Treasury troubles, strike money & growing grains of salt for polls

Reality forces limits. But expectations once created have to be managed. The government is learning that the hard way. Plus money for striking teachers and poll lessons

The debate over Budgets in Wellington is the ultimate in beltway-ness. For most New Zealanders settling the teacher and/or junior doctors strikes, making sure healthcare and welfare is funded sufficiently to ensure reasonable access, and other such day-to-day issues are what matters.

In the beltway, the ‘leak’ and other parliamentary games takes centre stage, but with little cut through to sentient beings outside the political realm.

The big beltway loser this year was Treasury. It demonstrated seriously inferior cyber security for all to see. The Budget speeches were the usual fare, with one side arguing that the Wellbeing Budget set us firmly and with clear direction and resolution on the road to resolving some truly long-term major issues. To the other side it was the total opposite; unquestionable failure. The partisans cheered and argued enthusiastically.

The beltway game is of little importance to Joe or Jane Citizen waiting for an operation. Or a cancer patient waiting and hoping that a new pharmaceutical will be funded. Or a young person tossing up what to do in life. Or wondering about sustainability.

These people-level issues concerns regular citizens who don’t listen much to Parliament. Regular citizens are much more interested by the impact Budgets have on them, their communities, their friends and their families.

The pressing issue now is to find a way to settle the teachers' claims, primary and secondary. Adamant as the Minister is, I am sure more money will have to be found.

Dissatisfaction in the ranks has to be truly intense to drive the entire profession out like it has, and especially against a Labour-led Government that is naturally and philosophically aligned with the NZEI and PPTA. The minister says they cannot turn around years of neglect in one pay round. In other words it’s the previous government’s fault.

That and the “we are pouring millions into education” is the explanation being used for managing the politics, but sooner or later there has to be a solution. A teacher I was speaking to told me she had attended a meeting of the then-Opposition Education Spokesperson Chris Hipkins. He apparently was effusive. Everything he said raised their expectations. Failure to satisfy expectations raised before the election is one reason the dissatisfaction is so intense now.

Expectations are high across the board. It's not just education – health, justice, corrections, welfare, sustainability, youth, abuse, the list goes on. Few question the sentiment behind the pronounced objectives, but everything finally needs to fit reality.

Reality forces limits.

Treasury’s cyber security was not the only thing questioned by recent events. Polls need to be taken with bigger and bigger grains of salt.

I listened to the radio news the morning after the Australian election; the Liberal National Coalition had convincingly won the election. The headline in the Sunday paper (same morning) read “Coalition support crumbles“. It was wrong of course. For the next few days, we had repeated media stories about the “shock” Australian election result.

America and the world were totally expecting Hillary Clinton to become US president in 2016. Donald Trump won. In the most recent UK election Theresa May was expecting her position to strengthen but the reverse happened. She barely scrapped home. So often commentary reports polls as if they absolutely describe was is happening. Far more skepticism is in order.

A voter could easily think, “They are going to win anyway so I am free to vote another way as the outcome is assured”. We need to question polls.