I want to start this on a positive note, by saying there is still a chance for the Government to rescue this disastrous political year.
That chance is on Thursday when Finance Minister Grant Robertson opens the books.
Robertson has promised a big spend up on desperately needed infrastructure and, if he nails the announcement, he could send us to our summer holidays with a glimmer of hope that this government might yet be able to salvage its record.
Robertson needs to pull this off. Because he and the rest of the Government can't afford for us to go to our summer drinks bitching about what a disaster it's been. And, quite frankly, it's been a disaster. You only need to look at the past week to be reminded of the problems that have plagued the Government.
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In just one week we've had a poll showing the PM's popularity down again, questions about NZ First's integrity again, criticism of Andrew Little's rushed law to ban foreign donations that won't actually ban foreign donations, a data breach in the gun buy-back scheme, and revelations Kris Faafoi helped a friend with an immigration problem. Those are just the same old problems the Government's been dealing with its entire term: bad polls, a rogue coalition partner, bad laws, key policy failures, ministerial integrity. We witnessed a whole term's problems all in one week. It would be considered a bad run if that list was spread across a month, but in a week it's just head-shaking stuff.
It's been said a thousand times, but it bears repeating. Governments don't want voters going to the summer holidays feeling grumpy and then convincing their friends and family to feel the same. They want us going to our sunset drinks and afternoon barbecues feeling pretty bloody stoked and, again, convincing our friends and family to feel the same.
And this is where Robertson comes in. He is the Government's last chance at sending us off with smiles. But to do that, he needs to promise the right stuff at the right price on Thursday.
The spend up needs to be in the billions. Five or 10 billion dollars. That's the kind of money you need if you're trying to stimulate an economy worth $300b.
And the spending needs to be specific. There's no point in announcing a few billion for hospitals and a few billion for rail and a few billion for roads. That's not spending, it's just an intention to spend. Voters instantly know that kind of woolly announcement means it'll be years before anything even starts, while officials debate which project is more important than the others.
And big lumps of cash mean nothing to voters. Specific roads do. Robertson needs to name the precise roads and projects he's funding. That way, it becomes real to voters, and especially to the communities benefiting from the thing that will be built. Think of it this way, a promise to spend a billion dollars on hospitals means far less to you than a promise to build a new hospital in your town on a plot of land that you drive past and know.
Of course, Thursday won't solve everything. Whatever is announced is still only a promise. And it's getting ever harder for them to promise their way out of pickles. There are only so many unfulfilled promises voters will tolerate before they stop believing the noise. We've had too many already: capital gains tax, fair pay agreements, homelessness rates, Kiwibuild, kindness, transparency, the entire Year of Delivery.
If Robertson wants this announcement to truly deliver, he needs shovels in the ground before the next election.
And he needs his mates in government to really try their hardest not to stuff up next year like they've stuffed up the last two.