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It is interesting how much can get achieved in the heat of an election campaign.
In fact, if elections were held every year, it would seem New Zealanders would have every possible problem fixed, every wish granted, every dream realised. (Quite how much that would cost is another thing entirely, of course.)
The promises (dare we call them bribes?) are rolling in, and with them some surprising U-turns and bottom lines.
In the face of growing calls to do so, the National-led Government has steadfastly refused to commit to introducing a target to reduce child poverty — a puzzling stance given its target-driven stance to most policies.
Yet, during the second leaders’ debate this week, Prime Minister Bill English unexpectedly committed to lifting 100,000 children out of poverty. He said the Government’s families package (announced in the Budget in May) would lift 50,000 out of poverty and further initiatives could double that if the party was re-elected.
Suddenly on the back foot, as National (yet again) stole Labour’s traditional ground, its new leader Jacinda Ardern said her party would meet the same numbers — albeit using different figures to measure poverty.
The pair quibbled over the numbers of those in poverty, but the fact is a seismic shift has occurred and the potential outcome is far-reaching.
Whether or not the promises and individual policies can make the difference to need for the hundreds of thousands of children living in some form of material hardship in New Zealand has yet to be seen, of course. It would be cruel indeed, if the words were hollow, but New Zealanders have the promises on record now.
There will be an expectation on whatever major party forms the next government they make good on that particular promise, and remedy one of the most visible representations of the inequality issue — one which shames us as a caring, supposedly egalitarian society.
Reputations are now being staked on quick-fire answers and throwaway comments — as much as on considered attacks and defences.
The jury remains out on whether Finance Minister Steven Joyce has blotted his copy book with his comments about Labour’s $11million ‘"fiscal hole". While noting there are differences in the way Labour has made its allocations, several leading economists have backed its fiscal plan — including those whom Labour commissioned to do an independent audit of it. Steven Joyce and Labour’s finance spokesperson Grant Robertson are now locked in a war of words, many of which will be lost on many voters.
Ms Ardern, meanwhile, is being forced day by day to reveal more than she wants to about Labour’s possible capital gains tax plans.
That might not be her hardest sell. She also made a sudden pronouncement at the second leaders’ debate: that she would resign rather than raise the age of superannuation.
While unions, blue collar workers and Maori and Pasifika want to keep the age of entitlement at 65, there is a growing concern from other quarters that our ageing population simply cannot continue to bear that burden. She has now locked herself into a corner.
Of course, the same promise worked for John Key, although his successor, Mr English, was quick to indicate he would raise the age to 67 — albeit the changes would not start to be phased in for another 20 years.
It seems some fundamentals are destined to be fought out to the bitter end. But some would surely benefit from cross-party collaboration, particularly those that take years to implement, and those policies of crucial importance to us all. Superannuation and child poverty are such significant contenders.