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John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Labour promises stretch far into future

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Phil Goff with Henderson North pupils yesterday after launching Labour's policy on children. Photo / Dean Purcell
Phil Goff with Henderson North pupils yesterday after launching Labour's policy on children. Photo / Dean Purcell

One of Labour's handicaps in this election campaign is that the party is plagued by what might be termed the politics of the never, never.

Labour has a selling job in front of it to persuade voters not to take the view that some of the things it is promising are never, never going to happen.

Such a perception is not born solely of the widespread view that Labour is unlikely to win the election and therefore can promise things safe in the knowledge it will not have to carry them out.

That criticism has been applied to Labour's plan to raise the retirement age. That is unfair, but was inevitable.

There are also doubts about Treasury growth forecasts being robust enough to generate the necessary tax revenue to make Labour's other policies affordable.

Some things are never going to happen because the date of implementation is so far in the future that what happens in the interim will make implementation either very difficult, impossible or even unnecessary.

Labour is caught tight in the jaws of a fiscal crunch. But the party's very DNA dictates that it spend money to meet social objectives and restore services that have suffered from National's Budget cuts.

Yet maintaining the party's fiscal credibility is paramount. Labour cannot afford any repeat of the battering it took in the first week of the campaign. The party yesterday released its carefully costed children's policy both to try to strike a balance between those twin pressures and get the party's campaign back on track.

The cornerstone policy contains much which is not controversial and not necessarily that costly.

However, the party is talking of increasing paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 18 weeks and then from 18 week to 26 weeks.

This is what Bill English would call "a nice to have". But Labour is delaying the first change until April 2014 - just seven months before the election after this one.

With early childhood education, Labour says it will progressively restore the $95 million-a-year staff subsidy "over the course of two parliamentary terms".

This delayed timetabling has enabled Labour to scrape together enough money to make an early start on tackling child poverty.

As well as making the first $5000 of income tax-free, Labour is also promising to top up the incomes of beneficiary families by $60 a week where the youngest child is under 2 from April 2013 and families where the youngest child is under 5 from April 2015. This is to compensate for beneficiaries being ineligible for the $60 in-work tax credit which is paid under the Working for Families programme but only to those with jobs.

All beneficiaries eligible for Working for Families assistance will get the $60 from April 2018. This latter date requires a degree of credulity to be taken seriously.

Depending on your preferred measure, that date is three elections, two complete parliamentary terms, six Budgets, or nearly two Rugby World Cups away.

You would not bet your in-work payment on Working for Families not being overhauled within the next seven years.

Labour, however, is counting on most voters only picking up on headlines saying what it would do - rather than the fine print of when it would be doing it.

Sidelights

* Getting in first: Pipped at the post or mere coincidence? A statement from family-friendly United Future which had Peter Dunne calling for an annual report card on whether families are being helped or hurt by government policy landed in in-boxes at 1.57pm yesterday. That beat the release of Labour's children's policy by four minutes.

* Not yet gone, but already forgotten: There he sits, all alone, in a parallel universe while the election goes on all around him. But Rodney Hide is still Minister of Local Government. Yesterday he put the Hamilton City Council on notice over the troubles surrounding the V8 Supercar races. Unless he resigns earlier, Hide keeps his job until December 15 - the day the official result of the election is declared.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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