Andrew Dickens: Numbers will be Government's downfall

Author
Andrew Dickens,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Thursday, 24 January 2019, 12:22p.m.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy PM Winston Peters and Green Party co-leader James Shaw.

Numbers - they get you every time.

The problem with numbers is that they don’t fudge.They’re definite. Exact. Numbers don’t lie. But people lie.People fudge. People lie about numbers. People fudge numbers. But numbers are the truth. 

Which is why any politician worth their weight in gold, which is an inexact number, will avoid them at any cost.

It’s a lesson this government fails to learn. The numbers have been causing all sorts of bother this parliamentary term.

This is obviously the very hard lesson Phil Twyford has learnt this week, as the numbers came to bite him on the bum.

There’s no doubt that New Zealand doesn’t have enough housing stock.  There was always doubt as to whether the government should become a private housing developer. 

Nothing wrong with running a social housing programme, but KiwiBuild was always to supplement the private market. There was always uncertainty as to what affordable means. But all that was debatable and defendable.

But as soon as Phil Twyford started putting numbers on it he drew a big target on his back. He promised 100,000 houses in 10 years and 1000 houses in the first year. And so the numbers have spoken and the project is failing and the government looks stupid. As Mr Twyford crumbled yesterday, his leader, the Prime Minister, was shining on the world stage. But not in the media in New Zealand. She must be ropable.

But this government does it every time. Julie Anne Genter announces road safety improvements but she ties it to a zero road toll slogan. Which will never happen. She will fail.

The Finance Minister is also fond of imposing numbers on fluid targets. His commitment to debt reduction and the 20 per cent target or instance. It’s meant for some accounting jiggery-pokery around core Crown Debt and various SOEs borrowing, while pretending not to be the government. Now there’s nothing out of the ordinary about that. Other governments have done it. But the imposition of such a definite, arbitrary target on the debt levels caught them out.

They’ve done it with immigration numbers where apparently we’re aiming for 30,000. Considering our skilled labour shortages that will never happen, again giving the government’s opponents ammunition.

It’s like our idealist politicians pluck numbers out of the air to make catchy slogans that are divorced from reality. 

I think there’s a political lesson here for this government. Watch the numbers or your number's up.

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