The Press on English

September 6th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

editorial:

But perhaps it should not have been because widespread respect for English, following his steady, careful performance as minister of finance through the worst financial crisis of the past 80 years, has been growing. A complimentary remark by a respected American economist on English’s performance at a conference in Sydney recently, was not untypical and it prompted a highly regarded New Zealand economist, Matt Nolan, to comment: “This is not the first time I’ve heard people overseas sing ’s praises [it is probably in double-digits now] . . . we have a finance minister who understands the issues and tries to communicate them clearly.”

English came to office with an economy that had already been in recession for almost a year, when the global financial crisis hit. He had a measure of luck – there was no housing bust and although there were nervous moments, the New Zealand banking system did not buckle. But English responded to the crisis pragmatically and skilfully, avoiding severe retrenchment but focusing determinedly on reducing government debt and balancing the budget. Contrary to opposition propaganda, the government did not bring with it any dogma or hidden agenda.

A shock could, of course, upset things. The balance of payments deficit and overseas debt continue to be relatively high and to cause concern. But English’s overarching goal of getting the Government’s books in order, which looked hopelessly remote five years ago, now seems achievable, if only by a whisker, next year.

No surprise that I agree. Bill English has had the most challenging circumstances of any Finance Minister, and done very well. On top of that he is pushing a micro-reform agenda across Government that is making a difference.

While David Shearer was ultimately brought down as leader of the Labour Party by his woeful public communication, the role of weak, ill-thought-out policy in his downfall has probably been underestimated.

It is a factor the three contenders for the – Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe and Shane Jones – do not seem to have cottoned on to. In the beauty-contest meetings held so far, they appear mostly to have been diverted by essentially trivial issues such as the so-called “man-ban” or by seeing how far they can go in outbidding each other in implausible left-wingery.

The Labour leadership contenders have, in some areas, moved to the left of the Greens. That takes some doing!

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28 Responses to “The Press on English”

  1. Harriet (4,524 comments) says:

    “….But English’s overarching goal of getting the Government’s books in order, which looked hopelessly remote five years ago, now seems achievable, if only by a whisker, next year…..”

    He has clearly done a great job as Australia was never really in such a dire circumstance as NZ was, and Australia’s books could have been in order, yet Australia under Labour have actually made matters worse by spending money and increasing the size of government – the very things that NZ Labour/Greens were telling English to do !

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  2. Yvette (2,692 comments) says:

    … the role of weak, ill-thought-out policy in his [Shearer's] downfall has probably been underestimated.

    So to decide Shearer’s replacement, this is why the three Labour leadership contenders are going around the country offering policies other than what is normally formally established by remits at party conferences?
    This surely by-passes all that ill-thought-out shit Shearer was saddled with! :-)

    I would appreciate it, please, if when DPF does another chart of policies and which each contender stands for, a small extra column could mark with an arseterisk * which policies are actually official Labour policies, if any.

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  3. WineOh (553 comments) says:

    Agreed that Bill English has been a strong Steward of the NZ Economy through a time of global financial turmoil.

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  4. slightlyrighty (2,496 comments) says:

    A lot of the discussion over Shearer was that he was a good man trying to do the right thing in the face of a party and union mechanism demanding ridiculous policy, and that policies such a the living wage and man ban contributed as much to his downfall as anything.

    The fact that all three leadership candidates are seemingly embracing these policies can only serve top dilute any traction that might arise from the profile gained by the contest. The need of all candidates to galvanise the Labour base behind them, and the promises they have to make in order to do this, can only move the center vote to National.

    English’s performance, along with the likes of Joyce, Ryall and Collins, exude competence and for the center vote, give confidence. The same simply cannot be said for the three horsemen of the socialist apocalypse.

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  5. Ian McK (237 comments) says:

    Well written editorial, stating the obvious, but to the useless three out there abusing JK and all in sundry, trying to appease their deadbeat union masters, it will be meaningless. Time the left in this country take a good look at what socialist fiscal policy has done to Aus, a country mineral rich, and once a booming economy, now in tatters, thanks to left-wing policies. The latest outburst of Jones, highlights just how desperate and low these three money-wasting fools are proving to be . . . at taxpayers’ expense, and they are spending thousands per day.

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  6. georgebolwing (611 comments) says:

    I think to suggest that Bill English faced “the most challenging circumstances of any Finance Minister” is going too far.

    Ruth Richardson and Roger Douglas both faced far more difficult situations. Richardson, and her party, had been lied to by the out-going government about the Crown finances, Douglas faced an economy that was completely broken.

    English faced a difficult situation, but he did so with the economic and institutional tools provided by Richardson, Caygill, Birch and Douglas, like the Public Finance Act, the State Sector Act and the Reserve Bank Act, a free-floating currency and an economy that was capable of paying its own way. Standing on the shoulders of giants springs to mind.

