Opposition Leader Simon Bridges gave his State of the Nation address yesterday in Christchurch. After a year of chasing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the polls and watching Judith “Crusher” Collins creeping up in his rear vision mirror as a potential threat to his leadership, it was a chance to try to reset the agenda. But how realistic is it?
Not surprisingly Mr Bridges came out guns blazing against the tax policies of the Labour Party. He claimed that New Zealanders are going to pay another $10,000 more over the next four years than they would have under a National led Government. Mr Bridges also said that the New Zealander on the average wage would be in the top tax bracket by the year 2022 should wage and tax conditions remain unchanged. These criticisms, part of a larger announcement that a National led Government would introduce a three yearly tax cuts regime whereby after each election the Government would be advised how much the brackets need to change by.
However Mr Bridges ignores the significant underfunding of a range of social, health and education services that the National-led Governments of Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English determined were not necessary. In doing so Mr Bridges fails to acknowledge the consequences of the underfunding, which included Middlemore Hospital needing an emergency injection of funding just to do essential building maintenance to address rotting walls and floors.
Mr Bridges crusade against tax also potentially restricts the options available to National without reeking of hypocrisy in an emergency, or period of significant economic downturn. The promises of a three year recalibration ignore the fact that tax policy is a key election announcement in any campaign.
In other areas Mr Bridges promised that National would make the environment a priority. Mr Key said the same thing in a well known speech about the economy, education and environment, which he called the “three E’s” agenda in 2007. Mr Key’s promises on the environment led to an attack on fresh water quality with a substantial decline in both the availability of drinking water per catchment but also a marked decline in its quality. Mr Bridges would be wise to note the high level of concern in a recent poll commissioned by Fish and Game, that suggested an overwhelming portion of New Zealanders now have significant concerns about their fresh water resource.
If Mr Bridges is to be taken seriously about the environment though National will have to adopt a significantly stronger approach than the muddling through method currently in use for dealing with climate change. It will need to develop a comprehensive green business plan if it wants to be seen as a credible alternative to the Greens and Labour campaigning against oil and gas.
Similarly pressing urgency is needed on waste. With China’s refusal to accept paper, glass and plastic waste from 01 January 2018, National would need to develop policy on waste – something it had nothing on in the previous Government, and which successive Governments have muddled their way through on.
The third area of note was law and order, which reminded me that fairly early on in the previous National-led Government accessibility to legal aid was clipped. The excuse at the time that was given was cost cutting. The reality was somewhat different and might help explain the apparent ignorance of some offenders being brought before New Zealand courts. It also reminded me of another cut which was to the Public Trust’s wills service. Whilst both of these were short sighted actions to take, admittedly it probably will not prevent or discourage any offences.