Government three-year report card
John Key campaigned for National on four key promises in 2008: closing New Zealand’s pay gap with Australia; tax cuts; uniform education progress standards and pruning the public service.
Circumstances were somewhat against Mr Key. He inherited an economy that had been in recession for a year and it stayed that way for another six months, then the Christchurch earthquakes, the loss of life and drain on the national coffers.
So how did those goals work out for Mr Key?
This one didn’t go so well – definitely a ‘‘standard-not-achieved’’ grade.
In fact, the gap has grown since the election, and in April this year Finance Minister Bill English attempted to put a positive spin on the situation, calling New Zealand’s lower wages a strategic advantage.
The figures aren’t easy to compare because the two countries’ respective statistics departments measure income differently and at different times, but it still clear the gap is widening rather than closing.
Australia’s average wage in November 2008 was A$ 911 (NZ$1127) and in February this year A$1004 ($1243).
New Zealand’s average weekly wage was $759 in the year to June 2008 and $769 in the year to June 2010, but not so many people were earning wages.
Unemployment at election time in 2008 was 4.6 per cent and this March it was 6.8 per cent.
Business and Economic Research Limited chief economist Ganesh Nana said the wage gap has not changed in the past three years and is unlikely to in the next decade.
‘‘ It’s still
and nothing has happened to it.
‘‘Some would argue that it has got wider. The risk is that we continue to lose skilled people over the Tasman.
‘‘ Yes, it is significant, but I would argue that there are more important things we should be concerned about.’’
Mr Key and Mr English came through with their promised tax cuts.
The top marginal rate of 38c in the dollar on incomes over $70,000 a year fell to 33c with lesser cuts to every bracket below and company tax was cut from 30 per cent to 28 per cent.
On the flip side of the coin, goods and services tax increase 20 per cent, from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent.
Dr Nana said the cuts did not benefit New Zealanders.
‘‘I don’t think it made a significant difference to the average New Zealander’s ability to balance their budget.
‘‘ The big difference was for those on high incomes.’’
The tax cuts were structured to benefit those at the top of the income scale the most, he said.
‘‘What was needed was income at the bottom end of the scale to enable New Zealanders to continue ... spending and keep the economy going.’’
This one is a standard definitely not-achieved, not because they didn’t do what the government hoped they would achieve, but because it has so far failed to successfully introduce them.
Education Minister Ann Tolley has struggled to get professional educationists on board.
Ms Tolley has just started a fresh battle with integrated Rudolf Steiner schools, which run on a totally different timetable geared to the developmental progress of individual pupils, rather than to any state-ordered one.
Victoria University’s head of school of education policy and implementation Professor Robert Strathdee said identifying some students’ inability to progress was a good thing, but there were other, possibly better ways, to do so.
‘‘There are plenty of good diagnostic standards available to schools,’’ he said.
‘‘The official response would be ‘sure, they might be there but schools haven’t been using them’.’’
‘‘It’s hard to get away from the feeling that there is an element of trying to enforce [standards] on some schools that haven’t been identifying [students who are not progressing].’’
Have national standards been successfully implemented?
‘‘The fact that such a high proportion of schools didn’t submit the information is pretty telling,’’ he said.
‘‘ I think the government is struggling to get traction with the teachers. A large part of national standards for the government is to provide clearer evidence for parents about their child’s progress.
‘‘It’s difficult because of course parents want better information - the debate is how best to provide this.’’
Achieved with merit. The public service was capped at 38,895 staff in March 2009 and fell by 4.85 per cent to 36,973 by March.