Back to the future?

6:49 pm on 25 October 2017

Opinion - Is the new Cabinet just more of the same? Take a closer look before deriding it, David Slack suggests.

Here's your new government, New Zealand. There's a touch of the Steampunk about it. It's the future, it's also horse racing. It's the face of a new generation and it has an elder statesman as foreign minister.

Can it work? Sure it can. Could it come flying apart? Never say never.

Also, is it really just more of the same, when the balloons and streamers have all settled? Is it just another centrist government tacking slightly more leftward? Well maybe, comrade, but perhaps consider specific new policies and the resolve of new ministers before you spit on the floor and denounce them in the customary manner.

Jacinda Ardern gives her first media conference as Labour Party leader.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Megan Woods, the new Christchurch Regeneration minister and EQC minister will not be following Gerry Brownlee's track. David Clark as health minister will not be Jonathan Coleman in spectacles. They condemned the human neglect; they will be looking to make large changes.

Housing minister Phil Twyford has 100,000 houses to build. If he can do that and also make homes affordable for Generation Rent, and if he can unwind the billion dollar debacle that is the accommodation supplement, well: buy that minister a beer and make it three or four more for each of the ministers he's replacing.

But also: good luck Minister, because if there's one thing New Zealand loves more than anything else it's those lovely tax free windfall gains you can get from buying a house in a dysfunctional property market.

Still, as Steampunk goes, this could be quite the grandest spectacle of all: the state building thousands of affordable houses, just like in the 1930s. Don't let anyone tell you a huge state-led affordable housing programme didn't do a vast amount of good for the social fabric of the nation. The return is not in the rent, it's in the wellbeing.

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Photo: RNZ

And farewell the old business-as-usual-roading insanity. What did the Greens want? No Auckland East-West motorway link, light rail to Auckland Airport, safe cycling and walking. What did they get? No Auckland East-West motorway link, light rail to AKL Airport, safe cycling and walking.

What did they also get? A $100m green investment bank, 100 million trees per year, a Zero Carbon Act, an independent Climate Commission, more funding for the Department of Conservation. They may not be inside Cabinet, but for proof that it's not what you've got but how you use it, this does pretty well. It's also a fair bet that Julie-Anne Genter in associate transport, James Shaw in climate change and Eugenie Sage in conservation will be visible, vocal, and influential.

Meanwhile New Zealand First takes responsibility for, among other matters, defence, regional development, and maybe moving the port to Northland which will be interesting to explore but perhaps we might wait and see. Shane Jones as a minister always has the potential to be charismatic, problematic and fascinating - and worth it for the proverbs and classical allusions alone.

Also, step forward the Hon David Parker, now Attorney-General and minister for economic development; environment; trade and export growth. A great future thinker, extremely well-informed about global trends and what we might do to take advantage of them, and for some mystifying reason derided by sundry conservative commentators.

For as long as this writer has been reading New Zealand newspapers we have been talking about the need to diversify, and we've done a pretty mediocre job of it so far. This kind of minister can move things along.

Also, here comes a better minimum wage and more R&D spending, and once again the Prime Minister is minister of arts and culture. The benefit is not easy to quantify, but any artist, any writer, any dancer, any performer will tell you it changes everything for the better. And as minister for child poverty reduction she makes an emphatic a statement as she possibly can about her priorities.

This will not be the government that went before it.

It is a fusion, cohering over a common concern for the neglect of too many people. That feeling was expressed in a surprising way by Winston Peters last week. It had a tone to it that was not his usual one. It suggested the perspective of someone whose conversations with his new political partner had given them both a fresh perspective. It looks like a good model for a viable government.

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