Conservative revolution in New Zealand
New Zealand has a track record for this. After leftism gets destructive enough, conservatism comes back with a rush. The Lange/Douglas government in the 1980s was very capitalist. Roger Douglas abolished whole government departments
It took 40 days for a three-party coalition to form government in New Zealand but, now that it has arrived, it’s not wasting any time in unwinding many of the progressive policies of its former leader, Jacinda Ardern.
The three-party coalition of NZ National Party, ACT New Zealand and NZ First has committed to reverse a number of key Labour policies that made headlines around the world during Ardern’s 5½ years in charge.
The new government – a coalition between centre-right National, libertarians ACT and populists NZ First – has already made global headlines for abandoning world-leading smoke-free laws. But changes are also coming to electric vehicles, sex education and hard-fought gains for the Maori community.
The new coalition is the most reactionary government Mark Boyd, a political researcher at Auckland University, has seen during his 40 years covering New Zealand politics. He said the vast majority of the policies announced by the government are taking things “back to the way they were” before Ardern’s election in 2018.
“By reactionary, what I really mean is reacting to Labour: they have very few policies, they just want to roll back what Labour have done,” he said.
“If you argue that the government of the last six years was more ‘woke’ or ‘radical’ and the previous was more conservative – its like: ‘take us back’. Not to the ’50s, like Donald Trump wants to do in America – but it’s almost like there’s a nostalgia for the [John] Key years, which was only six years ago.”
World-first smoking ban
Late last month, the government announced it would roll back a landmark smoking policy that banned the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2009. That ban was among a raft anti-smoking measures that also included reducing the amount of nicotine allowed in smoked tobacco products and cutting the number of retailers able to sell tobacco by over 90 per cent.
They marked some of the toughest anti-tobacco rules in the world. A ban on smoking for future generations was subsequently proposed in the United Kingdom, with other countries also considering similar rules.
But axing the world-leading legislation was among the 49 priorities listed by Prime Minister Chris Luxon’s first 100 days.
“A 36-year-old can smoke, but a 35-year-old can’t? ... That doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said when asked about the decision.
The ACT party, then represented by sole MP David Seymour, was the only party to oppose Ardern’s gun law reform in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosques massacre.
Now, with ACT part of the governing coalition, (with Seymour to become deputy prime minister halfway through the term as part of their agreement), it has won several concessions from the National Party to deregulate firearms. This includes rewriting the Arms Act and go to a “graduated system not unlike the way you get a driver’s licence”, according to Seymour.
A legally binding target to lower New Zealand’s jail population is also being abandoned. Labour had pitched the policy during its ill-fated campaign, but new policing minster Mark Mitchell says the policy was focused on “emptying out New Zealand’s prisons rather than trying to reduce crime”.
Incumbent Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has conceded defeat to Christopher Luxon in a decisive election victory as Kiwis vote for a change after six years of a liberal government.
The deputy political editor of the New Zealand Herald, Thomas Coughlan, said the recent election result was more about the Labour government being “voted out more than the new government was voted in”.
“It’s very difficult to say this is the policy agenda that people wanted,” Coughlan said. “There was certainly a sense under Labour the pace of change was too fast but the new government, and particularly some on the coalition’s fringe, has perhaps misinterpreted that as a desire for rolling back those changes rather than just slowing them up.”
The new government has also vowed to rebrand dozens of government departments that use Maori names, which could reportedly cost millions of dollars, a move quickly adopted and rolled out by Labour.
“Under Labour there was an explosion of new departments and agencies and they usually had a Maori name first and English second, if they even did [have English] at all,” Coughlan said.
“It seemed like that was a straw that broke the camel’s back. The last 20 years, the use of Maori language has been widespread, no reaction to it – all of a sudden over the last couple of years the reaction has exploded.”
The new government’s Indigenous policies saw thousands of protesters rally this week as the parliament convened for the first time since the October election.
Organised by the Maori Party, its co-leader Rawiri Waititi said the new policies of Luxon’s administration would take New Zealand “back to the 1800s”.
The most controversial aspect would introduce a bill that reinterprets the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi – the country’s founding document – which outline the need for the government to partner with Maori, protect Maori resources and address the impact of colonisation.
Also included in the new government’s agenda was the move to scrap gender and sexuality education, known locally as RSE.
The pledge to “refocus the curriculum on academic achievement and not ideology, including the removal and replacement of the gender, sexuality, and relationship-based education guidelines” is one that has drawn particular outrage.
“My initial reaction was dismay,” education union NZEI president Mark Potter, a Wellington-based primary school teacher, told AAP. “The one thing our children don’t need is less education in the area of relationships and health.”
The inclusion of the clause to scrap gender and sexuality education in the coalition deals caught the eye because the issue did not feature in the election campaign.
Labour’s incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which offered rebates of up to $NZ7015 ($6500) for electric vehicles and slapped $NZ6900 fees on high-emissions vehicles – are gone.
The coalition parties had framed the legislation as unfairly targeting farmers and tradies and successfully relabelled the policy as the “ute tax”. Scrapped too are plans to install 10,000 new electric vehicle charges across New Zealand.
Work has stopped too on the Auckland Light Rail, an embattled project that was intended to have already been completed but was labelled “a white elephant” by Luxon during his election campaign.
The changes represent a return to an earlier status quo. Like many other democracies, through, controversy frequently centres on cultural issues. The uptick in Maori names for government departments under Labour, for example, has topped the incoming government’s agenda.
“That’s one of the areas where the pace of change was a bit fast for people,” Coughlan said.