Oct 8, 2008

Why Is National Allowing Labour To Control The Economic Agenda?

Here we are in the midst of the greatest shock to the global financial system since the 1930s and where is the government response??? Everywhere around the world governments are in crisis mode trying to do something about restoring confidence but all we have here is a government talking about the money being spent, something they seem pleased about because it makes it difficult for the opposition to campaign on the positive agenda of providing support to the productive sector. We welcome National's announcements today on the tax front, but hope they move more onto the front foot during the election campaign about the need to refocus activity away from boosting government to boosting more productive activity. Don't worry about Michael Cullen. He has no credibility left. He has just been forced to admit that he has squandered nine years of good growth. What have we got to show for it? One of the lowest productivity growth rates in the OECD and continuing slippage in the per capita wealth ladder. Why is National not hammering home this message, and why are they not slamming the current crowd over the waste that has occurred under their management?

We have been a little shocked that people appear surprised by what has been revealed by Monday's opening of the books. On 15 March we predicted that Labour would have, by the end of the year, done exactly what happened in 1990 - leave a complete mess that will take National 3 years to clean up. Here were some of our predictions:

This has been a concern around Wellington for a couple of years, a concern which runs well beyond the running down of the state coffers. Aside from leaving things in a general mess, there is a theory that Helen and team are planning to leave behind a couple of policy bombs, policies designed to disable an incoming Government's policy agenda. Free student loans, the new R&D programme, and the new R&D bribe are all mines, but perhaps the effect of the emissions trading scheme will be more shattering. So lets look forward to around 1 December when the new PM and Minister of Finance get their briefings from Treasury on the country's economic situation:

  • inflation continues to run beyond the Reserve Bank's 3% upper limit;
  • new policy programmes announced or implemented over the past few years have greatly reduced the size of the Government's cash surplus;
  • interest rates remain too high, even though the Reserve Bank began easing in the months immediately before the election (in the same way it delayed increases in 2005);
  • growth in the economy has slowed dramatically and it is likely there will be a serious recession;
  • high interest rates continue to leave the dollar higher than fundamentals suggest it should be, but a crash in the dollar value is looking unceasingly likely as concern mounts over the health of the economy;
  • foreign investment in New Zealand has slowed obviously following the Government's rejection of the Canadian purchase of shares in Auckland Airport;
  • unemployment is increasing towards the 100,000 mark. If the exchange rate doesn't start correcting faster ;
  • fuel prices remain high, and once the dollar crashes are set to move even higher, maybe 30% higher ($2.30 per litre is seen as more than likely given the combined effects of the exchange rate crash and the emissions trading regime);
  • the Government's decision to proceed with the emissions trading regime has seen companies freeze investment in existing assets. The cement and pulp and paper industries have announced their intention to close;
  • The Government's purchase of the railways was at an inflated price, and there is no chance of getting a positive return on the investment on the railways and track, a major write down will be necessary, and this will further erode the Government's financial position;
  • Government departments are all signalling that it won't be possible to meet salary increases from within baseline - either staff will have to be shed or programmes curtailed.

What we need right now is not the current vacuum, but real leadership and because it is not coming from the Government lets hope we see it from the opposition. We therefore hope that today's welcome announcement on continuing tax cuts is the start of this leadership.