RUDE AWAK­EN­ING

Otago Daily Times - - Front Page - JOHN ARM­STRONG John Arm­strong is a for­mer The New Zealand Her­ald po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent.

LIKE the sands through the hour­glass — it has taken just four short weeks for Jacinda Ardern’s ‘‘cam­paign of our lives’’ to be­come more akin to the The Days of

Our Lives.

Labour’s Won­der Woman has found her­self cast in a long­run­ning soap opera — but not as a su­per hero.

The Na­tional Party­scripted plot never varies from one elec­tion to the next, but the show never fails to draw big rat­ings.

Once again, Labour has been tripped up over tax pol­icy. The only dif­fer­ence this time is that the ma­jor Op­po­si­tion party has been even more help­ful by hav­ing a whole range of new taxes in its man­i­festo. The puz­zle is why alarm bells did not ring at Labour’s head­quar­ters, given the scale of the free gift.

Maybe ev­ery­one was too con­sumed with play­ing the equiv­a­lent of Rus­sian roulette by try­ing to sneak a cap­i­tal gains tax past vot­ers with­out them notic­ing.

The tax was the early prod­uct of Ms Ardern’s Brave New World — a world where she in­tends demon­strat­ing Labour can make the hard de­ci­sions.

It took pre­cious lit­tle time for Labour to back off the idea as fast as de­cency al­lowed. ‘‘Let’s do this’’ be­came ‘‘Let’s not do that’’.

Much of Ms Ardern’s amaz­ing rap­port with vot­ers has sprung from her be­ing some­thing of a fe­male ver­sion of John Key — ap­proach­able, open, down to earth, not judge­men­tal, and ar­ro­gance­free.

But there is one ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween them. She has in­sisted any gov­ern­ment she runs will lis­ten and then act. It will lead, not fol­low.

Of par­tic­u­lar note has been her dec­la­ra­tion that she will not shy away from tack­ling the ‘‘big gen­er­a­tional is­sues’’.

They do not come any big­ger or more vexed than the fair­ness of the coun­try’s tax sys­tem and the af­ford­abil­ity of cur­rent state­funded pen­sion en­ti­tle­ments. With re­gard to the lat­ter, she has gone Awol.

She has adopted John Key’s pledge to re­sign as prime min­is­ter if the age of el­i­gi­bil­ity for New Zealand Su­per­an­nu­a­tion was to be raised un­der her watch and like­wise if there was to be any re­duc­tion in cur­rent en­ti­tle­ments en­joyed by those who qual­ify for the state pen­sion.

For some­one por­tray­ing them­selves as giv­ing voice to younger vot­ers, such a stance is an ab­so­lute cop­out.

Ms Ardern has made as­sur­ances that Labour will re­store the an­nual pay­ments into the New Zealand Su­per­an­nu­a­tion Fund, whose pur­pose is to meet the short­fall in fund­ing to pay the bur­geon­ing cost of the pen­sion as the pop­u­la­tion ages.

That might be fine if Labour could guar­an­tee it will be in power for the next 30 to 40 years with­out in­ter­rup­tion.

It can make no such as­sur­ance, of course.

Re­ly­ing on Na­tional to feed the fund is op­ti­mism at its most hope­less. De­spite wal­low­ing in deep sur­pluses, the rul­ing party has opted to post­pone the re­sump­tion of con­tri­bu­tions for an­other three years.

Ms Ardern’s duck­ing the mat­ter has been com­pletely over­shad­owed by the U­turn on a cap­i­tal gains tax, how­ever.

Some would ar­gue she is de­serv­ing of huge credit for hav­ing tried to speed the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a mea­sure which or­gan­i­sa­tions as un­alike as the In­ter­na­tional

Mon­e­tary Fund and the Green Party agree is es­sen­tial.

Ms Ardern and Grant Robert­son, Labour’s fi­nance spokesman, have sought to play down the change of mind that will see any such tax sub­ject to re­ceiv­ing a man­date from vot­ers at the 2020 elec­tion, rather than be­ing im­ple­mented be­fore then.

The maul­ing that Labour re­ceived from Na­tional this week was a re­minder enough of how po­lit­i­cally poi­sonous such a mea­sure re­mains.

The at­tempt to short­cir­cuit the usual process for in­tro­duc­ing a re­form of such mag­ni­tude is likely to prove to be wholly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

Who in their right po­lit­i­cal mind is go­ing to go into bat for the mea­sure at the 2020 elec­tion?

Ms Ardern and Mr Robert­son have killed off any chance of a cap­i­tal gains tax mak­ing it on to the statute books for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Given the des­per­ate need for such an as­set tax to re­move the dis­tor­tions which en­cour­age in­vest­ment in non­pro­duc­tive sec­tors such as res­i­den­tial prop­erty, that is a dis­as­ter for the coun­try.

It should also be a big and timely les­son for Labour’s leader in the art of the pos­si­ble. And that sub­stance is ex­po­nen­tially more im­por­tant than mere style.

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