The Government graded

Newsroom has had a go at Grading the Government

  • Economy: B
    GDP growth is on track for around three percent in 2018 and positive signs for businesses’ own activities have kept the economy on an even keel.

I think it’s too soon to call on the Government’s effect on the economy.

  • Budget: B
    The Government inherited a Budget and an economy benefiting from strong income tax and GST receipts.
    …it also uncovered through the 2018 Budget round that it had inherited health and education budgets stretched by years of restrained capital spending and very fast population growth.

What they inherited is fortuitous. Stretched health and education budgets should have been obvious before the election when they made spending promises. Their rushed and large tertiary education spend seems to have had little effect but commit to a large increase in spending to limit other spending increases. Their budgeting can’t be judged until at least their first budget, due next month.

  • Open government and transparency: F
    Perhaps its biggest failure.

So far, yes, one of it’s biggest failures. OIA abuse is disgraceful, and Minister of Open Government Clare Curran has had an awful and opposite start.

  • Immigration: D
    The annual net migration numbers remain close to those assailed in opposition as disastrous and uncontrolled. 

Labour and NZ First talked big on slashing immigration and have changed little. Last year net immigration peaked at about 72,000, the most recent figure was 68,000, nowhere near the promised 30,000 (Labour) and far less promised by NZ First.

  • Foreign Affairs: C
    It’s difficult to get a sense of Winston Peters’ guiding principles when it comes to New Zealand’s foreign policy.

C is generous. One of the few things Peters has not been vague about is his promotion of Russian trade. And Ardern seems to have poor communication with Peters.

  • Trade: B
    An early trade test for Ardern and company came in the form of the Trans Pacific Partnership, but political veteran David Parker… has handled the portfolio largely well. The bizarre Russia FTA proposal is now off the table, although not before causing some damage.

So Parker good, Peters bad on trade.

  • Environment: B
    The Prime Minister made headlines across the world with the announcement there’d be no new oil and gas exploration permits.  A more substantial move was setting up an interim climate change commission to advise on the shape of a Zero Carbon Act to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

The oil and gas permit announcement was poorly managed and seemed poorly prepared for – see No cost analysis, no consultation, no idea on oil and gas ban.

James Shaw has started quietly but confidently on net zero emissions by 2050 but it’s far too soon to tell what the reality of this target will mean.

  • Education: B+
    Chris Hipkins is a capable minister…While still early days, his ambitious plan to review and overhaul the entire school system should be applauded. Suggestions the introduction of a fees-free first year of tertiary education has had little impact on student enrolments will be worrying for the Government.

Generous. Hard to judge Hipkins ambitious plans that are subject to a review. Fees-free looks like it could have been a rushed and expensive commitment which was poorly thought through. No mention of Hipkins rush to scrap Partnership Schools with poor consultation.

  • Health: B+

I have no idea how a B+ is warranted. Most possible changes have been put to committees. Serious questions should be asked Minister David Clark over the Middlemore claims. If he doesn’t deliver on a promised new Dunedin hospital he will be in trouble down here (and decisions have been delayed despite his prior claims of urgency being required). And the Government has been running a softening up PR campaign blaming the last Minister for making budget decisions difficult.

  • Transport: B-
    There’s a lot to like in the Government’s transport policy, but its announcement and delivery was badly bungled and left people either scratching their heads or seriously brassed off.

There’s a lot many people are concerned about in what Ministers have been saying about transport, especially on higher fuel excise (claimed to be not a tax increase by Ardern) and the rush to shift people out of cars and into expensive to implement trains, and very contentious cycleways.

  • Political management: C+
    In the grading system used for the NCEA, the coalition Government has scored an ‘achieved’: one-sixth of the way through its first term and the cabinet and wider executive are intact. No one from New Zealand First has had to be jettisoned, no Labour or Greens ministers stood down or inquired into.

But is that good management? There are unanswered questions about Ardern’s political management, and Ministers working on related policies seem to have communicated poorly.

Effort on PR management: A
Implementation on political management: D

Ardern is at real risk of being exposed for a fixation with personality politics absent substance.

  • First 100 Days: A
    Sneaking in just two days before its self-imposed deadline, it’s hard to view the 100-day checklist of to-dos as anything but a resounding success.
    A year of free tertiary education – check. Ban foreign home buyers – success despite claims it couldn’t be done.

A success as a PR exercise perhaps, with many of their promises deferred to working groups and committees.

As sound policy it is much more questionable. Both free tertiary education and foreign home buyers now appear to have lacked effectiveness and have created problems.

  • Housing: B-
    Labour had a clear plan to launch Kiwibuild, ban foreign buying of homes and extend the two-year bright-line test to five years.

The foreign buyer ban has proved problematic, it’s too soon to tell what effect the extension to the bright-line test will have, and the ‘clear plan to launch Kiwibuild’ still looks a long way off any actual plan let alone results.

As with other policies the Government is finding implementation much harder than talk. Minister Phil Twyford is also looking less than solid.

  • Families Package/child poverty: B
    Axing National’s tax cuts in favour of a families package designed to lift children out of poverty was a key pre-election policy for Labour.
    More controversial is a winter energy payment to help people pay their heating bills.

They have delivered on promises, but it’s too soon to see whether this will have much effect on ‘poverty’ numbers. They have taken a political risk scrapping tax cuts for all low and medium paid people in favour of families and rich pensioners.

  • Strong regions: B
    The Provincial Growth Fund continues to surprise. Some of its investments – an expensive roundabout in Northland, the ‘Chardonnay Express’ in Gisborne, and the Cathedral restoration in Taranaki – seem to stretch the remit of provincial economic growth but the fund has yet to cause serious damage to Regional Development Minister Shane Jones’s reputation.

