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The Speech From The Throne

Written By: - Date published: 7:35 am, November 27th, 2020 - 21 comments
Categories: climate change, covid-19, Economy, farming, health, housing, labour, Parliament, uncategorized - Tags:

I’m sure one needs a particular depth of political nerdiness to give a flying fig about such things, but since I am one of those, these are my highlights from the speech from the throne this week:

New Zealanders voted for stability and certainty at the election.”

From that sentence you are set up for non-inspiration and non-target governance. Curious then that in the next sentence it is clear that this is indeed the crisis as big as the Great Depression of nearly a century ago, when they used that social license to do the big stuff that built our modern nation.

The point however is that compared to the rest of the world we trade and engage most with, we’ve bought ourselves about a years’ worth of breathing room:

The global outlook continues to worsen. New Zealand will not be immune to these deteriorating conditions”.

So the ideological code from the Government is this: transform nothing, strengthen the state and its redistributive services, regulate little, prepare this little and non-rich country instead for more shocks and for the world to get worse. So all of you keep it real tight and don’t expect too much when we are mostly busy just keeping the entire show together.

Not surprising then that there are three overarching objectives:

To keep New Zealanders safe from COVID19

To accelerate our economic recovery

To lay the foundations for a better future”

Not unreasonably, the Government laid out the successes of managing the COVID19 issue. They are still planning for quarantine free travel zones with the Cook Islands, Niue, and Australia. No promises or timetables though.

There was a recommitment to deliver “effective and free vaccines to New Zealanders as soon as they are available and safe to administer”

I was curious that there was no hint that NZDF would be re-oriented in future to have greater preparation to respond to similar kinds of crises – particularly in partnership with the health system.

In terms of our economic recovery, again with some justification the Government said they have been effective in what they’ve done already, and will do what they said in the 2020 manifesto. They are clear that “the global picture is bleak”. So the foils of the good ship New Zealand are in the form of billions and billions of domestic spending on infrastructure: $42 billion of it. Roads, rail, schools, hospitals, waste reduction, ferries, ports – anything needing concrete and steel. And the re-training to get more people working on that. More a deep, heavy keel than an ETNZ foil then.

They are giving Waka Kotahi $9.6 billion not only to reduce congestion and travel times, but also to “open up new areas for housing, and increase choice, including safer options for walking and cycling.” If any of you have been watching the debates on GreaterAuckland about the massive sprawl of Auckland along the SH1 corridor, well, expect more in the next five years like you have never seen before.

$3.6 billion into mostly hospitals in Dunedin, Christchurch, New Plymouth, Auckland, and Counties Manukau.

It was amazing how much the Government valued concrete and steel and the actual construction, rather than sustaining or even improving the service levels of health for the citizens it was built for.

The speech claimed the Government was “on track to deliver a total of 18,000 public and transitional homes.” I am pretty confident it will get further questions on that claim.

Also weirdly no mention of the many Provincial Growth Fund projects coming to completion in 2021. Sure they’re not continuing with the programme, but it’s worth noting the momentum already generated.

The only piece of legislation of note was the Resource Management Act reform. So I have to wonder what else they will need Parliament for.

The speech went through the manifesto highlights like the $20 minimum wage and the Training Incentive Allowance, and the big Tupu Aotearoa expansion particularly for Pacifica communities – that has worked pretty well in Mana in Mahi and other programmes. Also they are going to fund up to 40,000 New Zealanders into work through the Flexi-Wage programme. Fair Pay Agreements are still proposed though they are not a success anywhere as far as I know.

They’ve got this Industry Transformation Programme thing that so far as I can see isn’t connected to anything else. I can’t even see where it’s being reported. It looks like they are preparing to expand the Innovative Partnerships programme together with NZTE’s dedicated investment attraction team. Surely this is the thing you do six months ago when you already have a medium-term competitive advantage occurring right then – and that advantage is exceedingly temporary once the vaccines are rolled out. Also oddly nothing on the public events still on track for 2021.

