So, the Treasurer Bill English has his surplus. Seven years after he promised to return New Zealand back to the black, he has done so. It is true to say that doing so was not without numerous challenges – some man made and others caused by acts of nature.
However, there is also a cost to getting a surplus, which in the case of this Government, was rightfully or wrongfully Mr English’s top priority. It was a priority that he dogmatically pursued from day one, and even in the worst days of the Canterbury earthquakes when no one really knew what the final total of the damage and insurance bills would be, there was still talk of it being achieved in 2015. It has been achieved at significant cost to a broad tract of policy areas where progress has either stagnated or started running in reverse; where agencies delivering critical services have been
The major areas where services have been cut include, but are not limited to:
- Primary and Secondary education
- The police
- Social services
Privatization has been a central theme of every National led Government. However this particular one has delved into the privatization of services that even some National supporters have reservations about taking out of the public sector. The Government preference for market led management of the housing situation in Auckland and Christchurch, particularly the latter where a post earthquake housing shortage has inflamed the market to the point that many people simply do not have the means to be in it.
A good example is the privatization of the prisons and their operation, which has led to a bit of a backlash over the handling of prisoner violence at Mt Eden Prison. Despite anger over the mismanagement of the prisons, the Minister has not resigned and Serco still have contracts to manage the corrections system.
Another example is the loss of social services for people in need of help, notably people recovering from gambling, alcohol and drug abuse, but also from violent crime. In Christchurch the Government defunded the Rape Crisis centre, saying that the $30,000 or so needed per annum to keep it operating would be better used in other services, thus depriving victims in their most vulnerable state of a service that has saved lives.
The Government says that it still funds Research and Development programmes to the same extent that it did when it came to office in 2008. However the reality once factors such as inflation have been accounted for is quite different. Like Labour under Prime Minister Helen Clark, and Treasurer Dr Michael Cullen, this Government has in actual fact, done nothing to increase the available funding and has shown a suspicion towards environmental science that has bordered on hostile.
These are just a few examples. They are by no means the only ones. Due to the slow yet steady chipping away at services, much as we often fail to note the creeping shadows in the late afternoon, we fail to note the gradually failing services and the causes of them doing so. And aside from the fact that he made a promise to return New Zealand to a surplus in 2014-15, can we be sure given the influence of background issues such as the Trans Pacific Partnership that Mr English did not have other reasons for doing so?
Was it worth that cost? You be the judge, but I think not.
Could it have been done some other way? Yes, but that is another issue altogether.