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John MacDonald: How hopeful are you New Zealand?

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 24 May 2024, 11:12am
Nicola Willis gives her speech to the Employers and Manufacturers Association. 23 May 2024. Photo / Ben Dickens
Nicola Willis gives her speech to the Employers and Manufacturers Association. 23 May 2024. Photo / Ben Dickens

John MacDonald: How hopeful are you New Zealand?

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 24 May 2024, 11:12am

Who would think that former Finance Minister Grant Robertson and current Finance Minister Nicola Willis could agree on anything? But it seems they do. 

Both of them think that it’s the job of politicians to give people hope. I think that’s wishful thinking on their part. 

When Grant Robertson gave his valedictory speech two months ago before leaving Parliament to become Vice-Chancellor at the University of Otago, he said: “You’ve got to give them hope”. 

He said: “That is our job in this place: to give people hope. To give hope to those who seek a better tomorrow for their families and communities, to give hope to everyone that they can be who they are and live free of discrimination, and to give hope to those who have none.” 

And then yesterday, in her pre-Budget speech, Nicola Willis said the thing New Zealanders need most right now is "hope that tomorrow will be better".  

Well I tell you what, unless Nicola Willis announces next week that the guy with the thick accent who called her on a crackly line from Nigeria saying he had $200 billion to gift to New Zealand - unless she announces that it wasn’t actually a scam and the money’s already in the bank, then don’t expect me to say today that I’m hopeful about where New Zealand is heading. 

And, as for what Grant Robertson said about it being the job of MPs to give people hope - well, that might be the theory, but we’re deluded if we expect politicians to change our worlds. 

I remember on the night of the 1984 election, and I was just about to drop out of school. I say “drop out” because, now that I look back on it, that’s what I was doing. 

I had scraped through three school certificate subjects, failed two, and the last place I wanted to be was school, especially the school I was at. So, my parents agreed to let me leave and start working at the little shop they ran in Dunedin.  

And I remember on the night of that 1984 election, we were all sitting around the TV watching David Lange make his big victory speech and I remember my mother turning around to me and saying that if Labour hadn’t won, I wouldn’t be leaving school. 

That was the hope she had that the change in government was going to make it a better place. As we know, though, that night in 1984 was the starting point in a time of significant upheaval and turmoil. 

Forty years on from then, here we are in another state of upheaval and turmoil.  

And I think Nicola Willis is dreaming if she expects us to have hope. And I think Grant Robertson was big on theory when he said it’s the job of politicians to give people hope - but he was dreaming too. 

Because what gives people hope is sentiment. Not policies, not slogans, and certainly not politicians. And anyone whose hope level is dictated by the weasel words of politicians is only setting themselves up for disappointment.  

So, on the basis of hope being based on sentiment, you’ve got to say that the sentiment right now in New Zealand is far from hopeful. 

And I’m not just basing that on how things are for me, personally, because I’m actually at a stage in life where we no longer have all the expenses that come with having kids at school. We own a house. The big $400-$500 shops at Pak ‘n’ Save only happen during the university holidays, not all the time. 

Yes, things are blimmin’ expensive and we’ve done what a lot of people seem to have been doing recently and we’ve ditched Netflix and Neon and all those things. But that’s largely because we can - not because we have to. Not because it comes down to Netflix or a loaf of bread. 

So you could say that I have more reasons than a lot of people to be hopeful. 

But I don’t. Because I’m looking at this obsession with government cost-cutting and I’m asking, ‘where’s the thinking behind it, other than simplistic numbers and percentages?”. And the answer to that, is there isn’t. 

I’m not hopeful because I look around and see infrastructure falling to pieces around our ears. 

I’m not hopeful because businesses are in survival mode, trying to stay afloat in an oily rag economy.  

And I’m certainly not hopeful when politicians tell me that hope is what I need most, and that they’re going to deliver it. 

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