2025: A New Zealand policy odyssey - The Centre for Independent Studies
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2025: A New Zealand policy odyssey

In an interview on Radio New Zealand, Chair of the 2025 Taskforce, Don Brash, was asked why this year's report, recently released, offered much the same prescription as last year. He replied that it would look pretty funny if the taskforce had decided that in 12 months, its recommendations had become nonsense!

Dr Brash is of course right: good ideas are good ideas regardless of the prevailing winds of intellectual fashion or unpopularity.

The taskforce's raison d’être is to recommended ways the government can help lift New Zealand's living standards to those of Australia by 2025. In the taskforce's first report last year, its ideas were decried as '1980s thinking,' implying that the ideas, like 1980s fashion, were self-evidently outdated.

The rationale and recommendations in both years' reports were broadly as follows: According to the OECD, New Zealand's government/GDP ratio is about 45% compared with 35% in Australia. This is far too high for a government that delivers far too little. Therefore, the public and private spheres should be redefined so that government policies and regulations encourage investment in business, efficiency in public policy, and public provision where applicable. In short, shrinking the size of government and liberalising markets ought to do the trick.

Both are excellent reports. Perhaps because Dr Brash has been saying the same thing for years, he was ignored, or worse pilloried.

So this year the taskforce sought to better explain its ideas, so that people might judge them on their merits, not as some fossil bearing an eerie resemblance to the ghosts of decades past. Again, the media portrayed it as a 'failed policies of the past' report – a predictable relic of a bygone era.

The fashionable nature of ideas is an interesting phenomenon. There seems to be an assumption that old policies are no longer any good – perhaps due to changed circumstances or because they were unpopular in the first place. Indeed, there is sometimes a tyranny of the present where the modern zeitgeist is presented as the only acceptable set of ideas to the contemporary person.

This is certainly what the government has indicated in again paying scant attention to the taskforce it commissioned.

Luke Malpass is a policy analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.