Colin James has been reporting and commenting on New Zealand politics since 1969. His face and voice are familiar to all of us, and last evening he delivered a most thought-provoking address. Although his title was ‘After Jacinda’, he reviewed the trends and developments in our polity over the last 50 years.
His talk ranged widely but the recurring theme was generational change. He noted key events: the 1968 student riots in Europe and the USA, the Springbok tour in NZ, Brexit, and the current climate change protests.
The ‘upstarts’- baby-boomer politicians- have been replaced by generation X and Y, who are the children of upstarts and have only known the sort of multicultural and open society we have today. Half of the present cabinet are generation X or Y, and they occupy most of the important posts.
Labour’s radical and harsh reforms of 1984-90 were a watershed. Although carried on with great enthusiasm by the National governments of the 90s, a backlash emerged, notably Helen Clark’s ‘Third Way’ policies and later, by Bill English, who was taken by the idea of ‘well-being economics’.
The latter is attracting attention overseas. It requires progress to be measured in a variety of ways- environmental protection, health, education and so on, as well as growth in the economy. It has been embraced by the Treasury, and some measures have already been included in the Public Finance Act. The problem is that government policies interact, and changes often take years to show results.
Turning to the present government, Colin observed that although it was elected on a transformational agenda, it has become bogged down by the realities of the coalition and a reluctance to upset ‘middle New Zealand’.
There has been a weak response to tax and welfare reform, and in Education a return to central control of the system. Movement on climate change has been timid. NZ has been slow to embrace the possibilities of digital technologies.
However, Colin expressed some optimism because of cross-party interest in well-being economics, and to ‘joined-up thinking’, which is necessary to make it work.
There was a lively question and answer session which would have gone on much longer had time allowed. In all, an excellent presentation from the doyen of our political commentators.
Editor's Note: Colin has been kind enough to share the full transcript of his paper from last night. You can find it here.