Key draws first blood in battle of the speeches

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 14:43 15/03/2012
John Key
Fairfax NZ
Prime Minister John Key.
David Shearer
FAIRFAX NZ
Labour leader David Shearer.

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OPINION: In a battle of the speeches, a second-term prime minister wielding chunky announcements beats a newbie opposition leader introducing himself to the electorate every time.

The weight of the "deliverables" John Key was able to unveil in Auckland this afternoon easily trumped the more flighty offering from Labour leader David Shearer.

Key at times stumbled his way through his speech notes and, in terms of his delivery, never really got into his stride. But he got away his three key changes to the public service.

He was even able to spring a surprise, with the department of building and housing unexpectedly included in a group of four departments to be folded in to a single new ministry of business, innovation and employment.

Neither could Key possibly miss with the establishment of new "challenging results targets" for the public service. Who could quibble with an ambitious goal of having thousands more teenagers leave school with at least NCEA level 2 (from a 68 per cent to an 85 per cent rate) within five years?

Cynics will note that a five-year target falls two years after the next election and that such lofty goals are often forgotten, or their failure to be achieved excused away for some reason or other.
Moreover, the simple act of setting a measureable goal and striving to meet it does not necessarily imply success. What if the unit of measurement is corrupted? What happens if there is not progress towards it? Do you sack the boss? Then what?

A cascade of questions also flows from Steven Joyce's proposed new super ministry. If this is to be an economically-focused ministry, then what becomes of each of the old departments' social functions? If this is all about better collaboration and "wrap-around services" why should they be sliced off and re-deployed elsewhere?

And then there are the more practical - but no less significant - HR-type questions. If anyone imagined smashing together four government departments within three months to be a simple process, they might consider, for a moment, the shemozzle unfolding over the restructuring of just one department - MFAT. Besides the hoards of those with jealously guarded institutional knowledge within those departments, there are also dozens upon dozens of bristling egos ready to collide with rivals working elsewhere. Whoever gets the job as chief executive of the new ministry will have a devil of a job getting everyone together.

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But as Key said this afternoon, a Government should not be cowered away from doing something it believes will make a real difference.
Just because it's hard, that doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

If nothing else, Key will win credit for that - moreso because he has Shearer hopelessly out-matched on it.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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