Monday, 8 December 2008

Urgency! Urgency! Urgency! [update 2]

Wow! Isn’t this new National/ACT/Maori/Peter Dunne-Nothin Government hitting the ground running.  John Key has flown around the world in a plane.  He’s spoken to world leaders.  New ministers have got their heads down and their sleeves rolled up – they’ve been diving into their portfolios to get down to business.  And in its first out-of-the-blue “crisis,” new Foreign Minister Murray McCully took action to get those poor helpless travellers out of Thailand (well, you know, he would have taken action if we had an air force.) 

And now, parliament starts sitting again today!  Under urgency!

Shit, this a government that has things to do.  Things to do urgently.  They have an an action plan.  They’ve promised a first-hundred days of action that started back on November 19.  (Or today, depending on who you listen to.)

“Action Plan!”  “First Hundred Days of Action!”  “Urgency!” Sheesh, it almost leaves a feller breathless, don’t it?

  When you hear the words “action plan” and “first hundred days” you surely know you’re listening to spin.  At least, you would if you weren’t a press gallery buffoon like John Boy Armstrong.  What’s in this “27-point action plan” that requires so much urgency and comes accompanied with so much bluster? 

Anything about getting government off the necks of producers when it’s never been more urgent to do so?  Anything about slashing the fat from bloated government departments (hell, even slashing whole goddamn departments) so the dead weight of their unproductive carcasses can be taken off producers’ shoulders?  Anything at all about ceasing to pay no-hopers to breed, which would stop in its tracks the headlines of no-hopers killing those they’ve been paid to produce?

Of course not.  For the most part, they’re neither urgently necessary nor at all productive – just a politically-fuelled mixture of banal and batshit crazy that the sycophantic commentariat are lapping up like a little boy laps up his mother’s warm milk and oaties.  Let’s look at this “action plan” and see whether either urgency is justified, or “action” is a fair description (my comments are in italics).

    On the economy :
    • The introduction and passage of National's tax package into law before Christmas, with tax cuts beginning on 1 April 2009. 
        Derisory tax cuts that will be fully wiped out by hikes in ACC levies, and without any concomitant cuts in spending: which means taxpayers will have an extra borrowing bill to suck up, and producers will have to compete in the capital markets for the same credit as this government.
    • Updating and publishing the economic and fiscal forecasts to gauge the true state of the government's books and determine the on-going effects of the international economic crisis.
        They’re going to urgently publish some more forecasts?  Gee.  Can’t wait.
    • Appointing a Minister of Infrastructure and begin implementing National's infrastructure plan.
        They’re going to spend $7 billion more of your money.  While cutting taxes.  Which means they’re going to borrow money to bid up the prices of contractors and building materials at the very time these need to contract from their inflated heights in order to assist real recovery. Only to a politician (or to an economist in thrall to politicians) can this make sense. Another spending binge, just like the last spending binge – and we get to pick up the tab. Again.
    • The introduction of an RMA reform bill to reduce the costs, delays, and uncertainties in the Act.
        Window dressing.  It’s just a few revisions to exempt the government from the RMA so it can get on with its multi-billon dollar ThingBig 2.0 public works programme, and a few others to allow “companies to win the right to take private land.”  Nothing to see here, nothing at all.
    • The introduction and passage of National's transitional relief package into law to offer extra assistance to Kiwis who are worst hit by redundancy.
        More spending.  More welfare.  No change.
    • Calling in public service chief executives and instruct them to undertake a line-by-line review of their department's spending.
        And this will save how much?

