The Prime Minister had declared 2019 “the year of delivery”. Voters will eventually judge the government on whether it has succeeded.
At the Initiative, we had our own year of delivery. Over the year, we produced a record number of reports, research notes and submissions. Our team kept commenting on the things the Government delivered – and those it did not.
To be clear, there is little disagreement between the Government’s goals and our own.
Swimmable rivers, sustainable freshwater management, making housing affordable, better education for all our children, significant reductions in child poverty, reducing carbon emissions, improving transport and supporting regional economic development: These are neither left-wing nor right-wing, conservative or liberal, progressive or traditional objectives. These are the things that practically all New Zealanders want.
Given these widely shared goals, our assessment is one of disappointment with the Government’s progress towards achieving them.
Minister Phil Twyford caught a lot of flak over the Kiwibuild disaster (including from us). However, as his speeches this year to the Initiative and to the Government Economics Network demonstrate, he intellectually understands what needs to be done to make urban land markets more competitive.
Thursday’s infrastructure funding announcements took most of the media attention this week. But Minister Twyford’s long awaited draft legislation allowing for ring-fenced infrastructure financing models was introduced yesterday as well, and will ultimately be far more important in enabling urban growth. It is something we have advocated for years, and something we discussed with Minister Twyford when he was still in opposition. We look forward to submitting on the Bill in due course to help ensure that it does as much good as possible.
We also acknowledge that Minister David Parker has embarked on ambitious reforms to freshwater management. In our view, while some of the current proposals for stemming the decline in water quality make sense, there is a better way.
Cap-and-trade systems, well-proven in other environmental contexts, would deliver cleaner rivers, lakes and aquifers. They would also for enable a just transition to sustainable outcomes. The Initiative has developed a workable scheme and will continue to produce more research that will enable the country to reset our freshwater management policies.
In education, New Zealand is lucky to have a Minister in Chris Hipkins who is evidently passionate about improving education outcomes. Agree with his policies or not, not even the opposition would question that Hipkins genuinely cares for education.
Indeed, we were happy with the Government’s announced changes to NCEA which strengthened core requirements for literacy and numeracy.
However, Hipkins’ response to New Zealand’s once again deteriorated PISA scores was disappointing. This would have been the time to finally acknowledge one of PISA’s consistent findings: that student-led learning generates less achievement than teacher-led approaches.
Next year, we will present the Minister with more evidence and practical recommendations on how to bring about changes through the curriculum which will address them.
These are just some examples of where there is a gap between aspirational goals and actual delivery – and how the Initiative’s work can help to close them.
At the Initiative, we will continue to make the case for reforms. We believe that New Zealand can do much better.
So, at the end of this “year of delivery”, it remains for me to deliver you all our team’s wishes for a Merry Christmas, a great break over the summer and a prosperous and happy New Year.
All the best and see you back in 2020.