Yesterday someone sent me a spoof of Dad’s Army with Jacinda holding a rifle and looking goofy, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson equally gormless at her elbows, and the sinister Nanaia Mahuta close by. Each was appropriately dressed in military fatigues and it was labelled “Dud’s Army”. It was a celebration, if that’s the word, of the most incompetent government New Zealand has endured for more than 70 years. The best example is Robertson’s spendthrift recent budget stoking inflation, while the Reserve Bank has to push interest rates higher to bring that universal thief called inflation under control. And all this on top of Labour’s failures with Kiwibuild, the missing $1.9 billion dedicated to mental health that miraculously vanished with no sign of any improvements, the dropped Auckland walking and cycling bridge over the Waitemata, and now the gold-plated, not-so-rapid-rail to Auckland’s airport. Projected to cost $29 billion all up, but poorly conceived, that money could underpin tax cuts until the middle of the 21st century.
What explains Labour’s seemingly never-ending incompetence? I put it down basically to a lack of knowledge and insufficient experience. Neither Jacinda nor Robertson has personally lived with inflation. Nor have most of their colleagues. Jacinda turned four years old on the day the Lange-Douglas government was first sworn into office in 1984 and began its arduous, but ultimately successful fight to rid us of more than two decades of rapidly rising costs that emptied ordinary folks’ pockets and reduced their living standards. Robertson only became a teenager in 1984 and seems never to have studied economics seriously. I doubt he’s ever heard the classical definition of inflation - that it is always, and everywhere, a monetary phenomenon, in the sense that it is, and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output. Treasury officials know this, of course, and advised against the $27 per week Budget handout to selected low income people. They realise what Robertson doesn’t, that when the projected time is up to end the payment, there will be such a howl that the Minister of Finance will be obliged to keep paying it, thus continuing to oil his inflationary treadmill.
Many of Jacinda’s cabinet are stumblebums. Where is the Minister of Police as drive-by shootings escalate and ram-raids become fashionable amongst school truants? Six million dollars for unspecified police efforts to counter ram-raids? On the rare occasions she appears on TV, Poto Williams looks like a possum in the headlights. Who does she think she’s kidding? Has she, or any other minister, faced up to the fact that some really tough action is needed to deal with the gangs and the human detritus they seem to spread about the place? Does the grossly overworked Minister of Education who doubles as Covid minister spend any time on what, surely, is the most important portfolio for our country’s future? On any school day, we have it from the Maori Party, only 47% of their children are in classrooms. Yet, there is one thing we know about their parents: they understand incentives. Might they take more interest in their children’s whereabouts if their welfare payments were docked by a sum each day their children missed school?
This cabinet seems to feel that the world will automatically become a better place if they just spray money about. A billion here, $100 million there. Just hire some more bureaucrats. Fourteen thousand more of them, to be precise. Yet policy implementation seems to slow with every new recruit. The Ministry of Health was reasonably efficient when I was minister in the 1980s, but today, with many more staff, no one would make that claim. Ashley Bloomfield’s department’s failings will almost certainly be a factor in his decision to retire. For his minister to be embarking on a root and branch reconstruction of our health services in the middle of a pandemic must surely be the height of stupidity. Even in good times governments are wiser to follow the old dictum “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Deal with worrying failures, but make use of the existing structure to help you achieve the changes.
Chris Faafoi is in a category of his own. His unwillingness to agree to media interviews isn’t surprising, given the hostility that has grown because of his slow processing of immigration applications. As Minister of Justice, he is hopelessly out of his depth, wrestling ineffectually with human rights concepts. He tried to retire before the 2020 election and should be eased towards the door as soon as possible.
But in the midst of cabinet’s ineptitude and confusion there are a couple of devious manipulators. Nanaia Mahuta and Willie Jackson whose political careers are nearing their end seem intent on creating as much mischief as possible with race relations. Armed with their demonstrable misinterpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi, they are intent on wringing as many privileges for the Maori aristocracy as possible before going down with Jacinda Ardern’s sinking ship. Mahuta is insisting on co-governance with her Three Waters and the health restructuring but has managed only to demonstrate its sinister side with her family nepotism. The old Maori way, before democracy was introduced by the settlers, involved chiefly corruption: promotion for his chosen mates. As can be seen from the way Nanaia has been engineering her family into lucrative positions of influence, her vision of co-governance will involve corruption on one side and democracy on the other. A tangled conflicting mess from which ordinary Labour voters will be the principal losers. Willie Jackson’s bizarre reinterpretation of democracy will never disguise the reality; the only beneficiaries from co-governance will be a collection of corrupt Maori aristocrats.