As National’s Associate Spokesperson for Local Government, I’ve had the good fortune to meet people throughout New Zealand. I have discovered that communities generally have an excellent grasp of the challenges they face and the opportunities they want to take advantage of.
In the regions and in our major cities I’ve met local councillors who have identified how local economies can grow, what the roadblocks are to job creation, and the infrastructure barriers to building more houses.
All these communities are different, but they all share something in common: they haven’t been waiting for central government to take control of their lives; what they have wanted is support that’s targeted and relevant.
Nine months out from the next general election I’m very much aware of how Labour has used its majority in Parliament to ignore this local opinion. Targeted and relevant approaches that champion local initiatives have been considered too small-scale as the government pursues massive change. In the health system and in the way we protect our water, we’ve seen Labour use its majority to drive changes that were never in the minds of the electorate during the last election. Any consultation about this upheaval has been too late in coming and the feedback largely ignored.
So what should the government have been focussing on? One of the core tasks of government should be to support hard-working families and businesses; Ministers need to have a laser focus on the economic health of the country. The cost-of-living crisis that’s stealing money from your pocket by driving up prices everywhere should have been at the top of the government’s agenda. And businesses should have access to the overseas talent they need to grow. Instead, experiments in co-governance took centre stage.
Another core responsibility of government is to ensure our communities are safe to live in. Unfortunately, Labour’s fixation with an asset grab of water infrastructure blinded them to the smash and grab going on in our high streets.
I know this isn’t festive reading as we head into Christmas. But I want us all to reflect on where the government’s priorities were through this year and where they should have been. Most of us are going to come back from well-deserved breaks looking for some positive signs in the economy and fewer signs of lawlessness in our neighbourhoods.
The government knows the clock is ticking as the next election approaches. Is Labour going to do what’s required, or are we going to have more distraction as the country heads inexorably in the wrong direction?
Have a very merry Christmas, and come back in 2023 ready for change.
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