Garth George: Government must start governing

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I must admit to being disappointed. After a brief flurry of activity between the election and the holiday break, the new Government seems to have gone into hiatus.

I presume the ministers are beavering away in their offices over plans to correct the worst of the problems the nation faces, but that provides little reassurance to a concerned public.

If it goes on much longer one will have to suspect that the newbies are struggling and could well be out of their depth.

The economic situation is without a doubt the most urgent of predicaments to be dealt with, but so far this year all John Key and Co have offered us is a talkfest scheduled for next month.

Now we all know that the thing one does these days when one doesn't know what to do or wants to delay what has to be done is to call a meeting, allegedly to achieve "consensus".

Consensus is often a good thing - particularly after nine years of autocratic Labour-led administrations - but it is no substitute for strong and decisive leadership.

And politically it is deadly dangerous for a government to be seen as lackadaisical.

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet need to be seen as proactive rather than reactive. The public needs constant reassurance that the Government has its duties under control.

Not since mid-December have we seen any of that, so we are forced to conclude that the running of the country is being left to the bureaucrats, which is the very thing I hoped that National-led Government would quickly put a stop to.

For, as broadcaster and columnist Michael Laws wrote late last year: "Like rust, New Zealand's civil service never sleeps. And like rust, it silently corrodes ministers' ambitions and aspiration. Forget the global credit crunch: this new Government's enemy is already within."

Laws should know: he has been both a bureaucrat and a member of Parliament.

The economy aside, there are several areas which require urgent remedial action and as yet we have seen no evidence of it.

Particularly pressing are the shambles of the NZ Police, the Corrections Department, the defence forces and the health service.

Take health: the Herald discovers that the three district health boards in Auckland are planning to cut 200 resident doctor positions. But when this is brought to the notice of Health Minister Tony Ryall he says he won't intervene because it is up to the boards to decide.

This has quite rightly been described as "bureaucratic lunacy" yet the minister sits on his bum and says nothing. Surely medical staff numbers are a matter of policy.

What he should have said is, "Don't you dare", and suggested that the boards get rid of a few hundred pen-pushers, paper-shufflers and bean-counters and offer resident doctors more attractive pay.

The avoidable tragedy last Friday on the Northwestern Motorway, in which an innocent teenage father of a 2-year-old girl was shot by police, is simply the latest in a continuing saga of regular police bungles.

This one, however, is inexcusable and for Police Minister Judith Collins it ought to be the last straw.

Three armed coppers all shooting at once was like something out of a B-grade western movie. The whole ghastly incident reveals a lack of discipline, a lack of training and abysmal leadership.

I have said it before and I say it again: the parlous state of the NZ Police requires at most a Royal Commission of Inquiry and at least the peremptory sacking of the Commissioner and other culpable officers and managers.

But I doubt that will happen, for the allegedly flinty Mrs Collins has already hidden behind the "it's not my affair" mantra so beloved of her immediate predecessors.

Conned by police hierarchy into allowing the police to continue with their Organised and Financial Crime Agency's turf war with the Serious Fraud Office, Mrs Collins said: "It is a police operation. I'm not really into micro-managing what the police do."

Balderdash. It's time Mrs Collins and Mr Ryall suss out what is operational and what is policy. They represent the public and therefore should be ready to stamp their feet when departments under their supervision do not perform as the public would expect.

Corrections is another. It, too, has been a shambles for the entire term of the previous government and the latest series of escapes does nothing to bolster public confidence.

And as for defence, what can you say? The results of Labour defence ministers holding their noses every time they opened that portfolio were made only too obvious in Geoff Cummings' excellent feature on Saturday: "Can't sail, can't fly, can't fight".

John Key, take note: It's past time for you and your team to show us convincingly that your Government can govern.

garth.george@hotmail.com

- NZ Herald

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