When people criticise the policies of the 80s and 90s they forget the reason drastic action was needed.
New Zealand had been spending more than it earned for years and governments had no option but to take very tough measures to reduce debt and get the economy growing again.
The situation we’re facing now isn’t quite as bad as it was back then but it still calls for serious changes in government income and expenditure.
If the country was a farm, we’d cull excess stock and conserve feed carefully for animals which needed it most. We’d go through the budget, cutting costs where we could, getting rid of any luxuries and reassessing what we defined as necessities. We’d also look at every aspect of the operation to see how we could make more from it and be on the look out for other opportunities for additional income, including the sale of non-core assets.
It’s harder to do that sort of thing as a government if you want to be re-elected. You’d have to trust the voters to recognise that tough times require tough remedies.
Can we be trusted?
If you listen to the protests about cutting funding for hobby classes you’d say no. But do those protests have wide support or do most people wonder why the taxpayer was ever involved in helping adults do yoga or embroidery in the first place?
I think most people recognise the recession calls for restraint and unlike Labour, I think they accept that means cuts in government spending.
It’s the opposition’s job to oppose but by doing that now Labour’s advocating more spending and more debt. Tonight’s 3 News Reid Research poll suggests that’s not a recipe voters wish to try.
National has jumped almost two points to 59.9 – a return to the high it registered in the 3 News Reid Research February poll.
Labour has dropped two to 27, a return to its February low.
The Greens have dropped marginally, while the Maori Party has bounced back up to 2.4.
The other minor parties are struggling.
ACT is up ever so slightly to 1.7, NZ First has a few diehard fans left, Jim Anderton’s Progressives have three voters out of 1,000 and poor old Peter Dunne has none.
There’s no comfort for Labour in the preferred Prime Minister results either. John Key is up 4.2 to 55.8% and Phil Goff dropped to 4.7 %.
If people aren’t listening to the opposition it provides the government with an opportunity to talk.
It’s an opportunity to tell us how bad things really are and how putting them right won’t be easy; but that it can be done and it must be done if we’re not to stagnate for the next couple of decades.
It’s an opportunity to start culling.
Has anyone missed the Ministry of Rural Affairs since its functions were taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry?
Would anyone miss the Ministries of Women’s Affairs and Senior Citizens, the Children’s, Families and Retirement Commissions if any vital functions they perform were taken over by whichever of the Ministries of Education, Health or Social Development were best suited to the responsibilities?
Would anyone miss the Ministry of Racing if it disappeared altogether?
It’s an opportunity to take welfare back to where it should be – a hand up for people in genuine need not a hand out for people in want.
It’s an opportunity to change attitudes and that needs a change in language.
If politicians stopped talking about entitlements and called them benefits again it would make it much easier to cull any based on political ideology and retain those which help people who really need them.
It’s an opportunity to look for opportunities for more income.
National promised not to sell any state assets this term and it’s a promise the government will keep. But if Labour in the UK is talking about selling some of their assets which would be better off in private hands then the government here can start telling us what could be sold – partially or fully – if voters give them a second term.
The debacle over the free-to-air rights for the Rugby World Cup is a wonderful illustration of why the state would be better off not owning commercial television stations.
Labour sold several Landcorp farms in the last nine years. It would be silly to dump all of them on the market at once, especially when prices are depressed, but preparing to sell some if the price was right would be sensible.
Increasing the tax take, not by increasing tax rates but through measures which help private individuals and businesses increase their productivity, would also help the income side of the public ledger.
None of this is particularly radical and the opposition can be trusted to oppose most of it. But I think the majority of people can be trusted to understand what contributed to the $10.5 billion deficit and that more of the same won’t make it go away fast enough.