What can Ardern achieve now?

Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for how she has dealt with the Christchurch mosque shootings. Deservedly. She has shown compassion and empathy with eloquence and ease. Setting an example she has helped quell angst and escalation, and led the nationwide surge of tolrance and understanding.

She has been a star, dissed only by a few black a-holes (and quibbles).

But now what for Ardern? Her government has a lot of other challenges to deal with. She needs to lead there as well ( and she could do with more of her Ministers stepping up as well).

Peter Dunne comments at Newsroom:  She’s no Trump, but is that enough?

Jacinda Ardern’s compassion and empathy makes her an appealing antidote to Donald Trump –  but can she translate that to a genuinely new way of approaching government after decades of the same pragmatic political mantra? asks Peter Dunne.

There has been much international admiration for the leadership style of the Prime Minister in the wake of the Christchurch Mosque killings, but very little attempt so far to place it in any sort of context.

Dunne then runs through an interesting look at New Zealand and world political history since the major changes in the 1980s.

More recently:

Third Way type government has muddled along in most Western countries ever since. Its original proponents have long since left the political stage, but no substantive new way of thinking about government has yet emerged.

The Clark and Key Governments followed broadly the same pragmatic mantra, even if Clark now claims that her reformist zeal was constrained by the exigencies of politics of the time. The English Government’s dalliance with social investment ideas offered the prospect of a new way, but that was snuffed out when that government was ousted after only a few months.

Liberalism had threatened a brief revival in Britain after 2010 but that was also short-lived, and there are questions today about how liberalism can get in tune again with societies that are becoming more polarised, and consequently less tolerant.

The election of Trudeau in Canada in 2015 briefly held out some hope, but was actually less a defining step than a return to the status quo after nine years of Conservative rule.

Similarly with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! movement. This centrist alternative sprung out of the French Socialist Party but the difficulties Macron has faced since coming to office suggest it may struggle to endure.

Ardern has been compared to Donald Trump.

The defining political event of the last couple of decades has been the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016. Whatever one thinks of his policies, his performance and his ethics, there is little doubt that he has shaken up the American political establishment unlike any other leader of modern times. In America, and elsewhere, politicians are now measured, invariably favourably, by the dubious standards Trump has brought to public office.

There’s some stark contrasts.

And here is where our Prime Minister shines, and becomes relevant. She is the anti-Trump in so many ways – female, not male; young not old; humble not arrogant; hard-working not lazy, warm not aloof; compassionate not disdainful; inclusive not divisive; a genuine person who is a unifier, not a narcissistic, egotist divider.

It is easy to see how she attracts the attention and admiration of the world in circumstances like Christchurch and its aftermath, given the absolute contrast she provides to Donald Trump.


At the same time, however, it is still a long stretch to suggest that she represents a substantive new thread in political discourse. She almost certainly does not, and nothing she has said or done to date suggests any great philosophical depth, or makes clear what she actually stands for beyond kindness. But that may not matter all that much.

In her first 18 months as Prime Minister Ardern hinted at a new way based on kindness, but hasn’t really delivered much in the way of significant reform yet.

After the search for new ideas of the last three decades, and their less than stellar outcomes, it is arguable that people are feeling more left out, and their interests more overlooked in our political settlement than ever before.

So we may well be entering a period where what matters most to people is compassion and empathy, and an identity with leaders who reflect that. In that regard, the Prime Minister’s perceived warmth and concern for the suffering meets the mood of the time. That is what gives her relevance, which is really all that matters. And while that perception remains, she will continue to prosper.

The bigger, yet to be answered question, though, is whether and how she will seek to use the opportunity that will provide her to effect significant change. That will provide the ultimate insight into the context in which she is operating.

After her performance over the past two weeks Ardern has a lot of political capital in the bank.

One of the biggest dampeners on real reform has been Winston Peters. He has been noticeably affected by the Christchurch shootings – he even admitted having made mistakes in the past.

Ardern could capitalise on the current situation and socialise – or more accurately, step rather than creep towards the social care side of the governing equation.

The economy and the Government books are in a good state, so there may be not better opportunity than now for Ardern to become a real progressive reformer, in actions rather than in rhetoric.

We may be headed towards a brand of regulated capitalism with more emphasise on empathy and kindness, if Ardern seizes the moment.




The Nation: welfare, social investment and poverty

This morning on The Nation :

What’s the best way to provide for those who need help? and talk welfare, social investment and child poverty.

These are two MPs not generally to the forefront of election campaigning. Tolley is 11th on National’s list, Sepuloni is 8th on Labour’s. Both are electorate MPs.

