No more one pagers please

Colin James has beaten me to the punch, on the issue of ’s one page papers:

So in behind the bland one-pagers lies quite a lot of study, consultation with outsiders and internal shadow cabinet debate. A 34-page paper backed the workplace relations one-pager. Law and order policy was well footnoted.

That applies in all major policy areas. In some, such as education, welfare and the environment, the background papers have been reworked over some years. Immigration and local government papers have been honed down. In some, as in housing, science and in a complex set of policies on infrastructure, some work remains to be done. In some, the background is essentially a statement of principles.

In 2006 Key, freshly leader, backed an English programme to publish discussion papers, to be refined into policy after feedback (much as Kevin Rudd did in Australia). But only a handful emerged before the health paper’s bungled release last September abruptly ended the process. Now some policy is being released without the supporting papers. Outsiders have to take on trust that the policy is based on solid thinking. Key read out to me the workplace relations paper’s headings but I have not seen it.

Having previously worked in Parliament, I was pretty certain that there was a lot of work and detail behind the one page policy summaries, and Colin has confirmed this is the case – which is good.

99% of NZers are not interested in the details. In fact they won’t even remember too much from the one pagers – the average voter will have a vague idea of half a dozen key policy pledges probably.

But the 1% do not want the detail behind them. The 34 page backgrounder on workplace relations for example probably has some great details on how the 90 day trial period works overseas, the issues around the Holidays Act etc. Releasing the background paper doesn’t detract from the one page summary – it complements it. It demonstrates the work done by Spokespersons and staff over the last two years.

Yes, Mallard will jump up and down over a minor detail on page 27 and scare monger about it. But Trevor will scare monger on the smell of an oily rag. Don’t let the fear of scare mongering detract from showing to pundits and the public that the policies National is campaigning on are based on extensive research.

So can we have the full policy background papers please. If you don’t want to release them on the day of the main policy that is fine, but can we have them at some stage.

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