A Key year for National

Last updated 14:03 26/01/2010

On the House is back in session. I hope everyone had at least some sort of a break, and that you managed to spend it outside Wellington. Otherwise you will be pale, sun-starved and driven crazy by the capital's lousy summer.

Judging by the number of comments on the site over the break, it seems most of you have been quite happy talking among yourselves, but in the interests of giving the debate some sort of direction it's probably time to resume postings for the year.

And if that sounds like a fairly lukewarm way of resuming normal service, it's only because I'm still in grief mode at being back at work.

So, it seems, is Phil Goff. Labour's leader has issued a ringing endorsement of his own abilities today at Labour's caucus meeting in Auckland.

"You'll have to put up with me for a couple more years,'' he told reporters this morning before Labour's traditional vote on the leadership, which has returned both himself and deputy Annette King.  "I think it's a recognition that the leadership team they've got is the best team they could hope for.''

Bloody hell. Talk about damning with faint praise. I can almost see Labour's next election slogan now: "Phil Goff: The best Labour has to offer.'' Or maybe "Goff - there's really no one else.'' It's almost as bad as Dunedin's "It's all right here'' or Hastings' "Take a fresh look''.

Mind you, it's probably not Goff who has to worry much this year. As he says himself, there really isn't any alternative. As long as he can keep the Government honest and score a few points during 2010, he'll still be there at the end of the year.

No, I'm starting to think it's our prime minister who has his work cut out this year. When even the Right-leaning business publication the National Business Review starts telling National to get on with the job, you know that the tolerance of National's natural constituency for its steady-as-she-goes approach is coming to an end.

To be fair to Key and National, it does have some major plans this year, ranging from tax reform to the Whanau Ora policy of allowing private providers (mostly Maori) into the provision of welfare. It's got national standards to implement in education, energy sector changes to complete, the legal aid system to overhaul, and the Foreshore and Seabed Act to repeal and replace.

But there's a difference between planning things and actually implementing them, and that's going to be the litmus test of this administration this year. In 2009 Key proved himself to be a political manager almost of Helen Clark's calibre. In 2010, we'll get to see whether he can match her in getting things done as well.

Sure, we've already seen the Three Strikes policy announced, and without wishing to get the thread bogged down in this again (you already know what I think of this policy) that was easy-peasy, as Jo Seagar used to say. Talk tough about cracking down on crims, the public loves it, even though it won't make a jot of difference to the crime rate.

But there's much harder stuff coming up, such as the report of the Tax Working Group lobbed at the Government last week, which proposes cuts in income tax rates paid for by a rise in GST.

I can see some merit in this proposal, particularly since it raises the impost on consumption and encourages saving, both of which are sound fiscal policies. The problem is a rise in GST is going to hit the poor harder than the wealthy, and those on low incomes won't benefit from tax cuts anyway.

There will also be a lot of public resistance to any rise in GST, even if it is accompanied by tax cuts. I'm not sure Key will want to risk getting offside with voters on this one. He can't ignore the group's report, however, since its underlying conclusion is that our tax system is fundamentally unfair and needs some fairly major changes.

The budget is the obvious place to make such change, and is now looming as the first major test of National's stomach for far-reaching change that may actually make a difference in people's lives.

No one expected much from Finance Minister Bill English's 2009 effort; it was his first, and was delivered in a recession. That's not the case now, and just tinkering, as English himself said late last year, "ain't going to cut it''.

The first sign we'll get of what Key is planning this year will be in a couple of weeks' time, when he delivers his opening speech to Parliament. I'm told it will have three major themes:

Education - the introduction of national standards, and raising the standard of schooling more generally; The economy - and ways to grow it (including a reprise of Gerry "sexy coal'' Brownlee's idea of mining areas currently in national parks); and thirdly structural issues - including tax reform, efficiency in the government sector, and the Resource Management Act.

That would represent a solid start to the year. Though I'd like to add a couple of other suggestions. End interest-free student loans. Stop those earning over $100,000 claiming Working for Families payments.

Monday-ise Waitangi Day and Anzac Day. Legislate to stop cafes and restaurants charging up to 20 per cent "surcharges'' on public holidays for starters.

Oh, and fix Wellington's weather.

