Todd Muller has outlined National's first-term priorities if he takes power in the upcoming election, promising tens of thousands of new full-time jobs and a better economy.
Speaking at his home community of Te Puna on Sunday, the leader of the Opposition said New Zealand faces its greatest economic and unemployment crisis since the Great Depression.
But he also acknowledged the failures of previous National Governments to fix social deprivation, saying he doesn't believe New Zealand has fulfilled the dream of a 'Decent Society' yet.
"According to Infometrics there will soon be a second wave of job losses, twice as bad as the first. That means around 120,000 families will have lost their income by the election, and it will be worse by Christmas," Muller said.
"Infometrics forecast that in October, November and December - just after we have voted - New Zealand families will be hit again by a third wave of job losses.
"Everyone's fear is that the third wave of job losses and unemployment will be the worst of all."
Muller said National has better credibility running the economy in a crisis, pointing out it led the country through the Global Financial Crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes, and argued Labour has failed to deliver on its promises
"We need a serious discussion this election about our country's future over the next three, six and nine years - not just cheap slogans and working groups," he said.
"Without a Government that is competent to deliver an economic plan, and with a record in sound management, hundreds of thousands of Kiwis will experience unemployment of some form over the next couple of years.
"However proud we are of how our 'Team of Five Million' addressed the health crisis, we cannot risk a Labour Government being in charge of the economic and unemployment crisis ahead."
More jobs, more benefits
Muller said he would focus on creating new full-time jobs, while also raising benefits.
"National will not increase the taxes New Zealanders pay. Nor will we ever cut benefits, and we will continue to increase New Zealand's investment in hospitals, schools and the welfare safety net," he said.
He pointed to policies like the JobStart plan, the $100 million Tourism Accelerator plan, and a proposal to pay teacher registration fees.
"National's prudent economic management, plus our new initiatives like JobStart, will return New Zealand to an economy like the one bequeathed by Bill English to the current Government, creating ten thousand new, real, permanent, full-time jobs every month," he said.
"We'll achieve it, because economic management is in our National DNA."
Muller draws line with the past
During the 1980s and 1990s, National and Labour carried out far-ranging economic reforms aimed at opening up the country and increasing its competitiveness.
Muller said both parties could have done those economic reforms "more gently, more caringly and with a greater sense of love for our fellow Kiwis".
"I believe the speed and sequencing of the economic reforms did terrible harm to the institutions of our communities, and to far too many of our families," he said.
"If we look across the Tasman to our sibling rivals in Australia, it pains me to say that Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard managed the reform process better than David Lange, or my friend and mentor Jim Bolger."
He also said previous Governments - both those led by former prime ministers Helen Clark and John Key - hadn't done enough to address the "deep-seated social problems we continue to see all around us".
And while he criticised the current Labour Government for turning away from Bill English's social investment approach, Whanau Ora and the Living Standards Framework used to create Budgets, he also said National "did not put them in place as fast as we should have".
'Kind, competent and bold'
Muller laid out his vision for New Zealand, saying he planned to be "kind, competent and bold".
"I don't believe we have fulfilled the Decent Society that we talked about all those years ago when I first joined the National Party," he said.
"I'm proud of what National and New Zealand has achieved since then, but I do not yet see an economy that is truly internationally competitive or agile enough to maintain and improve our standard of living. Nor are we as green as we should be.
"Nor do I see a society where every child is loved by someone, has food on the table, a jacket and decent shoes for winter, and a warm, dry house. I see children coughing all through the winter because of where they live."
Muller said he wanted every New Zealander to be able to fulfil their potential, and live with "genuine love" for their neighbours and country.
"This is my vision. That is what I believe in. That is what will guide me as Prime Minister."
He laid out what he wanted to see at the end of the crisis, saying he wanted National to have:
- Protected you through the economic and unemployment crisis, and immediately created the conditions for tens of thousands of real, permanent full-time jobs
- Finally addressed long-term social deprivation, with the urgency applied to the economic crises a generation ago
- Finally built the first-world road and public transport infrastructure New Zealand needs
- Backed our families, and rebuilt the fabric of our communities
- Restored our Government's books so there's more money for schools, hospitals, housing, mental health, addiction services, cancer screening programmes and treatments
- A stronger social safety net
- Built a better economy for all of us
And he finished with a little dig at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
"Someone else once said: 'Let's do this'," he said.
"I say: 'Sure. But you need a National Government to get it done'."