Hard News by Russell Brown

46

Aiming for the feet

I really don't think Labour leader David Cunliffe had a cunning plan to hide the fine print print of his party's Best Start policy from the public last week. Because, frankly, making a statement about how many families would be covered by the baby bonus that is contradicted by the policy paper you've posted on the internet is just too dumb to be a cunning plan.

Even Patrick Gower, who kicked off the story with a blog post declaring that Labour had been "deliberately misleading" and "dishonest" in not being clear that families already in receipt of paid parental leave (which Labour is promising to extend to six months) would not be eligible for the newborn payment of $60 a week subsequently started referring to it as a mistake. (After all, if you're going to perform a bait-and-switch, it's customary to wait until you're safely elected, not do it on the same day.)

Allowing double-dipping would have have been inappropriate -- indeed, that was the first criticism aired about the new policy by David Farrrar, when he thought that's what the policy said. But although the URL for the full policy document had been noted in the material given out to journalists, the limit on eligibility wasn't mentioned in the printed material or Cunliffe's speech.

Thus, John Key and his ministers have had a week to smugly declare that Cunliffe couldn't be taken at his word.

And in the end, I'm not sure the policy itself was up to much. Adding complexity to an already complex system of allowances and credits doesn't seem particularly visionary. I see that I wasn't the only one to be put in mind of Bill Rowling's unfortunate 1975 "baby bonus". Brian Rudman covers that angle.

The next day, Labour's new Revenue spokesman David Clark seemed to enter some sort of fever dream when he indicated to Tova O'Brien that banning Facebook in New Zealand would be an option for a Labour government looking to force the company to pay tax more commensurate with its actual local income. 

Tax avoidance by global companies is a genuine issue, and not a new one -- if you look at the way, say, Microsoft arranges its local tax affairs, you'll see that it's not all very local. It's why Facebook, Apple and Google have foreign billing addresses in Ireland, where they can get tax relief -- and why Google got mildly stung last month by the British Revenue.

But countenancing a state ban on a website used by more New Zealanders than any other? And not just individuals, but whanau and groups and organisations, many of whom rely on Facebook as a platform to support and stay in touch with each other?

Clark should never have ventured on this issue without having a considered answer to the bloody obvious question of what we might do about getting these companies to pay their fair share of tax. His flub is doubly damaging because it put Labour on the wrong side of issues that seem likely to play a significant part in the election year-year conversation.

Every time Labour tries to make its case for internet freedom, or to pitch for the untapped youth vote that everyone's talking about this year, its opponents will cheerily recall that Labour is the party that wants to ban websites. John Key, whose government secretly worked to bring the full apparatus of state down on an alleged copyright infringer and passed the GCSB Bill, will doubtless be laughing.

Key's government has not exactly been showing its own best face lately. In particular, the behaviour of two ministers, Judith Collins and Anne Tolley, has fallen woefully short of the standard that the taxpayers who keep them in ministerial drivers should expect. But at least they know how to launch a policy without aiming it at their own damn feet.

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