Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns

The Stop-It Industry


Earlier this week I was in Christchurch when the Education Minister announced her plans for re-arranging Christchurch's schools following months of agitation led mostly by the teachers' unions. The ministry had taken submissions from many people and from schools and school committees, and made many changes to its original proposals. Those opposed to change complained of "lack of consultation" and wanted to stop all change. The ministry in turn had clearly been worried at falling rolls at many schools in the area and had been contemplating changes when the earthquakes occurred. As people shifted, many school rolls fell faster; some schools had as few as 100 to 120 pupils. "Stop change" became the teachers' war-cry, supported enthusiastically by all our opposition political parties. The teacher unions who have become New Zealand's troglodytes of recent times said it all when they paraded yesterday with anti- government signs.

The hoo-ha over the development of an international convention centre for Auckland has some similarities. For twenty years now Aucklanders and their councils have been milling about with proposals and counter proposals for a convention centre. Several sites have been in the frame. Realising that action was necessary, and perceiving an opportunity to make money for themselves, while saving public money in the process, Sky City approached the government with a proposal that would give us a convention centre at the cost of extra pokies. Beset by the Global Financial Crisis and the need to reduce spending, Prime Minister John Key decided to talk with Sky City whose proposal would consolidate developments on one site, offer speedy construction, and cost little public money. Other possible contestants were invited to produce their proposals. The news media haven't told us how those plans compared with Sky City's, but it's a fair guess that they were inferior in as much as they wouldn't have provided such rapid action or saved money on the same scale. Once more the "Stop-it" industry has swung into action. Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First have all protested about the procedure followed, losing sight of the obvious advantages of a convention centre in terms of construction jobs and longer-term employment opportunities. Procedure, not progress is their war cry. "Stop it" they scream. Overly precious journalists join the fray.

At Auckland's ports the same sort of thing is happening. The publicly-owned port company wants to stream-line its work force and working practices so that it can compete with the non-unionised Port of Tauranga which entered the Twentieth Century towards the end of last century. Despite strikes, compromises and mediation, Gary Parsloe's union has been resisting. A mediator produced options, but good faith from the union's side seems in short supply. The opposition parties (and Auckland Councillors) who supported the union earlier in the piece, have been slow to urge compliance. Further union meetings are taking place, wasting time, and the Ports of Auckland continue to fail to make the money they could produce for the ratepayers of Auckland. We meet the shortfall. Once more the Stop-It industry is at work. Public money and the public interest are at stake.

What these three cases have in common is a political agenda that aims to attack the government, national and local, and stop progress. Public money spent on education is not there for teachers to play with, but for the education of our children. Changing schools has been part of the education process from time immemorial. It won't unduly affect most Christchurch kids who will have to change schools soon in any case. Yes, there is a bit of a national teacher surplus at present, but make-work jobs for them should not be a consideration at a time when public money is scarce, or indeed at any time. When the government perceives a good deal for a convention centre in New Zealand's gateway tourist centre it should be praised for acting, not subjected to narrow-minded attacks from the Stop-It parties. And when the Ports of Auckland wants to step up efficiency and compete in the wider world of trade they, too, should be praised, not continually ankle-tapped by Gary Parsloe and his Stop-It mates.

In my days as a Labour MP we realized that the best thing we could do for our supporters was to maximize economic growth that led to jobs and opportunities that encouraged aspiration. We didn't always have the right methods to achieve those goals, but those were our goals. Today's left seems obsessed with stopping change. Their only new policies involve the expenditure of more government money that will be in short supply until we are back in an environment of steady growth. Meantime, change of any kind alarms them. They are today's reactionaries. All of them part of the Stop-It industry.