Monday, February 20, 2017

Making New Zealand great again...


Bill English has made much about the importance of stability since becoming Prime Minister and his own financial management, when Minister of Finance, did not involve major shifts in priorities. No Government sector can claim that they had a sudden influx of capital since 2008 and the mantra under both Key and English has been to deliver "more for less". Any extra spending generally meant changing priorities and shifting money from one area to another.

The consequence of this approach has been an under-investment in important infrastructure and a slow deterioration of government services over the past nine years. Gradual change is a cautious approach to governance that has been used defensively by both Labour and National over the last twenty years. The Douglas and Richardson eras had both involved substantial shifts in government investment that resulted in sudden changes of circumstances for large sections of society.  Both Clark and Key sought to avoid this to capture and retain the political middle ground. The approach doesn't frighten the voters and provides the impression of responsible governance. However, it has also meant that there has been no large re-investment back into the areas that had suffered huge cuts in the 80s and 90s.

Our rail network still suffers from under-investment, which has not helped Auckland's traffic problems and has seen a proposal to dump electric trains on the North Island Main Trunk Line. Lack of investment has also seen our social housing stock reduced while demand is steadily increasing and our health, education and welfare systems are becoming increasingly stretched to deliver quality services. After Richardson's Mother of all Budgets child poverty trebled from 5% to fifteen and it is now close to 30%.

I talked about the "new normal" in my last post, and this is what incremental decline causes. People quickly forget what used to be expected and slowly adjust to living in a country where poverty is common place, housing is largely unaffordable and a clean environment is an unaffordable luxury. Under this National Government we have learned to believe that substantial change is no longer possible; poverty is self-inflicted; addressing climate change is not our responsibility and clean rivers are not economically viable. Gerry Brownlee represents his Government's philosophy well when he castigates those who demand more and attacks reports questioning lacklustre performance.

It is important that the Labour/Green campaigns shift thinking and expectations with accessible and aspirational messages similar to those that rallied voters behind Trudeau and Sanders (in a New Zealand context). Obviously the messaging has to have substance behind it, so that there is a practical blueprint to follow once elected. It is clear to all that Trump was elected because he could describe a United States' utopia that resonated with many, but his planning hadn't progressed beyond the simple, Fox News informed, scribbles on his branded serviettes. We do not want to be caught by "show us the money" moments that are more likely to occur here than the US (evidence isn't needed there apparently).

We need to see strong Labour/Green campaigns this election that will convince voters that a change to a fairer and cleaner New Zealand is actually achievable and that both parties contain people who can make the vision happen. While the messages are important, those delivering the messages around the country need to come across as energetic, fresh and capable. The Mt Albert by election has provided a taster of what is possible. Roll on September 23!

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