Stephen Forbes takes a look at what the Government has achieved and where it's heading after 18 months in office

Stephen Forbes takes a look at what the Government has achieved and where it's heading after 18 months in office
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Green Party leader James Shaw by Jacky Carpenter.

By Stephen Forbes

The Labour-led Government has now been in power for 18 months and is now half way through its first term in charge.

So how is it doing and has it lived up to expectations? In terms of popularity it seems to be doing okay.

In last month’s Colmar Brunton political poll the Labour Party was sitting at 48% support, up 3% on the previous survey in February. NZ First was sitting at 4% (up 1%) and the Green Party, which has a confidence and supply agreement with Labour, was sitting steady on 6%. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received 51% support as preferred Prime Minister, well ahead of her National Party rivals Simon Bridges and Judith Collins who were both on 5%.

In her weekly post cabinet press conference on Monday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recognised the mid-term milestone.

“This is a busy week for the Government in which we will also be marking, really, the 18 month anniversary of the Government. We are about half-way through our term, so it's a good chance for us to do a little bit of a check on what we’ve managed to do in the period of time that we’ve had the privilege of holding office. Over the last 18 months we have started to tackle the long term challenges that New Zealand faces and delivered important improvements to New Zealanders' lives.”

The economy and business

“On the economy we are delivering budget surpluses, record low unemployment and solid growth rates in the face of global head winds. The average wage is up $65 per week since we took office, while 70,000 new jobs have been created and unemployment is down to 4.2%, the second lowest rate in a decade. GDP growth is at 2.8 % per annum, better than many of our key trading partners.”

She then proceeded to outline the various polices and changes the Government has introduced since it came to power in October 2017.

From the introduction of new tax measures for multinationals and research and development tax credits, to the establishment of a Green Investment Fund to help business tackle climate change to the decision to end all new offshore oil and gas exploration permits.

Social policy

“Our families’ package saw over 380,000 families get an income boost, once fully rolled [this] would average $75 per week. The biggest boost in incomes to low paid New Zealanders in a significant time. The package over time will lift between 42,000 and 73,000 children out of poverty based on the best estimates that we have,” Ardern says.

“Access to affordable healthcare is important to us, 540,000 people are now eligible for cheaper doctors’ visits and also 56,000 13 year olds now get free primary care. We’ve funded 1500 extra teaching places in budget 2018 and a further 2500 teacher trainee places in budget 2019, and we’ve rebuilt or built 200 school classrooms.”

Housing also remains a priority.

“We’re building more houses than any government since the 1970s, including more than 1,000 state houses.”

And Ardern also mentioned changes to [benefit] abatement rates, extending paid parental leave to 22 weeks, lifting the refugee quota to 1,500 a year, and the proposed ban on military semi-automatic weapons.

Budget time

“Those are some of the initiatives we have introduced in the last 18 months and with our wellbeing budget coming up there will be a lot more delivered with our focus on mental health and children in particular.”    

But she admitted the Government still has a long way to go.

“Have we done everything we wanted? Of course not and I will always be impatient for us to move as quickly as we can, but we have made significant improvements. Are the most vulnerable in our communities better off? Yes. Are we committed to addressing the long-term challenges our country faces? Yes we are. We are doing what we were elected to do and this week and with our well-being budget we will continue to provide evidence of that.”

Outside looking in

New Zealand Initiative chief economist Eric Crampton says he thinks the Government has been doing pretty well to date.

“If you look back to the 2017 election I think the biggest things they promised were housing affordability and fresh water management reform,” Crampton says.

“On housing they have, in the background, been working on the affordability issue and [Housing and Urban Development Minister] Phil Twyford has been putting in place a lot of the changes needed to assist that.”

Crampton says there are a number of issues affecting the supply of housing, ranging from the financing of infrastructure and the consenting of new housing, through to the cost and provision of housing materials and the apportioning of legal liability.

“Twyford is making some progress on that in terms of financing infrastructure through special purpose vehicles to get ahead of the problems councils are facing.”

He also refers to the Government’s creation of a Housing and Urban Development Authority which it says will allow for the construction of more homes on a larger scale and cut down on red tape.

While Crampton says Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa has been looking at changes to the Building Act to improve regulation in the industry, address building material supply issues and the ongoing problems around legal liability.

“But KiwiBuild has been a distraction. They overpromised on that because I don’t think they expected to form a government.”

He says he thinks the Government could have done more to date to address housing affordability if it hadn’t been so focused on meeting the arbitrary targets of KiwiBuild.

