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Small-target governing

Written By: - Date published: 8:01 am, November 27th, 2008 - 28 comments
Categories: economy, national/act government - Tags:

Yesterday it was a $7bn rescue package. Today it’s preparing a contingency plan to bail out big business. But do we get details? Of course not.

I’ve got a bad feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that there’s no real plan here, or if there is it’s one that the public wouldn’t like if it was ever presented as a whole.

Much like National’s pre-election “policy” releases such as the broadband policy, these two announcements seem more calculated to create headlines hooked into hot news stories than to provide a coherent plan to deal with reality. A kind of “Look! We can sound like overseas grown-ups too.” approach.

In fact listening to Bill “window dressing” English obfuscating on morning report this morning I got the sense of a finance minister who hasn’t quite realised he’s the finance minister yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m hoping now we’re stuck with this lot they make a decent job of running my country. But until I see some detail and get some reassurances the Nat’s understand their five year election campaign is over and they now need to come up with the detail I’m not holding my breath.

After all, they’re going to be expanding our debt to do this. We deserve the chance to get a good look at what they plan to spend our money (and future taxpayers’ money) on.

28 comments on “Small-target governing”

  1. TimeWarp 1

    Yes IB… I’m going to start sounding like a broken record with my posts, but one-line slogans work great in an election campaign (the evidence showed that!) but don’t make a policy framework.

    Will be interesting to watch this eventually unravel – in Australia Rudd and Conroy are under increasing pressure because of their fibre commitment; here Key has replicated the same promise but on an extended basis – he has created the same eventuality for himself, English, and Joyce.

  2. vinsin 2

    Yep, it’s a worrying thought isn’t it. Rodney Hide and his privatisation of roads and water, National’s plans that don’t seem to be anything other than empty rhetoric like “we’re going to fix the economy.” I wonder when the media are actually going to start asking the question, “how?” rather than report on what a cool week John Key is having flying around the world.

  3. gingercrush 3

    I’m not sure what Labour’s plans were either and they at least had three terms in office.

    Yes the lack of detail is starting to get annoying. And eventually they have to get going with details or otherwise they’re going to look stupid. But lets be fair they haven’t been in government for long and unlike Obama they don’t get 3+ months to set up their government. Turnarounds in New Zealand are incredibly quick perhaps too quick and everyone is wanting answers. I think give them two months or so and if they’re still lacking detail. That is when you can call them out. Just my opinion of course.

    We haven’t even had parliamentary time either. We’re asking an awful lot and its rather fair I guess because we are in an economic recession.

    I still don’t know why everyone is all scared about some big plan to privatise local government. I don’t see it myself. I think Hide will be heavily restrained and I think people are panicking over nothing.


    Timewarp mentioned Australia. Though he was talking about the broadband plan. But I think Australia is where we can look to. There Rudd has just passed one year being in office. Like John Key he had a decisive victory over very successful governments. Both Australia and New Zealand governments had long-term economic growth, long-term good financial records and stable long-running governments. Rudd has taken a long time to adjust in Australia. And there he has been accused of empty rhetoric like vinsin mentions. While the Labor government there still holds high popularity there seems to be a sentiment that much of Rudd is talk. This too is clearly an early criticism one can give to the National-led government. But just as the Rudd Labor government is working its way through. So too will John Key and the National party.

    The big difference is that there the opposition have been a disaster and I don’t expect the opposition here to be the same. Also they’re following a centrist line leaning left while we’ve got a centrist party that because of necessary coalition deals is leaning right or for some of you hard-right. Its an adjustment Key will make and he will do well and in a years time I don’t believe we’ll be seeing criticisms of lack of detail.

  4. RedLogix 4


    On the face of it a few months grace to flesh out the one-liner bullet points with detail is not unreasonable. But there is reason to expect better than that.

    These guys didn’t arrive on the political scene yesterday. Many of them were Cabinet Ministers in the 90’s, they’ve been warming Opposition benches for the best part of a decade… surely they got around to doing some homework in all that time.

    But the vital point is this. Global events are unravelling quickly, too quickly for the comfort of several vague months wondering exactly how to turn the slogans into useful actions.

  5. Mr Magoo 5

    And of course much of the rest of the world seem to have already have plans in action.

    Since National ran slogans on how they would save the economy with their policies, the fact that they have only been in power a short while is not really an excuse.

  6. gingercrush 6

    I agree with you. But had the election been closer I’m not even sure if we’d have a government by now. And Labour I don’t think really had a plan either. They said there would be something during the mini-budget in December but left it there. And Cullen was very reluctant fiscally to do anything so I don’t think they had a plan. The advantage they would have had, was they already knew everything because they were in office.

    Detail has to come and unlike Rudd they don’t have a year to wait. By next year every minister will need their details straight. Until then you can’t criticise every miniscule detail they provide.