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  7. Nigel Kearney (864 comments) says:

    English has done well but the government is still spending far too much. National has failed in the vital broader goal of changing the mentality that everyone is entitled to a handout and the government is there to solve all our problems. They have simply continued the overspending policies of the previous government with somewhat better management of the details.

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  8. scrubone (3,048 comments) says:

    Bill’s done a good job with the finances, but georgebolwing is right – he’s not had the hardest job by a long shot.

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  9. kowtow (7,643 comments) says:

    The economy and the GFC.
    In broad terms the countries that have come through the GFC relatively well have been Canada,New Zealand ,Australia and Germany.

    The three former are all commodity based. We produce things others need.Germany also makes things others need.

    Manufacturing and mining are still vital to economic success.

    Anyone who stands in the way of mining is an economic traitor.

    And obviously on top of that is the vital importance of govt’s not blowing the prosperity that private enterprise creates for society as a whole.That’s where Gillard blew it.On that point the Nats are doing relatively well,but could do better.

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  10. hannity (151 comments) says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  11. marcw (227 comments) says:

    Finally, economic reality strikes The Press, and the lefty garbage that they have spewed out for years and which has almost brought them to their financial knees through alienation of their reader base has been replaced. Now this analysis which has evaded them until the money light at the end of the tunnel had nearly gone out, finally gets a hearing and credit is given where it is due. It could be that what they were seeing and hearing from the three amigos has finally removed all doubt to the lefty old guard that Labour have any of the answers we need for NZ, and those losers deserve no more support. The final straw has been reached. How long before the NZ Herald also sees the light, or are they too entrenched and already terminal?

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  12. queenstfarmer (747 comments) says:

    I am not a fan of Bill English but he deserves credit for this performance. I can only imagine how disastrously different things would be if it had been Labour & the Greens instead.

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  13. Sir Cullen's Sidekick (788 comments) says:

    Bros – You haven’t seen Norman’s skills as finance minister yet…..he will never be short of money as he can always print them on demand!!! I understand he is planning to use 3D printers to print money….

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  14. Rich Prick (1,553 comments) says:

    “As Key is due to pull his usual, cut and run stunt, before the ship sinks, anytime now.”

    Oh stop making shit up. Just how many times has Key resigned?

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  15. kiwi in america (2,437 comments) says:

    I think Shearer knew his own party was dysfunctional but his achievement in defeating Cunliffe at the 2012 Party Conference embolden him a little as to what he could achieve. In reality only a truly charismatic leader with a consistent poll lead over National could’ve exerted enough influence to head off the left wing nuttiness that emanates from the activist base of Labour – the same base that the 3 contestants are tripping over themselves to pander to. It’s good to see sane heads in the media realizing what Labour is doing to itself.

    English exudes ‘steady as she goes’ stability – all good electorally appealing qualities after the twin shocks of the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes. Opposition parties love to hate John Key but by taking on the lightweight and undemanding Tourism portfolio and leaving Finance to unflappable Bill, Key has concentrated on pressing the flesh, managing his Cabinet and strategizing more. English is able to defuse Parker and Norman easily in the House without resorting to the irresistible snark that Key revels in.

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  16. BeaB (2,060 comments) says:

    Some thoughts:

    Bill English is an excellent communicator. Listen to him patiently and steadily replying to the fatuous questions of the Opposition. He knows his stuff and knows how to explain it. His degree in Eng Lit and career in treasury all help.

    He and John Key (and the rest of the team) work together – strong unity, mutual respect and focus on important issues and goals.

    All the Labour candidates for the leadership seem to be doing is repeating ‘John Key’ over and over (they are obsessed!) and vying to give the best speech and the most extravagant promises. I am awaiting the day they all turn on each other.

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  17. AG (1,784 comments) says:

    [DPF: Bill has said he will never seek the leadership in future, or take it]

    Maybe. But remember this statement?

    David Parker has claimed he doesn’t aspire to the leadership, but I’ve never heard an MP admit they do. Remember Winston saying he was happy to be the MP for Tauranga. I’ve seen three coups in my time in National, and they were all denied up to them occurring. If an MP truly wishes to make it clear they are not seeking the leadership, then their denial would take the form of a Shermanesque statement.

    http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2011/03/did_parker_tip_off_hooton.html

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  18. Sir Cullen's Sidekick (788 comments) says:

    The Northland list MP (Shane Porn Jones) unleashed a very personal attack on the Prime Minister.

    “I’m going to tie a bungy cord around a sensitive spot, and then I’m going to get those callipers and cut them, and then the mercenary of capitalism can suffer what he deserves – a dead cat bounce.”