Tolley talking about what the Government has been doing to improve help for beneficiaries, and what is planned to happen in April next year through their Families Package.

Sepuloni is doing little more than reciting Labour’s election lines, in line with what Ardern and others recite. Some of them quite are quite misleading.

The main points from al of the panel – Lisa Owen, Patrick Gower, Fran O’Sullivan and Sue Bradford – was the vagueness and stark lack of policy on welfare from a quite likely incoming Government led by Labour. Fairly scathing from all of them.

Bill English on ‘social investment’

In his ‘state of the nation’ speech Bill English explained how his ‘social investment’ approach was used to justify an increase in police numbers and resources.

As a politician and a member of the community I’ve seen lives turned around by quiet heroism in our families, schools and public services. I’ve also seen lives blighted by poor public services, bad decisions, neglect and bureaucratic inertia.

What this demonstrates is that good intentions do not, on their own, guarantee success. If all our social problems could be solved by throwing money at them, then we would have no more social problems because we’ve been throwing money at them for a long time.

What makes a difference to people’s lives is effective support. Until recently, identifying what genuinely helps people has been somewhat hit and miss, but today we’re able to analyse data in ways that didn’t exist a few years ago.

That analysis demonstrates the lifelong benefits of intervening early to help people in need and the lifelong costs of not doing so.

Some New Zealanders need ongoing support to help them lead a decent life. But there are many more who will benefit from smart, light-handed support. And then, they will move on.

Our goal is to help them do so.

Spending more public money is not, in itself, an achievement.

Real achievement is reducing welfare dependency, getting better results for our kids at school, preventing rheumatic fever, and reducing waiting times at hospital emergency departments.

We call our new approach social investment and it’s showing promising results in several areas, but the recent rise in the prison population confirms we’ve got more work to do.

That is why we are investing more in police.

This makes sense to me. Spending more taxpayer money in the short term can have longer term benefits, not just for the budget but also for New Zealand society.

A ‘social investment’ approach, which is effectively research based targeted spending, has it’s critics, but I think if it is done right it is hard to argue with.

UPDATE: a Dom Post editorial this morning is more sceptical – Bill English’s mixed bag

There are certainly still questions about “social investment”, including a new sort of technocratic over-confidence it seems to imply. Even English’s own measures need care: he brags about the diminished numbers of people on benefits, for instance, which might be evidence of a successful policy – or a merely punitive one. But it is at the very least an interesting, coherent approach to government spending. He should flesh it out with more convincing policies.

What’s not convincing about spending more on policing to reduce what are substantial financial and social costs of crime?

Upston, Corrections and ‘social investment’

Louise Upston is keen to make a difference to prison numbers and re-offending rates by applying ‘social investment’ principals – spending more money to reduce prisoner recidivism and therefore reduce crime and prisoner numbers and therefore reduce prison costs and the costs of crime to families and communities and the country.

Prior to Bill English’s reshuffle it was suggested by a number of pundits that Upston, a Minister outside of Cabinet, was at risk of demotion. So it was a surprise to some that she was promoted into Cabinet.

Upston was notably given the Corrections portfolio, but her other responsibilities may also be significant – she remains Associate Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and picks up Associate Minister of Education plus Associate Minister of Primary Industries.

Herald: Corrections Minister: my views have changed

One of the surprises of Prime Minister Bill English’s Cabinet reshuffle was handing the challenging and important Corrections portfolio from Judith Collins to Taupo MP Louise Upston.

Upston told the Herald that the social investment work – to be headed by Justice Minister Amy Adams – would be central to work in the Corrections portfolio. That meant investing in rehabilitation and other programmes to try and cut reoffending rates.

“If you think about social investment – this is the opportunity to interrupt and really break that cycle, which is something I’m really excited about.

“We will continue to have a focus on making sure our communities are safe. But also, our continued focus will be on making sure that where taxpayers money is spent, it is spent wisely and getting the outcomes that people expect.

The outcome in this area is around reoffending rates. It is complex, it is challenging, and I’m looking forward to it.”

It is certainly complex and challenging, and there are no quick fixes. But if the Government invests more (time and money) into addressing the causes of crime, and is more effective at rehabilitating prisoners, then we should see improvements over time.

Upston has less than a year until the election to start making more of a difference, and there’s no guarantee she will still be Corrections Minister after that – and also no guarantee National will still be in power.

She will need help from English and new Finance Minister Steven Joyce as it will cost more money initially.

Today, she said her experience as an MP meant some of her views on law and order had changed.

I would hope that MPs would learn from their experiences and be prepared to change their views. They are able to become much better informed than the average person.

“And some of that has been, actually, what I have seen in Tongariro [prison]. And one of the real standouts for me was a visit to the Maori Focus Unit and to, first of all, see the enormous dedication of the Corrections staff…but also then in the discussions with the inmates for them to see they had quite a different future as a result of the changes that we were making.

“Yep, I do think if someone has done a crime, they do the time. But we also need to make sure that when they come out that they are better than when they went in, and more importantly they have greater opportunities for them and their families.”

Key things that need to be addressed are addictions and drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and for many prisoners fundamental education such as literacy and numeracy (a high number of prisoners have failed badly in education) as well as employment skills.

“If I look at my other portfolios – Associate Education and Associate Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment – the Prime Minister signalled to me that he wants me to continue my focus on trades training, which links back very nicely to Corrections.”

Those Associate portfolios have an important association with Corrections and rehabilitation.

But it will be difficult getting more money allocated for crime prevention and prisoner rehabilitation when increasing prisoner numbers require substantially funds immediately in order to house the prisoners.

In October, the Government announced plans to cope with a booming prisoner population including a 1500-bed prison on the current Waikeria Prison site in Waikato.

Those changes will hit the Government’s books by an extra $2.5 billion over about five years.

Wouldn’t it be good if that sort of money was spent on reducing prisoner numbers rather than building more prisons.

Labour and “Denial in Politics”

Should Labour switch from ‘Key is crap’ to ‘better than ‘Bill’?

Mike Smith has a post at The Standard on ‘Denial in Politics’ – it begins with a focus on the Democrats in the US and Trump’s success, then turns to New Zealand:

Denial in politics can take a variety of forms. When you are in the middle of a campaign that is not going well, it is all too easy to construct and cling to an unrealistic path to victory, and even more importantly to underestimate the strengths of your opponent.

Labour did this in 2008; we built a  negative campaign around attacking John Key that was a mistake and did not work. As Bryan Gould has recently noted, we underestimated him to our cost.

Labour’s campaign style is still excessively negative, and not yet clearly focused. Now that Key has gone, it will be crucial that Labour does not underestimate Bill English.

Interesting from an ex Labour general secretary. Smith only occasionally posts at The Standard, and when he does there usually appears to be a specific party-related purpose.

He has many different and arguably more admirable characteristics than his predecessor. Nobody’s fool, he has been tested in the fire and not found wanting for some time now.

A reasonable assessment. English has flown mostly under the radar for years, and has surprised many now he has emerged from John Key’s shadow. He sounded like a well informed experienced Prime Minister as soon as he took over.

He does have some vulnerabilities with all his eggs in the so-called “social investment” basket, but they will need careful research and even more careful communication to be effective.

It’s unclear who Smith is directing that at.

It could be interpreted as support of English’s ‘social investment’ approach.

Or it could be suggesting careful research to Labour, advice they could do with heeding given their performance over the last eight years.

But certainly Labour should take note of “Labour’s campaign style is still excessively negative” – that continues to turn off voters and fails to present them as a viable alternative.

Social investment could be something that Labour embraces and supports in principle, but perhaps suggesting some different approaches and policy detail.

‘Better than Bill’ would be a hard idea to sell, but it would improve on their ‘Key is crap’ futility.

But on recent history it’s more likely Labour’s negativity will dominate their strategy.

The Nation on social investment

This morning The Nation is looking at social investment, with an interview with Bill English, Hekia Parata and Anne Tolley lined up,.

You’ve never seen this before. We interview 3 ministers together- , &

This week social bonds programme had a big fail. So is his social investment approach working? Find out 9.30am TV3

Top panel today: & weigh in on social investment, housing, v National…

… our Twitter panel today are and

Stuff on Thursday: Govt social bonds pursued despite failed pilot

The Ministry of Health is still pursuing the Government’s social bonds pilots, claiming to have learnt a number of lessons after the Wise Group withdrew from what would have been the first programme funded with such an instrument.

Hamilton-based Wise Group, a charitable organisation seeking to enhance the well-being of people and communities, withdrew from negotiations with the Ministry over a potential social bond to fund a pilot delivering employment services to people with mental illnesses.

The Ministry kicked off talks with Wise and its financial arranger, ANZ Bank New Zealand, last year after the 2015 budget set aside $28.8 million for social bond programmes, “but at this late stage, they have advised they are not able to proceed with the contract”, Ministry chief strategy and policy officer Hamiora Bowkett said.

