Ticking the boxes

Those who love a "to do" list, particularly if it has boxes with things easy to tick off, will welcome the coalition government’s latest April 1-June 30 action plan.

Others might be more inclined to see it as public relations puffery, with the risk some public servants will be so busy providing updates on progress they achieve less than they otherwise might.

It seems presumptuous that in the release of the plan the government has already given itself ticks beside the three headings dividing up the 36 points: Rebuild the economy and ease the cost of living; restore law and order; deliver public services.

It makes some sense for Prime Minister Christopher Luxon to produce "to do" lists with input from National’s coalition partners.

Such plans ensure policies agreed with Act New Zealand and New Zealand First are not lost in translation.

Further, Mr Luxon may be hoping if his two deputy prime ministers feel they are making progress it might stop them running off at the mouth in an undermining way whenever they feel they have been out of the headlines for more than five minutes.

That did not seem to work with the 100-day plan, but Mr Luxon is nothing if not optimistic.

However, it would be more helpful to the public if there was more clarity about what parts of the plan mean so we can understand whether they have been achieved at the end of the next three months.

For instance, one of the action points is to raise the energy New Zealand brings to key relationships through international engagements, focusing on traditional partners, the Pacific and Southeast and South Asia.

Perhaps that means Foreign Minister Winston Peters will be required to water down his whisky with large slugs of energy drinks as he wends his way around the world.

Christopher Luxon. Photo: The New Zealand Herald
Christopher Luxon. Photo: The New Zealand Herald
Another is "initiate the first regulatory sector review", presumably something David Seymour’s regulation busting ministry will do.

But why not spell out which sector is involved?

"Introduce legislation to improve the rental market" could mean anything, although some commentators expect it will involve making it easier for landlords to remove tenants, something not everyone might see as an improvement to the rental market.

Some points on the plan are routine parts of governing, including delivering the Budget and then putting in relevant legislation.

On 12 of the points the government is to " take decisions". We assume this is just business speak for "make decisions", although Mr Luxon’s attempts to explain what it meant in a television interview did not help.

These decision takings will include disestablishing Te Pukenga and consulting on a replacement model, streamlining the Medsafe approval process, the introduction of structured literacy, including a phonics check for year 1-3 pupils, the removal of the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration and measures to increase investment in renewable electricity generation.

There will be considerable interest in the action plan point involving the issuing of a new government policy statement on health, setting out its priorities for the next three years.

So far, the government has been underwhelming in this area, maybe realising that being critical in Opposition is much easier than solving any of the huge problems facing the sector.

Another keenly awaited action plan item will be the response to Sir Bill English’s yet-to-be-completed review of housing agency Kainga Ora’s financial situation, procurement and asset management.

Mr Luxon is often criticised for treating running the government as if he is still the chief executive of a large company. He provides fuel for the fire of that argument when he uses jargon-laden terms such as "ladder up" and "chunking it down".

If we must endure these action plans for the term of this government, they need to be trimmed and comprise clearly explained real actions, and the PM must avoid business speak sloganeering when discussing them.