“So they should be getting some ticks for their progress to date, but it would have developed quicker if Twyford wasn’t distracted by KiwiBuild,” Crampton says.

“I’m pretty optimistic overall. I’m happier on this front under this government than the previous government. It took National a long-time to even admit there was a problem and they did too little too late.”

While he says on the issue of freshwater management he thinks it too early to assess the performance of Environment Minister David Parker. Crampton says addressing that will be a monumental task, but it has to be dealt with.

He says Parker will have his work cut out looking at everything from freshwater use by bottlers, irrigators and other commercial users, through to nutrient management, river sustainability and iwi rights.

Midterm assessment

Crampton says he thinks the Government should get a pass mark in its midterm report.

“There’s been some haphazard stuff in other policy areas like the Taranaki [new future oil and gas permit] ban. That came out of nowhere with little consultation,” he says. “But if we judge them on the key issues from the 2017 election of housing and freshwater management, I think they are doing pretty well.”

And he says if the Government is willing to use a rigorous cost-benefit analysis system in its wellbeing budget on May 30, he’s optimistic about good future public policy decisions.

Arthur Grimes is a senior fellow at the Motu economic research institute and adjunct professor of economics at Victoria University. 

He says he doesn’t want to comment on the Government’s performance until after Finance Minister Grant Robertson has rolled out his first wellbeing budget on May 30.

“I’ll hold off on that one until after I’ve seen the budget. I don’t think I can comment until I’ve seen it as a lot of their policies will be included in that at the end of the month.”

Radical incrementalism

Max Rashbrooke is an author and senior associate at Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies.

“I think the approach to power that Ardern and her colleagues have taken makes it hard to judge them.”    

Rashbrooke says the Government is driven by what he calls radical incrementalism. Making smaller changes in policy over time in a bid to create the basis for more fundamental transformations. 

“I think in some cases it’s deliberate and in some cases it’s been forced on Labour and the Greens by NZ First because most of the time they don’t want radical change,” Rashbrooke says.

And it’s also the by-product of the country’s electoral system.

“It’s partly what MMP was designed to do. It was introduced to prevent what happened in the 1980s happening again, when radical change was pushed through in an anti-democratic fashion.”

But he says the result is both Labour and the Greens have at times been limited in terms of their policy options. Rashbrooke says this is reflected in the back down on capital gains tax and the Government’s cautious response to last week’s Welfare Expert Advisory Group report.

“In some ways I think it’s too early to judge the Government. I’m sure it’s frustrating for voters because they heard the promises and thought things were going to change quickly. But when you hear ministers speak they have always said it would be incremental change.”

Rashbrooke says he doesn’t think there is an appetite for radical change in New Zealand.

“I think Jacinda Ardern is someone who wants to look for consensus. And I don’t think most of the country is in the mood for radical change.”

But he says if the Government can meet some of its own goals, such as halving child poverty in the next 10 years and help create a zero carbon economy by 2050, that would be transformational change.

Independent economist and commentator and economist Shamubeel Eaqub says for him the Government’s most notable public policy achievements to date have been the amendments to the Reserve Bank Act, the Residential Tenancies Act and its decision to end all new permits for oil and gas exploration. While it’s work on the Zero Carbon Bill is still a work in progress. (The interview with Eaqub took place before Wednesday's Zero Carbon Act announcement).

“It has put in train a lot of changes,” Eaqub says.

But he says he’s now waiting for this month’s budget to see what’s next.

“They have talked a big game, but whether they deliver in terms of investing in health, education and welfare is yet to be seen,” Eaqub says. “That’s what they talked about when they were campaigning. I’m very concerned that pressures in the health sector are in fact growing and not diminishing. So the May budget will be their big test.

“Everybody talks a big game, but most of the time the changes are at the margins.”

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21 Comments

10
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I'd go with Chou-en Lai here. Asked about the effects of the French Revolution, he is purported to have replied that 'It's too soon to tell'.

Same with this Gubmint. Lotsa talk, heaps of Feelz, but the only two big changes have been the "Die, 'Naki" captain's call, and the MSSA 'ban' - already showing unintended effects.

In both cases, it's possible that Feelz counted for more than Logic. Could well be more to come: after Engagement, the Wedding, and there's time to kick off Baby#2 just in time for the '20 election......

Goo, Gah, Term#2....

10
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I'd hold off marking the scorecard until we see this well-being budget.

