Re­form un­likely un­der English


Bill English’s Cabi­net shuf­fle brought 2016 to a suit­ably an­ti­cli­matic end.

Trump, Brexit and John Key’s res­ig­na­tion had al­ready ex­hausted the pub­lic’s ap­petite for the un­ex­pected.

The sight of the same old faces pro­vided a pre­view of the steadyas- we-go ap­proach we can prob­a­bly expect from Chair­man Bill.

It also meant every­one could get on with pre­par­ing for their own Christ­mas/New Year with­out hav­ing just seen English take his old fam­ily friend Nick Smith aside for a last good­bye, be­fore hav­ing him shot at dawn.

At a time of good­will, Smith’s ex­pul­sion would have been the po­lit­i­cal equiv­a­lent of putting down the fam­ily pet.

How­ever, there is a down­side though to be­ing safe and pre­dictable. Given the chance to in­no­vate, English chose in­stead to leave the fu­ture cap­taincy of the health, ed­u­ca­tion and for­eign pol­icy up in the air for nearly five months.

What­ever else that is, it isn’t dy­namic lead­er­ship.

Still, English will have other chances to be de­ci­sive.

One can see the logic of call­ing an early elec­tion in July.

The May Bud­get is ex­pected to con­tain a $2-3 bil­lion pack­age of tax cuts.

Clearly, Na­tional would pre­fer seek­ing an elec­tion man­date for tax cuts rather than over its stew­ard­ship of nine years of un­met need in hous­ing, health and child poverty.

Na­tional has room to risk an early elec­tion call.

Re­cently, they en­joyed an eight per cent lead over the com­bined Labour/Greens vote and that un­der­lines the prob­lem fac­ing the cen­tre-left in 2017.

Try as it might to look like a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive, the pub­lic hadn’t been shop­ping for one. Has that sit­u­a­tion changed? The English/Ben­nett tag team has been se­lected to de­liver pol­icy con­ti­nu­ity with the Key era.

Help­fully, the lead­ing duo com­ple­ment each other on a num­ber of fronts but what’s lack­ing is any prospect of gen­uine pol­icy in­no­va­tion.

If there is to be a wild card, Gareth Mor­gan could pro­vide it.

Although he may prove to be just a one trick pony, Mor­gan will be aim­ing to turn our rel­a­tively gen­er­ous pen­sion scheme – and its age of en­ti­tle­ment – into a ma­jor elec­tion is­sue.

Sig­nif­i­cant re­form, how­ever, seems un­likely.

After all, English has been around long enough to re­mem­ber the last time Na­tional dab­bled with means test­ing pen­sions, via the dis­as­trous ‘‘sur­tax’’ that was fi­nally scrapped in 1998.

A more likely ges­ture would be to ex­tend the time some­one has to be res­i­dent in New Zealand be­fore qual­i­fy­ing for na­tional su­per­an­nu­a­tion.

Such a move would be more in the style we’re likely to ex­pe­ri­ence this year. He’s not one for tack­ling the thornier po­lit­i­cal is­sues head on.

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