By Alex Tarrant
The Winston Peters Super Saga shows just how broken New Zealand’s benefit system is, TOP Party founder and economist Gareth Morgan says.
Morgan ripped into New Zealand’s universal super payments on Monday after it was revealed Peters had been receiving too much superannuation the last few years being on a single rather than de-facto rate.
Meanwhile, in other comments he said:
- TOP’s tax policy is “head and shoulders” above others when it comes to policies Morgan wants to see enacted next term if he enters Parliament
- That Morgan’s ‘Big Kahuna’ idea is the ultimate policy driver for TOP – while it doesn’t think it could implement all the policy required in a first term in Parliament to reach this goal, the party is eyeing a second term to finish the job if it makes progress after 23 September.
- TOP’s polling is showing the party at 3-4%. “We’ll get five,” Morgan said.
The Super saga broke over the weekend with various media outlets revealing Peters had been receiving a higher rate for five years than he should have been. Peters has argued he hadn’t noticed he was being paid the wrong rate. Morgan gave him credit for paying the money back (although, “I struggle with that guy. I struggle with him on a number of fronts.”).
But, he couldn’t help launching into a tirade about the system itself. “Doesn’t the fact that he didn’t even notice [what] he was getting paid, just tell us how broken our benefit system is? You’ve got benefits here going to people who don’t need them,” Morgan said.
Morgan and his wife are set to start receiving Super next year. “It’s just under 40 grand a year [combined]. Into our household. I don’t need a cent of it. I don’t need any of it,” he said.
Then he really got going. “What the hell are you doing, when we have the amount of poverty and social dysfunction in New Zealand. It’s just nuts. I’m just going to buy a motorcycle with it, and all my mates just use it to go to Fiji. It just gives you an idea of how askew this is – this system.
“Now I don’t know how many bottles of whisky or packs of cigarettes Winston’s bought with his overpayment, and it’s not our business. But I do know, with an annual income of close to $200,000, he doesn’t need the sort of $20,000 extra from the workers of today to keep him in the manner that he’s obviously become accustomed to. That’s my whole point,” Morgan said.
“That’s why TOP is planning to means-test the second $10,000 of New Zealand Super and pass those savings – $3 billion – onto young families with children under three [years’ old] through a $200 a week UBI.”
TOP will also back reversing National’s tax threshold moves – something Labour is also calling for if it leads a government after the election. “You know, that’s the one that Steven Joyce announced the other day – that he and I were going to get another big fat tax cut – well we would cancel that and use that 2.5 billion to give UBI to young New Zealanders 18-23 [years’ old],” Morgan said.
Peters’ situation “is a personification of the intergenerational unfairness that none of the old establishment parties are prepared to address. It’s just simply wrong,” he said. “The system is stuffed, that it can actually give somebody on that sort of wage so much money, and he doesn’t even notice it. This is how we’ve got it wrong.”
I asked Morgan whether that criticism could then also be thrown at those calling for a universal basic income?
“No, because the thing with super is the extent of it. It’s twice the size of where we’ve set a UBI. You can’t have a UBI anywhere near the minimum wage, otherwise there’s a bit of a moral hazard there,” he replied.
“It’s just that New Zealand Super’s just obscene – just the size of it. And so many of us don’t need it. We actually don’t need any of it. So, all we’re saying is, how about we halve it for you [who don’t need it] – so I’ll have to buy a trail bike each year instead of a road bike.”
New deputy leader, tax policy focus
TOP had called a press conference in Wellington Monday to announce Teresa Moore had been appointed co-deputy leader alongside Geoff Simmons. A previous Green Party candidate, Moore is set to effectively lead TOP’s Parliamentary caucus in ‘day-to-day’ political work if the party hits the 5% threshold on 23 September, while Morgan and Simmons focus on the policy side.
If it gets into Parliament TOP will sit on the cross-benches while attempting to get as many of its policies picked up by whichever party leads government after 23 September. This will likely see it back the government on everyday confidence and supply, although Budget backing would hopefully be given in return for some TOP policies getting through.
“If you’re giving confidence and supply to the incumbent government, you tend to support them on their legislation. I mean, they are the government after all,” Morgan said.
“Unless…I’m pretty hot on this direct democracy thing – this deliberative democracy, I call it – so if we get a piece of legislation coming down the tubes from the incumbent government that we go, ‘ooh that’s a bit dickie’, then we would go back to our membership and we’d have informed discussion about it. Just as we did, actually, with the cannabis policy that we finally came out with. And we’d form a view on it.
“But just run-of-the-mill stuff, we’d…not stand in their way – Labour or National,” he said.” The deal would be that we want as much of our TOP…policies through as possible. But that’ll be negotiated at the start of the term.”
Asked whether TOP would enter Parliament with a policy priority list, Morgan said TOP’s flagship tax policy was “head and shoulders above everything else.”
“In my view, without doing that, it’s just same-old, same-old too much,” he said. “That by far is the revolution, and the way we pay our tax and we provide our social security. That would be the one that I fight hardest over.”
Morgan said his 'Big Kahuna' idea was the overall driving force behind TOP's policy platform. He said he's not envisaging getting everything cleared in one term to bring about the change, and that TOP having a second term would be required to move on the majority of incomes by imposing a flat income tax rate. On whether he would stick around for that, Morgan said: “I’m not going to be there forever.”
He did acknowledge TOP will likely be a small Parliamentary party, at least this term, with somewhere between five and ten percent of the vote. “And we’re dealing with whoever will be a lot bigger. So it has to come down to negotiation,” he said. He said a UMR poll had showed the party on about 4% support, although others were showing 3-4%, Morgan said.
Most public polls have TOP on 2-2.5%. “We’ll get five,” he said.