NZ Politics, a rocky road ahead.
After almost a decade under a National government we are now experiencing the inevitable adjustment period as a new government begins to assert itself and shape its work plan.
All those who received preferential treatment from the previous Government will be suffering from withdrawal symptoms. National's "old boy" networks have been well established throughout business communities and the individuals it placed on various influential boards and committees. It had an open door approach to big business lobbyists and investors with money and it's willingness to limit or remove regulation was appreciated by them. Even right wing commentators like Matthew Hooton voiced concern at the level of corporate welfare that was naively supported by Key and Joyce. The changing of the guard and dismantling National's human infrastructure will be a messy business as many will object to losing their past influence and business opportunities. These people have the resources and media clout to make a lot of noise.
The Labour led government has some huge challenges in progressing its agenda and to deal with multiple crises caused by years of underfunding. National had promised to downsize the civil service and attacked many ministries and department with some gusto. Education, conservation and state housing were hit especially hard when massive cuts to funding saw essential institutional knowledge and expertise disappear. It takes a long time to replace human resources and rebuild capacity.
National had also discouraged the "free and frank" advice from civil servants and pushed its own ideological views and projects, despite little evidence to support them. For example, National Standards in Eduction ran roughshod over the new curriculum (that had taken years of collaborative work between the Ministry and the profession to construct) and Charter Schools were a flawed vanity project that had no voter mandate. New Zealand's rapid drop in international education rankings has been a clear example of what happens when you refuse to listen to the profession and use bureaucrats with limited educational knowledge to lead change.
This government is being criticised for the 39 reviews, working groups, advisory groups and investigations it is setting up, but I would be very concerned if this didn't occur. What we have experienced recently is an erosion of democratic process and proper consultation. Donald Trump is displaying what the extreme of this looks like and it isn't pretty. Getting expert advice and actually implementing recommendations is what responsible governance looks like and it can't be rushed.
All those civil servants with the knowledge and expertise necessary to turn things around again will have retired or given up in disgust. Those who have survived, or were employed during the last nine years, will have little idea of how things could be done differently. Rebuilding civil service capacity will need to occur before embarking on major projects that will need strong leadership and comprehensive monitoring (we don't want another Christchurch).
We also lack capacity in our workforce. We don't have enough skilled workers in the construction industry (51,000 needed) to build the numbers of houses we need in the short term and our largest construction firm is in a fragile state. We also lack the qualified teachers, medical staff and mental health and social workers to fill some caping employment holes.
The government will be under a good deal of pressure from the public to fix things quickly. The 40,000 homeless need houses and much of the country's crumbling, leaking infrastructure needs urgent attention. National, in opposition, will be gleefully highlighting lack of progress and perceived failures as if they had no part in creating the problem (and hoping voters have short memories).
Another challenge will be how the three parties in government will manage their relationship and maintain their identity. The larger party in any government is inclined to take credit for any successes achieved by one of their smaller partners, but also blame them for any failures.
New Zealand First takes a popular approach to politics, so Shane Jone's grandstanding against Air New Zealand's withdrawal from the regions will win support and ruffle feathers at the same time. Shane is likely to be eying up Winston's job and needs to make his mark.
The Green Party scraped into Parliament with only 1.3 percentage points to spare. Although it has gained some valuable ministerial positions, it too needs to establish points of difference. It will take time to establish the competency of its Ministers, so following through on policies around democratic and transparent governance has been at the forefront. Opening Ministerial diaries, refusing perks and giving questions to the opposition show a determination to adhere to principles. At the same time the Party may be forced to swallow some inevitable dead rats with the Government's support of the CPTTP and NZ First's Party Hopping Bill.
It is interesting to follow where the retiring National Ministers go after stepping down from state service. Most are transitioning fairly quickly to plumb private sector positions where they can use their inside knowledge of government to advance private profit and personal incomes.
John Key will be the chair of the New Zealand ANZ board and will working for one of the Australian owned banks (NZ's largest). The bank has long treated local customers and our IRD with contempt, and was forced to pay back almost half a billion in tax fraud in 2009. With the inside knowledge Key will provide, their $1.78 net profit recorded last last year in NZ is likely to increase further.
Jonathan Coleman is credited with leading the running down of our health system to crisis level and will be necessitating an early by-election (a costly process for tax payers) so that he can lead a private health care business that will profit from his inside knowledge. Coleman's attitude to his role as Health Minister was exemplified by his Radio NZ interview when he hung up rather than defend his performance. His claim that he had no knowledge of Middlemore Hospital's building issues defies belief.
It is also worth noting (in comparison) where ex Green MPs end up when leaving Parliament. Jeanette Fitzsimons continues to support the Green Party in different voluntary roles while also having a leadership role in Coal Action Network Aotearoa. Russel Norman heads Green Peace New Zealand and Kevin Hague is Forest and Bird's CEO. Catherine Delahunty continues to fight for human rights and social justice. All had altruistic motivations to be involved in politics and have proven that with their activities since. This is clearly not the case for many in National.
It will be good to remember when things become difficult and challenges overwhelm, that what we are currently dealing with now came out of nine years under a National Government. Most Ministers in this government genuinely want to make a positive difference for struggling New Zealanders and address our neglected environmental and conservation issues. None of these really moved National's boats unless a profit could be measured and a business mate supported. The intent of the current government is very different.
It's going to be a rocky road ahead, but it will be worth hanging on as we travel to a better place.