Judith Collins defends National's idea to spend COVID-19 fund, laughs at typo in Labour's financial plan

Judith Collins has defended National's idea to spend the Government's COVID-19 fund, and laughed at the $140 billion typo in Labour's financial plan. 

National announced last month it would give income tax cuts over a 16-month period at a cost of $4.7 billion if elected, which would be funded out of the $14 billion the Government set aside in case of another COVID-19 outbreak. 

The plan riled Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who said at the time, "They are raiding that for tax cuts and that's just not right and it is not the actions of a responsible party, let alone a responsible economic manager."

Collins is defending the decision, describing the COVID-19 fund as nothing more than money that needs to be paid back, and that Labour has put a label on it to make it seem special. 

"I think what people need to understand about this is that what has been termed the COVID fund and given that label by the current Government, is simply borrowed money," Collins told reporters in Northland on Thursday. 

"There's nothing special about it other than that my son's generation and his children will have to pay it back," Collins added. "Under us we wouldn't be letting COVID run riot in the country."

National's finance spokesperson has admitted that National would need to "adjust" its spending plan if there was another major coronavirus outbreak. 

"We've got about $9 billion available in the COVID fund as it stands. Obviously if we go into another heavy lockdown we may have to adjust but we'll be doing everything we possibly can to avoid that," he said last month. 

Labour's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said it "beggars belief" that in the middle of a pandemic the National Party is planning to "gut" the money set aside in case of a major outbreak of COVID-19.

Collins is confident the economy would grow thanks to National's tax cuts, and defended having less than Labour set aside to spend as National intends to reduce debt quicker. 

"We're also counting on the fact that we could get the economy growing because of our policies on that. When you're looking at fiscal plans it's always important that you can only work with what you actually have," Collins said. 

"You can't work on the fact that growing an economy will actually end up with more people buying things, more GST and more taxes. You can't count stuff that you don't actually have.

"We have absolute confidence in our ability to ensure that business does start to grow the economy again because they will have confidence in having a Government that understands that every dollar that we borrow needs to get paid back."

The latest ASB Bank analysis shows business confidence is now the highest since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March. 

Labour has been attacking National's economic plan ever since Goldsmith admitted he miscalculated how much it would save from cutting NZ Super Fund contributions, resulting in a $4 billion fiscal hole. 

Newshub revealed National made the same mistake with its capital allowance, resulting in another $88 million shortfall. National is also accused of double-counting $4 billion worth of funding in transport, which Collins and Goldsmith deny. 

Goldsmith has admitted he did not account for the loss of tax paid by the Super Fund, and despite that being worth near-on $2 billion, he has insisted there is no further fiscal hole. 

Labour is now dealing with its own blunder, after it released its economic plan on Thursday with a $140 billion typo, due to an error in a graph where it should have shown debt as a percentage of GDP rather than in dollar terms. 

Before Labour released a fixed version of it, the plan showed about $56 billion of debt in 2025-26, despite the Government starting off the COVID-19 crisis with about that much debt. In reality, debt is expected to reach more than $200 billion by 2024. 

Collins laughed when she heard about the typo, saying: "I would just say always be careful when you throw stones on that stuff - it might come back."

Goldsmith is asking who signed off the $140 billion typo. 

"Jacinda Ardern needs to tell Grant Robertson to rip up his pamphlet and present New Zealanders with a credible plan."

Ardern said on Thursday she would not tell Robertson to do that, and said it was "ridiculous" to suggest Labour had lost its economic credibility because of the typo. 

Robertson agreed. 

"We have a typographical error in the axis of a graph. Our numbers add up. We don't have an $8 billion hole in our budget. Our budget balances - National's doesn't," he said. 

"The difference here is that the mistakes made by National leave us either with cut services or additional debt. That is a very big difference," Ardern said.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found that most voters - 55.1 percent - trust a Labour-led Government under Ardern versus 34.9 percent who trust a Government under Collins, while 10 percent were undecided or didn't know.