Monday, October 7, 2019


It says much about the health of our democracy that such a thing should come to pass. That two men holding radically divergent views were able to meet and drink coffee together without descending into loud and rancorous disagreement. That one of those men was Sir Roger Douglas says even more.

To say I was surprised that the architect of the economic changes which transformed New Zealand between 1984 and 1990 wanted to meet with me would be to understate the case considerably. For most of my adult life I have, one way or another, fought and criticised what came to be called “Rogernomics”. Not just privately, down at the pub with my lefty mates, but publicly, in print and on the airwaves. I even helped to form, and stood as a candidate for, NewLabour – the political party whose whole raison d’être was to roll Rogernomics back. And yet, here was Sir Roger Douglas on the other end of the line, inviting me to assess his latest ideas for improving New Zealand – kanohi ki te kanohi – over coffee.

It is not my place to summarise or in any other way represent those ideas, Sir Roger has his own plans for that. Suffice to say that they extend and elaborate upon ideas foregrounded in his books Towards Prosperity and Unfinished Business. What I can do, however, is report upon my response to the man – and to make some comparisons.

It is a common refrain, among the under-50s, that Rogernomics is the most enduring legacy of the Baby Boomer generation. Not true. Sir Roger Douglas was born in December 1937, nearly two years before the outbreak of the Second World War. His earliest experiences were not of post-war prosperity, but of the hardships and austerity of wartime and its immediate aftermath. In cultural flavour, Sir Roger is more Frank Sinatra and Patti Page, than Bob Dylan and the Beatles. In political terms, Sir Roger’s experience was of National Party governments cruising to victory on the strength of Labour Party achievements and ideas. He thus came to understand early that ideas matter, and that some legacies can last too long.

That ideas still matter to this spry 81-year-old was obvious from the moment we settled into a quiet corner of the Orvieto Café on Auckland’s Mt Eden Road. He had brought with him an impressive stack of papers – each containing page-after-page of carefully calculated figures. And the way he argued from those figures swept me back more than 30 years to the “Great Economic Debate” initiated by Labour Party president, Margaret Wilson. That debate had become an urgent necessity as it began to dawn on Labour’s membership that the government of David Lange and his frenetic Finance Minister was going to be remembered for something more than declaring New Zealand nuclear-free.

This is how I described Sir Roger’s defence of his new Goods & Services Tax at the Otago-Southland regional conference of the Labour Party in April 1985:

“Douglas is messianic. He scrawls figures on the blackboard with violent energy, barking out his arguments like a Parade Sergeant. There is an aura of absolute conviction about the man that is taking its toll on the waverers. Will they hold?”

Well, we all know the answer to that question. Labour’s GST is internationally famous for being the only value-added tax that left the government responsible for its introduction as – if not more – popular after its implementation than before.

And he’s still got it. As I listen to Sir Roger take me through his ideas on superannuation, education, health and housing, I feel that same nagging doubt; that same fear that I and my comrades may simply not have what it takes to break the man’s spell. Just as in the mid-1980s, it is not a matter of whether or not Roger Douglas is right, but of whether or not his opponents have the ability to persuade a majority of voters that he’s wrong.

It is precisely in this area that the present government is so woefully deficient. Neither in Labour’s ranks, nor NZ First’s, nor the Greens, is there a “policy aggressor” remotely equal to Sir Roger. Jacinda Ardern is every bit as effective as David Lange at conveying emotion – better even. But, just ask Jacinda to set forth a compelling case for “transformational” change in any of the policy areas dear to her heart: child poverty; affordable housing; climate change; and she is reduced to ums and ahs and buzzwords. It’s embarrassing.

Nowhere near as embarrassing, however, as the vapid presentations of her Finance Minister, Grant Robertson: a man for whom the expression “conventional wisdom” might have been invented. Is there anyone, in the New Zealand business community, I wonder, who’d be willing to wager that Robertson has ever sat down to privately crunch the numbers underpinning a comprehensive economic agenda of his own devising? Or, that he has ever seen an orthodox idea for which he was not willing to jeopardise his own government’s popularity? Or, that there has ever been a new and transformational policy presented to him upon which he was not happy to heap the scorn of his advisers?

I could go on – but why bother. There is simply no one in Jacinda’s Cabinet to match Roger Douglas, or his back-up band of Richard Prebble and David Caygill. And, could anyone honestly describe the hands of New Zealand’s current Deputy-Prime Minister as being the equal in safety to those of Geoff Palmer's?

