There is an old joke about the politician who dies, and arrives in heaven to find that market forces have taken hold, and that heaven and hell are offering one day trials so that he can decide where to spend eternity. The politician takes up the offer and spends a delightful, restful day in heaven listening to harp music. He goes down to Hell and has a great time partying, eating, drinking and generally having fun. He goes back to heaven and tells St Peter his decision’s made, its Hell for him. When he gets back there he finds none of the fun, but just a brutal, cold, barren landscape. He seeks out Satan, and asks what’s happened to the Hell he saw the day before, and Satan says, ” you’re a politician you should understand, yesterday we were campaigning, today we’re in office.”
In the election campaign we have just had, the paying down of debt and the return to surplus were big issues. The “show me the money” moment was just one where John Key brandished his credentials to lead us to the promised land of surplus by 2014-15. It was a certainty, and it could happen even earlier. Yet, six weeks on, the dampners are on. Key now says its only a “reasonable probability”. Another $1 billion have been knocked off the forecast. Truth is little is different in the challenging global environment now from when the promises were made, except the PM is not campaigning any more, he is in office. Not for the first time he gave the public the message they wanted to hear about economic growth, but now its time to lower expectations.
The so-called State of the Nation speech from the PM yesterday was a dull and miserable affair. Gone is the brighter future we were all promised just a few weeks ago. What plan there is has at is centrepiece more cuts to the public service. Regardless of the wisdom of those, they will be a drop in the bucket of improving the government’s finances.
No one is underestimating the challenge in front of the government. But what’s happened to the sunny optimisim of our PM? Actually there is every reason to be optimistic about New Zealand’s future if the government is prepared to do things differently. The world has changed, will the government? There is opportunity to reset fiscal and economic policy, and make the investments that will support innovative growing companies, grow our skills base and ensure that everyone reaches their potential.
But there was none of that in the speech. Not just a lack of economic vision either. And as Pita Sharples (yes, he is a Minister in the government) points out nothing on dealing with poverty or inequality. Nothing on the issues that need to be dealt with to unlock the potential of thousands of New Zealanders.
It was a defeatist, sad and tired effort. A bit like an old joke.