Grant Robertson’s crisis leadership

Written By: - Date published: 4:45 pm, September 16th, 2020 - 22 comments
Categories: Economy, election 2020, employment, grant robertson, labour, unemployment - Tags:

Much has rightly been made of the leadership quality of Prime Minister Ardern this year. But the PREFU results announced today shows that Minister of FInance Grant Robertson is by a long way the most effective Minister of Finance we have had since Dr Michael Cullen.

What he and his team have done is softened the very worst of the economic and social devastation of Covid 19 upon us in New Zealand. As much as it could, his plan worked.

The Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update released today shows that near-term economic recovery has been stronger than the Treasury and many economists predicted at the May 2020 Budget, as the economy bounced back strongly after lockdown.

Treasury is now expecting unemployment to peak at 7.8% which is down from the nearly 10% they had forecast early this year. By comparison Australia is expected to have its own national unemployment rate peak at 10%, and other big trading partners like the United States and Canada have already got unemployment at 13% or higher.

In my lifetime I have never seen a government act so fast and so huge to stabilise our economy – or any other economy. I thank my lucky stars Labour was at the helm when it had to be done. They have spent tens of billions on the Wage Subsidy, business tax refunds, small business cashflow loans, and infrastructure projects large and small to project jobs and keep businesses going – right across the country. “Taking on debt”, said the Minister today, “is the right thing to do as we fight COVID-19. There is no free lunch here. These measures require significant investment. It has been necessary to use the Government’s strong financial position to do this.”

CTU Economist Andrea Black fully sees how right the interventions have been: ”

It’s clear that the government’s strategy to make large scale investment in the wake of COVD has successfully cushioned the blow to our nation. We have been necessary and unprecedented spending. … This decisive leadership had kept over 1.5 million people in their jobs.”

It’s quite hard to define a transformational moment in government when it is framed in the negative, but this is it: staving off this degree of shock to our jobs and to our society, and done with such effective speed and clarity, is like pulling the wheel of a car really hard to the left when it was about to fly right off a cliff. We’re so used to big permanent structural moves being the very definition of “transformation”. But this time the transformation is a massive country-wide operational intervention – and it sets our course for several electoral terms to come.

Minister Robertson is quite within his rights to remind people now how much they were wrong in begging him to spend really big much earlier. “What counts is our track record. Before COVID-19, despite constant urging to the contrary we stayed disciplined with our spending and reduced debt below 20% of GDP while successfully investing in critical public services.”

Also, in quick riposte to criticism last week for the Super Rugby going to Australia, we’ve secured the Bledisloe Cup series. Almost like he planned it.

Our economic situation could have been waaay, way worse. And it is still bad. But across the media landscape today there is barely a critical voice raised about Labour’s handling of the economy even within the worst crisis that we have faced in a century. In July this year only 38% of us believed our jobs were safe. By the end of August this confidence had risen to 46%, with only 7% feel like their jobs will likely be lost in the next year. We feel it.

As economies contract right around the developed world next year, we are now walking a narrow and high path fully propped up on either side by Government spending.

Thankfully, as citizens we have the ability to continue the leadership of Prime Minister Ardern and Minister Robertson upon this steady, difficult path in just a few weeks’ time.

22 comments on “Grant Robertson’s crisis leadership ”

  1. Patricia Bremner 1

    Yes, Minister Robertson's approach has been vindicated. I did wry smiles at the promised spending by the opposition. Even they are aware this is not the time for austerity.

    Minister Robertson was recommended to the electorate by Dr. Michael Cullen, praise well earned.

    His managing to keep 14 billion for a further rainy day is wise, as there will be ongoing costs of Covid and health backlogs. His straight forward delivery is great.

    There may be some "nice to have policies" put on the two year back burner until the world finds a vaccine, but the important issues will be funded and our direction of less carbon maintained.

    Those complaining about freedom and the economy need to do some serious comparisons. Our Prime Minister Treasurer and the Team can hold their heads high while navigating this world wide situation.

    Yes I am a Labour supporter who wants the Greens on board as well.

