The Martinborough message to ministers must be ‘lift your game’

As the  Labour  caucus  suns  itself  at   Martinborough, and  members  savour one  or  two of  the  local   products,  it  may seem  like a  golden summer for the party.

PM  Jacinda  Ardern  is  just  back  from Europe  where some of  New Zealand’s finest  journalists  modestly   recorded   how  she  bedazzled  the elites.

And although some  commentators on the  Left, notably  Chris Trotter, have rather carpingly  been  critical  of  Ardern  because there  is little to show for  the  “transformation”   which the PM promised  New Zealanders, caucus members  are unshaken in  their  conviction  transformation will happen.

Never  mind  the  own  goals  scored  by  Clare  Curran and Meka Whaitiri, not to mention Iain  Lee-Galloway  on the  Karel Sroubek  affair, or  Phil  Twyford with  his KiwiBuild fiasco:  the  Ardern  government   will soon  be tackling education reform,  introducing a  capital gains tax  to make  the  system  “fairer”,   and  giving  trade unions greater powers in  wage bargaining.

Then there is the budget to look forward  to.  It’s going to be all about  “well-being”.


Ardern and  Finance  Minister, Grant Robertson, according to reports  by  NZ  journalists,  impressed  the  cognoscenti  at the  World Economic Forum  at Davos   with   their insights into  what constitutes  a  well-being budget  (although international  media, strangely, did  not  seem impressed enough to  record   those  insights).

Treasury   officials   have been beavering away on how the  well-being budget   will be   framed.  The head of Treasury, Gabriel  Mahklouf, (whose  term  sadly ends this year)  won’t be there   to  see  how  the revolution  is  delivered,  but is   reported to  have been  an  enthusiastic  supporter of the  concept.

There   is  no  doubt  NZ  has   issues   which alarmingly put this   country  among  the  worst  performers  in the  OECD,   youth  suicide  and  child  abuse  being  notable  examples. NZ’s  “broken  justice system”  (a phrase which rolls off Justice Minister Andrew Little’s tongue)   incarcerates  too   many, particularly   Maori.   Reoffending  rates are  too high.

So there is  plenty of room  for   improvement.   And  a   budget    which  delivers  the funds  to   resolve   these  deeply  troubling  problems  will be welcome on  all  sides.

Some  argue Robertson should bury  the  budget responsibility  rules   to step  up  spending  far  beyond  what would be regarded as  prudent  under  those  rules.

But the hard question is whether  NZ  has  the proper  structures   and skilled  personnel  to   carry  through the programmes   essential  to improve the  targeted  outcomes.

The  bureaucracy   itself  is  not  well  equipped  for  some  of  the tasks. There are worries generally about the capacity of some state agencies to function at the level expected of them.

For example, in mental  health  there is  a general shortage of  the  personnel  who may be  required.

The  well-being  budget    will be  a  rather  one-sided document  unless  it   sets  those  targets   (by  which the  public  can identify  the success or otherwise  of  the  programmes).

That’s where    the   political   risk    will lie.   If the government  were to fall short   on  any one  of the  particular   targets -lowering  the rate of  youth suicide, for  example –   it   will be  judged  harshly.

Even commentators on the Left  have  questioned  the  political  management  skills of the  present ministerial  team.

So  the  Labour caucus  meeting this week, if  it  does  nothing  else,  will be urging  ministers, from the  top down, to  lift their game.


3 thoughts on “The Martinborough message to ministers must be ‘lift your game’

  1. A very pathetic concept for a budget. After all the US constitution only promises ‘the pursuit of happiness’ leaving it entirely to the individual as to how he/she does that and indeed what it means for an individual to be happy. It seems increasingly obvious that they are certain conditions that would made members of this government delirous with hapiness but lots of other people really miserable…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was in Beijing last week and Davos was well covered by the english speaking media – the PM got zero mention. Attenborough was the only one on that panel to get a look in. She is world famous in New Zealand.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You can urge these Ministers to “lift their game” all you want but they were selected for their ethnic, gender and sexual identities, not their ability. Most have no “game” to lift. The key to improving New Zealand’s wellbeing is raising per capita productivity which has slumped. Our cheap labour immigration policy and poor management in the private and public sectors have a lot to answer for. Good to see Mahklouf is going – how about recruiting a New Zealander next time instead of indulging the ridiculous colonial cringe?

    Liked by 1 person

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