented as a package without alternatives, value-free and objective.(1)

During the 1980s, factors such as global recession, the rise of the Asian economies, the aftermath of the oil crisis, technological change, created economic problems in a number of countries, with fiscal and overseas trade deficits common to many western economies. Ideological and economic conservatism followed, with much of the blame for the problems laid at the door of big government and a welfare state out of control. In New Zealand attempts were made to balance the government budget through expenditure cuts, to secure real wage cuts for low income earners, and to reduce the rate of inflation. Advocates of major change in the economy were well placed to take over power following economic stagnation and the exchange rate crisis which accompanied the 1984 election. Assertions of lack of accountability and inefficiency in the public sector, distortions and lack of neutrality caused by intervention in the private sector, of government failure matching market failure, and of capture of social services by the middle class could be used to rationalise many of the changes.(2) A fuller treatment and critique of the New Zealand new right swing towards less government, in terms of a more market approach incorporating deregulation, corporatisation, privatisation, lower taxation and lower public expenditure, can be found elsewhere.(3)

These developments have of course been in the name of securing a leaner, meaner, more productive economy, improving international competitiveness and achieving medium term growth. Inflation has been virtually eliminated and there is at last a resumption of growth in output, but unemployment remains very high, with extensive restructuring and redundancies costing jobs in both the private and public sector. Unemployment has replaced hidden underemployment, with earlier low levels of productivity. From 1980 to 1987, part-time jobs increased by 41.5%, but full time by only 5.6%. However, the new part-time, casual and temporary jobs, many of which replace full time work, rarely have good pay, conditions or security. The dual labour market is accentuated, with people at the top doing well, and the unemployed and low paid missing out.

Impacts on Women

Such labour market restructuring has been accelerated by industrial relations decentralisation encouraged by the Employment Contracts Act, that has been discussed in detail by Linda Hill.(4) The Minister of Women's Affairs claimed that this legislation "has done more towards providing equity for working women than any other development for a long time. …

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