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Illustration by Simon BurginWel­come to Elec­tion 2014, where every­one has soon for­got­ten about the per­ils of the recent glob­al reces­sion and the hous­ing mar­ket col­lapse. 2014 is sud­denly awash with cash again – just a few tender years after we were bor­row­ing more than $300 mil­lion a week to sur­vive as a coun­try. There’s one simple reas­on for all this – it’s your turn to vote later in the year. How quickly we forget.

We’re not even back into a small sur­plus yet and the country’s politi­cians are lin­ing up to spend the fruits of 2014/15 already, because appar­ently we’re going to be a ‘rock star’ eco­nomy. Labour’s ‘baby bonus’ is by far the largest of the offer­ings, which should come as no sur­prise. And those who call it an elec­tion bribe aren’t far off the mark either. In its crudest form it is middle-class wel­fare. Fam­il­ies earn­ing up to $150,000 a year will get $60 a week slipped under their front porch for their baby’s first year.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that get­ting the form­at­ive years of a child’s life right is cru­cial. But this is $3,000 a year to 95 per­cent of fam­il­ies hav­ing babies. It gives wel­fare to basic­ally every­one. Do fam­il­ies earn­ing $150k really need it? I say no. Back­bench MPs cur­rently earn $147,800 – if the wife or part­ner of that MP was at home not earn­ing and hav­ing a baby, they would qual­i­fy. Seems ridicu­lous doesn’t it, pay­ing wel­fare to an MP? Or a law­yer? Or an accountant?

Surely it’s much bet­ter to tar­get the help more care­fully at those who most need it. This will give massive pay increases to those on the DPB hav­ing babies – and it will make a massive dif­fer­ence, although it may not encour­age too many of them to seek work. Is this the right mes­sage? Labour’s tar­get­ing kicks in in years two and three of the baby’s life, when fam­il­ies earn­ing over $70k will get noth­ing. But why not start there in the first place? It’s simple really: Labour needs to appeal to the vote-rich centre to win.

Labour’s oth­er offer­ings will also be pop­u­lar. Extend­ing free early child­hood edu­ca­tion to 25 hours a week may encour­age some back to work and it’s an enorm­ously prac­tic­al step. Labour also wants to extend paid par­ent­al leave to six months from three, effect­ively pay­ing someone 80 per­cent of the aver­age wage for six months to stay at home and care for a new baby. It’s hard to see that being unpop­u­lar. But all this comes to $1.5 bil­lion over three years and Labour is yet to say how they will pay for it. Add this to the $2 bil­lion a year in Work­ing for Fam­il­ies handouts and we’re cer­tainly a gen­er­ous little uto­pia at the bot­tom of the Pacific.

But wait, there’s more. The Greens have offered anoth­er $100 mil­lion a year of free lunches in all poor schools (and even those schools who don’t meet the test but ask for it). Add in the break­fast in schools pack­age already going – and New Zea­l­and is start­ing to look like a baby-breed­ing para­dise. Tough, if you aren’t plan­ning a baby after this elec­tion – you might as well head to Australia.

Actu­ally, the Greens offer­ing looks cred­ible and afford­able com­pared to Labour‘s. It’s only slightly more expens­ive than National’s $359 mil­lion in pay increases for our best teach­ers. And at least the Green Party policy is ser­i­ously tar­geted at those most in need – and not middle-class law­yers con­tem­plat­ing hav­ing babies.

So the next elec­tion is centred around who can offer the most gen­er­ous pack­age for fam­il­ies and their kids. If all this gen­er­os­ity comes to fruition, a new gov­ern­ment will pay for your baby’s food and nap­pies every week, pay for you to stay off work for six months, pay for you to put that baby into 25 hours of child­care a week, pay for the child’s break­fast at school and – if you enrol in the right school – your child will get a free lunch too and free after-school care. You’ll only have to stump up for din­ner and a bed.

Remem­ber we also pay super­an­nu­ation to every­one aged over 65 as well, no mat­ter how rich they are, which makes me ask: has the Social­ist State of Aotearoa won an inter­na­tion­al lotto prize? Or have we struck oil? Or is it just elec­tion year?

I think you know the answer.

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