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The BulletinApril 11, 2023

Political sagas a distraction from real issues

Spiral clock
(Image: Getty)

With six months to go before the election, 39 sitting days left and the cost of living top of mind, there are calls for politicians to refocus, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.


Just 39 sitting days left for parliament before election

Today marks 100 days until the Fifa World Cup. A new chant, “The Unity Beat” will be unveiled this morning. On Friday it will be six months until the general election. As far as I know, no chant is being especially created for that but drums are beating and clocks are ticking. This year, the plan is for the house to rise on August 31 and the 53rd parliament to be dissolved on September 8. There are now just 39 sitting days left. A more imposing deadline looms before then, as BusinessDesk’s Ian Llewellyn reports (paywalled). Ministers and government departments have been told that they have until April 17 to get their legislative bids in for the 2023 year. The usual evaluation timeline has been disrupted due to the government’s programme of reprioritisation.

OCR rise should have been all politicians were talking about last week, and yet…

The reprioritisation programme was signalled before Jacinda Ardern resigned but gained its “bread and butter” focus with prime minister Chris Hipkins’ first press conference in January. Polling continues to position the cost of living as the issue most likely to influence the vote of New Zealanders this year, the rise in the official cash rate (OCR) last week hammering that home. In a great column framing the political “drama” that has dominated the last couple of weeks, the Herald’s Claire Trevett (paywalled) wrote that the OCR rise and flow-on impacts “should have been all any politician was talking about,” yet the “crybaby” WhatsApp message from Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere “capped off a week in which there had been a lot of talk by politicians about focusing solely on the issues that mattered to New Zealanders, all the while mainly talking about issues that did not really matter at all.”

Not the Reserve Bank’s job to be popular

Trevett argues Hipkins needs to refocus and that announcing changes to the rules for lobbyists “shouldn’t be your headline move in a week in which the OCR ratchets up again.” And it may continue to rise. Most economists are pencilling a 25 basis point increase in May but Infometrics’ Brad Olsen says that we can’t write off a further larger increase”if inflation surprises on the upside in a few weeks and retail banks don’t keep interest rate pressures high.” The next round of inflation data is due next week on April 20. None of this is politically advantageous for the government, nor popular but as The Herald’s Liam Dann reminds us (paywalled), it’s not the Reserve Bank’s job to be popular.

Lack of competition at heart of cost of living crisis

As Stuff’s Tina Morrison writes, the government is facing increasing pressure to address the cost of living in a tangible way, beyond raising benefits or superannuation payments. University of Auckland economics professor Robert MacCulloch says welfare payments don’t address the root cause of the cost of living crisis and that a lack of competition is at the heart of that. MacCulloch doesn’t think either of the main political parties really know how to address that beyond market studies which commentators say have had little impact. Simplicity’s Sam Stubbs says the government could encourage competition through regulation. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how they could factor into the government’s legislative programme with so few sitting days left and hefty work like Three Waters and the Resource Management Act reforms still on the slate.

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