Guest Post – Reform or Recline?

Politics is forever the dichotomy between doing what is popular and what is needful.  The old saying that turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas is so true.  For the leaders that thrive on being popular, polling has become their crutch.  They can sway with the lightest of breezes weaving through an election cycle with the most positive of polls.  The politicians who like to reform and see their election as a mandate to “do something” are far and few between.  You could name our reformers on the fingers of one hand.

Reformers need a window of opportunity.  They need a set of circumstances that create the chance to swing their axe without having to stop and check their rear vision mirror.  Muldoon very ably set up such a window for Douglas to have three or four years of axe swinging.  We still bemoan the infamous ‘cup of tea’ but in reality Douglas and Prebble had more time to wrestle their changes through than most reformers have had through history.  Douglas said on many occasions reforms needed to be exacted quickly even if a little dirty or lacking final refinement.

Reality is that the big majority of us hate change.  We get comfort from the status quo even if we know full well that it is underperforming. The other obvious problem is that for every failure there is roughly the same number of solutions as there are voters.   

The other observation that some find irritating is that most reforms of any consequence in our history have been introduced by the left.  Right wing politicians generally sail the boat without rocking it.  They mostly tinker and give the appearance of doing a great job of fixing things.  One of the ways they can get away with such deceptive behaviour is that we do not have a media capable of effective, unbiased scrutiny.  The other let off is that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition would rather fight among themselves, snipe and hack on inanities, many incapable or simply too lazy to operate a real foil for inaction and fiddling by the Government.

John Key has already carved out a corner of our history books as the most popular Prime Minister ever.  But, popular for what?  I did not think it was a beauty contest or a cup for the most friendly player in the team competition.  It is supposed to be about governing. At a personal level I like him very much and enjoy seeing him out and about kissing babies and cutting ribbons.  He excels at it.  But couldn’t we find someone for half his money to do that and let him concentrate on a few issues that are crying out for leadership, innovative thinking, in-your-face reform?

What are the issues?

  1. Who has the right sized nut sack to tackle performance pay?  There is a right way and wrong way to move and I am for teachers getting even more pay overall and earning our respect as major contributors to our future.  But the key words are ‘earn’ and ‘respect’.What about under-performance- the inability to prepare kids for life with reading and maths skills?  Who is going to require longer hours and more days through the year for the billions of hard assets tied up in schools?  Who is going to have the money go with the child?  Who is going to open up ownership to more innovation?
  2. Who has the right sized cojones to tackle the soft underbelly of poor performance, misplaced incentives, Maori and Pacific Islander under performance, under funded liabilities for oldies, wasted and duplicated resources in provision, unhelpful incentives, intergenerational poverty and related crime, low quality housing, and much more.
  3. Who has the cherries for this job?  Someone needs to say ‘enough is enough’ and be able to deliver on it.  Is it too far fetched to think there maybe a Maori leader who might put an end to the fanciful claims, the racial divide being institutionalised at all levels and in all organisations?  Probably not, but it would be effective.
  4. Government waste. Who has the yam bags to send the Commissioners for everything home, the consultation committees, the unnecessary government departments?

Of course, you will have your list of reform targets.  That’s not a problem.  A reformer would pick up all the challenges if we could just get one into the driver’s seat and for long enough.  You might want the RMA and the Health and Safety Act kicked into touch.  Taxes reduced.  Electoral reform.  For me get the four big ones knocked off first and enjoy the fruits.

So, what’s going to open the window for someone to have a go?  Are the days for such leadership over and gone?  Is it conceivable the left in politics could produce such a leader? That looks worse than remote.  Could the Act party ever get into a position to wield a stick?  Doubtful but possible. Maybe things just have to get worse and as history has shown in such times, a leader with the right sized grapes will emerge from the woodwork.


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  • Seriously?

    The call to kick the RMA to touch always amuses me. Sure the legislation can be improved, but the underlying issues won’t go away: There is only so much land, and there are more and more demands being placed upon it / we all want to do whatever we like with our land, but want others (particularly those who live near us) constrained on what they can do with theirs so that it doesn’t impact too much on us. You can do away with the RMA if you like, but somehow those issues still need to be resolved. You’ll only need to replace it with some other decision-making structure.

    To my mind the primary problems with the RMA are more about how the Council’s implement it than with the legislation itself. Tinkering, as the writer puts it, is all the legislation needs. If National were able to tinker with it as they wanted (thanks Winston) then I’d be mostly happy with that.

    You can say something similar about heath and safety in the workplace.

    Now I’m not trying to support the status quo as some ideal, it is far from that, but the a search for the ultimate freedoms is a hollow and illusionary goal.

  • GoingRight

    Until some New Zealanders have the courage to give their party vote to ACT nothing much will change. We need a strong centre right government and a National Government with an ACT party of around 5% plus could bring in some effective policies that many of us who are or were National voters would be excited to see reform in many areas made. We shall again give both our votes to ACT being in the Epsom electorate.

    • A Goldie

      Well I would shift my vote if ACT were to hard line their immigration policy. It is a simple one liner.

      • GoingRight

        Yes I am not sure if it is ACT policy or the youth view of David Seymour. We don’t agree with this policy from ACT either. We also look at the wider picture in that along with National some of the policies National would like to bring in but daren’t, ACT can introduce and guide the country slightly more in the direction that National supporters used to be comfortable with when we had a FPP electoral system.

  • Mike Webber

    You are absolutely right. The only system that has worked is common law. The RMA is probably the best example of fascism in the world today. Socialism and its twin fascism are all about power and money. The elite get what they want and the rest of us are slaves.

    • Cadwallader

      It is an instrument to hinder/arrest economic development ahead of it being an instrument to prevent environmental degradation. it is replete with fuzzy concepts and notions while being practically devoid of principles. I understand that even Maori elders do not know the meaning of “kiakitanga” which is expressed as an influencing element in eco-protection. The closest definition is “stewardship” whatever that might entail.

  • andrewo

    National tried to sort out the RMA but didn’t have the numbers to get the bill through

    • Cadwallader

      I accept that but the real issue is the Act’s pervasive effects over private property. There is not a single reference to private property rights in the Act. The pre-decessor was (in part) the Town & Country Planning Act which precluded the erosion of private property rights in the “communal” interest. Says it all really doesn’t it?