On the eve of the New Zealand general election it may be instructive to remind voters that in 2017-2018 the wealthiest 10 percent controlled 59 percent of assets, while the poorest half has just 2 percent.
The top 1 percent, about 38,000 people, owns 20 percent of all assets, with approximately $NZ140 billion secured in trusts, largely to avoid paying tax.
As in every country, New Zealand’s business and ruling elite have used the COVID-19 pandemic to further enrich themselves at the expense of the working class. The pandemic saw an unprecedented package of $50 billion worth of tax breaks, bailouts and subsidies for big business, and up to $100 billion more being printed by the Reserve Bank to prop up the banking system.
Yet here are 148,000 children currently living in homes experiencing material hardship, including lack of access to basics such as warm clothing, health care and food. Meanwhile, state housing waiting lists have ballooned to approximately 20,000 people from 5,000 in three years.
The subservience of both parties to big business was underlined last year when the Labour-led government, which included the Greens and NZ First, abandoned plans to implement a Capital Gains Tax in the face of media hostility. Labour and the Greens had campaigned for the tax, saying it was necessary to tackle inequality. Ardern has promised that it will never be revived as long as she is the leader.
Ardern's climate minister, James Shaw, a Green Party member of the coalition, was responsible for the toothless Zero Carbon Act (ZCA), implemented last year following climate strikes involving tens of thousands of students. It set the goal of making the country carbon-neutral by 2050—three decades from now—and even then contains exemptions for the agriculture industry, New Zealand’s biggest source of emissions. Its main mechanism is an emissions trading scheme—a market-based tool that will do nothing to stop the threat of catastrophic climate change.
Ardern's defence minister, a NZ First member, in releasing a climate change policy for the armed forces, presented a $20 billion plan to upgrade the military, including new aircraft and navy vessels, as necessary to respond to natural disasters caused by climate change. In fact, the spending is to assist New Zealand’s integration into the US-led war preparations against China.
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