Hard News by Russell Brown


John Key(nesian)

Between the philosophical light National actually chose to shed on its economic plans over the weekend and the insight offered by the clandestine recording of Bill English attempting to mollify an anxious delegate, I think we know a bit more about what's making the party tick in election year.

The formal and informal messages largely aren't seriously in conflict. "I believe in being pragmatic, and not being blinded by ideology," declared Key in his conference speech. Is National on an expansionary track? Sure is. As Key says in the same speech: "Because right now New Zealand doesn’t have a debt problem, it has a growth problem."

All this was framed in the usual jargon, and about half the bullet points (get tough on gangs, fix the P problem, bureaucrats vs frontline services, yadda-yadda …) were things-people-want-to-hear more than actual policies, but let's not muck about here. Whatever words you have written on the signs, this is a Keynesian roadmap.

The problem Key identifies is insufficient growth; he's prepared to take a punt to get it. And yet the great consolation of our present position in the current global economic turmoil is the solid state of the government's books. As private finance companies vapourise on a weekly basis, that is no small thing.

So Labour is the party of conservative fiscal management, and National is punting for growth, even if that means more borrowing -- and if its plans for an infrastructure binge are a bit vague just yet -- and offering those "Labour Plus" voters "a bit more".

The principle extends to the environment: Labour will be a more conservative guardian of environmental resources; National is "determined to remove the handbrake the RMA places on growth." If National makes the Treasury benches, expect the competing imperatives of wealth (especially from the cow's teat) and environment to provide a good deal of the conflict. More so, I would wager, than the tension between public spending and revenue.

08 Wire has taken obvious pleasure in providing a transcript of English's chat with the delegate. It certainly has its embarrassing moments: notably where English appears to say that his former leader and his present one have both been a bit dim about the practicalities of economic policy, but -- like most of the policies National has announced so far -- it also functions as an endorsement of what Labour has done.

"The reality is," English explains, "if we had been the government with the surpluses they had, we would have had something like Working for Families, but not the same. We would have given them quite a bit of cash back."

Even the answer to the Kiwibank question is an acknowledgement. Might National sell Kiwibank?

"Well, eventually, but not now. Well, it's working. A lot of our supporters get a bit antsy about it, but it's working. It’s like a lot of things …"


Anyway, something most of us can agree on: it was so nice to see the All Blacks not just grind out a win on Saturday night, but play with such purpose, composure and energy as to reverse the bad karma from Sydney. Auckland bucked the forecasts and turned on a few precious hours of dry weather and it was, truly, a cracker of a match for which to be at the ground.

And … I'm sure there'll be quite a bit of interest in this week's Media7. We're taking a look at Sensing Murder, and our panel is the programme's producer David Harry Baldock; Caroll du Chateau (who was easily the most interesting voice in last week's repeat programme on the mysterious death of Agnes Ali’iva’a); and Jeremy Wells, who, of course, fronted the much-loved Sensing Bullshit item on Eating Media Lunch. If you've like to join us (with a friend if you want) at The Classic in Auckland early tomorrow evening, hit Reply and let me know.

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