    I find it interesting that you have several groups talking about National’s infrastructure plan. You have the Universities seemingly just now talking about their huge financial downfalls and how too much money has been spent on students and not the institutions themselves. So they want money. Why they didn’t do this before the election is beyond me. Anne Tolley has already used her minister role and put a stop and review to regulations in early childhood. You have ministers preparing legislation for the parliamentary while at the same time taking briefings on their department. Action is being done. And in terms of the recession, National has an infrastructure plan set up. There is the job redundancy plan there is the tax cuts. They’re working in the area of setting higher sentences etc. International meetings have conspired meaning Key has been out of New Zealand most of this time. But he returns today I think and you will see the ball rolling.

    Actually, I see a lot of stuff being done. While they’re trying to get things done you’ve got everyone making demands for spending etc.

    And ugh I’m rambling.

  7. Tim Ellis 7

    I agree with most of the commenters here. New Zealanders have just thrown out a government that ruled for nine years on a whole lot of rhetoric. “Knowledge wave”, “top half of the OECD”, “closing the gaps”, and “sustainability”. Nice, feel-good grand visions that fell a quiet death when some new fad came along.

    As for detail, we can’t really go past a year of this last Labour government, which slated National throughout the election year with calls of “no policy”, while not releasing a single new policy of their own. Nor can we go past that deliciously detailed, two-word phrase that was Michael Cullen’s panacea for the economy–“mini budget”.

    National now has the reins of government. It has the mountains of policy advisers to work on the detail, which it didn’t have in opposition. National has set itself a tough agenda in the next 100 days. It has to deliver on its goals with policy detail and outcomes.

  8. Alexandra 8

    During the campaign, university chancellors did raised concerns about the quality of tertiary education and were against Labours policy of universal student allowance. Like most other policy area’s, National was too busy being labour like than take a clear or distinct position at the time. I dont recall removal of the capping being discussed but relieved that hear Ann Tolley state that it is not national policy to remove capping. Only time will tell.

  9. gingercrush 9

    Yes I heard Ann on the radio. I’ve heard her twice now and I know its likely way too early but so far the signs from me point to her doing well as Minister of Education and Tertiary education. And with Chris Carter opposite her I don’t think she’s going to struggle either.

  10. the sprout 10


    “National has set itself a tough agenda in the next 100 days”

    That’s a fair amount of time to wait. After 3 months though, we’ll be expecting to see something substantial from National. And if there’s one thing that will turn the presently tame msm feril, it’s keeping them in the dark, making them look silly, and leaving information vacuums for great minds like Duncan Garner to fill.

    It’s a shame the economy will have to suffer the compounding consequences of 3 months’ delay in getting any clear direction from Government, and I do wonder what National were doing on the policy front for the last 9 years, but I suppose the fiscal landscape has altered pretty radically so it’s fair enough to give them some time to scope the situation – before they rush head-long into various populist reactionary psuedo-policies 😉

  11. Tim Ellis 11

    Sprout, I wonder why the Labour government didn’t give some indication of its mini-budget, announced six weeks before the election and scheduled for four weeks after the election, when they had all the detail in front of them?

    But never mind. You’re right, National has the reins of power now, and there will be no excuse for them not performing.

  12. the sprout 12

    “why the Labour government didn’t give some indication of its mini-budget”

    Same reasons as National: the fiscal landscape has altered pretty radically in a very short space of time. Until the markets bottom-out and the institutions settle, there isn’t a lot of point in setting anything in stone just now, other than the most orthodox stimulus strategies – which is what both Labour and National have talked from the beginning of the crisis.

  13. r0b 13

    Tim Ellis: As for detail, we can’t really go past a year of this last Labour government, which slated National throughout the election year with calls of “no policy’, while not releasing a single new policy of their own.

    As the Government Labour’s policy was kinda clear – Working for Families, KiwiSaver, KiwiRail, tax cuts, that sort of thing. And during the campaign Labour released plenty of policy – in fact in made National look like the bunch of amateurs that they are. Here’s John Armstrong (excerpts):

    If actions speak louder than words, Labour was the winner on Day One of the official election campaign – game, set and match.

    Key’s earlier speech at National’s campaign opening in Auckland’s SkyCity Convention Centre said nothing new on economic policy. In fact, it said nothing new about anything.

    If that was not bad enough, Labour was getting ready to lay out something really meaty just a few blocks away in the Auckland Town Hall.

    There, Helen Clark trumped Key by delivering the recovery package he had been demanding, including contingency plans to save jobs and the promise of a mini-budget in December.

    The upshot was that Labour looked like it was governing; National looked complacent and flat-footed.

    Here’s Gordon Campbell:

    If so, it is now up to Key and his team to provide some content to back up last night’s impression that he is of prime ministerial timber. Because to date, the battle on content has been no contest at all. On successive days, the government has announced the bank desposit security scheme, universal student allowances and an economic stimulation package complete with a December mini-Budget – to carry the economy through the deflationary months ahead, as the effects of the global meltdown reach our shoes. By contrast, National’s package of short run, consumption driven benefits tax cuts, reform of the RMA, the reductions to Kiwisaver, science and research and climate change policy and oh, a billion dollar broadband package were all flagged before the financial crisis even began.

  14. gingercrush 14

    National released plenty of policy as well. So your argument doesn’t work r0b. And what about National’s job policy. And as for that mini-budget Labour announced. Care to tell me any of the details? There were no details.

