Fran O'Sullivan on business

Business analysis and comment from Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan

Fran O'Sullivan: Fashion designer's bold makeover for NZ

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Annah Stretton says she has become concerned about the country's debt burden and its "culture of entitlement". Photo / Sarah Ivey
Annah Stretton says she has become concerned about the country's debt burden and its "culture of entitlement". Photo / Sarah Ivey

I reckon we should hold an annual "PM for a Day" event and invite fashion designer Annah Stretton to kick the first one off.

It's not often you get to hear a Kiwi fashion maven talk about the conversation she would like the country to have if she was in John Key's place for 24 hours.

But Stretton's bald statement, "If you can't pay your household bills without borrowing someone would declare you insolvent" had the ring of truth when she talked this week on her rising concern over the Government's snowballing debt.

Stretton tabled this when I went to a Dress for Success fundraiser for women wanting to make it back into the workforce.

The Ernst & Young-hosted event was dotted with successful women directors and chief executives who wanted to support a not-for-profit that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing them with professional attire.

It was expected that Stretton would share some of her fashion secrets. But it wasn't long before she began talking about how she had recently become seriously engaged with the "plight of this country". She was concerned at the country's debt burden and the "culture of entitlement" that had become commonplace. It's an issue that worries many of us these days.

The Government's approach is to trim by a thousand cuts.

Stretton's options include capping the DPB for all new dependents at welfare support for just two children. "Just as the Government has limited university student numbers for fiscal reasons we need (with some exceptions) to recognise the financial burden unsupported women and their families bring to our economy."

She applauded Paula Bennett for making contraception free for beneficiaries but pointed out it should also be available to families who were struggling financially and not entitled to a handout. "Reality check: kids cost money! And the state cannot afford to pay and it can never be healthy to have children born into an environment of entitlement and handout."

Raising the age for the unemployment benefit to 20 years to encourage young adults to look harder for work or do jobs they turn their noses up at is also a Stretton priority. As is getting a serious debate on whether National Super should be a right or an entitlement.

"My mum still works a full day at 73 years old because she wants to not because she has to," said Stretton.

"I would suggest that there should also be no entitlement to National Super and it perhaps should be means tested.

"When I consider that my independently wealthy father receives this payment as a right rather than a need it seems absurd. Sure they have paid into the tax system all their lives but benefits should be for those in need."

There were plenty more - privatising ACC, reducing prison sentences so petty criminals do not enter "universities of crime" and embracing migrants.

There's a warning in this for Key.

When people like Stretton start talking openly about their concern that the Government is not addressing the right issues, it indicates a tipping point is fast approaching when many New Zealanders will get angry if our Prime Minister refuses to even hold a debate on raising the age of entitlement for National Super for fear of creating political embarrassment for himself.

Key and English have made a virtue out of their plan for the Government to post a Budget surplus by 2014/2015. But with Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard reckoning they will still be staring at a $2 billion fiscal hole at that time it's by no means certain.

Returning to surplus is hugely important. If the Government does not meet its Budget target, its debt will continue to explode and the country's credit rating will be savaged.

Final word to Stretton: "We have created a society of entitlement which is not healthy and even more so, we cannot afford it. Surely increasing the self-worth of every New Zealander has to be a priority as well as a return to the family unit of care and encouraging education at all levels which in turn gives people choice have to be a focus to create a pathway to a very needed surplus."

Now what would you want to talk about if you were Prime Minister for a day?

- NZ Herald

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