Politicians have been arguing that black is white this week, showing that they're about as connected to reality as a two year-old chasing dragons

I've spent a lot of time with my two year-old son this summer, often in a rich, if exhausting, world of imagination. There are dragons, animal rescues, and more, but sometimes he worries that I'm not quite getting the game and he reassures me that "it's just 'tending Daddy". Looking at parliament this week, you'd think they'd all been playing with Micah as well, because there's been a heck of a lot of pretending going on there as well.

Yesterday came the surprised intake of breath when Finance Minister Bill English said that the estimated proceeds from selling shares in the state-owned power companies and Air New Zealand was "a guess". English straight-forwardly admitted Treasury was "picking a number" when they put a figure of $6 billion on the share float.

Cue opposition parties fretting that the government doesn't have a clear handle on the sale process. Russel Norman is accusing English of misleading voters going into the election. But truth is, no government can know how much the market will be willing to offer. That's always been part of the problem with this plan.

I wrote about this early last November during the election campaign, saying "it's anyone's guess" how much the partial sales will raise. If I could figure that out six months ago, why is everyone 'tending to be surprised now?

I quoted National's own state asset sale policy from 1988, under Jim Bolger, which insisted assets should only be sold at the top of the market, not oh, for example, in the middle of a global economic crisis.

And to be fair to National, English's comments are nothing new, contrary to the Greens' claims. On Q+A last November the finance minister said "there's no guarantee" on price, which is just another way of saying that they're guessing. That the government's predictions are ballpark at best is nothing new.

Then we've got the government and Treasury pretending that the Euro crisis only began in the past six months. Now that requires some imagination.

The Budget Policy Statement says that the economic outlook for New Zealand is "somewhat weaker than forecast in the Pre-Election Update", in large part due to the dramas in Europe. Which is bollocks.

If Treasury and the government couldn't see the seriousness of the eurozone crisis seven, or even 12, months ago, then they simply weren't paying attention. But of course they knew. The pre-election estimates were terribly over-optimistic and not honestly reflecting the true gravity of the global economy.

Treasury was just 'tending.

The same can be said for National's line in the Budget statement that its goals include, "Delivering better public services within tight financial constraints" and posting a surplus by 2014/15. If the global economy remains as weak as nearly everyone expects, the only way to reach that surplus will be serious public sector cuts. And if the government thinks it can slash and deliver "better" services at the same time, they're deluded. Service costs money; less money means less service, end of.

And now it seems the government was only pretending when it cut ACC levies last year – it really wants to raise them again. Now it's no secret that National likes to do a lot of pretending when it comes to ACC. Just a couple of years ago it was pretending the fund was insolvent rather than acknowledging that the fund is world-class, incredibly efficient and had merely taken a temporary hit on its over-performing investment fund due to the global recession.

However the latest pretence is to argue in favour of proper competition in the provision of compensation insurance while hamstringing the government's own corporation – and helping private providers – by demanding it charge extra fees.

All this in a week when Michael Fay is pretending to be a patriot and Cabinet is pretending it has no say over the Crafar Farms sales.

It's enough to make me wonder at the point of getting back into the politics game. At least my two year-old is straight up about when he's 'tending and when he's not. And you get a hug and a kiss at the end of it all.

Comments (3)

by Andrew P Nichols on February 18, 2012
Andrew P Nichols

Can someone please remind the Nats that ACT are history (Banksie is as Nat as Jim A was a Labour MP) and so they dont have to go stuffing round with ACC after all - Of course  they may have actually wanted to slowly privatise it all along and the old coalition agreement was just to get them off the hook with the electorate (including many in the businessworld) who weren't impressed by what the Bolger shipley Govt did with it last time.

by Frank Macskasy on February 20, 2012
Frank Macskasy

Worst of all this 'tending, Tim, are the "grow'dups" who who go along with it all, thinking, "what a jolly nice little game - if we all keep on playing, maybe it will all come true!".

I think all voters know that it's all a game. But they go along with it all, 'cos it doesn't require much critical thinking. And, hey, it will all be alright, 'cos as long as we get our tax cuts and the Other Side stops the Nasty Guvmint from cutting [insert local/state service here], then no harm done.

Until voters demand a higher standard from our elected representatives, instead of just voting along "tribal"/selfish lines and ticking one box or another, we will get the government(s) we deserve.

If we, as a society want to change things, we first have to demand that change from any candidate/Party we might vote for. Instead of asking, "what are you going to do for me" - the question should be, "what will you do for our society, and how will you do it?".

Otherwise we'll just keep "muddling through"...


by donna on February 20, 2012

A hug and a kiss from any of those shady characters mentioned in your article? Er, no thanks. But it's good to see someone calling Michael Fay out. I don't think we should be selling off farmland (mainly for reasons of food security, something the Chinese seem to understand and our government is oblivious to) but it galls me that the national interest (if that's what it is) is being 'defended' by creeps like Fay.

Nice piece. Nothing like small children to throw a harsh light on the behaviour of their elders and...betters?

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