Jacinda Ardern: Leaning into the status quo, again.
The $12 billion business package represents a defence of the economic and political status quo and an historic opportunity for real change lost.

ON AN ALTERNATIVE timeline, a left-wing Labour-led government seizes the opportunity afforded by coronavirus and a looming economic recession, to introduce a revolutionary economic package aimed not only at addressing economic inequality but climate change. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden tells Parliament that it is the beginning of a ten year plan to transform the New Zealand economy and it will be led by a vast mobilisation of state resources. It marks the end of three damaging decades of neoliberalism and the beginning of New Zealand's Green New Deal. It is later compared to the first Labour Government and the Social Security Act 1938 which introduced universal free health services and extended benefits for the aged, sick and unemployed. Jacinda Ardern is talked about in the same favourable terms as Prime Minister Mickey Savage.

You can wake up now. On another timeline - the one we're on right now - the Labour-led Government has failed to grasp the opportunity for real change that coronavirus has presented it with. It has been given the rare opportunity to fundamentally reshape the economy in favour of the working class it still claims to represent. But instead it has chosen to shore up the business sector from the coming economic storm. This is presumably what Green co-leader James Shaw really meant when he said 'we're all in this fight together.'

The bulk of the $12 billion business 'rescue package' is, not surprisingly, going to the business sector. Some $5 billion will be used for wage subsidies and sick leave payments. Another $2.8 billion is earmarked for tax changes to free up business cash flow. It is little wonder that a happy Brett O'Riley of the Employers and Manufacturers Association says that the package is all about 'keeping businesses intact'.

The $25 increase in core benefit payments is little more than a sop to the Green Party and to provide it with something to crow about in an election year - good luck with that. But it is far less than the government's own welfare working group recommended last year. It wanted a minimum weekly increase of $70 in order to minimise further 'economic distress'.

Ricardo Menedez of Auckland Action Against Poverty and a Green Party election candidate, has tweeted:

'This COVID-19 response package is about retaining the economic status quo and not about future-proofing our welfare, healthcare and housing systems to prepare us for future crises and to ensure everyone can live with dignity. The broken status quo led us to this crisis.'

We are in an economic and political crisis but one that predictably sees Jacinda Ardern and her government leaning into the status quo. But some of us expect so little of this government that we are just relieved that it hasn't taken the opportunity to introduce a new round of neoliberal 'reforms'. Although there always seems to be time for that sort of thing.

This pandemic represented an historic opportunity for this Labour-led government to introduce the kind of sweeping reforms encapsulated by a Green New Deal. But it appears that even this pandemic has done nothing to change the view of the political  establishment that the economy exists to serve its interests. The role of the  Labour-led government is to ensure that this continues to be the case. This is a role it always seems happy to play.


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