If there is one constant cry from the business community over many years, it has been a call for certainty — a call which lies somewhere between a plea and a demand.
That is understandable; certainty removes risk (though it's a little cheeky when the demand comes from the financial sector, one of whose skills, from which they extract large profits, is pricing risk). In a fast-changing world certainty often cannot be delivered.
In the world we are now in, it is an impossibility. We do not know whether that old Bible-waving reprobate and liar Donald Trump, once Covid-19 denying (then getting), will somehow get re-elected.
So much for the virtues of living in a country which teaches civics in schools. We do not know if and when we will have effective vaccines against Covid-19. We do not know when or where further flare-ups will occur. We do not know how fast some sectors of the economy will be able to recover, and under what conditions.
Planning for uncertainty is part of the world we will be living in for a long time. Politicians should still try to be certain about things they can control. It is no use making out that the Resource Management Act will be gone by Christmas, as Judith Collins promised a while ago, and then admitting this week that a review of the act may take a couple of years.
In any case, the sustainability principles that lie at the heart of the act should be up for improvement and clarification, not demolition.
The biggest problems remain the time and expense sometimes involved in getting a decision on an application, but even there we need to remain conscious of the rights of communities to have a fair say.
We also need to be careful about expansive promises to force local authorities to open up large areas of land for housing development, if all this does is worsen, over the long-term, the problems of Auckland's sprawl. In any case, houses need good builders doing sound work and they remain in short supply; the Christchurch rebuild is scarcely a shining example of either rapid or high-quality rebuilding. These things cannot be done on just a right wing and a prayer.
Nor are good intentions always the best judge of policy proposals. The Greens are full of good intentions, but sometimes seem unaware of the old saying about roads and paving (perhaps we should say cycle tracks and paving in their case). Of all the taxes proposed to try to deal with inequality, a wealth tax is probably the least effective. That is because much wealth is easily movable. If our relatively small number of wealthy people move their investments offshore, then we will be in a worse position to address poverty.
The one great asset class which cannot be moved is land; we need to have a serious conversation about how best to reduce the over-investment in land assets. This has, for many years, distorted investment in New Zealand, to the detriment of all of us. Perhaps this is a case for one of those citizens' assemblies that some have favoured.
The Greens also seem to be well behind the times with respect to the debate on genetic modification. In the early 2000s the focus was on transgenic lines of research — Frankenstein monsters of one sort or another.
Much of the current research is more akin to accelerated selective breeding processes, some of which we may well need if we are to deal more effectively with our environmental challenges, including methane emissions and pest control.
On one Auckland transport issue, the Greens seem to have committed to a particular solution which, despite its name, is neither rapid nor light. In their proposed configuration — with trams (to use the old term) running up Queen St and down Dominion Rd — it will be both slow and highly disruptive during construction and subject to disruption after it.
Auckland needs, and deserves, a better solution which will start the delivery of a genuine rapid transit system over time. While that is being constructed, faster progress can be made on replacing diesel buses with electric ones, where possible running on dedicated lanes (which just takes a lick of coloured paint).
At this moment, the most likely outcome of the election seems to be a Labour-Green coalition. The Greens might want to think hard about being in a formal coalition: the history of minor parties post-coalitions is not a good one.
Outside of a coalition, they would still be in a position to have a meaningful influence, since they would be needed to pass legislation. Labour, freed of the antiquated handbrake of New Zealand First, will either way be much more able to pursue that fairer, sustainable future that most of us want.
- Sir Michael Cullen is a former Labour Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister.