Australian pundit questions Jacinda Ardern's 'draconian response' to COVID-19, accuses her of 'pushing the NZ economy off a cliff'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is "pushing the NZ economy off a cliff", according to an Australian pundit, who says the Government's "draconian response" to combating the coronavirus "was questionable". 

Adam Creighton, Economics Editor of conservative newspaper The Australian, wrote in a commentary piece that New Zealanders "may come to question" Ardern's wisdom "as they fall further down the global pecking order". 

"No national leader has been as feted as Jacinda Ardern during this pandemic. But while she might have popular support, the facts are she is pushing the NZ economy off a cliff," the Sydney-based journalist wrote. 

Creighton described New Zealand's "hard lockdown" as "the favoured pandemic solution of the left", and appeared to find it ironic that Ardern's "star has only risen" despite "shutting practically all business" during the lockdown. 

Newshub's latest poll showed nine-in-ten New Zealanders backed the Government's call to put the country into lockdown, while Ardern's personal popularity as leader skyrocketed up 14 points to 56.5 percent. 

Former National Party leader Simon Bridges slammed the Government for extending the lockdown in a Facebook post in April and was highly criticised in the comment section. 

But the Government's decision to keep New Zealand at alert level 2 for another month is not supported by all members of Ardern's Cabinet, including Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who says that's too long.  

Creighton suggested that commentary in The Guardian hailing Ardern for "calmly steering her country in the face of a massacre" ignores that New Zealand's economy "is in strife". 

"Without major change, our constitutional cousin is in decline. Its public finances are in tatters, its biggest export, tourism, has been obliterated."

He quoted former Labour treasurer and Rogernomics architect Sir Roger Douglas, who told The Australian: "The real problem with the Ardern government is they have no idea whatsoever apart from how to throw money at things."

Unemployment is forecast to increase significantly in New Zealand, rising to 8.3 percent by the end of June, before peaking at 9.8 percent in September and then recovering thereafter. 

But Australia is not exempt from the economic strain of COVID-19. The Reserve Bank of Australia expects unemployment to rise to 10 percent this year - more than New Zealand. 

Public relations experts from across the globe have ranked New Zealand best for communications during the crisis, and former Prime Minister Sir John Key described Ardern's announcement of the alert levels to the nation as "faultless".

Creighton acknowledged Ardern's popularity, and said "by all accounts" she is a "good person and a great communicator", but he said without economic growth, "there won't be money for more ICU beds". 

The Government unveiled a $50 billion fund in Budget 2020 to respond to COVID-19, and Creighton highlighted Treasury estimates that public debt will grow from 19 percent of GDP last year to 54 percent by 2022. 

But the latest Financial Stability Report by the Reserve Bank says the financial system is in a "solid position to both weather the economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and support New Zealand's recovery".

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in his Budget 2020 speech that the Government "faced a choice between a public health catastrophe as has been seen in other countries or unprecedented and difficult measures". 

The Government has spent around $11 billion subsidising Kiwis' wages during the crisis, and almost $1 billion in Government-funded interest-free loans have been paid out to small businesses.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects global economic activity will decline on a scale not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. It forecasts growth to fall to -3 percent in 2020 and rebound to 5.8 percent in 2021.

Ardern is currently negotiating a trans-Tasman travel 'bubble' with her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison that would see travel resume between the two countries without the need for 14-days of quarantine.

Australian broadcaster Alan Jones, who faced backlash in 2019 for suggesting Morrison "shove a sock" down Ardern's throat, recently praised Ardern for how she handled his criticism.