I think the economists assessment is wilfully ignoring the song and dance Labour made about the tax system and with the CGT being a complete and utter waste of time I think a pass mark is a big call.

Robertson needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat for Labour to get a pass mark from here.

12
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Unemployment slowly rising from 4.0% low several quarters back. Beneficiary numbers increasing, 70000 new jobs including about 2500 (5% growth) in public sector to June 2018, will be higher this year. GDP growth last two quarters Q2 0.6%, Q3 0.3%, 1.8% annualised, rumours of a low result for Q4 too. National averaged >3-4% last term. Highest trade deficits in a decade. Poverty indicators all climbing. Promised reduced immigration but new record highs last few months. Kiwibuild (dead), Billion trees (joke), 1800 new police (~500). Cancelled health service performance measurement (hide failings). Killed oil and gas industry. It's nothing but massive embarrassing fails and running down of economy. But PM had a baby and got engaged, yay coalition!

Gee, pretty generous assessments.
I think Crampton's is only that favourable because he loves all the neo-liberal rhetoric Twyford throws around about cutting planning red tape.

Our PM has done alot - went to UN, being interviewed by a night show in the US, had a baby, went to China, shook hands with President Xi, made CGT gone over her term, announced Zero carbon bill, opened a green tech centre in Taranaki, and being engaged.

Over all I think Labour are doing fairly good job of cleaning up after Nationals do nothing but sell off the NZ approach. And if our GDP is slightly lower than previous that due to the decline in the housing market to make it more affordable. Remember, a large part of the National party NZ GDP growth was very dependent on the property market doing well, hence why they were reluctant to do anything to stop selling to foreign buyers or even to reduce money laundering both of which were rife under the National Government.

To help reduce immigration; I would recommend that Labour introduce a minimum salary rule for new immigrants to stop them from being exploited by NZ employers, this in turn helps NZ residents from being over look if they as for a decent livable salary especially in very expensive such as Auckland. Lots of Western Countries already have these policies to protect their citizens and new migrants from exploitation.

As an example; the current UK work Tier 2 visa has a salary requirement of £30,000 UK and they are no looking to increase it to £50,000. For skilled non-EU migrants.
Lots of NZ Employers will say that they can't find skilled workers when the truth is they simply don't want to pay competitive salaries that match the cost of living in the bigger cities. They would rather bring in a low cost migrant with less skills at considerably lower employment cost for them.

To be fair this govt has changed the target for permanent residency from 42,500 to 47,500 approvals per annum and set a new lower target of 33,333 to 40,000 per annum (target achieved via points count - National exceeded upper target). It is permanent residency that matters more than the temporary work visas. They have also actually started prosecuting employers who exploit migrants - admittedly just a slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket - but it is a start and the sheer volume of reported cases proves that Prof Stringer was right 3 years ago with her report on Widespread worker exploitation. Widespread.
A gentle move in the right direction but with no sense of urgency. They cannot see that boasting about new schools and extra teachers and new state houses all relate to excessive rate of immigration. The figures under-estimate the costs since the children of migrants born in NZ are counted (correctly) as Kiwis and migrants tend to have larger families than native Kiwis.

"changed the target" latest two months migration data are 9400, 8800, those are record highs! Forget targets, aspirations, goals, hopes, recalibrations, years of deliver and every other weaselly manner of language abuse their huge media massaging teams employ. They are demonstrating time and time again they have no ability to deliver. "to be fair". On anything.

My info was about permanent residency - the govt has cut it but work visas are growing. There would be less pressure on infrastructure if more Kiwis were moving to Oz. The average skill level of lost Kiwis is higher than that of average immigrants.
My report card would say tiptoeing towards a sane immigration policy but I could be wrong.

10
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What have they achieved?

I think to complete a fair analysis you need to define the criteria of achievement. I would say there are four:
1. Have they fulfilled their campaign promises?
2. How do they compare to the previous government?
3. How have they handled ad-hoc issues?
4. Generic MP Performance?

In term of campaign promises = Epic Fail = 4/80
1. Kiwibuild and the 100,000 houses = 0/10
2. Planting 1 Billion trees = 3/10 (Although most of it seems to be existing tracts of forestry)
3. Reducing Homelessness = 0/10 (Haven't heard a thing about it since the election)
4. Reducing child poverty = 0/10 (Our PM proclaimed she would be the minister of Child Poverty - haven't seen anything about it since election)
5. Most Transparent Government ever = 0/10
6. "Our generations nuclear free" = 1/10. All talk, except for the death of a regional industry, and the solo flight to Vanuatu or as it is normally referred to - do as I say, not as I do.
7. "Pausing" immigration = 0/10.
8. Pike river re-entry = 3/10 More effort than National, but still not in.

