Wanted: A long-term vision for New Zealand

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
19 November, 2021

Another Groundhog Day week in our never-ending Covid crisis. We got an announcement on Monday for another on Wednesday. The confusion continued, followed by waiting for the next update, whenever it may come.

But it is still unclear what the government plans to accomplish in the medium- and long-term. Is the Government’s goal to restore as much ‘normal’ life as possible - or is it content to keep imposing restrictions on us?

The management of Covid is symptomatic. In practically every area of policy, there is the same vagueness.

Despite the hyperactivity of its ministers, the Government does not offer a roadmap for where it wants to see New Zealand in, say, twenty or thirty years.

The closest the government has come to such a long-term goal is its commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. However, even this goal is unclear. Is it to drive down emissions, or is it to transform society?

Confusion also reigns in other areas. Exactly what is the goal of the Three Waters reforms? To achieve economies of scale through centralisation? To create more jobs in the sector (resulting in diseconomies of scale)? Or to shift power from councils to central government and iwi?

The direction of education is also unclear. Despite the New Zealand Curriculum being overhauled, its goals are hardly defined beyond buzzwords.

Visit the Ministry of Education’s website to find a target. Say that all children should reach an internationally recognised level of literacy or numeracy. It does not exist.

The focus of the Productivity Commission has blurred as well. Finance Minister Grant Robertson tasked it with looking “beyond traditional measures of economic success” in his letter of expectations. Chair Ganesh Nana interpreted this as an invitation to explore alternative economic models. Only the name of the Commission points to its original task.

New Zealand desperately needs long-term goals. These goals must be measurable, not mere slogans.

How about an economy with a productivity level in the top quartile of the OECD and levels of prosperity to match? With a PISA-measured education level above Asian averages? With median house prices not exceeding three times median household income? With public debt reduced to pre-Covid levels?

If this Government has a long-term vision, it keeps it to itself. But whatever it is, Kiwis deserve to know it – and to figure out if they like where the Government wants to lead them.

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