A test for the PM’s management mettle

What is it about a government that really affects the lives and livelihoods of ordinary folk? Its policy.

Will the Dover Samuels affair change government policy? No. Will it change the government’s ability to carry out its policy? No.

So what’s the fuss?

Superficially, it’s entertainment. The drama of charge and defence of a public figure puts politics up with sport and disaster.

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Why on earth not sell the Skyhawks?

Why is the government keeping the Skyhawks? That is the puzzle in Monday’s skeletal defence “framework”.

Any reading of ministers’ comments since the election requires aerobatics of logic to concoct a case for air strike capability. Moreover, the framework’s list of priorities has no place for it.

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The Budget to win last year’s election

This is the Budget to win last year’s election. Last year’s undertakings overhang the next two years’ ambitions. In 2002, as the next election looms, Michael Cullen will be offering voters less than did Mr Micawber himself, Sir William Birch, last year.

Dr Cullen has turned on its head the age-old electoral Budget wisdom that a government takes the tough decisions in the first year, steadies in the second and dishes out lollies in the third, just in time to seduce voters.

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Betting the bank on slow-return projects

The government says it wants and needs three terms, that is, nine years. Heavy evidence of its need will be supplied in tomorrow’s Budget.

The two themes ministers have been billing are “closing the gaps” and “kick-starting the knowledge economy”. Both are slow-return, long-range projects, with spare prospect of much to show by the 2002 election.

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From bubble to bust in ninety days

Six months into the government’s term and things could hardly be more different from the rosy glow of the three-month mark. What has changed?

In March as the 100 days peg was passed the country was in a bubble. The summer had been kind, with jobs from Y2K and money in farmers’ pockets, and “we” held the America’s Cup. A new, confident, vigorous cabinet promised a fresh face after 15 years of economic reformation.

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What the government stands for

Six months in and the government has had its first public spats, its first political stumbles, its first management failures. The icing, though still very thick, is beginning to melt here and there. A suitable time for the first budget.

Growth has given the government a little more leeway but Michael Cullen is determined not to spend the “growth dividend” from good times and leave himself short in the next downturn. In any case, having missed the fine print in the pre-election fiscal update, he has a lower baseline than he campaigned on and so fewer funds for new social programmes. That sets up a difficult start to the next budget round starting in October.

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What happens when the mandate runs out

Helen Clark and Phil Goff are harmony in action on foreign policy: the brainy daughter of conservative small farmers and the brainy working-class kid who left home young both learnt their political analysis at Auckland University in the 1970s.

In the 1980s they were factionally separated, he as the protege of the Douglas-Prebble-Bassett team, she in a rearguard action against it. That, plus a modish conservatism on law and order after 1993, have given Mr Goff a right-wing reputation.

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Aiming to keep the golden goose laying

Michael Cullen’s often wounding sarcasm is legendary. The man who linked the Greens to Mugabe has one of Parliament’s most cutting tongues and he uses it freely on those who annoy him or whom he thinks fools.

Business has not been spared. Consequently, many think he doesn’t like business. If this attitude is left to harden, it will get in the way of the government’s social policy ambitions. So yesterday at Auckland’s chamber of commerce Dr Cullen was in bridge-building mode.

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Sharpening hooks to catch middling voters

The government was in a helpful phase last week: the Greens were given a free publicity hit over rimu logging; National’s morale was lifted by a swarm of jolting errors and mismanagements.

No earthquake has yet followed the tremor-swarm. Pronouncements of the end of the government’s honeymoon with the public are premature until the polls speak.

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Making the most of a negative consensus

“We’re drinking their beer here”. Sic transit Steinlager. Along with other icons of our boozy past and present. We can’t even hold on to our liquor these days.

Lion Nathan’s move to Sydney is in impressive company. Fletcher Challenge is being broken up and sold to foreigners, Carter Holt Harvey is contemplating moving west and Telecom may follow in time.

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