POLITICS : When Better Is Better Than More

Article excerpt

Byline: Colin James

Last year John Key, ex-banker, went to his first National party conference as Prime Minister as the adulated winner who had restored the party to power. This year he is the Prime Minister who has taken the party into uncomfortable territory in his dealings with iwi leaders. Next year, will he be the economic game-changing Prime Minister?

KeyCOs prime ministership so far looks like one aimed more at keeping the party in power than at finding pathways to new riches. Trying to finesse Labour through his alliance with the Maori party and koreros with iwi leaders groups in part aims to embed a broader National voting base.

But actually that, plus loose cannoning by Gerry Brownlee on mining national parks and a bumpy road to super-Auckland, have taken some gloss off his popularity and, in consequence, the partyCOs. Many Nationalists like national parks. Many are conservative on, or blind to, Maori aspirations and uneasy with KeyCOs groundbreaking concessions. Super-Auckland stumbles trashed NationalCOs Mt Albert by-election campaign.

National loyalists are much more at home with economic policy. KeyCOs tax cuts will be celebrated at this conference. Nationalists believe, self-interestedly and as an article of ideology, in lower taxes Co though they also believe, self-interestedly, in loopholes and some will lose access to Working for Families credits and student allowances for their kids, along with depreciation on building investments.

But tax cuts donCOt automatically make an economy that will keep those kids in this country. Key has yet to signpost a convincing path back to parity with Australia in standard and quality of life.

So far his focus has been on CymoreCO rather than CybetterCO: more roads Co LabourCOs greatly expanded programme is starting to deliver and National will claim credit Co more broadband, more aquaculture, more dairying, more mining.

KeyCOs own personal mission as Tourism Minister, to bring cycle-tourists to the last bike shed on the planet, will bring some higher spenders than commodity travellers from China. He backs a convention centre. But he has done little else to drive a step-change shift into higher-earning niche tourism.

That is the test of his C[pounds sterling]ambitionC[yen] for his country. CyMoreCO doesnCOt do much for catching Australian real incomes. That needs CybetterCO.

CyBetterCO needs innovation, lots of it, well capitalised. Key so far has been parsimonious there. He is said to be intending to keep tourism in a second term and not switch to science.

That leaves institutional change Co tax and regulation. …