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.
“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.