    Shows the calibre and quality of the Labour leader aspirants. God defend NZ if any of these creatures ever get near the power.

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  19. jedmo (30 comments) says:

    What was Jones thinking with that remark? My regard for him as a breath of fresh air; sensible; not captive of impractical left economics; not that my view is of any concern to him ( I’m not in Labour Party, not a voter in his leadership bid). But now view him as an equal tool as the other 2 aspirants

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  20. Ross12 (1,151 comments) says:

    As others have said or alluded to , if we have Fairfax editorial coming out with this, then from NZ’s point of view the crazy circus has not been a waste of time. It has obviously forced some poeple to sit back and think about what has been achieved over the past few years and what might have happened if “the other lot” were in power.
    I don’t many commentators give enough credit to someone or a team that manages to “hold the ship steady” and not let things slip in tough times. I think that can be as good , if not better, than moving forward in the easy and good times.

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  21. lolitasbrother (484 comments) says:

    September 6th, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    It would have to be re-worded of course , but Muldoon went into one election with the slogan
    “Man for Man, the better team”
    Yes English is strong, whereas very shortly Labour will be in more disarray than ever,
    a nasty succession indeed and very good for our Government,

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  22. RRM (9,471 comments) says:

    English has done well but the government is still spending far too much. National has failed in the vital broader goal of changing the mentality that everyone is entitled to a handout and the government is there to solve all our problems. They have simply continued the overspending policies of the previous government with somewhat better management of the details.

    It would have been a far worse failure if the Nats had been voted out in 2011 in favour of a spendthrift left government.

    English and Key have done a magnificent job of turning the ship around, within the realms of what a govt can realistically do while remaining electable to carry on the important work of not being Labour.

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  23. berend (1,634 comments) says:

    DPF: Bill English has had the most challenging circumstances of any Finance Minister, and done very well.

    Really? What painful decision did he have to make? John Key just let him borrow any deficit!

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  24. scrubone (3,048 comments) says:

    Really? What painful decision did he have to make? John Key just let him borrow any deficit!

    There’s a difference between making something look easy, and something being easy.

    Yes, there has been plenty of money borrowed. But the finances are coming back together and large shocks have been avoided.

    Labour’s supporters spent a lot of time telling us that National would give large shocks (usually their reasoning was along the lines of “that’s what National likes to do”) and we all know that had the left been in charge we’d have followed Obama’s path of throwing untold millions away for no result in so-called “stimulus” packages (when are those supposed to be kicking in again?)

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  25. scrubone (3,048 comments) says:

    Maybe. But remember this statement?

    Bill’s been leader, and knows he didn’t perform well. He’s found his niche at no. 2 and is doing well at it. So what reason would he have to seek the leadership again?

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  26. Monique Watson (1,062 comments) says:

    When the evangelizing starts, it’s time to get very very suspicious.
    New Zealand doesn’t have a dynamic economy and Bill English hasn’t been a driver of productivity. For a business to be successful it is always going to be more valuable to increase sales rather than focus on cost cutting to improve the bottom line as English has done.
    It’s obvious to a lot of us expats that New Zealand needs a real kick in the pants to bring it out of hibernation.
    From leaders rather than the current clutch of B Ark managers.
    I think Tony Abbot said it recently ” It’s not the Goodies vs the Baddies it’s Baddies vs Baddies.
    There is some promise. pitching NZ on the world stage as a luxury and retirement destination is a nice move.
    But we need a business environment driven by dynamism rather than than beancounteryism.

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  27. dishy (224 comments) says:

    Monique, I don’t think that likening NZ to a business gets us too far: except to the extent that they do it through tax, businesses don’t have to throw away shedloads of money to beneficiaries (for no return) in order to stay afloat (or, in the case of a Government, in power). Cutting costs that don’t relate to productivity (and arguably relate to unproductivity) is a proper focus for any Government and any business.

    There’s no evangelising, no need to be suspicious, and no need to vote Labour.

    In Australia, Labor were in charge of a thriving economy, and they fucked it up rather nicely.

    National is trying to “increase sales” (to use your term) AND cut costs. It really is that simple.

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  28. tvb (4,210 comments) says:

    English has taken a medium term focus regarding the fiscal consolidation and it now looks he is getting things back into balance. However this has provided the Labour Party an opportunity to promise a big spending splurge. National could be set off against tax cuts which should spike Labour’s plans. However tax cuts do not necessarily harvest many votes and will need careful targeting to be politically effective. One option is to increase the family tax credit and maybe further indexing of tax thresholds and maybe a meaningful incentive uplift in pay to those who delay the age of drawdown of National Super 3-5 years. National should craft its policies to incentives and tax beaks rather than compulsion and prohibitions which is Labour’s way.

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