‘The first 100 days’, an expression coined by President Roosevelt in 1933, is generally used to describe the successes and accomplishments of a government at the time when their power is greatest.
During the 2008 election campaign, John Key issued a document that promised to bring in 27 new policies in the first 100 days in order to provide ‘confidence that we had a plan and that we would implement it with urgency’. His roadmap was designed to help NZ ride out the financial crisis. The incoming Key Govt did implement their 27 new policies, but while rather innocuous, they set the scene for tax cuts for the wealthy, increases in GST for all and a raft of other measures that benefited the few and disadvantaged many.
Now, finally, in the spot light is another insidious crisis that the policies of this Key government has amplified and that needs to be addressed with the same vigour and energy as any financial malaise: that of inequality.
We now live in a country where 10% of the population own 50% of the wealth and where the top 1% own 3 x as much wealth as the bottom 50%. In fact, by many measures, we now have one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. This is a disgrace that needs to be remedied. In a country like New Zealand we don’t have to chose between fiscal responsibility and social accountability: we can have both.
This is why I would argue that the first 100 days are extremely important to any Labour-led government because the country is at a philosophical crossroads where if changes aren’t made in urgency, the status quo is in danger of becoming the norm as peoples expectations adjust to acknowledge the situation where inequality is ‘acceptable and inevitable’. The Minister of Finance already has.
So what should a Labour-led government promise to do within this timeframe? Keeping in mind that 100 days after the election will take the country up until Christmas.
Whatever Labour does up until election day, it has to be bold in order to capture the imagination of the electorate in a way that gets them out to vote. I am not talking about political expediency, but rather implementing a social democratic agenda that will benefit a significant proportion of the population, while no doubt, raising the ire of a significantly smaller percentage: and unapologetically so.!
There are three key themes that every new policy must at least meet one in order to tackle the issues around inequality:
- money in the back pocket of good hard-working kiwi men and women
- alleviate the scourge that is child poverty
- create sustainable, well-paid jobs.
If a policy doesn’t tick at least one of these, then put it in the second draw for implementation during the 2nd or 3rd 100 days.
So below are some ideas; not exhaustive, but simply a few that immediately come to mind:
- money in the back pocket of good hard-working NZers.
- Immediately legislate to increase minimum wage to at least $16/hour with a promise to review this after 6 months.
- Immediately implement the living wage for all government employees and contractors.
- Overhaul monetary policy settings in a way that allows the Governor of the Reserve Bank to manage settings for more than just inflation and provides him with a wider range of tools than just the OCR.
- Announce, set up and drive forward a Tax Commission with a mandate to undertake a complete overhaul of the NZ tax system without the constraints of the last one (where a whole raft of measures, including a capital gains, were off the table). Promise that this overhaul will ensure that companies and individuals currently ripping off, avoiding and evading the present system will be held to account, and everyone will be required to ‘pay their fair share’. I would love to promise to implement a capital gains tax within the first 100 days, however, I don’t believe that a CGT can be comprehensively designed, let alone legislated in without a much wider overhaul of the whole tax system, and this simply can’t be done in the first 100 days (but must be done in the first 365) – a separate post on my ideas around recommended changes to the tax system will come later.
- Legislate for compulsory superannuation with a graduated plan over the next 12 years that takes employer and employee payments to the same level as the Australian plan
- Implement the Power policy and ensure that the first power bills are lower than the last under a National government
- Address child poverty
- Take Dr Russell Will’s Child Poverty report with its 78 recommendations and implement the ‘first step’ and the ‘Initial priorities for immediate attention at relatively low cost’, while also putting in place a plan with a defined timeline to implement the ‘Initial priorities over the longer term’.
- Use the rest of the report’s recommendations as the blueprint for a series of policies that will be implemented over the course of the first two terms of a Labour-led government.
- Implement policies that will create 50,000 new jobs within 300 days. For example
- Ensure that the Kiwibuild policy (10,000 new homes a year) is up and running and that anyone under contract to build these houses is compelled to take on apprentices (including all sub-contractors)
- Joint venture with major infrastructure companies on a massive road building and upgrade system across the country (roads cost about 3 to 4 x the cost to build in NZ than they do in, for example, Australia). In fact, I would instigate a Ministry of Works with an operational mandate to drive down the cost of infrastructure builds in NZ. If this means building roads themselves, then so be it.!
- Start the forestry planting programme and ensure that at least one significant wood processing company is signed up to build a major value-adding plant in regional NZ.
- Recapitalise Kiwibank to the tune of at least $2b specifically for business lending at the rate of inflation to companies that are gearing up for expansion. And the government’s investment will be actively managed through the provision of competencies that many companies don’t have the ability to access (international trade development and market development managers etc etc).
- Rebuild NZ Trade and Enterprise from the ground up and reorient the mandate to one of active international market development and innovation rather than one of simply support.
Labour needs to be unapologetically… Labour… in its policy settings and election manifesto. There will be a financial cost to any innovative programme, however, there will also be increase in govt revenue. This doesn’t mean being reckless with taxpayers money, but prudent on one hand and visionary in a way that takes people along on the other.
My interactions on the doorstep so far tell me that voters are looking for the type of leadership that Labour has provided in the past, and a passion, vision and commitment that Labour will take into the future.