It’s pathetic isn’t it.  In the face of the world’s biggest economic calamity for decades, that was National’s “urgent” economic plan to address it: basically the same menu they had a year ago with extra spending to go.   More spending, more welfare, and some tax cuts that aren’t worth a damn.   Nothing to see here at all.  So what about the next seven points on the “action plan,” those promised to “fix” Laura N’Order:

  • On Law and Order, that nice Mr Key says National will:
    • Introduce legislation to remove the right of the worst repeat violent offenders to be released on parole. 
        One point that’s worth a damn.
    • Introduce legislation to clamp down on criminal gangs and their drug trade.
        Populist tosh that, to the extent that it’s successful, should help to raise profits for the criminals who remain in the drug trade – and make lessening freedom of association for the rest of us all the easier whenever the government wants to.
    • Introduce legislation to toughen the bail laws to make it harder for criminals awaiting trial to get bail.
        Another point that’s worth a damn iff at the same time court waiting times are brought down so people whom the courts must still consider innocent don’t have to rot in jail while they wait for their docket to come up.
    • Introduce legislation to tackle increasing violent youth crime by bolstering the Youth Court with a range of new interventions and sentences.
        John Key's 'Plan Blue' is for the state to either coddle kids or shackle them -- or have them sent to boot camp.  None of which, I submit, requires urgency or will seriously address increasing violent youth crime.  But it will attract headlines, which is all this exercise is really about, eh.
    • Introduce legislation to require DNA testing for every person arrested for an imprisonable offence.
       This is abuse.  It’s as simple as that. Remember that an arrest is not a conviction.  An arrest used to mean you were still presumed to be innocent, remember?  Not any more.  As from now you will retain (for the moment) the right not to give evidence against yourself, but even before being convicted you will lose your right not to give the state bits of your body.  The National Party has had the presumption of innocence doctrine in its sights for some time. Such a long-held cornerstone of liberty against state power should not be overturned so easily, or at all.
    • Introduce legislation to give police the power to issue on-the-spot protection orders to help them protect victims of domestic violence.
        Window dressing that will empower unproven accusations to have the force of law.
    • Introduce legislation to compensate victims by levying criminals and putting the money into a Victims’ Compensation Scheme.
       More window dressing.  The amount proposed, just $50 per crime, will cost more to collect than it will ever amount to.  The principle with victim restitution should be that criminals should never be able to gain a value from their crimes, and should to the fullest extent possible be forced to make restitution for their crimes to their victim(s).  This is not even a first step towards establishing that principle.

So some good, some bad and a whole  lot of window dressing.  And nothing really that could justify the phrase “action plan.”  So what about the third component: education. Will they fix what’s being taught to young New Zealanders that means one-in-five leaves schools functionally illiterate and innumerate (just as they were when National was last in power)?  That has left some 800,000 NZ workers unable even to transfer printed information to an order form?  Will they begin to wean young NZers off the cradle-to-grave welfare expectations they imbibe in Nanny’s indoctrination centres?  Will they work towards taking power away from the Ministry and the teacher unions? Will they hell.  We’re looking at more testing, even more paperwork, and ever more bossyboots governance of successful educators by those who are provably unsuccessful.

In education, Nation will (“under urgency”!:
• Amend the Education Act 1989 so the Minister of Education can set agreed National Standards in literacy and numeracy.
   Like King Canute commanding the tides, National intends to command literacy and numeracy to rise without any plan to abandon the teaching methods that have so demonstrably caused the problem.
• Publish requirements for primary and intermediate schools to report to parents in plain English about how their child is doing compared to the set National Standards, and compared to other children their age.
   More paperwork for teachers over-burdened by the stuff.
• Begin work on allocating the additional $500 million capital investment in schools in preparation for our first Budget to start future-proofing our schools.
    More window dressing.  As Phil Rennie demonstrated, the Clark Government blew an extra $3.1 billion on education, a 26% real increase, with exactly nothing at all to show for it, showing convincingly that if throwing money at the factory schools could fix the problems of the factory schools, that would have already happened.  Clearly, National has learned nothing from the news.
• Introduce a "voluntary bonding" scheme which offers student loan debt write-offs to graduate teachers who agree to work in hard-to-staff communities or subjects.
    The payoff for National’s student election bribe.  Forcing the impecunious to pay for the education of those who will one day be wealthy.
• Amend the Education Act 1989 to increase the current fines for parents of truant children from $150 and $400 for first time and repeat offenders respectively, and allow the Ministry of Education to take prosecutions.
    Frankly, I’d be giving parents whose children don’t attend the factory schools a medal, not a fine.

