Bill English used to say, "The Labour Party thinks the answer to every problem is to dump a pile of money on it." This Government is making those words prophetic.
Hardly a week passes when it does not announce more money for some problem without having any practical answer to it. I suspect even English is surprised by the lack of concrete projects for some of the sums announced.
One of the largest was the $1.9 billion for mental health, the centerpiece of the "Wellbeing Budget" delivered a few months ago. The sum included $455 million for a new service for people with "mild to moderate" mental illness. They say that's a lot of us.
What might the service be? That's a question the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction did not answer, nor did a pre-Budget group set up by Health Minister David Clark to comb the inquiry's report for anything he could usefully do.
Then, having committed $455 million in the Budget, Clark sent the Ministry of Health out on another roadshow of workshops a few weeks ago to discuss what new frontline mental services should be set up.
I would have thought that when a government sees a problem it first looks for a practical remedy, then works out what it would cost, decides how much of the remedy it can afford and announces the programme.
Labour seems to work in reverse. I don't know how they decide how much to spend before they know what to do.
Another big outlay in the Budget was a billion dollars for KiwiRail. Again, it was not very clear what it was for.
We are well accustomed to periodic injections of capital into the country's clapped out railway but usually the bail out is accompanied by a statement of purpose given a grand title such as a "turnaround plan".
KiwiRail has said it will use this billion for track renewals and rolling stock replacements, ordinary capital expenditure for a business that could pay its way.
Some of the new railway money is to come from New Zealand First's $3 billion regional slush fund. When Shane Jones was pushing for a billion in coalition negotiations after the last election, experienced people told him he would not find enough viable projects for that amount.
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But Labour gave him $3 billion and sure enough, not much of it has been committed so far. Much less in fact than Jones has announced. Like his former party, he is prone to making big announcements before practical work such as cost-benefit assessments have been done.
The Government's latest announcement without substance was last week's "Youth Employment Action Plan". Jacinda Ardern and Employment Minister Willie Jackson reminded us they had made a "significant investment" in the Wellbeing Budget for additional staff in the social welfare system to help people find "meaningful work."
(They did not remind us they have told those staff they must not withdraw the jobseeker benefit from someone who refuses work without referring the case higher up. If anyone is puzzled that numbers on the dole are rising at the same time as jobs are increasing, the answer is there.)
Now they are giving us an "Employment Strategy". You can look it up online but I wouldn't recommend it. It is just a list of good intentions.
The strategy is to be delivered through a series of Action Plans. Last week we got the first of them, for youth who are not in education, employment or training (Neets).
We used to hear there were 70,000 Neets, a figure that always astonished me considering the number of polytechs around the country and the demand for labour in those years.
The Action Plan says there are now 90,000 Neets at any one time. But then it adds most are not in work, education of training for only a short time, "for example a few weeks between courses or moving between work and study." What?
About 10 per cent, it says, approximately 9000, will be Neet for six months or longer. I feel seriously misled. If only 10 per cent of the Neets are a problem, they are a tiny proportion of all 15-24 year olds in education, work or training.
They are disproportionately Maori and Pacific and disproportionately female, some of them with children so they are hardly idle.
They should be helped to find paying jobs but unfortunately the Action Plan has nothing new to suggest.
Obviously it is not easy to devise new mental health services or make railways pay, or find viable regional business that is not already financed, or get some youngsters off a couch.
But if you haven't got a solution, why allocate money? Well I know why. Big monetary sums make a headline. We are being taken for suckers.
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