OPINION: What’s laden, but never full. Pure, but never clear. Given, but never received?
Why, the Government’s answers to most questions of general accountability, of course.
Expanded, it may read: What’s laden with hyperbole but never full of any substance, pure of intention but never clear with solutions, and given but never in a way where any real information is received.
It leaves the public trying to decipher the head-scratching riddles that have been coming from the mouths of ministers, wondering what any of it actually means.
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This is the so-called “year of delivery”. And with that, surely, comes the expectation that the Government has developed a position or plan to deliver on its promises.
But a flurry of announcements, some made when they shouldn’t have been and some buried when they should probably have been declaimed in bold to the sound of ringing sirens, has done little to deliver the sense that there’s a plan.
There’s been a string of issues that have flown mostly under the radar in the past couple of weeks – relatively minor in isolation, but together they paint a picture of artful dodging.
Here are some of the issues where the Government communications plan may threaten to create more questions than it answers.
The Provincial Growth Fund: And this isn’t just about the flowery speech patterns of self-styled regional saviour Shane Jones (though it’s always a little bit about that).
It emerged on Thursday that the Treasury advised Jones against giving a $10 million loan to private firm Westland Milk, on the basis the company couldn’t get a bank loan and thus the Government ran the risk of looking like a “lender of last resort”.
The debt-laden West Coast company is hoping to build a new plant with the money, to make higher-value products.
It was announced to both huge fanfare and raised eyebrows, in November last year. So much fanfare that Jones had to share the regionally hallowed ground he walks on with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
There were enough unanswered questions then – namely why the loan had passed the Government’s threshold for a good spend.
They were only added to, this week, when Jones was asked to justify the Government’s reasons for pressing ahead with a loan that the Treasury had effectively branded a shonky deal. (Unsurprisingly, there was no Government fanfare to accompany this announcement.)
A spokesman for Jones said: “The PGF, when granting a loan, is able to consider wider benefits than a commercial bank would, such as wider regional development and employment outcome.”
The number of jobs bandied about at the time was 10 and, although there’s an escape clause if the company’s ownership structure was to change, it emerged a little more than a month later that Westland Milk had entered discussions to be sold in part, or wholly, to a Canadian company.
What of due diligence, when there are regions to save and the chance to look good while doing it.
The Wellbeing Budget: The Government has hyped its “living standards framework” for which the full capability is expected to be revealed in the May Budget.
We know from Ardern touting it on the international stage that every cent will somehow be run through a filter to show how it contributes to “intergenerational wellbeing”.
What we don’t know is how that applies to things like intelligence and security spending, or the important but completely unvirtuous funding of an unaccountable slush fund that doles money out to struggling private businesses.
Even if the Government manages to tell an effective story to explain how it works, it’ll have a job on its hands explaining how it all adds up to help any single struggling family.
Don’t forget, it took at least two years for most people to realise the last Government’s social investment approach was a tangible thing.
The Government also faces a rather substantial vulnerability over an accompanying tool, which applies monetary values to pretty much anything, to help it weigh up funding decisions.
The fact that befriending a neighbour appears to hold more value than curing diabetes appears ripe for mischievous exploitation from the Opposition.
The argument that it’s merely an “accounting function” didn’t count for much when Labour was feigning outrage over the last government’s use of the term “liability” to describe the total welfare bill on the state.
DHBs in the red: About the time the Tax Working Group was dropping its CGT-shaped bomb on the completely suspecting country was the time Health Minister David Clark chose to reveal that every single district health board had finally made it into the red – a $200m national deficit.
This, after months of ministry blocking and refusal to release the numbers that used to be made public on a quarterly basis.
With his release was the assurance that the proactive minister had put them all “on notice” and an attached letter he’d sent, to DHB chief executives, expecting them to prioritise saving a non-specified amount, in non-specified areas.
Oh, and he was most displeased that services were also slipping for specialist waiting times, elective surgical waiting times, and those for radiology or cancer services. Most displeased indeed.
This is your periodic reminder that he abolished the reporting of those targets.
What of Whanau Ora: It gained little fanfare, despite the fact it’s an apparent success story. And at first blush, that’s perhaps the biggest cause for confusion – why was this not being sung from the rooftops?
Journalists expecting the report had expected a press conference and possibly even the release of embargoed copies – a common practice that allows detailed stories to be done justice in their first iteration. But no such forward planning was allowed.
Puzzling, until it’s considered that Whanau Ora doing well goes against NZ First’s principles of “one law for all”, and even against some elements of the Labour Party’s own views of universality.
So when the Government ordered a review into the flagship Māori development funding model under the last government, everyone held their breath that it was the beginning of the end.
It may well still be. Except that the review which came back called for nothing really, except more resourcing of a policy programme it said was making a real difference to individual families.
It’s yet to make a decision on how it approaches the review’s recommendations, so we’ll just add it to the pile of reviews so far returned on which the country is waiting for answers. That also includes mental health, welfare and tax.
Let’s see the coalition spin these.
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