Weekend Herald

Un­cer­tainty is the only sure thing

Covid- 19 and Trump have made cer­tainty even more elu­sive than it al­ready was

- Sir Michael Cullen is a for­mer Labour Min­is­ter of Fi­nance and Deputy Prime Min­is­ter. Donald Trump · Judith Collins · Christchurch · Australian Greens · New Zealand · Elizabeth II · New Zealand First

The one great as­set class which can­not be moved is land; we need to have a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about how best to re­duce the over- in­vest­ment in land as­sets.

If there is one con­stant cry from the busi­ness com­mu­nity over many years, it has been a call for cer­tainty — a call which lies some­where be­tween a plea and a de­mand. That is un­der­stand­able; cer­tainty re­moves risk ( though it’s a lit­tle cheeky when the de­mand comes from the fi­nan­cial sec­tor, one of whose skills, from which they ex­tract large prof­its, is pric­ing risk). In a fastchang­ing world cer­tainty of­ten can­not be de­liv­ered.

In the world we are now in, it is an im­pos­si­bil­ity. We do not know whether that old Bible- wav­ing repro­bate and liar Don­ald Trump, once Covid- 19 deny­ing ( then get­ting), will some­how get re- elected. So much for the virtues of liv­ing in a coun­try which teaches civics in schools. We do not know if and when we will have ef­fec­tive vac­cines against Covid- 19. We do not know when or where fur­ther flare- ups will oc­cur. We do not know how fast some sec­tors of the econ­omy will be able to re­cover, and un­der what con­di­tions.

Plan­ning for un­cer­tainty is part of the world we will be liv­ing in for a long time. Politi­cians should still try to be cer­tain about things they can con­trol. It is no use mak­ing out that the Re­source Man­age­ment Act will be gone by Christ­mas, as Ju­dith Collins promised a while ago, and then ad­mit­ting this week that a re­view of the act may take a cou­ple of years. In any case, the sus­tain­abil­ity prin­ci­ples that lie at the heart of the act should be up for im­prove­ment and clar­i­fi­ca­tion, not de­mo­li­tion. The big­gest prob­lems re­main the time and ex­pense some­times in­volved in get­ting a de­ci­sion on an ap­pli­ca­tion, but even there we need to re­main con­scious of the rights of com­mu­ni­ties to have a fair say.

We also need to be care­ful about ex­pan­sive prom­ises to force lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to open up large ar­eas of land for hous­ing de­vel­op­ment, if all this does is worsen, over the longterm, the prob­lems of Auck­land’s sprawl. In any case, houses need good builders do­ing sound work and they re­main in short sup­ply; the Christchur­ch re­build is scarcely a shin­ing ex­am­ple of ei­ther rapid or high- quality re­build­ing. These things can­not be done on just a right wing and a prayer.

Nor are good in­ten­tions al­ways the best judge of pol­icy pro­pos­als. The Greens are full of good in­ten­tions, but some­times seem un­aware of the old say­ing about roads and paving ( per­haps we should say cy­cle tracks and paving in their case). Of all the taxes pro­posed to try to deal with in­equal­ity, a wealth tax is prob­a­bly the least ef­fec­tive. That is be­cause much wealth is eas­ily mov­able. If our rel­a­tively small num­ber of wealthy peo­ple move their in­vest­ments off­shore, then we will be in a worse po­si­tion to ad­dress poverty. The one great as­set class which can­not be moved is land; we need to have a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about how best to re­duce the over- in­vest­ment in land as­sets. This has, for many years, dis­torted in­vest­ment in New Zealand, to the detri­ment of all of us. Per­haps this is a case for one of those cit­i­zens’ as­sem­blies that some have favoured.

The Greens also seem to be well be­hind the times with re­spect to the de­bate on ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion. In the early 2000s the fo­cus was on trans­genic lines of re­search — Franken­stein mon­sters of one sort or an­other. Much of the cur­rent re­search is more akin to ac­cel­er­ated se­lec­tive breed­ing pro­cesses, some of which we may well need if we are to deal more ef­fec­tively with our environmen­tal chal­lenges, in­clud­ing meth­ane emis­sions and pest con­trol.

On one Auck­land trans­port is­sue, the Greens seem to have com­mit­ted to a par­tic­u­lar so­lu­tion which, de­spite its name, is nei­ther rapid nor light. In their pro­posed con­fig­u­ra­tion — with trams ( to use the old term) run­ning up Queen St and down Do­min­ion Rd — it will be both slow and highly dis­rup­tive dur­ing con­struc­tion and sub­ject to dis­rup­tion af­ter it. Auck­land needs, and de­serves, a bet­ter so­lu­tion which will start the de­liv­ery of a gen­uine rapid tran­sit sys­tem over time. While that is be­ing con­structed, faster progress can be made on re­plac­ing diesel buses with elec­tric ones, where pos­si­ble run­ning on ded­i­cated lanes ( which just takes a lick of coloured paint).

At this mo­ment, the most likely out­come of the elec­tion seems to be a Labour- Green coali­tion. The Greens might want to think hard about be­ing in a for­mal coali­tion: the his­tory of minor par­ties post- coali­tions is not a good one. Out­side of a coali­tion, they would still be in a po­si­tion to have a mean­ing­ful in­flu­ence, since they would be needed to pass leg­is­la­tion.

Labour, freed of the an­ti­quated hand­brake of New Zealand First, will ei­ther way be much more able to pur­sue that fairer, sus­tain­able fu­ture that most of us want.

 ?? Photo / Ja­son Ox­en­ham ?? While we’re ex­pand­ing hous­ing, let’s try to limit ur­ban sprawl.
Photo / Ja­son Ox­en­ham While we’re ex­pand­ing hous­ing, let’s try to limit ur­ban sprawl.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand