Steven Joyce is the perpetually sunny side of the Government.
His two press secretaries produce an endless stream of press statements and speech notes testifying to the way the New Zealand economy is being transformed into a provider of prosperity for all under the leadership and inspiration of the Hon Steven Joyce.
However, there is a suspicion among some in the Beehive that Mr Joyce is all press statement.
Even the Prime Minister recently seemed to enjoy repeating a Radio host’s comment that Joyce was the Minister of everything while Bill English did everything.
So it was with some anticipation among MPs that Mr Joyce last Thursday fronted up before the Commerce Committee for its annual interrogation of him on the activities of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
It hasn’t been a great year for the Ministry with first revelations about how much it had spent on things like hair straighteners in fitting out its new office and then there was news that the Ministry’s payroll provider may have been underpaying its employees for the past ten years or so.
The pay problems at least couldn’t be laid at Mr Joyce’s door as the problem began when Labour was in power.
However, Mr Joyce did reveal that since four separate Government departments were merged in 2012, there had been a saving of $13.5 million in their combined budget.
The overall role of the Ministry (confusing though it is with its inclusion of building and immigration in its components) is to manage the Government’s Business Growth Agenda.
This has an overriding goal of increasing exports to a 40% share of GDP by 2025.
There is considerable scepticism about this. The chief executive of the Auckland business lobby group, the EMA, said last December that while it’ was a great target “the way we’re currently doing with the current policy settings, there’s not a chance in Hades we’ll achieve it.”
Not surprisingly, therefore, Labour’s David Clark, challenged Mr Joyce about it at the committee.
“I think we are making good progress,” he said.
“The target is set for 2025, which is nine years away.
“The headline numbers are going up, even if they aren’t going up as fast as they would if dairy was still strong.”
All up the Government has committed $761.4 million over the next four years to the “BGA” as its known in Government circles.
There is an interesting twist to this aid. Much of it is focussed on regional New Zealand.
The co-incidence that the first regional growth plan to get approval was Northland where National (under Mr Joyce’s management) had just managed to lose a by-election has not been lost on Mr Joyce’s critics.
And with the Bay of Plenty the next regional growth cab off the rank, the plans seem to be tracking NZ First strongholds very precisely.
However, the total budget for the regional development plans is only $11 million.
David Clark pointed out that this was less than one million per region and asked if it would buy more than a few photo opportunities.
But Mr Joyce was having one of that.
He said a big part of the Regional Growth programme was to make sure that all the Government funding across such areas a tourism and ultra-fast broadband was working together “to the benefit of the region”.
Mr Joyce is a past master at packaging up a handful of Government policies and giving them a new name without actually really changing anything.
This breeds a degree of suspicion that when he does announce something new, there may be less to it than meets the eye.
Thus, former Labour leader David Cunliffe, asked about Mr Joyce’s show piece science fund, the Endeavour Fund.
“”How much of the $183 million is actually new?” he asked.
“All of it,” replied the Minister.
“So you are going on the record as saying none of the $183 million is a reprioritisation of existing funding?” asked Mr Cunlife.
“David, because you have questioned me I have checked with my colleagues, and the answer is, yes, it’s all new.”
Mr Cunliffe was left to grumble that that was very different to the information he’s received from the Parliamentary Library.
That prompted Mr Joyce to offer detailed and complex exposition of the budgetary process as far as science was concerned.
The session continued with questions about hotel funding, the payroll problems,t he New Zealand business number, the Ruataniwha Dam and the Sky City Convention Centre – all of which the Minister batted away with his overall theme of “don’t worry, it’s under control.”
The only problem with the Minister’s approach is that thought it might have been reassuring, no one was really any the wiser at the conclusion of the session.
Of course, that may be the secret to Mr Joyce’s success.