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Tuesday 13 October 2015

Clip-On Fiscal Conservatism and the Conservatives

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 6th March 2014

Not Really Our Sort of Accessory?
The Conservative Party are claiming that the media have 'stereotyped' their party as a religious social conservative outfit. But what about its claims to be "fiscally conservative?"

To what extent are the Conservatives to blame for such adverse perceptions themselves? And to what extent are the Conservatives actually "fiscally conservative?"

Granted, there was Audrey Young's New Zealand Herald piece several weeks ago. That article noted that Colin Craig opposes environmental protection in the context of increased oil and mineral exploitation, as well as National and ACT's charter school policies, Labour's female MP parity proposals, the Sky City Convention Centre and Transpacific Free Trade Treaty negotiations. At the same time, Gordon Campbell did a Werewolf article that further provided some ambiguous 'detail' in this context. He seems to favour some degree of venture capital and mentoring for small business establishment and growth, as in Taiwan and South Korea. He fudges questions about raising the age of eligibility for Superannuation to 67, and we're left unclear about what he intends insofar as KiwiSaver is concerned. He's similarly unclear about what he'd do with Working For Families, citing an anecdotal case where it was used to support an individual and his family who gave up work. So where's the evidence that such abuse is widespread apart from what might well be an unrepresentative case?

Perusal of the Conservative Party's "Ask Colin" website also discloses several other embryonic economic and fiscal policies- a tax-free threshold of $25,000 and 25% tax rate beyond that threshold; opposition to increasing the minimum wage, allegedly because it would impose "adverse costs" on business owners; abolishing the Emissions Trading Scheme due to his belief in climate change denial; support for free checks and healthcare for children (until what age?); opposition to the introduction of a capital gains tax (again, short on detail why Colin Craig opposes this alternative fiscal management policy, preferred by Labour and the Greens); competition for Christchurch rebuild project allocation; restrictions on foreign worker entry, despite the domestic skill shortage; support for increased government investment in apprenticeship training; polluter pays water purity penalties; school horticultural training; ambiguity when it comes to increased proportion of government foreign aid; increased defence spending; opposition to "quantative easing" bank regulation; a housing policy which lists land availability, development costs, environmental regulations and property costs as its primary concerns. These are canvassed with variable detail, but significantly, none of them appear to be properly costed. Or, if they have been, what evaluative tools, frameworks, options and outcomes were concluded from such analyses.

According to Ian Wishart's puff piece in Investigate last month in February 2014, Colin Craig is concerned about the "leaky buildings' crisis. As he was a former property developer himself, that is quite logical, and to be fair, he has stated his concerns about that failure in lax building industry regulation. However, given that the Canterbury Television building collapse is also a question of lax building regulation, why hasn't he similarly commented on questions raised in that context, as it is surely also related to his own professional expertise within that industry?

In the same Investigate article, Colin Craig refers to the genetically modified crops debate last decade, which sowed dissension between the Clark administration and the Greens. He used that as a hypothetical example of what might have led to a binding citizens referendum at the time of that debate, although he doesn't seem intent on re-opening that can of political worms, as any such referendum would necessarily involve messy litigation that would surround abrupt cancellation of any corporate contracts for GM crop development. In any case, the Greens appear to have accepted tacit criticisms that the campaign against GM crops was an "eco-populist" one and that there is no current discernible long-term risk from their production and use. One also wonders if the use of that example was based on his professed admiration for the United Kingdom Independence Party, which has a policy that any GM ingredients within food industry products need to be clearly labelled as such.

Craig has also stated that if property developers do not actively utilise land purchases and allow them to lie fallow and unused, any coalition government that includes him will engage in compulsory reacquisition of that land. Given that property rights are a benchmark of centre-right political philosophy, this policy has alarmed many business commentators in the National Business Review and other such publications. Not even the Greens have gone that far, they protest.