What's your wish list for John Key this year? Or for Phil Goff?

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112 comments
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RichardRightt   #1   02:17 pm Jan 26 2010

Welcome back Colin.....My wish for Fill Gapp is that he doesn't patronise us by referring to us as 'Ordionary New zealanders' all year.....what a muppet....

Kat   #2   02:19 pm Jan 26 2010

Nationals 'major plans' as you listed are mostly flaccid. Labours plans are the real key and will stand up, along with the public.

Bill Brown   #3   02:22 pm Jan 26 2010

Get rid of Working for Families completely.

I would love the Nats to come up with a radical restructuring of the tax and benefit systems and go to the country with it. Ignore the whingers and interest groups and greedy socialists and ask the people.

I hope too we can move away from the idea that the purpose of schools is to provide employment for teachers. And the purpose of employment is to hand over our wage packets to others to spend.

Welcome back, Colin. I also hope the Murrays etc have exhausted themselves in your absence and we can begin a civil conversation that moves us forward.

Murray   #4   02:25 pm Jan 26 2010

Talking about stopping cafes and restaurants charging up to 20 per cent "surcharges" .... it's high-time this discount on petrol for spending at supermarkets was brought to an end ... I cannot believe it has gone on for so long.

What is the Commerce Dept doing these days ... have they all been sacked to bring numbers in the state sector down ... or are they too scared to speak-up about anything ?

One supermarket was offering 20c petrol discount if you spent over $200 on groceries this past weekend, and I have seen equivalent schemes frequently advertised for a long time - it's collusion in marketing. If petrol companies have margins that enable this sort of collusion then they should be required to lower the price of fuel.

Two hundred dollars is a lot for some families and individuals to spend at the supermarket at one time, and these are the same people who are very sensitive to the prices at the pump - they should not be coerced to spend like this. It also might encourage them to buy those items they are trying to avoid buying because of efforts to eat healthily and control body weight.

As long as there are tax cuts for the rich, this government does not have any constructive social policy, whatsoever.

Alastair   #5   02:41 pm Jan 26 2010

Welcome back colin! It's good to have the forum back up and running - let's hope for more robust debate in 2010, fanbases aside, let's see some progress!

My mini-wish list for 2010: (5 is plenty to do in a year) - A continued emphasis on growing the economy (10 decades of deficits is too many) - Key/English to walk the political tight rope of tax reform - Better use of money in the public sector (health in particular) - Broadband rollout?? (hurry up people!!!) - What happened to our treaty claims getting sorted by 2010?

Cullen's Sidekick   #6   02:46 pm Jan 26 2010

Ho ho!! Colin is back!! Welcome!

You can say in Wellington city style - "Absolutely Postively Nothing" about Fill Gap's selection.

RichardRight #1 - If you don't want to be identified as an "Ordinary New Zealander", you will be a rich prick.

My wish list for Fill Gap - Hang in there Fill! You are doing a great job for Emperor to be relected in 2011.

jhn   #7   02:58 pm Jan 26 2010

First blog of the year and already there are calls for a (nominally) right-wing government to institute price controls on cafes and petrol stations. Awesome.

Footfall   #8   03:27 pm Jan 26 2010

Abolishing interest free student loans would be a bad, bad idea. Its not going to stop people from studying, and its not going to make them earn more money when they graduate. All its going to do is sink the brightest young people in the country deeper in debt when they become qualified. And if you're going to earn less money here than what you would in Australia, or some other more exciting location, why would you stick around? Of course, the policy doesn't make most people stay in NZ, but it does encourage a lot of graduates to stick around for at least a couple of years before the OE, during which time they form links with local businesses and meet potential future employers, making them more likely to come back for a job.

Matt   #9   03:29 pm Jan 26 2010

It was a pretty lame remark by Goff. The best we can hope for? Please. I'm not sure national standards are going to be any kind of smooth ride for this government. As Gordon Cambell says, Key could well end up having to choose between his Minister and elected school boards (parents).

jennifer   #10   03:32 pm Jan 26 2010

Welcome back, Colin. I trust you had a relaxing break and Santa was good to you. Nice to see you have started the year as you mean to continue, dumping on Goff and talking up the Tories. It almost writes itself, really.


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