Simon Bridges has been rabbiting on about gang members, but his plans simply don’t make sense. PAT PILCHER looks at the facts.
Anyone watching, listening to or reading New Zealand media could be forgiven for thinking the Labour government is doing a terrible job. The media seems to be saturated with opinion pieces calling foul on all manner of issues. If it isn’t right-wing punditry, it’s Simon Bridges ranting on the evils of Labour, beneficiary bashing and hosing hatred at those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.
More often-than-not, Simon’s rants seem to be designed to play well with National voters, but when placed under the glare of public scrutiny, they rarely stand up.
Take his latest hare-brained scheme, for example. Yesterday he tweeted: “National will block gang members from the dole if they can’t prove they don’t have illegal income or assets. I’ve seen the misery gangs peddle. As PM I’ll make sure gangs can’t exploit taxpayers.”
That’s strong stuff. A good many ordinary Kiwi blokes and blokettes will lap this up. Some might even decide that this sort of thing is exactly what they’d vote for. But here’s the thing. This latest idiotic National Party policy will create more problems than it’ll solve.
Perhaps the most worrying issue is the fact it’ll also set a very ugly precedent. New Zealand, like most other enlightened democracies, operates on the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
Under this scheme, anyone who looks like they might be a gang member will have to prove they are innocent (that is, that they have no earnings from crime tucked away). This is a slippery slope. What is to stop National from deciding that solo mums should have to prove they don’t have a live-in partner before they can get a benefit to clothe/feed their kids? What about proving you are not an overstayer? Where would this guilty until proven innocent ideology end?
Another vexing issue is how the government will know if someone is or isn’t a gang member? While Simon and his gang could argue that tattoos and gang patches might make that obvious, the devil is in the detail. What happens when someone with tattoos applies for a benefit? What happens when someone who looks like they might be in a gang (but isn’t) applies for a benefit? Worse still, how much will administering all this cost?
The reality is that no one really knows how many gang members are in New Zealand. It isn’t like there is a census question asking, “Are you a patched gang member YES/NO”. According to the book Gangs written by Brit journo Ross Kemp, NZ had more gangs per head of population than any other country in the world in 2007. Kemp reckoned there were about 70 gangs with 4000 patched members.
Depriving gang members of a benefit would have a lot of unintended consequences. Assuming Kemp’s numbers are correct, that’s going to see a lot of people and their families having to find ways to survive. Given how reluctant most employers are to employ gang members, it’s fair to assume that most gang members won’t find paid work.
To make ends meet, many will turn to crime. This would see the very issues National says they were getting tough on (crime, gangs) becoming much worse, not better.
It isn’t just the gang members that will suffer. According to the Department of Statistics, there are 1.9 children per family on average in New Zealand. Using Kemp’s Statistics, that equates to 7600 children of gang members who will crash below the poverty line, creating a new underclass and huge social policy, educational and health headaches.
So, while National pushes this policy under the guise of reducing taxpayer monies paid to “bludgers”, this policy could ultimately waste an excessive amount of taxpayer money and swell the ranks of the poor in New Zealand.
Equally sad is the fact that while beneficiary bashing and cheap shots aimed at gangs might go down well with prospective National voters, Bridges has remained tight-lipped on how they’d stop tax avoidance and white-collar crime. This costs the NZ economy billions of dollars each year – a vastly more substantial sum than any benefits paid to gang members.
New Zealand’s economic landscape is dominated by foreign-owned multinationals. While most operate ethically, adhering to New Zealand laws, many take advantage of loopholes to legally avoid paying their share of tax in New Zealand.
Take credit card companies, for example. Total credit card billings in New Zealand in 2017 were a whopping NZ$43.4 billion, according to the Reserve Bank. Based on the sheer volume of money credit card companies are moving in New Zealand, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were sizeable operations. After all, they earn fees from banks that issue their cards, and they charge for processing payments. Then there’s the not so small matter of credit card interest rates which (at the time of writing) were hovering between 13 and 25 percent.
The 2016 financial statements of NZ’s two big credit card players showed a combined tax bill of $257,109. Adding insult to injury, UK consultants the Lafferty Group rated NZ as the seventh most profitable credit card market out of a whopping 72 countries they’d surveyed. Clearly, something is very wrong indeed.
It isn’t just Aussie owned banks and foreign-owned credit card companies that are hoovering vast sums of money out of NZ’s economy, either.
In 2017, the NZ Herald found that despite selling billions of dollars of computers and phones to New Zealanders, Apple had paid no income tax for the last 10 years.
While it isn’t hard to see National’s populist policies are taking advantage of the fears of voters, I wonder how many National voters realise they’ll cost a lot of money, wasting scarce resources that could have been spent on schools and hospitals. While tax avoidance isn’t illegal, the onus is on the government to eliminate these tax loopholes to stem the flow of money out of our economy. Perhaps this is where National should focus their attention instead of wasting time on snarky attacks and poorly thought through dog-whistle policies designed to earn votes with scant regard for consequences.