Decision 2017: Joyce vs Robertson on the economy

The two men fighting for the job of Finance Minister have disagreed on basic facts about the direction of New Zealand's economy.

Labour's Grant Robertson says the economy has gone backwards over the past six months, per capita - and the average Kiwi has been treading water financially.

"For the last four years we haven't actually improved our productivity," he told The Nation on Saturday.

"We've got more people in New Zealand, they're working longer hours, but we're not lifting the value of the economy - and that's got to be the focus… we can't just rely on there being more people, we can't just rely on selling houses to each other to grow the economy."

Steven Joyce must be looking at different numbers, because he told host Lisa Owen the opposite is in fact the case.

"Both GDP per capita, which is one measure, and GDP per hour worked, we're growing and actually doing better than most of the developed world - better than the UK, better than Europe."

But the present Finance Minister admits it's still below what he'd like.

"The long-term problem of New Zealand's productivity is yet to be solved, but we're actually heading in the right direction," he explained.

"Our actual real wages are going up faster than they were before. We're growing wages over the last seven years at double the rate of inflation. That's good."

A recent rise in inflation means for one quarter, wage growth did marginally slip behind inflation. Mr Robertson said Mr Joyce's figures mean little to average Kiwis.

"New Zealanders can hear these statistics, but their real lived experience is that they don't feel they are getting ahead."

Under Labour's family tax package, he says every family earning under $62,000 would be better off through targeted changes to the tax system and Working for Families.

National is also proposing changes to Working for Families, but its biggest financial carrot this campaign is a tax cut across the board.

"What I don't want is for Steven and me to get a $1000 tax cut when we've got families living in cars and garages, when we've got a health system that is not coping," said Mr Robertson.

"Labour's priorities are investing in housing, health and education, and getting incomes lifted for the lowest-income people in New Zealand. It's not giving a tax cut worth $400 million to the top 10 percent."

"It's not actually about me," replied Mr Joyce.

 "It's about those people on the median wage who are currently facing a 30c in the dollar tax rate, and we have to change that."