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John MacDonald: Career politicians aren't great, but neither are inexperienced ones

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 9 Apr 2024, 12:39PM
Photo / File
Photo / File

John MacDonald: Career politicians aren't great, but neither are inexperienced ones

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 9 Apr 2024, 12:39PM

Do you reckon politicians stay in the job too long? Christopher Luxon thinks so. And I agree with him. 

Some of them, anyway. They’re a bit like the milk that no one chucks out of the office fridge and one morning you turn-up, go to make yourself a cuppa and there are little floaty bits in your cup. 

That’s kind of what the Prime Minister was getting at yesterday with a comment he made when he was announcing the nine big things he wants the government to achieve over the next six years. 

Targets for government departments to be held accountable to in terms of things like reducing crime, reducing hospital waiting times, improving things on the education front - all that stuff. 

Now you could say Christopher Luxon was being somewhat presumptive giving the current government six years. Because we’ll decide whether it gets six years, won’t we? At the next election. 

But I think, more to the point, he was giving himself six years. Six years to do the job and get out of there and onto the next thing. 

There’s a comment he made yesterday that got my attention. This was during the post-Cabinet media conference. 

He said: “I'm coming from a CEO background, I make no apologies about that. Because it hasn't worked for us the last six years. Having career politicians isn’t delivering results or improved results for New Zealanders.” 

So, there he was telling the country that, if we give him two terms, that will be him done. He’s not interested in making a career out of politics. He wants to do what he can and move on. 

Who knows if he’s thought about it this way. But it’s kind of like he’s approaching things like the US presidency, where a person can have no more than two terms.  

There’s only been one US president who has served more than two terms, by the way. That was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He completed three terms and died just weeks into his fourth term. He’s the only one, though, because shortly after he died the rule was changed to two terms only. 

But back to what Christopher Luxon said yesterday about career politicians not delivering results. 

The politicians he was getting at there are the likes of Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins, who have been politicians forever. Although old Grant is warming his feet under the desk at Otago University.  

But those guys pretty much went to university, graduated, started working for some MP at Parliament and eventually made their way to being selected as a candidate and —boompha— away laughing. Career politicians. 

Unlike Christopher Luxon, for example, who reminded us again yesterday that —compared to others— he’s only been an MP for five minutes. And he reckons that’s a good thing. Because people who make a career out of politics aren’t actually all that interested in making too much of a difference too soon, because they want a job for life. 

And you can understand why some people would see it that way. Your basic backbench MP for example is on just over $160,000. Travel paid for. Accommodation paid for. Pretty sweet deal. And, for some of them, a much better deal than they would get anywhere else. Out in the so-called “real world”. 

But politicians who stick around just to draw the salary don’t do us any favours, do they? And that’s what Christopher Luxon was saying yesterday. That the career politicians who were running the show before now failed to deliver, and they failed us. And he’s here to change that. 

So, I agree with him that some reach the point well-beyond their use-by date. But I think that needs to be balanced a bit too. 

For example, I don't think anyone should be a Cabinet minister until they’ve served at least one term. That’s because it would give them at least three years to get their head around how Parliament works, all the rules and processes, before they find themselves having to make some big decisions. 

So, I don’t think we want our government ministers to be too inexperienced. But I do agree with Christopher Luxon when it comes to things at the other end of an MP’s time in Parliament. And I agree that politicians who do end-up making a career out of it can be absolutely hopeless, can’t they? 

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