A mess

The forced release of substance of National’s KiwiSaver policy is a mess. It comes at a time when Labour have got some momentum from the budget, and National needs to be error free.

I said a few weeks ago that I no longer think Labour can win the election, but that National can still lose it. That still holds true in my opinion. Now this episode by itself is not an election loser, but timing is everything in politics. If the TV stations are polling this week (and they probably are based on their normal cycles) then it may not National back a wee bit, and then you get stories about how the race is back on, and that continues to give Labour the momentum they badly need.

One can only feel some sympathy for Kate Wilkinson, even if tempered with some annoyance. Some MPs are known to be prone to speaking before thinking, but Kate isn’t one of them. It was an uncharacteristic mistake, but it really shows the importance of being very very guarded with speculation on policy – especially when Trevor Mallard is in the room! Trevor hasn’t looked this happy since he biffed Tau 🙂

The somewhat ironic thing is that it is a no brainer that eventually National would announce it would keep compulsory employer contributions to KiwiSaver. regardless of whether one approves of the policy, you can’t change it once 600,000 people have made investment decisions based on it. If you were going to not keep the contributions, you would have to have said so almost immediately so that people signing up would be aware that a change in Government would lead to no compulsory employer contribution.

National could have come out and said this at an earlier stage. But it presumably is looking at having some minor differences, and wanted to release a full policy on a timetable of its making. There are in fact two related but different issues with regards to the employer contribution. The first is whether it will be compulsory, and at what rate. The second is what subsidy the Government will pay employers as partial compensation.

John Armstrong makes a fair point:

The more obvious it appears that National is heading into Government and the longer it holds out on clarifying its stance on major policy matters, the more not-so-experienced MPs like Wilkinson are going to come under pressure at such meetings to spell out what the party would do differently.

Vernon Small also makes a similiar point:

But in “clarifying” her blunder National has announced what amounted to a $2 billion spending commitment over four years to a policy which is proving very popular – with 600,000 already signed up – and rather than doing it at a time of their choosing they have been forced to scramble out an announcement as a political save.

I guess that’s what happens in a policy vacuum;  there are just too many things you can’t say and too many things you might say.

To be fair, the budget was only a couple of working days ago, and there is a lot of work to be done on having a balanced alternative budget. So I suspect we will see a focus on policies with relatively minor costs (policy rather than spending) in the immediate future, and then some more of the bigger costing items once the sums are done.

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