Herceptin and hunting, trading schemes and taxes... Is the new government's policy platform what we expected before the election?

With the release of the coalition deals yesterday, we get a closer look at the policy direction we can expect from the new National-led minority government. In particular, we can look at how accurate we here at Pundit were in our analysis of What New Zealand would look like under a National-ACT-UF coalition.

National, as we expected, is moving ahead before Christmas with its plans to alter the tax cuts planned for the new year, fund Herceptin over 12 months, and amend the Resource Management Act. All will pass with ACT's support, no matter how United Future and the Maori Party vote.

Like other media, we didn't expect National to "cave in" on its emissions trading scheme, especially not before Christmas. Even observers as astute as the Herald's Brian Fallow wrote that, "We will have an emissions trading scheme regardless of which of the major parties gets to form the next Government". Maybe, maybe not.

Our misguided belief that National would push ahead with an amended ETS regardless, was based on, well, y'know, promises. There was Nick Smith saying, "National will proceed with an ETS...", and "A well-designed, carefully-balanced ETS is the best tool available for efficiently reducing emissions across the economy", and commitments from John Key that National would "introduce a comprehensive 'cap and trade' emission permit system to manage greenhouse gas emissions".

So vague! So woolly! You can see how we could have misinterpreted them...You can't? No, actually, neither can we. It's one heck of a u-turn to promise all the above and then rush through delaying legislation and put a carbon tax – beloved by environmentalists, hated by farmers – back on the table. Talk about relitigating an argument. A cynic might suggest that a government taking such a course was doing its best to ensure the country never puts a price on carbon.

We didn't pick an advisory group to grow New Zealand's productivity nor National's support to select committee of ACT's radical bill to cap government expenses. But those seem more token than tangible. And no, we didn't expect a hunting council. Who did? And what will it do?

Unlike other media, we highlighted the fact that National, United Future and ACT were agreed in their support for more public-private partnerships. It's still getting next-to-no media attention today, but there in the United Future support agreement are the promises:

The National-led government will implement the broad principles, policies and priorities advanced by United Future including reducing elective surgery waiting lists by greater utilisation of private hospital capacity;

and also:

It will support public-private partnerships for major road developments such as Transmission Gully;

It's interesting to note that there's no mention yet of more private sector involvement in prisons and ACC. Too controversial as yet, we presume. We can't be sure then that they will come, but we're confident they will be on the agenda next year. If they're not, we'll eat this blog.... oh hang on, mabye not.

There's nothing about forcing parents on the DPB with school-age children to go into work or training, nor is there any movement on KiwiSaver. Yet. Again, we don't think we're wrong. Legislation will appear next year.

The other controversial policy direction signalled by yesterday's deal, pointed to in the parties' policy documents, and still largely missed by the media is bulk funding of schools. We picked it as the "sleeper issue" and the ACT agreement suggests it's rousing itself. ACT deputy leader Heather Roy was made associate minister of education and the new government will set up an inter-party working group to consider school funding. According to the National-ACT agreement:

ACT notes that National has stated that it will "work, over time, to increase the education choices available to parents and pupils so families have more freedom to select schooling options that best meet the individual needs of their children."  ACT also favours greater choice and competition in education.  

In pursuit of these goals, National and ACT have agree[sic] to set up an inter-party working group, which shall be resourced as necessary to consider and report on policy options relating to the funding and regulation of schools that will increase parental choice and school autonomy.

As we predicted, tougher prison sentences are on the agenda, with National agreeing to support ACT's "three strikes" policy through to the select committee. The Families Commission will stay despite National's criticism, although it will seek "administrative efficiencies" with the Children's Commission.

As for the Maori Party, we said it would only do a deal with National if it was offered movement on its "holy grail" issue – the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Lo and behold, it was. It's just a review, mind, but it gets the issue back on the table. Re-litigating that divisive issue is a long, long way from National's iwi/kiwi stance in 2005, when Gerry Brownlee was insisting his party would strengthen Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed to "ensure Crown ownership of the seabed and foreshore". Given that, the Maori Party could find themselves more like Sir Gawain than Sir Galahad in their quest for the grail, wandering for years with pure intent, but never achieving the desired result.

Comments (2)

by Graeme Edgeler on November 17, 2008
Graeme Edgeler

We didn't pick ... National's support to select committee of ACT's radical bill to cap government expenses. But [that seems] more token than tangible.

I'm not so sure about the perceived tokenism - did you pick up the substantial difference between the agreement over the three strikes legislation:

National agrees to introduce the ACT Three Strikes Bill as a part of this package of measures, to receive submissions and consideration in the select committee.

National further agrees to give the ACT bill a fair hearing in the committee based on the evidence and give due weight to the submissions received.

and the one over the Taxpayer Rights Bill:

Support, within six months, the referral of ACT’s Taxpayer Rights Bill to the Finance and Expenditure Committee of Parliament as a government measure with the aim of passing into law a cap on the growth of core Crown expenses.

One is about sending something to select committee and giving it a fair hearing. The expenditure cap goes quite a bit further than that.

by Tim Watkin on November 17, 2008
Tim Watkin

Your right Graeme. I've given it more thought and expressed more concern in my next piece. Good grief, that's a nutty bit of law. But surely, surely, even National wouldn't legislate away its own ability to, well, govern? What is government, if not running the public purse, and if you can't say how much to spend, what's the point? After the monetarist reforms of the 80s, David Lange famously said the power was now with the Reserve Bank Governor, not the PM. This would be further emasculation.

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