Magazine article New Zealand Management

Three More Years

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Three More Years

Article excerpt

What does a third-term government do? History offers some lessons. Sir Keith Holyoake won his third term in 1966 just as the terms of trade turned sour and the economy turned down.

He called a nine-month-long national development conference of all economic interest groups to do some "indicative planning" and set 10-year targets. He scraped a fourth term in 1969.

Sir Robert Muldoon managed to win a third term in 1981 amid roaring inflation and rising debt driven off a chronic balance of payments deficit.

He did have some new policy: during 1981 he concocted a "think big" programme of state-subsidised energy and heavy industrial development.

But "think big" did not rescue the economy. It eventually became a heavy cost on the Exchequer. Meanwhile in 1982 Muldoon gave up on serious long-range economic policy and retreated into a dead-end, wage-price-rent-interest freeze.

Jim Bolger won a third term in 1996 only by doing a very detailed deal with Winston Peters which hamstrung his government. Jenny Shipley turfed Bolger out in exasperation but then couldn't get policy traction running a minority government.

For Labour a third term is novel. It has not had one since 1943-46. Between times it fell into the habit of cramming its programme into a term or two because it couldn't count on more.

So Helen Clark is in largely uncharted territory. What is she to do with an extra three years?

Break that question down into types of activity and policy. Different types predominate at different times in a government's life and to accommodate differing combinations after elections.

The highest-profile policy type is manifesto law-change commitments, such as Brash's election promises of lower taxes and abolition of the Maori seats.

These are high-energy matters and stir up heated argument, as Labour found when it re-regulated the labour market in 2000 and when it backed civil unions in 2004.

Labour has nothing left in that line. The Greens have plenty, New Zealand First has some, not to mention the Maori party--but they are tails, not the dog.

Of course, there is the completion or continuation of original manifesto commitments. Labour's second term essentially completed the 1999 manifesto and Clark's third-term election promises boiled down to continuing down the path she set in the first two terms. …

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