Thursday, August 26, 2010

No milestones, no targets

For the past month, Labour has been quizzing the government on its plans to "close the gap" with Australia by 2025. Labour thinks such an ambitious goal should have targets and milestones, against which progress - and failure - can be assessed. And in July, Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee claimed to have such targets and milestones, but refused to say what they are. Intrigued by this, I asked Brownlee for the details, submitting an OIA request seeking the milestones, information on how they had been set, and any advice on their setting and whether they were being achieved. I received the response today, and it shows how empty the government's rhetoric is on this issue.

According to Brownlee, the "milestones" are those identified by him in Question Time on August 5:

  • to remove the millstones from around the neck of the New Zealand economy placed on it by the previous Labour Government; ["millstones" like zero net crown debt, structural surpluses and record low unemployment - I/S]
  • to assist the Government's programme to undertake comprehensive economic reform of the New Zealand economy; and
  • to rebalance the economy towards export-led growth.
It is my view that if we are successful in achieving these targets, we will achieve the Government's milestone of achieving income parity with Australia by 2025.
Which no doubt sounds great to the spindoctor who dreamed it up, but note what's missing here: any solid, quantitative targets or timelines. If the goal is to match Australia's per-capita GDP by 2025, then you'd expect intermediate targets along the lines of "per-capita GDP of $X by year Y", or more detailed subsidiary targets of "unemployment reduced to X% by year Y", "labour productivity to be $Z per hour worked by year Y", or even "export earnings to be $X by year Y". Instead we have waffle and bullshit. And there's a reason for this: the government has admitted that the growth targets to catch Australia are steep, and that it does not expect to meet them any time in the next five years. Which rather blows their whole "goal" out of the water. "Catching Australia by 2025" is simply empty political rhetoric, a slogan produced to make it sound like the government has some grand plan to make us all better off, when in fact they have nothing of the sort.

As for the rest of the questions: these "targets" have not been published, and they were "set" "taking account of all available advice that the Government has received since taking office in November 2008 as well as drawing on the experience and perspectives that my colleagues and I have gathered over our careers to date". The request for government advice was refused on the basis that it would require "substantial collation and research". And if you believe that, I have a round building in Wellington to sell you.

The blunt fact is that Brownlee made up these "targets" on the fly in response to opposition Questioning. They have not been agreed by Cabinet, and he will not provide advice on them because there is none. Its a perfect example of the emptiness at the heart of this government. This is supposedly their key economic policy - and they have to milestones, and no targets; all they have is a slogan.