  15. Quoth the Raven 15

    Where are all the righties who used to complain about government spending being out of control? Do they not care anymore?

  16. gingercrush 16

    Government spending is out of control and eventually it will need to be reined in. But now is not the time to be cutting spending

  17. TimeWarp 17

    Another one-liner….

    What happened to all the rhetoric about government overspending?

    As you’re well aware GC, I think the National fibre plan will be the most extravagant waste of taxpayer money in over two decades. Given it was a keystone of National policy, and the most substantial chunk by far of their fiscal commitments outside tax cuts, you should either provide some rationale for this investment or recognise that the whole policy plan from a tax, spend and invest perspective has been based on electioneering, is inadequately thought out, and should be questioned.

    It’s always the right time to ask if government infrastructure investment is in an appropriate area, irrespective of any arguments as to what the overall investment and spend level should be.

  18. gingercrush 18

    Timewarp sorry but I don’t get your point. I’m neither praising the broadband plan nor doubting it. My qualms with the left isn’t what they think of the infrastructure plan. Its that they’re saying National doesn’t have a plan . The broadband infrastructure whether rightly or wrongly is a plan. The roading schemes are a plan. The detail is there if one cares to look at. Perhaps not enough detail but eventually that will be rolled out. That is what my post was about. The broadband plan sounds good in principle and I read your posts about it but I still await more details.

  19. Tim Ellis,

    National has the reins of power now, and there will be no excuse for them not performing.

    How wise thou art..

  20. TimeWarp 20

    GC the fibre infrastructure promise is NOT a plan. It’s a very general commitment of a huge amount of money to something that won’t deliver economic return with no detail as to how it will be delivered.

    That is my point.

  21. lprent 21


    I’m neither praising the broadband plan nor doubting it. My qualms with the left isn’t what they think of the infrastructure plan. Its that they’re saying National doesn’t have a plan.

    So does everyone who looks closely at it – including the people who have to build it and who are expected to cough up half of the cash for it. The telco’s and ISP’s.

    Their problem is the same as mine – how in the hell is anyone expected to make money off it. At least in the fibre to the home part. The fibre to the local node is probably worth it, and is already under way apparently.

    As far as I can make out it is headline ‘policy’ with a vague number attached – not one that has been thought through. I can’t see how it benefits the country in terms of overseas income because if people need fibre for things like making movies, then they can already get it (and have done for a while).

    Programmers like myself don’t need it at home. We can run computers remotely using ADSL, and need to put host computers where there a sprinkler systems and other backups.

    So what is it going to be good for? Someone suggested watching movies, yeah I can see how that really helps the economy by generating more imports. Personally I favour shonkey wanting a very fast bebo page….. Seems to fit with the general level of decision making in NACT

  22. RedLogix 22

    The Fibre install is also a lousy spend if you are trying to boost the economy. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but my guess is that most of the cash goes to the overseas company who makes the fibre. Only a relatively small number of operators in NZ drive the mole-ploughs and perform the terminations (which is a highly automated task these days as well).

    By comparison the $1b spend the Greens had negotiated to get NZ houses insulated would have employed lots of locals… and there are perfectly good materials like Ecowool that are a local spend as well. Plus for every dollar spent, two would get shaved off the health budget spend. All round a better scheme for propping up the NZ economy.

    High speed internet may well be cool for downloading lots of pr0n, but hell if I get the house warm enough the girl takes all her clothes off anyhow… she’s good like that.

  23. Quoth the Raven 23

    GC – I was being facetious.
    I think the fast forward fund and R&D tax cuts would have been better for our economy. As I’ve said before our economy relies so heavily on agriculture yet we put relatively little money into research. That’s where money should be going not faster porn downloads and music and film piracy.

  24. TimeWarp 24

    Lprent you have it exactly right. Although if you want further commentary on the issues both economic and technical, then I’m happy to provide it.

    The second biggest problem – after the fact that it won’t deliver an economic return – is that fibre is enabling infrastructure. You still need to have other layers to it; purely by itself it does nothing.

    The simplest example is that in the home you will need a terminating device to which you then connect phones, computers, TV, security systems, etc. That needs to be provided above and beyond the fibre. Plus installed and wired. Plus layered with services.

    It’s a pandora’s box National are opening for themselves.

  25. TimeWarp 25

    BTW: GC – I’ve provided several detailed analyses of the fibre plan to which you haven’t responded. What further detail do you require?

  26. gingercrush 26

    Yes and I’m thankful for that analysis. It was very informative. I simply never replied back because anything I would have said would have been rather empty in comparison.

  27. TimeWarp 27

    So… you await more details not from me, but from English & Joyce? Don’t we all….

    It will be a bid framework, same as in Aus, and it will be a complete debacle. Their bids closed yesterday. Telstra put in a 9 page non-compliant bid, because they’re not sure if a full bid and involvement in the roll-out will result in their operation seperation. One of the consortiums bidding put in a 1,000 page document.

    How the hell does anyone make any sense of that sort of process?

  28. randal 28

    hey dum dums
    you cant ramp the market unless you CREATE uncertainty

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