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John Key’s State of the Nation speech – post mortem

25 January 2013 28 comments

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John Key today delivered his State of the Nation speech. This is my appraisal of the contents of his address to the people of New Zealand…

Whether it’s welfare reform, law and order, education, the rebuild of Christchurch, or continuing our improvements in public services, it’s full steam ahead.

But no mention of jobs?

We’ve made a huge turnaround in the government’s books, we’ve brought in the biggest changes to the tax system in a generation, and we’re making significant changes to reform the welfare system and strengthen work obligations.”

Still no mention of jobs!

Among other things, we’ve introduced 90-day trials; set time limits for the consenting of large projects under the RMA; introduced a competitive new system for awarding oil and gas exploration permits; got ACC back into good financial shape; and kick-started a multi-billion dollar programme of infrastructure investment.”

Where are the jobs?

” …an economy that was left unbalanced, and in poor shape, by the previous government.

Bullshit. Aside from being National’s “Big Lie“, Labour posted several Budget Surpluses, and payed down debt.  How long can National keep blaming Labour for non-existant ‘mis-management’?

“…  the impact of the Global Financial Crisis

That was FOUR years ago – what has National been doing in the meantime – aside from banging on about welfare “reforms” and adding to unemployment by cutting back on the State sector and under-mining the export sector by not addressing the high Dollar?!

Since the bottom of the recession, in mid-2009, the economy has grown at an average of just under 2 per cent a year, and economists are expecting that to strengthen further.”

Yeah? Reallllly???

Which economists? These ones; Rodney Dickens finds economists consistently over-estimated growth?

And how can it be ‘strengthening’ when unemployment is rising; the export sector is being knackered by our high dollar; and government austerity is dampening growth?

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Govt austerity slows growth, keeps rates low - RBNZ

Source

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Key is practicing more of his “vacant optimism”, and bugger all else.

Our employment rate is very high in comparison to other countries, with over three-quarters of all New Zealanders aged 20 to 64 in work. There are still too many people looking for work who can’t find it.  But forecasts show employment continuing to increase and unemployment falling.

Bullshit. Unemployment has risen in the last four Quarters,

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New Zealand Unemployment Rate jan 2012 - dec 2012

Source: Trading Economics – Unemployment

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By what stretch of his money-addled brain is he expecting it to fall? Especially when the 170,000 new jobs predicted in 2011 by a vacantly optimistic Key, have yet to materialise.

Interest rates are at 50-year lows.

Oh, puh-leeese.

Interest rates are not determined by government. They are set by the Reserve Bank. And current interest rates are low only because the economy is weak.

Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard said: “New Zealand’s economic outlook has weakened a little since the March Monetary Policy Statement.

“Political and economic stresses in Europe, along with a run of weaker-than-expected data, have seen New Zealand’s trading partner outlook worsen. Furthermore, there is a small but growing risk that conditions in the euro area deteriorate more markedly than is projected in the June Statement.

The Bank is monitoring euro-area developments carefully given the potential for rapid change.“Increased agricultural production and the weakened global outlook have driven New Zealand’s export commodity prices lower.

The resulting moderation in export incomes, although partially offset by depreciation in the exchange rate, will weigh on economic activity in New Zealand. Fiscal consolidation is also likely to constrain demand growth going forward.

See: Reserve Bank Monetary Policy Statement June  2012

Is Key taking credit for a weak economy?! Go on, Dear Leader, I dare you to do it!

Prices for primary exports are holding up, and our terms of trade remain high.

Say whut? Has Key been caught out fibbing – again?  Terms of  trade are not “remaining high”. Quite the opposite,

New Zealand’s terms of trade fell to a three-year low in the September quarter as the country’s strong currency ate into returns from an increasing volume of dairy exports.

The terms of trade, which measures how much imports can be bought with a fixed quantity of exports, fell 3.2 per cent in the three months ended September 30, according to Statistics New Zealand. That’s more than the 1.8 per cent forecast in a Reuters survey of economists. Export prices sank 6.3 per cent, ahead of the 3.6 per cent expected, while import prices declined 3.3 per cent versus an anticipated 2 per cent fall.

See: New Zealand Herald – Terms of trade hit three-year low

Primary export prices are not “holding up”. They are falling,

Dairy, which accounts for about a quarter of New Zealand’s exports, was the biggest contributor to the falling export prices and rising volumes, with volumes surging 32 per cent in the quarter, even as prices sank 13 per cent.