“That is not unexpected in a process like this and the work to progress the social bond continues,” Bowkett said.

“One of the goals of the pilot was to develop and grow knowledge in the market on outcome-based contracting and establish a toolkit of templates and lessons learnt, which are being applied to subsequent bond pilots. This has been achieved.”

A social bond allows the introduction of new, private money into social programmes without increasing public debt and without the need to decrease spending, with investors paid based on the level of social value achieved.

Points from The Nation’s Twitter feed:

Bill English says National committed to spending money now on at risk families to save money in the long-term.

Big data being used to target money to the most vulnerable 600 5 year-olds. But what about the 600 next most vulnerable? & next 600?

Hekia Parata: “we’re not about stigmatising kids”, but about giving teachers ability to put funds to kids who need it most.

Why don’t all deprived children get the same funds targeted at the bottom 1 percent? “Because they don’t need it,” says Anne Tolley.

English says Government both raising incomes through benefit increases and targeting funds to most in need.

Extra money given to most vulnerable under social investment approach. But don’t all 119,000 deprived kids need that?

Tolley admits Government does not track individuals coming off benefit. So can they know their lives are better, as per targets?

90 days of work a good indicator that a job is sustainable, says Tolley.

Will Government meet its BPS target of getting people off benefits? “It’s a very aspirational target,” says Tolley.

English says “we are following the evidence” that universal cash transfers are the best way to tackle poverty, by raising benefits”.

Three Government ministers deny social investment is privatisation by stealth, ‘not concerned about who delivers the services, but what works.

“Better lives” more important to English than saving money in his social investment revolution.

English slaps down RBNZ re policy on housing: we are making changes… “the Reserve Bank may not be familiar with those”.

“No we’re not committing to doing that” – English on negative gearing and immigration numbers.

State of the State on ‘social investment’

A report released by NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER), State of the State New Zealand 2016, suggests the Government should focus on root causes and adopt a ‘social investment’ approach to “help Kiwis avoid poor life outcomes”.

It think the Government and in particular Bill English have been talking along these lines for some time.

Stuff: State of the State report: Government needs to focus on ‘root causes’

Released on Monday by NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) and Deloitte, State of the State New Zealand 2016 followed a six-month review of government finances and future burdens to New Zealanders.

During that time, they also talked to “some of the most senior and influential leaders” in the public, non-government and private sectors.

It stated the government finances were in “good shape” for now, but an aging population would cause pressure on the budget.

Social investment was a way forward to save money long-term, the report said. Social investment referred to a return-on-investment mindset, basing social services funding on calculation of long-term economic benefits.

The report made four recommendations:

  1. The Government should publicly state outcomes and targets every four years for those most at-risk of poor life outcomes (across areas such as employment, education, health and housing).
  2. A new agency should be set up to provide specialist social services with a social investment approach built into the funding model.
  3. Better access to government data and detailed evaluation reports.
  4. The recent Child Youth and Family overhaul had also prompted the Expert Advisory Panel to recommend this option.

Deloitte partner Dave Farrelly…

…said funding solutions to “root causes” would prevent the need for these services in the future.

“For example, with social investment the task is not to deliver the next 100 prison beds for the same cost as the previous 50. It’s to remove the need for those new prison beds altogether,” Farelly said.

He described social investment as a “start-up” but said it needed to become a “mainstream” way of working.

Grant Roberston responds:

Labour’s finance spokesman Grant Robertson agreed with some underlying principles in the report, but said there were a range of assumptions and limitations.

“This approach, I think, misuses the word investment in many ways,” he said, saying a better term would be “social expenditure reduction”.

I don’t think that’s a better term at all, it’s awful.

“The big part of the motivation here is about reducing spending, and if that’s one of the primary motivators then I think that colours the way these ideas are done.”

Is that the big p[art of the motivation? It could as easily be claimed that the big part of the motivation was to improve social outcomes with the longer term monetary savings a bonus.

An investment means costs up front.

He said the model reduced people to data points.

“Data is useful and can help inform what we do, but I think there’s a tendency here to just believe that any change might be related to a particular intervention.”


In general what the report talks about is not new.

The Government have recently been using the term “social investment” in relation to data-driven projects, spearheaded by the finance minister.

English welcomed the report, and was pleased to see “good alignment” with the Government’s thinking.

“We see this building on the work already going on in agencies and the Social Investment Unit,” he said.

“The report makes some bold recommendations in this area and we’re not ruling anything out.”