Government looks transitional rather than transformational

Jacinda Ardern promised a “government of transformation” in her Speech from the throne in November, but so far it looks more transitional, according to Colin James.

I hear  some transformational talk but mostly see tinkering walk.

ODT: Govt looks transitional at this stage but could yet be transformational

Jacinda Ardern’s Speech from the Throne in November promised a “government of transformation”. After six months in power, it looks more like a government of transition – to the post-baby-boom generations.

The last transformational government was Labour’s in 1984-90: an independent foreign policy, a start towards biculturalism, renovated environmental and constitutional law and a market economy open to an economically globalising world – and abruptly to a much more unequal society, a tax system favouring the well-off and an electorate so angry it changed the electoral system for the better.

Ardern insists her transformation will avert the 1980s damage and insecurities. Also, she said in Berlin last week, it was not just a transition to younger generations but a “just transition” to the 2020s, when technology would kill many jobs.

Is she on course?

Far more talk than walk so far, and much of the talk is vague.

Next month’s Budget provides a platform. It will restate the fiscal parameters and will devote large sums to begin to address funding gaps after Bill English’s “more with less” turned to “less” last term, particularly for health, housing and infrastructure.

Critics say Robertson is exaggerating, echoing all new Cabinets’ “discovery” of a “fiscal crisis”. Actually, Robertson talked up the “crisis” pre-election.

But fixing shortfalls is not transformation – or even transition.

Neither, so far, are the dozens – or scores, depending what you count – of reviews, working groups, strategies and so on. They open issues up rather than open up “bold” (another Ardern word) new vistas. For example, the education review reads more like adjustments to the 2010s than anticipation of the 2020s “gig”, “sharing”, robotised and artificial-intelligence economy.

So, too, for the tax working group. Its terms of reference – and Sir Michael Cullen’s 2000s “third way” background – rule out some big matters, including a real land tax and fixing the mess of tax, rebates, allowances and phase-outs at the bottom end.

They skirt around wealth, the core factor in embedded inequalities through the privilege it confers via untaxed inheritances. Likewise, the distortions that drive people to invest savings in houses and the attack on disposable income a high GST imposes on those at the bottom.

So, fix-it, not transformation.

The tax and welfare system has become a complex behemoth. Tinkering with tax with as many exceptions and targets is at this stage looking nothing like transformational.

And plans on welfare reform have been hinted at but are yet to be revealed.

But what if Cullen’s report next year lists those gaps and suggests a “phase 2” deeper rework of our 1980s tax system to gear it to the 2020s?

A tax “phase 2” could point to a transformational second term, if Ardern, Robertson and co really mean it.

Also transformational would be real policies that step on to the path to net-zero-carbon emissions by 2050. The ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration (Ardern calls it a step along her “just transition”) is gesture, not transformation, since pumping could go on for decades.

The budget will give a better picture of how much transforming rather than tinkering the Government is prepared to initiate, but we will also have to wait until the many working groups and committees have reported back and decisions made.



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  1. Blazer

     /  May 1, 2018

    come back in 3 years…6 months a tad early to make any…call.

  2. Zedd

     /  May 1, 2018

    Jacinda may have said Transformation.. ‘It wont happen overnight.. but i will happen’
    “LETS DO THIS !!” 😀

  3. PartisanZ

     /  May 1, 2018

    Fourth Labour (Rogerednomics) was transitional while it was being ‘transformational’ …

    So was First Labour (1935 – 49), “Responsible for the realisation of a wide range of progressive social reforms during its time in office, it set the tone of New Zealand’s economic and welfare policies until the 1980s …”

    Sixth Labour may do both as well …?

    Who knows what the next three years could bring?

    Typical falsely manufactured EITHER/OR issue, when both is actually the case.

    “Daily Attack Topic”?

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  May 1, 2018

      Not three years now, thank goodness.

      • PartisanZ

         /  May 1, 2018

        I agree, they probably have 5-and-a-half years up their sleeve …

        • Gezza

           /  May 1, 2018

          Hard to say. The election won’t be decided by Trevor Mallard. 😉

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  May 1, 2018

          No, it will just feel like it .

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  May 1, 2018

            Like five and a half years, It will feel like dog years.

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