The National Government's Shiny Pants


Health Minister Jonathon Coleman's spat with Treasury rang warning bells for me. It has been spun to look as though the good doctor wanted to fund much needed bowel cancer screening, but those nasty fiscal idealogues in Treasury blocked it. However reading Treasury's actual comments paints a different picture, it was lack of planning and 'under-funding' that created its concern. Treasury was not prepared to support an initiative that was unlikely to achieve its stated goals.

The Minister for the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Gerry Brownlee also suffered under Treasury's criticsms. Poor linking between project planning and transitional planning was cited, which meant decisions were out of sync and there wasn't sufficient regard for implications. Brownlee blustered about "lack of respect" and dismissed Treasury as mere "book keepers". However, talk to many in Christchurch and they will tell you about the frustration around the poor co-ordination and delays.

Treasury has also expressed concern about the way housing market has been managed in Auckland and rather than taking a "book keeper" view Gabriel Makhlouf made a speech where he suggested there should be greater consideration for public transport and the social implications on non home owners in the city. While Makhlouf generally has a more monetarist approach to policy than I would like, he appears far more socially responsible than the Government.

This Government has actually developed quite a reputation for poor planning and limited strategy. Too many of its past decisions have been found wanting and its oversight limited. There is an arrogance that emanates from current Ministers that they are all knowing and important decisions can be based on gut feelings rather than evidence. This gung ho, "seat of the pants" style of governance is dangerous and costly. Poor decisions over the past 8 years have had enormous fiscal, social and environmental implications and National has been reliant on spin and short memories to blunder on with limited opposition.

It seems that the introduction of National Standards has been forgotten, when teachers and schools were bullied into implementing a system while it was still being designed. School boards that requested more information were threatened with sacking if they didn't just comply.

Novopay is an ongoing debacle when three Ministers gave the go ahead for implementation despite numerous identified design faults and a struggling Ministry (it had just been assessed as the poorest performing Ministry by the Prime Minister's office).

It has been largely forgotten that the $13 billion motorway projects were never based on any solid cost benefit analysis and the current spending on transport is still ideologically focussed on roads when public transport, cycling and rail desperately need greater recognition.

Hekia Parata has been over-ruled twice by court decisions that have indicated that she had a little appreciation of good process and had a lack of concern for the families and children involved. The process used for closing Christchurch schools was particularly heartless at a time when school communities were very vulnerable. Too many education decisions are being based on ideology and whim than educational evidence.

Murray McCully's disastrous attempt to change MFaT was clearly based on limited advice and so too his $11.5 million expenditure to bribe a Saudi business man.

When climate change has become the number one crisis confronting the world, this Government still has no clear strategy to deal with our emissions, has set one of the lowest targets in the world and cut the funding to advisors.

It is also clear that the Government has no idea how to effectively address the ever expanding housing bubble or provide the social housing that is desperately needed. It refused to put in place any strategy to deal with housing when it knew it was a problem before 2008. Years of inaction has resulted a whole series of last minute decisions that are scattergun solutions at best. Bill English has been struggling to remain unsurprised when first hearing from the media that Paula Bennett was offering $5,000 to homeless to leave town and that Joyce had pronounced that Housing NZ wasn't expected to pay a dividend.

While Ministers consistently ignored the advice from ministries, departments, commissioners and ombudsmen they had at least run ideas past the cabinet and organised the PR before going public. However it now appears that even that basic check has been abandoned and Ministers seem to be leading their own fiefdoms to do as they please. With so many seat of the pants decisions and multiple U turns one can expect shiny pant seats will become an identifying characteristic of this Government's front bench. Many risk slipping off their seats altogether...

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