Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: March 15

David Shearer's first big speech as Labour leader does the trick. Photo / Supplied
David Shearer's first big speech as Labour leader does the trick. Photo / Supplied

So, 'Super Thursday' is finally here. How was it for you? Having both Shearer and Key making much anticipated keynote speeches on the same day has clearly led to over-hyped expectations. Shearer's first major positioning speech as Labour leader is getting predictable responses from the usual suspects on the left and the right - mandatory behaviour where instant online analysis is almost as influential as the original content.

The best initial sympathetic, but critical, analysis comes from Danyl Mclauchlan at the Dim-Post blog. He agrees with the few specifics Shearer does lay out - the retention of the capital gains tax and the ditching of a uniform tax cut for all - but makes a good point about Shearer's focus on educational achievement and use of Finland as a role model. He notes that our education system is rated closely behind Finland but the difference is that our child poverty rates are far worse and this may be the key factor in limiting improvement for those who most need it - see Shearer's speech.

Russell Brown calls it a 'decent' speech rather than 'classic' and seems most relieved about what wasn't in it rather than what was: 'this is a speech of easy things to say, albeit largely the right things' - see: The Vision Thing.

Shearer hit exactly the right note according to John Armstrong who thinks the Labour leader is clearly heading his party towards the centre. Armstrong argues that references to putting 'badly run schools on notice' and putting pressure on work-shy beneficiaries mark a clear break with the tone of previous Labour leaders - see: It's game on for Labour.

In terms of economic growth, Shearer makes the case that almost all political leaders have made for the last 30 years - that our economy is dependent on raw primary produce and that this is a major limit on potential economic growth. Many words were devoted to making reassuring noises about Labour being 'responsible', 'thrifty' and able to be trusted to 'manage the books'. Sounds like just the sort of person you want sitting next to you at your West Auckland kitchen table while you're doing your GST return. You can read the full speech here.

With John Key having just delivered his big announcement, it seems that there is nothing that hasn't been well signaled in advance: a new 'super ministry', caps on public servant numbers and a list of worthy targets - see: Dan Satherley's New ministry, public service caps announced.

It's a case of 'spot the difference' as far as rightwing libertarian blogger Peter Cresswell is concerned, as he challenges readers to work out which leader belongs to which 'vision'. He concludes: 'The fact is, however, it doesn't matter which one said what. It's the same brand of paternalist bullshit on both sides' - see: Spot the Platitudes.

Following John Key's frank admission that he was allowing politics to trump economics over student loans interest, ACC Minister Judith Collins is clearly signaling a pragmatic retreat from full competition with workplace accident insurance. In this case it's the reverse, however, as economics triumphs over a political commitment given to Act in coalition negotiations. Adam Bennett quotes a 'well-placed source' as saying 'The political bottom line is it wasn't going to be possible to introduce competition on a basis that was level playing field between private sector and public without substantial increases in premiums or levies, particularly for small and medium employers' - see: Bennett's Govt set to backtrack on ACC competition plan.

On the same day that the Prime Minister is pushing ahead with state sector reforms, it's an interesting admission that private companies cannot provide services as cost-effectively as the public sector. It appears now that the reforms will be limited to an expansion of the already existing Accredited Employers Programme for larger enterprises.

Political flip-flops are usually a bad look and Duncan Garner has unearthed footage from 2008 in which John Key appears to contradict the rationale behind some of his current core policies, particularly cutting public servant numbers and selling assets - see: Labour: Key promised no job cuts, asset sales in 2008 speech. Garner hits back hard at Cameron Slater who incorrectly claimed on his Whaleoil blog that the PSA provided the video to TV3.

David Farrar makes the legitimate point that the speech pre-dates the global economic crisis and the rapid growth of government deficit and that the Government has since been re-elected with an explicit policy of selling the assets - see: Non story of the week. However, Key's 2008 logic appears markedly different from the 2012 version: "Nor am I hell bent on selling assets, actually in the world of making the boat go faster, actually, I don't think selling assets actually makes the boat go faster." We can expect to see that video on TV a lot more over the next year.

As the Auckland Council debates whether to ask the ports company to resume negotiations with the union, the Council's investment agency is refuting claims that the 12% return is unrealistic and that it has contributed directly to the industrial dispute - see: RNZ: Port financial return demand realistic, says agency. Tim Watkin effectively dismantles their argument, particularly their selective use of figures - see: Solving the Ports of Auckland dispute.

Nelson Mandela has been the subject of some strange comparisons as both Tame Iti and Jock Hobbs have been likened to him in the last few days. Scott Yorke has a very funny post examining some other unlikely candidates to bask in Mandela's reflected glory - see: New Zealand's Next Top Mandela.

It would be interesting to know what Mandela thinks of the Jock Hobbs comparison as he recalls sitting in his Robben Island prison cell listening to match commentary as the Jock Hobbs-led Cavaliers defied anti-apartheid sanctions and played the Springboks. Cathy Odgers, as usual, goes where angels fear to tread and asks whether Hobbs' involvement in the collapsed Strategic Finance means his estate will be frozen by regulators - see: FMA v "Mandela"?.

In other articles of interest, Keith Rankin argues that publicly owned companies demanding productivity gains are effectively A tax by another name, Fran O'Sullivan says that dairy farmers need to get over their skepticism about capital restructuring at Fonterra (see: Fonterra can't keep putting clock back) and the Timaru Herald thinks there is a whiff of hypocrisy in Local Government Minister Nick Smith pointing the finger at councils about their high level of debt - see: Pot calling kettle black?. Finally, Joe Bennett translates a Ministry of Education job advertisement into plain English but finds there is not much left when he has finished - see: Ministry talks piffle - or words to that effect.

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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