Election 2023: James Shaw says 'very real possibility' Green members may want party on cross-benches rather than coalition with Labour

Political parties from both ends of the spectrum are slamming Labour after the party ruled out introducing a capital gains or wealth tax if re-elected in October.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw was asked on Wednesday afternoon if the Greens would go into Government with Labour if it couldn't get either a capital gains tax (CGT) or wealth tax across the line. 

"That's up to voters to decide," he said. "It's also up to my party members because they are the ones who actually get to decide whether or not we go into Government or not. Sitting on the crossbenches is a possibility for us, we have always said that."

He also said: "I don't think there is any point in political power if you choose to do nothing with it."

Shaw said members would look at any potential agreement "in the round", but the party has always maintained the option of sitting on the crossbenches.

Asked if he thought members could take that option, Shaw said: "I think there is a very real possibility of that."

In a statement on Wednesday, Labour leader Chris Hipkins confirmed such taxes weren't on the cards - saying now wasn't "the time for a big shake-up of our tax system" given the current cost of living pressures.

"New Zealanders I talk to want certainty and continuity right now and that’s what I’m delivering with this policy.

"When I became Prime Minister I said the Government I lead will focus on the basics. Experimenting with a wealth tax doesn't fit that approach which is why I'm ruling it out."

Hipkins added Labour's stance on a CGT also wouldn't change. During Labour's first term, then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ruled out introducing one while in Coalition with NZ First and the Green Party. 

The remarks from Hipkins come after new Budget documents revealed the Government considered - but didn't go ahead with - a system switch that included a tax-free threshold and wealth tax. 

"While work was already underway on a potential wealth tax and CGT as part of a tax switch in the Budget I ultimately made the call not to proceed with it. We simply didn't have a mandate to implement those tax changes," Hipkins said.

"Instead we have moved to address inequity in our tax system by increasing the top trust tax rate to match the 39 percent top income tax rate. This will help prevent trusts [from] being used as a tax shelter and ensures the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share."

Hipkins, who's currently in Lithuania at the NATO summit, confirmed Labour would release its full tax policy "soon".

Responding to Hipkins' remarks, Shaw said New Zealand's tax system had "never been more unfair".

"Political leaders don't get to decide what will and won't happen after the election. That's the job of the New Zealand public," he said. 

"Polling shows the majority of New Zealanders support a wealth tax. Our plan will cut taxes and make 95 percent of New Zealanders better off by asking the wealthiest 0.7 percent to pay their fair share."

Shaw also said the Greens wouldn't stop "fighting for a fairer tax system".

"If that's what people want then they need to help us get more Green MPs," he added.

Meanwhile, National Party finance spokesperson Nicola Willis said New Zealanders couldn't "trust Labour on tax".

National leader Christopher Luxon, meanwhile, accused Hipkins of being "cynical".

"It's been confirmed Labour was plotting a wealth tax or capital gains tax for months," Luxon said on Twitter. "Now, Chris Hipkins is desperately trying to rule them both out - it's cynical politics."

Despite Hipkins ruling out the taxes, ACT leader David Seymour said he wouldn't be surprised if he was talked back into them by the Greens and Te Pāti Māori - Labour's prospective Coalition partners.

"Hipkins' arm wouldn’t be that hard to twist," Seymour said. 

"The Labour-Green-Māori coalition can't be trusted. ACT is the only party with a full-costed tax plan that will really make life more affordable for all New Zealanders."

In his statement on Wednesday, Hipkins also attacked the right bloc's tax plans. National wants to index tax thresholds to inflation, while ACT wants to scrap the top 39 percent income tax rate and introduce a two-tier system.

"The reality is National's tax cuts are unaffordable and inflationary. Just as we are getting on top of price increases they would borrow to deliver an inflationary sugar hit," Hipkins said.

"National's uncosted and unfair tax changes would deliver the biggest cuts to millionaires and CEOs while offering as little as $2 a week to some low and middle-income households."

Hipkins also defended Labour's "boring" policy.

"Some people might call it boring but the times call for restraint and simple and smart policies which grow our economy, help drive inflation down and provide targeted help to those families who need it the most."

Hipkins said New Zealanders were facing increasing financial pressures.

"Our work on securing new free trade agreements is helping our exporters and will grow GDP, while free prescriptions and 20 hours free ECE (early childhood education) will help families cover the bills. Simple and effective policies that are proven to work and keep inflation in check."