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Michael Bassett: JACINDA STRUGGLES IN DR STRANGELOVE’S WORLD

Have you noticed recently how many shops have signs wanting staff? How many tradesmen are hard to hire because they can’t find enough skilled workers? How many hospitals are bursting at the seams because they lack sufficient nurses and doctors? How many buses and trains aren’t running because there aren’t enough drivers? And how slow the government is to open up the borders to skilled migrants who could help?


Of course, we train our own skilled people. We train teachers, although not very well. We are better with apprentice plumbers, builders and electricians. Our nursing schools churn out quality graduates, our medical schools could deliver significantly greater numbers, while our law schools would do us a favour if they produced fewer. But open borders used to keep our work force up to strength and provided top-up skills from overseas.


Yes, since Covid an international shortage of most skills has developed around the world, but New Zealand seems reluctant to try to encourage people to come here even though air connections are picking up and welcome mats are ready to be laid out to back-packers and those who have traditionally been drawn towards us because when it’s our summer its’s their winter. Why then are our shortages currently so dramatic? I’m convinced that the borders are deliberately being kept closed because Jacinda Ardern’s so-called Labour government believes it can force employers to lift wages for workers by maintaining a super-tight labour market. Some of this is the belief of a few mad scientists like Immigration Minister Michael Wood who seems convinced that pushing wages up for low-skilled jobs will benefit our society in general, and not accelerate inflation. Others in Jacinda Ardern’s cabinet simply don’t understand that today we really have no option but to keep the borders open. When the Lange-Douglas Labour government floated the dollar in 1985, set about dismantling import controls and abolishing tariffs, then reforming immigration laws in 1986, New Zealand joined the world’s labour market, gradually internationalizing our country’s work force in the process. In my street the house builders are Pacific Islanders; the IT specialists in the city are often of Indian extraction; a significant number of nurses in our hospitals are from the Philippines, while South African emigres have moved into health-related services. These days, anything entrepreneurial has a significant Chinese component.


Keeping the immigration doors open is even more essential now that the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, aka Jacinda herself, has decided to keep more than 100,000 able-bodied people on Job-Seeker benefits, hiding them from the official unemployment figures. Ostensibly, Job-Seekers are looking for jobs. Forget it. Jacinda and her minister, Carmel Sepuloni, have arbitrarily jettisoned the traditional Labour approach to welfare, that benefits should be a hand-up, not a hand-out. Former Labour leaders always ensured that jobs were more rewarding than benefits. Today, by the time someone on a Job-Seeker benefit contemplates paying to get to work, and acquires the necessary clothing, there is a distinct advantage in remaining on the benefit. Yet, work integrates people into society. It enhances self-respect. It should be rewarded. But Jacinda doesn’t care. 100,000 people can quietly rot away while the country needs unskilled people for all sorts of jobs.


The unavoidable cost of Jacinda’s dream society is high. It fails the group she claims she wants to help. And they cost us all a fortune not just in benefits paid but in the damage her policies do to society. The record numbers of truants from school; the kids who get beaten up and sometimes killed by Mum’s de-facto; the gang recruits; the ram-raiders, some as young as 7. Most of them come from the ignored 100,000.


Neither Jacinda, nor Carmel Sepuloni seems to care a fig about the consequences of the mad scientists in their ranks who keep the borders closed but then refuse to restore meaningful incentives to find jobs. The rest of us suffer because services that society needs - plumbers, electricians, builders and odd-job people - can’t be found for love nor money.


This is a misery guts government that has given us rapid inflation undoing thirty years of hard-won monetary stability because it spent so recklessly during Covid. Ministers don’t understand the economic essentials of a globalized world, and despite what they say, they don’t care about the poor who are trapped in poverty by their policies. They see no link between their policies and crime which is rampant. The question we all need to ask ourselves is why is Labour’s caucus so lacking in talent that none of them seems prepared to say publicly that there has to be a better way. On current polls there’s at least twenty-five of them on their way to the electoral knackers’ yard. If only a few of them possessed sufficient historical knowledge about what Labour is meant to stand for, and enough commonsense to wrestle with the paucity of talent leading their party! As it is, we look destined to limp along with shortages, a hospital system in complete disarray, an under-performing educational system, and a crippled hospitality industry for another eleven or twelve months.


Can’t they think of something better to do than emote aimlessly while we struggle with the steadily rising cost of living, and endure incompetently targeted welfare and the crime and personal misery that go with it? We all know there is a better way. Why can’t Jacinda work it out?


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