The NZ government’s unpopular policies

by Jane Clifton / 13 October, 2012
National needs to remember what the previous Labour Government taught us about death by a thousand cuts.
The NZ government's unpopular policies


As everyone was piling ruck-style into the Kim Dotcom fiasco this week, things reached outlandish proportions when the man started approvingly citing Professor Jane Kelsey’s views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Twitter. Talk about your enemy’s enemy being your friend: Mr Conspicuous Consumption and Ms Down With Capitalism behind the same barricade.

This was almost as absurd as in the previous week, when the German internet buccaneer, for whom Twitter is his preferred channel to the wider world, informed us that Prime Minister John Key had the power to cost President Barack Obama the election if he would only tell the truth about the US case against Megaupload. It boggles the mind to imagine American voters from Nebraska to Sausalito putting down their corn dogs in shock as some guy with a weird accent from some Pacific island – or is it a province of Holland? – breaks the news of a Watergate-sized conspiracy by their president against some fat guy on the interweb. Given the increasingly woeful performance of Obama’s rival, Mitt Romney – who wants to be able to open aeroplane windows in mid-flight and to discount the welfare of 47% of the population because they haven’t got enough money to be in his vote demographic – Key owes it to the world to keep such incendiary information to himself should he actually possess it.

As always at such junctures in politics, Sod’s Law then kicked in big time with the news that Key was off to Hollywood to ingratiate us with leading studio bosses and industry wallahs – including, oh head-clutching coincidence, the very lobbyist whom Dotcom blames for setting the US authorities onto him in the first place. And if you wanted to keep joining the dots, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s big 80s hit was Relax, a mantra Key no longer seems able to live by. He even cursed under his breath in Parliament under the stress of Opposition barracking the other day. And well he might, because if the eventual demise of the previous Labour Government taught us anything, it’s that administrations can die from a thousand cuts much more easily than from two or three unpopular policies. There is now knee-deep rubble of unfinished, unsuccessful, unpopular and frankly non-credible policies strewn around National’s reign. The Dotcom carry-on is just vaudeville.

Consider what has become of the centrepiece of the Government’s post-global-financial-crisis strategy, the mixed ownership model: the process has got hopelessly mixed, there’s no unanimity about ownership and it’s hardly a model for anything. The dollar is rampant, putting vital export-growth-fostering further beyond the Government’s power. The conspicuously poor performance of the Crown-owned Solid Energy – was no one in the Treasury monitoring its risk profile? – has caused shattering job losses on the already depressed West Coast. The population drain to Australia has not abated. Our debt profile is still woeful, our growth forecast still faltering. Employment growth is spongy. And although much of the din around Dotcom is mendacious and opportunistic, in that no politician can micromanage to avoid the stupid mistakes made by the police, Crown Law and our external intelligence agency, at the very least Key’s lackadaisical manner has put him in the frame.

OFF THE RAILS


But nowhere is the Government more puzzlingly off-track than in education, where once-touted future National leader Hekia Parata is making a seemingly elective dog’s breakfast of it on two vital fronts: National Standards and the riskily entitled Christchurch “cluster” mergers. (Not to even get started on charter schools, which, come to think of it, might be exactly what the future holds for that policy the way things are going for the Government.) It’s not necessarily the actual
policies that are the problem, in that although they are controversial, it is at least possible to have a thumping good argument about them in the normal political tradition. The problem is Parata’s hauteur and a lack of evidence that behind the policies is even the most basic homework. For some reason, both she and her officials keep getting things wrong. Time and again, she has refused, to the point of dumb insolence, to provide statistical or other rationale behind the policies, or to demonstrate a genuine will for consulting the people most affected. And mortifyingly often, when figures are finally grudged forth, they simply don’t make sense.

Labour’s Chris Hipkins has eaten Parata’s lunch for her at Parliament’s question time, and then gone on to polish off her afternoon tea and dinner as well. She seems unable to stop herself talking high bureaucratic drivel, such as the Government is going through “phases of consultation … that are ever-finer-grained”, and “I consulted the submissions that had been submitted … [for] the next set of proposals.” The search for meaning in Parata’s answers has long been abandoned in favour of pure sport: how much jargon will she waffle before losing her rag each day? Her predecessor, Anne Tolley, had trouble with this showbiz aspect of the job, too, but at least she got the policy ducks roughly in a row. Somehow, nothing has quite added up under Parata’s watch, and after several fiascos, chiefly the launch of the Canterbury mergers and closures, her star is looking more than somewhat shop-soiled.

A TIPPING POINT?


Is any of this enough to add up to a tipping-point in National’s poll fortunes? A punter could go broke many times trying to predict the point of permanent fortune-reversal, with recent see-sawing still falling within the margin of error. But common sense suggests the Dotcom embarrassment marathon, the education shemozzle and the ongoing grim economic news cannot fail to erode confidence in National. A symptom of this is Key’s recent non-committal responses to the old question: would he work with New Zealand First in a future coalition? Key’s aversion, to the point of preferring to resign rather than work with the infuriatingly mercurial Winston Peters, appears to have abated. Perhaps having seen the pinks of the eyes of the Conservative Party, with its dog-whistle misogyny and homophobia, he can now locate the lesser of two evils. The Maori Party and Act are still looking moribund, and the basic maths hasn’t changed: National is extremely unlikely to be able to govern alone.

A chorus of One Day My Prince Will Come would be forlorn. It’s probably only marginally easier to start a viable new political party than it is to launch a new online trading site. Any right-wing/Libertarian Party that might grow from Act’s ashes would be less likely to begin with a bang than with a wheedle. Which leaves Winston. Even supposing NZ First and National could put aside their profound differences over asset sales, monetary policy, Treaty issues and immigration, Winston still believes devoutly that a government can bring the New Zealand dollar down by the scruff of its neck, where National most emphatically does not. This is like intelligent design versus evolution. There is no middle course. What’s salutary to consider is that by the time of the next post-election team-picking, New Zealand could conceivably be part-owned by Dotcom, since he may by then be able to sue us for a chunk of GDP in lost business. How about our constitutional niceties being supervised by President Kim, from the new state capital of Coatesville, in the new Republic of Megaupload Aotearoa?
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