Amid bad economic news at home, it’s tempting for a leader to head abroad


John Bishop is a veteran politician from Wellington, who helped found the New Zealand Taxpayers Union. He never joined any political party. He is the father of National List MP Chris Bishop.

OPINION: Crisis: A period of intense difficulty or danger. Looking at the media headlines over the past two weeks, we have had, or are having, several crises.

Hospital staff are said to be “on the verge of exhaustion” and the shortage of specialists means that hospitals “cannot provide safe and quality care”. Health Minister Andrew Little said the system as a whole was doing well. A Waikato District Health Board staff member said it was “beyond a crisis”.

Thank goodness the DHBs have been removed. More jobs in a Wellington bureaucracy will undoubtedly improve the position of frontline staff.

Last week, a human rights crisis was declared based on data from the Human Rights Measurement Initiative. Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt said the simple test was whether children or whānau depended on charity for the basics of life. If so, the government is failing in its human rights obligations.

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The government has failed this test.

In other areas, the “shortage of relief teachers is critical”, and firefighters are overstretched and overworked. Prisons are “extremely dangerous as staff are quitting en masse” and schools are “at breaking point” due to health and staffing issues.

In April, 100,000 Kiwis left New Zealand, “part of a wider brain drain”, said economist Brad Olsen. Our best and brightest go abroad, some at least disappointed by the prospects in New Zealand and able, through their education and skills, to obtain higher salaries and access to greater prospects elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, because inflation is at 6.7%, its highest level in 30 years and higher than most trading partners. Blame our accommodative monetary policy; rising interest rates will hurt GDP growth and lower property prices.

Falling consumer confidence means less spending, which threatens jobs in retail, hospitality and services in general, writes John Bishop.

Ricky Wilson / Stuff

Falling consumer confidence means less spending, which threatens jobs in retail, hospitality and services in general, writes John Bishop.

Consumer confidence is at the lowest level since the Westpac McDermott Miller survey began in 1988. This means there will be less spending, which threatens jobs in retail, hospitality and services in general.

In terms of competitiveness, we are lagging behind the rest of the world. We now rank 31st out of the 63 most important countries, according to the Swiss Institute for Management Development. Australia is 19th.

Our economic performance has plunged over the past five years, falling from 33rd to 47th place. In the same survey, government effectiveness also deteriorated markedly, falling from 7th to 17th place.

For a beleaguered head of government, conducting diplomacy in person on the world stage has seductive charms that few national leaders can resist, and our Prime Minister is not one of them.

It’s especially tempting when things aren’t going so well at home (and they’re not right now). Going on a supposedly important mission to see a series of world leaders is good for a leader’s self-esteem.

I accompanied Prime Ministers Rob Muldoon, David Lange and Geoffrey Palmer on five international projects in the US, UK, India, Ireland and Germany. In my experience, the accompanying media will never write off a Prime Minister’s trip as a waste of time, even if nothing very tangible happens.

John Bishop: ''Our economic performance has plummeted over the past five years.''

JERICHO ROCK-ARCHER/Stuff

John Bishop: ”Our economic performance has plummeted over the past five years.”

No journalist will ever tell their editor that sending me abroad was a waste of money. Better to say that diplomacy is a series of small steps that accumulate over time.

Jacinda Ardern has been to the US, got to see Joe Biden, appeared on network TV, gave a charming but harmless speech at Harvard and has now put NATO attendance in Madrid ahead of the heads of Commonwealth government and the limited charms of Rwanda.

Maybe she thinks she will convince European leaders to stand up to their farmers and give us a better free trade deal than experienced negotiators have achieved so far, but frankly, I doubt (unless the deal is already done, of course).

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