Like the US Republican Tea Party faction, Colin Craig also states that the Conservatives are intent on fiscal responsibility and limited government. How do they square this with their declared support for frequent binding citizens referenda, given that even non-binding referenda are highly expensive for a recovering post-recession economy like ours, costing nine million dollars apiece? Where is that money going to come from? Which public services will Colin Craig cut to achieve this objective? He is light on specific and costed details.

The Conservatives also support charter schools, much like ACT and National. However, Colin Craig also wants "choice" when it comes to public health expenditure. He argues that public health institutions should spend money on 'alternative' health nostrums such as chiropracty, homeopathy, acupuncture and other measures that are not evidence-based. This may horrify some conservative Christian supporters, who view the 'alternative health' movement as "New Age" and "neopagan" or open to "demonic" Eastern spiritualities. However, there has always been a right-wing constituency that has supported 'alternative health' and distrusted mainstream evidence-based medicine, so perhaps this policy may appeal to that constituency. Some mainstream voters may look askance at it, however. Certainly, some centre-right voters will. Notably, this was the subject of a Conservative Party parliamentary submission, so it actually seems to be party policy.

What is common to all of the above is that unlike religious social conservative policies from the Conservatives, they seem to be poorly elaborated and mostly uncosted. They do provide links to parliamentary submissions on some issues, but as yet, they have no policy papers, nor do they have any reference footnotes and links to sources for their policy positions. The submissions include two on religious social conservative issues, namely marriage equality and the anti-sexworker Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill. They also include submissions on issues like the Natural Health Products Bill, Constitutional Review (opposed to greater Treaty recognition and supporting Maori seat abolition), MMP Review (supporting a diminished four percent list-only parliamentary representation threshold) and a sole submission on economic matters, the Mixed Ownership Model Bill. If I were a centre-right voter, I'd be concerned at this.

In Metro, Steve Braunias viewed Colin Craig as an "appealing eccentric." His impressionistic if disjointed article started with a reference to Rachel McGregor, his spin doctor and media manager. Meanwhile, there's still silence from East Coast Bays, and current Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has not stated any willingness to do an electorate deal and stand aside for Colin Craig, standing instead on National's party list. There are also frictions between National's Social Services Minister, Paula Bennett, and Conservative CEO Christine Rankin, both standing for Upper Harbour, for that matter.

However, Braunias does provide a valuable insight into Craig's current business expertise. He is now a management consultant and CEO of Centurion, which employs a staff of about twenty five people. Centurion staff meetings include prayer and bible readings, which were also the subject of an Employment Court case against the organisation when one former employee objected to it. Apparently, though, he does have a creative side, and is an admirer of the classic Diplomacy board game, which re-enacts the European geopolitical situation just before and during the First World War. Even so, Braunias also warns us that Craig doesn't feel comfortable with businesses unless he's running them, which could be problematic if he gets into parliament. It's also resonant with concerns that I've expressed elsewhere about conservative Christian 'separatist" politics and enclave subculture.

Added to which, in the Investigate piece, there's a clincher. Craig doesn't rule out the possibility of crossbench status should the Conservatives gain a parliamentary toehold. That doesn't sound like centre-right politics to me. It sounds more like its social conservative populist competitor, New Zealand First. As I've said, the Conservatives are a "clip on" fiscal conservative party. Such policies seem to be optional extras to an overall religious social conservative worldview, poorly elaborated and detachable from their core objectives.

Not Recommended:
Ian Wishart: "True Blue" Investigate: 2/2014: 10-15.

Steve Braunias: "Uncle Colin" Metro 381: March 2014: 52-57.
Gordon Campbell: "The Blank Slate Boy: An Interview with Colin Craig" Werewolf:
Audrey Young: "Inside the Mind of Colin Craig" New Zealand Herald: 13.12.2013:

Conservative Party: Submissions:
Conservative Party: Ask Colin:

Craig Young - 6th March 2014

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