I was planning to write this post-election Hobson article from inside a reinvigorated National-led government, working with our fine leader Bill English to build on the success this country has enjoyed these past few years, continuing to grow the economy and address long-standing social issues.
But it hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, I’m preparing to travel to Wellington for the opening of Parliament as a member of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
They say there are stages one goes through, when something bad happens. I think I’m still in the ‘rage’ phase. Everything’s irritating me – the long, wild grass that has taken over Mt Hobson since the cattle have been pointlessly removed; the endless announcements by new Government ministers of new reviews into old problems; the incessant rain.
I’m sure it will pass.
There are some upsides to Opposition. First, I will spend more time at home, here in the Epsom electorate, as I’ll no longer need to spend Mondays in Wellington for Cabinet meetings. It’s good for family life, and it allows me to devote more time to local issues, continuing to be based in our office at 107 Great South Road, near the Market Road shops. My door remains open for locals to share their views.
Second, while the primary role of Opposition MPs is to hold the Government of the day to account, it’s also a time to think and to listen. I’ll be using these years in the wilderness to prepare for our return to government.
The core challenge is timeless, but needs to be re-thought regularly – how to maintain and improve our international competitiveness. Some members of the new government appear to take our relative prosperity for granted. Everyone, it is asserted, deserves higher incomes. Those higher incomes, of course, first have to be generated in a competitive world.
Second, the long term challenge of helping people off welfare and into work has to remain a focus. In government we made real progress, such as the huge drop in the numbers of children being raised in benefit-dependent households. I fear many of these gains will be lost if the Greens’ belief in ‘no-questions-asked, long-as-you-like’ welfare predominates.
Thirdly, in Opposition we should think creatively about how we can do more to help those outside the property markets to feel they can gain a stake in society, particularly the younger generation. Historically low interest rates have led to asset-price inflation all over the world – increasing wealth inequality (as opposed to income inequality). We’re dealing with massive international forces, exacerbated by self-defeating local factors which artificially raise the cost of new housing. We’ll support proposals from the new government that will help, oppose those that won’t, and take the time to develop fresh thinking.
I’ve been given the Opposition spokesperson roles for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and Arts, Culture and Heritage. I’ll write more about those topics in future columns.
There are many conversations to be had over the coming months and years. I do look forward to hearing your views.