The speech recommitted to the 2030 100% renewable electricity target, investigating pumped hydro at Lake Onslow, and look more at hydrogen options. Best of luck to them trying to persuade the gentailers to remove barriers to micro-generation.

The speech committed to ensuring vital public services were maintained, “while keeping a lid on debt”. If 2020 was keeping a lid on debt we have a new definition of lid.

On health all that was mentioned was that there would be a government response to the Health and Disability System review, and you will get initial policy decisions sometime next year. It really was that vague.

The speech then went on to the Climate Budgets recommended by the Climate Commission. They know they need to decarbonise the transport fleet. They will start with vehicle emissions standards for imported vehicles, and without any target again try and increase the uptake of electric vehicles. They want zero emissions buses alone to be purchased by 2025. But nothing on a hard limit on older cars being imported, or even the mere question about whether to ban the import of cars with combustion engines.

In transport itself, they are going to roll out the good work that Minister Twyford did on the Transport GPS with a higher priority on public transport, walking and cycling. Missing of course is how they are going to make either Waka Kotahi or our Council actually implement these changes – many of whom inside still look and act like they are just waiting out this government. While public transport use is up in Auckland, it ain’t too flash elsewhere.

The speech did a good suck-up to farmers as “Creative, innovative and constantly looking to improve their practices.” But no mention of the big players like Talleys or Synlait or Fonterra or indeed Zespri or Constellation or others with actual leverage in generating higher value-added productivity for lower impact and input. All about the heroic farmers, and reducing their compliance costs. Which is weird because farmers won’t vote for Labour again and in fact that South Island left vote continues to trend downwards. But the entities the government has leverage over are the ones who need MFAT and Customs and NZTE and other state arms: agribusiness. Why no sign of applied leverage there?

Despite acknowledging that the economic impact of COVID19 will have a disproportionate effect on those least equipped to deal with it”, the speech  was at its most defensive on welfare. It put out the achievements of the last government, including the indexing of benefits to increases in the average wage. Also extending the free lunch programme to cover 200,000 students and adding 20 more mobile dental clinics. Silence on the remaining recommendations of the big report from two years ago – the main one being that benefits are punitively low and generate real poverty.

The speech  talked about the impact of housing affordability of all its tens of billions of economic stimulation as “perverse”. I could not think of a more stark failure of Treasury modelling than to admit the impact of such massive interventions weren’t on their horizon just 6 months ago when they recommended throwing tens of untagged billions into the open arms of employers. Perverse is the term in policy circles you use when you really mean “I forgot to predict it”. But they are clear that they will review their housing settings “with a view to implementing policies that improve access to the housing market for first home buyers.”

The speech didn’t even hint at any responses to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack, other than what they’ve already done. I would have expected a few hints there given that the results are well circulated in Wellington.

It recommitted to making Matariki a public holiday. That’s got to make a little more sense than celebrating a bonfire of fireworks and sausages about the Catholics who were hung, drawn and quartered for trying to blow up the British Parliament about four centuries ago. But a bit of an opportunity lost for replacing the commemoration of foreign terrorism with a local one against Muslims.

On Maori relations, it was just more of the same. Nothing on the remaining Treaty claims.

In the conclusion it was abundantly clear that the Government is aiming to put a stake through National’s heart: “It is the government’s aim to achieve change along consensus. That is why it has committed to being a Government that will govern for all New Zealanders.”

That is also a function of precisely not using crisis to drive large scale change. The Government’s view is that this is the most to be the swan swimming with fast-paddling feet while exuding calm and grace above water.

That’s gradualist change seeking to keep that core of National crossover voters well on side.

No sign of attempting to get better co-ordination and strength of policy implementation – such as what to do with its shareholdings in the electricity generators, or ACC’s shareholdings all over the place, or the wayward NZ Superfund. No sign that they were in command of the full set of state instruments and controls available to them despite the obvious scale and depth of the multiple crises she admitted we faced. A very conservative approach to governance all round.

It was a constrained, sober, anxious, low-legislation, low-expectation affair.

21 comments on “The Speech From The Throne ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    "the swan swimming with fast-paddling feet while exuding calm and grace above water."

    I like that.

  2. alwyn 2

    I really think that Judith Collins got it right with her description.

    Just like the 2017 version except they added Covid 19 and carefully dropped all mention of Kiwibuild. A pretty good summary wasn't it?

  3. "to govern for all New Zealanders" – code for doing bugger all to make the wealthy pay their fair share!

    With a mandate to be transformational, a decidedly underwhelming speech!

    • Stunned Mullet 3.1

      How do you define the wealthy ?

      how much is the fair share they should be paying ?

      [fixed typo in e-mail address]

  4. Tiger Mountain 4

    What a sad arse speech is all I can say!

    Well, almost, I would add…there are numerous issues needing attention, and THE political question of the next three years has to be will the left lapse into division and passivity as per the Clark years; or follow the example of the 70 NGOs–including the NZCTU–that supported the “letter to Jacinda” calling for a rise in benefits prior to Xmas.

    This stand alone, arrogant, Blair lite Labour Caucus, and Govt. needs bite back from the working class, underclass, and their communities nationwide if significant change is to be forthcoming.

  5. Enough is Enough 5

    Labour winning a majority was a disaster for the left.

    What we now have is the most conservative Labour government in history, at a time when we need the most progressive Labour government to deal with unprecedented issues.

    We needed the Greens at the cabinet table to pull Labour to where they need to be. Sadly it hasn't played out that way

  6. Sabine 6

    so it is now official, the country voted for a kinder and gentler National Party.

    As for the Greens pulling anyone left, why would anyone go left if they like it centre right such as Labour does.

    Labour could do what it wanted atm without anyone giving them any grief, but considering their lack of gusto before the election and this speech, i doubt that the Greens or any other party for that matter will have any impact or influence for that matter.

    Vote Labour, and enjoy a kind and gentle 'National light' government. (disclaimer, this of course does not apply to people on the benefit, and certainly it does not apply to people refused their benefits due to partnership status, nor does it apply to the very poor parents of the very poor children, or people on an invalids benefit).

    But hey, for several weeks before the election it was all fear of Judith, and Jacinda Mania. All for nought.

  7. Brendan 7

    Low expectation might be very good PR.

    You see the Nats have been able to hammer Labour over Kiwibuild for example.

    So it is better to under promise and over deliver.

    The odd thing is that the Labour left is now in the same position as the National right during the Key years. the government did not want to lose the center votes – so they did not do anything scary which might cause them to lose them. Much to the annoyance of this faction.

    Remember one wrong step and Labour hands the keys to the beehive to team blue. Remember the Orewa speech by Don Brash.

    • Phillip ure 7.1

      You are thinking f.p.p. Brendan.

      under m.m.p..if labour fails to deliver..there are the greens and the maori party ..strengthen both of those..and things will happen…

      (and non-delivery will also see labour lose the maori seats )

      ..it really is labours' last chance.

      i wonder if those realities are able to be seen through the hubris of the neoliberal-incrementalism that is so prevalent in this labour government…

      • The Al1en 7.1.1

        You have the electoral system correct, but you still don't understand the constituency contained therein.

        If labour's left wanted left policies they would already have voted green, and the nat swing vote will never go further left than centre red, so I don't know where you think the numbers are.

        With national in free fall during the campaign, then was the time for things to happen, and it just didn't. There may be some red to green switching going on in '23, and I hope it does, like a lot of us hoped for this time, but seeing as the majority of voters seem to be happy to vote centre of one flavour or another, expecting a dramatic left wing surge is just wishful thinking.

