Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Cam Slater: Grant Robertson's legacy

Heather du Plessis-Allan thinks Grant Robertson was a great bloke, but a poor Finance Minister. I’m not sure he was what I’d call a great bloke, but she’s right, he was a poor finance minister.

Commentators find it difficult to criticise Grant Robertson. It’s because pretty much everyone likes him.

So let’s get that out of the way. Grant Robertson is a great bloke. He is fiercely funny, generous and loyal to his mates. He’s the kind of guy you enjoy having a beer with. He will never again have a beer with me after this column, I suspect.
NZ Herald

I’m not one of those commentators. I have never liked him. I always thought he believed, (falsely it turns out), that he was the epitome of Machiavellian politicians. Except he wasn’t. Sure, he thought he was all that and a bag of chips, but in reality he was lazy and not particularly bright. He was just slightly brighter than the average dolt inside Labour.

He’s also a very canny politician. Possibly one of the smartest of his generation. He’s enough down to earth to be liked by voters from the other side, enough of a populist to know what wins elections, the kind of rare strategic thinker to know exactly how to pull off a stunt, and the kind of brilliant debater who strikes devastating blows on the other team.
NZ Herald

Yeah, Nah. You know how I know he’s not smart? His little games never actually worked and his strategies to ascend to leader always failed. I remember once a Labour snitch telling me it was him who set up David Shearer to appear in parliament holding up two dead fish. It was all part of Grant’s plan to become leader. He is said to have propped his feet up on the desk and exclaimed that all he had to do to become leader after that cunning stunt was to sit back and wait. Well, he’s still waiting.

But he was a terrible Finance Minister.

Robertson took the Government’s net debt from $5 billion in 2019 to a projected $93b this year.

Taking on that debt wasn’t his crime, because debt itself isn’t a bad thing.

His crime was he frittered those billions away on nothing.

A fraction of it he spent admirably, on saving businesses and jobs during Covid. But those Covid payments cost us a total of only $20b. That accounts for only 23 per cent of the debt he racked up. What did he spend the remaining 77 per cent on?

What can we point to and say ‘Grant paid for that’?

His response to Covid was fine but no more. He pumped out money, fast. That’s not hard. It also wasn’t novel. It was an orthodox response. Australia announced its Covid support payments nearly a week before ours. Canada did it. The UK did it. South Korea did it, etc.

Pointing to the ratings agencies as a measure of Grant’s success as a Finance Minister — as Chris Hipkins has this week — is silly. Part of what the ratings agencies measure is our debt levels. That’s what keeps them happy. Even now that Grant has blown our debt out, it’s still low by global comparisons because previous finance ministers, who were actually good at their jobs, kept it low.

Again, the crime is not that our debt went up, it’s that he blew it out with nothing to show for it. Having a moderately sized mortgage isn’t bad, as long as you have a house to show for it. We don’t have a house.

Some have tried to blame Grant’s Cabinet colleagues for the profligate spending of the sixth Labour Government. Nup. It’s still his fault. Every Finance Minister in history has had colleagues demanding dollars. Bad finance ministers say yes. Good ones say no. Robertson said yes.

He said yes to Michael Wood’s bike bridge, which is the perfect example of wasteful spending. It was a stupid idea. It cost us more than $51m in consultants and rented office space. Then it was canned. We spent money and we have nothing to show for it.

The implications are serious. We now don’t have enough money to pay the nurses their backpay or the police the pay rise they’re due. Or the GPs.

Robertson has the ignominy this week of commentators on the right asking “Who was the worst Finance Minister: Grant Robertson or Sir Robert Muldoon”?

That’s unfair to Muldoon. At least we got something for the vast amounts of money he spent. The Clyde dam, the expansion of Marsden Point, the synthetic petrol plant at Motunui.

At least we can point to an actual structure and say Muldoon bought that.

Grant left nothing. Not even an idea.
NZ Herald

And now Grant Robertson has gone from the best job anyone in Labour has ever had, except the Prime Ministership, and gone to the best job he will EVER have, getting paid more than the Prime Minister, to lead a debt-ridden, poorly performing university.

I shudder to think what his prescription for success will look like on the university’s books by the time he finishes up that sinecure position.

Grant Robertson was way worse than Muldoon because at least Muldoon left a legacy which, ironically for all those who opposed his Think Big projects, now powers their electric smug-mobiles.

I suspect many commentators like Grant Robertson too much to truly call it. He wasn’t a great Finance Minister. Not even close.
NZ Herald

Yep, I was saying that the day he quit…and for months before. He was a bad Finance Minister and an economic saboteur.

Cam Slater is a New Zealand-based blogger, best known for his role in Dirty Politics and publishing the Whale Oil Beef Hooked blog, which operated from 2005 until it closed in 2019. Cam blogs regularly on the BFD - where this article was sourced.


Anonymous said...

Cam - it is interesting that 'the back stabbers of NZ' always go after Robert Muldoon - but if he did not advance "Think Big" then as you stated we may have never scaled the heights of industrial progress.

To think that Roger Douglas came along, his "mantra" to destroy what Muldoon did - then created the "Closer Economic Relations (CE)" with Australia - to which we watched as Australian Business flew in - and we lost out. Think Banks people, the Taranaki Savings Bank (TSB) said NO - thus remained the only NZ owned Bank from then on.
At this point, New Zealander's need to look at how many of NZ Business operations are now owned by Australian Business. Thanks Roger.

Along came Dr. Michael Cullen (Academic) - Finance Minister, Helen Clark Govt (1999 - 20080) and at the end of that tenure was "reported to have left NZ in a financial mess", that John Key had to work with. Odd that, as we now have the Coalition Govt having to work with the same and/or similar mess.

It is okay Cam, Otago will allow Grant R. to operate a 'petty cash tin', for his domain, as Vice Chancellor.

Anonymous said...

After the worst pandemic in 100 years, when ICU beds were critical, how many new ICU beds are there ???
None, I believe.
Billions wasted on woke idealism that shows nothing for it, but a relatively simple ICU beds,nah, but maybe Robertson wasn't going to allow for any medical staff anyway.