See: IBID

This isn’t a “State of the Nation” report – it’s a work of goddamn  fiction.

That will be centred, of course, on Christchurch, where the spend is now estimated to be around $30 billion. But construction is also expected to pick up in other areas, and manufacturers across the country will be gearing up to supply materials.”

Again, more vacant optimism from Key.

If two major earthquakes had not trashed Christchurch, where would the “growth”  come from? What would be driving economic growth and employment? Faith in the Free Market?!

Volumes

Total manufacturing rose 2.6 percent.
Excluding meat and dairy product manufacturing, sales fell 1.4 percent.
Meat and dairy product manufacturing rose 13 percent.

Values

Total manufacturing rose 1.6 percent.
Excluding meat and dairy product manufacturing, sales fell 1.1 percent.
Meat and dairy product manufacturing rose 9.3 percent.

See: Statistics NZ Economic Survey of Manufacturing: September 2012 quarter

In any three-month period in New Zealand, between 100,000 and 200,000 jobs disappear, and between 100,000 and 200,000 new jobs are created, as businesses start up, expand, contract and close altogether.”

Is Key suggesting that there are “100,000 to 200,000 new jobs” created within a three month period?!

The man is in la-la land.

Statistics NZ revealed that for the Setember 2012 Quarter,

The number of people unemployed increased by 13,000 people.
The employment rate fell 0.4 percentage points, to 63.4 percent.
The number of people employed decreased by 8,000.
The labour force participation rate remained unchanged, at 68.4 percent.

See: Household Labour Force Survey: September 2012 quarter

I see no evidence of 100,000 or 200,000 new jobs anywhere. Unemployment, however, rose from 6.8% in the June 2012 Quarter  to 7.3% in the September 2012 Quarter.

Key’s speech mentions none of this, and is as vacantly optimistic as he was last year, or 2011, or 2010, or 2009…

Because the truth is, you only get jobs and growth in the economy when people invest money, at their own risk, in setting up a business or expanding an existing business.

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But the only way net new jobs can be created is by private investors putting their money into businesses in New Zealand.”

Which brings us to the matter of Market failure. We simply are not seeing the number of new jobs required to soak up any of the 175,000 unemployed.

Since 2009, a net total of 114,200 Kiwis left for Australia and elsewhere (see: Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012: migration ). One could only imagine the staggering level  of  unemployment if Australia  wasn’t an economic “safety-valve” just across the ditch.

” Governments can encourage investment but they can also discourage investment.

A government can load up big costs and uncertainties onto business.

It can make people unwelcome because they are considered to be the wrong nationality to invest here, or in the wrong industry.

And it can lock up the resources of the country.

That would certainly discourage investment.

But as I said, we have to be a magnet for investment.

That’s why my Government is working hard to reduce costs and uncertainties for business.

That’s why we welcome investment that benefits New Zealand.

That’s why we are keeping our own costs down.

That’s why we are ensuring people have the right skills to contribute to the workforce.

That’s why we are ensuring the country has the infrastructure it needs to grow.

And that’s why we’re focused on opportunities to use our natural resources productively and sustainably.”

Ok. So again – where are the jobs?!

After four years of National’s “working hard to reduce costs and uncertainties for business”, “welcoming investment that benefits New Zealand”, “keeping our own costs down”, “ensuring people have the right skills to contribute to the workforce”, “ensuring the country has the infrastructure it needs to grow”, and “focused on opportunities to use our natural resources productively and sustainably” – why are we not seeing this translated into more jobs?

Instead we are seeing unemployment GROWING – not reducing.

Something is terribly wrong here.

” This year we are launching five new vocational pathways that clearly signpost the subjects young people should take to prepare for vocational careers in construction, manufacturing, the primary sector, the service sector and social services.

This year there will be over 4000 places available in trades and services academies, allowing young people to explore vocational career opportunities while still at school.

And there will be around 8700 Youth Guarantee places for young people to study fees-free outside the school environment.”

Two years after the earthquakes that levelled Christchurch?! National has belatedly realised that Market failure is not delivering the number of skilled tradespeople required, and government intervention is needed?

Oh well, better late than never. At least they didn’t wait till after the 2014 elections… Or the turn of the next century… Or the Second Coming…

“Under Labour’s wasteful management, up to 100,000 people a year listed as being in industry training were in fact “phantom trainees” who achieved no credits and in some cases were no longer alive.”

Oh, how original – more Labour-blaming!!

