The reports are coming in – and they bring fresh challenges for the Ardern Govt

Finance   Minister   Grant  Robertson  has had a  good run this  year, with the  economy performing  well  and the  government’s books   in excellent  shape.

Despite   ministers  splashing  out  cash  in  every direction, the half-year  economic and   fiscal  update  (out this week)   may even  offer   the Finance  Minister  scope  for a  bit  more  spending  in  the years  ahead, without  endangering   his  self-imposed   goal of   sustainable surpluses .

But  a shadow may be  beginning  to emerge  from this  apparently  cloudless  sky.  It  lies  in  the  reports   from  all  those reviews  the  government   called  for   in  its  first  months  of  office.

Two   of them   have  already  landed    with a  political  thud   and  there could  be  even greater  reverberations   when Sir  Michael Cullen hands in  the Tax  Working  Group’s  recommendations on  how to implement a  capital  gains  tax — a  report  which may not be  unanimous  but  will have  Sir  Michaels’ carefully calibrated  political fingerprints  all over it.

What  seemed  like   relatively   simple  tasks   for  the various review  panels and working  groups  may   land  the  government   with  the   kind  of  political  headache  none of the ministers  could have  foreseen.

Remember   the   “crisis”  in  mental  health,  which  Labour  said  the previous   government  had  created  by its  nine years of  “neglect”  of the  health services?

Well, it   turns  out  the  government   will  let  the  “crisis”  run a  little longer.

After   making  mental health  an election issue,  it will be  half-way through the parliamentary  term  before it is ready even to   give a  few signals   on how  it plans to  deal with the “crisis”.

The heavily  stretched mental  health services   which have been   looking for  some urgent  relief  or  reinforcement  will  just have to carry  on, as  they   have been   during  those  nine years  of  neglect.  Health  Minister   David Clark  could  find himself  with a  battle  on his hands to line up  his reform proposals  in time  to   get   new spending  commitments   written  into   next year’s  budget.

Even  though the  taskforce  handed  in  its conclusions  at the end of  November,  the  minister  says  the full report won’t be  released until the end of the year.

Not  surprisingly  the  Opposition  says that in the time that the inquiry has been running, the government could have made meaningful changes by increasing access to services for people in need.

If  formulating a  reformative  policy  for  mental health services  and implementing  it  is  likely to  prove a challenge   for the   government,  it   faces  a similar challenge – perhaps a sharper one – in the education  field.

There  the  government is  confronted  with a call   for  such  radical   changes  that   it  could  create a  backlash  from parents.   In effect,  the  education  reform proposed  would  turn the  clock back  on  Tomorrow’s Schools, the programme implemented  under  David Lange’s  stewardship.

The  panel  headed by  Bali  Haque recommends the creation of a network of Crown agencies to oversee the work of groups of schools and take back many of the  responsibilities  of schools’ boards of trustees.

The report said the organisations would be called Education Hubs, would be run by a government-appointed director and would take over responsibility for schools’ property, funding and student achievement and hire schools’ principals in consultation with their boards.

The big reform of   Labour under Lange was to remove schools from the direct control of the education bureaucracy and allow parents to govern the schools their children attend.

National  says  it  has “serious concerns” about the creation of the 20 new Crown entities, which would transfer more responsibilities from parents to bureaucrats. It says it will  fight to ensure parents continue to have a strong role in the education of their children.

While the report is short on detail on how the hubs would work, it’s clear they would see a major reduction in the power and duties of Boards of Trustees and parents in the education system, including taking responsibility for expulsions and exclusions, final decision making rights on enrolments and zoning, and the employment of principals.

Around 19,000 parents and trustees who currently sit on boards could be relegated to the role of advisors with little ability to influence the education of children.

The  problem   for Labour  with  this  report    is  that  it will not only   invite a  battle   with  parents   who  really care  about the education of their children,  but  also  potentially  with  its  coalition partner, NZ  First.

Still, a contest  Education Minister Chris Hipkins versus  Winston Peters will be worth watching.




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