By Bernard Hickey
With just a few days until the election, my main thought is: a plague on all their houses.
Aside from the usual distractions such as the teapot tape and debate atmospherics, this has been a frustrating election campaign because none of main parties have addressed New Zealand's main problems.
See all election policies compared on our site here.
It's almost as if our politicians have been scared of the problems themselves and what the voters might think if they talked about them honestly in the light of day.
Ultimately it is a failure of the voters themselves to demand a proper debate, and of our electoral system, which rewards incremental change and a three yearly auction for marginal votes paid for with future voters' money. New Zealand's system of governance has become a short-sighted vote buying exercise where electoral success is won at the expense of future generations. Ultimately it is not sustainable.
The rot really set in in 2005 as Labour scrambled for a third term. Helen Clark realised Labour needed to buy the votes of a disgruntled middle class and of students if it was to retain power and she chose to spend hard-won budget surpluses on a dramatic expansion of Working For Families, interest free student loans and 20 hours of 'free' early childhood education.
Despite criticising them at the time, National signed up to keep these bribes in the 2008 election and has kept them for 2011. National went further by cutting taxes for higher income earners, which cost the government almost NZ$3 billion in the first year and was paid for by borrowing, mostly from foreign investors such as the Chinese government. National is even planning to further enable voters' willingness to spend now and forget about the future by selling state assets to pay for NZ$5 billion of current spending.
National's figleaf of a fund to spend the asset sales money on infrastructure is just plain false advertising as long as the government is running a deficit on day-to-day spending.
Labour is no better. It is also keeping those 2005 bribes and promising to extend Working For Families to Non-Working Families, as well as spending even more on Early Childhood education.
The net result of last 6 years of election bribery is an extra NZ$40.86 billion in debt that future generations will have to service and repay. Excluding the cost of the earthquake, the government has run a budget deficit equivalent of 4.6% of GDP in the last year.
To be fair to Labour, it has raised the politically painful issues of a Capital Gains Tax and a phased introduction of a delay in the age of eligibility of NZ Superannuation to 67 from 65.
But neither main party has directly addressed the national tragedy of long term youth unemployment running at 25-30%, which is in line with the rates seen in the United States and Egypt, or how to transform an underclass of people stuck on welfare. This will create another lost generation of young people who will be beset by health problems, social problems, low self esteem and grinding poverty. Neither party is seriously looking at youth rates, expanded apprenticeships and any social reforms to attack these issues directly.
Neither party is also addressing the disaster of a lack of new house building, which is feeding into housing cost inflation, particularly in Auckland.
Finally, neither has addressed the risk raised by Treasury in its Pre-Election update of a meltdown in Europe's financial markets crippling global and local economic growth. What are their Plan Bs?
It seems we won't find out until they make up a Plan B on the spot in the weeks after the election. More short termism from parties intent on consuming the future to stay in power for now.