    • greywarshark 1.1

      It takes a clever, determined approach by a Finance Minister to manage the macro and the micro level where so many reside.

      As someone below says Robertson is smart and pragmatic, and that means likely to be more self-serving than assisting the citizens pushed out of jobs by the 'innovative' changes to neolib and freemarkets.

  2. Hugh Railton 2

    We are in a unique situation with COVID and the other problems that have occurred, We would be a lot worse off if most people had not got behind the programme. Yes there are things that we could have done better but there always will be. Much of the RW have not learnt that health issues will bring down the country very fast if they are not managed.

  3. Shereen Moloney 3

    Grant Robertson – smart and pragmatic in the Michael Cullen mould.

  4. mosa 4

    " Yes I am a Labour supporter who wants the Greens on board as well "

    It wont happen unless a deal is done in an electorate seat like say Auckland central and Adern and her colleague's have ruled that out.

    Only the right are able to benefit from the Epsom accommodation in forming a government.

    Looks like a Adern – Robertson – Tamihere government after October.

    • Byd0nz 4.1

      I’d go along with that. I think the Maori Party is less conservative now and I think the Indigenous People ( of any Country) should have their own Party that all citizens can participate with or beside.

  5. Peter 5

    Collins' supporters mob was unhappy (well initially Bridges' or Mullers' mobs at the time I suppose) the virus didn't go rampant through the land killing people so they could bitch about the Government.

    They're pissed off today the world money gurus are declaring us bankrupt and beyond salvage. The run up to the election now will be to have us have lobotomies like theirs and see St Judith as the answer.

  6. pdm 6

    Surely you jest.

    Cullen left a projected 10 years of deficits while Robertson had the country sliding into recession in December last.

    • Byd0nz 6.1

      Recessions seem to be better for working class people, it’s mostly the exploiting class that suffers in a recession.

    • mickysavage 6.3

      Something I wrote five years ago:

      "John Key and National have placed a huge amount of political capital in returning the country’s books to surplus. Back in 2008 they campaigned heavily on how Labour was going to deliver “a decade of deficits” and it really was the slogan de jour. According to them Labour’s mismanagement of the economy was the cause of the global financial crisis and not the pure unadulterated greed of a bunch of merchant bankers like Key seeking never ending wealth.

      That always annoyed. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen had always run a tight budget, produced nine, read that again, nine budget surpluses during the term of the fifth Labour Government, had paid off debt, put ACC on a more secure financial footing, had created the Cullen fund and had put away funds for the time that things went pear shaped.

      At the time of the 2008 election the Global Financial Crisis was already causing havoc and no matter who was in power it was the right thing to do to open up the chequebook. To be fair to National the Christchurch earthquakes have certainly put considerable pressure on the country’s finances. But Key and co have created this illusion that they are sound financial managers. And this illusion needs to be shown for what it is."

      https://thestandard.org.nz/the-magical-disappearing-surplus/

      • Tricledrown 6.3.1

        The Canterbury earthquakes pumped $80 billion into the NZ economy $66 billion of EQC and Private insurance payouts new money and jobs at a time when the economy was tanking because of Nationals predisposition to using austerity to balance budgets.

        Cuts of 800 police,education cuts,health spending frozen even though the population grew by 20% and a rapidly aging population.

        [Fixed typo in user name]

    • Draco T Bastard 6.4

      If he did then it was probably due to the austerity program that Labour and the Greens agreed to.

    • millsy 6.5

      Either that or we close dozens of hospitals. Your choice.

  7. Macro 7

    The Labour team have done an amazing job. Even with the large borrowing programme for the Covid recovery our debt to GDP ratio is just 27.6%. Compare that to the US where their debt is now more than their annual GDP.

    But still the moaners, ACT, Nat and NZF can't get their heads around what the economy* is for anyway.

    * Q: What is the economy for anyway?

    A: The greatest good, for the greatest number, over the longest run.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      I'm pretty sure that ACT, Nat and NZF don't even know what the economy is. That seems to be true for most economists as well, though, so they do have company.

