New Zealand’s Return Minister in the 1970s
NOTICE: Finance Minister Grant Robertson must be very happy with the reaction to his latest budget. Not only did it get away with an outrageous rotation, but the criticism of the big spending and the lack of investment in jobs and productivity has vanished.
The budget debate in parliament ended on Wednesday, but without substantial criticism, let alone with the mounting of an alternative narrative. Within Labor, Robertson is the master of everything he does.
Never since the time of Robert Muldoon has a finance minister shown such control over all important portfolios. It is clear to most inside the ring road who is really running this government; she faces it, but he’s in charge.
In politics, Wellington Robertson became New Zealand’s Return Minister in the 1970s. Industrial relations legislation, centralization of health decision-making, withdrawal of government from local government, all postponed power and control in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians in Wellington, just as life was in the 1970s.
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* Budget 2021: Grant Robertson’s dark red budget seeks to “right a wrong” from 30 years ago
* Ruth Richardson calls Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson’s budget attack “cheap”
The outrageous chunk of rotation was the puffy thread Robertson had by his side of Ruth Richardson’s 1991 budget when he was writing his 2021 budget.
He played well; to be kind and generous, to right the wrongs of the past, to take revenge, while adding a veneer of justification to the greatest document in recent memory. The media have climbed everywhere and ignored the impact of the increases.
It was the culmination of an otherwise lackluster and directionless budget. It’s always easy to give other people’s money away, and even easier to spend money you don’t have, knowing that you can always tax and borrow to cover it later.
Not that all welfare groups are grateful either. A good start but not enough seemed a common verdict.
By the way, I thought at the time that Richardson’s ‘Mother of All Budgets’ in 1991 was both morally bad and economically unhealthy because she lowered the purchasing power of many people when demand needed money. ‘to be stimulated, not more.
Richardson was only ape his heroine, Margaret Thatcher, but she could never match the political prowess or authority of the Iron Lady. Shame on Prime Minister Jim Bolger for allowing him to pass such a budget.
Under Helen Clark’s government (1999-2008), there was not a single movement to reverse benefit cuts (or other changes led by Richardson like the Fiscal Responsibility Act).
If Clark and his comrades truly believed in their own rhetoric about the “failed and hurtful policies” of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, they had nine years to overthrow them, and they did nothing.
It took a modern welfare statist Grant Robertson to restore living standards to recipients, and his actions are an indirect critique of the Clark government’s failure to act.
There is nothing in the budget to help central New Zealand negotiate the perils of the current economy. Nothing can boost productivity, maintain the standard of living of average New Zealanders, stimulate job creation, or control business costs.
The Working for Families program is also under review. A key decision of the Clark / Cullen government was that beneficiaries would not be covered by the plan: it was to help working families, not inactive families.
Recent increases in benefits will reduce the difference between the incomes of working and inactive families. Will beneficiaries receive additional support through a modified (and possibly renamed) Working for Families package?
Will there be incentives for the unemployed to look for work or retrain, or will working Kiwis pay even more taxes to maintain the standard of living of others while struggling?
* John Bishop is the father of National List MP Chris Bishop. The opinions expressed are his own.