        • Phillip ure

          @ alan..

          You seem to have missed the point I was trying to make..

          that is that many of those who voted labour..believing the promises made by j. ardern..will..if labour don't deliver..have the greens and the maori party to turn to…

          and feeling safe that they are still voting for a left party/government…

          and of course labour will be able to scapegoat the greens/maori party to their centrist supporters..

          saying a la nz first..'they made us do it/stopped us from doing it'..

          and of course the more mainstream environmental matters become..the more those soft national voters could also look to the greens..

          ..for some action on what concerns them..

          • The Al1en

            Alan 😆 Come on, Phil, show some respect and use the chosen handle. You did it the other day, so I can logically deduce it's deliberately meant as an insult. Really? You that petty? Just saying, eh?

            Okay, so labour made promises in 2017, did some stuff, got re-elected in an unprecedented landslide. For some on the left it wasn't anywhere near enough, and yet, no green or MP surge. Stands to reason that all they have to do is not screw up or get caught eating kittens, more of the same and a little bit more than last time, and they keep their core vote and maybe some of the swingers.

            Going on previous election and poll results, it seems like there isn't a huge left contingent here now, outside of our dreams anyway, and other than a bit of back and forth between red/green, there's no evidence I can see where that translates in to a proper left leadership. One has to work with numbers, and sadly, most of those percentage points are centrist. It would need a game changer to reverse that, and none are on the horizon despite the need for one.

            Against a backdrop of weak opposition and a labour party that some how just does enough, changing the narrative enough to make a real difference, even from inside the labour vote, is almost mission impossible. If it is incrementalism, it’s going to be have to be leftward to make a change.

            But do have at it. I look forward to reading some detailed examples of change and winning policies from you, should you choose to stop with the unconvincing and ill thought out posturing.

          • Sacha

            The promises are pretty limp in this speech, so there won't be much to judge Labour's success against.

      • Incognito 7.1.2

        I like the new format of your comments yes

  8. Maurice 8

    Meanwhile the person 'talking sense' is ………

    Seymour – from ACT

    The Tragedy!

  9. RedBaronCV 9

    Tony Blair in high heels is pretty accurate. They don't seem to realise that they got the vote because Nact would have had policy settings that would have left covid to kill.

    They also seem to have zero commitment to restructuring the bits of the economy that covid has exposed as net drains, trying for more production and factories here, supporting the local labour force and cutting back hard on migration (which I suspect is more unpopular than it seems) to increase productivity and well just about any reset whatsoever. Any efficiency rationalisation cutting oligopoly behaviour in power and telecommunications. Any killing of privatisation that never made sense.

    Nor will they even do some of the smaller things. Why not stick the Bristol clauses back in , raise the income cap for family support and change the definition, get the unions to draft an employee privacy code for the Privacy commission to offset the employer friendly attitudes there and a commissioner they should have replaced with a non Nact appointee. For FFS they can't even put their own appointees into some of these jobs and there must be dozens of these small tweaks that can be done without a major drama.

    They also seem to fail to read the room as to the increasing large group of people who are just totally over them. Anybody under 30 who wants a secure job and housing. Any parent of these people who is struggling to support these basic aspirations. Anybody who's kids have been chased overseas by low wages. Anybody in the work force putting up with the low wages and unrestrained employer bad behaviour. Reading between the lines of a lot of media there is also a distinct employer and shareholder investment group that also want change far in advance of any measures the government proposes. They can see the labour market and predatory overseas capital markets investing here and destroying local wealth.

    They may think they are going to hang onto this elusive "middle" but they run the real risk of a lot of the other groups just staying at home and not voting or worse turning to the Trump type grievance vote. That will keep them out of power for ever

  10. DS 10

    Outside crisis management, the least consequential New Zealand Government since the second tenure of Joseph Ward ninety years ago.

    (It is easier to recall the policies that Labour has promised not to enact than the policies it has).

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