Perhaps that is why, before allowing Sir Roger to begin his presentation, I made one of my own. Because I simply could not miss this strange opportunity to tell him that although we have been on opposite sides of the crucial economic and political debates of the past 35 years, it would be remiss of me not to thank him for showing people like myself that it really is possible to transform a society. That a group of politicians, possessed of a strong vision – backed up by policies for which they have made themselves the most persuasive of advocates – can make the most astonishing changes. Not only that, but that such politicians can defend those changes with sufficient passion and skill to secure their re-election.

Thinking about the way Jacinda has become so fond of ruling-out the “Big Change” tactics of Rogernomics, I simply had to tell him that. Because, whatever else may be said about Sir Roger, New Zealanders are forever in his debt for demonstrating with “absolute conviction” that ideas matter; that some legacies can last too long; and that radical change is possible.


Deep State Operative said...

ideas matter; that some legacies can last too long; and that radical change is possible.

What once was true is no longer true.

All that matters now is today's Poll Numbers, last week's numbers are stale news, the only change that matters is if the polls are up or down.

Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of the media who are always trying to be one step ahead when there is no ahead to be. Think pre-budget predictions.

Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of the parties who have allowed the spinners and p[ollsters to set the agenda, rather than ideas.

And a large proportion of the blame can be laid at the feet of operatives such as yourself, Dear Veteran, who see politics not as an exchange of ideas, a search for a better society, but who see politics purely in the terms of Blood Sports.

The recent Australian election shows what happens when one Party is prepared to present a well thought out and costed manifesto while the other side simply whips up the fear. The real fear, of course, being their shiny asses will no longer sit on the better side of the House.

An even better example is the Rise and Rise of Donald Trump here in the uSates. No policies. No thought for creating a better Nation. Simply rally after rally whipping crowds into a religious fervour. We've seen that movie before, and we didn't like the ending. It took two sequels before we could go home happy.

Trump is the Republican Party and the Republican Party is Trump. Anyone who expects the GOP to do the decent thing and cut its ties with Trump is fooling themselves. He will remain as long as he is useful to their Agenda. But they will watch the Polls, every day they will watch the Polls, and if, and ONLY IF, he looks like costing them The Senate, will they distance themselves from him.

Trotter pines for a political past in which the contest of ideas mattered as much as, if not more than, the contest for votes. Many Americans pine for a past when a President could declare:

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.".

The closing paragraph of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address.

Trotter would appear to be echoing those words, Trump would just see a loser.

The Veteran said...

au contraire ... politics is very much the exchange of ideas and within my own Party at least I have found plenty of scope for the sharing of ideas and policy development. Indeed, the National Party Justice portfolio discussion document to be released shortly incorporates some of the work of the policy committee which I am privileged to chair.

But on another level it is also a blood sport because there ain't too many prizes to be had for second place come the election (although MMP screws that somewhat).

Snowflake said...

Yeah right, “the Veteran”. Can’t wait to see your policy ideas wrt justice. I’m betting you’ve either re-clothed the ideas of the current government or reverted to the hang em high bullshit that the Nats so love. Probably the latter given Brudges’ latest witterings about gangs. It’ll be shallow bullshit either way.

Anne Tiffa said...

politics is very much the exchange of ideas and within my own Party at least I have found plenty of scope for the sharing of ideas and policy development. Indeed, the National Party Justice portfolio discussion document to be released shortly incorporates some of the work of the policy committee which I am privileged to chair.

That may be well and true for within your own Party. My concern and I believe the concern being expressed by DSO is what happens when that policy is released into the wild.

The Gnats will "release the policy" after all members have been instructed in the appropriate "talking points". When questioned on the policy by The Media (who will have had a very brief summary given them by their Editors, such is the imperative of the short news cycle)that they will all respond in unison, regurgitating the Party Approved Lines. Even if a media interlocuter raises an extremely valid point, The Parrty Man will have no answer, but will simply repeat the Party Approved Lines. This leaves no room for nuanced debate, let alone a proper exchange of ideas.

Labour, will, of course, be asked for its comments within moments of the policy's release, well before any Member has had the time to thoroughly read and understand the policy, let alone make a considered and thoughtful judgement. Labour Members, will, of course, have known well in advance that the policy was coming. The Party will make assumptions about the content, and provide Party Approved Lines to be used in response. There will be much obfuscation, much whataboutery, but again, no substance.

And thus, we are left with Politics As Blood Sports, because there can be no room for a consensus on anything other than MP's Pay & Perks.

Anne Tiffa said...

PS - Snowflake's comment is proof of my thesis.