I suspect that figure of  “100,000″ is pure Key bullshit. But regardless, how long is National going to use Labour as a scapegoat?! Especially since, I suspect, that had National kept Labour’s apprenticeships scheme, we’d have the necessary numbers of tradespeople to help re-build Christchurch.

But I guess it’s easier for the Nats to do nothing; wait for the Market to deliver results – and then blame Labour when that nutty idea crashes and burns.

I hope Key realises that the finger-pointing of Labour-blaming is wearing rather thin? People are wondering when the Nats will start taking responsibility for their actions. Especially since National is the Party of personal responsibility,

We also need to remember the enduring principles on which the National Party is based – individual responsibility, support for families and communities, and a belief that the State can’t and shouldn’t do everything.” – John Key, 30 January 2007

Source: National Party

“That has freed up some very significant funding to re-invest in expanding apprenticeships.”

Oh? How much?

Is this “new” money?

Or money stolen from other budgets such as Vote  Health, eg;   for grommet operations for kids with glue ear? (see:   Grommet cuts fear )

One will excuse my cynicism, but with National’s current maniacal obsession with balancing their books, they are constantly robbing Peter to pay Pauline. The net result is that state services are being cut back and no  part of our community is safe from National’s cost-cutting slash-and-burn activities.

One thing is for sure – some other part of the community may find their services wound back to pay for National’s “expanding apprenticeships”.

” So today I am announcing a new initiative to expand and improve apprenticeship training.

This has a number of parts to it:

1. From 1 January next year, we are…”

“Next year”?!?!

Well, never let it be said that National moves with decisive speed when confronted with critical economic and social problems.

Initiating their “new” apprenticeships scheme will mean another year that Christchurch suffers a shortage of trained workers; another year we could have been training some of the 85,000 unemployed youth in this country. Another year – wasted.

This isn’t a government “on top of things”. This is procrastination by deliberate design. Perhaps Key is hoping that the Market will do the job in the next twelve months, giving National an excuse to quietly forget and drop this scheme?

“…we estimate that around 14,000 new apprentices will start training over the next five years, over and above the number previously forecast.”

This sounds remarkably familiar… Didn’t we get a similar promise in 2011,

Treasury say in the Budget, as a result of this platform on what we’ve delivered, 170,000 jobs created and 4% wage growth over the next three to four years.” – John Key, 19 May 2011

See: Budget 2011: Govt predicts 170,000 new jobs

Which was backed up on their 2011 election flyer,

“National’s Brighter Future Plan will help businesses create 170,000 new jobs over the next four years.”

Source: National Party

That one didn’t work out very well either.

Key went on to say,

“The whole idea is to kick-start new apprenticeship opportunities ahead of the curve, so that thousands of New Zealanders get to learn a new trade that will last them a lifetime.”

I have a simple question for our smile and wave Dear Leader; why didn’t they do this immediatly after the 2008 election? Why didn’t this come out of the Jobs Summit in 2009?

And why, as he’s said above, are they now leaving this critical problem to be addressed next year???

All in all – there is little here to create new jobs, now, when we need it the most. Even his comments regarding infrastructure are just so much ‘fluff’,

“Moving on to infrastructure, the Government will this year continue its significant programme of investment, which supports thousands of jobs across the country.”

Well that “support for thousands of jobs across the country” hasn’t worked out so well. Unemployment has risen four quarters in a row. Redundancies were happening across the board, up and down the country. 175,000 New Zealanders are now out of work. Three months prior, that number was 162,000.Before that, 160,000. (see previous blogpost: Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012: employment/unemployment ) The numbers are going the wrong way.

“In terms of housing, the Government is itself planning to build more than 2000 houses over the next two financial years…”

Two thousand?

That number is derisable and falls woefully short of the 20,000 new houses  required to be built each year to keep up with demand. As Warwick Quinn, from the Registered Master Builders Federation, said last October,

New Zealand had fallen way behind the required build rates of 20,000 homes a year, hit by the global financial downturn that began in 2008...”

See:  20,000 houses for Chch in next five years

Two thousand new houses over the next TWO years?

That doesn’t cut it, Mr Key. Not even close. In effect, what Dear Leader has done is acknowledge that a critical housing problem exists – but that National is unable/unwilling to address it in any meaningful way.  Their ideological attachment to free market dogma binds their actions at every turn.

Two thousand new houses over two years is a joke. Not a particularly funny one at that.