  8. sumsuch 8

    I'm also a doctor, the taxi driver on the way into Rome called me that. (No, the furtherest I've gone is Vanuatu)

    I have no dispute with Robertson about his management, he and she did their best. None of us knew how to do it. But they did it their best idea of the best recommended way. I argue it not, their set-pieces responses. Yes, a programmed Liberal robot could do the same.

    Not a drip of radicalism in their bloodstreams.

  9. Dennis Frank 9

    I agree with your appraisal. Since I never expected anything substantial from him, I'm pleasantly surprised he has shown good judgment overall. The chorus of complaints from Taranaki school principals is the only cloud on his horizon.

    There's a mismatch between his education spending and what those people are getting, it seems. Does it mean public servants in the education bureaucracy are failing to operate according to plan? Given Labour's congenital need to evade imposing accountability, I suspect so…

  10. new view 10

    Grant Robertson has done a great job to date. Whether the National party would have had a similar strategy we won’t know, but Grant Robertson won’t be writing the policy that will be needed to create jobs build the houses needed for both resident and returning Kiwis. Completing the infrastructure projects that this country needs is the brief of those ministers appointed to those tasks. Will a new Labour coalition get stuff done any better than this one. In my opinion no.

  11. Tricledrown 11

    Listening to Paul Goldsmith this morning he doesn't have a clue his best offering was their $31 billion infrastructure spend compared to Labours $48 billion that's a big win for Labour and the economy.

    Goldsmith is well out of his depth.

    Seymour and ACT's scorched earth policy of reducing debt by massive amounts austerity on steroids National have some explaining to do.

    Our debt levels will be well below any other OECD economy why would you cut spending in the worst economic crisis in a 100 yrs.

    The countries which followed the Austerity path in the 1930's had the longest and deepest economic recessions same with the GFC.

  12. Phil 12

    Minister of Finance Grant Robertson is by a long way the most effective Minister of Finance we have had since Dr Michael Cullen.

    Only two Ministers of Finance since Cullen – Bill English and (briefly) Joyce, so there's an argument to be made that your post starts by damning Robertson with extraordinarily faint praise.

    I'd also point out that Cullen was quite happy as Minister to let house prices run rampant and blow out the current account deficit during his tenure, and not provide any fiscal-side assistance to the Reserve Bank's efforts to curb those things.

    But sure, he was dapper and witty in the Chamber, so I guess that's ok?

    ¯_(ツ)_/¯

  13. Stuart Munro 13

    There's no doubt that Robertson is at least the best finance minister since Cullen, which makes him the 2nd best in my lifetime.

    Sadly however, it must be said that the competition hasn't been exactly fierce. The Gnats have, as ever, played truant to their responsibilities, running what might be characterised as a "Goodbye Pork Pie" economy – i.e. one that sells bits off to keep running and to support an ultimately fatal larrikinism.

    And they are missing in action in their role of keeping the government honest – unsurprisingly given they could not keep themselves honest – but nevertheless grievously underperforming at the key task for which they are so massively overpaid.

    It should not be left to the casual commenters of the moderate Left to point out that since adopting the treacherous and ineffectual "reforms" of Roger Douglas, NZ has the fastest growing inequality in the OECD. That is the job of the opposition, even when the opposition consists of gibbering buffoons of the calibre of Nick Smith and Gerhardt Brownlee.

    This would be troubling were the gap developing between the productive sector and others, but reverse is true. The growth is largely that of untaxed capital – speculation and rent-seeking. The change in the NZ economy is not driven by either entrepreneurship or industriousness, and in the long term this bodes very ill indeed for our economy, and even worse for our working poor, whose natural talents are stifled by the crude monopolism that advantages the real estate speculator, the slumlord, and the exploiter of third nations workers.

    To be a finance minister worthy of congratulation – and we want to congratulate Grant – he needs to reverse this pernicious state of affairs. He needs to begin to build an economy that is not merely kind, but one that supports and encourages innovation and industriousness, and does not reward unproductive greed.

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