Is John Key just dim? Or are we a stepping-stone?

The comment that Key is simply “not the brightest light in the street” was emailed to me by a well-seasoned commentator when asked for his view on why the Prime Minister is apparently totally out of touch with most New Zealanders’ well-justified concerns about what’s happening to our country. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/home-truths/news/video.cfm?c_id=1500914&gal_cid=1500914&gallery_id=159712

The spin-master Key talks the talk, presenting the damage being done to New Zealand as a very positive thing, rather than the disaster it is.  Auckland house prices are, as we all know, out of control, and the consequences are becoming ominously widespread.

The resulting exodus to the provinces of those buying properties for investment is now putting pressure on people in the small cities and towns who are trying to plan for their own homes. Instead, they are increasingly being priced out by what is becoming a country where any pretence that the much-vaunted “free market” philosophy is providing a trickle-down benefit to the least advantaged is farcical. That two-thirds of young adults feel they will now never be able to own their own home is sad – not a sign of how well we are doing as a country which is how the wily PM is trying to present a state of affairs he’s obviously very reluctant to acknowledge.

The question should be – why? With the honourable exception of the New Zealand Herald, the mainstream media have been far too slow in looking at what is virtually the commercialisation of this country by a flood of mega-wealthy foreign investors well able to outbid and outflank New Zealanders. Communist Chinese form a very large proportion of those looking to siphon up our farmland, our housing and productive assets, and that this aggressive and repressive country, infamous for its cyber-attacks, aims to take what it can, is a huge issue. So, too, is the lack of any real effort of the Key-dominated government to effectively protect the interests of New Zealanders from what is happening.

It’s doubtful that the description of “not the brightest light in the street”   does justice to this highly ambitious individual. While the Prime Minister’s boorish conduct has been an embarrassment to the country – and even given that, crudely-spoken, he shows no evidence of being well-educated, or even historically well-informed,  he shows at least one distinct talent – apart from what the Irish call “the gift of the gab”.  This is for the accumulation wealth, and of power.

It would seem simply common sense to look at his track record in these areas, if we want to figure out why John Key is not listening to the country.

The exercise of power is a heady thing, and, as we have seen historically, the reluctance of those who have obtained it to walk away from exercising it has caused some of the worst of outcomes for individuals and countries throughout human history. We recall that “power corrupts” – something the Roman Republic was so well aware of that it took steps to ensure that no one individual could dominate its political decision-making. Two consuls, elected annually – only after due progression through the learning process of minor to major civic offices – had a power of veto over each other, resulting in a process of checks and balances.

 The Swiss people have done even better. Rather than allow a determined individual such as Helen Clark or John Key, virtual rulers of their cabinets, to  impose their own agenda on the country, Switzerland allows its president to rule for one year only – and its cabinet of seven take turns in this office.  The 100 Days provision which we are fighting for in this country was the basic tool the people used to ensure that they, and not their Parliament, actually control the country. It has worked so successfully that no decisions are made without their consent. The result is that it has become the most prosperous and successful democracy in the world.

Switzerland, in effect puts us to shame. And the question we should be asking in relation to why our present, far too long entrenched Prime Minister is so determined not to listen to the wishes of the country with regard to important issues such as uncontrolled immigration, the TPP and other trade agreements which have basically disadvantaged New Zealanders – is relevant. In other words, are there are personal advantages – for a politician with a record of aiming for the accumulation of wealth and power –  of prioritising these ahead of the interests of the country?

Things changed with the left-wing Helen Clark’s ascent to power, a period of growing social destabilisation damaging to this country. During this time it became obvious that she was aiming for personal power on the world scene in a much more active way than our former Prime Ministers have done when searching for some importance, still, after their time in power.  Clark’s very obvious personal ambitions have produced a whole new ball game. Given this, might it be naïve to think that she primarily had eyes on what she could do for this country?  – especially given her enthusiastic support for the damaging “liberal” edicts foisted off on us by the UN during her time as our virtual ruler.

What if –( and it is not without relevance that socialists’ loyalty has been said to be not to the country, but to the movement) – what if Clark’s life-after-parliament agenda had her determinedly using her time in office to establish her credentials in the Leftwing circles of power overseas,  where her natural inclinations lay? The fact that she inexplicably abolished the combat wing of the New Zealand Air Force (which stunned the Australians) with an excuse she must have known to be untruthful (“We live in an incredibly benign environment”) and so very obligingly showed successive delegations of high-ranking Communist military officials around our obviously inadequate military bases, then becomes more explicable. Factor in her time in parliament heading Parliamentarians for Global Action. Our no doubt well-meaning MPs who joined it no doubt forgot that their mandate is to safeguard the interests of New Zealanders in our own country – not to basically assist in the formation of a new global state. Its seemingly innocuous face does not remove its link to the One World Government ideology which Helen Clark apparently supports. The latter’s aim is to subvert the independence of democratic countries, establishing total control – under the weasel umbrella of “sustainability”- by a political and military, ruling global élite.

