Political realism needed

Three political parties represented in New Zealand's Parliament have now set out their agendas for the year ahead with only the Government in a position to put into action any of the plans it revealed in a speech by Prime Minister John Key.

Mr Key has made a priority of training and apprenticeships, combining existing schemes and pouring more money into a training scheme whereby employees and workers will receive financial rewards for signing up. The Government has been under fire for a so-called manufacturing crisis as the combined Opposition parties sought an inquiry into the manufacturing industries. The most popular figure is that 40,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared during the John Key-led coalition's four years in office. With New Zealand's unemployment hovering at uncomfortable levels, it needs to be remembered that if every one of those people was still out of a job, the unemployment level would be much higher. Labour and the Greens, natural coalition partners, have been sparring about which one is actually the Opposition in Parliament.

Labour leader David Shearer had an awkward start to his time at the top, facing down a challenge from David Cunliffe initially, followed by whispered rumours that he was a temporary leader as the forces of the left combined to unseat him. His speech at the weekend appeared to end all challenges to his leadership. It was a true speech of Labour, one that concentrated on higher taxes, more political interference in the way New Zealanders live their lives, with an emphasis on creating jobs through supporting the small to medium-sized businesses that make up about 90% of New Zealand's employers. Mr Shearer says people are telling him the current Government has abandoned its role in job creation, affordable housing and stopping people from fleeing the country through lack of opportunities.

A quick look at the last immigration statistics shows, while Australia was seen as the land of plenty, ''ordinary'' New Zealanders are finding it increasingly hard to to make a go of it there. The flood of Kiwis to Australia has slowed and most economists are picking the tide to turn, placing extra pressure on the housing market - in Auckland particularly. Labour has promised to put 100,000 families into new homes of about $350,000 per dwelling. Given the priority placed on easing Auckland's market, it seems unlikely a section and a home can be built in New Zealand's largest city for that amount of money.

The Green Party, fresh from launching a grass-roots campaign to find supporters prepared to help combat the deep pockets of National, wants to stop the sale of the three state-owned energy companies likely to be partially floated on the NZX this year. The party wants to force a citizens-initiated referendum in the mistaken belief the Government will stop the sale. Given the Government has already taken on the Maori Council, right to the Supreme Court, and the fact Mr Key believes the last election was his mandate to proceed with the sales, the money spent on a non-binding referendum will be wasted.

The Greens also wanted the $1 billion-plus CBD Auckland rail link built and the only way it can be funded is with taxpayer dollars. Auckland is a central part of the New Zealand economy, but

better roads, not rail, is the preferred option.

Higher taxes are always an issue. In the United States, it is people earning more than $US400,000 ($NZ479,000) who are deemed to be high income earners, not about $80,000 as in New Zealand. Here, after trying to pay mortgages and bring up families there can be little to spare.

This year, both Labour and the Greens want to stake out ground in preparation for the 2014 election campaign. But Mr Key, by reshuffling his Cabinet and sacking two senior ministers to replace them with younger, fresher faces, is not about to have the high ground taken away from him. Increasingly, he looks likely to lead National into the next campaign and this will be the year when Mr Key pushes policy hard.

As Parliament starts today, the Opposition parties, all of them, need to adopt a dose of common sense and realism if they are to make an impression. Although many voters have a wish list, not many want their taxes to increase to pay for such policies.