From time to time an event or period in history occurs that is so significant it enables step-changes in the social and political landscape. Recent examples are Roosevelt's "New Deal" that shifted the terms of the "social contract" in the United States, and put in place institutions that (arguably) delivered more equity within US society.
More recently, and locally, the poor economic position of Australia in the late eighties led to a consensus deal that bolstered the fiscal foundations of the Commonwealth: the union movement traded pay rises today for stability tomorrow when accepting compulsory superannuation contributions. As with so many policies, the major factor was that it was universal and therefore perceived as fair. Bottom line, Australia now enjoys a significantly improved savings rate, meaning access to capital, and a tax structure that (while not perfect) doesn't actively encourage real-estate churn.
The position of New Zealand in the global landscape is difficult to ascertain sometimes when we are embroiled in the day to day, but there are a number of simple facts that we can just accept: about 1/3 of export earnings are from tourism, 1/3 from dairy and 1/3 from everything else.
New Zealand punches above its weight in global affairs due to its environmental and ethical position -- while we (rightly) wring our hands, fret and criticise domestically, the fact that NZ is nuclear-free and generates nearly 80% of its electricity from renewables, as well as being the first country (but not State -- that honour goes to South Australia) to give women the vote, together with our maturity with regard to tackling "post-colonial" issues gives us significant global political capital. And we're not just a bunch on lefty-pinko-liberals: we are one of the few nations to genuinely accept the concepts of free trade.
All this means that citizens of other countries look to us in many areas, wishing their own nations had the political courage to be different, which leads me to the point of this essay. We need to be different. All the things for which our little country is famous are because we took a stand, a pragmatic, simple position that larger countries with entrenched interests can barely countenance.
So forgive my frustration to have watched a new government which had been handed one of the greatest opportunities for radical change in the last decade fritter away the chance to genuinely deliver anything that will improve the position of this nation. Here's the key point John: we will never get ahead by trying to copy the old world. We'll never catch up to Australia by trying to dig bigger holes to sell to the Chinese. We need to differentiate and grab our niche, not copy the policies of Britain (education) or the US (the ETS).
We need to be different. We need to pick from the 2% of the global population who don't want to operate in socio-political environments where the entrenched vested interests are so significant that the bar to change is too high to contemplate.
Forgive my language, but you are pissing away a magnificent opportunity, simply because you are petrified of another 10 years in the wilderness. Or is it that you don't know what to do? The clamouring from the tired old business roundtable-esque arguments, versus the innate selfishness of the Grey movement: it's hard to know what to do isn't it? You're not used to having 4.2 million people judge every decision you make.
I do have some sympathy for your position. I'm pleased you're trying to stick the promises you made during the election. But now you and your colleagues have been in the chair for a while, and have access to the magnificent information of the public service (it's all much more complicated than it looked isn't it?) you should be getting a few ideas.
I realise you are surrounded by a bunch of crusties who have been spouting the same dogma for so long they can't shift their calloused little minds. So here is an idea.
There are probably a bunch of backbenchers on both sides of the house who are getting tired of waiting for the same old faces to (at the risk of sounding harsh) basically die and make way for some 21st Century thinking.
You could, if you put some "stuff we know needs to be done" on the table, possibly get a coalition together that would make the grey-haired old roadblocks irrelevant.
To get you started, here are some ideas cleaned from radical pages such as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and New Scientist:
• Dump the dogma around education. All of it. Entrench the nil-interest philosophy and then let the teachers teach. Get government out of the classroom, and give them more money (see below how to generate several billion dollars with which to do this);
• Introduce a carbon tax that abates GST (i.e. drop GST by an amount that reflects the revenue from carbon). This would for example make food cheaper and petrol more expensive, and there's no need for government to choose which vested interest gets the taxpayer subsidy;
• Give the Reserve Bank another tool -- a compulsory super levy. So every New Zealander has a KiwiSaver account, and when the economy is overheating, people are compelled to put money in it. Think about it.;
• Decriminalise drugs -- the Portuguese model is probably worth a look (another country that gets ahead by being different, not the same). Put the hundreds of millions of dollars saved into the health & education system;
• Raise the retirement age, but not by an arbitrary number. Make it a proportion of the average life expectancy of, say, a 40 year old. So you are told when you are 40 how old you will be when you get NZ Super. That leaves you 25 years plus to sort out some savings;
• Put in place an electricity billing system that converts all the retailers into finance companies, and all the local lines companies into power brokers. This means one will fund me to put local generation on my house, and the other has to buy the output and feed it into the local grid. Capitalise the finance companies from the savings from Transpower never having to build another trunk line.
Here's the thing John: if you can't find at least one thing off that list that you are willing to tackle, then you don't have what we need in a leader. It's meant to be hard. Blithering around telling us what you're not going to do, or re-litigating the tired old 20th century policies that your crusties have on their wish list just doesn'tcut it.
We want more. You've got 12 months.
This guest post is by "Slarty". Surprisingly enough, that byline is a pseudonym