By Reihana Mohideen
AUCKLAND — Despite predictions by the media pundits of "blood letting rivalry" on the conference floor, the first national Alliance conference of New Zealand's five alternative parties held in Mount Wellington over the weekend of November 14-15, was a tremendous success.
The conference was attended by over 300 delegates from the NewLabour Party, the Green Party, the Democrats, the Liberal Party (formed by two former National Party parliamentarians Gilbert Myles and Hamish MacIntyre) and the movement for Maori self-determination, Mana Motuhake.
The conference proceeded smoothly, with not even a hint of friction. One of the country's major dailies, the New Zealand Herald, complained that the level of consensus achieved was "Enough to make old cynics sick".
Jim Anderton, former Labour Party president and currently leader of the NewLabour Party, was elected unopposed as leader of the Alliance. While there were four nominations from the other four parties for the two deputy leaders positions, the election of Sandra Lee from Mana Motuhake and Jeanette Fitzsimons from the Greens as deputy leaders, was overwhelmingly endorsed by the conference. Gilbert Myles from the Liberals and John Wright from the Democrats (who nominated for the two deputy leader positions) were elected by the conference as convenors of the Alliance National Council.
The Alliance came together in December 1990 around a common statement of principles known as the Alliance Charter. The Liberal Party joined the Alliance in June 1992. The Tamaki by-election, where the Alliance candidate got the second highest vote and missed being elected by a slim margin in an old National party stronghold, and the subsequent Auckland Regional Council elections, helped consolidate the newly formed Alliance.
The latest National Business Review poll has the Alliance leading with 38% of the vote, with Labour at 33% and the Nationals at 29%. The break down of this poll shows some interesting trends. The Alliance is leading in popularity among the poorest sections of society — those with yearly incomes of $15,000, and less, "and among higher income earners with annual incomes of $65,000 and over. The Green vote could very well be the reason for the vote for the Alliance in the high income bracket".
In the Auckland region (where some 30% of NZ's population lives) the Alliance leads with 44% to the National Party's 33% and the Labour Party's 24%. The very successful Auckland Regional Council election campaign no doubt helped consolidate Alliance support here.
The National Business Review polls translate into 42 seats for the Alliance in a 99-member parliament. To get a clear majority to hold government in its own right the Alliance needs to get over 40% of the vote.
In his main address to the conference, Jim Anderton pointed out that the Alliance conference "is historic both in New Zealand and in world terms", adding: "I want to challenge you today to develop a new political culture — the Alliance culture, which involves loyalty to all of your Alliance colleagues and loyalty and accountability to our members, supporters and above all the public in regard to the promises we make. We should only promise what we can deliver and deliver what we can promise."
The need for a new type of politics was also taken up by Green Party member Denis Welch who is standing as the Alliance candidate in the Wellington Central by-elections. Welch was a regular political columnist for the Listener, one of New Zealand's most widely circulating magazines. In a stirring speech to the conference Welch declared "They'll [Labour and Nationals] tell you that all the changes of the past eight years just had to be done, that there was no choice, we were economically painted into a corner. I don't believe them. Nothing had to be done. There are always choices and alternatives in politics."
Referring to a comment made by his Labour Party opponent in the Wellington by-election that "there is very little room [for the Labour Party] to manoeuvre" to change its current course, Welch pointed out "that is the politics of the status quo, the politics of a party still fundamentally wedded to Rogernomics. And they call us economically irresponsible... after all they've done — it's like Pol Pot complaining about the road toll".
"Politics should be about empowerment, which means creating situations in which people can realise their own power and work with others to enhance it. That's one of the primary tasks of this Alliance; not simply to get into office and enact an agenda that puts people into a sort of client relationship with the state but to clear a space in which things can happen. And there are so many things out there just waiting to happen, if only they could find the right political expression."
All decisions on the leading bodies of the Alliance are made by consensus. All policy decisions are made by consensus. All parties have equal representation on the leading bodies; the Alliance National Council consists of four representatives from each party. The votes taken on the deputy leadership were based on two votes from each party. During the course of the conference separate party caucuses were held to make the necessary party decisions. Delegates to the conference represented electorates and were elected on the basis of one from each party.
Key aspects of Alliance policy include:
l Opposition to privatisation and the buying back of strategic assets that have already been privatised;
l A graduated and progressive taxation system;
l Free health care, the abolition of doctors charges and hospital fees;
l Free education, the abolition of tertiary fees and return to full student allowances without any means testing;
l An investment of $1.5 billion in schools, hospitals and public transport to provide 45,000 new jobs in the first year of government;
l The abolition of the Goods and Services Tax over six years;
l An energy policy which aims to reduce greenhouse gases and minimise damage to the environment;
l The immediate repeal of the union busting Employment Contracts Act;
l Withdrawal from ANZUS and the Five Power Agreement;
l Provisions for the principles of the treaty of Waitangi, which is a principle demand of Maori self-determination.
Policy details are still being discussed out and an Alliance Policy Conference has been scheduled for June 1993, at which the Alliance manifesto will be announced and policy details launched leading up to the national elections in October.
Where will the money be found to pay for such a program? Through a taxation system which will include a graduated and progressive marginal income tax scale, which aims to increase taxes on earnings over $33,000 a year, and an increase in company tax. At a press conference held on November 15 Jim Anderton quipped "Read my lips, we will increase taxes."
The Alliance conference has been covered extensively by the media here, being the headline story on the front page of the major dailies. The two parties of the status quo, Labor and National, have had their fax machines running hot, with statement after statement attacking Alliance policies.
As expected, a red-baiting campaign against the Alliance has begun. New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger declared that the Alliance has chosen to pursue "the Cubanisation of New Zealand". Alliance foreign policy spokesperson Keith Locke, a socialist activist from the 1960s, has also been red-baited on Auckland radio by Labour Party leader Mike Moore.
It's interesting to note that the Alliance conference was attended by representatives of the Australian, American and British governments. Referring to this in his address to the conference, Denis Welch commented that this, "confirms that something new and exciting is happening in New Zealand politics. Don't underestimate or undervalue the significance of that. We're not here by accident: the old political order is breaking up, and the Alliance has arisen to meet the needs of the emerging new order... National and Labour are desperately trying to deny it — but it's happening." n