” We need more houses built in New Zealand, at a lower cost. That means we need more land available for building, more streamlined processes and less costly red tape.”

Now THAT comment worries me.

Didn’t we go through a de-regulation of the building industry in 1991? And didn’t we end up with billions of dollars of poorly built homes that leaked and rotted?

And wasn’t the end result of that disaster a situation where  liability ended up with local body councils paying 25% for repairs; central government 25%; and  home owners were lumped with 50%?! Oh indeed that IS the case!

Up to 89,000 home owners were affected by the “red tape” de-regulation of the early 1990s – and Key appears to be staggering drunkenly  down the same route. (see: Leaky home payouts start tomorrow )

Will this be a  repeat of the same errors of history all over again?!

Key went on,

” It’s ridiculous that we allow councils to demand almost anything as a condition for the consent.

And it’s ridiculous that we allow them to charge whatever fees they want.”

Why not? After all, National demands whatever taxes and government fees they want. Eg; rising petrol taxes; increased early childhood costs; increased ACC fees; raised GST, etc.

But when backed into a corner, default to Strategy #1 – blame Labour. As Key then said,

” Labour’s so-called ‘plan’ to build 100,000 houses doesn’t do anything to fix the actual cost of building – so will either fail miserably, deliver dwellings that people don’t want to live in, or require massive taxpayer subsidies. It’s dishonest and it doesn’t stack up.”

Well, Key would know about dishonesty: John Banks. Raising GST when promising not to. Mystery email regarding Standard & Poors. Clandestine meetings with Skycity executives. Pledging meals in schools, then recanting.

Key derides Labour’s plans to build 100,000 new houses, proclaiming it will “fail miserably”.

This from the smile and wave man who lives in a multi-million dollar mansion; has a holiday home in Hawaii; and god knows what other property – while young New Zealanders are desperate to buy their own homes. (See: Frustrated home buyers want investors to be discouraged)

This from the same smile and wave man who offers New Zealanders 2,000 new homes over TWO YEARS.

It beggars belief how anyone can take John Key seriously these days. The man is a joke.

Key then took the stick to local body councils,

“But if councils aren’t able to change their planning processes, then the Government would have to get a lot more proactive, because we are very serious about resolving this issue.”

Oh really? “Very serious”, eh? So serious that in four years National has done nothing about our housing shortage?

Moving from blaming Labour, Key now seems to be beating up on  local body councils.

Does National ever take responsibility for anything?!

On the environment…

” New Zealand is rich, for example, in minerals. The Greens and Labour oppose it, but we are going to continue to encourage development of our country’s oil, gas and mineral resources.

Looking across our resource base as a whole, what’s clear is that we need a much better system of planning and resource management – one that enables growth and provides strong environmental outcomes, and does so in a timely and cost-effective way.”

National’s ‘devotion’ to “strong environmental outcomes” is amply illustrated by their abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol; watering down the ETS,  and scrapping the five yearly State of the Environment Reports, despite John Key having endorsed it in September 2008 as one of National’s own policies. (See: National scraps crucial environmental report , Government shuns second Kyoto committment )

Anything Key, or one of his ministerial muppets, utters about environmental concerns can be safely dismissed as empty platitudes.

On the TPPA,

“The Greens and their fellow travellers say the TPP is anti-democratic. That is nonsense.”

Interestingly, Key does not say why claims that  the “TPP is anti-democratic” are “nonsense”.

Nor does he acknowledge that the TPPA negotiations are currently held in secret. The public and media are excluded from proceedings. Eventually, the TPPA presented to Parliament will  be a done deal, with no chance for media analysis and public oversight. If that’s not anti-democratic then I fear that Dear Leader has no concept of the principles of democractic participation.

Considering Key’s penchant for secretiveness when it comes to deals with corporates such as Mediaworks, Skycity, et al, It’s not clear to me why we should take him at his word.

On asset sales…

” Subject to the Supreme Court’s decision, this will start in the first half of the year with our offer of up to 49 per cent of the shares in Mighty River Power.

We also want to proceed with another IPO later this year.

The whole share offer programme will be a shot in the arm for New Zealand’s capital markets.”

Really? So National is flogging of half of Meridian, Genersis, Mighty River Power, Solid Energy, and further down-selling Air New Zealand… to satisfy “New Zealand’s capital markets”?!

Key’s background as a money-trader appears to have besotted him. The Big Sell-off has begun, and he’s positively salivating at the prospect.

