Hair shirts for Public Service

There are two essentials to staying in office a good long while, as Labour aims to do. One is to take ordinary folk with you. The other is to develop a strong policy capacity in the public service, to make sure you can ride out shocks and keep a strategic focus.

New governments, especially after a long spell out of office, reckon that policy is what they made in opposition. The Clark-Anderton government is particularly hot on this.

read more

Can the departments really do their job?

Where did the money to fight the honey bee mite come from? From something else the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) was going to do but now has put off till next budget year. Is this the way to protect our national livelihood?

There is no contingency fund for dangerous pests. A procedure which I have been assured does exist for fast release of new funds appears not to have been triggered. If the honey bee mite did not trigger it, one wonders what will.

read more

Role-modelling for a would-be role model

The first “new economy” was the Dutch “tulip mania” in 1637. There was joint stock company madness in London a century later, investor obsession with rickety railway ventures in the mid-nineteenth and an assembly line revolution in the 1920s. Crash, crash, crash, crash.

It is too early to say whether the 1990s “new economy” bubble is bursting or just subsiding and thus what economic effect will follow. But the weekend’s turmoil is a reminder of our vulnerability to overseas events.

read more

Next target: the voluntary sector

Next week Steve Maharey will launch another scheme in the Clark-Anderton ministry’s reshaping of government: a new arrangement with the voluntary sector.

Yawn. That sounds almost as boring as debating the constitution – earnest people saying earnest things to each other. What can a “compact” with the voluntary sector say to a pocketbook public?

read more

The political history and framework

Legislative Council Chamber 7-8 April 2000
(This deals with the period post-1980, picking up where Bill Oliver left off.)

In his 1992 book, New Zealand’s Constitution in Crisis, Sir Geoffrey Palmer noted a marked lack of interest, not only among the public, but even among his ministerial colleagues, in his reform of the Constitution Act in 1986.

read more

The deeper issue in the Waipareira affair

Is there a justification for Richard Prebble’s assault on the Waipareira Trust? Yes, regardless of the final outcome.

His characteristic rough-house, blood-sport style must be distinguished from the deeper issue in this matter.

Waipareira’s money is not a capital sum as Tainui’s is. Tainui’s money came by way of compensation for land taken illegally off the tribe and it is the tribe’s business what it does with the money, whether it uses it wisely or stupidly and which individuals benefit.

read more

The imperatives of the polictical economy

Politicians often strike difficulty at the point where politics meets economics. Policy that appeals to the average voter often doesn’t appeal to the people who generate the revenue that pays for it.

For the moment – and probably the next two years, because the economy is running above-trend – this is not an issue for the government. But going into the next election economic growth will be dropping below trend.

read more

A tectonic shift in the political faultline

Jim Anderton was the first senior MP to take seriously the balance of payments problem. Most economists at the time – this was four or five years ago – dismissed his concern as cranky but now they and most other MPs have joined him.

Mr Anderton’s early concern was sharpened by his opposition to opening up the economy.

read more

The burden of new paradigm politics

At milking time early one morning last week I came across two figures quaffing coffee in an airport lounge, exuding good cheer despite the hour. Wyatt Creech and Nick Smith were hugely pleased with the government.

Why? Because the new tax, ACC and labour laws had reconnected some of National’s core support. Business, they beamed, is shocked. National’s troops have been miraculously energised.

read more

Moving from ‘contract’ to ‘relationship’

What is the most important thing a government must do in its first 100 days? Change the tone.

Helen Clark and Jim Anderton beamed self-congratulations at journalists and colleagues yesterday over coffee and biscuits. That in itself is a change of tone. Can you imagine Jim Bolger and Winston Peters doing an arm-in-arm act three years ago?

read more