Magazine article New Zealand Management

POLITICS : Turning Controversy into Status Quo

Magazine article New Zealand Management

POLITICS : Turning Controversy into Status Quo

Article excerpt

Byline: Colin James

The Electoral Finance Act passed amid controversy late last year will not be the law for the 2011 election if National leads the next government. It is likely to need amendment whoever is the government. So will all that damage the Labour-led Government did to itself, leaving a public impression it was attacking free speech, have been for one election?

Not exactly. The National party, itself stung by the counter-productive intervention by the Exclusive Brethren in 2005, backs the law's controls on anonymous donations to parties' campaign warchests.

On this there was something approaching cross-party consensus, even if not on the detail.

There is also something approaching cross-party consensus on many policies which once were matters of high controversy. Examples are the ban on nuclear-armed warships, the legalisation of homosexuality, civil unions and prostitution, the law requiring redress of breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi and the open economy.

This is one of the ways our politics resolves contentious matters. A party or grouping writes new legislation and over time opposing parties come to accept it as status quo. It becomes a centrist position with voters and the two big parties don't dare challenge it.

The National party opposed the welfare state Labour introduced between 1935 and 1949, but then in office after 1949 it essentially took it over, along with most of the economic controls Labour had also introduced. The 1975-84 National Prime Minister, Sir Robert Muldoon, said he could impose almost any controls under the 1948 Economic Stabilisation Act.

The reverse happened in 1999. Helen Clark and many of her ministers had opposed most of the 1984-90 Labour government's liberalisation economic reforms and National ministers' continuation of them after 1990. But once in office they left most of them in place.

One major exception was workplace relations law. Labour (and, initially, Alliance) ministers' legislation restored many of the rights to organise and bargain that National's Employment Contracts Act had stripped away.

This was ideology in action. The workplace is the great divider of National from Labour. Labour people see wages as sustenance. National people see wages as a cost.

A year ago John Howard said to me that if his Liberal-National Coalition got another term in 2007, his Work Choices labour deregulation would be secure. …

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