Aotearoa stands at an historic crossroads. In the 2023 general election, voters have a choice between a progressive government that would represent a shift to the left if Labour forms a coalition with the Green Party and Te Pāti Māori, or a reactionary right-wing coalition of chaos if National, ACT and New Zealand First come to power.
Make no mistake — a right-wing government will mean austerity that will hit the working class hard. Christopher Luxon, currently the favourite to become Prime Minister on Saturday night, is promising unfunded tax cuts for the rich during a recession. This will mean cuts to health, education, welfare, housing and transport. Not only that, but Luxon will have no choice but to work with the neoliberal extremists in the ACT Party who want to roll back public services dramatically, decimate taxes for their wealthy donors, and increase taxes on the poor.
National and ACT are preparing to roll back workers’ rights. Both parties intend to repeal Fair Pay Agreements, the most significant progressive reform that the Ardern-Hipkins Government has implemented in its six years in power, and bring back 90 day trials. ACT wants to get rid of the five paid sick days and the Matariki public holiday introduced by Labour.
Meanwhile, all three right-wing parties are using law-and-order and anti-Māori populism in their campaigning. They intend to increase police numbers and the prison population, which will inevitably hurt Māori people who are already the victims of hugely disproportionate police violence and incarceration. All three parties are dog-whistling to a racist base with their “one law for all” rhetoric when they say they want to abolish co-governance. Winston Peters claims that Māori are “not Indigenous” to Aotearoa and wants to withdraw us from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; David Seymour wants a referendum held on te Tiriti o Waitangi itself.
The ACT Party is polling stronger than ever before. New Zealand First has taken a sharp rightward turn, making transphobic hatred a core tenet of its campaign and ruling out working with Labour as Peters seeks to once again re-enter Parliament, this time on the back of a rising far-right constituency that has been emerging since the Covid lockdowns. The growing strength and ferocity of both ACT and NZ First represents a clear and present danger to workers and to minorities.
Vote for a Left Government
This Labour Government has failed to deliver the ‘transformational change’ Jacinda Ardern promised when she was elected Prime Minister in 2017. Its record has been decidedly mixed — it has made some progress in reducing child poverty and income inequality, but has allowed the housing crisis and wealth inequality to get even worse under its watch. Labour led Aotearoa through the pandemic in a truly admirable way, saving thousands of lives through measures which put the rest of the western world to shame; but it has failed to meet the existential challenge of the climate crisis with anything like the urgency and radicalism that is so desperately required as our planet continues to warm. Its failure to respond to the cost of living crisis is the primary factor driving its sharp decline in the polls from its 2020 landslide victory.
Fair Pay Agreements were passed into law by Labour late last year, but unions are only just beginning the bargaining processes that have the potential to significantly improve the lives of workers across the country through industry-wide minimum standards on hours, pay and conditions. These bargaining processes will take time and are not yet resolved, meaning many workers do not yet know what they stand to gain — or lose. It is no coincidence that the rich are pouring money into the right-wing parties to stop the labour movement growing in strength — business owners do not want to pay their workers more or give them more rights in the workplace.
A Labour Government, even a moderate one, remains clearly preferable to the assault that the working class faces from a right-wing Government of the Rich. The Labour Party can be pressured by its trade unionist base; the right-wing parties will have no qualms about attacking workers.
The Green Party and Te Pāti Māori are both campaigning clearly to the left of Labour in this election. Both parties want to tax wealth and introduce tax-free thresholds — the Greens promising the first $10 thousand tax free, TPM promising $30 thousand — both policies Labour considered but ruled out mid-way through this year, preceding a clear fall in Labour’s poll numbers over the next three months. The Greens and TPM want to fight poverty and inequality, go further in the battle against climate change, and make the rich pay their fair share in tax. This is the kind of policy platform any Labour Party worthy of its name should be campaigning on. But despite Labour’s weakness on these issues, Hipkins and his Government would be forced to turn to the left and implement some bolder policies following coalition talks with the Greens and TPM.
No party vote for these parties is wasted, as all three parties are virtually guaranteed to remain in Parliament. If you want to see Labour remain in power, party voting Labour, Green or Te Pāti Māori is equally likely to make that happen.
In terms of deciding who takes power following this election, your party vote is the one that matters, unless you are on the Māori roll, as if TPM wins a significant number of Māori seats with a low share of the party vote, it will create extra seats in Parliament for the left. For these reasons, System Change Aotearoa encourages our supporters to party vote Green, electorate vote Te Pāti Māori in the Māori seats, and electorate vote Green or Labour in the general seats.
The Greens are our first preference because they have the strongest relationships with grassroots movements fighting on a number of issues, from migrant workers’ rights to taxing the rich to freedom for Palestine to climate justice. But any vote for the Greens, TPM or Labour will keep out the right-wing parties and ensure a progressive government remains in place.
Whatever Happens, Prepare to Fight
In the unlikely event that Labour, the Greens and TPM make a comeback and win this election, the left will need to be ready to mobilise to put maximum pressure on the new coalition to be as bold and as progressive as possible. Labour will not concede to the Greens and TPM’s demands for tax justice and genuine action on climate change and inequality without a fight. Even the Greens and TPM may need pressure from below to hold their nerve in advocating for the transformational change they are campaigning for.
It is, of course, looking significantly more likely that the right-wing parties will take power on 14 October. Whilst this is by no means a certainty, and every vote counts, the left must be prepared to resist Luxon, Seymour, Peters and their agenda. There will be no time for grief or despair; the attacks on workers’ rights and the welfare state will come thick and fast, and the resistance must be organised swiftly. National and ACT are talking about cuts and layoffs in the public sector before Christmas. To take Jacinda Ardern’s advice, the left must go hard and go early.
Right-wing governments have been fought and beaten before — and this right-wing government, if elected, will be weak and divided. Winston Peters and the ACT Party have always hated each other — their politics represent different wings of the right, with Peters being a nationalistic reactionary who favours some economic intervention like his mentor Robert Muldoon, and ACT being free market fundamentalists who claim to be socially ‘libertarian’ — if calls for the expansion of police, prisons and the military alongside electronically monitoring welfare recipients are supposed to be ‘libertarian’.
Luxon, meanwhile, is weak, unpopular and uncharismatic. He will have a very difficult time presiding over ACT and NZ First in coalition with a National Party which is expected to have a lower share of the vote than it won in 2005 or 2017 — both elections it lost. This will be a coalition of chaos, and division amongst our opponents can only favour the left.
If the right wins, we must mobilise an anti-austerity movement from day one. We must come together to defend the rights of workers, Māori and transgender people. The climate movement must redouble its efforts to fight for the future of our planet. From day one, we must not mourn, we must organise.
Make no mistake — the most reactionary elements of this country will be emboldened by a National-ACT-NZ First victory. But they can be defeated. Because when the people stand united against injustice, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. As the labour movement has always proclaimed: the workers united will never be defeated.