NZ Election 2020: Accusation of 'mind-blowing stupidness' as political parties pitch their economic visions

The leaders of Labour, National, NZ First and ACT, as well as the co-leader of the Greens, have pitched their economic visions to business leaders with COVID-19 taking centre stage. 

Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins, Winston Peters, David Seymour and James Shaw were invited by Business NZ to speak at the Hilton Hotel in Auckland on Friday to answer the question: "What is your party's plan for economic growth?"

In summary, all five of the political parties touted investment in technology, smart borders and infrastructure spending as the most promising ways of helping New Zealand get through the COVID-19 economic slump. 

While it wasn't a political debate, political party leaders didn't miss the chance to accuse the Government of avoiding the huge debt piling up, of being distracted by "woke issues", and of "mind-blowing stupidness" over COVID-19 rules. 

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern

Ardern talked about how her Government strived to keep businesses afloat during lockdown by rolling out the wage subsidy, allowing small businesses to take out loans backed by the Government, and making apprenticeships free

"Our health response is grounded in elimination, which includes stamping out the virus when it re-emerges, and using lockdown as a last resort, while being clear we can never leave our response until it is too late," she said. 

Ardern said while there are no "costless decisions", thanks to the management of Finance Minister Grant Robertson "we went into this with a strong fiscal position" with debt to GDP much lower than other nations. 

Net core Crown debt is expected to reach 53.6 percent of GDP in 2023 after sitting comfortably below 20 percent before the crisis, and it's projected to sit above 40 percent well into the 2030s because of interest. 

Ardern said if Labour is re-elected, her Government will try to avoid another alert level 4 lockdown but will implement restrictions where necessary. 

She pointed to ASB's recent analysis titled 'NZ's remarkable resilience' which highlighted how the "remarkable resilience of the NZ economy" was a surprise and that business confidence "showed little reaction" to news of Auckland's second lockdown. 

Ardern said New Zealand's best line of defense is the border and it comes as Labour announced that it would enable a 10 percent quota for critical workers. 

Ardern said the capacity for about 14,000 people a month to enter New Zealand could be expanded in the future as the number of Kiwis coming home will drop off. 

National leader Judith Collins

Collins by comparison focused on the importance of infrastructure spending, off the back of National's plan to spend more than $30 billion to improve infrastructure in the upper half of the North Island.  

She talked about National's plan to create a new bank to provide finance and advice to central and local government on infrastructure projects, if elected.

"We think it's better to have loans being overseen," she said, adding that Government departments don't always have the skills to "put a lens over projects" to make sure there is enough funding and that the contract is working.  

Collins is promising to reform the Resource Management Act (RMA) if National forms a Government, something all political parties seem to agree on. 

She said she wants 90-day trials reinstated for businesses and for people to be able to use their KiwiSaver to start a business

Collins also took aim at the Government's COVID-19 rules and restrictions.

She said it was "mind-blowing stupidness" that dairies could be open during lockdown but not butchers and greengrocers, and said construction should have been able to continue. 

ACT leader David Seymour

Seymour also took issue with the Government's handling of COVID-19. 

He said the Government should "constantly seek to do better" with its response and "not simply do victory laps and little dances" - a reference to when Ardern celebrated in June when New Zealand reached no active cases.  

ACT would allow arrivals to isolate at alternative managed isolation facilities, with electronic monitoring and strict punishment for rule-breakers.

Seymour accused his ally National of "avoiding" the issue of Government debt and how to manage paying back the billions of dollars borrowed to fund the coronavirus economic recovery. 

ACT has proposed cutting benefit rates, reinstating 90-day trials for businesses, pausing minimum wage increases for three years, putting interest back on student loans, scrapping KiwiSaver subsidies and abolishing the winter energy payment.

Seymour said the best way to steer New Zealand out of the COVID-19 crisis is to raise productivity by getting rid of regulations. 

Research commissioned by the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) in 2019 found that the cost of compliance for business in 2016 was $5 billion, or 2.9 percent of GDP. 

Seymour said regulations on technology such as genetic engineering, which he described as "medieval" and "superstitious", has forced innovative Kiwis to relocate.  

NZ First leader Winston Peters 

Winston Peters' pitch to the businesses community was that NZ First would be the "moderating voice" in Government. 

"We know this Government has a bad habit of distracting itself with woke issues," he said. 

Peters criticised his coalition partner Labour for suggesting a Matariki public holiday, saying while it may be appealing, it should not be a priority right now. 

He said this is "no time to be experimenting with ideological extremism" and warned that New Zealand and the rest of the world are entering a "completely new era". 

"My party does not underestimate the COVID-19 fallout on the global economy," Peters said, adding that future governments will have an "even bigger role to play" in the economy. 

He touted NZ First as being the "handbrake for silly ideas" such as light rail to Auckland airport, a capital gains tax and the pursuit of a law change to help commercial rent disputes.  

"We cannot afford big, stupid inexperienced Government," Peters said. "Don't stuff the country - that's what this election is about."

Green co-leader James Shaw 

Shaw said he foresees infrastructure spending, exporting ICT and improving Government finances as the key to helping New Zealand through COVID-19. 

He said the Government has been dealing with decades of under-spending in housing, hospitals and education, and that while there has been significant investment in energy, more will be needed to decarbonise. 

"We have a responsibility to future generations to ensure that every dollar goes towards long-term challenges in environment and infrastructure," he said. 

Shaw said New Zealand could also become a world leader in IT exports. 

"We don't have terribly good data on this sector and then we don't then treat it with the effort it needs, so we would like a digital export office set up to work how we can expand our exports," he said. 

Shaw said billions of dollars is spent on Government data projects but international players get the benefit of contracts going offshore which are only sub-contracted to local suppliers.

He wants New Zealand IT companies to become world class and reap the benefits. 

Shaw also said he wants to "get rid of the false narrative of town versus country" when it comes to agriculture. 

He said it is clear that the "value over volume strategy coincides nicely with environmental sustainability" and customers offshore will pay a premium for organic and sustainable products from New Zealand. 

"We need to move more towards supporting farmers and growers to take advantage of that," he said, adding that "strong regulation" is needed for it to work successfully. 

The Greens have proposed a wealth tax on Kiwis on their net wealth over $1 million, while other political parties are saying it's not possible to tax New Zealand out of debt.