National isn't planning GST increase if elected, but won't entirely rule it out - Simon Bridges

National isn't planning a 'tax switch' similar to what Sir John Key implemented in 2010, when GST was increased but personal taxes were reduced.

As New Zealand comes under pressure from coronavirus COVID-19, National leader Simon Bridges says his party has a plan to keep the economy pumping along.

That includes introducing tax cuts if he is elected to power on September 19. He wouldn't, however, say if they would be given immediately. "Broad company tax cuts" are not part of the plan.

Also not part of National's plan is raising GST - but Bridges isn't entirely ruling it out. 

"I think when the circumstances change, just as I have said with minimum wage, you have to be open to a range of things. [But] that's not part of my plan for New Zealand right now," he told The AM Show.

In 2010, following the global financial crisis, then-Prime Minister John Key reduced personal taxes, but raised the goods and services tax from 12.5 percent to 15 percent as part of a so-called 'tax switch'.

Bridges is adamant a similar tax switch is not on his agenda. 

"It's not on the table in as much as it is not part of our plan, so I know what we are planning and that is not one of the things.

"I think the basic issue is that household budgets and Kiwi businesses need a bit more money in their pocket to deal with what is coming at them."

Pushed on whether he would rule out a GST increase, Bridges said: "We go around in circles… I have given you a lot more clarity and policy like I did last week and the week before than you are getting from the Government."

More detail about National's proposed changes will be included in its tax relief economic package, the release of which has been brought forward in light of COVID-19. 

The coronavirus is already having a serious impact on New Zealand's economic outlook. Tourism, forestry and seafood industries have been adversely affected by disruption to trade and travel routes, prompting concerns of a recession.

"We are bringing it forward so people see that light at the end of the tunnel that I think businesses but also households need," he said.

Bridges wants to see more detail around the actions the current Government is going to take in response to the virus.

"I think we need to be seeing the components [of a recession plan]. It is good that [the current Government] are talking about job support, let's see the plan. It is good they are talking about wider things, but I think we need to start seeing the plan."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced on Monday that the Government was working on a "Business Continuity Package" in response to the coronavirus.

"New Zealand is well-placed to respond to COVID-19. We have been running surpluses and our net debt position at 19.5 percent of GDP is well below what we inherited, and well below other countries," Roberston said.

Details of the continuity package are being worked through, but it will include targeted wage subsidies for the most-affected sectors. Bridges said job subsidies were a good idea.

Among several other measures the Government has already announced is removing the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) stand-down period, and encouraging MSD and the IRD to work with businesses and employees on issues like provisional tax readjustments, late payment and filing fees, wage instalments plans and income support. 

Along with ANZ's chief economist Sharon Zollner and ACT Party leader David Seymour, Bridges believes the planned minimum wage hike needs to be dropped. The minimum wage is set to rise to $18.90 in April, up from $17.70.

"In an economic crisis, it is much better to keep someone working for that small business than to have them going onto the doll. That is why we have called for the halt for the minimum wage… the businesses can't cope with that," he told The AM Show.

"Let's halt it for six months. Let's tai-ho. We know we have got a significant economic problem for at least that long and let's have that breathing space."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has rejected that idea, saying the increase would provide consumers with more money to spend at businesses. Studies in the United States into the effect of minimum wage increases during recessions have found mixed results in terms of how employment is impacted.