When Grant Robertson presents his Budget in a few days’ time, we must hope that it is one filled with courage, imagination and vision.
For that to happen, the Finance Minister must do what he (and successive governments before him) have manifestly failed to do. He must face up to the worsening economic and social problems besetting New Zealand, admit to them, and deliver an innovative set of policies designed to secure our children’s future, rather than bankrupt them.
As things stand, our future looks bleak. Within 40 years, we are projected to have a net debt standing at $2900 billion (197 per cent of GDP), an operating deficit of $196b per annum (13.3 per cent of GDP), and debt financing costs of $115b (7.8 per cent of GDP).
Should these projections come to pass, then New Zealand will close for business and we will bear the cost of inflicting unwanted hardship on our future generations.
So, what is required to secure a better future?
To begin with, it requires a willingness to look beyond the next election and a reliance on the tired old trope that big government equals better government.
Over the past few years, the Ardern Government has accelerated a process cultivated by too many governments before it, resolutely gathering power unto itself and creating a bureaucratic empire that is overpaid, self-serving and staggeringly inefficient.
Our levels of productivity, along with our levels of literacy and numeracy, sit at the bottom of the OECD; housing has become inaccessible to all bar the wealthy; child poverty has worsened; our healthcare system is in a state of disrepair; inequality and disadvantage — particularly for Māori and Pasifika — remain entrenched; and we are ill-prepared for the looming retirement of tens of thousands of baby boomers.
Just as bad, Labour’s policies have, inadvertently, entrenched privilege and allowed the rich to get richer (which is fine — there is nothing wrong with aspiration — but only so long as the disadvantaged are provided similar opportunities to advance, something that has been denied them).
The truth is, big government has never worked, while the age-old policies of tax and borrow, spend and hope, are extraordinarily ill-suited to the realities of today’s world.
Instead, we must have the courage and imagination to come up with 21st Century solutions for 21st Century problems.
Such solutions are possible, but it will require the Government to stop acting like an old-fashioned parent, determined to control every aspect of theirchild’s life. Instead, the Government must find the grace and leadership to offer us the opportunity, where it’s possible, to think and act for ourselves, taking control of our own lives.
Simply by ending privilege and excessive government waste, and by instituting policies that genuinely empower all New Zealanders, we can secure a future where all of us can purchase our own home, choose our child’s education, get the health cover we need, and secure our retirement.
The policies required to achieve this, along with the steps to implement them, already exist.
What is missing is the imagination and desire to put them in place; to think beyond the short term and devolve power to individuals to better manage their own lives.
The bedrock of any successful democracy is that it delivers government of the people, by the people, for the people.
In the case of our current Government, and too many other western democracies, this once-abiding principle has been subverted. We now have government of the people, by the government, for the government.
Such short-sightedness needs to end. We no longer live in a world where old divisions between left and right, socialist and conservative, suffice. We live in a new world, where new ways of thinking are required.
To thrive, we must throw off the failed policies of the past 30 years (many of them based on ideas espoused way back in the 19th Century), turn aside from long-held biases and engage in mature debate, rethinking what it means to govern.
If we do that, empowering all New Zealanders to manage their own lives and contribute meaningfully to society, then there is hope yet.
Courage, imagination, vision — that’s what it will take.
Over to you, Grant Robertson.
Sir Roger Douglas is a former Labour Party MP and Minister of Finance, and was co-founder of the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers. Grant Douglas also contributed to this article.
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