The Government’s “nine years of neglect” meme a bad excuse for under performance

Government ministers keep using the term ‘nine years of neglect’ to attack the last Government (and by association the Opposition), and also as an excuse for not delivering on their own promises.

With a far larger than expected surplus causing some embarrassment due to the lack of urgent action on issues that Labour had claimed needed urgent attention 9before they took over government) this line of attack may continue at least until next year’s pre-budget and budget announcements lead into the election campaign.

The Prime Minister started the year by telling New Zealand that 2019 would be the “year of delivery” but there is another phrase that has become much more synonymous with this Government.

“Nine years of neglect.”

It has become the Government’s go-to defence when its back is against the wall on any given issue.

From Parliament’s question time yesterday Jacinda Ardern showed in her first answer to Question 1 that she is leading the attack/excuse.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly our Government’s $300 million investment in Taranaki Base Hospital announced last week. The Government is investing record amounts into infrastructure, including $1.7 billion set aside in Budget 2019 for upgrading our hospitals and health services, which, of course, after nine years of neglect is much needed.

Question 2:

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The accounts show the coalition Government continues to increase investment in areas that were neglected by the previous Government. Capital investment—including in new hospital buildings, classrooms, roads and rail, and the super fund—was up 13.7 percent over the year. In dollar terms, capital investment in the 2019 year was more than $6.7 billion, building on the $5.9 billion we invested in 2018. This compares with just $3.7 billion in 2017, before we came to office. Our high levels of capital spending demonstrate this Government’s commitment to investing in turning around the infrastructure deficit we inherited after nine years of neglect.

Clark has used the term a lot to make excuses for his slowness to address health issues. Again in question 3:

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Average wages are rising at the fastest rate in a decade. We have, as I said to the member earlier, ensured that those working New Zealanders, through the Working for Families tax credits, do have lower tax to pay. Now, this is the Government that wants to see a strong economy and is investing in making sure that we are also addressing the infrastructure neglect that we inherited—nine years of infrastructure neglect—and we make no apology for investing in our schools, in our hospitals, and in our roads.

And:

Hon Todd McClay: Does he think New Zealanders are paying too much tax?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Average wages are rising at the fastest rate in a decade. We have, as I said to the member earlier, ensured that those working New Zealanders, through the Working for Families tax credits, do have lower tax to pay. Now, this is the Government that wants to see a strong economy and is investing in making sure that we are also addressing the infrastructure neglect that we inherited—nine years of infrastructure neglect—and we make no apology for investing in our schools, in our hospitals, and in our roads.

Again in question 9:

Hon Michael Woodhouse: In that case, why does he continue to blame the previous Government when he believes he has put in sufficient funding to make DHBs viable?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As I’ve said many times before, it will take more than two Budgets to make up for nine long years of neglect. They ran the health system into the ground, and it will take us a wee while to put that right.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: When is he going to take responsibility for the clinical and financial performance of the health sector on his watch rather than blame the previous Government?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I’ll take responsibility when I’ve finished cleaning up that Government’s mess.

At the rate Clark is going it will take a long time. Actually growing health needs are likely to continue to struggle against government funding limitations for a long time.

Nanaia Mahut joined the chorus:

Hon Jacqui Dean: How much does she expect rates to rise, in order for councils to fund all of the work she has just described?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: That’s a matter that I can’t be entirely responsible for. The setting of rates is a matter for local councils to determine, and they are mindful that, in balancing the impact on ratepayers with the priority that their people have within their communities, they must balance the books based on what the revenue is that they get from rates. But can I say this: when we came into Government, it was very clear that the local government sector had been left to languish for nine years and the issues of affordability on councils had been neglected. That’s why we embarked on a Productivity Commission report that is looking to provide some solutions, and we’re considering that report and will respond in due course to the cost pressures facing councils.

A report ‘looking to provide some solutions’ at some time in the future, perhaps, is a common theme for this Government.

Later during: Education (School Donations) Amendment Bill — Third Reading

Kiritapu Allan: Barking at cars.

MARJA LUBECK: Really though—barking at cars, all of that. But New Zealanders aren’t as gullible as the National Party probably thinks they are. People know that the flow-on effects from the nine years of neglect and nine years of under-investment are going to take us a little while to fix up. It’s going to take us more than one term to turn that ship around, but we have started to fix a lot of things. We have recently—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I am going to call the member back to the bill, which is about school donations. The member has to somehow make the link.

MARJA LUBECK: So much good positive messaging…

Irony that Lubeck seems oblivious to.

It is a dirty meme, both a negative attack campaign, and an excuse for under performance, that is used by and obviously approved by Jacinda Ardern.

This sort of tactic isn’t new – National kept blaming the previous Clark/Labour-led government – but I think that voters would prefer to see more focus on doing things now rather than pointing fingers back into the past. And action.

Ardern promised that 2019 would be the Government’s “year of delivery”. It is becoming apparent that what she and her Ministers are intent on delivering is an ongoing excuse for not delivering anywhere as much as was promised.

It would be a very risky campaign strategy to claim that “It’s going to take us more than one term to turn that ship around” as a reason to be re-elected for a second term.

All incoming governments inherit challenges as a result of previous policies and circumstances.  It isn’t new for Prime Ministers and Ministers to blame past governments, but Labour’s relentless repeating of a lame excuse is wearing increasingly thin.

Next election campaign voters will remember the three years of the incumbent government better than the previous nine years or the nine years before that.