Roger Douglas: Little vision, courage or imagination

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Bill English viewing a copy of the 2013 Budget. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill English viewing a copy of the 2013 Budget. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Structural reform in New Zealand stopped 20 years ago when Prime Minister Bolger told Ruth Richardson to go to sleep.

Much still remained to be done, particularly in the areas of health, education and welfare.

This year's Budget, like the 20 that followed 1992, aims to administer what is a little better, not change it. It is bereft of vision; clearly this Government suffers from a deficit of courage and imagination.

Let's look at the facts and why change in this year's Budget and not more of the status quo was necessary.

For almost 80 years, New Zealanders have experimented with the welfare state. What have the consequences been?

• Do all children receive decent education? No.

• Does everyone receive health treatment when they need it? No.

• Do most people retire with enough money to live in comfort? No.

• Have we eradicated poverty? No.

On the very goals that the welfare state has sought to achieve, no one could genuinely agree that it has succeeded. Yet National refuses to make fundamental change in any of these areas, continuing the policies/solutions of the past, ie, more money.

As I watched this year's Budget, I kept asking: Why can socialist Scandinavian Governments of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland reform education, health, and welfare using market mechanisms but a National conservative Government refuses to do so?

Why do Denmark and Norway's Governments allow private firms to run public hospitals (because it works), yet the National Government won't even contemplate it?

Why do John Key and Bill English refuse to inject more market mechanisms into the welfare state?

Answer - you would need to tackle the vested interests, particularly the teachers' unions, and the Education Department and they simply don't have the guts to do so.

Only if we are willing to look forward and devolve control of the money Government spends to individuals will we deliver solutions. We have become a nation rife with bureaucracy, recklessly determined to reuse the ideas that have failed to solve poverty for over 80 years.

What 80 years of political control have achieved is a larger welfare budget, more people on welfare, and barriers for those on the bottom to actually get ahead.

Budget 2013- four out of 10.

Sir Roger Douglas is a former Labour Finance Minister and a founder of Act.

- NZ Herald

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