The Coalition was just five months old when commentators began their refrain: Stop whingeing about the defects of the last Government they said, as if these were minor failings. They most certainly are not and the licence given by them to Sir John Key to lambast Labour was very liberal – he was still at it in his third term as prime minister.
But we all pretty much know which shade the commentariat favours and it’s most certainly not blue. Leaving all that aside, the Coalition has revealed a landscape of neglect, with institutional time bombs everywhere. Any incoming government with an agenda of social reform has to deal with these, which makes Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s first ‘cautious’ or ‘underwhelming’ budget so eminently sensible.
There’s the Housing Corporation always in the gun for its treatment of clients and now more methed up than ever; ditto WINZ which looks like it’s about to have a radical shake-up. And then our very own Ministry of Silly Cows (MPI) whose decisions over dumping fish catches and its delays dealing with the Mycoplasma virus are costly to oceans and our own farming sector. There’s Justice where more judges are needed. And let’s not forget Health and rotting hospital buildings – a metaphor for our sick society if ever there was one. There’s that elephant in the room – open door immigration – which seems to have disappeared from the radar post election. Over-riding all of this was the now discredited ideology of market forces and a veneration of The Surplus, at the cost of public services.
Labour swept to power in 1984. A new beginning it seemed. A false dawn it turned out. We heard much talk about consensus and inclusiveness. What we experienced and saw though was quite different. Inequality trumped egalitarianism; economics over social needs although the government had no mandate for any of this. And so, to our disbelief we saw beggars emerge on the streets of our land of milk and honey; witnessed appalling levels of homelessness and soaring child poverty.
Helen Clark’s Government went a long way towards lessening the impacts of free market policies, but the last Government returned to accentuate market policies. It’s taken this long, but a new Labour-led coalition is trying to alleviate, if not cure, the ails of National’s legacy. Commentators are bound to examine its initiatives – that’s their role. But they, and the evergreen pessimists of the business community, might also remember that old Kiwi adage – give them a fair go.