A year of learning things the hard way
Time flies. Around this time last year, give or take a few days, Winston Peters took what we thought we knew, threw everything in the air, and anointed Jacinda Ardern New Zealand’s next prime minister.
It was to be another week before the new Government was sworn in but Labour could have probably done with four times that long and it would have still been a frantic scramble.
When National was swept out of office so too was the machinery of a decade in power. Labour came into office with virtually nothing to replace that with. Maybe that’s why this Government has made so much about its first year look hard.
In Opposition, there had been no serious effort to put a skeleton government in place in readiness to occupy the Beehive while Andrew Little was in charge.
By the time Ardern replaced Little just weeks out from the election, it was too late, and the campaign too all consuming anyway, to start even trying.
Labour’s first weeks in office were a mad dash to move offices, find good staff (a desperate call went out to former staffers under Helen Clark), and put systems in place for the ill-fitting, threeheaded Government Ardern leads.
Belief in victory under Little had been so low that some staff had already booked lengthy holidays for the post-election period.
It has been a steep learning curve. But there have been signs this week that Labour is finally starting to get on top of things – rather than the other way round.
It is still green shoots and it may be as much to do with Winston Peters taking a back seat since Ardern returned from New York. His influence had contributed to the sense of first-year speed wobbles. But Ardern’s attack on the petrol companies for ‘‘fleecing’’ motorists over soaring petrol prices is a sign of Labour being more nimble in spotting – and reacting – to a looming crisis.
Fleecing is not a word that sits naturally with Ardern. But that gave her message more cutthrough, not less.
It’s debatable whether giving the Commerce Commission more teeth, as announced by Ardern, will have much of an effect. But her intervention was about deflecting the growing backlash to the Government’s new petrol taxes as the cause of all the pain at the pump, as pushed by National.
In reality, the falling New Zealand dollar has had a far bigger effect. But National has been running a clever attack campaign on the petrol taxes.
Labour was blindsided by the backlash earlier this year when it announced a rise in petrol taxes as part of a package to beef up infrastructure spending on roads, rail and public transport.
Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson invested a lot of time explaining that there was nothing extraordinary about this, but explaining is almost always losing, even when there was widespread acknowledgement that the investment was long overdue.
The Government’s perception problem was only going to get bigger when the Crown accounts were published the next day, revealing a $5.5 billion surplus. With a surplus that big, motorists aren’t interested in hearing all the fiscal ins and outs of why the two – petrol taxes and surpluses – are unrelated. Especially when coupled with the fact that the Government collected a staggering $1.9 billion in fuel excise last year.
But while it was politically expedient for Ardern to talk tough on petrol prices, it also highlights the size of the headache ahead.
There is actually nothing desirable about lower petrol prices in terms of this Government’s climate change policies.
The opposite is in fact true – that if we want to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, petrol prices will need to go up – and taxes will be a part of the mix to achieve that.
But Ardern on Monday opted for the political expediency of kicking that can down the road.
Ihave had a minor mid-life crisis recently following a friend telling me I was starting to look like a certain Mayor from just down the road and as a consequence I have purchased a second-hand bike and started pedalling into work from Clyde when my schedule allows.
Biking lets the rider see a lot of things you don’t normally see and allows time to muse upon what has been seen.
One day I noticed something under a tree on the Rail Trail in Alexandra. Actually, it was a number of somethings, seven or eight tidily wrapped doggy poo bags all in a neat pile, all the same colour, appearing to all have been placed by the same person.
As I carried on, I tried to understand the person who had done this (presuming it was just one person). I guessed they had got their dog and bags and headed for a stroll. The dog had done what dogs do and the owner commendably stopped, picked up the unpleasantness, tied the bag up and carried on. 100 per cent good citizen so far.
Then, and this bit baffles me, going to those efforts, they threw that and subsequent bags under a tree and wandered on. I can’t even start to understand this behaviour.
I got to thinking that this situation might provide a worthwhile thought exercise for anyone considering putting their hand up in the local body elections in just over a year’s time.
So, if that could be you, here’s a starter for ten. What do you think the council’s reaction to this situation should be?
Firstly, a service call to the council will get a contractor to clean up the mess, or you could do what I did and go back to clean it up yourself (to find someone had already done so).
But that is not an ideal longterm solution.
So should council install bins with bags near this spot, so that people walking dogs on the trail have somewhere to deposit their dog’s business?
That would seem practical, but if we put one there, do we put one at the other end, and in
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