Politics : Now the Shouting Is Over

By James, Colin | New Zealand Management, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Politics : Now the Shouting Is Over


James, Colin, New Zealand Management


Byline: Colin James

Elections might change Parliaments but they don't dispose of issues. And there are some whoppers.

First, the economy must navigate the flash flood that followed the bursting of the debt dam.

Step one was the immediate assurance of credit and avoidance of a spiral of consumer and business confidence. Step two is to convert stopgap, on-the-hoof decisions during the election campaign into durable policy settings that don't take us back to the counter-productive interventions of the 1970s and early 1980s.

If there is not an early exit from the sweeping taxpayer guarantees for banks and near-banks, there is great potential for serious and perverse distortions of lending patterns and for moral hazard.

But New Zealand will not be able to exit to sanity until Australia does and Australia will not be able to move until the big northern-hemisphere countries decide they have got workable long-term regulatory systems.

That will need, first, a recovery of trust -- which may be some time coming. The viral spread of the credit crunch exposed the complexity of, and the interdependencies in, the world financial ecosystem.

Piecemeal regulation -- by institution, sector or country -- won't fix that broken complex system. The danger is that countries will be tempted after a time to look to their own interests, which may, perversely, turn out to be bad for their interests.

New Zealand is caught up in this international web. Moreover, its supply chains in and out are long and complex.

That leads to the second post-election i ssue: the need to build international relationships, secure trade deals and get taken more seriously than four million people merit.

That is at three levels: bilateral, particularly with Australia and major trading and financial partners, from China to the United States; pluri-lateral, with like-minded groups of countries which want to keep their economies open; and multilateral, in the many international forums, where seats on committees, especially agenda-setting ones, are crucial.

That is hard work and needs a properly resourced foreign ministry (unlikely, judging by the main parties' pre-election positioning).

One topic demanding this combination of luck, skill and international good citizenship is climate change -- the third big issue. There is a risk to New Zealand's brand if, once the economic crisis has faded, the major countries resume talks on a post-Kyoto deal. …

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