Without targets it’s hard to measure what the Ardern Govt has – and hasn’t – achieved

The PM’s speech on Sunday was  billed as a  “re-set” for the government – a chance  for  the coalition to  put its  unity on show and,  at the same time,  inject fresh vigour  into  its priorities.  All three party leaders  put on their best  smiles for the occasion.

Was it  enough  to sink the memory  of what some said had been  the government’s worst  week since it took office?

Simon Wilson, at the  NZ Herald, was clearly onside:  Jacinda Ardern’s plan  spells  out far-reaching, specific and measurable  goals, he gushed.  Besides “Our Plan”  is  also a vision  document,  Wilson  insisted.

The  NZ Herald’s editorial put it more succinctly:  “Govt needs to stop spinning, start winning”.

Still,  the  PM  and her entourage will  soon  be off to  New  York.  Her  diary  is  already booked heavily  for  appearances on TV  chatshows, as international media  stars  jostle  to  entice  a  political phenomenon in front of their cameras. Local pundits  in NZ  may carp  about the government’s achievements  (or lack of them) — but just  wait   for  the  headlines  out of  New  York.

However  that’s  still   ahead of  us.  Meanwhile   Bryan  Gould reassures us  the coalition  provides us with the  best of  all worlds.  No need, he says, to   fret if partners  disagree on  an issue: it’s democracy at  work.

Those  with  harder  hearts  may  be more in tune   with how the  NZ  Herald editorial writer  sees it: 

To silence  its critics and reduce the feeling of unease, the Coalition needs to start translating its slick presentations, grand  visions and inclusive rhetoric into  meaningful actions  with concrete  results”.

The  problem  for  the  government  is  the  gap  between  its rhetoric  and  its  performance.   And  “Our Plan”  doesn’t help  much.

Nothing  in it  is   new,  however  much  it  conjured  up visions for  Simon Wilson.  For  all  the “transformation”  the  government has promised,  how much, or how little,  has been achieved.

Since  it has  abolished  the targets  the previous  government was using,  there is  no  way  to  gauge if  real  results can be boasted.  Some of   Ardern’s  advisers  must realise  this because  the speech they  wrote  for her  says    she has given  Cabinet  committees  responsibility to identify which policies come within their ambit and how progress on them can be measured every six months.

Ardern’s  12  priorities  include Building a productive, sustainable and inclusive economy:

* to grow and share more fairly NZ’s prosperity,

*to support thriving and  sustainable regions,

*to transition to a clean, green, carbon neutral NZ,

* to do all this, while  delivering responsible government, with a broader measure of success.

Under the heading Improving the wellbeing of NZers and their  families  are these  bromides:

*To  ensure everyone is either earning, learning, caring, or  volunteering;

* to support  healthier, safer and more connected communities;

* to ensure  everyone has a  a warm, dry home;

* to make NZ the best place in the world to be a child.

And,  completing the  bag of  waffle, we have Ensuring new leadership by  government:

*To deliver transparent, transformative and compassionate government;

*To build closer partnerships with Maori;

* To value who we are as a country;

*To  create an international reputation  we can be proud of.

The platitudes didn’t end there. When it came  to how  NZ might become  more prosperous,  the  PM  didn’t have much  to offer:

Apparently we will have to be smarter in how we work (though presumably without the  help  of a Chief Technology Officer).

 “It means an economy that produces and exports higher value goods, and one that makes sure that all New Zealanders share in the rewards of economic growth.So what will we do? First, we need a concerted effort to lift the prosperity side of the ledger. Working alongside business, we will encourage innovation, productivity and build a skilled workforce better equipped for the 21st century”

 And so on.  And on.

Some of  the  sharpest  analysis of the  speech  came  from economist  Michael  Reddell—but it  was  not   his criticism  of  the failure to offer  any  serious  initiatives to lift  NZ prosperity,  but more his  focus  on NZ’s international reputation,  which caught  Point of Order’s  attention.

He wrote:

I’d be ashamed if I recognised myself in the approach this government –  and its predecssors – take.  A government that is slow and reluctant to condemn Russia’s involvement in the Skripal poisoning, a government that appears to say nothing about the situation in Burma, a government that says not a word about the Saudi-led US-supported abuses in Yemen (trade deals to pursue I suppose). 

“And then there is the People’s Republic of China. The Prime Minister apparently won’t say a word (certainly not openly –  and yet she talks about “transparent” government) about:

  • the aggressive and illegal militarisation of the South China Sea;
  • the growing military threat to Taiwan, a free and independent democracy;
  • about the Xinjiang concentration camps, the similarly extreme measures used against Falun Gong, or the growing repression of Christian churches in China;
  • about new PRC efforts to ensure that all Chinese corporates are treated, and operate, as agents of the state (is the Prime Minister going to do anything about Huawei for example?);
  • about the activities of the PRC in attempting to subvert democracy and neutralise criticism in a growing list of countries….”

If those are her values, Reddell says, they certainly aren’t his.  He hopes they aren’t those of most New Zealanders.


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