Peter Williams: The Prime Minister's pay cut wasn't a display of leadership

Jacinda Ardern's decision to take a pay cut wasn't about leadership.
Jacinda Ardern's decision to take a pay cut wasn't about leadership. Photo credit: Getty Images

OPINION: So the Prime Minister, the cabinet and the heads of Government departments are taking a pay cut. It will be a 20 percent cut and will last for six months.

That’s great. I applaud Jacinda Ardern for doing it. It shows that people at the top, the well paid, are prepared to do what the rest of us are doing and taking a drop in income.

But I think she was pushing the envelope a bit when she said it was about leadership. 

No it wasn’t. It was anything but leadership. In fact, it was about being a very slow follower.

The leadership on pay cuts came from the private sector. 

From Chief Executives to those on the factory floor or behind the wheel of the delivery truck, people have been taking pay cuts for at least two weeks, if not three.

Remember the bosses at Mainfreight and Fletcher Building, not to mention Air New Zealand taking their big cuts? 

They were doing it because their company income is going to drop dramatically. 

Well guess what? The big company called New Zealand Inc is going to have its income slashed by billions this year too as the tax take falls well short of what it was last year. 

That means the government workers should be just like the rest of us and take a paycut too. 

Leadership from the Prime Minister would have been joining that trend two weeks ago, not yesterday, and not after constant badgering from the media and the Taxpayers' Union.

I first put questions to Simon Bridges, Winston Peters and Grant Robertson about pay cuts in the public sector over a fortnight ago. They brushed them away with all sorts of excuses. It didn’t need to happen, they said. 

Winston cracked a bit on Tuesday last week, and promised on Magic Talk to watch this space - and he was good to his word. 

The politicians finally saw the light yesterday, but frankly it still hasn’t gone far enough.

There are vast swathes of the public service who are not doing much at the moment, and the pay rates should be adjusted as such. Or at least a firm stake should be put in the ground to say no public sector pay increases this year. 

There’ll be virtually none in the private sector.

And if the Prime Minister and Cabinet are taking a cut, why not the rest of the MPs? It can’t be that hard to arrange. 

 Under the emergency powers the government has at the moment, arranging a pay cut for 120 MPs should be really easy. 

Saying what she said yesterday about leadership was nonsense, but at least it’s a start. Now let’s follow-through. 

If we’re all in this together, we should all pay for it together too.      

Peter Williams is the host of Magic Mornings on Magic Talk.