Almost everyone agrees except Bill and John

Today the NZIER and Matthew Hooton are in agreement. Hooton has an article in the NBR and once again I have had to start my weekly Friday morning trek to the Howick Stationers for my NBR.

In 1993, Wayne Eagleson, now John Key?s chief of staff, was campaign director for the National Party. Among his responsibilities was authorising Jim Bolger?s vision for the future, Path to 2010, the last government document published with a genuine reformist as Minister of Finance.

Before 1993 was out, Ruth Richardson had been sacked, MMP was in place, Mr Bolger had held power with the acquiescence of Jim Anderton, coalitions were the norm and New Zealand began 17 years of mediocrity, stagnation and decline.

Hooton is right on the money. The bold economic outlook deserted us at the very time that Jim Bolger lost his bottle. here we are in 2010 and not even a step closer to the recommendations of the Path to 2010.The NZIER agrees:

“Anyone who seriously thinks that the TWG’s recommendations are radical needs a reality check,” the leading economic consultancy’s chief executive Jean-Pierre de Raad says in a commentary issued today.

Precisely, what have we achieved in the past 25 years since the last reforms put us on a sound footing to weather even the most heinous of economic storms? The Path to 2010 was full of motherhood and apple-pie statements and with the 20/20 hindsight of the future we can look back and laugh at the platitudes of so many weak-kneed politicians that have been happy with mediocrity and stagnation. Hooton list the platitudinous claptrap.

The writers, including World Cup hero David Kirk, dealt honestly with the barriers to success, including ?an understandable attitude of cynicism and negativism after a decade of upheaval?.

Optimistically, however, these barriers were found to be surmountable, being largely of our own making.? New Zealand had its first opportunity for a generation to genuinely boost its economic performance.

The strategy was not revolutionary.? It stressed being open to the world for trade and investment, maintaining price stability and reducing indebtedness, and argued it was free enterprise and markets which would drive growth, not government.

Food and beverages, forestry and fibre, tourism, high quality manufacturing and services were highlighted as ?engines of growth?.

With just 150 companies accounting for 95% of exports, it sought more businesses with the scale to export.? Cute stories about kiwi-battler SMEs did not feature.

Top of the agenda was investment in innovation, research and infrastructure.? Better transport networks were promised, along with the new priority of communications technology.?? New Zealand would have ?one of the most sophisticated telecommunications environments? in the world.

Education would be better connected with business and built around life-long learning rather than bricks and mortar.

New Zealand would remain the cleanest, greenest place on earth, and greater energy efficiency would be vital.? Back then, ozone was a bigger issue than CO2 ? although we were going to cut our CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

Delivery was not assured.? Stretch targets were involved.

Unfortunately we have stopped for the longest recorded cup of tea in history with only Kiwisaver being the standout adjustment to our economy. Unfortunately Labour and now National lack the bottle to make it compulsory. The NZIER recommends a bolder approach:

“If New Zealand is to close the income gap with Australia, we need to do much more than matching Australia’s personal income and business tax rates,” the institute says.

“A broad suite of growth-friendly policies – including bolder tax reform – needs to be implemented and a shared economic vision established. We need to accept that the adjustment to a higher long-term growth path might cause some short term pain, and we need political leaders to commit to seeing the reforms through.”

“Given the growth challenge New Zealand faces, our concern is that the proposals of the TWG do not go far enough.”

Unfortunately I don’t our cabinet, save a few have the guts to implement such a programme. Cabinet is dominated by wets like “Smile and Wave” Key and “FIGJAM” Power and we have a do nothing, death by analysis Finance Minister in “Karori” Bill English. Hooton thinks we now have economic death via Focus Groups and polling.

Since 1993, no serious attempt has been made to provide the inspirational leadership, promote the social attitudes and implement the public policy for New Zealand to become a rich country.

A mindset has developed in the political and media class that good policy is necessarily anathema to good politics.? If anything, it is embedded even more deeply in the Key Government than it was in Helen Clark?s.

Labour?s pollsters at UMR and National?s at Curia have become rich but at the expense of everyone else.

I would suggest that Hooton and Farrar have had a massive falling out if Hooton makes statements like that but he isn’t wrong in making such statements. Can we truly break 25 years of indifference and ditch teh motherhood and apple-pie statements that have nobbled our economy. We need action, we need go-forward in Rugby parlance, but is “Smile and Wave” Key up to it. Not even Hooton thinks that is the case.

In Mr Key, New Zealand has a leader who personifies the nation and connects with the public in a way which rivals Ronald Reagan, Pierre Trudeau, Lee Kuan Yew or Tony Blair in their prime.? The odds are low that such a leader might emerge again.

Already, Mr Key is the most popular prime minister in New Zealand?s history, is deeply trusted and has the chance to become the greatest political figure New Zealand has known.

The jury is out on whether he?ll do it.? Within a month, we?ll know whether he plans to do anything with his gifts, whether his strategists have the ability to integrate good PR with good policy ? or whether being in office is enough, and the Beehive?s capabilities limited to churning out facile feel-good Woman?s Day exclusives.

In assisting his new boss, Mr Eagleson could do worse than fish out a copy of the Path to 2010 that he signed off all those years ago.

New Zealand took the wrong path in 1993.? There is a once-in-a-century opportunity to rejoin the road, if that?s the decision Mr Key is prepared to take.

Which I guess means that we will become an even worse Pacific backwater. Why teh government is making hay while the sun shines is beyond me. The government may well be asleep at the wheel but so too is the Opposition.

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