Macbeth was talking about murder when he said, If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly.
That also applies to leadership tussles and National leader Simon Bridges has made the right call in summoning his caucus to settle the matter on Friday.
Every day’s delay is a day more when the issue festers with all the negative media attention that accompanies it leaving little clear air left to hold the government to account.
I am not going to give my opinion on who should be leader.
I support the party and whoever leads it and will continue to do so whether that is Simon with Paula Bennett as his deputy or Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye.
But I will say that whatever the outcome of the caucus vote, all MPs must be loyal to the leader and the party.
The leaking, the criticism and any show of disunity and disloyalty must stop.
Just a few months ago National was polling higher than Labour.
What changed was Covid-19 and the response to it.
The government’s abysmal record of doing very little it said it would until then has not changed.
KiwiBuild, child poverty, climate change . . . it’s been lots of talk and very, very little action.
What has also changed is the economy.
The lockdown flattened the Covid curve and in the process has flattened the economy.
The government has voted itself so much money in response most of us can’t comprehend the amount. But worse, it doesn’t have a clear plan on how to spend it and at least as important, it doesn’t have a plan on how to repay it.
As Heather Roy explains in a letter to her children:
. . .By way of explanation, this is why I am sorry about your inheritance. Debt is what you have to look forward to and growth will take some time to return. In the short-term, New Zealand is facing a large rise in unemployment, predicted to peak at nearly 10 percent before falling back to 4.6% in 2022 (optimistic I suspect). Government debt will explode to more than 53 percent of GDP, up from 19% now. . .
Not all debt is bad of course. It often allows you (and countries) to invest wisely in areas that will be of benefit later, but I fear the lack of vision and planning associated with the government borrowing an additional $160 billion means ‘wisely’ isn’t part of this equation. Vision and hope are important for people. We need to know where we are going – what the end game looks like and that the pain is worth bearing because a better life awaits. Hope too, is important. People will endure a lot if they have hope. I’m afraid I saw neither in the Budget last week. There was lots of talk of jobs, and lots of picking winners but not much in the offing for those already struggling and those who will inevitably lose their jobs when businesses go under.
Figures are tricky things. If you say them quickly, especially the billions, they don’t sound so bad. Most people can imagine what they could spend a million dollars on. Billions are a different kettle of fish. Many of us have to stop and think, how many 0’s in a billion? When figures are inconceivable, people give up trying to work out what they mean. After all, the politicians will look after the money side of things, won’t they? I hope you realise that is very dangerous thinking. To start with it’s not the government’s money – it’s yours and mine, hard earned and handed over to the government for custodial purposes. We hope it will be spent wisely on health, education, social welfare, but after we’ve voted every three years, we don’t have any say on where it goes.
Beware of those saying we can afford to borrow this much money. Just as when we borrow from the bank to buy a car or house, when government’s borrow, repayments must be made and this limits the amount in the pot for spending in extra areas. The state of our economy is your inheritance: to contribute to your tertiary education, to educate your future children, to provide medicines and hospital treatments when you are sick, to help those who for whatever reason have no income. A mountain of debt places the prosperity of your children in peril.
Picking winners is dangerous too. Government’s love picking winners, especially in an election year. Election year budgets often resemble a lolly scramble with media reporting the “winners and losers”. The simple fact is when you confer advantage on one group everyone else is automatically disadvantaged. Giving to the vulnerable is understandable but private industry winners are not. As an example, those who had been promised Keytruda (last year) to treat their lung cancer only to have that rug whipped out from underneath them now must be devastated to see the racing industry handed $74 million to build/rebuild horse racing tracks around the country. Flogging a dead horse instead of funding up to date medical treatments is folly and unfair in a humane society.
I know fairness and equity are important to you all. Your generation has a more egalitarian outlook on life. Partly I think this is because you have not experienced real poverty and why New Zealand’s debt doesn’t bother you as much as it does me.
I have recently read two excellent writings by people I respect and I want to share them with you. The first is a report written by Sir Roger Douglas and two colleagues called “The March towards Poverty”. . .
The report concludes “ For too long, we have lived with the fiction that we are doing well, lulled by successive governments into believing we truly do have a ‘rock star’ economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Starting with Grant Robertson’s post-Covid budget, we must admit to the problems facing our economy and begin to deal with them. Otherwise, current inequalities will remain entrenched, we will continue to fall further behind our OECD partners, and the prosperity of our younger generations will be placed at peril”.
While I’m on the topic of legacies, the second article I want to share is by Chris Finlayson, Attorney General in the Key/English Governments for 9 years starting when I was also a Minister. I’ve been worried about the legality of many of the impositions we have experienced since the country was plunged into lockdown. I know you sometimes think all this theoretical stuff isn’t that important, but in a well functioning democracy how the law is made and enforced is central to an orderly society we can have faith in. Chris has eloquently described these matters much better than I can in his opinion piece on the rule of law:
“Some readers will no doubt respond that this rule of law stuff is all very interesting for the legal profession and retired politicians but is hardly of any practical impact given what New Zealand has just avoided.
I disagree. The former Chief Justice, Sian Elias, once said that if only judges and lawyers concern themselves with the rule of law, New Zealand is in trouble. She was right. Adherence to the concept of the rule of law would have helped avoid some of the basic failures of the past eight weeks – failures that should give all New Zealanders pause for thought.”
I’m afraid it’s too late to put Ardern’s debt genie back in the bottle. I apologise on behalf of my generation and older that you and your kids will carry this debt for all of us. My advice to you is to do what this government should have done. Cut costs and minimise your liabilities. Spend only on the essentials and invest in assets that will produce a safe dividend. Perhaps most important of all, stay engaged in our democracy and encourage your friends to do the same. If COVID-19 has taught the world anything it is this: politicians need to be closely scrutinised at all times but especially in crises like these.
The government’s arrogance was exposed a couple of weeks ago when ministers were ordered not to speak in the wake of the Covid document dump. It’s carried on this week when Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis refused to attend the Epidemic response Committee because, doing a Facebook Live session instead.
The country needs an opposition focussed on the government’s mistakes and formulating a plan to do much, much better, not on itself and a leadership struggle.
Whatever happens at Friday’s caucus meeting, this is what National must be doing, and doing it together in step with the leader.
And whether or not there’s a change of leader, one thing must not change – and that’s the decision to rule out any deal with New Zealand First.