One-liners in place of productive debate

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OPINION: RANGITATA MP ANDREW FALLOON

In an ideal world, politics is a contest of ideas. Where we, as politicians and servants of the regions that elect us, put forward ideas and debate the best way of achieving the things that we as New Zealanders all want.

On our best days you can see glimpses of it in our Parliament. A recent example was an initiative by my colleague Matt Doocey to form a cross-party group to work on the challenges of mental health, with a particular focus on reducing our horrific suicide rate. It recognises that no one party or person has a monopoly on good ideas.

Too often, though, politics heads in a different direction. Where there is no productive debate, just partisan political one-liners thrown across the debating chamber.

A search of Hansard, the official record of Parliament, shows that in the last two years the phrase “nine years of neglect” has been used no fewer than 200 times by Labour and Green politicians, predominantly backbench list MPs elected indirectly on the party vote.

Call me cynical, but I struggle to believe it’s a spontaneous thought they’ve all individually and independently had while debating the merits of legislation passing through Parliament.

As political one-liners go, it’s a good one. The idea being to repeat it so much that people might begin to believe it. But herein lies the problem. The slightest amount of scrutiny shows it to be little more than a crafted, but false, talking point.

Take health, where the previous National Government invested an additional $5billion. Targets were set to ensure New Zealanders received better care with shorter wait times.

Soon after coming in to Government, Labour inexplicably abolished the targets. Instead of the data now being publicly reported, it has to be sought by journalists and others, going through time-consuming information gathering exercises with the Ministry of Health which take weeks and months.

But from those investigations, here’s what we know.

Patients seen within six hours at emergency departments has declined from 93.1% in 2017 to 90% today. The percentage of cancer patients receiving treatment within three months of diagnosis has dropped from 93.2% in 2017 to just 87.6% today.

And troublingly, the immunisation rate of 8-month-olds has gone from 92.2% in 2017 to 90.1% today, below the target set for herd immunity for diseases like measles.

As of October 11 this year, the measles outbreak across New Zealand has had 1766 cases reported, predominantly in Auckland and Northland. In May the Government declared the outbreak in Canterbury as “over”, only for it to reappear again in July, and new cases confirmed in recent days. Fortunately here in South Canterbury we’re yet to be affected.

There’s no way of knowing if the outbreak could have occurred had our immunisation rate remained higher, but we do know that as the immunisation rate decreases, the potential for the disease to spread increases exponentially.

There’s another one-liner that’s been used in political debate since time immemorial: what gets measured gets done. Perhaps a better one for those MPs to consider.