Spotlight thrown on security
The carnage in France has begun 2015 in a way that makes any forecasts about local politics – how is new Labour leader Andrew Little likely to fare against Prime Minister John Key this year? – seem even more trivial than usual.
In passing though, the lack of actual bloodletting in our politics (and journalism) is something for which we should be more grateful than we usually tend to be. Especially given that France – and other Western countries – have probably not seen the last of jihadi terrorism on home soil.
What the events in France will ensure is that security issues will continue to dominate our politics during the first half of 2015.
In June, that debate will culminate in the long-promised review of our intelligence services.
Tellingly, in the recent Australian and French terrorism incidents, the culprits were wellknown to the authorities, yet still managed to arm themselves and execute their plans. As a consequence, the political arguments here in the coming months are likely to focus on whether we need to expand the objective powers of surveillance of our security services, or improve the subjective interpretation of the information already available to them.
Here and overseas, the failings seem to be about interpretation, not detection.
This reality hardly supports an argument for broader surveillance powers.
Supposedly, the media paid too much attention to such issues during the election, while virtually ignoring the economy.
To date though, the economic recovery has made precious little impact on wages, inflation or job security.
During 2015, the fall in oil prices will become the Government’s main safety valve, given that this petrol pump relief will leave more money in people’s pockets than the recovery has so far delivered.
In other good luck for the Government, the likely decline in demand from China will be offset by a resurgent American economy that will push our dollar down further against the Greenback.
Any delight among exporters will, however, be tempered by our steady march to parity against the Aussie dollar. Among other things that will make New Zealand an expensive option this winter for Australian tourists, who still comprise our biggest bloc of paying visitors.
Overall then, the economy will offer slim pickings for opposition politicians.
The high levels of unmet need within our health system – which, belatedly, the Government began to measure mid- 2014 – may finally become a political issue once those findings see thy light of day early this year.
Inevitably though, the early political theatre of 2015 will be about Little’s ability to build on a promising start.
As others have noted, Little was fortunate to begin his new job when the issues of the day were decidedly non-ideological.
This allowed him to criticise the manifest failings in the public service over the Roger Sutton affair, and the flight to Brazil of a notorious criminal. Simultaneously, Key was ending 2014 on an unusually sour and ragged note.
Presumably, a refreshed John Key will be a more formidable opponent in 2015.
If the economy, health and security services dominate the initial agenda, these are all issues on which the Greens will test Little’s ability to stake out a strong and credible policy direction.
So far, Little has looked like a safe pair of hands. Genuine leadership will, however, require more.