The Prime Minister started the week looking ahead to the New Year. “It can’t always be Covid,” Ardern said in an interview on Monday. “[F]or me, the final piece of the puzzle is the recovery.”
On both counts, the PM is right. Government policy must look beyond the pandemic. In 2022, Covid will not be conquered, but it is less likely to dominate the public’s attention than it has over the last two years. The 2023 election will not be dominated by Covid, but by the policies needed for the country to succeed in the virus’s aftermath.
But does the PM have the prescription for the recovery? Ardern identified housing, child poverty and climate change as the three big challenges facing the country.
Each of these three topics is important. But New Zealand already has a policy framework to get us to net-zero emissions by 2050. We have the world’s best emissions trading scheme. Gold plating will only waste resources.
On housing and child poverty, identifying the problem is one thing. The solutions are another.
The National-Labour accord should ease planning-related housing constraints. But local governments also need their funding structures changed to incentivise them to provide the infrastructure to support new housing developments.
The solution to our poverty problem is to improve school leavers’ education outcomes. However, fixing our broken education system is conspicuously absent from the Prime Minister’s list of priorities.
High inflation, burgeoning government spending and the rising cost of regulation also fail to make Ardern’s list. Yet those problems are a major concern for 2022.
Growing political polarisation is another troubling issue for the country. In part, this is down to the pandemic. But the Ardern Government’s increasingly race-based policies – including in health, three waters and the RMA - are fuelling divisions that have not been seen in decades.
New leader of the opposition Christopher Luxon picked up on some of these themes this week. He talked of needing to improve educational outcomes and labour productivity to improve wages and prosperity. And he spoke about governing all New Zealanders under “one system.”
Luxon is driving his own reset. But his words will give Ardern and the electorate food for thought.
Though Luxon’s first salvos in Parliament focussed mainly on Covid, the next year (and the one after) must not be all about Covid. They must be about the policy prescriptions needed for a more prosperous, inclusive and cohesive New Zealand.