Back in time: A letter to Nash

Cleaning up my digital closet, I was about to delete this letter I printed and sent to NZ Labour MP Stuart Nash back in September 2020. I thought I'd share it here first as the ideas contained are still hugely relevant.

Unedited and as it was printed and sent, even if I've now spotted things that could've been said better.


11/09/2020

Dear Stuart,

I’m a thirty year old resident of Wairoa. As Labour’s representative for my electorate I’m opening this dialogue with you. More than likely, I will not be voting Labour in the upcoming elections: this is despite believing that Jacinda Ardern is the best leader for the nation.

Breaking down my areas of concern:

The welfare system, including covid-19 stimulus

The universal pension, which is not means tested, while noble in intention, I feel is unfair in practice. I personally know of people with up to a million or more in assets that receive their pension and just use it as play money. Further, these are also the people that are the most organised in applying for government stimulus money including the current covid-19 relief and loan payments.

I think that either NZ should transition to a universal basic income for all (preferred), or that strict means testing should be introduced for those receiving the pension.

Land ownership, housing and taxation

One just has to walk about the suburbs of South Auckland to observe the inequality present in this nation. I believe the problem largely lies in rising land value costs, which translates into expensive rental costs and high property buy-in prices.

I do NOT believe that the problem lies entirely with housing supply. Here in Wairoa, for example, there are plenty of homes and rooms that lie empty. Vacant blocks that lay fallow.

There’s a systemic problem at work here (not unique to NZ) and discussed in depth by Australian economic think tank Prosper (prosper.org.au/why-land.tax): land is treated as a trinket, to be sold, traded, speculated and profited upon.

Remember the wealthy pensioners I mentioned earlier? The same ones are worried they might lose the money that they have in the bank due to global instability. The first place they look to park it is in property.

Rather than land in New Zealand being viewed as a place to live, grow food and conduct business from, it’s increasingly considered equivalent to gold in a vault.

How can Labour help?

Why doesn’t the Central Government via its own departments and also local councils adopt tried, tested and researched public land rent schemes and community land trusts as methods of delivering affordable housing? See the attached report ‘Unspoken Alternatives to Expensive Housing’ for a thorough explanation of both options under an Australian context.

Accepting that what is already sold is sold, why don’t we transition away from freehold land title for new crown land releases and rather lease the land long term? I’m a young NZ resident and I’m telling you now: I will take a 25, 50 or 99 year lease happily over freehold because I understand that on a planet with finite resources a small percentage of the population cannot claim private property rights over all the habitable land for an indefinite period. This system will allow central government and local councils to share in an ongoing and increasing revenue stream (from lease payments), and also to benefit from land value increases: which are the capital gains that currently go into private hands. This revenue can replace more regressive forms of taxation such as the GST and other income taxes. Further, it will reduce the barrier of entry to the housing market land stewardship for so many landless in New Zealand.

Reserve bank funding mechanisms

Labour finance minister, Grant Robertson, just yesterday (10/09) announced that there are ‘no free lunches’ - ruling out the wiping of the debt that the Government has accrued in providing covid-19 economic stimulus.

If we give private banks the legal right to create money out of thin air every time they issue a loan, why can’t we use our own bank, the reserve bank, to do that for our ourselves? Central government and local councils can spend the money they need to develop infrastructure, to support and improve the nation without burdening future generations with debt.

20th century economic orthodoxy is not a good excuse, people are talking about it more and more:  We know money is just an idea, and if the system isn’t working for the planet and a large majority of us, we want it changed.

Why can’t Labour adopt the model that the Social Credit party has been promoting? View pages https://www.socialcredit.nz/rof and https://www.socialcredit.nz/toolkit-for-a-new-economy.

Three waters legislation

Water management and the choice to fluoridate and chlorinate should remain in local government hands.

I say this because I believe the 20th century era of amalgamations and privatisation is over. That we’re going to have go back to strong local institutions supporting their local communities. Local government becomes a vibrant and empowered actor for local affairs, central government becomes the curator, and an ambassador representing the nation on the world stage.

