PM offers little new policy

Prime Minister John Key "re-energised" his ministerial team last week to tackle his government's programme for welfare reform, law and order, education, the rebuild of Christchurch, improving public services and - at the nub of things - the economy. But he did not re-energise his rhetoric or master plan.

His "state of the nation" speech a few days after he announced the revitalising of his ministerial team did contain a new initiative - to revamp the country's apprenticeship system.

The rest was a reiteration of what we had said before: his Government was going full steam ahead with measures to build a more productive and competitive economy (all prime ministers say something like that).

Mr Key emphasised his priorities included addressing housing market issues and further reforming the Resource Management Act.

We knew that already.

We knew, too, about the three big challenges his Government faces.

One is the global financial crisis, another is the need to rebuild Christchurch after the earthquakes.

But more than four years on from defeating it in 2008, Mr Key still includes the Clark Government among his explanations for any disappointments with the progress made on his watch (he says he inherited an economy that was unbalanced). Yet he said he has told his ministers to step up momentum and build on the work his Government has done over the past four years on the budget deficit, tax reform ("the biggest changes to the tax system in a generation") and welfare reform.

The headline-grabber in Mr Key's speech was his announcement of policies to expand and improve apprenticeship training. An estimated 14,000 new apprentices would start training over the next five years, over and above the number previously forecast, thanks to these measures and the boom in construction and other trades under way in Christchurch. But Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce announced in August the Government was planning changes to the industry training system to boost the number of apprentices.

Rather than be agreeably surprised by Mr Key's announcement, we should be disquieted that - some two years on from the earthquakes - it has taken so long to do what must be done.

Waikato Times