MICHAEL BASSETT: HIPKINS AND HIS POLICY DEFERRALS
The media became very excited when new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced some policy changes a few weeks back. Weak reporters like Claire Trevett were ecstatic. Even lesser lights talked of “bonfires” of unpopular policies and hailed the emergence of a new Ministry. In truth, all that can be said is that they were rushing to boost Hipkins. But the reality is that all of the old policies are still around, and will be dragged out of the cupboard again if this Labour government is re-elected in October. In his clever cartoons, Garrick Tremain keeps making this point. Those of us who find co-governance divisive and racist, must not overlook the fact that it is still there in the remodeled health system, in Three Waters, and in the great confused heap that is David Parker’s attempt to restructure the Resource Management Act. And the Prime Minister is on record recently saying that he wants to push that bill into law before the election.
What this all amounts to is that while Jacinda Ardern has gone from office, the ideologies that moved her are still alive and well, and awaiting a chance to emerge once more. Health care remains racially divided with one segment of the administration of Te Whatu Ora set aside for 83% of the population. And the other segment looking after the 17% of New Zealanders who have varying levels of Maori blood, all of them more Pakeha than Maori. What amounts to a bizarre structural revolution in the middle of a pandemic continues while ministers and bureaucrats pursue their goal of doing for Maori what most of them could easily do for themselves if they could be bothered. It’s the same with other social policies.
What hasn’t been taken into consideration by the government is that the more that ministers talk about separating out services for Maori, the more that Maori expect will be delivered. Constantly going on about their disadvantage with selective yarns about colonialism and silly assertions like Kelvin Davis’s which I drew attention to in my last column, are encouraging more and more of those in the underclass to opt out of the educational and health systems and embark on varying forms of lawlessness. Some statistics I’ve seen say Maori school attendance is now as low as 37%, while kids as young as ten feature amongst ram raiders and recent break-ins to liquor stores. And why not? If foolish ministers keep saying that the current system is broken for Maori, and isn’t fit for purpose, why should kids go to school? Why not join a gang? Why not steal cars and create a bit of mayhem? It’s one hell of a lot more exciting than attending school. These futile, and largely erroneous messages being preached by ministers actually encourage civil disobedience. The ties that bind our society together into the New Zealand we were once proud of have had to be nurtured over the last century. There is every prospect that all the most divisive policies will be back if Labour is re-elected. The underclass fail to see much reason why current laws should be obeyed in the meantime.
This is where we need to consider Chris Hipkins’ role in the mess that has piled up over the last six years. As one of the most senior ministers since 2017, he was directly responsible for education where standards have been in freefall since he came into office. Exam expectations for NCEA have been reduced twice, a bogus New Zealand history syllabus was signed off, and all school children are led to believe that Maori have always been treated as second-class citizens. It was under Hipkins that truancy from school grew into an epidemic. As Minister of Police, he then presided over a scene where retail crime mushroomed and there were growing numbers of fire arms offences plus ram raids.
As Minister of State Services, Hipkins was responsible for the confused Public Service Act that was passed under urgency before the 2020 election. Poorly drafted, that Act put an unelected official, now called the Public Services Commissioner, in charge of state services, ending the previous world where democratically-elected ministers are in charge of the bureaucracy in their departments. As Roger Partridge of the New Zealand Initiative has pointed out, there isn’t even a clause in the new Act making it clear that the Public Services Commissioner’s principal function is to assist the government to implement its policy agenda. The new reality is that state services are no longer directly accountable to any government. Can we be surprised that the number of state servants has ballooned under this regime, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions more for worse services?
So, while some of the more unpopular policies of Jacinda’s time might have been stowed in a cupboard for now, the disastrous measures presided over by Chris Hipkins survive and the political debris in the cupboard could triumphantly emerge after October into the tender care of Nanaia Mahuta, Education’s Jan Tinetti and Maori Affairs’ clown, Willie Jackson. Sad to say, it’s no new Ministry that “Chippy” presides over, just the same sad mess of his predecessor.