Tuesday, November 02, 2010

More on milestones and targets

Back in July, Labour pressed National hard on its goal of "closing the gap" with Australia, demanding to know if there were any targets or milestones by which progress towards this goal could be assessed. In response, Minister of Economic Development Gerry Brownlee replied that there were, but he refused to say what they were. Subsequently he claimed that those targets were:

In the answer I gave to the question that the member refers to, I shared my first target. That target was to remove the millstones from around the neck of the New Zealand economy placed on it by the previous Labour Government. Today I would like to share two other targets. My second target is to assist the Government’s programme to undertake comprehensive economic reform of the New Zealand economy. A third target is to rebalance the economy towards export-led growth. If we are successful in achieving these targets, we will achieve the Government’s milestone of achieving income parity with Australia by 2025.
That claim was repeated in his response to an OIA request I made on the topic, which revealed how empty the government's rhetoric on this issue was. It seems the government's "targets", rather than being approved by Cabinet or recommended by the Ministry of Economic Development, had been made up by some spindoctor in Brownlee's office, and aimed more at slamming the opposition than measuring the government's performance. In an effort to prove this, I asked for the primary advice document by which those targets were set. Today - 40 working days after I filed my request, and 10 working days after Brownlee's extended deadline whizzed by, I received the response: a random Cabinet Paper from September 2009 titled Medium-Term Economic Growth Agenda: Sectors and Industries with the Greatest Prospect for Economic Growth (CAB (09) 555). It makes no mention of Brownlee's "targets", or indeed of any interim targets or milestones at all. Instead, its full of the usual bureacratese, recommending that Ministers take "a targeted and structured approach" to economic growth and inviting them to consider actions in their portfolios which could be the subject of further papers. A lot of wheel-spinning, but no formal targets or milestones.

Attached to that Cabinet Paper was a powerpoint presentation to the Cabinet Strategy Committee, Achieving New Zealand's Economic Potential: Exploiting International Opportunities by Harnessing our Strengths (15 September 2009). It likewise does not contain any targets or milestones. But it does contain lots of information on the sorts of things which should be targets. For example, it notes that NZ's GDP per-capita growth rate must be 1.5% higher than Australia's on average over the next 15 years if we are to close the gap. The Government has already admitted that it does not expect to meet that target for the next five years. Real exports/capita needs to grow 2.2% faster than their historic average of 3.1%. There's no sign of that happening. Exports need to grow to $150 billion. But even the government's "stretch" targets show them coming to only $116 billion or $137 billion if we discover oil (which seems to be their plan, BTW: "discover oil"). And that is why the government will not publish proper benchmarks: because by any assessment, their grand project would be judged a failure, an impossible dream.

(There's some other interesting stuff in that annex, particularly around the dairy industry, but that will be the subject of another post).

As for Brownlee's publicly-stated targets, I'm still pursuing them. Because at present, it seems he just pulled them out of his arse. When you do that in the House in response to a question on notice, its called "lying to Parliament". I don't think that's acceptable, and neither should you.