Andrew Dickens: Can this government be transformational?

Andrew Dickens,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 5 February 2019, 12:49PM

Last week at this time I criticised the Prime Minister for not appearing for her regular Tuesday state of the nation interviews with the country’s electronic media. She had a logic for it but I said it didn’t make political sense. Her government is under attack on many fronts and after near enough two months of silence I thought it time she stood up and defended her beleaguered policies.

Well today she turned up for her first of the year. It’s February 5th. But anyway she’s back and I think it’s fair to say that she didn’t take advantage of the opportunity and re-energise her supporters or the country.

This was most evident when Mike Hosking asked why how the government got the immigration numbers so wrong. If you missed the story, the statistical methodology has been changed and under the new method net migration is less than it was previously thought to be. Depending on which statistician you listen to the numbers are down 10 to 20 thousand people.

What followed between Mike and Jacinda was a mind numbingly boring discussion on what the numbers were which reminded me of two statisticians arguing about how many eggs were in a carton. 12 or a dozen. You could hear the listeners up and down the country screaming at their radios.

A more fluent leader would have had some fun with that one. “What’s the problems Mike? Less immigrants means we need to build less houses and the crisis will end sooner. Next question?”

This bugs me because this is a self proclaimed transformational government. Labour governments often are. Savage’s welfare state, Douglsas’ neo liberal unbundling of the economy.  Meanwhile, National governments like to manage and keep their eyes on costs and not scare the horses. That’s why the last National government didn’t work that hard on RMA reform even though they went on about it for a decade.

But this government is definitely transformational. They want change. But when confronted with change the electorate is often spooked. When the electorate hears change, in their head they think it won’t work.

This is a government that has been talking change but promoting it terribly, just look at the Kiwibuild saga.

But the biggest change of all could be their plans for a new tax system. The tax working group has presented it’s report in the past week and we’ll get to see it on February 21st.

So far the only transformation talk we’ve heard is the introduction of a capital gains tax and that definitely spooks the electorate. And the government’s opponents have already started chanting More Tax, More Tax. Even though the government says it has to be revenue neutral. In other words the government can collect no more tax than it already does. This stipulation has been sold terribly.

You know, the Taxpayers Union sent me a booklet the other day explaining their view on a capital gains tax and they actually said they could support it under five conditions and one of the five was revenue neutrality. It seemed amazing to me that the nations most organised haters of taxation have so far in this debate been the best promoters of a capital gains tax there has been.

A well designed Fair Capital Gains tax could indeed be transformational. A well designed Fair Capital Gains Tax could be a very good thing. A well designed Fair Capital Gains Tax could send capital to where it’s needed like companies and jobs instead of into hidey holes like property. But at the moment I don’t think the government has the leadership or communication chops to get a Fair Capital Gains Tax across the line.

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