Clark has shown the way – that there are bigger fish to fry than being a temporary political leader. The question that must concern us, given our present Prime Minister’s reluctance to face up to the fact of what is really happening to our country – or to what was our country – must now be whether he, too, could possibly be structuring his response (even unwittingly) to accommodate his own ambitions on the world scene?  Key’s obvious affinity for the attractions of money and power bedded in early – (as with his school boy ambition to become a Prime Minister). For the man his former colleagues called a “smiling assassin”, it might necessitate a considerable change in temperament to be able to turn a deaf ear to siren calls from those with whom he may well have a natural affinity – the mega-rich and powerful.

In a recent Dominion Post column on the growing cynicism of New Zealanders in relation to political donations, for example, and the fact that “the number of donors appearing in the yearly list of knights and dames makes us cynical about both regimes” – as well as the number of political donors – Tracy Watkins quotes the former Governor of California, Jerry Brown. He sums up the electorate’s perception problem as,”You take money from the richest and best connected 1% to get elected and then pretend that this does not affect your judgment”.

If the words of Thomas Jefferson are relevant,  “Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct”… then,  regardless of any affinity individuals may have with any political party, the actual duty of citizens to hold all politicians accountable is a very real one.

It will by no means now be a minority who think that John Key is no asset to New Zealand – that he is out of touch with what most feel – and that he is behaving badly. The waste of $26 million spent on his personal campaign to get rid of the Union Jack on our flag (apparently with the encouragement of wealthy Communist-backed Chinese who also disliked it there) went down badly. This has been particularly so, given the very real need for more funding for important services such as hospitals and the police. It showed an extraordinary disregard for our priorities.  Moreover, those who have equally let us down, National Party MPs best placed to pull him into line, have not distinguished themselves by their behaviour. Nick Smith, formerly giving the show away by boasting that when the Prime Minister tells him to jump, he asks how high, sums it all up really.  So it’s hardly a surprise that this minister, obviously fingered to be some sort of human sacrifice, says his government that doesn’t believe there is a housing crisis…

However, Upton Sinclair’s is a timely reminder that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Similarly, the fact that MPs are not keen to impose a capital gains tax which removes the advantages targeted at those owning multiple properties becomes more understandable when we see that most of those in parliament own more than one. John Key is bypassed in his ownership of four properties by MPs with ownership stakes in up to six and seven properties – as well as those with a more modest number.

It is difficult to ascertain what John Key’s real belief is about the state of crisis in the Auckland housing market. In what has been described as a complete about-face from his previous position, and apparently wearing one of his interchangeable hats, he has stated that putting a land tax on non-resident buyers is an option, if foreign property speculation “becomes a runaway train.”

There is plenty of evidence to suggest just that. Although, inexplicably, there is no official data to show what is happening in relation to foreign investment in the housing market, property ownership, real estate websites examining house buying in Auckland’s top suburbs such as Remuera or the North Shore, show in their first few pages alone that half these high-value properties have been bought by buyers with Chinese names. Even more sales may have been structured so that information about their actual buyers is withheld.

Reports come from Remuera of expensive houses  bought and left empty by wealthier foreign investors who have only to sit out the two-year, cutely named “bright-line” property test period,  as they stand to considerably prosper. In more than one way, the losers are New Zealanders. In Australia, absentee landlords holding empty properties now face added taxes on the value of their vacant houses, a move targeted at the Chinese using Australia as a place to shelter their money.

Why isn’t this happening here? The PM’s feeble response is reportedly that he’ll “tackle foreign buyers if he needs to, and NZers overseas could be included”.  Our own children, coming home? This is a move which would add grist to the mill of anger,  enraging New Zealanders already suspicious of the fact that secretive TPP bargaining has meant a sell-out of some of our own sovereignty. What ability do we now have to structure our legislation to prioritise New Zealanders’ interests in land and housing over that of foreign buyers?  Australia can ban foreigners buying existing houses, but we can’t, apparently because the Prime Minister has no intention of putting New Zealanders first.  And yet ordinary working people, those in the trades, the industries and professions can barely, if that, any longer afford to live and work in Auckland, without paying too high a cost.

John Key’s credibility is also very much on line with the revelation that New Zealand’s trust régime recently made international headlines with the leak of the Panama Papers revealing the abuse of trust structures internationally by those seeking to launder money or avoid tax. The Panama papers have shown widespread abuse of foreign trust structures. And New Zealanders know that we ourselves are all the poorer when we have our own tax burden dumped on, very largely, a hard-working middle-class which carries a double load.

