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The revelation that all of Christchurch’s publicly-owned trading assets could be in danger of being sold due to a “legal loophole” in the law establishing the new State authority to run the city whilst it is rebuilt after the earthquakes should set alarm bells ringing loudly. If that comes to pass, it would be the single biggest instance of earthquake-related looting yet seen. American writer Naomi Klein coined the phrase “disaster capitalism” in the wake of the Bush Administration’s criminally negligent response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina catastrophe in New Orleans, where Big Business and its political mouthpieces used the situation as an excuse for an orgy of corporatisation and privatisation. If such disaster capitalism is inflicted on Christchurch, that will be the “third big one” to slam into the city. And it will be the one with the most long term destructive effects.
Of course, Government Ministers have said that there is no such intention. The value of a politician’s solemn vow can be gauged from those Act MPs who only days ago publicly declared that Rodney Hide had their undying support as leader. Truth is an elastic concept in politics. And flogging off Christchurch’s assets sounds like a routine prescription from Dr Brash, Act’s new leader and coupmaster. There’s no secret about where he stands on the subject of public assets. And Brash’s ideological soulmate, the Business Roundtable’s Roger Kerr, has already called for the sale of all or some of Christchurch’s assets to pay for the rebuild. CAFCA is sure that it’s purely coincidental that any that were sold would just happen to fall into the hands of the very same transnational corporations that make up a large part of the Business Roundtable. Ever since it branded Christchurch the “People’s Republic of Christchurch” for having the temerity to hang onto its publicly-owned assets (in social housing alone, the Christchurch City Council is the country’s second biggest landlord, after the State) the Business Roundtable and its political mouthpieces has wanted an example made of the city and its assets flogged off.
If central or local government is foolish enough to try to go down this path, they will be buying a fight. In 2006 the City Council came a spectacular gutser when public opposition and a shrewd strategic intervention by the Port of Otago thwarted its cunning plan to hock off the Lyttelton Port Company to a Hong Kong transnational corporation.
And if Ministers want ideas on how to finance the massive rebuild, start by implementing the proposal to slap a small earthquake recovery levy on higher income earners. Reverse the tax cuts that were a blatant hand out to the rich. And crack down hard on transnational corporate tax dodgers who suck extortionate profits out of the country whilst not paying their fair share (the likes of the Big Four Australian-owned banks who settled with IRD in December 2009 for $2.2 billion, the biggest tax avoidance case in NZ’s history). There’s no shortage of money in the country – it’s just a question of who has got it, and of ensuring that it stays here to be used for the public benefit.