Monday, March 12, 2012

Australia--- the lucky country?

Is it really? We have heard that wonderful little descriptor for many years. Surely it must be true. Take for example the number of Kiwis living there and still leaving NZ in droves (That is not a sheep joke---only Kiwis and Aussie will get that). The ‘grass is greener’ label has drained us of hundreds of thousands of clever Kiwis over the years. It would be difficult to travel in Aussie without running into heaps of us.
Why do we go there in such numbers and why do we stay? To answer that we have to look at where NZ is going, or perhaps more correctly, where we are not going. New Zealanders keep hearing about higher wages, more exciting entertainments, a better climate (really?) and the chance for a better lifestyle. They hear about the ‘cost of living’ being higher, a real draw card.
There has been a great deal of publicity in the last few years about the widening wage gap between Australia and New Zealand; to the point where we are starting to look suspiciously like a ‘banana republic’, if the accounts are true.  Politicians here use it to beat one another up, scoring useless points while nothing changes. Then again, there have been times in Australian history that NZ is held up as a shining example----- Hard to believe eh.
We have to dig deeper than mere illusory figures that may or may not be true. Before making a decision to go to the ‘lucky country,’ Kiwis should break the maths down a bit. They need to know how many hours or minutes of work it takes to buy a certain object. They also need to factor in how much tax is paid. They may find the ‘gap’ is a little narrower when they do that. It’s hard to know who to believe when it comes down to that level of debate though, so we need to look at other very real factors; some of which change from year to year.
Some would say that Australia is entering a period of ‘difficulty with it’s economic growth.  I am sure you have all heard that when Australia enters a difficult time with the economy, all it has to do is dig more mineral out of the ground and export them to China and other bourgeoning Asian economies. That works fine as long as the so called Asian Tigers, Lions, Elephants (or whatever they are labelled) are in a period of growth. The heady numbers for China have come back significantly recently. If the bubble even slightly bursts, parts of the Australian economy may need to take stock. It would not take long for some of those high paying jobs in the mining sector would whither up. The knock on effect would not take long to reach those in NZ seeking greener pastures.
Australia is a ‘land of extremes. Take their climate--- the reason many NZers go to the Gold Coast (Queensland) is the attraction of an endless summer. Those going to Melbourne and Sydney soon find out that ‘hot means bloody hot’---40c plus, so until they acclimatize it must be pretty uncomfortable for them.
Then there are the recent floods and bushfires. Sure, NZ gets the odd ‘weather bomb’ (a term heard a lot lately), but we are not at the crazy end of the scale. I’m not sure if thousands of NZers are reversing the flow, and coming back to kinder climes, but for me personally, I just couldn’t handle the oven-like temperatures.
I wonder how many new Australians (Kiwaussies?)  love their new animal and insect life--- the snakes, spiders, sharks, crocodiles, stingers-----OMG--- I’ve just talked myself out of even going for a holiday--- just joking). Going by the figures, I think I am clutching at straws. My argument keeps swinging from the positives to the downright scary stuff, but Kiwis won’t be put off--- they will keep jumping the ‘ditch,’ but always knowing that at some stage, they can bring their ‘Aussie’ kids back to NZ.
I know my arguments may be on shaky ground--- literally when one looks at the terrible events in Christchurch. I would have thought that many more would have departed from that city; but no--- I am surprized at the number---not going. The bond between our two countries is never stronger than in times of disaster and war; then quickly forgotten on the sports field, so you could say that we have this wonderful, fluid relationship, that ebbs and flows like the tide, driven by world events and the ever present desire of people to better themselves, or just take a look at the other side.
Lucky country---? Yes and no. We will always be brothers in arms and sisters in out caring. The rest--- well, it’s human nature!

What---we have to save 18%

I think I took a double turn this morning when along with most New Zealanders, I heard that we all have to save 18% of our earnings, and that is from the day we start work. This magic figured had been conjured by some financial wizard, who himself looked a bit sheepish when he announced that figure.
The hosts of the show were also pretty dumbfounded, admitting that even they (lets assume that that earn fairly reasonable sums) would find that figure impossible. What does that say for most NZers? A great deal I would think. If they stop to think for too long, I suspect that they (and me) will continue on their merry ways, spending up large.
The sad thing is that at one time we did have a compulsory Superannuation savings scheme, way back in the 70’s.  However the ugly politics of the day, under the infamous (now dead) Robert Muldoon, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance waltzed into power with the promise of making such compulsion go away, along with any chance of e decent future savings plan for our future  elderly. We have watched our Aussie brother introduce a similar scheme and now they have many billions stashed away to offset the inevitable poverty, they would have faced. But not us--- our heads have been in the ‘political Lula Land’--- you know the one---‘We can’t face tomorrow---- it’s just too much.’
So what have we ended up with? A country that is not prepared to look after it’s elderly! Sure---some have started to save in ‘Kiwi-Saver,’ but for most of us it is too little too late. The gurus have said the magic 18% figure but most of us are just managing 2% with another 2-3% top-up from the government. What does all this mean?
Given that most of us live from week to week, with little left over for savings of any kind, it doesn’t take much thought to come to the conclusion that the 18% is just BS! Perhaps those of us who live outside the main cities, and earn a reasonable amount; perhaps they could put more aside, but for those in Auckland in particular (I’m not forgetting the other cities) ending the week with a surplus is a rapidly diminishing dream. There are other factors which are muddying the waters too.
The creeping casualization of the labour force in NZ (and other countries) is bringing about a completely different set of social expectations. How can anyone save, if there is little in the way of employment certainty? We were warned about this movement many years ago, but then, it was too far away and didn’t affect so many of us. Now, just read the papers and watch the news and you will know what I mean. Don’t get sucked into the employers’ version of ‘reality’ (the ports and freezing works for example). Those men on the picket lines are not just fighting for themselves and families--- watch this space and see the real side of the present government’s agenda.
What are we to do? (See my DIJATC blogs—1-4). Many of us are going to get a real shock, even before the twilight years approach. We will not be able to afford those fabulous ‘weekend deals’ or the overseas trips. We will be lucky if we can even afford a trip to the doctor. All those subsidies we have had on medical visits will slowly disappear. We will be hard put to pay our day-to-day living expenses. It will feel like the NZ of the 1880’s, before the ‘State’ stepped in to guarantee a decent retirement. The fact that so many live longer now, makes the picture even gloomier.
Is there anything we can do? Yes--- make a hard decision now--- stop playing politics and get a general agreement, somewhat like the Aussie one. We can and we must adjust to this savings regime, or we doom our children to a time that we thought was long in the past.  Will the politicians play ball----probably not--- they are more interested in holding the purse-strings for the three year political cycle than looking at the bigger picture----- bloody cowards!