The National Party and its leader like to paint themselves as running a government that is moderate and pragmatic.
So receiving accolades and endorsements from the likes of the right-leaning think tank – the New Zealand Initiative – will be welcomed by John Key and his colleagues with very mixed feelings.
The plaudits are for National’s intention to fund some of the Government’s health and social programmes through private investors purchasing ‘social bonds’ which will pay a rate of return over and above the initial investment if the providers of those programmes meet measurable targets.
The policy is a further element in National’s wider and radical overhaul of the provision and delivery of social services which seeks to end the state’s long-held monopoly.
The revamp – a further example is National’s sell-down of state housing – has been driven by Finance Minister Bill English – who as a backbench MP at the time – personally experienced National’s failure to enact such reform when in power in the 1990s.
Back in power English has sought to achieve the same end by different means – namely through incremental slow-paced changes which are introduced with little fanfare – and are not trumpeted as being part of a wider strategy.
English’s caution is evident in the fact that development of the policy covering the introduction of social bonds has been in gestation for at least two years and has only reached the pilot stage in the form of a programme delivering employment services to people with mental health conditions.
National’s nervousness is understandable. That goes beyond finding itself on the wrong side of arguments about privatisation by stealth.