Could politicians ever agree on NZ Super?

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It’s unlikely political agreement can be reached on pension policy, but taking a different tack offers more possibility, according to former politicians Peter Dunne and Lianne Dalziel.

Speaking at the recent Super Summit held by Te Ara Ahunga, the Retirement Commission, the pair, and fellow panellist Simon Power, were asked whether political agreement could be reached on pension policy – something that has been notoriously difficult to achieve throughout the OECD. All three panellists are former senior cabinet ministers, with Dunne the former leader of the United Future Party, Dalziel a former Labour Party MP and Power a former National Party MP.

Dunne did not believe political agreement on NZ Super was likely any time soon, given how difficult it had been to get political agreement in the past. However, he believed there was scope for building consensus around a broader proposition, including issues such as healthcare, access to services, and security in retirement.

Dunne: “I don’t think we can build a consensus around the current system for the simple reason that everyone’s hands are too dirty by what’s gone on over the last number of years. I do think there is a very strong opportunity to build a much wider consensus and develop a policy platform about those broader issues.”

Dalziel agreed with Dunne adding that the low trust environment at present between the public and parliament and vice versa created a challenging environment.

“The thing that I want to put on the agenda is whether we can actually find ways of working through these issues,” she said.

Dalziel raised the possibility of Citizens’ Juries or Citizens’ Assemblies as a way forward on contentious issues. She pointed to the success of these when used in the abortion debate in Ireland.

In the Irish example, nearly 100 citizens were randomly chosen to reflect the Irish population, hearing information from both sides of the abortion debate, much of which was made public. They then voted on a specific abortion policy recommendation.

“What was interesting at the end of the process was that the percentage of the Assembly that voted for the recommendation that would go in the (national) referendum almost exactly matched the percentage that voted for a change in the law in the referendum.

“I just want to put that on the table as a process that takes it away from the political environment,” Dalziel said.

Meanwhile, Simon Power believed it was important that the settings for the whole retirement ecosystem be considered in any discussions or changes.

“So the role of the Super Fund, KiwiSaver, and private investments, obviously, is essential to maintain that balanced role of the state in taking care of its most vulnerable in need, which I absolutely agree with.”

He believed cross party agreement on pension policy required the right personalities to head discussions, along with a deep understanding of the legislative impacts, and an acknowledgement, that, ultimately, Parliament remains sovereign and can change its mind.

“The willingness to enter long-term bipartisan arrangements requires real time to be spent on understanding the medium-term and out-year implications of such a move, and it actually requires a subtle but important dissecting of where that policy might interact beyond the realms of the single issue under consideration,” Power said.

The panel all agreed that as pension policy was not in any crisis at present, there was time to work together to produce a strong proposition for the future.

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