An analysis of the political rhetoric surrounding budget politics and austerity in New Zealand

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This is a piece that was produced for POLITICS 769 Advanced Research Skills at the University of Auckland

Abstract: Political parties and governments around the world, even those on the left, recently have converged on the standard of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and ‘austerity’ when it comes to public accounting and annual budgets. This piece analyses the rhetoric used and some of the politics behind this phenomenon in New Zealand.

Texts: Budget debate speeches of Party Leaders, Clark (2006),[1] Brash (2006),[2] Key (2015),[3] Little (2015),[4] Turei (2015).[5]


I           Introduction

‘Political language, is designed to make lies sound truthful, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’.[6] This report examines how governments and opposition parties employ rhetoric to frame themselves as sound economic managers of New Zealand. The last two Governments have gone through a boom as well as the Global Financial Crisis (“the GFC”), and both Labour and National have deployed language to convince the public that they can manage the ‘good’ times as well as the ‘bad’, often in contrast to each other. The analysis explores whether the rhetoric employed is connected to existing ideological differences, how it shifts depending on the economic climate and whether it changes depending on whether the party is in opposition or in Government. To achieve this, this report analyses five budget debate speeches (“budget speeches”) by political leaders across these temporal and contextual distinctions. Speeches from the 2006 Budget and 2015 Budget are selected to elucidate this contrast between different Governments and the economic climate. This report will analyse and discuss the effect of language used to frame taxation and spending, and place it in the broader context of political branding, political niches and the wider trend of ‘austerity fever’ occurring around the world. The conclusion will demonstrate how rhetoric on responsible economic governance has diverged and converged based on these variables.

II         Research Question

How have political parties used ‘humanistic’, ‘responsible’ and ‘irresponsible’ rhetoric to portray themselves as possessing sound economic governance?

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