If there is one thing the National-led government from 2008-2017 could be criticised for, it would be an unwillingness to break the bonds that the Helen Clark government set in place.
Gone was the steel of the 1991 “Budget of all budgets”. Gone was the courage of the Employment Contracts Act that finally freed workers and employers from the stupefying legacy of compulsory unionism, and gone was the radical talk that Michael Cullen’s “Working for Families” was nothing but communism by stealth.
Those were easier days. New Zealand was in a happy relationship with our new best trading partner, China. Then New Zealand prime minister John Key was welcome at the White House.
The most contentious issues seemed to be reserved to whether New Zealand should take terrorism seriously (general consensus – not that much), whether New Zealand should enter the TTPA free trade agreement that included the USA (the Left said “no”), or just how much more tourism New Zealand could take and whether we should focus on high-net worth tourists and residents. No major political party contemplated a ban on off-shore oil and gas exploration.
In those easier days, the Government knew that gangs were not so good for the vulnerable communities they abused. Then, we knew we were on the side of law and order. Then, we didn’t expect government ministers to attend gang pads and talk about how they were really victims of a racist, colonialist society.
We were, as a government, focused on growing the economy, but at the same time, keeping a delicate balance between the aspirations of four political parties: National, Act, United Future, and the Māori Party.
The first job of any minister wanting to bring through legislation would be to count. Count how many votes were needed to bring about a majority in Parliament. That’s where RMA reform fell down. The time for radical reform was needed in the first term. The moment was lost. Now New Zealand can contemplate a disaster in RMA, creating a quick-sand like sucking to the bottom, of any attempts to develop anything, without first obtaining the consent of others.
We have, lately, seen the Ardern Government, unshackled by the annoyance of having to count votes, act in the way that first led New Zealanders to eschew First Past the Post voting system, and, instead, opt for MMP. No excuses, now. It’s on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her crew.
Legislation coming at Kiwis includes:
Fair Pay Agreements that sound soft and kind, until we realise that they are nothing but a return to compulsory unionism and the nationwide awards system that stifled New Zealand’s innovation, drive, and success before 1991. The only place they seemed not to operate was in the owner-occupied businesses known as family farms. No wonder farming led innovation and the adoption of new technology.
Three Waters; which is accompanied by what should be declared false advertising – $4 million of taxpayers money spent on advertisements seemingly trying to convince Kiwis that our drinking water isn’t safe. For the record, it’s a crock. And $710 million spent by Government from the Covid-19 Recovery Fund, essentially bribing local councils to fall into line.
Of course, infrastructure needs maintaining and sometimes renewing, but the $183 billion this Government says will be needed, is almost twice the current Government debt and is four times the debt Labour inherited.
Putting that aside, what is really behind Three Waters is a wish to take the assets of local government, and put the governance into four groups half appointed by councils and half by iwi.
It has little to do with water quality and a lot to do with control.
You might ask, “what of He Puapua?” Well, that’s the roadmap that the Ardern Government seems to be sticking to. Clearly, it is the only plan that they seem to have. KiwiBuild, the plan to build 100,000 houses in 10 years, was a $2 billion flop.
The Covid elimination strategy has failed. It worked when we all accepted lockdowns as there was no vaccine. Then there was a vaccine, just not enough of it in New Zealanders’ arms. This latest lockdown will spell the end of some businesses.
I realise the Government has little thought for small businesses. Those businesses are really people. They’re families and they’re mums and dads and they’re kids watching their home being sold to pay the debts. That’s what happens when governments fail to understand that actions have consequences, and debts have to be repaid.
Thankfully, National has a Covid plan. We’re asking the Government to adopt it. The lot of it. Not just a bit. Do it now.
Then we start rebuilding the economy. That means rebuilding trust. Trust that the Government won’t take more. Trust that the Government won’t make it harder to build a home, to have a home, to take a punt on being in business.
That also means, embracing new technology. That means taking New Zealand to the top in the world’s education ratings. That means getting our kids to understand that maths and science are fun. That coding is awesome. That it is the way to open their opportunities. That technology is the way forward. That increased productivity doesn’t mean working more hours for less, but working fewer hours for more output and income.
That means, embracing success. That means ridding ourselves of the notion that turning up is enough. That means deciding to be the best we can. Every, single one of us. That must be us.
That’s what we can do. That’s what this country needs.
And, in the meantime, can the Government please stop telling everyone to “be kind”, until it decides to be competent.
• Judith Collins is leader of the National Party.
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