So nothing there worth a damn either.  How about the next “sector”?  I bet you’re just champing at the bit to find out, aren’t you?  What “changes” will we see here that requires so much urgency.  Will we see a change to the attitude that places ideology above patient care?  To the  die-while-you-wait health system that perpetuates this attitude?  To a cut in the number of bureaucratic parasites that infest the government’s creaking hospital “system”?  Of course not.

In health, National will:
• Instruct the Ministry of Health and DHBs to halt the growth in health bureaucracy.
    Clearly the story of King Canute is required reading for National’s ministers.  “Instructing” bureaucrats to stop doing what bureaucrats without setting up a mechanism to do that  is like passing laws to stop the tides flooding the land without building flood walls to do the job.  Which means this is more window dressing.
• Open the books on the true state of hospital waiting lists and the crisis in services.
    The old political ploy: Point the finger for failure at the last government so you can buy time for your own stuff-ups to take hold.
• Fast-track funding for 24-hour Plunketline.
    Keeping their promise on populist vote-buying – hardly a matter requiring urgency.
• Instruct that a full 12-month course of Herceptin be publicly available.
    Keeping another promise on populist vote-buying.
• Begin implementing National's Tackling Waiting Lists plan.
   Another plan without detail that, like Tony Ryall’s command to emergency rooms, shows the effect of studying King Canute is having a resounding effect on National’s policy writers.  Look to see the same sort of command-and-fudge approach to waiting lists that the Clark Government used.
• Establish a "voluntary bonding scheme" offering student loan debt write-off to graduate doctors, nurses, and midwives agreeing to work in hard-to-staff communities or specialties.
    As above, this is the necessary payoff for National’s student election bribe.  Forcing the impecunious to pay for the education of those who will one day be wealthy – the result of abject timidity to remove the price controls that have made communities and specialities hard to staff.

John Key said at the release of this “action plan,” "Our commitment to move immediately to tackle the issues that matter demonstrates our determination to build a brighter future for all New Zealanders."

I invite you to consider how many of these 27 points genuinely tackle the issues that matter, whether there is really any need to move urgently on any of them (beyond the urgent need to look like “action men”), and what this shows about any genuine determination about “building a brighter future” for anyone but themselves and their cabinet colleagues.

The truth is that given the scale of the world's economic problems very few of those "points" could really be called "action" in the full meaning of that word, and those that appear so are either window dressing at best, or at worst they make Cullen’s tax-and-spend proclivities look conservative – at least he was up front about making you pay through the nose, instead of extracting the readies by stealth.

We are about to see two weeks of “urgency” – two weeks of much sound and fury that will signify nothing at all beyond the sound and the fury, and end in nothing much more than we had before.

Plus ca change.

UPDATE 1: The odour of capitulation in the National caucus must be all-enveloping.  Annie Fox points out that following the stabbing and killing of a Christchurch taxi driver former entrepreneur Stephen Joyce has now joined the ranks of the knee-jerk Nanny populists :

    "Transport Minister Steven Joyce will review the use of distress buttons, video cameras and safety screens to separate drivers and passengers."
    Does the government have rules on the use of buttons, cameras and screens? If they do have these rules then the only thing Joyce needs to do is get rid of them.
    But let's presume that they rules don't exist - why is the government wasting time and resources on this matter - surely it is the responsibility of the taxi driver what security he would like. Just like they decide if they are going to have a Navman or CD player or air freshener.

Absolutely right.  As she says, it didn’t take long for Joyce to become just another politician.

UPDATE 2Bob Jones has a brilliant idea for the National Party to keep the Maori Party on side and help solve the economic crisis:

- free breakfast in bed for Maoris - also solve looming unemployment problem with breakfast makers and deliverers. Maori Party now in bag for sure.


  1. So I take it then that you are somewhat underwhelmed by John Boy's cunning plan to restore our country to the top of the OECD's rankings? :-)

  2. Dave

    He has a plan?


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