Every dark cloud has a silver lining, goes the old adage. But will New Zealand’s political leadership rise to the occasion and be bold enough to put to use Kiwis’ legendary can do attitude to dispel the dark clouds and bring back the sunshine in Cantabrians’ and New Zealanders’ lives?
Last month’s earthquake was this country’s worst ever disaster. At the time of writing, the death toll is still mounting and the cost of the disaster is looking ever more astronomical. The blow is much too hard for a country of this small size at the corner of the world in the midst of one of the worst financial downturns it has seen.
This is not the time for politics, but as it happens, it is always the elected politicians who are in charge of affairs at times like these – and therefore much as one would like to keep politics out of it, it’s simply not possible. But there is good politics and bad politics – the former in the interests of the people and the latter in the narrow interests of self-seeking politicians themselves.
Will New Zealand’s politicians show the equanimity, nerve, intelligence, practicality and put the absolute weal of the people at the centre of the country’s interests? It is important that they do.
The country put much faith in the John Key led National coalition government when it assumed power at the last election. After three successive Labour governments’ leftist largesse ridden economic policies, people’s expectations ran high on Mr Key’s much touted financial nous and expected hard decisions on making long overdue course corrections on the direction the nation’s economy was heading in.
Though the National Party did take some bold decisions, it left many of the more urgent problems in the too hard basket, perhaps with the plan to tackle them with more vigour in its second innings following this year’s election, which it is widely expected to win.
That left the impression in many minds that the National Party’s policies were little more than Labour Lite and its seeming lack of courage to deal with some of the important economic issues headlong betrayed the fact of its helplessness in the face of keeping its coalition partners happy.
It did an about face on the mining issue, no thanks to the greenies’ strong opposition. It also soft-pedaled on the completely impractical ETS, leaving New Zealand to draw a lonely furrow with the rest of the world preferring to play a wait and watch game. That also left New Zealanders holding the can for increased costs in almost every sector of the economy including farming, though not immediately.
The National government would do well to revisit those decisions – especially exploiting our abundant natural resources. We need to remember that it is important to strike a balance between practicality and idealism. If Pike River were an open cast mine as it should actually have been – which extreme green-minded New Zealanders would balk at – we would not have lost the miners.
The government must also revisit the ETS decision while considering ways and means to raise funds for the Christchurch recovery. While there is talk of a levy, cuts to benefits and student loans and the sale of government assets, controversial and unproven schemes like ETS are not on the table – at least not yet.
But what is rather alarming is the government-generated aftershock that is beginning to be felt in Auckland. Though the government says it realizes Auckland is the country’s engine room and is key to the recovery of not only Christchurch but the nation’s economy as a whole, its announcements this week seem to undermine that.
Wellington has indicated possible cuts to or the complete shelving of long planned infrastructure projects in Auckland. Already, constant dithering has delayed Auckland’s critical infrastructure enhancement by decades. That indeed was the raison d’etre for the supercity. And now we have the prospect of Wellington about to play political games with Auckland on the back of the Christchurch tragedy.
While everything must be done to help Cantabrians move on from this heart rending tragedy toward a life as normal as possible, the government must tread a practical and rational path and keep the greatest good of the greatest number at heart. It simply cannot afford to let its boffins play petty games of one up-manship while on the road to recovery.