The current government has fallen short on all sorts of promises, not least solving the housing crisis and lifting thousands of kids out of poverty. Both have deteriorated markedly since the coalition was formed in 2017, leaving seven months for the current lot to prove that its promise to be transformational has any meaning at all.
The shortage of housing and worsening child poverty remain as intractable as ever, but the government could show that it is cut from different cloth by putting an end to the wasting of money that we have all come to expect, and seemingly accept without protest.
The last National government wasn't immune; it blew $26 million on a flag referendum that promised nothing, and delivered nothing. But this government has developed chucking money away into an art form. The sums might not be huge in the greater scheme of things, but they are far from insignificant, and when every New Zealander is paying more tax for less effect than ever, they are beginning to grate.
Re-entering the Pike River mine has to be towards the top of the list. This gesture of empathy for some — by no means all — of the families who lost husbands, brothers and sons in the Pike River disaster has cost $36 million so far, and, we are now told, will cost millions more before it is completed. How many millions no one can say, but that lack of detail might, and it's a big might, be defendable if there was likely to be any real result.
Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn admitted to Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee last week that the chances of finding human remains was "less likely". Most people believed it was never likely, so won't be persuaded now that it has somehow become less likely.
As of last week the agency had "recovered" 238m of the mine's drift, leaving another 1500m to go to the area known as Pit Bottom in Stone, where there might, that word again, be forensic clues about what caused the explosion, then another 500m to the agency's final goal, the roof fall area. The last known location of the 29 men who died in 2010 was on the other side of the roof fall, Mr Gawn saying that didn't mean human remains might not be found on the near side.
Politicians might have benefited significantly in terms of votes from their pre-election promises to re-enter the mine, not least Winston Peters, who reckoned he was going to be the first one in, but no one else, the men's families included, have or ever will. Not counting the people for whom re-entry has become a source of employment, and income. The money is being wasted, and worse, is being wasted on a promise that only ever served to offer false hope.
Meanwhile, last week taxpayers were told that they had bought five houses in Auckland for $9 million. This is not expected to have any great impact on the city's housing crisis, and surely could have achieved much more to that end if it had been spent a little more wisely. Not in Auckland, perhaps, but any community outside Auckland could have reaped significant housing gains from that sort of money. In Kaitaia, at least, it might have contributed towards some motels returning to their original core business rather than serving as repositories for the so-called homeless.
In provincial New Zealand, $9 million could indeed be transformational. In Auckland it means nothing.
The government is not beyond being shamed into curbing some of its more ridiculous spending, however. It seems that we have the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union to thank for the fact that the Minister of Education has finally decided to close Tuturumuri School, in the Wairarapa, which had hitherto remained open, and employing four staff, with a roll of zero. Zilch. Nada. Not one child attends the school, or has done so for some time.
The Taxpayers' Union, alerted to the situation by a 'concerned taxpayer,' established that the school was costing $1300 per day. Two full-time staff, a teacher and a teacher aide, were required to be there every school day, while two part-timers, a caretaker and cleaner, were also still on the payroll.
According to the Union, the school's roll dwindled from seven at the beginning of last year down to two, at which point the board of trustees voted to close it, but the Minister stepped in at the last minute to insist on yet another round of consultation, the same process that the school had gone through in 2018. A dose of publicity last week seemed to focus Mr Hipkins' mind, however. The school was reportedly closed on Thursday, and the $6500 it was costing per week will be available to spend somewhere else, perhaps a school that does have kids.
Then this penny wise government comes to the rescue of drought-stricken Northland, with a derisory $80,000 drought relief package that will achieve what? Northland, whose southern boundary is this side of Warkworth, officially has a population of 188,700, according to the last farcical census, but assuming that figure is reasonably accurate, $80,000 equates to 42 cents each. It will be less than that though, because the package stretches as far south as Orewa, just north of where the taxpayer is going to spend $360 million, probably a lot more, on a Skypath so pedestrians and cyclists can look down on beaches that have been closed because of sewage pollution.
Federated Farmers' Northland dairy chairman was quoted last week as saying that the package might give the dairying industry a slight psychological boost, but that'll be about it. A Matapouri dairy farmer was reported as saying $80,000 equated to half of what he reckoned Northland's farmers were spending directly because of the drought per day. He alone had so far spent $200,000 on supplementary feed for his dried-off cows, and he was still worried that they were hungry.
Imagine what the money that is being poured into the Pike River mine could achieve in Northland. What is more important, a display of empathy for the Pike River families, some of whom, whose views aren't counted, wish only for their loved ones to remain undisturbed in the mine that has become their tomb, or the thousands of living Northlanders who make a huge contribution to the region's and the country's economy?
It all comes down, no doubt, to who has the most votes. That, sadly, is what seems to determine a great deal of spending by this government, most governments before it, and no doubt those to come.
Why not Waitangi?However grumpy we might be getting with the Far North District Council, we might at least be grateful that we don't have to suffer the idiots from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED).
Determined, it seems, to be seen to be playing a part in the global response to the coronavirus threat, these are the people who coerced the organisers of Auckland's Lantern Festival to cancel, because ... why? Were thousands of coronavirus-ridden Chinese going to fly here from Wuhan to take part? No. Because it's a Chinese festival? Surely not. Next month's Korean Day festival in Auckland is proceeding. Why not the Lantern Festival? Why not the Whau Chinese New Year Festival and Northcote's Chinese and Korean New Year events, which were also cancelled?
If large gatherings are a threat to public health, why wasn't Waitangi Day cancelled? Does sanity become more prevalent the further north one travels?