Monday, December 13, 2010

Clutching at straws

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. Later, he claimed that his "milestones" were

to remove the millstones from around the neck of the New Zealand economy placed on it by the previous Labour Government... to assist the Government’s programme to undertake comprehensive economic reform of the New Zealand economy [and] is to rebalance the economy towards export-led growth.
Which no doubt sounded great to whatever spindoctor dreamed it up, but doesn't sound anything like the sort of thing governments agree on in Cabinet papers, let alone a milestone against which progress can be measured.

So, for the past four months I've been trying to unearth where these "milestones" came from. At first, Brownlee claimed that his argument was so powerful that it was not necessary to talk about it (or rather, those three "milestones" were based on so many Important Policy Documents that providing them to me would bury me in paper and be "substantial collation and research"). Then, in response to a more specific request, he handed over a Cabinet Paper which made no mention at all of his "milestones" (but did contain a lot of other useful information about the government's plans for growth, including its total reliance on polluting dairy and some evidence that the policy analysts in MED are thinking outside of the NeoLiberal box). But it was clear that Brownlee was playing semantics with that request too, so I asked him an even narrower request, for the specific advice document (if any) that the specific targets he gave to the House on August 5 were based on. In response, I have another deliberately obtuse "answer", misinterpreting the request as asking about the broad policy goal rather than the specific claimed milestones, and offering the National-ACT confidence and supply agreement [PDF] as its basis.

After three deliberate and calculated misinterpretations, I think its pretty clear that Brownlee doesn't want to answer this question. And the reason for that is twofold: firstly, because he made it all up - there were never any milestones or targets. And the second is that he did so to hide the fact that he lied to Parliament in his original answer. Brownlee may believe that is acceptable. I do not.