National's Safe Hands
Now that voters have elected National for a third term, we have three more years of a Government that has minimal constraints. According to Dame Anne Salmond democracy does not figure in the way that this National Government operates, the less of it the better. Public opinion can sway decisions a little but, despite losing the referendum, our state assets were still sold and the party was re-elected with an increased majority.
A good number of New Zealanders have just accepted that the truth often gets blurred under John Key and there are many times when worrying conflicts of interest emerge and suspect deals revealed...but isn't that just politics? After six years a new normal has largely been imbedded. The masters of data manipulation and spin have successfully limited independent reviews of performance, the state of our environment and we are still waiting for the true extent of child poverty to be properly measured. While the StatisticsNZ had their funding cut, the budget for the Prime Minister's Office gets huge increases. Past Prime Ministers had one press secretary and yet a journalist recently told me that John Key has around five and a much larger team behind them. The PMs Office has become an entity in its own right that apparently operates independently from the man who is supposed to be in charge.
I understand that 2014 voters were not given much of a choice, National did have Hager's Dirty Politics hanging over them but then the Left had Kim Dotcom. Labour kept changing leaders so often that naming the current one became a popular pub quiz question... and did Labour really want to work with the Greens? National ran a smart and well resourced campaign and were more active on the ground than they had been for years. Labour struggled to raise campaign funds and for the first time the Green Party outspent them. The economy appeared to be on the up and Bill English seemed to be a steady hand on the Government's purse strings. National did seem to be the best of a flawed bunch. Unfortunately much of their image was an illusion.
The economy appeared strong because of a poorly managed property boom, the Christchurch rebuild and demand for our milk and trees. However, housing bubbles eventually burst, Christchurch will get rebuilt in the near future (hardly a sustainable situation) and raw commodity prices fluctuate.
National's safe hands do not bear close scrutiny and once examined they begin to look more than a little slippery. The ball has been dropped on numerous occasions.
- The tax cuts to the rich were supposed to be offset by the rise in GST to make the cuts cost neutral. The GST money did not come in as expected and initially caused a $1.1 billion annual loss of annual revenue. The supposed trickle down never happened as the very wealthy saw their incomes shoot up by over 15% a year (since at least 2011) while family incomes stagnated or dropped.
- The budget cuts and re-organisations of Government Ministries and Departments have seen the Education Ministry fail appallingly, ACC crash and burn, DoC struggle and falter, HousingNZ not managing demand and our hospitals are struggling to provide basic services. Spending on consultants has exploded so that any savings through the job cuts were effectively negated.
- The implementation of of a new pay system for New Zealand's large education workforce (Novopay) was a real test of this Government's management and oversight. After cutting the poorly performing Education Ministry's funding by $25 million (and putting someone in charge who had no understanding of our education system) the three Ministers responsible for the implementation gave the go ahead despite no trial and 147 identified software faults. The resulting mess hit the education community hard and put a huge extra workload and stress onto schools, taking energy away from teaching and learning.
- The most far reaching changes that this Government has brought to any sector has occurred to education. Despite the New Zealand education system being one of the highest performing in the world National Standards were forced onto schools (ignoring professional concerns) and support services to schools have been slashed. A dramatic fall in world rankings has resulted.
- The SkyCity deal has exposed this Government's naivety when brokering a deal with a smart, well resourced corporate. There is little evidence that an international conference centre in Auckland will be successful in a very competitive international market and yet SkyCity has managed to expand its gambling business substantially and got an extraordinary 35 year compensation clause.
- Housing is a major contributor to quality of life in New Zealand and the lack of effective management of social housing and the increasing unaffordability of home ownership under this government is concerning. The Salvation Army now estimates that 1 in every 120 New Zealanders is now homeless or seriously housing deprived and the percentage of those owning their own home has now dropped below 50%.
- National decided that the largest new infrastructure spending will be in roads and $12 billion of new motorways have been planned despite traffic volumes leveling off and most do not pass proper cost benefit analysis. We are now spending far more on roads than other OECD country despite the growing demand for more efficient public transport instead.
- The sale of our state owned assets were promoted as shifting ownership to "mum and dad" investors and the money raised would go into schools and hospitals. The assets were sold below their predicted value, few ordinary New Zealanders bought shares and the money has clearly been siphoned off elsewhere.
- New Zealand continues to have the fastest growing inequality in the OECD despite the Prime Minister's assurance he is working for all New Zealanders. Only a small section of New Zealand society has prospered under this Government.
This failing Government is claiming that they can be trusted to negotiate a good deal from the TPPA (despite the mess they have made of the SkyCity deal) and the decision to send troops to the Middle East is a sound one. Trust has to be earned and there is little evidence to inspire confidence in the current regime.