How to be a lazy politician
- Date published:
3:00 pm, August 17th, 2010 - 9 comments
Categories: accountability, bill english, democracy under attack, Economy, john key, national/act government, Politics, same old national -
When John Steinbeck said ‘No one wants advice – only corroboration’ he could well have been describing the numerous working groups the Government has established in many areas of significant economic and social policy.
Rather than spending its nine years in opposition developing a detailed policy prescription for fixing the countries ills, John Key’s National Party is spending much of its time in government taking the â€˜advice’ of handpicked working groups.
Here are a few reasons I think this approach is both wrong and should be exposed for the political tactic it is.
- The Government is using the working groups to implement policies more radical than they have an electoral mandate for. The areas the working groups are investigating are areas where National has existing policy but would like to go further. This allows National to present itself as policy moderate while adopting a more radical agenda based on the recommendations of the working groups. Take the tax working group for example. Would National have done so well in the 2008 election had it sought an electoral mandate for increasing GST in order to give a disproportionately large tax cut to the wealthiest? Such a policy would have played out very differently in the heat of an election campaign than it did in the slow build up of leaks prior to the budget.
- The working groups ignore the real problems facing New Zealand. Where is the working group on job creation or on delivering higher wages? Even on issues which the Government does have a policy prescription, they have picked and chosen which ones to use this mechanism for. Why didn’t the Government set up a working group on industrial relations? Maybe because the credible experts on employment law and industrial relations appreciate the inherent power imbalance between bosses and workers and would have come up with a more balanced approach.
- The working groups represent a form of policy privitisation. Private sector contractors like are making a killing running massive reviews and restructuring which not surprisingly recommend more work for the private sector!
- Despite the working groups having the veneer of being expert or neutral, most often they are not. The groups have been carefully selected to ensure no member dissents from the established view and so far, with the exception of the Brash 2025 productivity report and only because it was so totally outrageous, they have not strayed too far from the corroboration the Government has sought for them to provide. Catherine Issac on the welfare working group is a former president of the ACT party, former politicians Don Brash and David Caygill on the 2025 taskforce are unabashed neo-liberal ideologues. Most members come from the world of business. The end users of government services are woefully under represented and are by and large voiceless in the process.
- The working groups remove a key part of the job of Ministers; developing, promoting and implementing policy. National Party Ministers must have scant all to do all day as their policy work is removed from them.
- The working groups allow National to get advice on issues in isolation which ignores the important analysis and collaboration which goes on in the public service. For example Te Puni Kokiri and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs would normally provide an analysis of the impact of policy options on Maori and women respectively. The Government is deliberately shutting out these important perspectives in the development of policy.
- The working groups represent a fundamental attack on the role of a neutral public service fundamental to the Westminster system. It is no surprise that the rise of politically motivated working groups correlates with the demise and attacks on non-partisan policy advisors in the public service. Policy development includes understanding how policy will work, how it will be implemented, any unintended consequences and a rational analysis of what will and won’t work.
I believe it is important the working groups are revealed for what they are, tools of the government to advance a more radical agenda than the poll sensitive politicians are prepared to risk themselves. In which case maybe we don’t actually need the National Government. Could it too be replaced by a working group? Maybe such a working group would recommend a little more honesty than we are currently getting from them.