While supporting the Clark legacy of a blow-out in welfare payouts, we must also make up for the failure of the wealthiest New Zealanders to pay their fair share of taxes for infrastructure and essential services, as the very rich  are in a position to structure their finances to avoid doing so. What many claim is legitimate tax avoidance can equally be regarded as tax evasion – when the question of basic fairness arises.

Revelations that John Key’s former personal lawyer (no longer practising as such) lobbied a minister about a potential crackdown on the lucrative foreign trust industry have produced calls for an inquiry into the sector to be widened.

“Ken Whitney, the executive director of boutique trust specialist Antipodes, wrote to then-Minister for Revenue Todd McClay on December 3, 2014, over concerns Inland Revenue were sizing up the sector.

” ‘We are concerned that there appears to be a sudden change of view by the IRD in respect of their previous support for the industry. I have spoken to the Prime Minister about this and he advised that the Government has no plans to change the status of the foreign trust regime,” Mr Whitney wrote in an email.

” ‘The PM asked me to contact you to arrange a meeting at your convenience with a small group of industry leaders who are keen to engage to explain how the regime works and the benefits to NZ of an industry which has been painstakingly built up over the last 25 years or so.’ “

An assessment by columnist Andrea Vance of the implications of New Zealand being used to launder money  can be found – involvement-in-lobbying-government-over-tax-laws- https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/john-keys-lawyers-revealed.

Mr Key subsequently downplayed his links to Mr Whitney’s firm saying he only held short-term deposits with Antipodes. His office reportedly explained this away by saying the deposit was lodged with Mr Whitney, who had recently moved firms to the Antipodes Trust.

“However, it has been pointed out that Companies House documents show that Mr Whitney’s involvement with the firm has been since its inception more than 20 years ago, and that Mr Whitney and the Antipodes Trust were heavily involved in lobbying the Government not to change the controversial tax rules.”

A Dominion Post editorial describes the episode as “worrying.” It says New Zealand is a “borderline tax haven” and receives very little in return while at the same time it  “trashes its reputation, and contributes to an international pandemic of tax avoidance by the mega-wealthy” – see: Dominion Post’ Taxing questions to answer -post/comment/editorials/79462453/editorial-taxing-questions-to-answer

What is striking about the comments from readers who left them below this report is how sensible they are, especially in comparison to the opaque comments the Prime Minister has supplied to date. As follows:

More broadly, immigration policy would need to be connected with the capacity to provide enough houses, and the rules should favour investors who are putting their capital to better use than real estate from an economic point of view.”

“The only thing rising property values has done for most people is to increase their rates payments. Ours have doubled in the last few years. Auckland council are the real winners here and no doubt will keep increasing valuations and rates rises.”

“I agree with all our measures, but what you haven’t done in your series is have a truthful discussion about the costs of growth on the city edges. I would like to know how much it costs to build the water, sewage, roads, community and recreation centres, public transport, and new pools. I would also like to know the costs of maintaining these. I would like to know who will pay for this and how much my rates would increase if there is to be a lot of growth on land that is released on the edge of the city.”

“This issue is now NZ’s most important. Reform the housing sector and allow the future generations to participate in the housing market.”

”We need politicians with the gumption to tackle this head on.”

“Government policy on immigration (including Labour prior to National) is the main reason we have this housing crisis. And it is a crisis. Anything else is just spin, smoke and mirrors.”

And elsewhere, from Raybon Kan: “ My view is that people without residency shouldn’t be allowed to own NZ real estate. Land isn’t an asset class like shares in Xero. Land is the fundamental ingredient of a country. If this breaches the TPP, the TPP is the problem. “

The lesson from the Trump phenomenon is that people are fed up with political power groups, with a politburo perceived as too often acting in their own interests,  rather than those of the country as a whole. It is not a new problem and it can so often, with its disastrous consequences, be traced to the personal ambitions of leaders throughout the history of so many countries.

The flawed concept of prioritising leadership over the importance of individual action is something that we are going to have to take on board if we are to grow up intellectually, and to ourselves take charge of this country- even though the hour is very late.

The important thing for us is to realise that there really is something achievable that we can do about this.

 To be part of this, and to help – rather than to be a mere bystander as the country is being sold from under our feet…why not come on board our 100 Days – Claiming back New Zealand movement?  See www.100days.co.nz

It is very important to let others know – and to ask them to tell others.  Yes, it really is not only very possible to claim back our country – it’s very, very achievable.

“Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.” Ronald Reagan.

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Visit us to see how you can help – www.100days.co.nz and SHARE on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/100daystodemocracy?ref=br_tf

© Amy Brooke, Convener. See my book “100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand …what has gone wrong, and how we can control our politicians.” Available on Kindle, or through www.copypress.co.nz and HATM Publishers.