As a cool blue smudge appears on our morning horizon of a world beyond Stage 4 lockdown from Covid 19’s effects, we can already see this kind of economic and social collapse is different to the last one of this scale.
Mr Mark Binns has been selected as the Chair of Crown infrastructure Partners.
He’s keen to get going.
This is who they are.
But we seem to have a lot of national infrastructure chiefs set up recently already.
Crown Infrastructure Partners, the Infrastructure Commission, NZTA, Housing NZ Kainga Ora, Transpower, a new urban development agency, the electricity companies we still own 51% of, let alone the obvious jockeying between Ministers for the same turf and same funding … it’s a lot of chief executives and still pretty low national coherence. Don’t even get me started on the secret national conspiracy of ACC and NZSuperfund, running off on their own plans as if none of this was happening.
Can we not do better than concrete and steel project by project?
Can we not have an actual plan for the country, rather than a series of stabilising moves, intervening one market at a time?
In similar dire circumstances, the British government rolled out a simply massive national overhaul.
While some were still alive to recount it, Ken Loach did an excellent documentary about it called The Spirit of ’45.
They invented the National Health Service, nationalised all the coal mines, revolutionised education, and in general propelled the United Kingdom away from wartime austerity and into long term prosperity.
In Zealand, Ministers Michael Joseph Savage and Peter Fraser started health camps.
They told our national story through a high modernist centennial exhibition.
They built great volumes of houses suburb after suburb.
They mobilised our entire national resource to protect us from invaders during World War 2.
They got the big electricity department rolling again with new postwar projects.
They started international air travel.
They did so much more – as Michael Joseph Savage put it, “our mission is to build, and not to destroy, the social structure.”
That’s all-encompassing ambition you don’t hear too often.
Savage and Fraser pulled New Zealand out of crisis with their plans such as free healthcare, free entrance to University, and a world-first social security system.
The results of the collected policies were that by the late 1940s Labour’s New Zealand boasted high living standards, and one of the smallest gaps between rich and poor in the world.
It took them 14 years, but the New Zealand they handed to National in the early 1950s was unrecognisably prosperous and cohesive compared to what it was. Labour has a really good track record of generating massive plans that worked.
We should expect that now.
The last time Labour tried something with similar coherence was the Growth and Innovation Plan led by Helen Clark in 1999.
There wasn’t sufficient focus or crisis to bind all towards a single disciplined effort, so it fizzled out.
There’s too much at stake for that to happen again.
I have no need to argue with the Minister of Finance’s sustaining our remaining companies with massive wage subsidies.
But we are at an historic juncture as we have not seen since World War 2, and we should expect our leaders to do more than just drop 40-50% billion and about 15% of our entire GDP on mere rescue.
We need a full national re-creation, and the politicians with the plan to do it.
We need a total hunger from our leaders whether they be in government, business, iwi, social services, science, universities, young people – everyone – to assent to the plan that rebuilds us as we have been rebuilt before. Nationbuilders they used to call them. We need them all pulled together.
We need a Prime Minister who can do more than make us feel nice about the statistics of epidemiology and national pandemics.
We need a Minister of Finance who can do more than prop up employers to keep people employed, and pouring concrete and steel.
Now, who knows, maybe they’ve reached the limits of their imagination.
But if they can figure out plans over a weekend to drop a billion a week on us, they must have some capacity in the policy tank.
That post-Covid-19 day is going to come, and we must not live the tragedy of a country that didn’t actively seize this new day.
Rescue with concrete rescue remedy isn’t enough.
This government needs to lead beyond that.
It’s time to plan the re-launch the very idea of New Zealand.