Meanwhile, over 75% of New Zealanders don’t want a bar of state asset sales. But hey, so what? Anyone would think this was a democracy?

“At the same time, the Government will maintain majority ownership of the companies, and will use the proceeds to invest in other public assets, like schools and hospitals.”

Rubbish. National will use the proceeds to balance their books. Any other suggestion to the contrary is patent nonsense.

“That’s because overseas investment in New Zealand adds to what New Zealanders can invest on their own.”

?!?!

That makes no sense… Typo? Brain-fade? A drunk speech writer?

“It creates jobs, boosts incomes, and helps the economy grow.”

*sighs*

So much bullshit…

Let’s remind ourselves  for the zillionth time that,

  • unemployment is up
  • the income gaps between New Zealand and Australia continues to widen
  • the economy is “growing” at a snail’s pace and as it does, our Current Account deficit grows. Why? Because increasing economic activity boosts profits for foreign owned companies, which means more  profits remitted overseas, which results in a worsening Current Account deficit. That, in turn, impacts on the interest rate we pay for our own capital (borrowings for mortgages, etc),

John Key knows all this – but he ain’t sayin, Billy-Bob boy.

And businesses aren’t so happy either,

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The axe falls - Industry boss blames cuts on Govt

Source
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On Science & Innovation…

” Finally, despite tight times, the Government is continuing to put a real priority on science and innovation. Research funding will be greater this year than it ever has been, because new ideas are a key driver for a modern economy.”

Didn’t National remove the 15% R&D tax credit soon after winning the 2008 election? If that’s putting “a real priority on science and innovation” – I’d hate to see the Nats in full-flight when they positively hate something. (Oh yeah, kinda like beneficiary bashing.)

So back to default Strategy #1,

“But I can guarantee you one thing – Labour will oppose almost all of it.”

Yeah. Piss poor of Labour not to support National when Key demands absolute fealty. In fact, Labour, Greens, and NZ First should just bugger off and leave National to govern on it’s own… and we know what that’s called, don’t we?
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dancing cossacks
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Perhaps  New Zealand would be better served if – instead of constantly deriding and blaming Labour, the Greens, NZ First, local body councils, and Uncle Tom Cobbly – that National focused on the problems confronting our nation; our economy; and our society.  Fixating  on  Opposition Parties for eighteen  paragraphs is not a good look. Defensive, much, Mr Key?

John Key’s constant reference to Labour makes him look fearful – and perhaps so he should be.

By 2014, National will have been in office for six years, with very little to show for it. If Key goes to the election with nothing more except playing a bitter blame-game against Labour, voters will desert him in droves. Voters want results; something reassuring to make them feel better -  not excuses. Certainly not high unemployment, a stagnant economy, growing child poverty, lagging wages, more and more people taking flight to Australia, etc.

” As for the National-led Government, our plan will encourage investment, strengthen the economy and boost jobs.

People know what that plan is, we have stuck to it and we will continue to stick to it.”

Well, I’m happy-as-larry that National has a plan. Because most people haven’t got a clue what Dear Leader and his Nat mates are up to. Aside from cutting state and social services,  asset sales, and subsidising multi-billion dollar film companies, most New Zealanders are scratching their heads wondering precisely what this wonderful “Plan” is.

In 2011, business leaders were asking precisely the same thing,

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Business NZ sees no economic plan

See: Business NZ sees no economic plan

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Key’s speech can be summed up threefold;

1. Consisting mainly of wishful fantasy – with facts and the last four years disproving almost everything he claimed as a “success”,

2. Constantly blaming others for his own Party’s policy-failings. Grow a pair, Mr Key; man up and own your failings.

3. National’s faith in the ability of the Market to produce economic growth, jobs, and higher wages has been sadly misplaced. His announcement on 2,000 new homes over two years is an insult, and National’s new apprenticeship scheme is two years too late, and too little.

National’s neo-liberal policies are more faith-based dogma than anything rooted in Real Life – and the chooks are coming home to roost.

This wasn’t a State of the Nation speech – it was a Statement of  National failure. A Hekia Parata-style own-goal.

If this is National’s idea of a “bright new future”, they’ve just sent Labour and the Greens a very long concession speech for the next election.

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References

NZ Herald: Full text: John Key’s state of the nation speech

Other blogs

Pundit: Mom, apple pie, apprenticeships & not much else

Idle thoughts of an Idle Fellow: The Ruminations of Robert Winter: The Negative Mr Key

The Dim Post: All part of the service

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