John Armstrong: English no fool when it comes to super

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Has Bill English blundered big time in flagging his intention to raise the age of eligibility for state-funded New Zealand Superannuation from 65 to 67?

Monday's announcement by the Prime Minister prompted a rush to judgment from all and sundry.

The Prime Minister challenged Andrew Little and Winston Peters to say specifically what they found wrong with his proposal.
Source: 1 NEWS

There were plaudits for him at least having the gumption to confront the most divisive issue in New Zealand politics. But not many.

And that praise was drowned out by a cacophony of criticism, much of which slammed the casual and haphazard manner in which he made one of the most important announcements he will ever make.

Facing charges that the only thing he had achieved in making the announcement was the triggering of inter-generational warfare, English's three-month political honeymoon with voters seemed well and truly over.

It did not help that the Prime Minister and Steven Joyce, his finance minister, struggled to supply a convincing reply to the question at the very heart of the matter.

Source: 1 NEWS

Why were current superannuation entitlements suddenly no longer affordable some years down the track when National had been adamant they were affordable for forever and a day?

What's more, National has ridiculed anyone who has dared to question the ruling party's insistence that the current scheme is sustainable.

The blame for National's failure to display leadership on super policy rests fair and square with John Key.

The former prime minister's promise to resign if existing entitlements and eligibility were cut or compromised was a millstone around English's neck when the latter held the Finance portfolio.

Neither English nor Joyce were going to besmirch Key's handling of super policy no matter how flawed that has been. They owe him too much to do so.

Despite giving the impression otherwise, English would have thought long and hard about the political risks of raising the age of eligibility.

No other current politician has better - and bitter - experience of how to get it wrong when it comes to tampering with people's pensions.

English witnessed Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley crash and burn during the 1990s in attempting to slash the size of the bill for taxpayer-funded super.

The only thing that pair's efforts achieved was to slash National's share of votes.

Not surprisingly, the party became gun-shy of reform.

Labour filled the vacuum by establishing the New Zealand Superannuation Fund as a vehicle for pre-paying part of the future pension bill, as well as setting up KiwiSaver in order to reduce the number of elderly whose incomes were solely dependent on getting the state-funded pension.

National signed up to the parliamentary consensus that the basic pension be "65 at 65" - that those reaching the age of 65 are entitled to a minimum married couple rate at 65 percent of average net wages.

1 NEWS political editor says the PM’s announcement shows Bill English carving out his own path but comes with huge risks but also huge potential rewards.
Source: Breakfast

Key's warning that he would resign if National breached the 65-at-65 formula was all about National rebuilding voters' trust in his party.

English would have been acutely uncomfortable, however, in having to echo Key's assertion that the current scheme would remain affordable - and even more so once the coming explosion in healthcare costs for the elderly was recognised as a very relevant  ingredient in the whole equation.

The notion that existing settings will continue to be sustainable is a pretence which political parties have used as a convenient excuse to do nothing.

It is a charade. And everyone knows it. Moreover, the longer the charade continues the tougher it will become to end it.

While the minor parties might be able to get away with maintaining the charade, a major party like National cannot abrogate responsibility.

Sure, Monday's announcement was about English further differentiating himself from Key's tenure as prime minister and showing he is his own man.

It was also all about English providing real proof that he is capable of real leadership.

Even then he could only go so far.

The 20-year hiatus prior to the phasing in of the rise in the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 has been dismissed as timid. It has also been decried as cynical because it ensures baby-boomers will not lose any money.

The Seven Sharp host doesn't hold back when sharing his opinion on the decision to raise Super to 67.
Source: Seven Sharp

But mooting such a change remains a huge gamble. It is one that National's pollsters no doubt analysed to a very great extent prior to Monday's announcement.

Still, English has thrust his party's toes into some very icy water.

At the end of the day, however, he did not really have that much choice in the matter.

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