If Government is about doing – and the electorate and vested interest will have some well-developed expectations about that – 2012 can be written up as a tad patchy.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been a busy year on the Hill. Public health promotion, welfare reform, public sector restructuring, exclusive economic zone management, consumer law reform, search and surveillance, Treaty settlements, putting a brake local authorities’ general power of competence and oh yes, Christchurch - the list goes on. But for those on a flinty-eyed lookout for a coherent and well-paced agenda of economic and social development, things have, overall, been a bit wanting.
Amidst the flurry of Government activity have been substantive developments; continued financial sector reform, the white paper on child poverty, ETS changes and state sector reorganisation. But other things have languished on a slower boil - the mixed ownership model, continued RMA reform, innovation policy and water management; all things bound closely to our future economic well-being.
The mixed progress has not necessarily been the fault of Government. A better job might have been done on selling the Mom ‘n' Pop investment literacy rationale behind the mixed ownership model, but Government in 2012 could easily be likened to juggling while being poked with a stick.
Few of the distractions were the result of effective opposition, and many were of Government’s own making. Brain-fades, the absence of an exit strategy for Christchurch, a succession of fumbles in the education portfolio, the poor handling of the Bain compensation issue, and the parting Christmas shot of a hike in petrol tax loom large. None make for easy political management and together they were enough for even the most disciplined of Governments to take their eye off the ball, but so many of the problems were extraneous ones, whose handling dented public confidence and gave heart to opposition parties suffering coherence problems of their own.
Some of these ‘noises off’ came from the small ‘g’ government of public servants and state sector agencies whose performance, however good, was undermined by high profile privacy breaches, IT gaffes and a series of stuff-ups most notably by police and security agencies.
Add to these the ongoing tragedy that has been Pike River, the challenges of rebuilding the infrastructure and economy of a ruined city and the tarnished reputation of one of Government’s main support partners, and it all made for one tough year for the administration. National may have ended 2012 with its support still at 2011 levels, but it does so with few friends, and the prospect of having even fewer by 2014.
But there were still winners on the Government benches. Steven Joyce, with Bill English close behind, weathered it all and remains a safe pair of hands essential to the Government’s economic and innovation portfolios. Tony Ryall continued to keep a lid on what has been historically a crisis prone portfolio and Treaty Minister and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson brought home a series of creditable Treaty settlements - Tuhoe among them - the significance of which will be felt for many years to come. And the PM? He suffered for taking his eye off the ball, but still maintained his popularity, showing in the process that he has reserves in hand, things that will tell when he lines up against David Shearer in 2014.
There were solid performers on the Opposition benches also. Russel Norman continued to build his credentials as a mainstream politician and emerged as the effective leader on the Left. Whilst that may count against Shearer, he certainly ended the year better than when he entered it and with more of the moral authority (and mongrel) required to pull Labour’s disparate factions together.
No-one had an easy time of it, except perhaps for Winston Peters whom the Brendan Horan affair hardly seems to have taxed at all. And it’s to him our prize for political management for 2012 goes.