In this vision there is no place for amalgamated water bodies and with that the loss of local knowledge in water treatment and delivery. Centrally mandated requirements such as fluoridation and chlorination are also not welcome, as it should be the choice of the inhabitants of each locality,

MPI policy

I believe that current MPI policy gives large food producers and processors an unfair advantage over smaller operators and that there should be a two tiered approach to policy: one for the big players, the other for smaller operators.

Here’s a recent example:

I was a customer of Lindsay Farm, a raw milk herdshare scheme based in Waipukurau. Up until this August they had been operating a unique service which got raw cows milk to their herdshare partners around the North Island, something they’d been doing for over 12 years. Now, after 9 months fighting the MPI regarding the rules around which they could operate (despite never having a customer become unwell due to their milk in 12 years of operation), they’ve conceded to the MPI and stopped their service.

The net result is that Lindsay Farm’s customers are left without an equivalent product to purchase, and Lindsay Farm, a small family dairy operation, are left without an income.

My contention is that small, local and multi-modal is the way forward for New Zealand enterprise. NZ, being a food basket for the world, has no excuse for each of its towns not being a food basket for its own inhabitants.

Can Labour help make this possible by encouraging food production and handling legislation that helps rather than hinders small operators? Why not have two tiers? For example, in dairy, the determinant for which tier a farm falls under could depend on herd size and market reach.

Editors note: I typed this on the 11th and am printing and sending it on the 16th. In that time Lindsay Farm have notified their customers that they’ve been approved by the MPI to sell raw milk again, but under a much more restricted scheme. They say that they’re having to deal with lots of paperwork and additional expenses as part of this process.

Carbon-forest investment; pinus radiata

The conversion of farmland to pine forest is visible everywhere in Hawkes Bay. A recent trip to Northland and seeing all the pine on the west coast, as far up as the Aupouri Peninsular, also alarmed me and my travelling companion.

Ask around and you’ll be given plenty of reasons to say no to more pinus radiata in NZ:

  • The effects of monoculture plantation on the surrounding ecology.
  • The impacts of the slash left over from harvest on our waterways.
  • The post harvest scars on our landscape that affect the visual beauty of the rugged landscape that NZ, till recent times, advertised to the world.
  • The impacts on small towns such as Wairoa when farms run by families close up to make way for, more often than not, foreign owned pine plantation.

I do not have a well thought out solution for you here yet, but I can tell you as an active voter that I feel strongly that our farmland should not be converted to pine plantation. Rather, our large farms should be split up into smaller mixed farms inhabited by happy families and groups of friends. These farms could grow and raise, and then process to value add. This vision would be more possible with land ownership reform and MPI policy reform, both of which we’ve already discussed.

Visa and Mastercard fees

I see that Labour is taking action on this: great! (08/09/2020, ‘Labour promises action on contactless payment charges’, rnz.co.nz)

Rather than just compelling overseas private operators (eg: Visa, Mastercard) to reduce their fees for card payments, why not go a step further? What’s stopping Central Government sponsoring the development of an NZ alternative which we can then open-source and share with the world? Having previously spent 9 years running an IT consultancy, I know that doing this is not rocket science.

Imagine that: no unnecessary skimming of our merchants profits into international finances hands. This initiative could benefit all nations, not just ours.

Could an arm of Kiwibank be set up to do it and issue the first round of credit cards powered by ‘kiwi’ technology, not Visa or Mastercard?!

Summary

If you’ve got this far, thanks for taking the time to read Stuart. I understand that all change does not occur overnight, and that there is only so much you and your colleagues can do given the constraints and inertia of the system.

Nonetheless, we have solutions which we can readily act upon (eg: Unspoken Alternatives to Expensive Housing!) and an unprecedented opportunity to be bold during the global upheaval we find ourselves amidst.

I hope that this is the beginning of a useful dialogue regardless of the outcome of this upcoming election.

I do not care much who’s in or what they’re called just so long as we’re improving – as best we can -  as a nation and as a species.

Best wishes,


Damien

Damien

Damien

Oceania