This could turn out to be a boost for regions and a boost for Jones’ and NZ First’s re-election chances, or it could be seen as a cynical slush fund. Too soon to call.

  • Workplace Relations: B-
    In its first tranche of employment law announcements in January, Minister Iain Lees-Galloway surprised many by softening, rather than abolishing, the often-criticised 90-day trial periods.
     A coalition concession means the minimum wage will rise rapidly to $20 by 2020.
    But generating the most talk are plans to introduce Fair Pay Agreements.

There have been warnings about the flow on effects and unintended consequences of rapidly increasing the minimum wage. Far too soon to call.

‘Fair Pay Agreements’ look like being a very contentious return to imposed union power.

Not mentioned are the wage claims and threats of industrial action in the expensive health and education sectors.

A first six months is scant time to sort out substance from PR and pre-election promises.

The Government has so far survived intact, but faces many challenges – a big one being getting next month’s budget right, or at least an acceptable and safe balance.

A big unknown looming is Ardern’s birth and baby break – the timing must be uncertain, as are possible complications (modern child bearing has relatively low risks but  they aren’t zero). And how Peters will perform as acting PM, currently planned for 6 weeks, could be interesting.

And Labour’s deputy Kelvin Davis has failed to step up so far so is a possible weak line.

But this will be judged later – like many of the Government’s policies and ambitions, some of which will be difficult to judge for years.

Partnership schools “mostly good”

A generally positive report card for the controversial (in the Labour Party) partnership schools (charter schools).

RNZ: NZ’s charter schools given good report card

Most of the first eight charter schools are good at teaching and testing children from Māori, Pasifika and poor backgrounds, an independent evaluation says.

The report (PDF, 2.8MB) by the firm Martin Jenkins for the Education Ministry said most of the children enrolled in the schools were from high-priority backgrounds and many had previous problems with achievement and attendance.

“All schools/kura report that high proportions of their students have poor achievement histories and are achieving below the age/stage-related standards that could be expected on entry to the school/kura,” it said.

It said the schools showed mostly good and in some cases innovative practice in their approaches to working with the children.

It also said their assessment practices were good.

“We are confident that all of the schools/kura are either already delivering, or are on a path towards delivering, assessment practice that is ‘good’ or ‘very good’ overall.”

The report said literacy and numeracy dominated the curriculum of all of the schools and most had average or lower than average class sizes.

It said in 2015 most of the schools met or exceeded their contracted targets for student attendance, engagement and achievement.

The evaluation said most of the schools said their reporting requirements were burdensome, and some said they had unresolved contract issues and/or a complex relationship with their key partner, the Education Ministry.

“These issues have at times diverted attention and resources away from delivery,” it said.

This adds to the debate over partnership schools, especially within the Labour Party.

Also at RNZ: Charter school opens for business

A new charter kura says some of its students have come to its classes because they were close to being kicked out of their old schools.

Te Kura Māori o Waatea in Auckland officially opened for business today.

The school is operated by the Manukau Urban Maori Authority, while its head is the broadcaster and former politician Willie Jackson.

“You know, sometimes we’ve got to be bigger than our parties, and it’s not about Labour, sometimes, and it’s not about national, and it’s not about ACT.

“As you said, David, it’s about our kids: the kaupapa is the main thing here.

“You either get involved or you get out”.

The kura’s tūmuaki, Tania Rangiheuea, said some of her pupils had been in trouble with other teachers in the past.

“A lot of our children have come here because they were on the verge of getting kicked out of their school.

“Some of them have behavioural problems – not all of them – most of them are really, really good kids and I love them.

It is her first time leading a school; previously she has been a lecturer at Victoria University.

She said the kura’s philosophical approach to education involves the whole lives of students and whānau – not just the time pupils spent in the classroom.

Tania Rangiheuea said her people were good at finding out what makes the tamariki tick.

“I have a full time Whānau Ora navigator attached to the kura; she goes in and works with the families.

“For example, I had two children from one household who for two days didn’t come to school, and when I found out when they didn’t come to school they had no lunch.”

Arctic Report Card 2016

NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) have released their 2016 Arctic Report Card, and it isn’t flash.

Persistent warming trend and loss of sea ice are triggering extensive Arctic changes.

Observations in 2016 showed a continuation of long-term Arctic warming trends which reveals the interdependency of physical and biological Arctic systems, contributing to a growing recognition that the Arctic is an integral part of the globe, and increasing the need for comprehensive communication of Arctic change to diverse user audiences.

Highlights

  • The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2016 is by far the highest since 1900, and new monthly record highs were recorded for January, February, October and November 2016.
  • After only modest changes from 2013-2015, minimum sea ice extent at the end of summer 2016 tied with 2007 for the second lowest in the satellite record, which started in 1979.
  • Spring snow cover extent in the North American Arctic was the lowest in the satellite record, which started in 1967.
  • In 37 years of Greenland ice sheet observations, only one year had earlier onset of spring melting than 2016.
  • The Arctic Ocean is especially prone to ocean acidification, due to water temperatures that are colder than those further south.  The short Arctic food chain leaves Arctic marine ecosystems vulnerable to ocean acidification events.
  • Thawing permafrost releases carbon into the atmosphere, whereas greening tundra absorbs atmospheric carbon.  Overall, tundra is presently releasing net carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Small Arctic mammals, such as shrews, and their parasites, serve as indicators for present and historical environmental variability. Newly acquired parasites indicate northward shifts of sub-Arctic species and increases in Arctic biodiversity.