Friday, September 16, 2005

Doctoring the OBERAC

We are finally nearing the ceasefire, when all bloggers, newspapers, television, billboards, posters and assorted electioneering symptoms must be removed from the public domain. From midnight tonight until the polling booths close at 7pm Saturday night, no partisan political broadcasts are allowed. Period.

Speaking of which, hasn't the mainstream media had a case of the woman's weeklies over the last four weeks? Policy direction has had a poor showing this election, bullied out by gossip, spite, mudflinging, scandals, kidnapping, marketing, photoshopping, opining, horoscopes, and more nutjobs than a Whittaker's Peanut Slab factory.

All credit then to the Nats for asking the Ombudsmen to kick some OIA arse on Treasury's student loan pricetag. Did any any of the media ask for the Treasury information or were they just going to take Labour's word for it? Thankfully, the Nats did the digging and shows up the Public Finance Amendment Act as the obsfucation it truly is.

Richard Prebble wrote back in March how dumping Ruth Richardson's Fiscal Responsibility Act paved the way for government fudging and manipulation of the books. We have now seen it in action. Michael Cullen can say the surplus is whatever he wants it to be, $1.9 billion can be buried in the budget, booty to buy ballots by bribery. The government's bullshit detectors, ie Treasury, have their information suppressed and reluctantly released only under duress.

It may have passed my attention, but no media investigations seem to exist demonstrating why this is such a flagrant disregard for the constitutional integrity of the electoral process.

Let's go back to 1984. New Zealand's closest relative to Robert Mugabe has just lost the snap election after successfully hiding the true scale of his totalitarian mismanagement of the economy. The incoming Labour administration has opened the books and gone omfg this is worse than than anyone ever imagined. It was as if they had been given a billion maxed-out credit cards and could barely afford the minimum payments. The debt collectors were very close to being called in.

Roger Douglas' economic revolution was a direct consequence of Muldoon's lack of fiscal transparency. State assets were not sold just for the hell of it. The country was so deep in the shit, the only hope lay in selling the silver to save the country from slipping from Second World to Third World. Restructuring by the Fourth Labour Government ensured New Zealand's place in the First World.

Fast forward to 1990. The Fourth Labour Government is going through loud and painful death rattles. With leadership changes happening with alarming regularity, the last thing it needs to advertise coming into an election is a massive fiscal blowout. Lo and behold, the Nats storm to victory in a landslide. Ruth Richardson opens the books and goes omfg this is worse than anyone imagined. It was as if a bank had given out credit cards to a billion monkeys and dropped them outside the Bananas-R-Us megamall.

Ruth Richardson's Mother of All Budgets was a direct consequence of Labour IV's lack of fiscal transparency. Welfare was cut back not out of any specific hatred of beneficiaries, but an urgent need to cut spending and trimming the less productive government programs where possible. Selling assets wasn't really an option as there wasn't much left of value that hadn't already been knocked off in the pawn shop.

By now, the General Electorate was thoroughly pissed off with politicians. Election manifestos were rightly viewed with cynicism and distrust as a history of broken promises piled up at the door of both main parties. The citizens vented their spleen by favouring a new system of representation, anything that would stop this violent lurching about from rattling the crockery.

Unfortunately, we got MMP not STV. Instead of a system that balanced proportionality with majority rule, we stuck ourselves with shifting the power from the people to the parties. The role of electorate MP has moved from being a respected people's representative to a piggy bank for party propaganda units. The party vote is all that matters now and parties are the only winners.

It also did not fix the essential problem; ensuring that governments maintain open and accountable information so incoming governments weren't faced with undeclared financial black holes that forced them into crisis management all the time.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act did. It forced every budget to append figures, costs, estimates, explanations. No bullshit, all up front. Evidence of how effective this legislation worked was seen with Labour V's ascension to power in 1999. There were no nasty surprises. Even while the Asian Tiger was still wincing, New Zealand weathered it all unscathed.

So here we are in 2005 again. The FRA is in the past tense, superceded by the Public Finance Amendment Act 2004. While most punters (myself included) couldn't tell an OBERAC from a TARDIS, the consequences of this trashy piece of legislation are finally emerging in layman's terms. We are back to the same old opaque shit.

How else could Michael Cullen have hidden $1.9 billion away for election bribes? How else could respected costings from Treasury get buried by the incumbents? Are there any other skeletons we should know about or are we going to force a future government to hock off the TV, stereo and heater? Who can tell any more?

Who cares? As long as we are entertained by juicy gossip and not bored by irrelevant stuff such as policy or economics, we are happy. And if the economy runs red, we can always blame the government again.

Happy voting.