Jacinda Ardern's return marked with fierce questions over economy

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accused Opposition leader Simon Bridges of "dissing our economy" after an intense 15-minute grilling over the country's finances and outlook on Tuesday.

It was Ms Ardern's first Question Time in just over six weeks. Mr Bridges offered a quick "welcome back" before digging in on solid National Party territory - business confidence, economic stability, growth forecasts and fiscal updates.

For National, Ms Ardern's return has coincided nicely with Monday's Treasury release. Its update warned there's a risk that economic growth will be weaker than forecast, with the housing market cooling, business confidence weakening and international trade tensions looming - think the United States and China, and those steel and aluminium tariffs.

That was the focus of Mr Bridges' test of Ms Ardern in Parliament on Tuesday. Mr Bridges accused Ms Ardern of "dismissing" the slump in business confidence and questioned why, if Ms Ardern claims the international environment is affecting New Zealand, we've seen business confidence drop out of kilter with the rest of the OECD.

"We're actually a fraction away from the long-term average, and I have to say, when you look at our OECD comparisons around our growth forecasts, actually, we stand up pretty well," Ms Ardern said.

Head-to-heads over the economy so often dissolve into both sides picking and choosing statistics or measures that best suit their argument.

So much so that last week, in one afternoon, National sent out a press release entitled, "Govt delivering higher unemployment, lower real wages". Half an hour later, the Government sent one out called "Employment rates at record high". Neither was without a kernel of truth. Employment rates are currently high - the highest they have ever been for Maori and women - but while they are largely stable, the rate is down slightly compared to the last quarter.

The same picking and choosing of measures happened today.

"[Treasury also] said that labour income, wages are growing strongly, that employment growth is solid and that we've issued things like more building consents.

"If you are going to talk about the economy, let's talk about all the indicators, not just some of them," Ms Ardern said.

There were then questions on industrial strikes, unemployment, construction company collapse and more on business confidence.

Ms Ardern said it's a "damn shame" Mr Bridges was "dissing" the New Zealand economy.

"If that member wants to go around dissing our economy and the potential that exists in this country, that, I have to say, is a damn shame," Ms Ardern said.

A constant refrain from the Government has been that business confidence typically drops with a Labour Government, but Finance Minister Grant Robertson insists that doesn't reflect economic performance.

"When you look back at Governments that have had the Labour Party at the centre of them, those same business confidence surveys have shown pessimism, yet the economy has kept growing," Mr Robertson said in the House on Tuesday.

He faced a similar onslaught from National's finance spokesperson Amy Adams, who challenged him on 4000 more people unemployed in the last quarter.

"It's very challenging to look at quarterly figures on their own," Mr Robertson replied.

It's not just National concerned about economic projections. The Government's also facing pressure from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which warns the forecast economic slowdown will hurt families.

Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG Economics spokesperson, says the Government should scrap the minimum hours of paid work criteria from Working For Families tax credits.

"If parents who currently receive Working for Families tax credits find their hours drop below the minimum threshold for eligibility for the In-Work Tax Credit (IWTC) they will suddenly find themselves short not only the pay from hours of work but also $72 50 per week for their children," she said.