8 Nov 2017 - The last government has a lot to be proud of, writes National MP Chris Bishop for The Spinooff, from fending off the GFC and Canterbury earthquake recovery to social investment and addressing child poverty. As the dust settles on the election and the new super-sized Labour/NZ First/Greens ministry gets to work, it’s worth looking back on nine years of National-led government, and what has been achieved for New Zealand.
Let me say at the outset that no government is perfect. All are affected by global economic circumstances and – as encapsulated in Macmillan’s famous dictum – “events, dear boy, events”. Governments never deliver all the fervent desires of their most ardent supporters, and most aren’t anywhere near as hopeless as partisans from the other side would have you believe.
I believe New Zealanders can look back with pride on nine years of National government. The country is demonstrably a better place than it was in 2008. Since Muldoon (who infamously, and depressingly, promised to leave the country no worse than he found it) that has surely been the litmus test for good government in this country. New Zealand is prouder, wealthier, more confident and aspirational than it was nine years ago.
Here then are 10 of National’s achievements.
1. Getting the country through the global financial crisis – and back into the black
Any account of the last National government has to start with the GFC. Sir John Key, Bill English and team took office in the teeth of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and it’s worth recalling that New Zealand actually entered recession a year before the rest of the world. Treasury predicted never-ending deficits, unemployment to rise to over 10%, and debt to peak at 40% of GDP.
The government didn’t panic – and nor did it slash and burn. Social support was maintained, but poor quality programmes were rationalised, and new Budget operating allowances were pared back. In the years preceding 2008, Labour had increased spending unsustainably (50% in its last five years) for little to no effect. With Bill English in charge of the purse strings, departments were told to focus on results, not just to lobby for ever-escalating spending.
The government books got back into the black in 2014/15. Unemployment is now down to 4.6% and labour force participation is at record levels. Our debt to GDP topped at just 25%, and is coming down (Australia’s is 40, the UK’s is 90 and the USA’s is 108%!).
I’m proud that we did this while maintaining investment in core public services. For example, since 2009 health spending has increased by $3 billion per year, or around 25% (population growth has been 14%).
The incoming government inherits books that are the envy of the developed world.
2. Building a more productive, diverse and competitive economy
While dealing with the GFC, National started the process of consistent, moderate and sustained economic reform to build a more productive and competitive economy.
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