My great great grandfather Charles George Goldsmith received a bit of attention in the press recently. As I said in my maiden speech in Parliament, ‘He was a typical big-hearted pioneer, and a trader, and over the 50 years or so he lived in New Zealand he had four wives—two Ngāti Porou and two Pākehā—and 16 children. That is the sort of spirit that built this nation’.
I descend from one of the European lines. My great great grandmother, Harriet Wales, had a busy time with eight children.
While I have no Māori ancestry, the East Coast is thickly populated with my Goldsmith kin from the Māori side. Some friendly souls would say I’m part of the wider Ngāti Porou family. Hence the confusion.
Charles Goldsmith had the misfortune of employing Te Kooti as a labourer when he had a store at Matawhero. He accused Te Kooti of stealing his rum – drained through a hollow stem of toetoe plugged into the bottom of the barrel through the floorboards. Te Kooti was exiled to the Chatham Islands. When he returned in arms in 1868 he killed 50 or so men, women and children in what was known as the Matawhero Massacre.
Two of Charles Goldsmith’s children—Maria, aged 15, and Albert, who was just 4 – were amongst those killed. The historian Judith Binney, who supervised my MA thesis, wrote all about it, rather too sympathetically to Te Kooti for my liking.
But that’s ancient history.
They were desperate times. Goldsmith later kept a hotel at Muriwai, south of Gisborne, and had to navigate the long depression that gripped New Zealand from the late 1870s to early 1890s.
I have no idea what they thought about all their trials, but Charles and Harriet, and people of their generations just did their best. They were resilient and determined; prepared to adapt and take huge risks to provide for themselves and their large families.
Without wanting to sound melodramatic, I have a sense that we will need to recapture some of that spirit now – grit, resilience, and determination, a willingness to take risks and work hard.
New Zealand will emerge from the Covid-19 recession with a huge burden of government debt, higher levels of unemployment and many households will have found their wealth and income reduced.
Some commentators will imply there are magical cures out there – the Reserve Bank can just print the money we need, hydrogen or some green energy will transform us – but the reality is that, like every successfully economy, we’ll have to do lots of things and keep doing them better.
National will borrow what we need to get the country back on track. But no more. We can’t just spend with no thought for tomorrow. We can reduce the size of the debt mountain by spending responsibly, with a focus on outcomes rather than the size of the announcement, and by reprioritising nice-to-have spending that might be fine in good times, but isn’t essential.
There’s no kind way to repay debt, but we will need to get on top of it before the next crisis.
Then we need a plan to dig us out of the hole – not turning to the lazy option of new and higher taxes, but returning to that combination of an extended period of budget discipline and a focus on growth that served the country well when John Key and Bill English got on top of the debts taken on during the Global Finance Crisis and Canterbury earthquakes.
For growth we have to move away from the habit of saying no to those Kiwis trying to get on with things – the regulatory mindset against building, developing, trying new things, bringing in capital – and be prepared to say yes.