He missed the trick.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson had the chance to make maximum impact with his $12 billion infrastructure spending announcement, but then tripped at the last moment. He gave us no detail.
This column warned last week that Robertson needed detail to impress voters. He got the opposite reaction. He drew a slew of disappointed headlines.
Westpac economists called it "a bit of a damp squib". Others called it an "election year bribe", "cynical" and "miserly".
And there was a recurring theme in what commentators wanted to see: detail. Which roads? Which bits of rail? Which regions?
• Premium - Heather du Plessis-Allan: Te reo or not, don't be a clown
• Premium - Heather du Plessis-Allan: Labour shows its pragmatic side
• Premium - Heather du Plessis-Allan: Jacindamania II is not on the cards
• Heather du Plessis Allan: Why I'll vote for cannabis legalisation if the law is strong enough
Without that, we have to wait. We're already in an infrastructure crisis, and we've just lost two years with this government cancelling road-building projects. Now, we're losing months, again, waiting for the government to choose which projects they will un-cancel. Those are months during which major construction companies will be pencilling in their next jobs, instead of pencilling in these projects. So, we'll be waiting again for that workforce to finish those jobs before they can get to these. Then, we might be waiting for these companies to hire the staff they need. Or train the staff they need. They're already at full capacity. Wait, wait, wait.
By the time we actually see shovels in the ground, the need to pump the economy might have largely passed.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Which, remember, is ostensibly the point of this exercise: fiscal stimulus. That's the reason Robertson is giving for finally backing away from his government's ideological commitment to not building roads. He's portrayed this as an almost heroic concession to the pleas of everyone from the Reserve Bank Governor through to economic commentators.
Well, if that's the point of the exercise, he might fail in his key objective by only providing stimulus long after the need passes. Again, this is a problem he could've mitigated to some extent by revealing some detail and then just getting on with the work.
Which, gives you reason to feel cynical. Because, Robertson surely knows all of this. He didn't come down with the last shower. You have to assume he's factored that all in and still made the cynical decision to deliberately hold off just so he could achieve maximum impact with a big reveal ahead of next year's election.
Fair play. As far as politics goes, it's smart. It's going to cut National's lunch a bit, given that National's pitched itself as the party of roads.
But, Robertson's taken a gamble here. It's a smart play to steal the roads idea. But, by so obviously holding the detail back until next year, he's having to wear the headlines accusing him of delaying. And that's risky, because this is a government that is struggling with the perception it can't deliver. Can't decide, can't execute, can't do. Kiwibuild, Auckland's light rail, spending mental health money. This delay plays right into that message.
So, even if Robertson cuts National's lunch, National still has the trump card of delivery. They might still beat him on the perception that, while they both may promise the roads, only National can be trusted to build them. Robertson's going to struggle to counter that perception if there's not even one shovel in the ground on any of these projects by next year's election campaign.
And, given that we're still waiting just to find out which projects will get the green light, the chances of shovels in the ground are slim.