Wednesday, November 04, 2015


In Parliament today, the opposition rightly grilled the government over this morning's appalling unemployment figures. Which led to this little exchange:

Andrew Little: What responsibility, if any, does he take for unemployment rising to 6 percent?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, if unemployment was a direct choice of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, there would be none of it. You would just decide to have none. But, of course, it is not.

Except that it is. To point out the obvious, past New Zealand governments kept unemployment close to zero by the simple expedient of hiring people. That's the extreme case, but more generally, policy has an impact (if it didn't, National wouldn't fight so hard to control it, and their backers wouldn't fund a party to do that). And policy is chosen by the government.

So what has our government chosen? It has chosen to sustain unemployment consistently at around 6% (vs the less than 4% chosen and sustained by the previous Labour government). It has done this to keep wages low and workers insecure. It is in denial, and the mechanisms by which it chooses this are fairly indirect - inflation targeting and government spending - but it is still a choice. And it should own and be honest about that choice. The reason it doesn't, of course, is because it is an unpopular choice, and because saying "we have chosen to have 6% unemployment" fatally undermines their punitive campaign against the victims of that choice, the unemployed. And fundamentally, they refuse to own that choice for fear that we might hold them accountable for it.

The same goes for other areas. Child poverty is a choice. A housing crisis is a choice. The gender-pay gap is a choice. All of these areas are subjects of, influenced by and amenable to government policy. National has chosen poor outcomes in all of these areas while pretending powerlessness and disclaiming responsibility. And we should hold them accountable for that.