Friday, October 10, 2014

ACT: Addicted to Other People's Money

Apparently, they have a saying in ACT about the deliciousness and delectability of spending "Other People's Money". They think it's an addiction and a disease.

Well, as applies the actions and spending of their own parliamentarians, this would certainly appear to be the case!

ACT MPs have, through the years, attempted to make names for themselves as "perkbusters" and enemies of entitlement. Irrepressible scourges who champion the taxpayer's right to exert ceaseless scrutiny over how their precious dollars are being spent, in pursuit of maximum efficiency. They've also railed against "troughers" whose chief function in public life appears to be extracting maximum 'lifestyle support' out of the public purse.

But, you see, the interesting thing about politicians on moral crusades is that they're frequently exercises in projection. As Christopher Hitchens put it:

"Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner, rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed on by some Apache transvestite."

Now without wanting to get into the long-running political issue of the previous MP for Epsom's various historical homophobic outbursts (including, memorably, praying in Parliament against the passage of the Homosexuality Reform Act 1986), it seems like there's a fairly close correlation between the sentiment of this quote as applies the hidden activities of gaybashing elected representatives and the penny-pinching plutocratic patrician-pandering public-purse pilfering projectionist proclivities perpetrated by politicians from the ACT Party.

The best and most well-known example of this is, of course, Rodney "Perk Buster" Hide using taxpayer funding to fly his girlfriend to Honolulu. There's something a little breathtaking in the obvious and overt hypocrisy of the "perkbuster" using somewhere in the region of $25,000 of taxpayer money to cart his partner about the place; although I also seem to remember the original "anti-privilege" neolibertarian, Sir Roger Douglas, using taxpayer funding to fly half way round the world to attend his son's wedding over in London.

While both Rodney and Sir Roger are able to point toward the time-honoured defence of "but it was in the rules, therefore it's ok" ... the fact they've spent reasonable proportions of their respective careers attempting to hold public figures and public bodies to higher ethical/moral standards than the mere black-letter of the rules or law means this isn't an especially compelling defence, much less mitigation when it comes to their own usage of the public purse to fund a lifestyle.

Still less defensible (at least in my eyes), however, are the cluster of issues surrounding the latest ACT MP (what is that ... the 5th leader they've had in 4 years? I believe this is what's known as "inflation"), one David Breen Seymour.

These fall into two distinct categories: stuff associated with his previous work on Charter Schools; and stuff associated with David Seymour the Parliamentary Under-Secretary.

We'll start with his new and interesting approach to political transparency. You see, the interesting thing about the position Seymour's just been given in lieu of Associate Minister of Education (because even Key wasn't arrogant enough to appoint a first termer from the most despised party in the House to *that* lofty position) is that it renders him un-OIA'able and unquestionable in Parliament. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses which this one-man "party" is going to be able to draw upon to feather his parliamentary office/nest (I wonder if the Taxpayer's Union will be covering this..?) ... the bit I'm really interested in is the obscure and arcane protection Seymour, champion of transparency with the use of taxpayer money, has just been given that renders him almost completely opaque when it comes to outsider scrutiny.

People of ACT (and I use the term loosely) ... is this REALLY the best example of an MP living your party's values you were able to dredge up? Are you going to object to a first term MP being placed ABOVE yours and my scrutiny just because there's a higher chance he'll screw up? Surely, if we're applying your mad-cap philosophy consistently, the fact your MP is *more* likely to act in error is *greater* reason to subject him to *more* scrutiny, particularly considering how much *more* you neoliberalbaterian types care about public scrutiny of public money and ensuring the greatest value is extracted from the expenditure of your taxpayer dollar.

This gets exponentially *worse* when it comes to another policy area Seymour is closely associated: Charter Schools.

Now, one verbal missile that I've repeatedly lobbed in the direction of the local ACTivists (and, being Epsom, there's quite a few of them) without ever having received satisfactory answer is why charter schools are exempt from Official Information Act requests. This is weird. I mean, not only is this an example of some taxpayer-funded expenditure being subjected to different standards of scrutiny and transparency than other classes of same (i.e. public schools can and have been OIA'd about all manner of things; 100% taxpayer-funded charter schools are exempt for some reason) ... it's an example of a novel, untested and untried new way of expending public money, and therefore surely should be subject to the very highest degree of scrutiny.

If charter schools are as awesome as ACT claim, then allowing them to be OIA'd would only serve to further strengthen the case for their widespread adoption (blech!). If, by contrast, they're actually vastly less efficient than their state school equivalents and use several times the educational funding given to a single public school student to produce one Charter student (~$7,000 for a state school, between $10,000 and $40,000 for a charter school)... then surely my ACTress friends would agree that a greater degree of scrutiny than what is presently available for charter schools would be a pretty good idea.

The fact that ACT is so incredibly scared of taxpayer scrutiny of either its single solitary MP or its flagship policy-set just indicates to me that they i) can't actually abide by what's raggedly left of their own "principles" when it's in application to themselves; while ii) they're deathly afraid of what greater taxpayer scrutiny of their MP and policy would actually turn up about whether what they're up to is an efficient, effective, or endorsable use of public money.

But I guess that's just ACT all up. Tonnes of money and damn the cost and consequences when it comes to pursuing the latest foreign-inflected neoliberal-infected policy "offering" ... hard hearts and closed palms when we want benefits that are actually enough to live on, or a caring, interventionist state that cares more about ending Child Poverty in New Zealand than it does about delivering a right-wing surplus.

And rank hypocrisy all the way down.

If, by some remote chance there's anyone from ACT reading this (and given I apparently got FailOil to read The Daily Blog earlier this week, there's always hope) ... join us here on the left in demanding better from your elected representative. They're YOUR principles of transparency and accountability we're seeking to have immanentized here! And what was that quote about "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" that your government seems to be so fond of when it comes to other people's privacy? :P

No comments:

Post a Comment