Opinion

Government's last-minute efforts look ill-equipped, inadequately prepared and knee-jerk

Opinion: It’s a busy recess week, said the Finance Minister, we’re all out of town later, have lots on, Grant Robertson continued when he was asked why the Government had called everyone in, last minute, on a Sunday to announce an extension to road transport subsidies. 

Nothing to do with the fact that the following day inflation was going to rise to new record highs. 

Just a busy old recess, we got the paperwork done, seemed like as good a time as any said Robertson of his big press conference held in the theatrette with just a couple of hours notice on a Sunday. 

Not at all worried people were going to choke on their early lunch of frozen spinach salad - fresh spinach being $5 a bag - when they received the news on Monday that the cost of living crisis just got that much worse.

Well, I suppose, it was lucky timing then for the Government. 

The inflation figures were in all of our calendars, but the impromptu Sunday announcement was not - and had the Government not had something further in place when the bad news came out it would have looked ill-equipped, inadequately prepared and knee-jerk. 

As it stands, and unfortunately for the Government despite its best, hurried, last-minute efforts it still looks ill-equipped, inadequately prepared and knee-jerk.

And gosh nothing quite like 7.3 percent inflation makes an announcement that you’re just doing the same thing as before but for a little bit longer look... well… ill-equipped, inadequately prepared and knee-jerk. 

Don’t get me wrong, extending fuel tax cuts, half-price public transport and road user charges is a good thing. It was 100 pecent necessary and inevitable in my opinion. 

It’s just that it lacks vision and foresight. 

When you look at the great savings the Government’s celebrating - $11 off a 40-litre tank a week, 17 bucks off 60 litres and public transport commuters are $25 a week better off - I can’t help but think 'yeah but then what?' What happens to people in January? What happens to the people for whom $25 a week is an enormous chunk of their earnings. 

It’s great now. It’s necessary now but what’s the off-ramp?

Economic forecasting in these volatile times feels a bit like really well-informed, educated, intelligent tea leaf reading. 

Most economists didn’t think inflation would go as high as it did yesterday. Other predictions about official cash rate and mortgage rate rises are therefore being duly recalculated. 

The consensus - albeit as reliable as the other forecasts - is that inflation has hit its peak. Economists are hoping it will now start to come down. Hoping. 

But although that sounds good and like cause for celebration, it’s still bad. Inflation is still high, way too high and will remain so for probably 18 months. Again probably because really, who knows?

18 months of expensive groceries, high rents, bills, fuel, mortgage payments etc etc etc. 

For the next six months of those 18 months we’ll have transport subsidies to help, for three months of those 18 months we’ll have the cost of living payment to help. 

What about the rest of the year? How do people survive then? Our most vulnerable suddenly get whiplash in January when they have to pay $25 a week again for public transport. 

It’s time for some long-term planning. It’s time for the Government to start looking seriously at fare-free public transport in perpetuity rather than saving it up as an election bribe. Or a tax-free threshold on income. Or anything - any decent long-term policies that the Government's army of officials can muster. 

It’s time to start talking about the next 18 months, the next five years, not just tomorrow and the eleventh-hour press conferences that go with it.