Science or old politics: a test for John Key

On Wednesday two reports will go public. They will challenge John Key to go with science or stick to old politics.

The reports are on fixing wayward youth and on early childhood education and will both highlight the critical importance of a good very early start in life. Both are the output of good brains, one tested to international standards. But does that fit with good politicking?

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Postponing the future — the real fiscal deficit

Where was the future in the budget? Postponed. Yet again. Ministers’ minds were on past sins and present preoccupations.

Nearly all economists agree that those preoccupations — balanced budgets, an efficient tax system, well-designed regulation and a public sector that is efficient and effective — are necessary to a well-functioning economy. They agree also that investing in and maintaining the hard infrastructure — roads, broadband and water storage, for example — and soft infrastructure — education, for example — are also necessary.

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A budget (not) about the nice-to-haves

Is the economy in a bad way or coming right? It depends which John Key you are listening to. At last Monday’s post-cabinet press conference two Keys were on offer.

Flagging a slimmer KiwiSaver, Key talked up “very poor economic conditions”. (Code for: “we have no alternative to doing some hurt.”) A little later, talking up his record, he cited jobs added, low interest rates and a lower crime rate. At other times he enumerates rising real after-tax wages and a 19 per cent lift in payouts to national superannuitants. (Code for: “it will all come right if you stick with us.”)

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Water, water, everywhere — now in the cabinet

Nick Smith has a message from China where he has recently been. China has 20 per cent of the global population, eight per cent of the arable land and 2 per cent of the water. New Zealand is No 2 for water quality and No 3 in water per person after land-poor Iceland and Norway.

Add to those statistics a recent study by the Asia Society which suggests China is set to make $US1000 billion of direct investments in foreign productive assets this decade.

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It's fringe-theatre politics: enjoy the show

It’s been a week of fringe-theatre politics: Don Brash on his white charger trampling Rodney Hide to save the nation; Hone Harawira making a Maori future with Matt McCarten and Nandor Tanczos; and free air time for the ever-renascent hero of xenophobics, Winston Peters, attacking both.

Under first-past-the-post fringe parties were truly fringe. Labour and National ran single-party governments.

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Labour: a party in transition – but to what?

Phil Goff is a baby-boomer. He is a quintessential member of what has been called the educational meritocracy. And, though you might be forgiven for wondering after all the media coups, he is leader of the Labour party.

All three dimensions are part of Labour’s challenge and opportunity as it adjusts to the 2010s. Forget poor Darren Hughes and grumpy 2008 losers Judith Tizard and Damien O’Connor. The frissons around them say much less about Goff and Labour than about National agents’ and hard-left non-Labour elements’ twitterings, bloggings, poll manipulations and rumour-fuelling.

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How far will McCully and Key rebalance foreign policy?

How will the relationship with Australia go long-term? Where does China fit? These questions will be teased out at two forums later this week. The large shadow on the wall at both will be the United States. Where is the government on this?

At Victoria University on Thursday offshore luminaries, among them China expert Michael Wesley, director of the high-powered Sydney-based Lowy Institute thinktank, will explore the economic, security, domestic and diplomatic dimensions of “Australia, New Zealand and China’s rise”.

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Public services are changing, not just being cut

Which pinko lefty bloated waffler said this: “Public servants … are a vitally important component of democracy. The better the public servant, the stronger and more effective the democracy?”

Answer: Rodney Hide, in a speech to the Society of Local Government Managers on 14 February. That was shortly after John Key said the public service was bloated and Bill English said it delivers waffle.

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Resilience amid turmoil: a long-range challenge for Key

It never rains but it pours. Queenslanders would get the point of this tired, hackneyed, overused, wrung-out, saturated cliche. New Zealanders might be starting to get the point of the figure of speech.

Do some simple addition.

Start with two Christchurch earthquakes in an area where there was, Sir Peter Gluckman’s scientists told us last Wednesday, “no evidence for seismicity” (no “foreshocks”). Add the Pike River mine explosion.

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