The trailers for John Key’s Thursday speech are calling it for a ” new super-Ministry” under the command of Steven Joyce. It appears to be a merger for the Ministry of Economic Development, a submergence for the Department of Labour, and the same old same old reshuffling of the deckchairs for the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
More coherence in these Ministries is long overdue. But that’s not the major problem. Since the abortive attempt by Labour in 1999 to set up Industry New Zealand, which was overtaken by the Ministry of Commerce renamed the Ministry of Economic Development but with the same old policy set, New Zealand’s problem has remained the same – a narrowly based economy still reliant on the dogmas of the 1970’s and still finding it hard to pay its way in the world. Rerunning asset sales in the name of paying down debt, the same Treasury argument David Caygill, Ruth Richardson and Richard Prebble ran in the late 1980’s.
Merger isn’t the issue – the policy direction is. If the new super-Ministry just becomes focussed on roads of national significance, mines of national significance, dairy farms of national significance, and oil wells of national significance it will be another waste of time reshuffle of which we have had altogether too many in the last twenty years. If it becomes genuinely high quality export focussed, then it may prove worthwhile.
It is also ironic that Steven Joyce is now signalling a reduction in the number of Industry Training Organisations. When they were first set up in the 1990’s, Bill Birch would not hear of the argument put forward by the unions and employers in the engineering industry that they should be genuinely industry-based and limited to 12 or so as the Australians had done. Once again National is re-inventing the wheel; at least this time it looks like it might be round.