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Acceptable behaviour contracts for the super rich – NZ’s coming “philanthropy” tsunami

  • May 24th, 2008

Frank Field MP is one of the world’s most interesting political leaders. He’s a humble back-bencher (he lost his UK Labour Cabinet office prematurely) because he’s persisted in openly thinking the unthinkable for the left. For example he wants new secular law to respond to oik boorishness, to stand in for the lost Christian morality that he believes previously made working class Britain so much less vicious.

He’s effectively the media champion of Labour’s loyal internal opposition, straining to get his beloved party to discard dogma to look at what is really in the interests of the poor.

And he’s just won a public arm wrestle with Gordon Brown, his Prime Minister, on a tax and budget matter.

The NZ left has nobody filling that role. Chris Trotter can’t do it despite the vividness of his writing. Occasionally he seems to manufacture blinkered vitriol to reinstate his leftist credentials, but it disqualifies his more sustained arguments from getting the serious attention they sometimes deserve. Mike Moore is probably much closer to it, but he’s marginalised by the left, whereas Frank Field is hated only by those with poison in their souls.

NZ Labour lost that entire idealistic side when the ruthless machine side triumphed under Clark and their thinkers left with Roger Douglas. As Tamihere confirmed to Investigate,  nobody in NZ Labour dares any hard thinking on welfare or criminal justice.

I’ve long read Frank Field’s stuff. So I looked at his website for signs of triumph after the recent contretemp. Not there.

But there was this interesting lecture.  I’m not aware of anyone here worrying intelligently about rebuilding a culture of philanthropy.

We should be. New Zealand has just moved from being one of the most miserly to being one of the most generous in its tax treatment of charitable donations. There’s a minefield of problems with the Charities Commission ( the law gave it a one off registration task it can simply not perform). The government has shut its eyes to that impossibility. The Commission can only register all the charities that are supposed to be registered by 1 July 2008, if it effectively waives some or all of the quality and eligibility vetting that is expected of it. Vetting trust deeds for compliance with the complex law that distinguishes charities from other forms of altruistic or non-commercial purpose is no simple task.

The Commission was supposed to be our tax system’s major line of defence against rorts. It would be a tragedy if reviving philanthropy generally is discredited by scandal as the new rules take effect, and the crooks realise that nobody is guarding the doors.

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