The smiling master of fairness gobbledygook
John Key, leader of the conservative National Party, had to write letters to pensioners before and after the 2008 election. (In the meantime his staff forward such letters and emails to the Minister for Senior Citizens.) Of course, people wanted to know if they could trust him enough to vote for him - and after he had become Prime Minister why he treated them even worse than the previous Labour Government.
Already as the leader of the Opposition Key had sent out the usual gobbledygook that "any solution to the treatment of overseas pensions under Section 70 must be fair to all taxpayers of the countries involved" and that National "would not support changes that opened up NZ Super to potential exploitation by those who seek to access New Zealand's superannuation provisions without having made a fair and equitable contribution via their working life to the New Zealand tax base and to New Zealand society".
His Executive Assistant also let pensioners hope that change would occur by stating: "Problems with a particular country are something that we can only really address once we are in government." (Note: This was in September 2008. As we now know, this equated to the statement: "We can look into but will not change anything and even ignore Labour's agreement to abolish Spousal Provision once we are in government.")
Answering questions that were not asked
Of course, John Key and National were lucky enough to inherit an economy in crisis. This gave them a brilliant excuse to make no changes at all. Given the big number of letters the Prime Minister received, Key's office obviously prepared a (media) statement with proper headline (June 2009) that it sent out to pensioners. It even answered questions that were not asked:
Protecting Superannuation in tough economic times
My Government is committed to keeping existing Superannuation entitlements.
New Zealand Superannuation for married couples will continue to be at least 66% of the after-tax average wage, paid from age 65. (Note: as we know, it is 66% for a couple, so 33% for each individual.) All other Superannuation rates will continue to be calculated from this base.
The Government is committed to these settings and I have said many times that I would resign rather than change them. These settings are affordable and are built into our long-term spending plans, as set out in our first Budget.
There has been some debate about Superannuation recently, because of the decision we made in the Budget to suspend full contributions into the "Super Fund". I can assure you that suspending full contributions to the Fund in no way affects people's entitlement to Superannuation payments, either now or in the future. Suspending full contributions is a temporary response to the very difficult economic conditions New Zealand currently faces.
We will resume full contributions when the Government's books are in a stronger financial position and we do not have to borrow to make those contributions.
At the moment, making full contributions would require borrowing around $ 30 million every week for the Fund to invest in world financial markets. Borrowing so much money would increase the debt burden on future generations and we are not prepared to do that."
John Key never answered a follow-up letter (after one of his standard answers) in which the following questions were asked:
- Does someone who comes to NZ and pays taxes for, let's say 20 years, try to exploit NZ's superannuation provisions?
- Has a New Zealand national, born and bred in New Zealand, who has paid taxes all his working life, not cashed in a single cent in benefits or other social welfare, not contributed enough to the NZ tax base and to NZ society, and forfeited his eligibility to NZ Super only because he is married to someone who is eligible to a small overseas pension?
- Do you think it is "fair" (your word) towards other countries to use their social security systems to finance the pensions of New Zealand nationals who are married to foreigners or returning Kiwis?