Comparison to Previous Govt = 5/10
The previous National government was not big on change (Claims or action). Labour are huge on claims, but still no action.
Using Guard dogs as an analogy
- National are a sleeping Labrador. You could just walk on by and it might open an eye.
- Labour are a chihuahua, a whole lot of yapping, but no real sense of danger.
Either way the intruder is coming in and taking what they want.

Ad-hoc issues = 5/10
Christchurch shootings, are the only major event so far - Very empathetic, but lacked leadership (kind of banned Semi Automatics, but not really)
Census, hard to give them the full blame for this one, but it was on their watch, and I don't think they handled it particularly well.

MP performance = 2/10
One or two KIA (Curran, Twyford), but for the most part MIA. None really seem to be standing out. Although it could be argued Winnie is successfully doing his job as an emergency handbrake. Oh, and a bonus point for all the lovely PR on the PMs personal life. She really knows how to manage personality politics.

"Planting 1 Billion trees = 3/10 (Although most of it seems to be existing tracts of forestry)"

People don't seem to understand this policy. It was for 1 billion trees over 10 years. Current planting rate by industry was already 500 million trees over 10 years. So it's simply a doubling of the planting rate. Perfectly achievable.

Granted, you have a point. Except for the fact that they are non-native trees. It seems like a Faux green sort of thing to do.
Extended/additional National Parks, would have been better.

Except that it was to be 1billion extra trees in a "new planting program" (as in not the old or existing planting programs). They are trying to rewrite history in pretending that it was not.
Ardern 8Nov2017: "The New Zealand Forestry Service will be re-established and located in regional New Zealand. This government is committed to a new planting programme, planting 100 million trees a year to reach a billion more trees in ten years."

I give them a C-
kiwibuild is a disaster which they need to rethink the whole thing
go backwards to go forwards fund whole suburbs, sell a good piece, keep some for rentals
look into helping providers of low cost housing to see if they can ramp up with some support
trams to the airport will be another disaster unless they hand over to PI and let them plan the routes and run it
the main ones health, welfare and education I give a pass they have a lot to fix up so they need time
the regional growth fund has not really achieved much so far just little things,
maybe they should buy northport and run rail to it to add competition to the other two portsand improve job prospects up north instead of talk of relocation
they need to get on with a gun register surely in todays tech age that is not hard
they need to fix the stats maybe even do it again manual this time
they talk about looking after workers but leave contract milkers and other contractors largely unprotected
they have much to do and so far they remind me a bit of JK's first government,
we are all sitting here waiting for things to happen and the wheels are creaking with the slowness of any progress

10/10 for caring/feel goods. 2/10 for execution.

This is Ardern's "year of delivery", maybe she's pregnant again, as the only other thing being delivered is failure.

Part of the low scores evident in this 'ere thread is that the CoL is relying on that classic progressive delusion: that the Gubmint can actually affect things which have deep roots:

  • in culture (used in the sense of 'what we do around here')
  • in the hysteresis of existing infrastructures and patterns of living e.g. city spatial layouts
  • in the plethora of competing incentives (usually of the perverse varietal) to which we are all exposed.

As the Manhattan Contrarian argues, is it not rather a case of 'can anybody around here admit out loud that the [federal - there, CoL here] government cannot fix every human problem?'.....

Epic fail. Better hope that there is no GFC2 on the horizon, we are slowly going backwards as it is, so if we have some sort of major global event we have nothing in reserve. Essentially not delivered on any election promises in the key areas like housing or immigration.

I score them F. Incrementalism, but get tangled in the main goal, whatever that was. Mind you, the Nats also just fiddled around the edges.
The place needs a government with a clear idea where it's going

Kiwibuild appears to be for 72,000 FHB in Auckland who can afford $650k.
Housing homeless and building affordable transportable homes for rent for them to rent would have been a lot quicker and fulfilled the promise at election. Now media is all "Kiwibuild" where b4 election they were hammering National non stop re homeless in cars etc.
NZ First stop Labour doing anything radical and they will be out next election.
Without actually having a majority with Greens alone, Labour will do nothing really to challenge the Right Wing admin managerial Neo-Liberal consensus that has ruled in NZ since 1987

I give them a FA.