Tuesday, 28 January 2014

29 January 2014
The political debate about support for families that has erupted this week has highlighted once more that governments are generally not very organised when it comes to social policies.
Taxpayers already spend billions of dollars on family assistance through the various tax credit schemes like Working for Families, paid parental leave, early childhood education subsidies and so on. I am not arguing that we should not be doing so – we absolutely should – because, clearly, advancing the wellbeing of families is the primary responsibility of any government. But I am querying the wisdom and efficacy of such spending and whether the resources are actually getting to where they are most needed.
These sacred cows are never challenged. The political response is simply more of the same – a bigger and bolder pie if you like, when a healthy salad might be what is required. And even when governments do pretend to take the issue seriously, the results are largely ignored. The 1972 McCarthy Royal Commission’s report has been forgotten for years, and the 1987 Social Policy Royal Commission’s report was dismissed by the Labour government of the time as a five volume door-stop.
Yet all the while, we continue to pile up new social policy initiatives in an unseemly manner, reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party as this week’s events show. What is missing is any sense of evaluation of whether all these grandiose schemes actually work. One of the last serious attempts to do so was the United Party’s initiatives in 1996 during the National/United coalition to introduce a Social Responsibility Bill, equivalent to the Fiscal Responsibility Act, to measure the impact of social policy initiatives. It failed because after months of investigation officials told the government it was simply all too difficult.
Last year, as part of the National/UnitedFuture confidence and supply agreement, the Families Commission was charged with the production of an annual Family Status report, very similar to an initiative introduced by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition in Britain. The aim is simply to measure the impact of government policies on families.
The first such report is due later this year. It will be interesting to see whether it becomes no more than an annual door-stop, or something taken seriously by politicians when setting their election year lures for sceptical voters.



Tuesday, 21 January 2014

22 January 2014
Happy New Year! After the bumbling comedy show of political wannabes strutting their stuff over the holiday period the serious business of government is underway once again.
I am delighted to be returning as a Minister – to Internal Affairs which I last held 18 years ago, and to my more recent stomping grounds of Health and Conservation.
But let me be clear – with apologies to Emmerson’s Herald cartoon this morning – there are no strings attached. My opposition to the controversial government plans like changes to the Resource Management Act remains. So too does my opposition to legislation to override the Commerce Commission’s ruling on copper pricing. And I retain concerns about aspects of the proposed industrial relations changes. The Government will still have to negotiate support on a case by case basis for matters not covered by our confidence and supply agreement. And that is as it should be.
Having said that, UnitedFuture has been a reliable support partner for both this Government and its Labour predecessor for nearly 12 straight years now – a record no other party can emulate. Our commitment to ensuring political stability is thus proven, which perhaps explains why National remains keen to work with us, and why even Labour is not ruling that out either.
UnitedFuture’s opportunity is clear: to be the party voters feel most comfortable with as the support partner for the John Key Government. We have to show voters we are the party that allows the major party of government to get on with the job of governing while holding them to account as necessary in accordance with our liberal democratic principles.
In return, UnitedFuture looks to advance our policies of promoting public access to the great outdoors; giving more power to regions, communities and families over how they live their lives; supporting an open economy based on low, broadly based tax system without a capital gains tax; promoting partnerships between the government and non-government sectors in the delivery of health and education services; and, and upholding New Zealand’s independent foreign policy by being a good international citizen.
Recent events show 2014 has all the ingredients to be a fascinating and exciting journey. It will require steady hands on the tiller. Just as well I spent some time sailing over the holidays!