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

It seems Trotter has had a momentary loss of short term was only last year when the the Govt. thought outside the box and tried to introduce the capital gains tax which would have evened out the tax system and was met by a tidal wave of outrage.....particularly from this blog.

As long as the polls are evenly divided no party is going to do anything radical that may backfire......I'm not one to dwell on peoples failures but if you can't run a pig farm you can't run a government.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...


I suggest you provide a citation for your allegation of failing to run a pig farm. I know he owned a pig farm but I'm not aware it failed or if,indeed, Sir Roger was the actual manager. Somehow I doubt it.

But do have a look at his Wiki page which shows an exemplary CV at senior levels in a number of major comanies and organisations.

Now, what do you have to say for yourself, apart from losing two wars?

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

Career outside politics

In 1992 Douglas was appointed to the inaugural board of the Auckland Warriors by the Auckland Rugby League.[107] He later served as chairman before being replaced in 1996.[108]

In 1997, in a back-handed compliment, the founders of the annual award for "The Worst Transnational Corporation operating in New Zealand", as voted by "four or five eminent judges – academics, community leaders, artists, even sportspeople",[109] named it the "Roger Award" after Sir Roger Douglas.

During his absence from national politics Douglas held senior positions at a number of prominent companies such as BIL which he briefly served as Executive Chairman. He also served as the managing director of Roger Douglas Associates, an international consulting firm.[110]....NOTE: BRIEFLY.

Awe inspiring eh Adolf........I will write a post how he sold out to foriegn multi nationals who nicked the family silver one day.

What's the war thing?

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

On September 14 1991 The New Zealand Herald reported that Sunshine Pig Farms Ltd, situated at Old Great South Road, Ramarama, near Drury in South Auckland had gone into receivership the previous day, but that the receiver would continue to trade. Managed by Roger Douglas Associates the property kept 5,000 pigs in stalls. The article goes on to report that earlier in the year the company was fined $5,000 in the Otahuhu District Court and ordered to pay $9,419.79 in costs for spilling 30,000 cubic metres of effluent into the Manukau Harbour and surrounding countryside. The spillage occurred when the largest of a series of oxidation ponds on the farm burst its embankment. When Sir Roger Douglas was questioned about his pig-farming enterprise he is reported as saying: “There is money in it.”

On March 4 1992 the Holmes Programme exposed the horrors of the sow stall in a programme which featured pig-farmer ex-Minister of Finance Roger Douglas, in which criticism was levelled at this former politician for his factory farming activities. Holmes reported that prior to screening the programme he was contacted by the Managing Director of the Pork Marketing Board, Dave Dobson, who reminded him what the Board spends advertising its products on television!

Roger Douglas in charge of a pig farm is like Richard Worth in charge of a beauty pageant – everything’s rooted about it!

Anonymous said...

The reason why the lefties can’t stand Sir Roger is he showed you can move away from a socialist agenda and create the next 30 years of prosperity. He changed the narrative to such an extent that those that rail against Rogernomics know they can’t change the fundamentals without beggaring the nations future.

Anyone who has met or worked with him recognises that even in his 80s Sir Roger is a force of nature.

Next thing we’ll have Legbut spouting his ignorance about Sir Roger selling the family silver. It’s a shame the ignorant who do this don’t or won’t share the truth that the “silver” was just junk that those terrible multinationals purchased, spent their own capital on and turned into proper service providers.

Sadly the New Zealand taxpayers have found this out at their cost with Cullens parting gift to the country with the dog that is Kiwirail.

If only we’d sold NZ Post and TVNZ when we had the chance.


Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

You are allowed your own opinions Para, but not your own facts.....I will tell you about the junk one day.

Anonymous said...

Legbut, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.

What I said above is factual. Your opinion of the value state owned enterprises might differ, but that is only your opinion. And your opinion is worth exactly what you were prepared to pay for a rubbish state enterprise in a bankrupt country at the time.

Be under no illusions, NZ post Muldoon was only weeks away from being placed under statutory management as we were unable to meet our debts.

The real problem New Zealand had, and still has, is that following years of socialism (from both Labour and National) we were not a nation of savers. We spent more than we earned. Muldoon encouraged that behaviour for political purposes, canning the individual superannuation program Labour had previously put in place. That super policy,if retained, would have made New Zealand a much richer and more prosperous country. I bet you didn’t know Sir Roger designed that super policy.

There comes a time when you have to pay the piper. We are fast heading back down that path with your lot in power.


Psycho Milt said...

Paranormal: "fact" isn't a synonym for "something I strongly believe to be true."

Anonymous said...

PM: fact is a synonym for “anything the left tells me I can believe”.